Lawrence Rainey

Lawrence Rainey is the author of Revisiting ‘The Waste Land’ and Institutions of Modernism. He holds the chair in Modernist Literature at the University of York.

What was left out: Eliot’s Missing Letters

Lawrence Rainey, 3 December 2009

The final letter in the first edition of the first volume of T.S. Eliot’s letters, edited by Valerie Eliot, the poet’s second wife, and published in 1988, appeared on page 618; the same letter in the new edition concludes on page 816. Yet those figures may understate the extent of the transformation achieved by the new edition. The earlier edition contained 509 letters by T.S. Eliot,...

In a Dark Mode: Grim Modernism

Lawrence Rainey, 20 January 2000

The grainy photograph shows the doorway of a house, the double door itself scarcely visible, obscured by a row of three huge paintings, all four to five feet in height, which have been carefully posed on the doorstep. Each boasts an almost illegible array of shaded polygons. On top of the central painting a fourth is stacked, and flanking that, two more, both oval in shape, suspended either side of the doorway. As the eye labours across this improbable heap of images, it gradually discerns a series of masterpieces in the history of modern art, all of them by Picasso. In the row on the doorstep are the Aficionado, Man with a Guitar and The Model; flanking the doorway are the two ovals both known as Guitar; suspended between them and perched on the others sits The Poet, a debonair figure who wryly surveys the assemblage. Is the snapshot intended simply as an inventory of the work that Picasso achieved at a modest villa in the town of Sorgues in the summer of 1912, or is it a mad altarpiece of some sort, ‘an unholy polyptych’, as T.J. Clark calls it, with its wings unfolded as if ‘for Easter or Pentecost’, the ensemble crowned by The Poet, ‘raised high in place of the pantocrator’? And what should we make of this mixture of farce and metaphysics, a mixture raffishly recapitulated in the painting of The Poet, where the sombre browns are flamboyantly punctuated by black impastos, thickly ridged, shiny, almost gelatinous, which signal brilliantined hair and waxed mustachios? Clark is willing to concede its unmistakable ‘jauntiness’; but that is not enough to redeem it from what he calls ‘an impacted, melancholic severity’. Nor, he adds, was it ever intended to do so. But ‘melancholic’ about what? About modernity, it seems at first glance. For plainly, in Clark’s masterful engagement with the canonical moments of Modernism in the visual arts, modernity is always and everywhere an unremitting, irredeemable horror. Yet that is too glib – better to follow his discussion of Cubism a bit further, to tease out the darker, more compelling sources of that urgent, wistful grimness.’‘

Between Mussolini and Me: Pound’s Fascism

Lawrence Rainey, 18 March 1999

Ezra Pound’s support for Italian Fascism has long been a contentious subject in modern literature. For some, it is merely a vivid instance of the uncritical acclaim that surrounded Mussolini well into the mid-Thirties. Others see it as evidence of a private pathology, a grotesque outgrowth of the virile posing that Pound sometimes indulged in. Still others have urged that it ‘arose from the great contempt he felt for the masses’, an avant-garde disdain that turned into a massive political delusion. Finally there are those who believe that Pound’s admiration originated in an essentially humane response to ‘the Great Depression and the economic chaos of the Thirties’: that his adherence to Fascism was the result of goodwill marred by naivety, of noble impulses that went astray.

For the first time since Mary Butts died more than sixty years ago, all her major work is available in Britain, together with a first, full-length biography by Nathalie Blondel. Their appearance promises an occasion to assay the limits of the canon, for Butts’s second novel, Armed with Madness, first published in 1928, is, I would say, a masterpiece of Modernist prose. Her papers have been purchased by the Beinecke Library at Yale, assuring them a place alongside those of Pound, Marinetti and Stein; a short story has recently been published in the New Yorker and a late essay on Bloomsbury appeared in the April number of Modernism/Modernity.

Newspapers and magazines of the day published countless photographs chronicling the March on Rome. The images are all in black and white, often coarse and grainy. Groups of men, many of them smiling for the benefit of the camera in front of the barricades that have been erected to block the streets, or the railway cars that have brought them to Rome, or open automobiles brimming with rifles and boxes of cartridges. A number are dressed in black shirts; some are wearing helmets, others fezzes, or fedoras, or rustic caps. Onlookers abound, sometimes craning to look at the men, sometimes waving exuberantly and sometimes glancing furtively at the camera. These are the photographic records of the insurrection that brought Benito Mussolini to power 75 years ago, on 28 October 1922. What transpired, however, may be something more elusive than a simple or straightforward event, something far more difficult to capture or describe: a subtle compound of likenesses and illusions.

Hyacinth Boy: T.S. Eliot

Mark Ford, 21 September 2006

Hart Crane, for one, was in no doubt about it. ‘He’s the prime ram of our flock,’ he insisted to Allen Tate in the summer of 1922. Tate was initially puzzled by the phrase, as...

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Will to Literature: Modernism plc

David Trotter, 13 May 1999

Modernism must be reckoned one of the lengthiest and most strenuous campaigns ever undertaken in the name of literature. Acutely conscious at once of the burden of the past – the...

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