The Adelphi, Oct-Dec. ’45 – part one

My Grandad used to read The Adelphi and seems to have collected back issues as well. He kept them his whole life (the magazine ceased to be in the mid 50s: he died in 1993) and my Mum has kept them since. The Adelphi was a modernist literary magazine with overtly socialist – and frequently pacifist as well – politics, and was the creation of John Middleton Murry, the widower of Katherine Mansfield and a notable figure in his own right. Notable contributors included George Orwell,* D.H. Lawrence, and Dylan Thomas. Its editors included Sir Richard Rees and Max Plowman. It had a mysteriously large readership, apparently.

I mention all of this just to give some kind of vague context.

The October-December edition of 1945 – which I have right in front of me as I type – has piece by Middleton Murry on the front page entitled ‘The Significance of Shylock’. Note that this is 1945: obviously there’s more than literary criticism going on here. The piece ends with a direct reference to the Holocaust (“Now when the Jewish race has just emerged from the most terrible of all the terrible persecutions it has endured…”) and a call for the government to relax the restrictions on Jewish emigration to Mandate Palestine.

There is then an article by the Anglo-Irish academic Arland Ussher about various things (the article is called ‘Four Speculations’), and then a long piece by Herbert Read with the following glorious title:

There Is Now No Other Way: An Appeal To Youth

Which feels to me to be delightfully period.

Anyway, it’s an article about the emerging Cold War (as it was not quite yet then known) and reflects the fears of the then very, very, very new nuclear age, a particularly good example of which is the following well-crafted sentence:

“Someone has said that Great Britain is destined to be the Malta of the next war, but Malta, under a rain of atomic bombs, would have been dispersed as volcanic dust into the waters of the Mediterranean.”

…and also this, near the end:

“…we who have brought the world literally to the dark age of nothingness, can but entrust the future to those whose living concern in might be, realizing that while we tremble and would inevitably fall, their fresh nerves may yet be capable of instinctive balance.”

Broadly speaking Read uses the article to argue in favour of a form of pacifist politics that he described as ‘passive resistance’. That the young – across the world it seems – should refuse to be conscripted, and that they should do so on the basis that modern war endangers the very existence of civilisation. Millions, notes Read, must be moved, not thousands.  You think you see echoes of Gandhi here? Well observed, oh reader: he even acknowledges the point, but stresses that the point shouldn’t be “pressed too far”. As an illustration of the fears of the time, it’s pretty fascinating.

That’s all for now, but there will be more later.

*If it is remembered at all today (and it isn’t really), then it’s mostly for the Orwell association, I guess. In particular, The Adelphi published the first fruits of Orwell’s time as a tramp (an essay called ‘The Spike’), which, as you know I guess, led to Down and Out in Paris and London.

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