Frail Women (1932)

Mary Newcomb

Another Maurice Elvey film from Talking Pictures TV, to go with his Who Goes Next? which I wrote about yesterday.

Frail Women is a melodrama that uses the trope of the war baby to explore the themes of illegitimacy and responsibility. Mary was born in 1916, placed in a care home and then adopted by a kind woman on condition that she had nothing to do with her mother. When the adopter dies, her pharasaic family find the truth about Mary’s origins and want nothing to do with her. The mother, Lilian, is found, and Mary given back to her. She is a brassy and truculent woman, now the kept mistress of a bookmaker.

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Who Goes Next? (1938)

In this time of plague, self-isolation is probably necessary, but is no less frustrating for that. Still, life offers some consolations, and one of them is Talking Pictures, the Freeview TV channel that specialises in old British films, some of them very obscure.

I had never previously come across Who Goes Next? directed in 1938 by Maurice Elvey (a veteran of the silent screen who once, I remember reading, shared a mistress with Bertrand Russell).

The film is set in a First World War prisoner-of-war barracks where British officers are busy tunnelling their way out. What struck me very much was that this film of 1938 already contained many of the tropes that would become very familiar in the prisoner-of-war movies of the fifties. The British officers are determined and ingenious, and keep up their spirits with facetiousness. the Germans are stupid, bullying and easily fooled. The Commandant in particular is a fat and greedy figure whom the senior British officer keeps in his place by assuming mental and moral superiority.

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Influenza advice

In view of the current crisis, I thought it might be helpful to share this advice from the Daily Mail of February 24, 1919:

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‘Days beyond compare’

I’m still worrying at Kipling’s story ‘Dayspring Mishandled’. (I shall be giving a paper about it at the Kipling in the News conference in London in April.)

It’s a story full of hints and ambiguities. The first paragraph is packed with them:

IN the days beyond compare and before the Judgments, a genius called Graydon foresaw that the advance of education and the standard of living would submerge all mind-marks in one mudrush of standardised reading-matter, and so created the Fictional Supply Syndicate to meet the demand.

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Returning readers may notice a difference in the masthead of this blog. I’m now calling it Great War Fiction Plus.

The reason is simple. I started the blog back in 2006, when I was just beginning my Ph.D. research. For many years, Great War material was almost all I read. I’m still interested in the War, obviously, but I think about other things, too.

That is why posts on the blog have been sparser of late. I read and research other subjects, but unless there’s at least a tangential connection with the War, I don’t usually mention them here. Which I’m beginning to think is a pity.

The blog has a faithful following of readers. Not quite so many as during the centenary years, but still a very respectable number. And among those readers are the invaluable ones who tell me when I’ve got something wrong. To you, especial thanks.

The Great War material will still be there for googlers wanting to find it, but I’ll be branching out more into other subjects – mostly to do with literature of the 1900-1930 era, but I won’t hold myself back if I’ve got something to say about earlier or later literature, or about the representation of other wars, or – anything else, really. For instance, I’ll be writing in the next few days about Tom Stoppard’s brilliant new play, Leopoldstadt, and comparing his representation of early twentieth-century Vienna with those of others. I’m looking to be doing quite a bit of research on Kipling and Arnold Bennett during the next few months, so look out for quite a bit of material of them, too.

But if something thought-provoking about the war comes my way, I certainly shan’t neglect to include it.

Anyway this is just to warn you that after fourteen years, I thought it was time for some small changes. But I promise you that they won’t be too drastic.

A Kipling paper

I’ve just uploaded ‘Kipling’s Military Utopia’, another of my old conference papers. This one was for a conference on Utopias a few years ago, and it considers the slightly odd sort-of-Utopia that Kipling created in ‘The Army of a Dream’, a story serialised in the Morning Post in 1904.

Kipling imagines a future Britain in which the Army is the most important institution, and in which all men do Territorial Army service. This army is so efficient and has such excellent morale that no foreign power dare challenge it.

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‘The Magnet’ and the Regulation of War Enthusiasm

I’ve been looking through the essays and conference papers that I’ve written over the years, and will be uploading several of them onto this site.

The first is one that I gave at a conference a few years ago, where I looked at the Magnet boys’ paper, (which featured stories of Billy Bunter and Greyfriars school). The paper represented the war in relatively complex ways. There was plenty of gung-ho patriotism in some of the stories it published, but over the four years it also offered several stories that questioned how far the War should disrupt normal life, and how far war enthusiasm should be allowed to over-ride pre-war civilised values.

As I remember the paper got a slightly frosty reception at the conference, because the dominant tone of the meeting was pacifist, and some there were not keen on the idea that a popular magazine could support the war with intelligent discrimination.

But see what you think. You can read the paper here.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the Magnet, take a look at the excellent Friardale site, which has .pdf files of all the Magnet comics, and plenty about other story papers and comics, too.

T.S. Eliot and Nesta Webster

One vast conspiracy! To destroy the social order. Thank God, we have people alive to it! Nesta Webster, a great invigilator – laughed at, at the time. Now T.S. Eliot. You should read T.S. Eliot. One of the Master Minds of our age. A great influence. Restrained, fastidious, and yet a Leader. The Young adore him. He has taken over the message of Nesta. Made it acceptable. Dignified it.

I wrote the other day about The Bulpington of Blup, a novel in which sets up as non-hero a straw man who represents everything he disapproves of, and then spends four hundred pages demolishing him. Those four hundred do, however, allow him ample space to enjoy having a kick at some actual personages whom he dislikes, and one of these is T.S. Eliot.

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H.G. Wells and the ‘shot at dawn’ theme

H.G. Wells’s The Bulpington of Blup (1932) is one of those novels that creates an unsatisfactory human being as its protagonist, and then uses the war to prove his unsatisfactoriness beyond any doubt. In this case the hero’s faults come close to getting him shot at dawn.

Theodore Bulpington (the cumbersome polysyllables of the name are a crude way of signalling that he is an absurd character, not one to be identified with) is a young man brought up in a literary household. His father writes for the magazines, and has ambitious book projects that are never realised. This family is contrasted with the Broxteds , who are all scientists (and therefor hard-headed, realistic, an definitely the future). The early chapters have quite a lot of (fairly tedious because unconvincing) arts versus science debate, in which the scales are very heavily loaded towards science.

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On Bookish Students of History

From The Bulpington of Blup (1932) by H.G. Wells:

The bookish student of history in the future will find a curious interest in the contrasts between the literature which tells the story of the English going to war on the one hand, a complex, reluctant, voluntary affair, and that which describes the fatalistic acquiescence of the conscript countries on the other.

Well, we’re in the future now, and bookish students of literature haven’t quite fulfilled Wells’s prophecy. I’m still surprised by how many accounts of British war literature don’t seem aware of its exceptional nature; the school of naturalistic, humanistic war poetry in particular, which sprang from the Georgian school, has no equivalent in other countries.

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