John Lehmann begins this issue by announcing that he’s dropping my favourite part of the magazine, The Living Moment. The reason for what he rightly calls this ‘freakish editorial decision’ is that the articles suitable for this section —commissioned reportage of changing post-war life — are getting scarce. However, despite this annoying beginning, I think this issue of Penguin New Writing is one of the best I’ve read, for the quality and accessibility of the fiction and non-fiction, and some stunning photographs of artists and authors. As usual, they’re all men, but I expect nothing better from Lehmann now: he was not an editor interested in what women had to say, or in giving them the chance to do so.
L A G Strong’s ‘Pray for Her’ is a good, solid story about the dangers of prayer, and being careful what you wish for, even from God. A Reverend Mother is on the point of death and even the milkman is sorrowing. But the faith of the nuns and novices is mighty, and the Lord does not ignore them. To their great consternation.
Mervyn Jones-Evans’ ‘The Silver Dish’ has a delicacy in how it handles the subject of changing feelings between a fastidious boy and his insensitive father, from frustration and misery to a calculating, gentle manipulation. There is more awakening than simply the awkwardness of pre-teenage agonies in this story. The mother, too, is changing how she feels about her beloved boy.
T C Worsley’s ‘Sleepy pears’ is named after the kind of fruit that look perfect in the bowl, but are a disappointing grey mush inside. I’m not sure why he felt the need to be SO negative about modern theatre, since he admires nearly everything that he describes. But there is a supercilious tone of judgement about the playwrights whom he thinks could do a little more work to fully realise their potential, that reads amusingly in the hindsight of today. ‘The Glass Menagerie is Mr Williams’ first full-length play. We shall doubtless know better what he is worth when we have seen his Streetcar Named Desire’.
Alan Pryce-Jones on ‘The Georgian Poets’ is a poetry survey of critical thinking on the past 50 years. It’s acute and generous, very well-read, and with some complex things to say about how ‘the Georgians’ emerged and were invented, and what their lasting legacy is. Oddly, no women poets existed in this period for Pryce-Jones to take notice of, not even Edith Sitwell, and certainly not Anna Wickham, just two important female poets of this period. But there’s no point in complaining.
The photographs of ‘contemporary British painters’ also ignore any women artists active during this period (Barbara Hepworth, Mary Adshead, Kathleen Guthrie, and Joan Hassall, stay in your studios, dears). This is a pity, because these portraits are stunning, for a sense of how the artists worked, what they produced, and how they presented themselves.
There are some startling presciences: John Craxton is positively channelling James Dean.
Leonard Rosoman is the spit of Bowie as the Thin White Duke.
Finally, ending this review of this issue, which really is a stonking good read, even the stories and articles I haven’t mentioned, is John W Aldridge on ‘The new generation of American writers’. Rather eccentrically he includes James Joyce among this company, perhaps to be able to say something nice about at least one of the Lost Generation. Apart from a reverential mention of Gertrude Stein, no women are worth mentioning (God, I’m so tired of this), and he says some tough stuff about tough-guy hard-drinking godlike writers. ‘It is difficult and a little embarrassing to reread Hemingway nowadays’.