‘the word known to all men’

Tom Deveson’s comment on my Y.Y. post reminds us of Joyce and his linguistic taboo-breaking. Robert Lynd was cautious about this:

‘There are things that even hardened war veterans do not like to see in cold print.’

It’s interesting to see the association of swearing and the war. Even civilians like Lynd had gathered that the war was an obscenity-rich environment, where even those brought up carefully might become hardened to the most basic kinds of language.

This reminds me of a theory I’ve been forming for some time. I am not an especially obsessive Joycean, and those who know more about the subject may shoot me down in flames for this, but I might as well explain my idea here, in the hope that it might interest someone.

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On Ebay again, I’ve bought a job lot of David Low caricatures as issued as supplements to the New Statesman in 1926.

Most are named, but one is puzzling me:

The initials Y.Y. are foxing me – though I have an idea that I ought to know who this is. Can anyone enlighten me?

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Tipping a policeman

I’m indulging myself during this tedious lockdown by re-reading Arnold Bennett’s Imperial Palace (1930). At the moment I’m wondering about something that occurs in the episode where dynamic Gracie Savott parks her car outside Smithfield market, and asks a policman to keep an eye on it.
On leaving the market, ‘she resumed her dark cloak, tipped the policeman before Evelyn could do so, and slowly climbed into the car’.
I’ve come across the custom of tipping policeman before in novels of the twenties, especially detective novels.
These days, though, I’ve feeling that I’d be regarded with some suspicion if I offered our local community police officer a fiver for services rendered. So – does anyone know when the custom of tipping policemen ended? My guess would be somewhere about the Second World War. Am I right?

Douglas Goldring, Patrick Hamilton

I’ve just realised that I never mentioned on this blog that I recently wrote a review of Douglas Goldring’s The Fortune (1917) for the Sheffield Hallam Popular Fiction blog.

Goldring’s book is remarkable for its depiction of James Murdoch, a man who objects to war not on religious or political grounds, but because it seems an unnecessary and sentimental enterprise. The scene in which he defends his attitudes to a military Tribunal is very well done. Read the review here.

Goldring’s novel is a dissection of English attitudes, as is another book I’ve recently reviewed for the Sheffield blog, Patrick Hamilton’s Impromptu in Moribundia (1939). You can read about it here.

Max Beerbohm and ‘Tubby’ Clayton

Idle in the lockdown, I did a bit of exploring in Ebay, a site where I’ve not ventured much recently. I bought myself this print, a drawing of Rev. P.B. ‘Tubby’ Clayton by Max Beerbohm, one of a set of lithographs of current notables that Max drew for the Spectator in 1931.

I have a small collection of Beerbohm prints (with a display of his caricatures from Vanity Fair in our dining room, and a few from The Poets’ Corner scattered around the house) and copies of almost all of his books. I’m mostly a haphazard collector of things, but Beerbohm is one of the few authors and artists for whom i’d like to be a completist.

But what I want to ask is – why ‘Tubby’ Clayton? I can’t think of anyone less like Max, a non-religious aesthete who avoided all kinds of earnestness, than Clayton, the humane padre who was the moving spirit behind Toc H (Talbot House) the building in Poperinghe that offered teetotal rest and relaxation to soldiers. There was a chapel upstairs, but soldiers were under no pressure to visit it. It was a place where they could sit, chat and write letters (without the distractions and temptations found in the bars and brothels that were the other main attractions in Poperinghe.)

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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.