The World Broke In Two
Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot,
D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster, and
The Year that Changed Literature

Bill Goldstein
(Henry Holt)
Bill Goldstein goes a bit overboard on Forster, Lawrence, Woolf and Eliot. They all published books in 1922 (I almost wrote 1066) - - - but I don't think the world broke in two or even shivered that much in their presence. Unless he's is talking the monster 8.3 Richter scale quake in the Atacama desert in Chile, in October, where over 700 people died. In that same year, others might have quaked with disgust, terror, or pride, when
  • the Yankees and Giants played a 3-3 tied World Series game - - - later thought to be fixed; or

  • Joseph Stalin was appointed General Secretary of the Russian Communist Party by Lenin, in April;

  • Warren G. Harding signed a resolution to establish the Jewish homeland in Palestine;

  • the British sentenced Mahatma Gandhi to six years imprisonment for disobedience;

  • the BBC (the British Broadcasting Corporation) founded in 1922, went on to become one of the world's great sound networks;

  • Ulysses was published by Shakespeare & Co., 1000 copies, in Paris. (Wouldn't you like to be sitting on a copy of one of those babies right now?)

Goldstein is a nut about these writers and writings coming out of England, but, truly, those four authors barely stirred the waters that year. Lawrence's Aaron's Rod came out, but T. S. Eliot said he was "a most incompetent writer," and the book scarcely showed the passion of Sons and Lovers, his book that fried my young brain along with LSD so many years ago. (One of my knowing teachers said, "if you want to understand the mind of women, take this book with you. To jail if need be.")

As for T. S. Eliot's "Waste Land" it might have been seminal for us in college during the time of america's Big Desolation - - - Brecht and Chaplin and Dalton Trumbo run out of the country, Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers and Pat McCarren scaring the bejesus out of us . . . there in the days of turbo-prop beanies, "Rock Around the Clock," and Henry J coupés.

It was then that T. S. Eliot visited his hometown St. Louis in 1953, where he had grown up, to speak at the celebration of Washington University's 100th anniversary. He stood in front of a noisy, enthusiastic gathering in the university football stadium.

Thousands celebrating an austere if not icy poet. Can you imagine that now?

After so many years, his star has dimmed . . . although for his old fans, he can still stir the ashes: "She reads much of the night, /and goes south in the winter." Yet, for most of us, the "Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock" from 1920 is the one that left us with so many lines:

    Let us go then, you and I,
    When the evening is spread out against the sky
    Like a patient etherized upon a table;
    Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
    The muttering retreats
    Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
    And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
    Streets that follow like a tedious argument
    Of insidious intent
    To lead you to an overwhelming question . . .
    Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
    Let us go and make our visit.

Or,

    The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
    The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
    Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
    Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
    Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
    Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
    And seeing that it was a soft October night,
    Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

Then there's ridiculous Morgan Forster. My god, what a bore. Living alone with his mother until she dies; lusting for years after the Indian Syed Massod; and then the tram-driver Mohammed el Adl in Alexandria. Working up to a lather with fantasies of "indecent" stories to "excite myself." He wrote a stunningly great novel about India - - - can we ever forget the Malabar Caves? - - - but what do we gain by dragging his sorry ass in here? Passage wasn't even published until 1923. Why didn't we just call this book "Four Artists in Five Years? (And edit it down by half.)

Then there's Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf. Goldstein tries to drag Mrs. Dalloway in here - - - there are almost a dozen entries in Broken World, but that one belongs to 1925. That's what happens when you try to ram everything in such a little hole: you end up scraping it raw, filching stuff from before or after. Jacob's Room is all well and good, but we much more prefer squeezing Strachey in here, gossiping with her about their lah-dee-dah friend Lady Ottoline Morrell. Whose bladder, Lytton reports, has now gone the way of her wits - - - a melancholy dribble, and then, as she sits after dinner in the lamplight, her cheek pouches drooping with peppermints, a cigarette between her false teeth, and vast spectacles on her painted nose. Now there's the real 1922 for us.

D. H. Lawrence's Aaron's Rod? It hardly stands up to Sons & Lovers - - - his first real novel - - - which blew us away, towers even over that in Lady Chatterley's Lover who, as Ed Zern had it,

    this fictional account of the day-to-day life of an English gamekeeper is still of considerable interest to outdoorminded readers, as it contains many passages on pheasant raising, the apprehending of poachers, ways of controlling vermin, and other chores and duties of the professional gamekeeper. Unfortunately one is obliged to wade through many pages of extraneous material in order to discover and savor these sidelights on the management of a Midland shooting estate, and in this reviewer's opinion this book can not take the place of J. R. Miller's Practical Gamekeeping.
In 1921, Ezra Pound wrote on the first manuscript page of "The Waste Land,"

    If you must needs enquire
    Know diligent Reader
    That on each Occasion
    Ezra performed the Caesarean Operation . . .

And he did. He slashed it in half and who knows why, Eliot didn't complain. Even though he wrangled for a year or so dickering with the publisher Horace Liveright as to whether he would get £35 or £46 pounds for his 434 line poem to be printed. It's like Goldstein returning to this dithering Eliot not two or three but fifteen times in the course of Broken Record, I mean, World. They blamed it all on the poet's nervous disposition. I blame it on a biographers's logorrhea.

Reviewer's confession: I took the opportunity to skip over vast swatches of the book. The reason? The author evidently doesn't believe in any form of austerity . . . and evidently his publisher agrees.

There are snippets that are well and good, but we have to swim so far to find them. When Forster was eighty, he was interviewed on television, shown writing at his desk. "V. S. Pritchett asked him what he had been writing when the camera was rolling. One sentence, over and over again until they had got their picture," Forster replied. "James Joyce is a very bad writer. "I kept on writing it." Virginia Woolf reported her "unutterable boredom" with Ulysses, calling Joyce an "undelivered genius, was "puzzled, bored, irritated, & disillusioned as by a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples."

    An illiterate, underbred book it seems to me: the book of a self-taught working man, & we all know how distressing they are, how egotistic, insistent, raw, striking, & ultimately nauseating.

Me? I am in love with all of them, irritated that their biographer had to blow them up so that they tipped the scales at over 286 closely edged minuscule print pages . . . turning what could have been a wonderful romp with four pals into a shabby night in the sack with this overweight floozy.

--- Pamela Wylie