Revolutionary Lives: Anna Strunsky & William English Walling

Revolutionary Lives: Anna Strunsky & William English Walling

Revolutionary Lives: Anna Strunsky & William English Walling

Revolutionary Lives: Anna Strunsky & William English Walling

Excerpt

In the years before the Great War, William English Walling and Anna Strunsky were among the most glorious of the American left's Beautiful People: "millionaire Socialists," rivaled only by the Lincolnesque James Graham Phelps Stokes and his immigrant journalist bride, Rose Pastor. English and Anna were striking individuals-on the platform, under bylines, or as (frequently! reported in the Sunday supplements. As seen in the press, they were almost caricatures: he slim and imperious, the Southern aristocrat; she warm, passionate, voluble, a touch of something foreign in her voice.

They were seen, and saw themselves, as destiny's couple, plunging always toward the heart of their times--revolution, pogrom, labor war, racial violence, radical controversy. Freed by affluence to choose his roles, he played the controversialist, the journalist engagé, the publicist in the old sense of that term: the writer who minds the world's business. She was a novelist by aspiration, a reluctant but moving orator, and ever the idealist. Their influence on their era was not inconsiderable: They fed American sympathy for the Russian revolution of 1905, struck the initial spark for the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and rode the tide of prewar American socialism when it seemed capable of transforming American politics and society.

Yet their names are today known chiefly to specialists, and the world of radicalism that they inhabited can seem more remote than, say, the first Elizabethan era. Their present obscurity is to a degree deserved, for they never fully won the conventional attributes of fame: achievement, enduring reputation, or power. By the time other members of their generation were rising to eminence with the New Deal, they had all but vanished from public view. The coin in which they traded before the war had become all but worthless.

The title Revolutionary Lives--taken from that of an unpublished book by Anna Strunsky--is to a degree ironic; Anna and English Walling were selfstyled revolutionaries whose radicalism was ultimately played out in bourgeois settings. Yet for forty years they did lead revolutionary lives, in the sense that they continually discarded old identities for new, old issues for . . .

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