In the ‘Huddersfield Examiner’

I came across a hint that in 1918 Rose Allatini’s Despised and Rejected had been reviewed in the Huddersfield Examiner, and since I live in Huddersfield I trotted along yesterday to the very pleasant Local Studies room of the Central Library to see what I could find. I had high hopes that it would be interesting, because Cyril Pearce has identified in Huddersfield a community more sympathetic to conscientious objectors than most other parts of the country.
The review is there in the enlarged Saturday edition of June 22nd, 1918. The writer is anonymous, but his or her regular weekly column is titled , a little obscurely, ‘On the Bat’s Back’. It begins every week with four lines of ‘where the bee sucks’ from The Tempest, so I suppose the writer is identifying him- or herself with Ariel. Slightly mystifying.
The author begins by distancing him- or herself both from total endorsement of objectors and from those who brand them as ‘shirkers’.

There is a third attitude, which comes midway between these extremes. It is that of those who, while believing that the conscientious objector is fundamentally in the wrong, honour his convictions and see in his devotion to them at all costs something which is of supreme value to the community. This is my own attitude and I have read with more than ordinary interest the story of a C.O. Which has recently been published under the title of ‘Despised and Rejected’ by Messrs C.W. Daniel Ltd. It is not likely to be a popular book. I shudder to think what Mr Bottomley or the editor of ‘The Daily mail’ would say about it. But it presents the case of the conscientious objector (of the ‘humanitarian’ rather than the ‘religious’ type) with considerable skill, and if its descriptioon of the treatment to which they are subjected in prison is founded on fact, it forms a most grave indictment of the governing authorities.

In the novel, the character Barnaby complains that C.O.s are treated worse than criminals, and the reviewer comments:

That, I agree, is a blunder as well as a crime. It is a denial of one of the principles for which we are professedly fighting, and a stupid waste of material which might be of utmost service to the commonwealth. It dishonours the pledges which were given when conscription was brought in, and sullies the faith of the British government. It is bad in morals and bad in policy, and there is nothing that can be said in the defence.

The reviewer, however, is made uncomfortable by the fact that Dennis, the book’s most important C.O., is homosexual:

It was a mistake […] from the propaganda point of view, to make the hero abnormal. The public has an innate horror of affections, however innocent, which do not run in normal channels, and this fact prejudices the book from the outset as an appeal on behalf of the conscientious objector. As a piece of literature, the case is different. I do not know that this very difficult question has been treated before in fiction, and I certainly cannot discuss it here.

On the whole, though, this is the most positive review of Despised and Rejected that I have come across so far. It certainly pays tribute to the book’s moral courage in discussing conscientious objection objectively.

As for the shying away from explaining to a newspaper readership in what way Dennis was ‘abnormal’. the reviewer was not alone. Allan Monkhouse, himself a writer of books and plays not wholly convinced by the war effort, reviewed the book for the Manchester Guardian, and says of Dennis.

He is an abnormal young man, held up for pity as such, but also for admiration. Charity can go no further than look on him as an unhappy invalid. We have no intention of disclosing in what constitutes his abnormality. Those who read his story may regard his malady as ridiculous, others as something worse. A good laugh at Mr Fitzroy’s lack of humour where Dennis is concerned will disperse the rather unwholesome vapours. But what about a pacifist apostle who is so on the ground of abnormality? His whole case is given away.

Homosexuality was a difficult subject to talk about in those days when military manliness was at a premium. I though of this when, on the same page of the Examiner as the review of Despised and Rejected, I saw this advertisement for a patent medicine. I hope the image is clear enough to give you the gist. manliness

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One Comment

  1. Roger
    Posted July 1, 2018 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    What was the general attitude to “abnormality” in 1918? Presumably the Huddersfield Examiner’s reviewer and Allan Monkhouse reflects the “official” line, where Noel Pemberton Billing expressed the extreme version, but it sounds as if both of them had only heard of “abnormality” as a rare phenomenon. Has there been any examination of the way people in general regarded homosexuality at that time? It’s claimed that Roger Casement’s “Black Diaries” were circulated to justify hanging him, which does presuppose enormous prejudice.
    Apart from the Bloomsbury Group, who seem to have regarded the official view and laws as absurd, but not worth arguing with and just ignored them, were there any organisations or individuals who actually fought against public attitudes? Siegfried Sassoon – rich, a war hero, willing to stand up for pacifism, someone who seems to have been able and willing to speak as he chose – didn’t publicly acknowledge his homosexuality, though he seems, like many others, to have been involved in an “undercover” society of wealthy and important people. But how did people learn about how common homosexuality was? How did people like Wilfred Owen, from a very respectable and conventional lower-middle-class background, learn that they weren’t literally alone?


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