Gibbs list updated

A few weeks ago I posted a checklist of the novels of Philip Gibbs. Several readers kindly sent in suggestions for additions or corrections. I have now incorporated these, and the list is updated.

At the Sheffield Hallam popular fiction reading group, we have been reading Gibbs this month. I read The Winding Lane, his 1931 study of a middlebrow novelist caught between, on the one hand, the pretensions of the intellectual coterie who write the book reviews, and on the other, the vulgarity of the mass market. It’s an interesting study in the sociology of literature, though not a very good novel. My review is online here.

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Looking through the 1915 edition of BLAST (which you can find in its entirety online here).

I was struck by the article by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (‘Written from the Trenches’), and especially by its conclusion:


Whenever I go to an exhibition of British modernist art, it is always Gaudier’s sculpture that most lifts my spirit.

By the time this issue of BLAST appeared, Gaudier was dead.

Philip Gibbs and the war-book boom

The novelist hero of Philip Gibbs’s 1931 novel The Winding Lane is an ex-soldier rather ill at ease in the literary world. At the Pen and Palette, a bohemian club catering for the artistic set, he notes the taste of some of the members:

Some of these middle-aged women praised with rather hysterical enthusiasms the grossness of certain war novels which had lately been the vogue.

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A yawning poet

John Smart has left an interesting comment/question on the Parodies of Modernism page of this blog. Since the list of comments on the right hand side for some reason only lists comments on recent posts,  I’ll repeat his question here so that more people will see it .

In 1917 Elizabeth Asquith held a Poets’ Reading for charity. Eleven poets read: W J Turner, Drinkwater, de la Mare, Belloc, Owen Seaman, Harold Monro, Yeats, Hewlett, Binyon and Squire.

The journalist writes ‘one of the greatest living poets who has written some of the best war poems was not invited to read, but yawned effectively.’

He asks if I’ve any idea who the poet was. I haven’t. Maybe one of my readers has.

Since the poet is labelled ‘one of the greatest living poets’ I don’t think it’s one of the young soldier-poets who were just beginning to make their name. I’ll put a tentative bet on Thomas Hardy.
Probably the only way to find out for sure is to check diaries of the period. Mr Smart, do you have an approximate date in 1917? I’ll take a look at Margot Asquith’s diary. Also Arnold Bennett’s journal, since he records several readings of war poetry.

The Novels of Philip Gibbs – a checklist

Update: I have now added to the original list I posted a few weeks ago, including the suggestions kindly sent to me by readers, and some others, too. Some of my short summeries are guesswork, and two novels I can find no facts about. Further suggestions and additions will be welcomed.

Back in 1937, Sir Philip Gibbs was a novelist famous enough to be included in Wills’s set of modern British authors cigarette cards. Today his novels seem to be completely forgotten, though there are historians who still speak highly of his work as a war correspondent, especially as collected in Realities of War (1921), with its scepticism about the quality of British generalship.

Gibbs wrote too much. He wrote well over a hundred books, fiction and non-fiction.
His novels are almost always based in his journalistic concerns – they have been described as ‘newsreel novels’, since they take a current issue and dramatise it. Read More »

Ben Shephard (1948-2017)

I am sorry to hear of the death of Ben Shephard, author of A War of Nerves. He died in October, but for some reason his obituary only appeared in the Guardian newspaper this morning.
A War of Nerves cuts through many of the pieties about shell-shock and PSTD, and looks at the conditions, and their treatment through the years, objectively. Read More »

Bestsellers Lost and Found

At Sheffield Hallam University this Saturday (November 18th) there will be  a presentation about ‘Bestsellers Lost and Found’, based on the 1937 set of cigarette cards: Famous British Authors. Here’s a sample of the writers that Wills chose to commemorate:

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Are Poppies Racist?

[D]uring the last few years an exceptionally debased form of pacifism, growing out of the philosophy of materialism, has attempted to divide us into two camps: on the one side ignorant, bloodthirsty militarists, and on the other enlightened pacifists. It is the object of the self-styled enlightened people to persuade the young that the war was ‘futile’; that those who fought were silly dupes swept away by emotional appeal; that nobody knew what it was about; that nobody can say who was guilty of beginning it all; and so on.

That is by J.B. Morton, in his introduction to the 1934 reprint of The Barber of Putney (first published 1919).

His language is characteristically boisterous, but he has a point about the influence of this pervasive dualism. In the Age of Morpurgo, its influence is stronger than ever, and we can expect to see plenty of signs of it as we enter this year’s Remembrance season. This year poppies seem to be the main target of people who think in binary terms. Poppy Day is about war, but it isn’t explicitly pacifist, so it must be militarist, the binary logic goes. Read More »

Owen Rhoscomyl

owen rhosc

The current issue of the Journal Of Military History prints my review of John E. Ellis’s very readable biography of ‘Owen Rhoscomyl‘ – one of the most extraordinary men of the early twentieth century that you have (probably) never heard of. Read More »

What Housman said

‘The Great War cannot have made much change in the opinions of any man of imagination.’ A.E. Housman