New Writing, John Lehmann’s influential British literary magazine, first appeared in 1936, and fostered politically Left writers and artists. It stopped publication in 1950, with issue 40, just as Tennessee Williams and John Wain (for example) joined the contributors. I found issues 27 to 40 in an Oxfam shop, and bought them for a fiver. I’ll be reviewing each issue each week: you’ll find links to the other issue reviews at the end.
There’s an unsettling mood of repressed sexuality emanating from this issue’s contents, as if the lid was being held down, but not quite tight enough. William Sansom’s ‘Murder’ is a meditation on letting your imagination get carried away with what the chimney sweep is doing to your wife behind closed doors while you’re making a mess of repainting a chair in the next-door room. The wife is a servant or a possession in all but name, and can only be imagined sexually.
Neal suddenly felt the presence of the next-wall room, of its separation, of the two people enclosed in it alone: and he felt a sense of evil, of the perpetration of things not right. But – what exactly could not be right? Something against his orders? … Nonsense … he gave no orders … Then something opposed to his views of behaviour … again, what? He had few such views, except on some violences, some extreme familiarities. Such as Elsa flirting with the sweep?
Such an unpleasantly possessive narrative character makes this a compelling story, if only because I want to root for the sweep.
Patrick Greer’s ‘The Woman and the Dog’ is another story set (see issues 27 and 28) in godforsaken agricultural struggle, populated by unsuitable unhappy people. Townies shouldn’t farm because they’ll only make a mess of it, and the younger women can only think miserably of the men who ignore them. Older women are simply horrible: where did such a mood of hatred and failure come from? Did no-one come to farming and enjoy it, after the war?
John Ward’s ‘Ill Wind’ continues to park the woman in the nurturing, sexualised role, but at least she’s given a robust voice and thoughts that indicate an independent spirit. Class consciousness among Lake District hikers, and an authentic echo of the war that shocks like an unexploded bomb.
In the criticism section, Julian Maclaren-Ross’s regular survey article tackles ‘British feature films’ with impressively strong knowledge of the genre that also ensures that we know what a highbrow he is. He fervently praises Brief Encounter as a triumph for Noel Coward, and very welcome after his ‘glorification of poker-faced naval captains and middle-class stolidity’.
A long article on D H Lawrence, and an even longer one of Gissing’s In the Year of Jubilee are followed by an extraordinarily long commentary by Helen Gardner on the Four Quartets. This needs the poems in front of you to be properly appreciated, but Gardner was a practised teacher of the sublime to the under-educated, and this is probably the most accessible essay on T S Eliot I have ever read.
The war creeps in again with beautiful lithographs or pen-and-ink works by Edward Bawden and Anthony Gross.
Angus McBean‘s photographs of Peter Brook’s production of Love Labour’s Lost sit beside a melodramatic scene from J B Priestley: British theatre of the period.
James Stern’s ‘A Peaceful Place’ is narrated by an American working in immediate post-war Germany, who comes across a US Army war cemetery in the middle of a bombed forest near Nurnberg. The grass is impeccably mowed, the white headstones are militarily arranged in an aesthetically satisfying way, and the custodian keeps his tools in an old German sportsplatz. But the inhabitants of the graveyard are not the victims of battles: there are other causes of death for the Americans trapped in Europe for three long years.
After all this nervous dark trauma of a post-war world, I read Jocelyn Brooke‘s story ‘The blanket’ expecting horrors. Would the roaming servicemen brutalise the Italian children while the padrone was at the fields? Would the faunlike eldest son avenge his mother’s indignity, or would the soldiers lose their sense of propriety or good sense, and take more than they could drink, or pay for? Would the sergeant throw them in clink for crawling back to camp blind-drunk? Would anyone notice the theft of an army blanket? Could anything worse than these things happen?
Other issue reviews:
12 thoughts on “Penguin New Writing 29, autumn 1946”