Lives And Letters
Nonfiction by John Carswell
Virginia Woolf, in a mixture of distaste and admiration, called them “the literary underworld,” although their names were in the mainstream in the England of World War I and the 1920s. Today for the most part unfamiliar, then they connected variously, and not unimportantly, with Shaw and H. G. Wells, Aldous Huxley and D.H. Lawrence, not to overlook Pound, Eliot, E. M. Forster, and Edwin Muir, among countless others. The pages of A. R. Orage’s The New Age and John Middleton Murry’s numerous periodicals (Rhythm, The Blue Review, The Athenaeum, Adelphi) were the intellectual forums of their day, the mirrors of the trends in taste and social concerns. The five principals in John Carswell’s gracious, perceptive reminiscence were not of a single coterie. Rather, they shared in a particular kind of literary life: professional without being academic, dedicated without being regimented, all were devoted to careers which were often the only source of their livelihoods. In the final analysis, none were creative giants: Katherine Mansfield now remembered less for her stories, and Murry for his criticism, than as Lawrence’s Gudrun and Gerald (Women in Love); “Kot’s” role in introducing Russian literature becomes a dim footnote; the wild Beatrice Hastings perhaps glimpsed in a biography of Modigliani in Bohemian Paris; the fine imprint of Orage’s editorial genius, faded. Yet they were intrinsic to their time, and their serious and passionate lives and letters are quickened in these glowing pages.