Walter Greenwood at Salford

hopkins

On Wednesday, Marion and I had a good afternoon in Salford, at an event marking the publication of the new book on Walter Greenwood by Chris Hopkins. The event was at the Working Class Movement Library, one of the characterful redbrick buidings dotted among the glassy modernism of the University of Salford.

wcml salford

The library has an agreeably retro feel, enhanced by the young man outside the door offering me a copy of the Morning Star. Inside, the place is chock-full of souvenirs of past battles in the class struggle. The atmosphere is a mixture of serious historical study and hard-nosed but friendly bolshiness.

The afternoon was very well-attended; extra chairs had to be brought in to the lecture room. The audience was an interesting mixture – academics, booklovers, political militants and Salfordians with a proud interest in their most famous local writer.

Chris Hopkins’ book is about Love on the Dole in its various forms – book, play and film, but this afternnon’s title was ‘Not just Love on the Dole’; papers dealt with other working-class writers, such as Jack Hilton, author of the extraordinary Caliban Shrieks, and also with other, less well-known works by Greenwood, such as The Cleft Stick.

A theme of the afternoon was the arbitrariness of literary memory. Love on the Dole has deservedly stayed in print for most of the eighty years since it was first published, but Greenwood’s other work has slipped into oblivion. One that I must definitely read is his second novel, His Worship the Mayor (1935), about corrupt civic politicians. It hasn’t been in print since the Second World War, I think. Another one I’ve dipped into with pleasure, but must get round to buying, to read properly, is The Cleft Stick, a collaboration between Greenwood and the remarkable artist Arthur Wragg, whose black and white pictures conjure up the harshness of Salford life as grittily as Greenwood’s prose.

cleftstick

Male novelists of the inter-war years have been served much less well by reprint publishers than female ones. Virago, Persephone and other firms have done very well at searching for books by women who deserve to be remembered, and giving them a new chance with a modern readership. There has been no such concerted drive to seek out novels by men. Probably there are commercial factors at play – women readers are more likely to want to read about their mothers’ and grandmothers’ lives (as a way of defining their own lives, perhaps) and there is no corresponding demand from male book-buyers.

So Caliban Shrieks and The Cleft Stick are forgotten except by those who go deliberately searching for forgotten oddities.

But that would be a sad not to finish one, when Chris Hopkins’ new book is drawing attention to a thirties novel that is rightly remembered as one of the defining documents of its age. I have started reading this new book, and am enjoying it immensely.

Advertisements

One Comment

  1. ambler1
    Posted November 4, 2018 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Dear George,

    Many thanks for this thoughtful review of the day (which I also very much enjoyed) and indeed the reflections on why it has not always (so far) been easy to get these kinds of working-class author back into print. Blog readers might be interested in my new(ish) Walter Greenwood blog/ web-site at: https://waltergreenwoodnotjustloveonthedole.com/

    – Best wishes Chris Hopkins


Post a Comment

%d bloggers like this: