The Novels of Philip Gibbs – a checklist

Update: I have now added to the original list I posted a few weeks ago, including the suggestions kindly sent to me by readers, and some others, too. Some of my short summeries are guesswork, and two novels I can find no facts about. Further suggestions and additions will be welcomed.
gibbs

Back in 1937, Sir Philip Gibbs was a novelist famous enough to be included in Wills’s set of modern British authors cigarette cards. Today his novels seem to be completely forgotten, though there are historians who still speak highly of his work as a war correspondent, especially as collected in Realities of War (1921), with its scepticism about the quality of British generalship.

Gibbs wrote too much. He wrote well over a hundred books, fiction and non-fiction.
His novels are almost always based in his journalistic concerns – they have been described as ‘newsreel novels’, since they take a current issue and dramatise it.The best of his novels are generally the ones where there is more reporting than plot. Back to Life and The Middle of the Road show us post-1918 Europe and its discontents.  Young Anarchy, about the General Strike and published within months of the events it describes, is a good example of Gibbs’s  topicality.

Many of the novels are of more interest to the historian than to the connoisseur of literature. Gibbs’s characterisation can be obvious and his dialogue clunky; the speed of production can sometimes be obvious. But he was a very good reporter, and one who goes to places that the average literary novelist never visits. The Middle of the Road, for example, is a tour of post-war Europe, with remarkable descriptions of post-revolutionary Russia, and scenes like this one: dawn outside Mountjoy prison on the morning that a Sinn Fein militant is to be hanged:

All round the prison were strong forces of troops. Several armoured cars were drawn up, and a searchlight was turned on a dense black crowd of people waiting there through the night, for the coming of dawn. They were mostly women and young girls, with shawls over their heads […]
Between each prayer there rose another sound, the strangest, most terrible sound of a human kind that Bertram had ever heard beyond a battlefield. It was like the cry of the Banshee, as he had imagined it in childhood. It rose and fell in rhythmic anguish, from all those shawl-covered women, kneeling with bowed heads, or raising their heads and hands like a Greek chorus to the heavens above.

In many respects, Gibbs is like Galsworthy, a traditional liberal worried by the way the world is going. He is not as good a novelist as Galsworthy – his sense of human psychology is thinner, and his sympathies are more limited. But he is always readable, and usually interesting.

The Great War was a turning-point in his life, and all his post-war novels use the war as a touchstone of experience. Societies are judged by how far they have honoured or betrayed those who fought. Younger generations are measured against those who fought. The need to maintain a troubled peace is the dominant theme of his novels of the thirties.

As I said, Gibbs’s novels are now almost forgotten. There is very little critical literature about him, and even basic information is hard to come by. His Wikipedia page is not very useful. I hope to remedy this soon, adding a checklist of his novels. Here is a first draft.  I have based it on reviews in archived newspapers. It is probably incomplete, and I should welcome suggestions of any additions or corrections:

1908 The Individualist – a campaigner against socialism
1908 The Spirit of Revolt – feminism
1909 The Street of Adventure – Fleet Street journalism
1910 Intellectual Mansions, S.W. – bohemians and suffragettes
1911 Oliver’s Kind Women – journalism and chorus girls
1912 Helen of Lancaster Gate – a financier goes to prison; effect on his family
1913 A Master of Life – Industrial relations
1913 The Eighth Year – strains on modern marriage
1914 The Custody of the Child – divorce
1920 Back to Life – France and Germany immediately after the War
1920 Wounded Souls – damaged soldiers
1921 The Venetian Lovers – short stories
1922 The Middle of the Road – the troubles of postwar Europe
1923 Heirs Apparent – bright young things
1924 The Reckless Lady – women of different generations
1925 Unchanging Quest – family affected by European history 1894-1924
1926 Young Anarchy – the General Strike
1927 Out of the Ruins – short stories, about postwar Europe
1928 The Age of Reason – religion versus science
1929 Darkened Rooms –  fraudulent spiritualists
1929 The Hidden City – psychoanalysis
1930 The Wings of Adventure – short stories
1931 The Golden Years – Victorians and Victorianism
1931 The Winding Lane – a novelist and the literary world
1932 The Anxious Days – condition of England
1933 The Cross of Peace – beginnings of Nazism in Germany
1934 Paradise for Sale – short stories, various
1935 Blood Relations – Germany over the previous quarter-century
1936 Cities of Refuge – exiles and refugees
1938 Great Argument – divisions in Europe
1939 This Nettle, Danger – appeasement
1939 Broken Pledges – from Munich to the start of the war
1940 Sons of the Others – novel set from outbreak of war to Dunkirk
1941 The Amazing Summer – England during the Battle of Britain
1941 The Long Alert – a Canadian in England during the Blitz
1943 The Interpreter – America and the war
1944 The Battle Within – England during the war
1945 Through the Storm – surviving the war, from the fall of France to D-day
1947 The Hopeful Heart – an idealist tries to solve post-war problems
1948 Behind the Curtain – Russia
1948 The Key of Life -??
1949 Both Your Houses – Can the Liberal Party be revived?
1950 Thine Enemy – post-war Germany
1951 The Spoils of Time – a prosperous middle-class family, from 1890 to 1945
1952 The Cloud above the Green – The Labour government, and  the Cold War
1953 Called Back – Korean War
1953 Lady of the Yellow River – China
1955 No Price for Freedom – set in Poland
1956 The Ambassador’s Wife – diplomats and spies in Moscow
1957 The Healing Touch – ??
1958 The Curtains of Yesterday – England between the Wars.
1959 One of the Crowd – Britain in the Fifties
1960 The Wheel of Fortune – modern life
1961 His Lordship – an aristocrat meets the Chelsea set and nuclear disarmers
1962 Oil Lamps and Candlelight – based on his own childhood
1964 The Law-Breakers – a judge’s past catches up with him. (published posthumously)

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11 Comments

  1. Jim Brown
    Posted December 17, 2017 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    I can offer two additions:
    1) The Spoils of Time (the story of a prosperous middle-class family, from the late 19th century to the impact of post-1945 taxation)
    2) The Cloud Above the Green (the Russian threat and pacifist agitation in an English village)
    The copies I have to hand are undated book club editions, but I see that in the New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature (courtesy of Google Books), they are dated 1951 and 1952 respectively, and the same dates are given for copies on offer as 1st editions at Abebooks.

  2. Posted December 17, 2017 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    I would like to know much, much more about Philip Gibbs. “Realities of War” is not merely “sceptical” about British generalship: it is a damning indictment, based on his first-hand experience as a war correspondent. Yet Gibbs accepted – although he says he had misgivings – a knighthood after the war, along with his fellow correspondents. He was a Roman Catholic, and his faith informs his view of events at every turn. His brother published “Labels” in 1926, a novel that reflects Philip Gibbs’ view of the war in every respect. Did he leave papers? If so, where are they held? Who owns the copyright?

    • Posted December 17, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      You’re right. We need to know more about Gibbs. There’s definitely a Ph.D. in him for the right researcher.
      I looked him up on the University of Reading’s archive database. His correspondence seems to be spread around a large number of libraries and archives,. See: https://rdg.ent.sirsidynix.net.uk/client/en_GB/locreg/search/results?qu=Philip+Gibbs&te=

      On the generals, I think he tried to be fair. He pointed out Haig’s good qualities before analysing his ‘lack of real genius’.
      On the generals in general, he wrote:

      I met many other generals who were men of ability, energy, high sense of duty, and strong personality. I found them intellectually, with few exceptions, narrowly moulded to the same type, strangely limited in their range of ideas and qualities of character.
      ‘One has to leave many gaps in one’s conversation with generals’, said a friend of mine, after lunching with an Army Commander.

  3. Posted December 17, 2017 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    As I began to read about the Great War I discovered Phillip Gibbs and became a passionate of his style. It is almost as we were with him, side by side, in the front line. I bought all his books about the Great War and your list provided me with a new insigths to look for his other books. Thank you. Rogerio (Brazil)

  4. Posted December 17, 2017 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    I am surprised that I can add anything, but here goes:

    The Street of Adventure (1919) – A newspaper reporter attempts to save a young woman from prostitution. The title refers to the hero’s profession of journalism, as it was an alternative name used for Fleet Street. It has been described as “the first best-selling novel about newspaper reporters”.

    Beauty and Nick (1921) – A novel of the stage and the home–the artistic temperament in fateful action.

    The Wings of Adventure (1930) – “Ten Little Novels”. The restless post-war Englishwoman who attempted a trans-Atlantic flight, the gay little troupe of dancers from Provence who fail under gray and brooding English skies, the Austrian professor who found the secret of renewed youth only to lose his life before he had time to use it, above all, the young Englishman who went back to France to pay his war debt of honor to a sordid French farm girl.

    • Posted December 17, 2017 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

      I think the 1919 Street of Adventure must be a reprint of the 1909 title. (Publishers were often crafty in concealing the fact that a book had been printed before.)
      Thanks for the other two titles. They will be added to the list.

      • Posted December 18, 2017 at 3:16 am | Permalink

        Ah, I was looking under 1919 in your list, and that is why I didn’t see it.

  5. David
    Posted December 21, 2017 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    Hello. There is a publishers listing in the Frontispiece of my late 1940’s copy of The Hopeful Heart which give the following additional titles that do not appear in your list or the contributors additions.

    Novels:

    Venetian Lovers
    Little Novels Of Nowadays
    The Anxious Days
    The Great Argument

    Other writings:

    The Soul Of The War
    The Day After Tomorrow
    The Romance Of Empire
    Knowledge Is Power
    The Years After
    Facts And Ideas
    King’s Favourite
    The Pageant Of The Years. An Autobiography

    None of these have publication dates or synopses of the books. I hope you will nevertheless find this info useful.

    As an additional matter of interest I have looked at the listings for the first 2,100 Penguin titles and can’t see any from Philip Gibbs. I wonder why if he sold well in hardback?

    • Posted December 21, 2017 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

      Thanks. I’ll follow up these titles and see what I can discover.

      • Posted January 16, 2018 at 11:39 am | Permalink

        You ask about sales. Figured are hard to come by. He wasn’t in Penguin, but his publishers (Hutchinson) kept reprinting him. There were two separate uniform editions.


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