A Big Little Magazine
V.S. Pritchett was to tell Alan Pryce-Jones that he had turned the TLS into "by far, far the best literary periodical in England". Never before had the paper so thoroughly treated literary works as topics not just 'of record' but of urgent interest. Who were the living writers who mattered - German, French, Russian, Czech, American, as well as British? Which works were unjustly neglected? Which were being argued over, and why? TLS reviewers became sharper, more contentious, less ready to stand on their dignity. The critic and crime novelist Julian Symons was a crucial element in this change, reviewing almost 900 books during Pryce-Jones's years and continuing as one of the paper's liveliest, most discriminating writers for, in all, 45 years. Pryce-Jones himself wrote hundreds of pieces, as did the novelist Anthony Powell, whom he brought on to the staff, and the poet Alan Ross. Many authors who began contributing then, while their tallies of books reviewed for Pryce-Jones are in tens rather than hundreds, helped create the new climate: John Bayley, Christine Brooke-Rose, D. J. Enright, Geoffrey Grigson, Michael Hamburger, James Hanley, John Willett; in art criticism, Douglas Cooper; in music, Wilfrid Mellers.
To an extent, of course, the paper was responding to a broader post-war social and intellectual shake-up. Julian Symons was an early sympathiser with 'The Movement', its literary values plain-spoken opposed to what were seen as the pretension and obfuscations of modernism, and to the concentration of literary power among a select few - Old Etonians, in particular. But Alan Pryce-Jones and Anthony Powell had been at Eton and Oxford together. If an important part of their success at the TLS derived from their openness to new literary talent, of whatever social origin, it also depended on encouraging critical disagreement within their own pages. One innovation in this direction was the regular use of 'middles' - long centre-page pieces, facing the editorial and letters - to appraise whole areas of literary activity and debate: typically, a writer's ouvre, a school, or the work of an influential critic. (The paper was much less good at synthesising political discussion, in this period. The Suez crisis and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 - arguably, the events most important to the western political consciousness since Hiroshima--prompted a spate of books the following year, but they were reviewed briefly as they appeared, one or two at a time, and no attempt was made at an overview.)
These centre-page essays were usually occasioned by the appearance, or sometimes reprint, of an important work: F.R. Leavis's The Great Tradition, George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, Simone Weil's L'Enracinement, Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, a reissue of Mary McCarthy's The Company She Keeps. But anything of literary or cultural significance might serve: pieces by Middleton Murry on Gissing and by Julian Maclaren-Ross on P.G. Wodehouse, for example, were prompted as much by the contributors' wish to write them as by any external reason. In a striking shift from Stanley Morison's insistence on an editorial 'line', the articles often took issue with the paper's own previous verdicts. Kingsley Amis is a subject in point. In 1954, Alan Ross greeted Lucky Jim in the TLS as "richly comic", anti-pretentious and sharply observant. Describing Jim Dixon as "the Schweik of the red-brick university", he particularly relished "the imaginative gusto of Dixon's thoughts about what he would like to do with those around him". Four years later, however, using I Like It Here as the peg for a centre-page essay, the poet and novelist Rayner Heppenstall discussed the school to which Amis's novels could be seen as belonging and the arguments which it had stirred up, while taking the opportunity to deliver his own more negative verdict on Amis's work. He was particularly acute about the novels' soft centres: "A great deal of anxious knowingness is coupled with much groping after rock-bottom decency. Though hot on the scent of humbug, Mr Amis is tolerant of fraudulent humanity". The article produced some indignant letters, including one from Amis himself and another (not published) from Robert Conquest. In the light of the common assumption that the defining fault-line in 1950s British culture was social class, not the least piquant element in the controversy is the fact that, unlike Ross, Heppenstall had actually been at a 'red-brick' university.
Another example of overt disagreement between TLS reviewers in this period concerns Camus's La Peste, reviewed admiringly by Gabriel Marcel on its publication in French, but much more critically in translation the following year by Anthony Powell, who made telling comparisons with Defoe and Poe, leading to a criticism of Camus's romantic over-abstraction. It's possible to detect in such debates the influence, though both Powell and Pryce-Jones would have denied this, of the pugnaciously re-evaluative F.R. Leavis, and in not only his destructive but also his positive mode. Like Leavis, the TLS took pride in drawing attention to undervalued good work. From 1949 onwards, for example, it campaigned for Robert Musil, described by Ernst Kaiser in a front-page review-essay as "the most important novelist writing in German in this half-century [but] one of the least known writers of the age". The article helped to make Musil's name in the anglophone world and led to translations which were themselves warmly reviewed in the TLS as they appeared. Another aspect of the paper's more creative role as a large weekly version of a 'little magazine' was the new prominence which Pryce-Jones gave to poems (which Stanley Morison had dropped altogether). Work by most of the best poets of the time, both established and young, American as well as British, can be found in these pages: Auden, Causley, Cummings, Durrell, Frost, the Fullers, Gunn, Hughes, Jarrell, Jennings…the alphabet almost writes itself.
Partly for reasons of his own background, Pryce-Jones was particularly attentive to Welsh poets, among them Dylan Thomas and R.S. Thomas (the former responding to his help with new importunacies: could he be paid before the poems appeared?). The personal dimension of Pryce-Jones's approach to his work, the relation of his interests to various aspects of his upbringing and social life, combined with his encouragement of a more individualistic mode of criticism, makes his adherence to anonymous reviewing all the more puzzling, and, as we shall see, it came under ever-increasing attack. But two other aspects of the paper's history in this period need to be touched on first: the number and range of its contributors; and the nature of the archival records.
An international clique of thousands
One of the most striking facts about the TLS's contributors in these years is their sheer number. By 1959, about 4,000 people (excluding authors of published letters) had written for the journal since it began in 1902. No fewer than 1,600 of them (40%) first did so during Alan Pryce-Jones's 11-year editorship. In 1954 alone, 700 contributors appeared in his pages: four times the annual average under previous editors. There were various external factors behind this widening of horizons, among them growing competition for good reviewers from the books pages of the Sunday papers and the weeklies, and from radio broadcasting. Increased specialisation was also an element. But clearly the expansion was a matter of editorial policy. At a time when the London literary world was often accused of cliquishness, the TLS was determined to be a very big clique indeed.
An international one too. Pryce-Jones was the most cosmopolitan editor the TLS has had, and he used his frequent lecture tours for the British Council and his work on the committee of PEN to extend his already formidable range of contacts among writers. Eighteen different nationalities are represented by contributors in these years, from Chinese to Uruguayan. One thread of cultural change which the TLS Historical Archive enables readers to pursue is post-colonialism. V.S. Naipaul and the Guyanan novelists Wilson Harris and Edgar Mittelholzer were among those who wrote for the TLS in the 1950s.
More contributors meant wider coverage, and also the break-up of monopolies. No longer were all the books in a specialist area routinely assigned to the same reviewer. To be sure, old pockets of influence remained and new ones grew up. The Roman Catholic tendency increased under Pryce-Jones, and more of the Catholic reviewers were professionally so: Dom Aelred Graham of Ampleforth Abbey, Dom Sebastian Moore and B.C. Butler of Downside, Fr Illtud Evans of St Dominic's Priory, Fr David Mathew, Secretary of the Pontifical Commission on the Missions and his brother Fr Anthony Mathew, and priests with strong social and literary connections like Philip Caraman and Thomas Gilby, these were powerful figures in international as well as British Catholicism. As their role at the TLS increased, so that of Anglican clergymen diminished. Again, the social widening among reviewers, evident not only in exceptional cases such as those of John Arlott and the former renegade seaman and dockworker James Hanley, but more generally in the number of those who had been educated at grammar schools, operated also at the other end of the scale. Professionally as well as personally, Pryce-Jones was very fond of the high-born. His reviewers included displaced royalty, Princess Callimachi, Princess Cantacuzino, Prince Ghyka, and more than a sprinkling of the British aristocracy.
Princesses apart, women did not fare better as reviewers. Between 1930 and 1945, the proportion of contributors who were women had risen from about 10% to about 14%. Under Pryce-Jones, it dipped fractionally to 13% - though of course this figure represents a numerical increase. Elizabeth Bowen, Rosamond Lehmann, Olivia Manning, Iris Murdoch, Iris Origo, Kathleen Raine, Christina Stead, Muriel Spark and Eudora Welty all wrote for the TLS between 1948 and 1959. And while no one contributed with the frequency allowed to some in earlier decades, a quarter of those who reviewed more than 100 books during Pryce-Jones's editorship were women: principal among them the novelist and social commentator Gwendolen Freeman and the poet Naomi Lewis. The TLS greeted Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex enthusiastically on its appearance in English translation in 1954: "In spite of Margaret Mead's provocative study, Male and Female", wrote Jane Jack, "there has not been so important a contribution to this subject since the publication of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own and that of the brilliant pamphlet, Women, by Willa Muir". None the less, it remained true that one of the main entry-routes for a female reviewer was marriage to a male one.
If the Establishment was no less well represented than usual, plenty of individualists and intellectual adventurers also contributed. Al Alvarez, Gerald Brenan, Roy Campbell, Robert Graves, Christopher Logue and Malcolm Muggeridge were among the anonymous reviewers. So were paid-up members of the opposition such as Eric Hobsbawm, a frequent contributor from 1948, and some prominent Labour politicians: Anthony Crosland and Richard Crossman both reviewed on several occasions, and Harold Wilson once. Others who wrote for Pryce-Jones's TLS included David Ben-Gurion, with an essay on Hebrew literature published in the year that he became Israel's first prime minister; John Betjeman, who wrote frequently on church architecture and English topography; and Ian Fleming with a review of a book about Jamaica. As always, in using the TLS Historical Archive it is difficult not to get waylaid. In the same 1954 issue as an absorbing letter from Eric Hobsbawm about Georg Lukács, there are reviews of Freya Stark's Alexander's Path and Brendan Behan's Borstal Boy ("a work of unique authority in its confident evocation of the very breath and being of life under captivity scarcely ever can dialogue have been handled with such a virtuoso understanding of accent and rhythm."), and a piece by Colin MacInnes, the future author of City of Spades, criticising confusions in government policy on immigration, in particular, given the decision to admit citizens of former colonies in the West Indies, the lack of any corresponding new housing provision. "The English," MacInnes wrote, "self-gratified by their own initial liberality, closed their eyes and hoped blindly for the best."
The number of American reviewers was still relatively small, though Arthur Schlesinger made the first of what were to be several TLS appearances with his 1951 review of the first volume of E.H. Carr's History of Soviet Russia. Among US readers, there was increasing criticism of the paper's tendency, in line with that of the rest of British culture, to patronise anything American. After the Second World War as before it, plenty of individual examples can be found of appreciative TLS reviews of important new American books, James Baldwin's Go Tell it on the Mountain, for example, was described as "so remarkable that it brushes hesitations and criticisms aside". Still, there is no question that the "yes, but." note of much TLS reviewing in this period was disproportionately applied to American writers. One of the chief qualifiers, as far as imaginative writing was concerned, turns out to have been Julian Symons: a discovery which will surprise those who remember his deeply appreciative responses, later in his career, to new American literature. Of Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March, Symons wrote that "clearly some kind of interpretation is intended, of life or fate or America. This is not meant to be simply a picaresque novel: but what is it, more than that?.."; of Randall Jarrell's Pictures from an Institution, "perhaps wisecracks like this are respectable coin in the United States.."; of Norman Mailer's The Deer Park, "Mr Mailer writes often as clumsily as Dreiser, without Dreiser's power.". Other reviewers showed a similar degree of what it is hard not to interpret as anti-Americanism, combined with a reluctance, no less common at the time, to see beyond what they found shocking. J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye was written off on the ground that although "the boy is really very touching. the endless stream of blasphemy and obscenity in which he thinks, credible as it is, palls after the first chapter". And despite the TLS's new openness to controversy, Nabokov's Lolita, published in Paris in 1955 and widely debated, went unreviewed until its UK publication by Weidenfeld and Nicolson towards the end of 1959, when its reception in the paper (by then under new editorship) was sceptical.
MS Uncat., Vault 571: The Alan Pryce-Jones archive at the Beinecke Library, Yale
Alan Pryce-Jones had a stronger sense than his predecessors of the future historical value of the present: it was one of his qualities as an editor. His papers, now at the Beinecke Library, Yale, include seemingly everything, from the notebooks in which he kept details of his school assignments to two and a half boxes of letters from Mollie, Duchess of Buccleuch, some of which he did not trouble to open. There are vivid if intermittent journals, daily appointment diaries, manuscripts of poems. Above all, there are letters and memoranda, including thousands relating to his work at the TLS.
A full study of this material, linked to the information made available by the TLS Historical Archive, will provide unique insight into the work of one of the most influential literary entrepreneurs of the mid 20th century. As far as the history of the TLS is concerned, it enables us to reconstruct many editorial decisions and processes: occasions when authors suggested reviewers for their own or their friends' books, successfully or otherwise; when potential reviewers declined to take on particular assignments; when responses to one article led directly to another. There is a hidden, fantasy TLS in these boxes, the pieces that might have been written, but weren't: Elizabeth Bowen on Edith Wharton; Evelyn Waugh on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (a suggestion of Waugh's own which Pryce-Jones took up, but which Waugh did not carry through); Isaiah Berlin on G.E. Moore. And there is background information about the pieces which did materialise. Pryce-Jones built up an international network of advisers whose recommendations were sometimes of significant influence. It was W. von Einsieder, for example, who recommended Robert Musil's Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften to Pryce-Jones in 1947 as "the most remarkable prose work written in German during the last twenty years". A researcher in the Beinecke encounters Georges Bataille struggling with an article on Blanchot ("J'ai eu beaucoup de mal a l'écrire. Et quelque effort que j'aie pu faire, il est bien obscure"); or Marianne Moore, nervously accompanying a poem with a piece of pink scrap paper on which she has written, "If disappointing, / do not hesitate / Mr Pryce-Jones / to decline it". And there is Isaiah Berlin in full private spate against Kingsley Amis. Has Pryce-Jones read a book called Lucky Jim, Berlin asks? "It lowers me more than I can say". No doubt it is a realistic, possibly even talented account of what it describes, "but I cannot bear the tone, the contents and the images which it brings up to me. I think it revolting".
The letters from Isaiah Berlin are particularly absorbing. They include an insider's account of the English publication of Boris Pasternak's Dr Zhivago, as well as several responses to material published in the TLS. In one case, Berlin accepts a commission, then, offended by something (tantalisingly unspecified) which has appeared in the paper, changes his mind. Like many contributors, he has ideas about potential reviewers of his own work: "don't send my Büchlein [The Hedgehog and the Fox] about which I tremble horribly, to some grim literary strigil", he implores, but to someone imaginative and humane: "yourself! yourself! yourself! why not?" (Pryce-Jones gave it to E.H. Carr, who wrote an interesting editorial about it, though one which did not satisfy Berlin.) And he urges the merits of other people's books and of potential reviewers.
Much of the interest of the TLS material, of course, derives from enabling one to match specific suggestions against their outcomes. Maurice Bowra successfully asked Pryce-Jones to "be an angel" and send his forthcoming Problems in Greek Poetry to Bowra's Oxford colleague Antony Andrewes for review, though the resulting piece was more judicious than Bowra might have hoped. Edith Sitwell's onslaughts on Pryce-Jones for unfavourable references to her work in the TLS were so copious and vehement that he took on her Collected Poems (1957) himself, judging it, no doubt quite sincerely, "outstanding" and describing Sitwell as "among the most consistently interesting of modern English poets". The historian of modern Hungary, C.A. Macartney, by contrast, did not get his way after a possibly less than whole-hearted intervention on his behalf by his All Souls colleague, John Sparrow, who told Pryce-Jones in September, 1956, that Macartney had written to say that he hoped ("all authors do") that the Literary Supplement would do justice to his forthcoming book, "as it is.IMPORTANT". Macartney didn't ask for a favourable review ("no author does"), but had pointed out that "he has made enemies of all Left Wing persons in that field, particularly one MIKES - and hopes it won't fall into their hands. There, Ihave done my bit!" Macartney's two-volume October Fifteenth: A History of Modern Hungary, 1929-1945 was reviewed the following May - by George Mikes. But if evidence were needed that authors aren't the best people to choose (or to blackball) their reviewers, here it is. Mikes, a Hungarian journalist working in exile in Britain since 1938, and a regular TLS contributor from 1952, found plenty to disagree with in Macartney's work, and confirmed one of his fears by criticising the fact that his personal Hungarian acquaintance seemed 'to be limited to the Right and extreme Right'. But Mikes described the book as "by far the best and most comprehensive treatment in any language of the period of Hungarian history with which it deals", praised Macartney for having "carried out his task in face of almost insuperable difficulties", and described his approach as essentially fair and his knowledge as "awe-inspiring". Even where reviewer and author are most at odds, the response is so passionate that it leaves the reader, even today, wanting to get hold of the book.
Intricacies of specific commissions apart, the archive fills in some of the editor's life outside the office: his first encounter with Iris Murdoch, on holiday in France ("she sweeps back her white-fair hair and simply looks on, except when a general question suddenly grips her interest for a moment"); the perils of British Council lecture tours; writing a Times leader at no notice, after giving a party which went on late into the night and before catching a lunchtime flight to Madrid with his friend the Duke of Wellington. And there are also many documents of a more directly relevant, if also more prosaic, kind: letters to do with his appointment at The Times, including from its Chairman, Viscount Astor; memoranda from Pryce-Jones's deputy and eventual successor, Arthur Crook, on matters to do with office organisation, promotions and salaries; correspondence from members of the staff and would-be reviewers. Of the many editorial issues mentioned in the correspondence, one which crops up very often is anonymity.
Naming no names: The 1950s debate over anonymous reviewing
Alan Pryce-Jones always publicly defended the house policy on anonymous reviewing but in 1954, perhaps to test the mood over a possible change, he published a 48-page insert entirely made up of signed pieces, under the (ambiguous?) title "Personal Preference". It appeared in August, so could have been passed off as a silly season jeu d'esprit, but its contents were serious enough. The contributors were listed boldly on the otherwise unadorned and elegantly uncluttered front cover: a visual admission that names in themselves could be interesting. Stuart Hampshire wrote on Maynard Keynes's posthumous Two Memoirs, Wyndham Lewis on a selection of Matthew Arnold, Rose Macaulay on Steven Runciman's History of the Crusades, William Plomer on Virginia Woolf's A Writer's Diary, Stevie Smith on Robert Graves's King Jesus, Stephen Spender on Auden's Collected Shorter Poems, 1930-1944 and Dylan Thomas's Collected Poems, 1934-52, A.J.P. Taylor on Hugh Trevor-Roper's The Last Days of Hitler. In each case, if to differing degrees, the contributor's identity was clearly important to the article, though no one exploited this aspect as strongly as Rosamond Lehmann, whose essay on Henry Green's Loving talks not only about the context out of which Green's 1945 novel had appeared, but about what Green, who was a close friend, had meant to her personally during the war. Loving, she rightly and revealingly asserted, is "the masterpiece of this disciplined, poetic and grimly realistic, witty and melancholy, amorous and austere voluptuary": not a choice of words likely to have been found in an unsigned piece.
Ever since he had joined the paper, Pryce-Jones had been under pressure from some quarters to do away with anonymity. One friend and future contributor, writing in 1946 to congratulate him on his imminent move to the editorial staff, said that "though it's nice to have a Private Face in a Public Anonymous Place", he had "never approved of anonymity". Inevitably, some of the criticisms made about the policy came in response to hostile reviews construed, rightly or wrongly, as acts of deliberate malice. But it's clear from letters in the Beinecke archive that reviewers themselves, for reasons of principle as well as out of more personal motives, increasingly wanted to have their work attributed to them. Robert Graves and Hugh Trevor-Roper were among those who expressed their reluctance to write anonymously.
In 1957, the argument went public. Essays in Criticism was, and is, a quarterly journal of literary scholarship with a journalistic edge. Founded in 1951 by F.W. Bateson, a scholar-critic (to use his own formulation) who taught English at Oxford, it steered a course between the journalistic energy of Leavis's Scrutiny, which was by then in decline, and Oxford's own dryer and more historicist Review of English Studies. More amiable than Leavis but little less combative, Bateson was interested not only in the principles and practice of literary criticism but in the institutions which helped to form them, and he was running a series of articles under the heading "Organs of Critical Opinion". In October 1957, the subject was the Times Literary Supplement.
The article, which Bateson himself wrote and sent to Pryce-Jones in advance, begins with a brief history of the TLS. Bateson had renewed his subscription in the mid-1950s after a two-decade lapse, and praised what he saw as improvements since the 1930s: "the higher level of scholarship maintained, and the improved quality of the actual writing". Both were in his view vitiated by anonymity, and most of his 13 pages are taken up with the case for signed reviewing.
By attending, early on, to issues of style, the risk, under anonymity, of "a diffused perfection that approaches a mechanical monotony", Bateson showed that he knew his enemy: few points could have been better aimed at the aesthete editor. But other concerns were involved, and Bateson set them out with rigour, humour, and a good deal of inside knowledge. The nub of his argument, drawn on repeatedly by his supporters in future years, is that "the worth of an opinion varies with the degree of respect we have for the holder"; in other words, "the reviewer's name is an essential part of the meaning of the review" (Bateson's italics). He cites several cases. One is a devastating attack on a book by Tom Burns Haber about A.E. Housman, which "gossip reports" was written by John Sparrow. (Gossip reported right.) "As a fellow human being", Bateson argues, "however guilty, brazen and uncivilised, might not Haber have been permitted to see who this strict inquisitor was? In a matter of so much importance, the prisoner has the right to know who is prosecuting him". On the more positive side, he instances a shrewd, inward review of F.R. Leavis's book on Lawrence, which, again rightly, Bateson attributed to John Middleton Murry. As a close acquaintance of Lawrence, Murry "had earned the right to talk like that", Bateson says, and knowing him to be the author made a substantial difference to how one read the piece.
He then turns to what was usually said in defence of anonymity: (i) that it avoids embarrassment to a reviewer writing about an acquaintance's work; (ii) the confidence it gives to beginners; (iii) the disincentive to showing off. His answers are: (i) that 'the truth can never embarrass the Good Man', and that we do not want the reviews of someone who won't own up to them; (ii) that the TLS would be the better for a little less beginners' confidence; (iii) that no one minds "innocent exhibitionism.so long as the reviewer does his duty by the book he has in front of him". Finally, he introduces what, with hindsight, we can see to be a point of view very much of its time, just as the case for anonymity was in Bateson's view a fossil of 19th-century and Edwardian attitudes. Quoting the Movement novelist and critic John Wain, "Literary criticism is the discussion, between equals, of works of literature, with a view to establishing common ground on which judgements of value can be based", Bateson concludes that the effect of anonymity "is to seem to exalt [the reviewer] to a status of superiority over both reader and author. It pulls against equality".
The TLS responded immediately with an editorial (anonymous, of course, but written by Alan Pryce-Jones), headed "The Disembodied Voice", and a long correspondence ensued, which users of the TLS Historical Archive can easily follow for themselves. The editorial made a claim for the disinterestedness of anonymous reviewing, and also for the idea that an anonymous journal is a kind of symposium, greater than the sum of its parts. It also pointed out that egalitarianism was not necessarily served by naming names. In the published correspondence, however, people who took the opposite line were helped in their arguments by the fact that some of the letters were themselves anonymous. As Hugh Trevor-Roper put it, "When the defenders of anonymous reviews are as anonymous as the writers of them, and defend them merely by protesting their own superiority, I am afraid they are not likely to make many converts". In the course of the debate, Bateson called for a referendum of regular readers, a suggestion which was not taken up (or not until a reader survey was conducted in the early 1970s). In January, 1958, Pryce-Jones wrote another editorial, this time somewhat forlornly offering what may none the less have been the main case against change: that anonymity was by now simply part of the paper's Geist. "The collector of autographs", he loftily concluded, "can, after all, visit our neighbours". A letter from T.S. Eliot the following week asserted that "The young reviewer needs access to at least one prominent review.in which his work will be unsigned". The only evidence given for this need was Eliot's opinion, but below his signature the editor was content to write "This matter is now closed". And so it remained, for the time at least, in the TLS's own columns, though not outside them.
CITATION: McVea, Deborah and Treglown, Jeremy: "1948-1959: The TLS under Alan Pryce-Jones." Times Literary Supplement Historical Archive. Cengage Learning, 2012