Gentleman Crooks paper

I’ve finally got round to posting a full copy of the ‘Gentleman Crooks’ paper that I gave at a conference about the Masculine Middlebrow a couple of years ago, at the University of London.

Regular followers of the blog may recognise some fragments of it as having appeared here before, but I thought it was worth putting the complete version online, as it draws together the contrasting ways in which A.M.Burrage, Bruce Graeme and Leslie Charteris adapted the Raffles-like gentleman burglar to the needs of the post-War world.

That Masculine Middlebrow conference was organised by the redoubtable Kate Macdonald. This year (together with Cornelia Wächter) she is at it again, with a symposium on ‘The Popular Imagination and the Dawn of Modernism’. It is at the Institute of English Studies, University of London, from 15-17 September. Full details are here: http://ies.sas.ac.uk/events/conferences/2011/Middlebrow2010/index.htm.
I shall be giving a paper called: “‘Terse as virulent hermaphrodites’: middlebrow representations of modernist poets in the 1920s”. It’s about how non-modernist writers (from P.G.Wodehouse to John Buchan and Noel Coward) parodied the modernists. It’s been fun to research.

12 Comments

  1. Nemo
    Posted August 29, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    I bet researching the middlebrow representations of modernist poets was a “pure parabola of Joy” as well as a lot of fun.

  2. Nemo
    Posted August 29, 2011 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    Oops, should have been a “PALE parabola of Joy”, of course.

  3. Posted August 30, 2011 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    “Pale parabola” indeed.
    Thank you for reminding me of that evocative line from Ralston McTodd’s ‘Songs of Squalor’. Todd’s work is indeed the kind of verse I shall be discussing – what Wodehouse elsewhere called “the jolly, wholesome sort of poetry the boys are turning out nowadays […] — good, honest stuff about sin and gas works and decaying corpses”.

  4. Roger
    Posted August 31, 2011 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    “good, honest stuff about sin and gas works and decaying corpses”.
    That sounds like Wodenouse confused the 1890s decadents, the war poets and the modernists. It’ll be interesting to see how accurate he and others were in their perceptions.

    • Posted August 31, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      Maybe – but I think he’d just been reading ‘The Waste Land’.
      Sin – the typist episode.
      Gasworks – the urban milieu
      Decaying corpses -“That corpse you planted last year in your garden,/Has it begun to sprout?”

  5. Roger
    Posted September 2, 2011 at 3:06 am | Permalink

    “Decaying corpses -”That corpse you planted last year in your garden,/Has it begun to sprout?”

    the problem with Eliot’s corpse was that it might not be decaying…
    In fact the gasworks are a 1930s emblem- when was Nr Mulliner published?- and there’s no swipe at the Georgians, which is surprising.

    • Posted September 2, 2011 at 6:30 am | Permalink

      ‘Honeysuckle Cottage’, the story from which the quote was taken, was first published in January 1925, so Wodehouse spotted the gasworks some years before Auden and Co did.
      But maybe the ‘decaying corpses’ are a reference to the war poems published in the Sitwells’ modernistic ‘Wheels’ – by Wilfred Owen and others.

  6. Roger
    Posted September 2, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    Wasn’t Honeysuckle Cottage a Mulliner story?
    1925…three years after The Waste Land, which means very quick work. On the other hand, Eliot and Wodehouse had the same kind of attitude to the English poetic canon- both used it as a commentary and guide to contemporaey life, so i wouldn’t be surprised that even if he didn’t like or understand him Wodehouse read Eliot.

    • Posted September 2, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

      Honeysuckle Cottage wasn’t a Mulliner story when it appeared in the magazines, but was adapted later for the collection.
      A much later extract is surely a reference to Eliot.
      In ‘Ring for Jeeves’ (1953) a poet mourns her fate:
      ‘Left to herself she would have turned out stuff full of moons, Junes, loves, doves, blisses and kisses. It was simply that the editors of the poetry magazines seemed to prefer rat-ridden tenements, the smell of cooking cabbage, and despair, and a girl had to eat.’

  7. Roger
    Posted September 3, 2011 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    Yet more complications!- “moons, Junes, loves, doves, blisses and kisses”-esprcially “moons” and “Junes”- were the standards of the very profitable musicals Wodehouse worked on. Surely he knew they provided muchmore nourishment than poetry magazines.

    • Posted September 3, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

      Yes, and I think that’s the joke.
      The standard moan of writers was that they wanted to be modernist, but editors demanded sentimentality. Wodehouse reverses this, by imagining a writer whose authentic voice was sentimental, but who was forced by the demands of fashionable editors to be grim.
      And when you look at some poetry magazines and athologies, you do wonder whether anyone of a sunny disposition would have any chance whatsoever of getting published…

      • Roger
        Posted September 4, 2011 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

        Ah.
        I was thinking that the joke was the idea that any poetry made enough to feed a girl, when the moon/June type did in the right place.

        “And when you look at some poetry magazines and anthologies, you do wonder whether anyone of a sunny disposition would have any chance whatsoever of getting published…”
        Yet it must require obsessional optimism to edit a poetry magazine.


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