Modernism, Magazines, and the British Avant-Garde

Modernism, Magazines, and the British Avant-Garde

Modernism, Magazines, and the British Avant-Garde

Modernism, Magazines, and the British Avant-Garde


This book is a re-examination of the fertile years of early modernism immediately preceding the First World War. During this period, how, where, and under whose terms the avant-garde in Britain would be constructed and consumed were very much to play for. It is the first study to look in detail at two little magazines marginalised from many accounts of this competitive process: Rhythm and the Blue Review. By thoroughly examining not only the content but the interrelated networks that defined and surrounded these publications, Faith Binckes aims to provide a fresh and challenging perspective to the on-going reappraisal of modernism.

Founded in 1911, and edited by John Middleton Murry with assistance from Michael Sadleir and subsequently from Katherine Mansfield, these magazines featured a series of pivotal moments. Rhythm was the arena for a challenge to Roger Fry's vision of Post-Impressionism, for the introduction of Picasso to a British audience, for early short stories and reviews by Lawrence, and for Mansfield's discovery of a voice in which to frame her breakthrough writing on New Zealand. A further context for many of these experiments was the extended and acrimonious debate Rhythm conducted with A.R. Orage's New Age, in which issues of the proper gender, generation, and formulation of modernity were debated month by month.

However, reading magazines as vehicles for avant-garde development can only provide half the story. The book also pays close attention to their dialogic, reproductive, and periodical nature, and explores the strategies at work within the terminology of the new. Crucially, it argues that they offer compelling material evidence for the consistently mobile and multiple boundaries of the modern, and puts forward a compelling case for focusing upon the specificity of magazines as a medium for literary and artistic innovation.


In April 1968, the Times Literary Supplement ran a special feature prompted, it announced, by a ‘curious new publishing enterprise—the reprinting of little magazines’:

About two hundred British and American magazines are now expensively
available in bound facsimile editions, and there are more to come. Many, it
would have been more charitable to forget, and only the most voracious
academic machine will be able to assimilate them. But the few really important
ones make sense of the whole venture, and in this week’s TLS we feature special
articles on some of these.

Of the dozen or so ‘really important ones’, nine were allotted a ‘special article’: Poetry (Chicago), the Enemy, the Criterion, the Savoy, the Fugitive, the Little Review, the New Age, and Rhythm and the Blue Review. The latter entry was written by the young Malcolm Bradbury, who argued that ‘though there are other contenders for the title, there is a good case for recording Rhythm—later to become the Blue Review—as the first English little magazine’.

Bradbury’s account outlined some of the most salient facts about the magazines, which can be briefly added to here. Rhythm had first been published in the summer of 1911, by John Middleton Murry

1 Introduction to ‘The Little Magazine’, Times Literary Supplement, 25 April 1968, 421.

2 M. Bradbury, ‘Rhythm and the Blue Review’, ibid. 423. He continued: ‘Rhythm thus became the first of a number of new, semi-modernistic magazines that were to link together literature and art as forms of expression which not only could illuminate and influence each other, but which had a common aesthetic basis—and essential common principle, energy, or force …’ Bradbury maintained this position, including an account of Rhythm in his and James McFarlane’s Modernism: A Guide to European Literature, 1890–1930 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991), 187.

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