Essays on Politics and Literature

By Bernard Crick | Go to book overview

Three
Young Writers of the Thirties

From The New Review, July 1976

The MacSpaunday family album has been opened to the public at the National Portrait Gallery. The actual title of the exhibition is 'Young Writers of the Thirties'. It's an important exhibition, but it is in fact much narrower and more personal than the title suggests. The director writes in a Foreword to the catalogue:

The last great writers to be celebrated in exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery were Pepys and Boswell. Both these exhibitions were on a rather larger scale and offered the visitor a panorama of the life of their respective periods. Our objective on this occasion is quite different, and is more an extension of our aims in the permanent display: to show a number of great writers in relation to each other, and in the context of their literary achievements . . . We have chosen five writers from that extraordinary generation, four of them poets, and all of them men who had the most profound effect in their contempraries: Auden, Day Lewis, Isherwood, MacNeice and Spender. The varied way in which these five writers-who knew each other well but were no sense a group- responded to the problems of their age, and the effect of their particular preoccupations on the development of their work, is the subject of this exhibition.

As a political writer who is only a common reader of literature (a reversal of roles of most reviewers of this exhibition or of Samual Hynes's recent book, The Auden Generation: Literature and Politics in the 1930s), I quote at such pedantic length to raise at once the main questions begged by the assumptions of the exhibition makers. If the five are all 'great writers', not just distinguished and interesting writers, then the case is ready-made for treating them as the young writers of the thirties, or 'as representatives' (says the catalogue) of all the rest,. Even so, however, is part of their greatness having had a'profound effect' on their contemporaries? Or in reflecting so well some of the concerns of what Stephen

-48-

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Essays on Politics and Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vi
  • Acknowledgements viii
  • Foreword ix
  • One - Literature and Politics 1
  • Two - The Political in Britain's Two National Theatres 20
  • Notes 47
  • Three - Young Writers of the Thirties 48
  • Four - Koestler's Koestler 62
  • Five - Hannah Arendt: Hedgehog or Fox? 72
  • Six - Beatrice Webb as English Diarist 78
  • Seven - Words 85
  • Notes 92
  • Eight - My LSE 93
  • Nine - Reading The Observer as a complex text 106
  • Notes 116
  • Ten - On the Difficulties of Writing Biography in? General and of Orwell's in particular 117
  • Eleven - Reading Nineteen Eighty-Four As Satire 133
  • Notes 163
  • Twelve - Animal Farm For Schools 166
  • Thirteen - Orwell and English Socialism 192
  • Notes 207
  • Fourteen - On the Orwell Trail 209
  • Notes 224
  • Fifteen - Wedekind's 'Spring Awakening' 225
  • Sixteen - Horvath's 'Tales From the Vienna Woods' 231
  • Seventeen - Pinter's 'No Man's Land' 239
  • Eighteen - Polly By Gaslight 245
  • Nineteen - David Edgar Catches Peter Jenkins' Ear at the Barbican 251
  • Twenty - Barrault at the Barbican 254
  • Index 257
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