- 1 One example of this is Jenny McDonnell’s book Katherine Mansfield and the Modernist Marketplace, wh (...)
1The Adelphi, a London literary magazine which ran from 1923 to 1927 under the direction of John Middleton Murry, then as The New Adelphi and again The Adelphi from 1927 to 1955 (according to the British Library records), is difficult to categorize. Its inclusion in Peter Brooker and Andrew Thacker’s 2009 Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines (Vol. 1, Britain and Ireland, 1880-1955), would suggest that this magazine is one of the Modernist ones, but Michael Whitworth’s presentation suggests otherwise. Apart from the Oxford History however, either because it lived several lives in one and is difficult to characterize as a unit, or because of Murry’s unfashionable writing, and with the exception of the well-documented Romanticism versus Classicism debate with T.S. Eliot’s Criterion, one finds that The Adelphi is rather neglected by Modernism and periodical studies scholars. For historical detail, one has to go to biographies of J. M. Murry, of D. H. Lawrence, of Samuel Koteliansky or Katherine Mansfield, who died in 1923 leaving Murry in care of her unpublished work, at the risk of losing sight of the magazine as a specific object and a reading experience. To Mansfield biographers, The Adelphi is not a favourite part of the corpus, because it marks a low point in her posthumous career,1 her work in its pages often appearing more like piecemeal plunder than nearly-lost gems.
2Whether The Adelphi is or is not a Modernist magazine will not be decided here. In its later phases, it certainly helped to establish the reputation of important innovative writers whom we now take to embody European modernity: Dorothy Richardson, Proust, Joyce, Valéry. Yet it was not, in its original intent, a site of innovation. Even a cursory look at the table of contents of volume 1 confirms that the first objectives addressed by the founders were to be a posthumous outlet for the work of Katherine Mansfield and also to sell reasonably well rather than to seek the approval of a demanding, blasé literary intelligentsia. Reasonably priced at one shilling, it featured highly marketable authors from the first numbers: Anton Tchehov, H. G. Wells, Arnold Bennett, John Galsworthy… Even D. H. Lawrence, whose difficult psychology and travel essays feature prominently in the first two volumes of the magazine (June 1923 to 1925), was an excellent recruit: the obscenity case against Women in Love had been dropped the previous year but it had given the novel considerable publicity, effectively resulting in the selling-out of its first run in the USA. Number 1 of The Adelphi sold a remarkable 20 000 copies (Brooker and Thacker 343).
- 2 The Mark Rutherford novels had been very successful in the 1880s. The Autobiography of Mark Rutherf (...)
3Leaving aside Lawrence’s strange hybrid psychology writing, in the first twelve numbers, there is little indication that supporting literary experimentation was on Murry’s agenda. Its best-represented authors are remembered for their prolific output, their sound moral sense or a particular relevance as human documents, but Herbert E. Palmer, H. M. Tomlinson, or Roger Dataller are not on Modernist studies reading lists. Edmund Blunden is, but not as a reformer of English-language poetry. John Stuart Mill and Walter de la Mare are offered as feature pieces in (respectively) numbers 11 and 8 of volume 1, while volume 2 number 2 of The Adelphi opens with a ten-page eulogy of Mark Rutherford (William Hale White) in response to a new edition of his letters. More comments on the much-loved Victorian moralist appear before and after Murry’s piece, further exemplifying the magazine’s interest in foregrounding the old masters.2
4However, this paper treats The Adelphi not as a canon-consolidating institution but as an arena where cultural legitimacy can be seen to shift, sometimes gradually, sometimes quite dramatically, despite great inertia. The early numbers, on which I shall focus, are interesting for the way they show The Adelphi opening itself up to modernity, as the editor lived up to the challenge of changing its preconceptions, addressing a newly mixed readership and clearing a precious few pages for a tenacious and unconventional cinema reviewer—one of the first ever, and a woman.
- 3 Gayla Diment actually attributes the founding impulse of The Adelphi to Samuel Koteliansky. His own (...)
- 4 J. M. Murry, Defending Romanticism, ed. Malcolm Woodfield, Bristol: Bristol Press, 1989, 42.
5The marginal space women’s writing originally received in The Adelphi belied the professed inclusiveness of the project. In the first ten issues, the space devoted to women writers totals about ten percent if one excludes the posthumous contributions of Mansfield, whose work was now in the hands of her husband John Middleton Murry, the founder and editor of The Adelphi. Adelphi means ‘Brothers’; theoretically of course, it is not a men-only brotherhood, and Murry’s editorials are clear that the brotherhood should include a broad base of readers of both sexes—that is, anyone tired of the amoral aestheticism or the highbrow aloofness of contemporary literature, anyone caring about literature with a bearing on life and how it is lived (I paraphrase the first editorials). But the founding brotherhood was in fact all male—J. M. Murry, S. Koteliansky3, H. M. Thomlinson, J. W. N. Sullivan4—the best-represented writer being Murry himself under various guises. Added to repeated allusions to the eternal feminine throughout the first volume, and a clear relegation of the lady reader to the outer circle of passive sympathizers (she is called ‘Rosie’ in ‘Mr. Joiner’, a portrait of the reader to be found in issue 1, 67–68), this posed a problem in terms of marketing. In the quest for a stable readership and commercial success, not to be taken for granted in the interwar period, targeting the right audience involved tailoring one’s editorial line to the expectations of as broad a middle-class as possible. This educated public with a steady source of income included a dramatically increased proportion of women.
- 5 Jeffrey Meyers, D. H. Lawrence: A Biography, New York: Cooper Square Publishers, 2002, 239 (October (...)
6However, the covert gender hierarchy at play in some of the prose selected for publication in the early Adelphi may have seemed outdated at a time when women were gaining visibility and agency in the public sphere. A case in point is D. H. Lawrence’s series of anti-modern psychology essays, the first of which is entitled ‘Trees and Babies and Papas and Mamas.’ One biographer believes that Lawrence had been reading Carl Jung on the incest-motive5; this seems a reasonable claim, for in his Adelphi contributions, which are in fact excerpts from his Fantasia of the Unconscious (published in book form in America a few months earlier), the modern peril is presented under the guise of the Mother, the eroticised womb of preconscious infancy to which every child or adult is drawn back and whose attraction we are to resist.
7Number 7 (December 1923) of The Adelphi is particularly bad from the point of view of the magazine editor in need of readership diversification. It includes no writing by women beside Mansfield, but two rather sad portraits of women. The one entitled ‘A Daily Woman’ is cynically realistic, and presents the brief exchange between a daily home servant and her employer in terms of an encounter with the ‘Other,’ that ‘Other’ being suspiciously unresponsive, like an empty shell in the shape of an overworked female (611–5). The other piece is a four-page sketch entitled ‘Incompatibility’ (650-4). ‘Incompatibility’ is about a long-delayed marriage that is looking increasingly doomed to failure because of the girl’s lack of interest in books. Both ‘A Daily Woman’ and ‘Incompatibility’ are illustrations of arrested development, self-centred callousness and mental inertia. In ‘Incompatibility,’ the bride to be is described as ‘encased in clay’; in ‘A Daily Woman,’ too, one is given the impression of a woman made of clay, not the deathly clay of the story in Dubliners but the earthy, insentient material of a creature of pure functionality.
- 6 See Huyssen’s classic ‘Mass Culture as Woman: Modernism’s Other’ (Huyssen 44–58).
- 7 ‘David and Goliath’, The Adelphi 1.5 (October 1923): 430.
- 8 The same ‘Journeyman’ (one of Murry’s pseudonyms) who called for serious cinema criticism in Octobe (...)
- 9 ‘We have come to the end, for the time being, of the study of man in his relation to man. Or man in (...)
8The overlapping of the categories of gender and class will not surprise the historian of modernism.6 Correspondingly, the gendering of the demotic as feminine runs parallel with an aesthetic hierarchy of high art versus low art, at the very bottom of which one finds, or found in the mid–1920s, the cinema. ‘Why is it,’ asks The Adelphi’s ‘Journeyman,’ ‘that there is no real criticism of the cinema?’7 The answer is that most critics at the time despised the cinema too much to waste any time building proper critical tools and criteria by which to assess and improve it. It is amusing, in retrospect, to see how disdainful and wary the typical Adelphi contributor was of ‘the movies,’ as if there really was no hope of improving the movies and turning them into cinéma d’auteur.8 As for D. H. Lawrence, he considered the cinema as the ultimate degenerate art: ‘a very monstrous weed’ for little playboys and little playgirls, he called it in one of his contributions, but fortunately a short-lived one (or so he thought).9
- 10 A letter by Tomlinson quoted by Diment suggests that the departure of Koteliansly signaled a turn a (...)
9Gayla Diment retraces the time around the spring of 1924 when Koteliansly began to consider giving up his position. At the same time, it was becoming obvious that Lawrence was not interested in stepping in. It appears that Murry then felt completely free to shift his editorial choices for better viability (Diment 152–3).10 Diment describes this transition, based on the protagonists’ letter exchanges, as a change ‘to suit Murry as editor’ (by contrast with the original notion of a founding brotherhood): rather than a groundbreaking literary statement, it was to be the instrument of Murry’s spiritual campaign, with a ‘function to perform, in the world’ (Diment 153). This instrument had to have financial solidity and readerly appeal, which meant making compromises with the public taste. To Koteliansky, this was blasphemy, and a degradation of all the magazine stood for.
10However, there is a sense in which the transition was a change for the better. Most importantly, it included more women’s writing and a conscious effort to sponsor British film criticism, along with more traditional literary pursuits. In number 11 (April 1924), there is a ‘feature’ essay on punctuation by Dorothy Richardson and a short piece by Iris Barry on Charlie Chaplin (see Illustration 1). In total, a third of this issue was written by women; accordingly, and this is another indication of J. M. Murry’s commercial astuteness, the advertising now targets women too (Illustration 2). The Adelphi now advertises ‘dainty and inexpensive trousseaux sets’ and afternoon dancing gowns for young ladies of independent means in search of reasonably priced refinements. But the real event is the inclusion, as a regular contributor, of Iris Barry.
11Barry was British but foreign-educated; she had none of the Oxbridge disdain for the movies; and because she was a competent writer and a dedicated film enthusiast, she went on to co-found the British Film Society and then the MoMA Film library. Modernism and Film historian Leslie Hankins, along with Peter Brooker, Laura Marcus and Haidee Wasson, began some ten years ago to document the central role of Iris Barry in the invention of film criticism in Britain. Retracing the history of early film criticism in the 1920s and 30s in Britain, Leslie Hankins identifies Barry as a key figure, a pioneer whose Film Society brought great numbers of cinema sceptics to film. This is what Hankins writes about her:
Thanks to Iris Barry, cinema was in vogue; cinema was, in fact, in Vogue, the Adelphi, the Spectator, and the Daily Mail. In 1924, she penned her earliest film criticism: two film reviews for the Contributors' Club in the Adelphi for March and April. She went on to write over forty essays for the Spectator in 1924-1927, at least five essays for the British Vogue in 1924-1926, and over sixty columns for the Daily Mail from 1926-1930. Her many articles and her pioneering book, Let's Go to the Movies!, published in the autumn of 1926, shaped a generation of cinema enthusiasts. (Hankins 488)
12Focusing now on Barry’s earliest film criticism, her two film reviews in The Adelphi, I would like to show that, however minor in length and casual in style, they were actually shaking the foundations of certain well-established representations about women, about modernity, and about the culture of the masses of which The Adelphi had been the unquestioning vehicle.
- 11 Violet Le Maistre, The Adelphi 2.2 (July 1924): 168–9.
- 12 ‘Does the public know what it wants?.’ The Adelphi 1.8 (January 1924): 702.
- 13 ‘Now one thing never to be lost sight of in considering the cinema is that it exists for the purpos (...)
13Take Barry’s April 1924 review of Charles Chaplin’s The Woman of Paris. The film was disliked when it first appeared in 1923: it contained none of the skillful clown performance of Chaplin’s previous works, and it really did shock quite a few Phillidas and Aunt Adelas (names given to the cinemagoers in a satirical sketch entitled ‘Shocked by Proxy,’ by Violet Le Maistre).11 This unfavourable reception elicited much bitterness on the part of Charlie Chaplin himself, who had to resign himself to the inadequacy of his public.12 Barry took it upon herself to defend Chaplin’s Woman of Paris, a young woman on the loose who was not, for once, a stock-type villainess. Her review appeared in issue 11 (April 1924), which as I mentioned earlier was distinctly more commercial and visually more appealing than the previous issue. It was an issue designed for a female readership of working girls and cinema goers (the cinema audience at the time being mostly female13). Yet ironically issue number 11 is where one finds the most brazenly misogynistic piece of the whole volume, a letter to the editor which reads as follows:
- 14 ‘The Ugliness of Women,’ The Adelphi 1.11 (April 1924): 1025-6.
I believe that in every woman born there is a seed of terrible, unmentionable evil; evil such as man–a simple creature for all his passions and lusts–could never dream of in the most horrible of nightmares, could never conceive in imagination. No doubt the evil growth is derived from Eve, who certainly did or thought something wicked beyond words.14
- 15 Andrew Harrison, ‘Meat-Lust. An Unpublished Manuscript by D. H. Lawrence,’ The Times Literary Suppl (...)
- 16 The explanation given by Harrison is that Lawrence’s letter was too outspoken, but considering the (...)
14This apparently artless letter is to be analyzed as part of a sly editorial ploy to attract attention to the magazine through a heightened agonistic dynamic. The letter is signed J. H. R., whom Andrew Harrison speculates to be John Hall Rider,15 thus correcting my original impression that it was penned by Murry himself, who often resorted to pseudonyms if it helped to make the magazine’s contents look less Murry-oriented. But if Murry did not write the letter himself, he did at least select it for publication. The fact that he could have suppressed it incriminates him at least in part, and shows that his agenda as an editor sometimes led him to foreground poor writing to the detriment of more noteworthy contributions. Andrew Harrison discovered that, by contrast with his leniency in deciding to include a working man’s diatribe against the eternal feminine, Murry decided to suppress D. H. Lawrence’s riskily progressive response to the ‘J. H. R.’ letter, a stinging indictment of his fellow males’ general immaturity.16
- 17 The Adelphi 1.11 (April 1924): 1009–10.
15Still, the woman-hating letter is interesting because it does exactly what film melodrama is despised for doing: creating larger-than-life, allegorical villainesses. According to Barry’s 1924 film review, undermining the Hollywood-type ‘villainess’ was a truly welcome effect of Chaplin’s Woman of Paris: ‘In The Woman of Paris away go the dreary villainess of the underworld and the shallow roué. We have instead a Marie who does not gulp champagne and is not a bit depraved. She is just an impulsive, unlucky girl with an unformed character,’17 Always the voice of progress, Iris Barry accepts film as an art in the making. In the case of The Woman of Paris, instead of dismissing it as others did on grounds of the silliness of its plot, she simply states that the plot is ‘unassuming and without much value’ and moves on to the real merits of the film—namely, its clever use of title cards, its ‘bewitching’ photography, and most importantly, its eponymous female character, the unmarried young lady who is not a papier-mâché Eve of melodrama, but who has some complexity.
16The Woman of Paris is a film that begins with a promise of romantic love but frustrates that expectation. It does not marry off its central character but instead, at the end, it sends her off wiser and still unmarried to be an orphanage nurse. It is an unlikely ending, and one can hardly talk of emancipation, but it is a step in the right direction in the opinion of the lady journalist who openly regretted the dependent condition of women. The notion that mothers should be State-endowed had been gaining momentum since the time of Barry’s birth. As it was, a mother simply could not afford to be single. Iris Barry, the unmarried lover of Wyndham Lewis, the unhappy mother of two of his unprovided-for children, had strong words in her 1926 book Let’s go to the Movies against the marriage imperative in film plots. She liked to present herself as a reformer of Savonarolian fierceness when it came to turning the cinema away from romance and the marriage imperative:
I am not at all convinced that the public as a whole do want love stuff and love stuff only. I think the love stuff is overdone. It's at such a pass now that you can't have a woman nestle in any man's arms without the collective audience reaching for its hat under the impression that the finale is due. I concur that a love interest would always be useful and necessary in seven-eighths of all films. But not such a love interest. Not this cheap business of getting oneself married, not this insistence on the feminine power of attracting a man till he finds her bed and board till the end of her days without her making one effort to deserve it.
And if it is so, then let us unite quickly to do something about bringing the great Anglo-Saxon races to an end. For if the adult population of England, America, Canada, Australia and S. Africa think that the main thing on earth is for a woman to get herself married off, then the sooner the end the better. If I thought it, I wouldn't be concerned about picking the cinema out of the mud, I'd be manufacturing bombs and dropping germs into the biggest reservoirs. I suppose we have all liked Jane Austen for ridiculing this "getting married" business. But women in those days really had some excuse for feeling so urgent about matrimony. It was the one career open to them. To-day, thank heaven, we're crawling out of that bog! (Barry 1926, 64–5)
17In writing that was characterised as ‘demotic’ in style (by Laura Marcus in The Tenth Muse), Barry posits a mutuality of purpose between serious cinema and the independent woman in the year of the first Labour government: picking oneself out of the mud and becoming a new force to be reckoned with. Modern independent woman and serious cinema really do seem to have co-emerged symbiotically in the mid–1920s in the pages of those magazines which chose to make space for the cinema. The cinemagoer was to be gradually taken out of her playgirl complacency and made into a responsible consumer. That, according to the early film critic, was the single most important objective if cinema was to be established as an art form.
18In her other Adelphi film review, on Karl Grune’s The Street (1923), Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920), and Fritz Lang’s Destiny (1921), Barry comments on the condition of the cinemagoer: ‘I often consider, when I am in the cinema, how much each unique individual sitting in the darkness there, watching that representation of other interacting individuals on the screen, resembles the solitary creatures who sit at home behind a veil of window-curtains, peeping out at passers-by’ (Barry 1924a, 926). But unlike the voyeur, who is left out of the drama, viewers are drawn into the drama, stimulated as well as gratified: ‘At least the watchers in the cinema get more satisfaction; for there, besides the spectacle of moving creatures they are constantly drawn out of themselves by a vicarious participation in the action of the play, and they are sometimes drawn into themselves to comment and reflect upon the causes and effects of the action, to judge what truth there is for themselves personally in the play’ (927). A cinema seat is not the window from which bored peeping Toms watch the world go by: you are or should be a different person when you come out of the theatre. There is mutual plasticity, as it were, of the moving image and the viewer’s consciousness: serious film will change your mental makeup. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is particularly good as an educator: ‘Is life like that to a madman? I ask, looking outwards. And, what then is life like to me? I add, looking inwards. Perhaps it is only in degree less like reality than the madman's story is like fact. I suddenly doubt the evidence of my senses, which I had thoughtlessly accepted as testimony on the appearance of the world: it is good and important that I should doubt that evidence’ (928).
19Interestingly, at this budding stage of film criticism, Barry’s demotic writing concurs with Siegfried Kracauer’s more formal philosophical essay on film which appeared in the Frankfurter Zeitung three years later. Kracauer was a Marxist philosopher and a cultural critic, a friend of Adorno’s and Walter Benjamin’s, a peripheral associate of what came to be known as the Frankfurt School. Kracauer did not so much condemn the old film melodrama as see it as a syndrome through which the malfunctions of modernity could be read, a mirror held to the masses therein to recognize their own alienation. He felt that the overwhelming flow of sensation the cinema spectator had to process could lead to self-revelation, and as a collective experience could be instrumental in bringing about the end of bourgeois domination. Iris Barry, though a fiery reformer and a tireless activist, was concerned with the liberation of the individual cinemagoer rather than that of the proletarian masses; but what Kracauer said of distraction (Zerstreuung), for example, is relevant to the kind of effect Barry expected from a good film.
20In her March 1924 film review, Barry had nothing but praise for Karl Grune’s The Street. She refers to it as ‘the most refreshingly sensual and the most moral film I have ever seen’ (928). She does not expand on that verdict but whoever had seen the film could tell how remarkably it exemplified the conjunction of sensuality and edification so specific to this new art form. The Street has very few narrative interventions but it is lavish in expressionistic light effects. The first sequence shows a bored husband longingly peeping out at the street scene (like the voyeur in Barry’s review, from behind a veil of window-curtains) until he can no longer resist the appeal of the circus-like hustle and bustle outside. He is entertained, as it were, to the point of distraction. At first it is as if the street was signaling to the bored husband, through the light-play on the ceiling, luring him away from his responsibilities, promising him an encounter, riotous fun and a feast of unknown sensations; the irresistible titillation is represented through effects of sensory saturation and fragmentation, as the viewer’s attention is attracted in several competing directions with greater and greater speed, then suddenly focused on one final spectacular discharge of light and energy. The central character then rushes into the street, running the risk of losing everything.
21The initiatory process is about losing oneself in one’s sense impressions, going all the way down the street of sensation, until one doubts the reality of things or until one realizes that ‘reality itself is a construction’ as Kracauer’s famous (though of course archetypal) formula goes. What Barry only gestured towards in her review of three German films, Siegfried Kracauer sought to theorize in his 1927 essay ‘The Cult of Distraction.’ In his 1995 introduction to Kracauer’s Weimar essays, Thomas Levin summed up his approach to the new cinema of the 1920s as a ‘nonbourgeois mode of sensory experience,’ a newly destabilising art form which ‘retool[ed] perceptual and motor skills for the new sensorial economy of modernity, whose most salient characteristics are its speed and abrupt transitions—the very hallmark of cinema as the school of “shock,” which Benjamin would celebrate almost a decade later as one of the medium’s most progressive features.’ ‘Here,’ writes Kracauer in Levin’s translation, ‘in pure externality the audience encounters itself; its own reality is revealed in the fragmented sequence of splendid sense impressions. Were this reality to remain hidden from the viewers, they could neither attack nor change it; its disclosure in distraction is therefore of moral significance’ (Kracauer 26).
22The cinema was no longer a silly sort of entertainment for flappers: it was shock, delight and edification combined, Kracauer going so far, in his own revolutionary perspective, as to compare it to a rite of passage. In light of his theory of the cult of distraction, dated now but relevant to much of the 1920s magazine culture and perhaps to much of modernism in our current perception of it, Iris Barry was a precursor—as prescient as Kracauer, and ready to write for even less prepared readers. Consider the context of publication of Barry’s reviews: not the highbrow, progressive Frankfurter Zeitung, but The Adelphi. Barry writes in a mixed-gender, accessible literary magazine, making her points in a casual, intimate, conversational voice, unafraid to bring in pleasure as a worthy pursuit. The mood she so gradually introduces in The Adelphi is a ‘roaring twenties’ mood which nicely counterbalances the grand prophetic statements which were making The Adelphi such a cloying read sometimes. Take her piece on Charlie Chaplin, for example, in the April 1924 issue. It is wedged in between a very solemn and self-important piece on ‘The Ancient Science of Astrology’ by Frederick Carter and a review of the same writer’s work on Apocalyptic symbolism by one L. H. Davidson (in fact D. H. Lawrence, who was preparing his own revisionist exegesis of the Book of Revelation). In this position, Iris Barry’s review feels at once refreshing and insightful, whereby one learns that even silly plots can carry a life-changing sensory experience, that there is such a thing as cinéma d’auteur, and that the cinema has a vital role in a rapidly evolving consumer democracy.