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Hugh MacDiarmid: Lenin and the British Literary Left in the 1930s

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Abstract

It is clear that the 1930s, however stigmatised for subsequent readers as a ‘low dishonest decade’ represented a major period of distinctive creativity in twentieth-century British writing, producing poetry and prose (and drama and film) of great power and innovativeness. Many of the major Modernist writers of the 1920s were still active throughout the subsequent decade, including T. S. Eliot, W. B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. At the same time, the period which also saw the emergence of W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice as poets, of Lewis Grassic Gibbon and Graham Greene as novelists, of F. R. Leavis and Christopher Caudwell as critics, alongside the less individualised development of experimental theatre groups and the growth of an indigenous British cinema, is one which surely demands our attention and commentary. And indeed, there now exists a great wealth of scholarly and argumentative books and articles on various literary aspects of the period, the great majority of which still interpret events largely through what I will argue is the limiting and over-prescriptive perspective of ‘the Auden generation’.

Keywords

Communist Party British Writer British Poetry Literary Aspect Collect Essay 
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Notes

  1. 2.
    For an extended discussion of the voices of the right in the 1930s, see Richard Griffiths, Fellow Travellers of the Right: British Enthusiasts for Nazi Germany 1933–39 (London: Constable, 1980). For a discussion of the more literary voices of the left, see Valentine Cunningham, British Writers of the Thirties (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988) pp. 26- 35.Google Scholar
  2. For an extended discussion of the voices of the right in the 1930s, see Richard Griffiths, Fellow Travellers of the Right: British Enthusiasts for Nazi Germany 1933–39 (London: Constable, 1980). For a discussion of the more literary voices of the left, see Valentine Cunningham, British Writers of the Thirties (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988) pp. 26- 35.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    F. R. Leavis, ‘Retrospect of a Decade’, in Scrutiny, IX (1940) p. 70.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    George Orwell, ‘Writers and Leviathan’, in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1970) vol. IV, pp. 464–5.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Samuel Hynes, The Auden Generation: Literature and Politics in England in the 1930s (London: Faber & Faber, 1976) p. 12.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Ben Pimlott, Labour and the Left in the 1930s (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977) p. 1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 9.
    W. H. Auden, ‘September 1, 1939’, in The English Auden: Poems, Essays, and Dramatic Writings, 1927–1939, edited by Edward Mendelson (London: Faber & Faber, 1977) p. 247.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    See Alan Bold, MacDiarmid: A Critical Biography (London: John Murray, 1988) p. 375.Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    Hugh MacDiarmid, Lucky Poet: A Self-Study in Literature and Political Ideas (London: Methuen, 1943) p. 156. Further references will be incorporated in the text, citing LP. Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    Hugh MacDiarmid, The Company Ive Kept (London: Hutchinson, 1966) p. 174.Google Scholar
  11. 14.
    The connections between MacDiarmid and Mayakovsky are discussed in detail in Peter McCarey, Hugh MacDiarmid and the Russians (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1987) pp. 129–61.Google Scholar
  12. 15.
    For a very interesting account of the peculiar appropriateness of Mayakovsky for Scottish writers, see Edwin Morgan, Wi the Haill Voice: 25 Poems by Vladimir Mayakovsky Translated into Scots (Oxford: Carcanet Press, 1972).Google Scholar
  13. 16.
    See The Futurists, the Formalists, and the Marxist Critique, ed. Chris Pike (London: Ink Links Press, 1979).Google Scholar
  14. 18.
    The Letters of Hugh MacDiarmid, ed. Alan Bold (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1984) p. 531.Google Scholar
  15. 19.
    James Maxton, Lenin (London: Daily Express Publications, 1932?) P. 7.Google Scholar
  16. 20.
    For a discussion of the Cheka, see E. H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution1917–1923 (London: Macmillan, 1950) vol. I, pp. 158–70.Google Scholar
  17. 21.
    George Orwell, ‘Inside the Whale’ (1940), in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, vol. I, p. 566.Google Scholar
  18. 22.
    See the discussion of the revisions of this poem in Humphrey Carpenter, W. H. Auden: A Biography (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1981) p. 219.Google Scholar
  19. 23.
    See my article, ‘Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Revolutionary Romanticism’, in Studies in Scottish Fiction: Twentieth Century, ed. Joachim Schwend and Horst W. Drescher, Scottish Studies, 10 (Frankfurt, Bern, New York, Paris: Peter Lang, 1990) pp. 257–71.Google Scholar
  20. 24.
    Cecil Day Lewis, A Hope for Poetry (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1934) p. 53. MacDiarmid seizes on this passage for a piece of self-advertisement in Lucky Poet, pp. 157–8.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1995

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