The Edinburgh Companion to Twentieth-Century Literatures in English

By Brian McHale; Randall Stevenson | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
1928, London: A Strange Interlude

Chris Baldick


Exits and Entrances

It was a year of Victorian endings and postmodern beginnings. Thomas Hardy, last of the great Victorian writers, died in January, and his career concluded later in the year with the appearance of his last volume of poems, Winter Words. The unfinished business of Victorian lexicography, too, terminated in the dozen enormous volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary, published at last after seventy years of collective toil. Havelock Ellis’s tireless compendium of sexology, Studies in the Psychology of Sex, begun in the 1890s, was also concluded with the appearance of its seventh and final volume. Soames Forsyte, whom John Galsworthy had introduced to the world in 1905 as the irascible embodiment of Victorian high-bourgeois values, finally expired in the last of the long-running Forsyte sequence of novels, Swan Song. On the other hand, Andy Warhol and Stanley Kubrick were both born in 1928, which was also a breakthrough year for the nascent technology of television: the first television transmissions, including the first made across the Atlantic, were demonstrated in 1928, and the first TV sets were manufactured. Cinema was still in the throes of transition from the silent era to the new thrill of the ‘talkies’, and it witnessed the arrival of Walt Disney’s first Mickey Mouse cartoons.

Closer to the directly literary developments of the time was the arrival in Paris of Samuel Beckett, who soon met his fellow Irishman James Joyce and became his amanuensis and general errand-boy. Meanwhile in England there emerged a fresh generation of poets and novelists who had been born in the twentieth century itself: W. H. Auden and C. Day Lewis issued their debut collections of verse in this year, while Evelyn Waugh and Christopher Isherwood published their first novels, Decline and Fall and All the Conspirators. V. S. Pritchett too brought out his first book, an account of travels in Spain. At a more modest level, one ‘E. A. Blair’, later George Orwell, began his journalistic career with a short article for G.K.’s Weekly. With these premonitory stirrings, what we now understand to be the literary ‘Thirties’ started two years early.

The more prominent and visible literary landmarks of the year were of course associated with the established writers of the generations between Hardy’s and Auden’s. This was the year of W. B. Yeats’s The Tower, of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, of Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point, of Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude, of Lytton Strachey’s Elizabeth and Essex, of T. S. Eliot’s For Lancelot Andrewes, of Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, and of Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness. And from some of these writers, significant notes of resignation, valediction and abdication were heard. The title tale of D. H. Lawrence’s new collection

-73-

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