The Art and Writing of David & Ping Henningham
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31331368961_92e02dfa47_oOwning the means of production is one of those luxuries which can change your trajectory in life so much, it is a gamechanger. This especially applies if you’re an artist or writer at those fragile early stages where you are full of skills and promise and energy, but have nothing much to your name (yet). The Hogarth Press was exactly this kind of instrumental luxury in Virginia Woolf’s life. The effect its existence had on her creative and political output is still, I feel, rather underrated in current Woolf scholarship. The absolute freedom of speech the Hogarth Press allowed Woolf had an enormous impact on her ability to think and experiment. Not only was the mental space it provided essential, but, since there are so many handbound Hogarth Press books by Woolf in existence, as artefacts they also have an important story to tell. And of course, in addition to to Woolf’s own writings, there was the tremendous intellectual legacy of the Hogarth Press publications, for example, the first English translation of Sigmund Freud’s Complete Works, or the first UK edition of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, lynchpin of the Modernist Canon. Could the Woolfs have known that by putting down their £19 5s 6d on 23rd March 1917, and becoming proud owners of a small hand press, they would so profoundly sculpt the terrain of literary and intellectual modernism for years to come?

The Hogarth Press’ informal beginnings as a hobby-turned-business makes this seem unlikely. In fact, in many ways, the cheerfully enterprising spirit with which they plonked their money down for the first press was central to its future success. It is well known that the Woolfs first decided to print books by hand partly because they needed to find a therapeutic activity to absorb Virginia outside of her writing. The fact that the couple’s first flawed but charming hand-pressed publication, Two Stories (1918) quickly broke even, and then was followed by the unexpected success of Kew Gardens (1919) encouraged them to carry on in an ad hoc way. The expansion of their original vision meant they tackled more ambitious projects which gradually led to many Hogarth Press books being outsourced to commercial printers and binders. However, despite the increased production and greater distribution that outsourced production made possible, as well as the fact that the professionally made books were generally better printed, bound, and designed, the Woolfs continued to hand make books for sixteen years; producing at least one handset (if not also hand bound) book a year alongside many more outsourced titles.

There is no easy explanation as to why the hand made books abruptly stop in 1932. It is likely that it was not merely because, despite being as Leonard Woolf writes, ‘a mongrel in the business world’ (p.242) the Hogarth Press now had enough stability and notoriety to survive without the attention-grabbing and money-saving device of hand made editions, but also perhaps because that year marked a significant turning point in the Woolfs’ lives. 1932 was a difficult year for the Woolfs in many ways. Firstly their good friend Lytton Strachey died a slow courageous death from stomach cancer and, as Hermione Lee observed, it was a death that for Virginia ‘left the greatest silence.. a closing down of the past; it made her feel (as she always in anycase tended to feel) older, more mortal, part of an age that was past.’ (p.630) It also affected Leonard acutely as he felt that, coinciding with the rise of Nazism and the Second World War, ‘Lytton’s death marked a point of no return.’ (Lee, p. 630) Their grief was augmented in March when Dora Carrington, Strachey’s companion, shot herself in response to his death. Next, John Lehmann, the last of many bright young things whom the Woolfs had engaged as a manager/potential partner of the Press, walked out and they were left to struggle without a proper manager for several years. Lastly, in October of that year, Virginia’s many preoccupations suddenly came together into one new project. Thus she embarked wholeheartedly on what was to become The Years, a book which so consumed her energies it had an ill effect on her mental health. Perhaps this stressful series of events sapped some of the original energy and enthusiasm needed for a literal ‘hands-on’ approach. When John Lehmann returned in 1938, Virginia sold her half of the Press to him. Since Virginia was the stronger typesetter and binder out of the Woolfs, perhaps her lesser involvement also contributed to the discontinuation of handmade titles.

Whatever the reasons for in-house handmade production ceasing at the Hogarth Press, by this point the cultural space they had hoped the Press would provide had clearly become a stable reality. However, the same dynamic and independent spirit behind the handmade books was still very much at the heart of the Hogarth Press. What this paper deals with is the rubric of the handmade books themselves, since as objects they are neither fine enough to be included in the fine printing tradition nor conventional or numerous enough to fit in the publishing world proper. This inbetweeness characterises the cultural niche that the Hogarth Press opened up and occupied as was conceived and grown under the Woolfs’ direction. By understanding where the handmade books stood or stumbled in terms of being art objects, part of the book trade and as ideological statements, we will see how they are physical manifestations of the process by which the Woolfs freed themselves to write as they pleased. The handmade books, as objects made not by accomplished book artists but rather by prolific writers, were a curiously unusual form of luxury. Yet it was exactly this unconventional approach that made possible the necessary luxuries of the Hogarth Press.

Virginia Woolf described in detail the environment of luxury necessary for a creative writer. In both the seductively entertaining A Room of One’s Own and the polemical Three Guineas, Woolf makes a strong case for the material means that women need at their disposal if they are to write with uninhibited creative freedom. Throughout the texts she highlights luxuries which generations of men have taken for granted and purposely barred women from obtaining. These necessary luxuries start from material consumption but lead to intellectual space and nurture. As Woolf concludes after a depressingly plain dinner at a women’s college in Cambridge,

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. The lamp in the spine does not light on beef and prunes. We are all probably going to heaven, and Vandyck is, we hope, to meet us round the next corner – that is the dubious and qualifying state of mind that beef and prunes at the end of the day’s work breed between them.” (p.17)

This contrasts sharply with the deliciously opulent dinner Woolf describes a few pages earlier, given at a men’s college. It is significant that the glorious flight of her prose produced by that dinner, in which rapturous thoughts spiral closer and closer to more weighty considerations of the consequences of war, are cut off by a ‘plain gravy soup’. Likewise, the failed visit to the college library also shows how intellectual restrictions are embodied by physical disadvantage. The parable of Shakespeare’s sister demonstrates this, as an attempt to follow in her brother’s footsteps leads instead to scorn, indifference, the imposition of chastity and the denial of material wealth. Her rapid descent, ending in suicide and obscurity, paints a tragic picture of ‘a woman at strife against herself.’ Thus Woolf concludes, a woman ‘born with a gift of poetry in the sixteenth century, was an unhappy woman’. This was because, ‘[a]ll the conditions of her life, all her own instincts, were hostile to the state of mind which is needed to set free whatever is in the brain.’ (p. 46) By this it is clear that Woolf thinks nurturing the whole of life – that is, material comfort, spiritual freedom and as well as familial and societal support – is absolutely necessary for true creative endeavour.

The epitome of these examples is the actual room itself where a writer can set his or her own cultural agenda, a physical and psychic space where the only mental state which Woolf thinks is conducive to creating masterpieces can be cultivated. At this point perhaps it is interesting to remember how Woolf not only found the Stephens’ family home in Hyde Park Gate oppressive due to the heavy darkness of the Victorian décor, but also because, psychologically, she fell trapped and vulnerable within it. As Gill Lowe writes in her introduction to Woolf’s Hyde Park Gate News, ‘Remembering the house in 1897, Virginia calls it a “cage”. She likens herself, at fifteen, to “a nervous, gibbering monkey” sharing a perilous territory with her father, a “pacing dangerous, morose lion” who was “sulky and angry and injured” after the devastating deaths of Julia and Stella.’ Later, when rationing throughout the winter of 1941 means the Woolfs can only maintain a fire in the sitting room, Virginia notes in her diary that she is now unable to write, because Leonard is always present and she has no room of her own to work in (Lee p.752). Thus Virginia’s own life was a testimony to her belief that creative endeavour can only truly happen when supported by physical and financial security, expressed by the luxury of a personal workspace, where the privacy and freedom to work can be protected. As Woolf observes through her analysis of past female novelists, the minimum of material conditions –that five hundred a year stands for the power to contemplate, that a lock on the door means the power to think for oneself’ – are relative luxuries, inaccessible to most women of and before her time (Room p. 96). The ability to determine their own finances, and to escape to a workplace where the endless demands of the domestic realm (such as children or servants) could be locked out was usually available only to men. For most women, such autonomy and peace to follow their own interests was a luxury beyond reach. But only with these luxuries will women, like men, be in a position to follow Woolf’s formula for true expression;

There must be freedom and there must be peace… [The writer] must not look or question what is being done. Rather, he must pluck the petals from a rose or watch the swans flat calmly down the river. (Room p. 94)

The luxurious languidity of this image is paradoxical. Woolf is showing that idleness is a necessary buffer that the mental space needed for creativity and free thought requires. She repeats this point in exhortations to her female audience; ‘By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.’ (p.98)

What that statement describes is an alternative economy that overturns a spendthrift morality which expounds thriftiness as a virtue and luxuries as unnecessary evils. This capitalist reversal is explored extensively in Mrs Dalloway. As Jennifer Wicke suggests in her analysis of Modernism and consumption,

Clarissa tentatively and tenuously reverses the disenchantment of the world characteristic of modernity by the generosity of her gendered acts of consumption, where consumption is reformulated as the nature of the gift. (p. 126)

This aura of generosity is expressed in Clarissa’s intense love of life, people and her gift in bringing all these elements together as ‘An offering for the sake of offering’ (Mrs Dalloway p. 123). The beautiful humanity of Clarissa’s many pleasures and gestural ‘sacrifice through spending’ (Wicke p. 129) contrasts with Miss Kilman’s material poverty which leads to a meanness of spirit that spoils her ability to enjoy anything at all;

It was her way of eating, eating with intensity, then looking, again and again, at a plate of sugared cakes on the table next them; then, when a lady and child sat down and the child took the cake, could Miss Kilman really mind it? Yes, Miss Kilman did mind it, she had wanted that cake – the pink one. The pleasure of eating was almost the only pure pleasure left her, and then to be baffled even in that! (p. 131)

Financial poverty being equated to social barrenness in Mrs Dalloway is again highlighted by Ellie Henderson when ‘her panic fear, which arose from three hundred pounds income and her weaponless state (she could not earn a penny) [..] made her timid’ (p. 171). By showing these women suffering in situations where they should be enjoying themselves, Woolf puts forward the paradox that one must have enough of a financial reserve so that the act of consumption itself do not consume the consumer. Thus, Woolf’s alternative economic morality also denotes that material goods have their uses, but in order to enjoy them properly (i.e. as they are meant to be enjoyed) accumulation of them must reach a certain standard, that is, beyond what is absolutely necessary to possess them. In short, to live a full life, one must have both social and financial status which is beyond simple necessity – the very definition of luxury. Furthermore, although necessity dictates that life must start from materiality, ideally this will be a means to a nobler end, and not the end itself.

For Virginia Woolf, the luxury of independent intellectual freedom was created by the Hogarth Press. Its insulating effect gave her the courage to write experimentally. For example, it was not until the Woolfs had purchased their first hand press, issued notices of their first publication (Two Stories) and already started printing Leonard’s contribution, that Virginia started to write in a way that really broke away from conventional realism. Although she had already published two novels to some success through Gerald Duckworth’s publishing house, Duckworth & Co. were not really avant-garde publishers, and Virginia still harboured some ill-feeling against her half-brother. (She would later accuse him and his brother George of sexually abusing her as a child.) When we factor in, as Leonard Woolf observed in his autobiography, Virginia’s ‘hypersensitiveness to criticism’ (II, p. 223) – which paralysed her with horror at the completion of each novel until she had received a favourable reception from trusted critics – it is not difficult to see how the prospect of having to submit another work to her half-brother would not have been conducive to bold experimentation on her part.. Just as her Bloomsbury circle afforded freedom from the conventions of chastity, the dynamics of self-publishing as the Woolfs conceived them meant that the ‘inestimable price of editorial freedom’ was theirs. As J. H. Willis Jr. noted, though a fearful and anxious writer, the Hogarth Press was instrumental in freeing Woolf to become ‘what she wished as a writer without the real or imagined criticism of a publishers’ reader’, plus it also meant that ‘[she] need never feel an unsympathetic or repressive male editor looking over her shoulder’ (p. 400). Woolf herself wrote in her diary that she was, ‘the only woman in England free to write what I like.’ (Willis p.401) Furthermore, from 1929 to 1939 the Press contributed at least £1000 year to their existing income and since their expenditure had remained much the same in this period, they were able to use the money to make major lifestyle changes. Thus they were able to afford the luxury of being able to discard the model of Victorian domesticity by replacing the cook and other live-in servants with ‘things which make it easy “to do for yourself”’ and staff in off-site accommodation. Profits from the Press also contributed directly the purchase of their first car – a second-hand Singer in 1927, which added welcome speed to their pace of life (Leonard Woolf, Journey, p.99). It is interesting to note how the intellectual autonomy of the Woolfs’ was paralleled by an increased sense of freedom within their lifestyle in general.

It seems that the space that these necessary extras provide is essentially a springboard to better things beyond the present; a means to a nobler end, and not the end itself. But an actual Hogarth handmade is not luxurious. At least, not in the material sense. An examination of the British Library copy of The Waste Land reveals inadequate inking (i.e. too light to be comfortably legible in places), a badly cut cover label and the absolute minimum of stitching unevenly spaced – features evident in nearly all the handmade Hogarth books I examined. The Senate House copy has similar problems, plus ink blots throughout, with botched gluing sticking the title page to the leaf before it. Furthermore, page twenty-five is cut short at a diagonal and they appear to have run out of the marbled cover paper, which comes just short of the endpaper. As James Beechy observed, they are noticeably absent from most private press histories, perhaps due to the marked difference in production values, ‘Unlike many private presses founded in the slipstream of the pervasive Arts and Craft movement, The Hogarth Press was not concerned with editions de luxe’ (p. 15). This summary of Hogarth Press production is a polite understatement. The books themselves are almost precocious in their material inadequacy. If there is anything deluxe to be found in the press publications at all, it is that they were made by highly skilled writers, and it is this auratic intellectual association which give them their market value, not the quality or durability of the material product.

It seems that for the Hogarth books to be classed as deluxe, a different definition of luxury must be found. In The Price of Modernism: Publishing The Waste Land, Lawrence Rainey gives very interesting and detail-oriented revision of The Waste Land’s process of canonization, and in order to do so he depends upon an established avant-garde ‘tripartite publishing program’ of elite, deluxe and mass dissemination (pp. 77-106). This method of tiered publishing is so established today, we hardly notice it – for example everyone expects a paperback to follow a hardback, with a fine-bound limited edition sometimes commissioned for the discerning elite. Even indie record labels have adopted this form of publishing, with CDs and digital releases being followed by special edition vinyls and the suchlike. Rainey’s assumption that deluxe in book publishing means a limited edition made from valuable materials is well-founded considering the output of other contemporary presses. The examples he gives for the deluxe level of modernist tripartite publishing, such as William Morris’s Kelmscott Press or Yeats’ sisters’ Dun Emer (later Cuala) Press produced exquisite work. An examination of the Dun Emer Press’ Broadsides: A Collection of New Irish and English Songs (1937), a collection of ballads written by Yeats and printed by his sisters1, reveal rich, even inking, with the illustrations coloured by hand and musical notation on every ballad sheet adding to the sense of luxurious printing. Looking at a Kelmscott Press book, A Dream of John Ball (1892), a political treatise written by Morris himself, it is clear from the quality of the design work and execution why they were the benchmark that most later presses aspired to. The printing is, of course, impeccable, which is no mean feat when one considers the intricate woodblock illustrations and illuminated text, and that Morris’ bespoke inks caused much frustration to his printers due to their viscosity. The binding is similarly exquisite; the specially commissioned white vellum cover creating an almost translucent effect. Morris was second only to the Vatican in his demand for unleaded, flawless vellum. Needless to say, the materials used in both these projects are of the highest quality and both these specimens, kept in the same collection as most of the Hogarth Press books I examined2, do not appear to have aged at all. This is generally the norm among fine hand-crafted books. High quality paper and glues coupled with skilful application of tried and tested binding techniques usually ensures this. Thus these books are a marked contrast to the Hogarth handmade books whose naïve enthusiasm and unselfconscious experimentation in binding (often with disastrous results) share more with the energetic scribbles (and frequent ink blots) of the Stephen children’s Hyde Park Gate News than with the accomplished history of fine print and bookmakers.

Perhaps it was the Woolfs’ eagerness to utilise the work of friends that led to them printing things which should have been beyond their ability. Examples that spring to mind are not only The Waste Land, but also Hope Mirrlees’ Paris, both of which employ several languages, both roman and italic type, and enough specialised spacing to give even an expert typesetter trouble. The resultant texts (including these last two examples) often had to be hand corrected by Virginia after printing. Another good example is the first edition of 12 Original Woodcuts (1921) by Roger Fry which again is only secured with the minimum of stitching – only three holes. This is especially inadequate for this particular book because of the thickness of the paper used. Much thicker than usual Hogarth Press stock (perhaps in honour of it being ‘fine print’ book), they end up forming a ‘V’ shape at the spine because there are too many sheets to comfortably fit in just one fold and choir. This ‘V’ shape is also echoed by the page ends, which have not been trimmed after binding – a characteristic which is again apparent in most Hogarth handmades. With fewer sheets, five holes and a trimmed edge this would have been an acceptable method, but the best and most orthodox way to bind pages like these would have been to stitch them in smaller numbers, then sewn the subsequent three or four choirs together. This appears to have been too labour intensive for the Woolfs, who, as far as I know, never employed this practice. The result is a ‘fine art book’ which neither opens nor shuts properly. The inner pages are also folded against the grain direction of the paper, which decreases the lifespan of the book; as every professional bookbinder knows, the grain should run parallel to the spine. These technical errors are exacerbated by an amateurish appearance; the ‘marbled’ paper that Fry himself made by throwing paint in random splashes at ‘recycled’ wall paper was far too heavy and poor in quality for this purpose. As Donna Rhein points out, the traditional method of marbling is to suspend colour on water in order to float the design onto the paper. (p. 27). Fry’s unorthodox approach means that the cover, now brittle, is prone to cracking and breaking off in parts. One might give Fry and the Woolfs the benefit of the doubt, perhaps as amateur binders they simply did not possess the depth of experience to have foreseen what problems using inappropriate materials might create, but mere inexperience does not explain the lack of care in execution – for example the front label is not even cut squarely. These recurring technical imperfections, as well as many others too numerous to list here, are all regular features throughout Hogarth handmades and mean that they are quite justifiably left out of fine press histories.

The fact that Rainey neglects to physically describe a Hogarth Press edition of The Waste Land, is perhaps because of the frustrating incongruity between its aspirations and humble appearance. Simply put, the handmade Hogarth Press books, the category which is usually deemed ‘deluxe’, were so badly made that, even their mass produced counterparts tend to wear better than they. In the Lilly Library (Indiana University) copy that Rhein describes in The Handprinted Books of Leonard and Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press there is even an advertisement for past titles from the Hogarth Press printed in the back of the book (Rhein pp.23-24). Far from treating the production of this book as a limited deluxe English edition, the Woolfs appeared to have decided they would make the most of the publicity from what they thought would be a good seller. Rainey’s suggestion that Eliot’s commission of The Waste Land was an afterthought of Eliot’s to complete the tripartite system also seems less convincing if one considers that it was not necessarily limited, since the Woolfs were not averse to making more copies to cater for demand – even when the original materials had run out. In the case of The Waste Land, the suggestion that the Woolfs ran out of the original marbled paper is supported by the fact the British Library copy is covered in a completely different, textured, black paper.3 In fact, for a handmade book by amateur book-binders, the 460 copies of The Waste Land could be considered a large print run. The lateness of the publication may also be due to the fact it always took the Woolfs a long time to typeset anything, especially because in this case Virginia took extra care to ensure the poem was spaced well, which it was. Indeed, Eliot himself said that he preferred the appearance of this edition to its American counterpart. Having examined both editions, it is evident that the unconventional proportions of the Hogarth Press edition caters much better for the spacing of the lines than the Boni and Liveright edition which is not wide enough and breaks up the vast majority of its long lines. Thus the personal care and high priority with which the text is treated by the Woolfs is clear, despite the dubious quality of its total execution as a ‘deluxe’ book.

Perhaps what the Woolfs considered to be luxury can be illuminated by the suggestion ‘The Woolfs’ intentions were more cerebral.’ (Beechy, p.15) The ‘luxury’ was not in the materials but in being able to bring together individuals they hoped would have an affect on the existing consciousness. As Leonard Woolf noted, ‘We were interested primarily in the immaterial inside of a book, what the author had to say and how he said it; we had drifted into the business with the idea of publishing things which the commercial publisher could not or would not publish.’ (Lee p 234) In the light of this, one can see the marketing behind The Waste Land as part of a long-term project to centralize a certain culture of intellect. Rainey presents The Waste Land as well branded product successfully sold within an already established system of publishing. This may be true but, at least from the Hogarth Press side, the eagerness to publish was also due to intellectual ideals the Woolfs shared with Eliot, which tended towards a more amorphous kind of subjectivity. Just as T.S. Eliot was aware of mass consciousness being greater than the individual’s thoughts and advocated the ‘continual extinction of personality’ so that ‘the mind of Europe’ may surface (Eliot,’Tradition and the Individual Talent’, pp. 39-40), so did Virginia Woolf have a similar sense of social responsibility;

‘[T]he public and the private worlds are inseparably connected, the tyrannies and servilities of the one are the tyrannies and servilities of the other [..] we are not passive spectators doomed to unresisting obedience but by our thoughts and actions can ourselves change that fire. A common interest unites us, it is one world, one life.

(Three Guineas, pp. 270-271)

Thus one can see that, as a group of already famous individuals, the material commodities were simply vessels used to distribute awareness of a fragmented yet interconnected world. Their belief in the power of private consciousness to affect mass culture shows how, ideologically, this was the most important result that the luxury of independent intellect could bring forth. As friends of Eliot at the time, and critics whom he trusted, it was the Woolfs’ pleasure to extend to him this same luxury of unadulterated exposure made possible by the Hogarth Press.

It seems strange, then, that scholars who have written insightful histories of the Hogarth Press tend to end with a rather rigid view of how the Woolfs achieved what they did. As J. H. Willis Jr. puts it, ‘[T]he twenty-four year journey of the Hogarth Press, complete and seen in its entirety, seems one that may never be repeated.’ (p.402) Similarly, S. P Rosenbaum’s reasoning that the Hogarth Press existed due to a combination of luck and the Woolfs’ realisation that the publishing conditions of their time created the need for an alternative press’ also leads him to the conclusion that ‘[t]he historical moment of the Hogarth Press is passed; even if one could find another Virginia Woolf, it would not be possible for many reasons to do anything similar now to what they did nearly eighty years ago.’ (p. 24) These departing words with which he sums up the enterprise seem to belie the inherent values of the press. It is precisely this kind of whimsical attempt to ossify history which is antithetical to the dynamic vision of the Hogarth Press. At this point, the image of Virginia Woolf berating the outdated ‘Edwardians’ for wilfully overlooking Mrs Brown as a person in herself springs to mind. By reducing her to a trope through which they can convey their premeditated patriarchal judgements, they have failed to appreciate Mrs Brown’s own agency as a conscious human being. In the same way, by sealing the Hogarth Press up as an unrepeatable one-off, these well-meaning historians smother its inspiring effect under a blanket of mystique. Ironically, it is the fact that the works of the Woolfs now command so much stature in cultural history which makes them vulnerable to this kind of treatment. Yet just as Mrs Brown’s presence being negated renders her voiceless, so does Willis and Rosenbaum’s final judgement on the Hogarth Press, as a bounded historical entity, ultimately silence Leonard Woolf’s own convictions. As he writes in his autobiography,

I am not so foolish as to believe that our advantages could not occur again. There is no reason to believe that it is impossible that tomorrow.. there may not be a circle of young, unknown, brilliant writers whom someone might begin to publish on a small scale as we did in 1917. And there is no reason why he should not succeed as we did… (Journey p.126)

A niche as culturally significant as the one that the Hogarth Press occupied is not simply spotted but made. The fact these historians do not realise this is perhaps due to a misplaced ‘sense of perspective.’ One might suggest that it is this inflexible kind of ‘sense of perspective’ that drives Septimus Smith out the window in Mrs Dalloway because it does not give enough credence to the possibility of consciousness being ‘a seeing that literally makes and re-makes life moment by moment’ (Wicke p. 120). That an anomaly like a market for badly made ‘deluxe’ books persisted reinforces the idea that the Hogarth Press’s self-published and self-made ethos permeated the consciousness of the people around them. Although the material success of the press was founded upon factors like good artistic choices, sensible accounting, and good timing, above all, it was holding steadfast to the self-knowledge that the only way they could guarantee the longevity of their enterprise on the terms they wanted it (i.e. complete artistic control despite being a part-time occupation) was to limit their operations, and not be self-conscious about the fact they would remain ‘a mongrel in the business world.’ The physical fruits of their labour, exemplified by the handmade books, express this hybridity in every hurried misplaced stitch on the edge of beautifully spaced text, every enthusiastically chosen avant-garde cover-paper which was as personally loved as it was impractical.

Other presses which followed in the footsteps of the Hogarth Press and had similar aims, such as Laura Riding’s Seizin Press, or Nancy Cunard’s Hours Press (both authors of Hogarth handmade books) simply lacked the ability to grow and become stable, sustainable cultural challengers, as the Hogarth Press did. At least part of the Hogarth Press’ longevity must also be due to the way they pursued this ‘leisure’ activity of a hobby-turned-business with the same all-consuming intensity with which they tackled the ‘proper’ work which occupied their mornings – that is, writing. The way the Woolfs kept the Press physically close to them, (literally living under the same roof until bombing during Second World War forced them to relocate), intertwining the functions of the Press with their daily lives and resisting opportunities to expand so they could maintain total control over all aspects of the business showed that their personal investment in it was much more than just money or time – although Leonard’s shrewd business sense played as much part in their success as Virginia’s talent. Thus although both the Seizin Press and the Hours Press produced beautiful books of some cultural weight, they folded in less than ten years, in contrast to the Hogarth Press which, even after Virginia’s death in 1941, had been in production for over two decades and was still a strong presence on the publishing scene.

The slow and humble beginnings of the Hogarth Press was an advantage when it came to cultivating a nursery for new talent because the support network was mature and the community real. By preferring to limit editorial meddling to the bare essentials the Woolfs also, to some degree, extended the luxurious freedom of uncensored creativity to others. In this way, the Hogarth Press increased the status of the Woolfs amongst their peers. And unlike other private press owners who mainly published their own work, these acts of generosity – like Clarissa Dalloway’s reversal of the spendthrift economy – stood them in good stead as it also extended their cultural potency far beyond their immediate circle.

Although the cultural worth of the Hogarth Press could easily be measured by the impressive number of Noble prizewinners they produced, perhaps the most remarkable consequence was how it allowed Virginia Woolf, as a woman, to create without restraint, be published and read. Thus she influenced society’s values on her own terms – that is, with independent intellectual thought, without having to compromise any of her ideals. That the press could not have succeeded as it did without her, nor could she have written as she did without it, shows that Woolf fulfilled her own prophecies on what a woman needs to create. Here, we return to the territory of Shakespeare’s sister. As a woman wanting to have a real voice in society, financial independence coupled with real cultural influence was not actually a luxury but a necessity only available to the very few. The fact the Virginia Woolf achieved this and now attracts ever increasing scholarship is a testament to the successful in-roads she made by writing a better status for women into being. As Peter Alexander writes,

[S]he gave women a voice at a time when too few good writers spoke for them. To compare her with the other outstanding women writing in English of her period – among them the Modernists Gertrude Stein, Katherine Mansfield, Dorothy Richardson, H. D. Bryher, Djuna Barnes, Harriet Monroe, and such non-Modernists as Violet Hunt and May Sinclair – is to recognise that she was and remains a centrally important figure.” (p. 211)

That just under thirty years ago, Hermione Lee (who has since become the go-to academic on Woolf) classed her only ‘in the second rank of twentieth-century novelists’ (Lee, 1977, p.14) shows how the dynamic force of Woolf’s writing has continued to affect our consciousness. In the many decades following her death, the feminist legacy which Woolf worked on under the shelter of the Hogarth Press continues to grow, albeit not always in a fashion she would have approved of. However, despite having to deflect no small amount of scorn along the way, her stature now as a central figure within the modernist canon shows how well she used the uniquely privileged position she made for herself.

The significant move Virginia Woolf makes from a feminised object, vulnerable to the whims of a male-dominated publishing culture, to a potent cultural subject in her own right, was due to the empowerment and influence afforded her by press. As Willis puts it,

From the initial frustrations and delights of hand printing [..] to the more complex and time-consuming activities of publishing [..] the Hogarth Press provided Virginia Woolf with physical, emotional, and mental stimulation that must have been as valuable to her as a writer as it was sometimes exhausting to her physically. In the same way that involvement in the activities of the Abbey Theatre did for W. B. Yeats, or Faber and Faber for T.S. Eliot, the press objectified Virginia Woolf’s world, allowing her to keep one hand on the vigorous pulse of daily life in the basement rooms of Tavistock Square. (p.400)

Having created the intellectual space to write and be taken seriously, surrounded by peers and aspiring writers in a place she had real cultural clout, dealing with ideas such as reconfiguring consumption or rewriting women through work like Mrs Dalloway or ‘Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown’ – it appears that, with the community of writers, artists, staff and customers they gathered around them, the ‘society of outsiders’ which Woolf called for in Three Guineas was already assembled within her lifetime. The associated luxuries of the press were entirely necessary in creating this, at least in Virginia Woolf’s eyes. As she wrote in her diary (27 October 1930) when considering the possibility of selling the press,

‘What’s money if you sell freedom?’

 

Ping Henningham is Co-Director of Henningham Family Press with her husband, David Henningham. She studied BA Art History at UCL and MA Modernist English Literature at Queen Mary University of London. This essay was originally written as part of her MA, and has been published as a blog in celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Leonard and Virginia Woolf starting the Hogarth Press.

 

To see photos of some of the books I examined for this essay, you can now just click onto the British Library blog.

1 Issued as single ‘ballad’ sheets but later collated and bound for collectors.

2 This is the Sterling Collection which is now kept by Senate House Library, University of London.

3 As Rhein notes(p.23), it was quite typical of the Woolfs to underestimate the amount of materials needed and have to buy in more, often completely different papers to complete the run. As with many Hogarth Press handmades, there are also several variations on the front cover label for The Waste Land, some with underlinings, some with asterisks and some with no other embellishments.

WORKS CITED
Alexander, Peter, Leonard and Virginia Woolf: A Literary Partnership, (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1992)
Anscombe, Isabelle, Omega and After: Bloomsbury and the Decorative Arts, (London: Thames & Hudson, 1981)
Beechy, James, The Bloomsbury Artists: Prints and Bookdesign, Cat. by Tony Bradshaw, (Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1999)
Collin, Judith, The Omega Workshops, (London: Secker & Warburg, 1983)
Eliot, T.S., ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, Selected Prose of T. S. Eliot, ed. by Frank Kermode (London: Faber, 1975)
Lee, Hermione, Virginia Woolf, (London: Chatto and Windus, 1996)
– The Novels of Virginia Woolf, (London: Methuen, 1977)
Rainey, Lawrence, ‘The Price of Modernism: Publishing The Waste Land ‘, Institutions of Modernism, (London: Yale University Press, 1998)
Rhein, Donna, The Handprinted Books of Leonard and Virginia Woolf at The Hogarth Press 1917-1932, Studies in Modern Literature No. 52 (Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1985)
Rosenbaum, S.P., Leonard and Virginia Woolf at The Hogarth Press, (Austin, Texas: The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, 1995)
Wicke, Jennifer, ‘Coterie Consumption: Bloomsbury, Keynes and Modernism as Marketing’, Marketing Modernisms: Self Promotion, Canonization, Re-reading, ed. By Kevin Dittmer & Stephen Watt, (Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1999)
Willis Jr., J. H., Leonard and Virginia Woolf as Publishers: The Hogarth Press 1917-1941, (Charlottesville, Virginia: University Press of Virginia, 1992)
Woolf, Leonard, An Autobiography, II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980)
– The Journey not the Arrival Matters: An Autobiography of the years 1939-1969, (London: The Hogarth Press, 1973)
Woolf, Virginia, A Room of One’s Own/Three Guineas, (London: Penguin, 1993)
– Mrs Dalloway, (London: Penguin, 1996)
Woolf, Virginia, Vanessa Bell with Thoby Stephen, Hyde Park Gate News: The Stephen Family Newspaper, ed. by Gill Lowe, (London: Hesperus Press Ltd, 2005)
Woolmer, J. Howard, A Checklist of the Hogarth Press 1917-1946, (London: The Hogarth Press, 1976)

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I

Five metres from a slipper bath filled with ice and cocktails, discussing Modernist Art with Paul Mason, Jenny Broom, Aysulu and Anna (from British Council Russia) we found we had experienced the same epiphany as Paul at the Tretyakov Gallery that day. We had been confronted by an alternative narrative of the origins of Modernist figurative painting; confronted by a different version of Malevich’s Black Square than we had previously seen mediated by magazines and text books.

The black pigment of the square was parched so that yellow and red oblongs were visible through the cracks. Where the black persisted the surface texture betrayed numerous oblongs underneath that crossed the threshold of the famous square.

An X-Ray of Malevich’s Black Suprematic Square, 1915

The didactic square from art history turned out to be the completion of numerous false starts and revisions towards simplicity. That’s a very different story. Black Square was preceded and followed by masterpieces we’d never seen. Marc Chagall on an epic scale was a revelation for many of us at the table. Exhilarated, we began flicking through everything we know between Beveridge and Woolf, wondering if we had been sold a partial version of Modernist art history.

This encounter with The Square was emblematic of our whole experience of Moscow. The painting and the place, when mediated, are both abridged. The Black Square loses its texture and presence, just as Russia becomes reduced to its foreign policy and Putin fridge magnets. My ignorance of Russia’s view of itself, which is the result of Russian politics and British media, prevents me from understanding the spectrum of their fears and ambitions. The red and yellow oblongs under the square remind me of the striking diversity of peoples within the Russian Federation. Their government very consciously celebrates this, and a new park will feature all four terrains found within the Federation. However, this cosmopolitan theme was already commonplace under the USSR, evident in the regenerated park at VDNKh where pavilions were built from the materials and styles of different distant Soviet Republics. Today, Russians from some of these races find actual social mobility within the Federation does not live up to the ideal. How familiar. Yet what I found embarrassing is that such an important tension within Russia was news to me. And is this any surprise when on Russian TV their politicians do normal things, like look at their smartphones, but British media employs the same old newsreel shorthand of earnest white faces bobbing on a sea of little communist claps. Russian ‘alternative media’ does no better, piping out mirror image foreign policy to Anglo-American discontents who are still hoping for one accurate news source. Its fanbase would do far better to visit Russia and get a sense of its diversity, contradictions and tensions over Georgian dumplings.

II

The British Council delegation we belonged to was assembled to represent the UK as guests of honour at Non/fiction Literature Fair during the UK Russia Year of Language and Literature 2016, and satellite events in bookshops, museums and galleries. Over dinner Jonathan Coe made the kind of fascinating, nuanced observations about innovation in contemporary fiction you would expect from an accomplished novelist who is also B.S. Johnson’s biographer.

Jonathan Coe introducing B.S. Johnson

Jonathan Coe introducing B.S. Johnson at Non/Fiction

Like A Fiery Elephant executes the manoeuvre of engendering sympathy and admiration for B.S. Johnson, at times an unpleasant person, salvaging his life and his art without employing the unsatisfactory excuse that they are distinct. He did the same for a Russian audience in the UK Pavilion, briefly a revivalist tent where the majority pledged to read some Johnson. I hope they also read Coe’s new book, Number 11.

Jim Crace

Jim Crace

Jim Crace, author of Harvest, was another inspiring personality. He has what my Russian friend calls ‘a face accustomed to smiling’ and his conversation alternates between humility and encouragement. Much like Paul Mason, who is always animated, active, alert to whatever political events are unfolding and the fact that news can appear from anyone anywhere at any time. He often interrupts himself mid-sentence to greet a new arrival at the table, “Hi, we haven’t met, I’m Paul.” There were many more people like this. These Islands produce some impressive people sometimes, and we were enjoying all this from ‘the kids’ table’, with Emma Healey, whose novel Elizabeth Is Missing I enjoyed greatly, delightful children’s author and publisher Jenny Broom, and comic artist Tom Gauld. The latter two and ourselves also spent some time working with students at the British Higher School of Art and Design; Russian students, primarily, taught in English in Christopher Rainbow’s groundbreaking BA Illustration department.

III

British Artists were a bit late to Modernism. It was a reaction to what was happening over there. Less a response to Modernity, than a plaintive “why can’t modernity happen here?” emerging from a stuffy sitting room. What better subject for my lecture at the British Higher School than the link between one of Moscow’s most enthusiastic citizens, Kandinsky, and London’s avant garde. Edward Wadsworth praised and reported On The Spiritual In Art in BLAST! for the advancement of abstract painting in Britain. I also told the story of David Bomberg at the Ballets Russes, and London’s rejection of Italian Futurism. The students contrasted Marinetti’s machine worship with our blasé use of technology, contemporary interest in the hand made and ecological design. They were brilliant students.

Next day I led a day-long collaborative workshop in which we would design a system of simple cut-out glyphs that we could use to screenprint sounds commonly used in both English and Russian. I had sent a lesson plan to prime them for my arrival, but so well prepared were these excellent students that we had done the pre-lunch part of my plan by eleven. Just as well, as I’d not realised how long lunch would be. Three students had pretty much fully realised alphabets of their own before we began, so we had plenty to work with, but it must belong to all of us. We worked through strategic questions. Would our glyphs refer to Cyrillic or Latin or ignore them? Would they be diagrammatic? Would they, like Kandinsky’s art, be forms that refer to gut feelings or the elements of art? In pairs, we made cut outs representing different sounds that had been distributed. In response to these questions we critiqued our results. Finally, my lesson plan long exhausted and pedagogical improvisation taking its place, we extracted elemental flourishes we could all agree on, then used these to make a final stab at our assigned sounds.

The BA Illustration Students' Final Glyphs

The BA Illustration Students’ Final Glyphs

We stopped short of creating modifying punctuation marks. And just as well, as I suddenly realised I was no less than four hours late for my next engagement and I had lost my voice. (Which is normal for work like this. Often that phone in your hotel room will ring soon after you enter it, knackered, and someone who has been looking after you and that you are yet to meet will ask you a question that you cannot answer about where you are supposed to be). Yet our process of refinement could easily have gone on to create a very minimal set of shapes with modifying dots and circles to create a universal phonic set. How Modernist is that!

David discussing the students' phonics with Dame Marina Warner

David discussing the students’ phonics with Marina Warner

IV

A screenprinting workshop was built for us within the British Pavilion. While talks and signings happened we contributed to the general hubbub as we worked with our groups of students to improvise screenprints; composing, choosing colours, binding sheets. The drying prints bobbed overhead while the public witnessed and contributed to our process of creation and execution. A favourite exchange was with a man who works in a screenprinting factory who couldn’t believe we could print with so little equipment. “How are you doing this!” he kept asking, as if we were magicians.

BA Illustration class continues in the UK Pavilion

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Preparing to print

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Learning to Screenprint freehand

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Two print stations running simultaneously

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Drying the prints

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Each colour represents a beat in the spoken rhythm. Each shape a phonetic sound.

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Reviewing the first print and composing the next design with cut out paper.

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Strips of five feet being bound into one book.

 

The dry prints were made into a massive book, five foot-long pages in each line, like the five metrical feet of Shakespeare’s Iambic Pentameter; ti-TUM ti-TUM ti-TUM ti-TUM ti-TUM. Here is a decoding of the concrete poem we wrote as we went, which became a kind of picture story about love, with two characters, or souls, living on a mountain in the spring. A betrayal leads to quarrelling, one soul leaves for the sea. Sorcery, dreams, comfort eating and finally forgiveness and reconciliation. How Shakespearean is that!

весна душа гора душа весна
мечта весна мечта весна мечта
весна душа гора измена весна
измена мечта измена мечта измена
гора душа хула душа коралл
душа гора хула коралл душа
гора немой немой немой коралл
гора ворожба мечта измена коралл
еда мечта немой мечта еда
мечта еда немой мечта еда
весна ворожба прощай измена весна
весна душа прощай душа весна
прощай душа гора душа прощай
село село маяк село немой

spring soul mountain soul spring
dream spring dream spring dream
spring soul mountain treason spring
treason dream treason dream treason
mountain soul reviling soul coral
soul mountain reviling coral soul
mountain dumb dumb dumb coral
mountain sorcery dream treason coral
food dream dumb dream food
dream food dumb dream food
spring sorcery forgive treason spring
spring soul forgive soul spring
forgive soul mountain soul forgive
country country lighthouse country dumb

Of course, in the original, the colour panels are like a tapestry creating rhythm through repetition and their position in space in a way that text on a page alone cannot. The panels are more like characters moving on a stage than tiny printed words. It concludes with a nod to Mayakovsky (маяковского), no stranger to recording tempestuous love affairs in print, in the form of a lighthouse (маяк) set in a landscape.

V

Representing Britain. The British Council (and Literature) made this easier, representing as they do the best of British. One Russian cab driver welcomed Brexit as a sign that white people everywhere can now federate at arms length in championing their ethno-national interests. Most Muscovites were far more cosmopolitan in their views. But international opinions I heard brought one moral dimension of Brexit to mind; envy.

The thing about coveting your neighbours wife, or their ass, is that the fantasy never includes the process by which it could come to pass. Fantasy demands the suspension of logistical realities. A person may think they’d be happier if they were married to the woman next door, but once the work of obtaining an ex-wife, breaking up the neighbours’ marriage, traumatising the kids, moving house, alimony and so on and on – it can hardly be the same dream in the end. Many, though not all, of British referendands displayed this kind of self-delusion about what we would get in terms of money, resources and trade outside the EU. Politics isn’t merely about declaring ones own wishes, but pursuing a civil society that includes those on the breadline and EU citizens now at home in the UK; those with the least say by volume and set to lose the most. Should the United Kingdom remain.. Can the United Kingdom remain united.? Apparently not.

This is a lesson from literature, from Shakespeare, where for centuries actors have committed the same mistakes, lusts and treasons, imagined the same delightful ends and fallen short with foolish means, staged twice daily so we don’t have to. What is the point in rehearsing tragedy when all the world insists on being a stage? And, in this era of global citizenship, will geriatric Britain be content with dishing out Cowerdly put-downs it believes give an air of sophistication, when in fact they betray British insecurity? The UK merely tolerated for the money it generates? Or conceals? Yet Britain, for now, is still admired for its culture; our biggest “export”. Is culture, like most exports, rarely consumed by the natives?

One Official, dressing wisdom as wit like a Shakespearean fool, made a speech in which they declared that we will unite the world through art. Solidarity! I agree. Building society is what art is really good at, delineating a territory for objective human cooperation and appreciation.

Our delegation’s experience would be valuable for all. Our Government can support the pioneering work of the British Council by cancelling costly visas, Russia could begin by making holiday and trade visa concessions to Moscow and St Petersburg. This would allow a groundswell of humanity to take root and bypass the old discredited, divisive diplomatic channels.

My lasting impression is that Muscovites and Londoners can scarcely ever have been so similar as we are now, and we must not let the populist opportunists and the politicians who pander to them keep us apart.

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The British Council have commissioned us to make a major public art contribution at The Central Hall of Artists, Moscow.

We are among the British artists and writers being despatched to Moscow next week to represent Britain as Guests of Honour at Non/FictioNo.18 Literature Fair, including Sebastian Faulks, David Almond, (and several people I think I know are going, but don’t seem to be announced yet). This is a key part of the UK-Russia Year of Language and Literature 2016.

Our commission is two-fold. At the Fair we will be creating a live screenprinted book in a workshop built and embedded for us into the UK Pavilion. Our fellow artists will be BA Illustration students from the British Higher School of Art and Design, Moscow, led by Christopher Rainbow. We will create a concertina-ed concrete poem visualising the iambic pentameter of Shakespeare’s verse. This tome will be donated to a British library, and a British folio will be created for Russia in exchange.

David Bomberg - The Mud Bath - 1914

David Bomberg – The Mud Bath – 1914

In preparation for this, I will be teaching a seminar in Modernist Art History at the School that draws out links between Malevich, Kandinsky and European art movements, with a special focus on David Bomberg, Edward Wadsworth and the Vorticists. I will then lead practical workshops with the students in which we will collaboratively create a new set of glyphs for visually expressing sounds common to English and Russian. It is these glyphs we will use to print words suggested by the Moscow Public:

Музыка шекспировского стиха

Henningham Family Press и Британская высшая школа дизайна

3-4 декабря, 12.00 – 18.00

Любовь питают музыкой; играйте
Щедрей, сверх меры, чтобы, в пресыщенье,
Желание, устав, изнемогло.
перевод М.Л.Лозинского
Двенадцатая ночь, Акт 1, сцена 1, 1-3

В пьесах Шекспира на протяжении четырех столетий сохранялся определенный стихотворный размер. Каждое предложение – это пять повторяющихся волн: «ти-ТУМ, ти-ТУМ, ти-ТУМ, ти-ТУМ, ти-ТУМ». Это пятистопный ямб, и он – главная мелодия английских стихотворений.

Британские художники Дэвид и Пинг Хеннингемы вместе со студентами курса иллюстрации Британской высшей школы дизайна на основе шекспировской строфы создадут прямо на Ярмарке non/fictio№18 книгу методом трафаретной печати. Получившееся произведение, как и многие пьесы Шекспира, будет посвящено «делам сердечным».

Мы приглашаем вас помочь студентам Британской высшей школы дизайна подобрать слова, которые будут соответствовать этому ямбическому ритму: слова о любви, зависти, страсти, обмане – о том, что составляет любовь по Шекспиру – на русском и английском языках.

  • Студенты отпечатают эти слова с помощью трафаретов, используя разработанные ими символы, объединившие фонетику английского и русского языков.
  • Затем напечатанные страницы будут склеены вместе, образуя пятистопный ямб, пять вьющихся лентой «ти-ТУМов».
  • Это длинное любовное послание в виде книги отправится в Великобританию, где будет создано ответное послание.

A Line Of Five Feet

The Music Behind Shakespeare’s Verse

Henningham Family Press and British Higher School of Art and Design

December 3-4, 12.00 – 18.00

“If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.”
Twelfth Night Act 1, scene 1, 1–3

There is a rhythm that has carried Shakespeare’s plays for four hundred years. Each sentence sits on five undulating waves, ti-TUM ti-TUM ti-TUM ti-TUM ti-TUM. This rhythm is called iambic pentameter, and it is the music of English verse.

British artists David and Ping Henningham, together with BA Illustration students from the British Higher School of Art and Design, Moscow, are celebrating Shakespeare’s verse here at non/fictio№18 by creating a screenprinted book on site. Their book, like so many of Shakespeare’s plays, will be about “affairs of love”.

You are invited to suggest words to the students that follow this iambic rhythm. Russian or English words about love, jealousy, passion, trickery – any words suggesting Shakespearean love.

  • The students will screenprint these words using a new sound alphabet they have created, uniting Russian and English language.
  • Next, the printed pages are glued together into lines of five “metrical feet”, five ti-TUMs that snake back and forth.
  • Once bound, this long love letter in concrete poetry will be sent to the United Kingdom, where a response will be created and exchanged.
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Reading T.S. Eliot’s pageant play ‘The Rock’, I mistook the statement Make perfect your will to mean one’s Last Will and Testament. Yet reflecting on my mistake it seemed apt, first that Eliot’s play should reveal my preoccupation with money, and secondly that I had imported the essential Capitalist pact into the play. Our Will confers ownership of the hearth and wealth that outlasts us onto our children, simulating permanence. It is not a Blessing, which predicts our fate and passes on the wisdom needed to outwit it. It isn’t Immortality because we do not experience its outcome,

The lot of man is ceaseless labour,
Or ceaseless idleness, which is still harder,
Or irregular labour, which is not pleasant.
I have trodden the winepress alone, and I know
That it is hard to be really useful, resigning
The things that men count for happiness, seeking
The good deeds that lead to obscurity, accepting
With equal face those that bring ignominy,
The applause of all or the love of none.
All men are ready to invest their money
But most expect dividends.
I say to you: Make perfect your will.
I say: take no thought of the harvest,
But only of proper sowing.

‘The Rock’ was performed in Sadler’s Wells Theatre between 28th May and 9th June 1934 to raise money to build churches. It is an argument in favour of churchbuilding in a Modern world; despite Modernity. New churches for new converts, yet perhaps a few in attendance already suspected that Modern air raids would necessitate the rebuilding of churches, which Jonathan Meades points out would be gleefully undertaken by Modernist architects with atheistic pretensions. Eliot in 1934 was coming to see Christianity as the only viable alternative to Nazi paganism. Anglicans today, still giddy from the good fortune of having one of the greatest poets of all time on their team, sometimes turn to ‘The Rock’ to harvest quotes that may vicariously endorse Anglicanism. They look for sentiments that support the simplicity of spirituality over Materialism, and superficially the choruses that Eliot wrote for it do house some wonderful juxtapositions of that kind,

What life have you, if you have not life together?
There is not life that is not in community,
And no community not lived in praise of GOD.
Even the anchorite who meditates alone,
For whom the days and nights repeat the praise of GOD,
Prays for the Church, the Body of Christ incarnate.
And now you live dispersed on ribbon roads,
And no man knows or cares who is his neighbour
Unless his neighbour makes too much disturbance,
But all dash to and fro in motor cars,
Familiar with the roads and settled nowhere.
Nor does the family even move about together,
But every son would have his motor cycle,
And daughters ride away on casual pillions.

In a crowded Palestine square Jesus was asked ‘who is my neighbour?’ but the same question has an alarming literalness when it pops into a vacant head sitting in a stuffy suburban sitting room. Yet this Anglicanism a la Amazon, those who bought Eliot might also buy Christ, overlooks Eliot’s ambivalence towards Modernity. He had a state of the art typewriter. This weak reading is at the expense of Eliot’s economics; his analysis of the spiritual dimension of finance and labour that is the true central concern of ‘The Rock’ and a theme that has stimulated great art for centuries,

In the vacant places
We will build with new bricks
There are hands and machines
And clay for new brick
And lime for new mortar
Where the bricks are fallen
We will build with new stone
Where the beams are rotten
We will build with new timbers
Where the word is unspoken
We will build with new speech
There is work together
A Church for all
And a job for each
Every man to his work.

But ‘The Rock’ is not consistently great art. His collaborator Mr E. Martin Browne wrote some awful Cockney scenes for it,

ETHELBERT: ‘Arf a mo’, ‘afr a mo’. It’s lucky for you two as you’ve got someone what’s done a bit o’ lookin’ into things to keep you in line. What’s wrong with you is, you’re a lot too cocksure. Ain’t you ever ‘eard me speak o’ the principles of Social Credit reform?

I kid you not.

Social Credit promoted a solution to a problem that may or may not have existed. A perceived imbalance in production and consumption which, in today’s consumer society is even less likely to be a problem. Eliot wisely claims in the preface ‘of only one scene am I literally the author’, and that he was ‘submissive’ to Browne’s ‘direction’ and ‘expert criticism’. It wasn’t me guv, it was ‘im wot wrote it. Oh, go on then, I know he was probably being sincere about his friend. Maybe people really spoke like this in the Music Halls he visited, even. But it still lacks the subtle overheard quality of Working Class voices in ‘The Waste Land’, and there’s even an apology for the Crusades in here, the wrong kind of apology; a justification for the unchristian undertaking.

As soon as labourers obtained the vote everyone wanted to own them. They were given bread and uniforms, the raw material for Fascism. They were given dreary lectures by Communists, equipping them to manufacture their destiny. They were sober footsoldiers for the Sally Army, which Orwell vilified because he too wanted them on his side. Their voices lack this overheard quality in The Rock because Social Credit Theory is being shoved into their mouths. Just like a battleship an ideology needs stokers below decks to reach full steam, yet if we keep Eliot’s religion and economics in binocular focus as we read it, ‘The Rock’ has something important to say to the labourers of 1934.

The Rock says emphatically that if the State denies labourers opportunities to labour through foolish financial planning, or the City does so because of greed, it denies them fulfilment as human beings. There is a spiritual dimension to labouring, therefore unemployment causes spiritual poverty and alienation. The unemployed here begin with words taken from Matthew’s Gospel,

Now а group of Workmen is silhouetted against the dim sky. From
farther away, they are answered by voices of the Unemployed.

No man has hired us
With pocketed hands
And lowered faces
We stand about in open places
And shiver in unlit rooms.
Only the wind moves
Over empty fields, untilled
Where the plough rests, at an angle
To the furrow. In this land
There shall be one cigarette to two men,
To two women one half pint of bitter
Ale. In this land
No man has hired us.
Our life is unwelcome, our death
Unmentioned in “The Times.”

Chant of Workmen again.

The river flows, the seasons turn,
The sparrow and starling have no time to waste.
If men do not build
How shall they live?
When the field is tilled
And the wheat is bread
They shall not die in a shortened bed
And a narrow sheet. In this street
There is no beginning, no movement, no peace and no end
But noise without speech, food without taste.
Without delay, without haste
We would build the beginning and the end of this street.
We build the meaning:
A Church for all
And a job for each
Each man to his work.

This alienation is the aspect of Modernity that Eliot bemoans in the play, not that Modern life is somehow inherently rubbish. There is a kind of Modernity, Eliot is saying, that promises a godless utopia over the next hill but leaves much of importance behind, such as the poor, the young and elderly. Surely we can have a Modern world that does not dispense with all the durable institutions and rhythms of life? That does not dispense with unprofitable people? That,

Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.

Eliot was never the kind of Modernist that wanted to flood the museums, whose material could be perpetually reinvented. Eliot is a Modernist poet defending Modernity from a half-finished counterfeit.

Social Credit theory urged redistribution of wealth among labourers specifically to balance production and consumption. In this detail The Rock is out of date. Yet our limited demand for labour and the incoherent benefits system, a crutch that becomes a makeshift prosthetic limb, these create a similar problem of income inequality. This is the root conundrum of British politics today. From it fears over immigration, benefits and housing begin. This problem was partially updated in the Nineties in Naomi Klein’s ‘No Logo‘, a book which, like Eliot, called for labourers to be given work to do on a fair basis, but globally. A vague aura of honesty and individuality surrounds labour for Klein, opposed to corporate (low) standardisation. This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a Wimpy. Eliot’s evocation of labour as an activity that allows people to internalise enduring values and disciplines goes much further. St Paul loved making Hellenes uncomfortable with the idea that both he and his God got their hands dirty. He claimed slaves could redeem the imposed futility of their lives by silently offering their diligence to God. Socially regenerative graft is seen by the Apostles, like St Paul and St James, as an embodiment of resurrection empowered by The Resurrection. In the English past Eliot points to in the play anyone could access labour quite easily, and one of the injustices of the Industrial Revolution is that it uproots people from their parish and prevents them from entering the soporific, draining, yet ultimately life affirming cycle of labour. It puts them in a queue. It makes them a surplus. Nobody should be made to feel they are a surplus. “We have only our labour to give and our labour is not required.”

Yet is this true? Haven’t we got something better for labourers to give? The energy that can now be harvested directly from the Sun, or by unlocking the fissile energy of dead suns, makes the claim that a muscle class is necessary unjust. We no longer have a Proletariat, this is another facet of The Rock that is out of date. We still have labourers standing and looking about on the highways and dockyards, waiting for robots to arrive, but much has been outsourced overseas. Instead we have this complex mixture of consuming classes who also produce in difficult to define ways. Old Labour fought poverty on behalf of people like me and opened new opportunities, New Labour gave me the chance to discuss last night’s Grand Designs over a cappuccino in a free Museums’s cafe, the terrorist threat level outside ‘heightened’. Miliband’s Ye Olde Labour is currently prioritising the simulation of a working class, trying to make itself needed by compelling bright young people to work long pointless hours for corporations, which also pleases the vindictive sort of older people who feel everyone should have to suffer what they did. They address ‘fears’ created by UKIP rather than shooting them down. Labour’s ‘controls on immigration mug’ should be a Situationist prank, yet it is real, emblematic merchandise.

While The Rock was on at Sadler’s Wells Theatre there were Clergy and Greenshirts calling for workers to receive a share of automated wealth – the fruits of Industry. The latter were the urban expression of the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift, a pacifist offshoot from the Scouts; woodcraft folk. Today the Green Party have written an economically savvy manifesto, one we might once have expected from Labour, and the Church also criticises chaotic redistribution of wealth and greed in the City, greed facilitated by Government. We need to put as much thought into enabling people to consume as to labour. Take away someone’s spending power in a market economy and you diminish one of their freedoms. They have less say about what should be on offer in their community. They have to take what they are ‘given’. Beggars can’t be choosers.

Greenshirts demand the wages of the machine

Ergo it would be a mistake to extract Eliot’s economics from The Rock and dispense with the churchbuilding. For him Christ is the cornerstone of community, and community is served by the economy. It is tempting to remove Christ for the sake of inclusiveness, but a vaguely spiritual idea of labour is both patronising and analogous to Klein’s mere ‘honesty’. For Eliot there is a precise link between Christian churchbuilding, justice and freedom of expression, the fruits of which can be shared with all without compelling submission to the Church.

One of the few remaining institutions tackling income inequality on a large scale in Britain is the Church of England. The City’s ethics and the Coalition’s ‘war on the poor’ have attracted criticism from Lambeth Palace, and it looks to be a choreographed and long term priority for the Church, and we can expect to see the kind of alliances with other secular organisations and faiths that you find in most parishes these days. Universities are also engaged but, unlike the Clergy, Academics are facing their own enemies within. Marina Warner warns that Higher Education is less ‘accessible’ to the poor and the marketisation of University is eroding its civic value from within. Academics, on short contracts, are defending the Nation’s ability to think critically. Managers on huge salaries impose ‘efficiencies’ on them, a model allegedly taken from Business, but evidently not Stanford success stories where the Market and University have been in mutually advantageous conversation for decades and both make space for specualtive thinking.

Not all bright young people want to work in startups, however. If they are looking for a job with status, fully funded, accommodation provided, freedom to improvise, oversight that isn’t overbearing, working with community groups, thinking through social problems and tackling them on the ground, publishing their findings with mainstream presses, campaigning on social justice, historic buildings with a bit of ceremony – I won’t be at all surprised if many refugees from Academe head for the Church of England, especially now the issue of female Bishops has been settled and they are moving forwards around the issue of income inequality. The Church was traditionally a job for qualified Naturalists, Meteorologists, Historians, Poets and Social Engineers, the difference today is that Vicars tend to collaborate with expert agencies. Many British people would in turn be surprised to find that Eliot’s vision of a Church for all is more realised than they thought if they went into one, often with a community garden providing food for the homeless, homeless shelters, debt counselling, toddler groups, groups for the elderly, homework support for migrant families, seminars on Humanities in the Protestant tradition, genuine links with non-Christian faiths and friendly with other Christian denominations, all supported by a congregation who would build the beginning and the end of this street. The Church of England – now hiring in your area.

 

 

 

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Letters Home
The First World War Poetry Kit

Letters Home Poetry Kit

Letters Home Poetry Kit

Henningham Family Press and The Saison Poetry Library
14pp, ISBN: 9780956316615

The exhibition of An Unknown Soldier at the Royal Festival Hall that ran from November to January has now come down, but it will have a legacy in the Poetry Library for a few years yet.

We have collaborated on a book of exercises in writing Modernist poetry with Librarians Chris McCabe, Lorraine Mariner and Pascal O’Loughlin. This all ages resource (6+) introduces some of the movements in poetry that the First World War helped introduce to the world, such as Apollinaire’s Calligrammes, Imagism, Vorticism, Surrealism and Dada. It will primarily be used to guide school groups or individuals visiting the Saison Poetry Library off the more familiar paths through war poetry, but hopefully it will have legs far beyond the Royal Festival Hall.

Most of the letter games reference the enormous amount of correspondence between Home and Front; 2 billion letters and 114 million parcels. In keeping with our exhibition, inspired by the recent use of DNA on letters home to identify casualties, the book culminates in a game we devised that takes the rules DNA uses to build our bodies to build a strand of visual poetry that can be split and rewritten by a group. The negotiation and collaboration involved is intended as a contrast to the abuse of language and power that war entails. Just like a human body is built through the writing and reading of base-pairs, solidarity in a body of people is achieve through the honest use of arts and language. The pieces punch out of a die-cut sheet and are assembled as part of the collaborative writing process.

If you are interested in using this resource at the Poetry Library you can just pop in and ask for it, they are free and the Librarians can help. Bigger groups can arrange a visit with Chris McCabe via the form on the Library website. If you are interested in acquiring a batch of these for educational use offsite you can also contact us here directly, or Chris McCabe at the Library.

The Letter Games use simple steps, chance and basic word pairings that enable people of all abilities to do the book solo or as part of a group. So next time it is cold and rainy, remember you have been invited to take your children, spouse or literary best friend up to the Poetry Library and ask them for a Letters Home booklet:

Poetry Library
Level 5
Royal Festival Hall
London SE1 8XX

photographs: Harpreet Kalsi

Letter Game 1: Calligrammes

Letter Game 1: Calligrammes

Letter Game 6: 3D dna poetry

Letter Game 6: 3D DNA poetry

holo

Dazzle Foiling

 

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