Modernism and Birkenhead might seem an unlikely combination to some people. Nevertheless, when I was walking around a small gallery on Merseyside I noticed a delightful work produced by the influential art critic Roger Fry. The textile arrangement was quite an odd piece, and the key term post-Impressionist was present. On the wall, a reference was also made to the famous Omega Workshops.
For a few moments, I was transported back in time to ‘Roger Fry: a Biography’ by Virginia Woolf. Woolf had thought a lot about the nature of biography, and she had produced a text which allowed the voice of Fry to come alive to readers.
Uncertainty was expressed about the date of the art work in question. It was suggested in the gallery that 1912 was possible, but the London initiative called the Omega Workshops was apparently established in 1913. The Great War would then have a major impact on new art among regional stars, impacting on the poetry of May Sinclair, for example.
‘Macbeth’ is a familiar tragedy, not as large in scope as ‘King Lear’, but powerful nonetheless. The innovative production at The Everyman challenged the audience to the extent that the applause was tepid at best.
The text had not been treated with reverence. In fact, it was used as a mere framework for a musical and visual extravaganza.Traditional fans of Shakespeare seemed alarmed at various aspects of the production. The postmodern inclusion of a book of study notes did provoke laughter, but some people were left cold by the performance as a whole.
In short, the production was a nod to the avant-garde in a city which has conservative tastes. As such, few will mourn the fact that it was the last night of the play. However, those behind the production should be praised for their attempt to avoid the sterility of repetition.
‘Live Working or Die Fighting. How the Working Class Went Global’ is dedicated to John Mason, the father of journalist Paul Mason. John Mason was a truck driver. However, the interesting book is arguably influenced by the mother of Paul Mason. His mother was a headteacher in Greater Manchester. The evidence of this influence is apparent in three main ways.
Firstly, there is a Mancunian perspective which informs many passages of the text. Secondly, there is a huge emphasis placed on education in the slices of history being analysed. Thirdly, there is a clear attempt to tell the reader precisely what to think about people, theories, and events.
Hence the central thesis of Mason is not a subtle one. For all the detail he uses to make his points, he arranges his own prejudices as truths. Hence he claims something which is not quite true:
“If the people I have chosen to write about had one thing in common it was their refusal to be doctrinaire, their embarrassment at the crazy non sequiturs sometimes demanded by socialist or anarchist theory, their deep engagement with the lives of the people they were fighting for.”
This classic piece of writing was composed in about 1961. It illuminated the United States in an idiosyncratic and charming way. Without being dogmatic, it looked at the social contradictions of the country. It also examined some of the diverse ways in which the American people were bound together. It is interesting to speculate how much things have changed since the great writer made his epic journey.
In those days, social cohesion in the United States was in part related to the Cold War. Having an external enemy was important in the governance of the people. While Steinbeck was not really radical in his later years, he did not hide from awkward truths. This piece of natural dialogue highlights how some ordinary people were aware of their manipulation:
“Why, I remember when people took out everything out on Mr. Roosevelt. Andy Larsen got red in the face about Roosevelt one time when his hens got the croup. Yes, sir,” he said with growing enthusiasm, “those Russians got quite a load to carry. Man has a fight with his wife, he belts the Russians.”
“Maybe everybody needs Russians. I’ll bet even in Russia they need Russians. Maybe they call it Americans.”
“In literary criticism the critic has no choice but to make over the victim of his attention into something the size and shape of himself.”
I found this interesting quote when reading ‘Travels With Charley in Search of America’ (1962) which I intend to review on completion.
This novel, written over a century ago, raises many questions about education, culture and the English. Exquisitely written, the prose is of a consistently high quality. Influenced by the poet and novelist George Meredith, the book is quite a compelling entertainment.
However, there is an unpleasantness about this work which never quite goes away. It is not to be seen in the unusual body count. Nor is it really evident in the awkward relations between men and women. The problem that dare not speak its name is not apparently related to the author’s sexuality. The core difficulty can be summed up briefly.
This is because the novel is affected by class snobbery. As the literary critic Sir Frank Kermode has elaborated, E.M. Forster had a complete lack of empathy towards servants. It has been revealed that the great author seldom picked his own clothes up off the floor. This attitude is highlighted in the work in question. The lack of imagination shown towards the “bedders” by the Cambridge set is arguably worthy of a dissertation in itself.