Kipling: war as ‘crazy cinema’

From a letter to Andrew Macphail, April 1917:

Make up your mind that we of this generation cannot overtake the war as it is. That will be done by the ’emotion recollected in quietude’ of our children – or our grandchildren. Even for us at the back emotion and passion is overlaid like a crazy cinema on passion and emotion till the whole thing is a blurr of white lights and flying faces.

Kipling in ‘The Tribunal’

I’m mostly working on an essay about Kipling at the moment, so my day at Bradford reading the conscientious objectors’ paper The Tribunal was quite a bracing change of tone and political attitude.
I was therefore slightly surprised when I found Kipling within these pacifist pages.
As well as news of tribunals, and of the prison experiences of C.O.’s, the paper included brief inspirational quotations from classic writers. Sometimes these were anti-war (an extract from Southey’s ‘Blenheim’, for instance); sometimes they were just inspirational.
In the issue for May 25th, 1916, we find this abbreviated version of ‘If-’: Read More »

‘The Tribunal’

Councillor Hopwood (to a conscientious objector at Shaw Tribunal, asking for exemption):

I think you are exploiting God to save your own skin. It is nothing but deliberate and rank blasphemy. A man who would not help to defend his country and womankind is a coward and a cad. You are nothing but a shivering mass of unwholesome fat!

Attempting to explore the background of Rose Allatini’s Despised and Rejected, I spent yesterday in the Special Collections Room at the University of Bradford library, reading through four years’ issues of the Tribunal magazine, the organ of the No-Conscription Fellowship. I take this paper to be the original of the Dove in the novel.
The magazines are fascinating. Each of them is a single sheet folded to make four pages, about quarto size. Issues appeared weekly, and the price was a penny. The early issues especially are packed with information about what was happening at tribunals around the country, and editors relate with ironic glee some of the daftest and most extreme things said by the officials who sat in judgement on conscientious objectors. The opening quotation is a good example. Here are some more: Read More »

Toplis again

The figure of the petty criminal Percy Toplis, and the (almost certainly mistaken) notion that he was a crucial ringleader of the Etaples mutiny of 1917, had a great attraction for left-wing writers of the 1970s and early 1980s. I’ve already written about the treatment of Toplis by Alan Bleasdale in the TV series The Monocled Mutineer, and he also made an appearance in the Charlie’s War comic.

Another version of Toplis is presented in Howard Barker’s play Crimes in Hot Countries, which was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1978, though they declined to give it a full production. It was granted only a rehearsed reading, but since then it has enjoyed several productions elsewhere.

Barker’s style is deliberately difficult, and his work is often both obscure and disturbing. “A good play puts the audience through a certain ordeal,” he says. “I’m not interested in entertainment. [….] Theatre should be a taxing experience.” Read More »

Rupert Brooke in Space

On Newsnight tonight, Benedict Cumberbatch read out an astonishing memo. It was written to Richard Nixon in 1969, at the time of the Apollo mission to the moon. William Safire had been asked to draft a speech for the President to make to the nation in preparation for the worst eventuality: that the astronauts, having made a landing, were unable to lift off again from the moon’s surface from the moon.

The speech strikes an appropriate note of elegiac dignity:

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edward Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

It moves towards a climactic ending that unashamedly appropriates one of Rupert Brooke’s greatest hits:

brooke in space

Click the image to see a larger version.

The whole speech can be read at:

Warwick Deeping’s ‘Old Wine and New’

Asked to write about Sorrell and Son for a newspaper series on bestsellers, Kingsley Amis recorded that he began by taking umbrage at the book’s snobbery, and marked particularly repellent passages by writing ‘piss and shit’ in the margin. After a while, though, he stopped annotating, because he had become so gripped by the story.
This matches my own experience when reading Warwick Deeping. I usually step into the world of his novels warily, expecting rancour and prejudice. I find these, and they grate. But then I get swept along by the narrative…
Old Wine and New (1932) is a case in point. It starts by introducing Scarsdale, a literary gent in peacetime who has become a nursing orderly with the RAMC on the western Front. One day he walks towards the front trenches, to see for himself the full truth of war. Read More »

Ernie Lotinga in ‘Josser in the Army’


In June 1927, T. S. Eliot wrote to Virginia Woolf:

Have just been to see Ernie Lotinga in his new Play at the Islington Empire. Magnificent. He is the greatest living British histrionic artist, in the purest tradition of British Obscenity.

Until recently I thought that almost all Lotinga’s film work had been lost, apart from the fragment of Acci-dental Damage at the BFI, which I wrote about some time ago.

Now the happy news is that Josser in the Army (1932) has been released on DVD. Read More »

The Women Police, and Warwick Deeping

It’s a hundred years since the introduction of women police in Britain, and there will be a documentary about their history on BBC4 next Monday.

I wonder whether the programme will explain how very unpopular they were at first, especially with women.

An interesting essay by Clare Langley-Hawthorne fills in the history. The first female force was the brainchild of Margaret Damer Dawson, who persuaded Sir Edward Henry, Chief Commissioner of Police,that there was a need for a group of trained professional women to tackle the worrying behavior of young women in wartime Britain. She was especially concerned that British men at railway stations were attempting to recruit Belgian women as prostitutes. Another worry was the influx of young women into cities across Britain. They had freedom and money (and the chance of jobs less regulated than domestic service) therefore were seen as likely to indulge in drunkenness and promiscuity.

Dawson’s Women’s Police Volunteers (and also the patrols of the National Union of Working Women) did their best to regulate the behavior of women liberated by the War’s opportunities. The NUWW inspected cinemas, for example, where it was believed that untoward things might be happening in the darkness.

I mention this because I was struck by a passage in a novel I’m reading at the moment. It’s Old Wine and New (1932) by Warwick Deeping, and there is a scene in London on Armistice Night, 1918. There is a scene where Marwood’s wife (one of Deeping’s fleshly and sensuous, and therefore evil, women) is out carousing with an Australian.

His face smiled a cruel icy smile.

‘What’s on?’

He heaved his way further, roughly, scornfully. He had a glimpse of a half-naked woman, and of other women. [….]

‘Go it girls. Leave nothing on.’

‘What’s happening?’

‘The totties are scragging one of the women police.’

Marwood’s wife let out a scream of laughter. Her face was exultant.

She is clearly on the side of the women (good-time girls who are sick of the policewomen’s interference?

For Deeping it is an expression of the new ugly spirit that would triumph in the post-war world. His book’s decent old-fashioned hero is deeply upset by stories like these:

When Scarsdale heard how a part of London had given thanks to God on Armistice night, he looked pained.

Was Deeping reporting an actual incident? I think he may have been.

Rose Allatini’s husband

cyril scott
Cyril Scott in middle age

Attempting to find out more about Rose Allatini, author of the extraordinary Despised and Rejected (1918), I’ve been looking at the autobiography of her husband Cyril Scott (1879-1970). He was a composer, and Bone of Contention (1969) is mostly about his music. It is a pleasant amble through his life, containing  many anecdotes in which celebrities remark on  how very good his compositions are.
There is also a good deal about the occult, the other main interest in Scott’s life. He had been converted to theosophy by Madam Blavatsky, but had moved away from the theosophical mainstream into a more personalised esoteric philosophy. It is in connection with the occult that most of the book’s scanty details about his marriage are found.
He says:

1921 was a momentous year for me; it was in that year that I made my first conscious contact with Master K. H. and that I married the novelist, later to become better known under the name of Eunice Buckley.

‘K. H.’ was the Mahatma Koot Hoomi, a disembodied spirit who communicated with selected mortals by way of telepathy and clairaudience. Scott explains: Read More »

W. Pett Ridge: ‘The Amazing Years’ (1917)

pett ridge

Few best-selling novelists are quite as forgotten as William Pett Ridge (1859–1930), who a century ago mapped the fascinating social borderland where the upper-working classes meet  the lower-middles. Social mobility is his theme, and he has the knack of getting you to care about his characters as they tread the uncertain paths of early twentieth-century life.
Pett Ridge was no more than a name to me before he became the month’s author at the Sheffield Hallam Popular Fiction reading group recently. The book of his that I read was Thanks to Sanderson (1911) and my review of it can be found on the group’s website. Sylvia’s review of his 1923 novel Miss Mannering  can also be found there.
Most of the group enjoyed the novels, and I began to wonder what Pett Ridge had written during the Great War years. I soon discovered The Amazing Years (1917), which is available free online at . The book is the story of the Hillier family of Chislehurst, as told by their servant  Weston, who has been with them since their early struggling days in Brockley.

There came Mr. Hillier’s good luck in the City with the agency in Basinghall Street, and we moved to The Croft, where I was told to make no reference to Brockley, and to disclose to the maids of the house, or to the servants at any other house, no particulars of early days that had been imparted to me in confidence or gained by observation.

The novel begins in late July, 1914. Read More »


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