Presentation on theme: "Representation of journalists in literature, film and TV 1900 - present Sarah Lonsdale."— Presentation transcript:
Representation of journalists in literature, film and TV 1900 - present Sarah Lonsdale
Module Introduction and basics After lecture sessions I will upload lecture notes onto the module notes section of the Centreforjournalism website (When I remember) As well as giving essay questions out as handouts, these too will be uploaded onto module notes. The assessments consist of two coursework essays, the first due start of week 6 (November 4) and the second due start of week 9 (November 25). These are worth 22.5 per cent of your mark each and the exam in the summer is 45 per cent. The other 10 per cent is based on your contribution to class - general interested and perceptive comments that you make in lectures.
Reading and Essays Your essays should be based on both PRIMARY and SECONDARY sources, like a history essay. The Primary sources will be the novels, poems, plays and films we look at throughout the term; also contemporary diaries, journals, letters etc. Secondary sources will be things like histories, biographies, journal articles, books of statistics etc (eg the 1938 PEP report – in the library) that will be used to provide context for the fiction we study. You will NOT be awarded more than a 2:2 (59 per cent) for any piece of work that does not quote secondary sources References: Please use the Harvard referencing system (Author, pub. Date: page number) and a bibliography at the end. Eg: (Gibbs, 1909: 36); Bibliography entry: Gibbs, Philip, The Street of Adventure, Heinemann, 1909). Please check with me if you are not sure of the Harvard system. Book titles, newspapers etc should be italicised I will give you reading handouts before some classes; all the primary fiction and a lot of the histories etc are available from the library. PLEASE USE IT!! If you just quote from my lecture notes, I won’t be happy If you like you can now read my PhD on the subject which is now in the library!!
Films Week 9 we will be looking at some American film portrayals and covering: His Girl Friday (1940) Citizen Kane (1940) Philadelphia Story (1941) All the Presidents Men (1976) State of Play (2009) Blood Diamond (2006) Among others….All these are in the library; please make sure you watch a few by week 9 so you know what I’m talking about…enjoy
Overview: From this…. ‘He was full of grim determination to wring the truth from the renegade. In his hip pocket his revolver pressed against his thigh. He was strung up for action (p.342) ‘the pads of paper, the stylographic pens with the special ink for hot countries which would not dry up or corrode, his revolvers, riding-breeches, boots and spurs, the Kodak, with spare films and light tight zinc cases… (p.163) Introducing Harold Spence of the Daily Wire in When it was dark, 1904. What is the image of the foreign correspondent being portrayed here?
…To this… ‘The betrayers of language…and those who had lied for hire; the perverts, the perverters of language, the perverts…flies carrying news, harpies dripping sh-t through the air…monopolists, obstructers of knowledge, obstructers of distribution…’ Ezra Pound, Hell Cantos, 1924
…To this… ‘I could see for nearly three quarters of a mile each way, and there were only two living beings in all that length besides myself – two soldiers with camouflaged helmets going slowly up the edge of the street, their sten guns ready…I felt as though I were a mark on a firing range. It occurred to me that if something happened to me in this street it might be many hours before I was picked up: time for the flies to collect.’ (Graham Greene, The Quiet American, 1955)
Weeks one and two: 1900-1914 Historical background The launch of the Daily Mail May 4 1896: single most important change in the British press since the abolition of stamp duty in 1855. Even early Twentieth Century commentators could see the importance of this ‘new’ way of writing and working, introduced first by the Daily Mail (although pioneered by George Newnes and his weekly gossip magazine Tit-Bits, launched in 1881), and followed by the Daily Express in 1900 and the Daily Mirror in 1903. The ‘new’ journalism is nicely described by H.Simonis in Street of Ink, written in 1917: (next slide)
H Simonis, Street of Ink (1917) ‘It seems to me now that one of the most striking differences between what I may call the ‘old’ journalism and the new…that the ‘fine writing’ of the old high-priced dailies gave way to plainer English more suited to the masses, to whom the newspapers with great circulation appealed. As an illustration of what I mean, it was said years ago that no writer on the Daily Telegraph would mention a ‘fish.’ He would refer to it as a ‘finny denizen of the deep’…One might compare the newspaper of twenty years ago and the production of today with a sailing ship and a steamer. The modern machine in either case calls for a combined degree of technical ability and skill not required before, and the man occupying a responsible position in each instance must be equipped mentally to a corresponding degree.’
Changes in newspaper readership Massive changes in the British Press which followed the launch of Alfred Harmsworth’s Daily Mail, and which started the huge rise in circulation, and proliferation of newspapers in Britain. In 1887, for example the Telegraph claimed the largest circulation of any newspaper in the world, at close to 250,000 copies a day. With the arrival of the Daily Mail there followed a huge rise in newspaper readership over the following three decades – by 1902 the Daily Mail was selling 1.2 million copies a day – what Harmsworth himself then felt was the ‘limit of circulation.’ There is an excellent resource in the library, Report on the British Press by PEP, 1938 which provides an overview of newspaper consumption in early C20
Large rise in journalistic personnel Numbers of people employed by newspapers more than doubled over just a couple of decades In the 1891 Census, 8269 people described themselves as belonging to the occupation category ‘authors, editors, journalists, reporters, shorthand writers’. By 1901 this figure had risen to 10,663 and by 1911, to nearly 14,000. Not just the Oxbridge educated leader writers for the Times, but from the lower middle class ‘white collar’ classes, who thanks to C19 education acts could now read and write
From Philip Gibbs’s autobiography Adventures in Fleet Street (1923) In the first chapter of his autobiography Adventures in Journalism Gibbs describes how Harmsworth’s Mail changed British journalism forever, and gave birth to the first populist news reporters: ‘Formerly ‘news’ was limited in the imagination of English editors to verbatim reports of political speeches, the daily record of police courts, and the hard facts of contemporary history, recorded in humdrum style. Harmsworth changed all that. ‘News’, to him, meant anything which had a touch of human interest for the great mass of folk, any happening or idea which affected the life, clothes, customs, food, health, and amusements of middle-class England. Under his direction, the Daily Mail, closely imitated by many others, regarded life as a variety show. No ‘turn’ must be long or dull. Whether it dealt with tragedy or comedy, high politics or other kinds of crime, it was admitted, not because of its importance to the nation or the world, but because it made a good ‘story’ for the breakfast table.’ William Heinemann Ltd, London 1923
Technology The ‘new’ methods of newspaper production (thanks to the Linotype machine in Fleet Street composing rooms during the late 1890s which allowed for machine setting six times faster than the old hand setting method, and the rotary printing machine, which increased the speed of production from six thousand copies and hour to 30,000) newsdesks’ treatment of journalists and how reporters were expected to write and the new kinds of stories they were sent to cover are referred to throughout early novels. Other technological advances: telephones, typewriters, wireless telegraph, photographs: all made early C20 newspapers cutting edge products
From Guy Thorne’s When it was Dark (1903) ‘On the writing-table was a mahogany stand about a foot square. A circle was described on it, and all round the circle, like the figures on the face of a clock, were little ivory tablets an inch long, with a name printed on each. In the centre of the circle a vulcanite handle moved a steel bar working on a pivot. Ommaney turned the handle till the end of the bar rested over the tablet marked ‘Composing Room’. He picked up the receiver and transmitter of a portable telephone and asked one or two questions.’(Thorne, 1903: p.151)
From Alphonse Courlander’s Mightier than the Sword ‘Their machines were almost human. They touched the keys as if they were typewriting, and little brass letters slipped down into a line, and then mechanically an iron hand gripped the line, plunged it into a box of molten lead…(p.85).
Fleet Street was an exciting place to work ‘The Press is the pulse of the moment, the incarnate vitality of to-day and those who once experience the thrill of being the tiniest particle in that great living force, find all things else a dead and silent world…From the incalculable staff of the Times to the short paragraphist in some trivial penny weekly, there is the electric sense of being behind the scenes in the world’s drama, of knowing how the machinery works.’ From Dolf Wyllarde, The Pathway of the Pioneer, 1906 (1914: 35 – 36) …
‘…as he reached the bottom step, the grey building shivered and trembled, as if in agony, and there came up from its very roots of its being a deep roar, at first irregular, and menacing, but gradually settling down to a steady, rhythmical beat, like the throbbing of thousands of human hearts.’ (Alphonse Courlander, Mightier than the Sword, 1912:87)
Novels and stories of the pre WW1 period Philip Gibbs’s Street of Adventure, (1909), C E Montague’s A Hind Let Loose (1910), Alphonse Courlander’s Mightier than the Sword (1912) Kipling’s The Village that Voted the Earth was Flat (1913) PG Wodehouse’s Psmith Journalist(1909) Guy Thorne’s When it was Dark (1903) Edgar Wallace’s The Four Just Men (1905) Authors were either newspaper staffers or freelancers: Guy Thorne (the pseudonym of Cyril Ranger Gull) had freelanced for The Saturday Review, London Life and The Echo before taking a staff job in the early days of the Daily Mail. Philip Gibbs was appointed literary editor of the Daily Mail in 1902 and subsequently worked as a reporter, and then editor on other London papers including The Daily Express, Daily Chronicle and The Tribune. P.G. Wodehouse was a very successful freelance journalist until he became a novelist.
Street of Adventure, Chapter 3 Read the handout. What is the image of early C20 Fleet Street the author is trying to convey?
Guy Thorne, When it was Dark (1903) ‘It was obvious that the windows had not been as freely opened as their wont. A litter of theatre programmes lay on one chair. On another was a programme of a Covent Garden ball and a girl’s shoe of white satin, into which a fading bouquet of hothouse flowers had been wantonly crushed. The table was covered with debris of a supper, a pate, some long-necked bottles which had held Neirsteiner…’ (p.241)
Power of the presses The Street of Adventure: ‘The great roller went round, steel rods plunged to and fro with beautiful rhythm, a frame rose and fell with perfect regularity, and at each heart-beat, as it were, of those mighty organisms a batch of complete newspapers was ready for the world.’ (The Street of Adventure, p. 48)
Journalism and literature Frank Luttrell appreciates that some of his journalist training will inevitably aid his fiction work: ‘He must get to the heart of life before he could become a man of letters. He must know and see and suffer before he could be a truth-teller.’ (p.96) So journalism is not just about earning money to pay for one’s ‘art’: it helps one become a better artist by showing what real life is all about.
Quain’s attitude Towards the end of Mightier than the Sword Humphrey gives up his fiancée Elizabeth because she wants him to stop being a reporter and settle down in a cottage in the country and write books but he cannot leave ‘the Street’: ‘I’ve seen men eat their heart out in a year after they’ve left the Street light heartedly,’(p.327) he tells her, before leaving. This turns the traditional idea, of journalism being a means to an end – literature – on its head…
From Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s prose poem Aurora Leigh 1853-56 ‘The midnight oil Would stink sometimes; there came some vulgar needs: I had to live therefore I might work, And, being but poor, I was constrained, for life, To work with one hand for the booksellers While working with the other for myself And art: you swim with feet as well as hands, Or make small way. I apprehended this,- In England no one lives by verse that lives; And, apprehending, I resolved by prose To make a space to sphere my living verse. I wrote for cyclopaedias, magazines, And weekly papers, holding up my name To keep it from the mud… what you do For bread will taste of common grain, not grapes… (handout: What does this poem mean?)
Edwardian journalists are heroes… In The Street of Adventure: Brandon, the crime reporter prevents a potential miscarriage of justice through his investigative powers, finding a vital clue in a criminal trial, that the police have overlooked; Edmund Grattan, the fearless foreign correspondent still found time to comfort dying soldiers on the ‘bloody battlefields of South Africa’ as well as championing the causes of Women’s Suffrage and the unemployed while back in England; Margaret Hubbard, one of the first ‘lady’ journalists, the daughter of a penniless army officer was sacked from a paper ‘ for refusing to puff a poisonous wretch who called herself a ‘beauty doctor’ and who spent large sums in advertisements…’ (P.120).
Why do Edwardian writers portray fictional journalists as heroes?
P G Wodehouse’s Over Seventy ‘As I surveyed the literary scene, everything looked pretty smooth to me, for the early years of the twentieth century in were fine for an industrious young hack who asked no more than to pick up the occasional half guinea…There were so many morning papers and evening papers and weekly papers and monthly magazines that you were practically sure of landing your whimsical article on ‘The Language of Flowers’ or your parody of Omar Khayyam somewhere or other after abut say thirty five shots…I left the bank in September and by the end of the year found that I had made £65 6s 7d.’
Psmith Journalist ‘We must chronicle the live events of the day, murders, fires and the like in a manner which will make our readers’ spines thrill. Above all we must be the guardians of the People’s rights. We must be a searchlight, showing up the dark spot in the souls of those who would endeavour in any way to do the PEOPLE in the eye. We must detect the wrong doer and deliver him such a series of resentful biffs that he will abandon his little games and become a model citizen’ (p.33) What does Wodehouse here suggest that the role of the press is in society? This attitude is reflected in commentaries of the time…
Edward Dicey, Fortnightly Review, 1905, Vol 77 pp904-918 ‘It is all very well to decry the love of sport, but the papers which represent the ‘horny handed sons of toil’ derive a very large portion of their profits from the cricket and football editions which appeal to the masses…so long as the new electorate desire a sound wholesome article for the gratification of their journalistic appetites, there can be nothing wrong in the state of our Press. Moreover it is pleasing to me to notice that scientific discourses, reports of new inventions and descriptions of novel manufacturing processes find ready access into the columns of our halfpenny press.’ Why could this be seen as a revolutionary statement?
The period 1896-1914 was unique in the history of the press Historians identify the later part of the nineteenth century, and early C20 as the ‘Golden Age’ of British newspapers. (eg Startt, 1991, p1). A thriving and growing popular press providing reading matter for the lower classes; older established newspapers still enjoying respectability and decent sales. Soon older papers which failed to stand up to the new halfpenny press would close but in 1904 readers could choose from a wide selection including the Westminster Gazette, the Morning Post, The Times, the Daily Telegraph, Daily Chronicle, Morning Leader, St James’s Gazette, the Globe, the Echo, the Pall Mall Gazette, Evening News, Evening Standard, Morning Advertiser, Daily Mirror, the Sun, Daily Graphic, Manchester Guardian, Daily News and Daily Mail, Daily Express, the Standard and Star. It was this richness and diversity that convinced Edwardian Liberals that the new popular press was a welcome addition rather than a downwards trend that would force out many old, upmarket papers
Gibbs, Courlander, Wallace and Thorne, men of modest backgrounds, believed that the new halfpenny press spoke for the people. The novels lovingly illuminate the lives of these early professional reporters, their lowly backgrounds, their precarious existence of men given the chance to wear a collar and tie thanks to their Board School educations. In The Street of Adventure, the fate of the progressive newspaper The Liberal is entwined with that of the reporters who work for it: ‘The month following the issue of the notices to the staff of The Liberal was a strain upon the nerves of the most hardened journalist of that paper…the sight of them filing into the proprietor’s room made Luttrell feel curiously sick and faint for a moment. It made him realise with a sharp sense of tragedy that upon the answer to these men would depend the happiness of many little homes, and of many women and children…’(Gibbs, 1909: 262 &268)
Alan Lee Origins of the Popular Press Lee (1976, pp130-160) shows how the Liberal- Conservative balance of the press changed from being dominated by Liberal-supporters from the 1870s until 1900, then being roughly in balance, with Liberals having a slight edge during the first years of the Twentieth Century, to Conservative- dominated press after about 1910. From the launch of the Daily Mail to the outbreak of WW1, it could be argued that the national press was broadly on the side of the forces of progress, which was a source of pride for these writers.
Daily Mail covers the 1912 Miners’ Strike ‘those of us…who work in the coalmines were hoisted to the surface eight or ten at a time in a cage and breathing the free air of heaven, if the atmosphere largely comprised of steam, smoke, drizzle and coal dust at the pit head can so be described…’ were given prime position on the page 6 leader page. This is written by Mail reporter Charles Hands. What is interesting about the way he writes this?
‘The miners’ desire for better wages and more consistent earnings is human and intelligible. The public has strong sympathy with these men who toil under such disagreeable conditions, away from the light of the sun in circumstances of continual danger.’ (Daily Mail, January 9, 1912, p6)
In an era characterised by excessive displays of wealth by the rich on the one hand and the increasingly visible poverty of the poor on the other the journalist in the new press occupied a precarious position. In Street of Adventure, hunger and homelessness are always just a sacking away for the raggedy reporters on The Liberal. Courlander’s role as a young Liberal journalist is to use his experiences of journalism to expose in Mightier than the Sword the injustice of poorly maintained coal mines and the impoverished lives of the children living in London’s East End. Journalism is a heroic vocation during this time.
Patrick MacGill, Children of the Dead End (1914) The only escape the hero young Dermod Flynn finds, is in literature and in the telling of stories. After one blasting disaster which ends in the death of a fellow navvy, Flynn, his eye chancing on a newspaper ‘wrapped around a chunk of mouldy beef’ decides to send his account of the tragedy to that paper: ‘It was the Dawn, a London halfpenny paper. I had never heard of it before.’(p.228)
‘His Majesty’s Public Councillors’ The paper the real-life MacGill had sent his story to was in fact the Daily Express, edited by R D Blumenfeld, a respected American journalist who along with J A Spender of the Westminster Gazette, A G Gardiner of the Daily News, J L Garvin of the Observer and Robert Donald of the Daily Chronicle formed, at the time an influential and respected group of journalists at the top of Fleet Street, leading to W T Stead’s bold claim for them as being no less than ‘His majesty’s public councillors’.
Although Flynn/MacGill’s stint on Fleet Street was short-lived and discomfiting: ‘I had never used a fork when eating…I wore my first collar when setting out for London. It nearly choked me…’(p.274) his great chance, to escape the grinding hard work and terrible conditions of navvying, was offered him by Fleet Street, his editor only caring that he could express himself eloquently with a pen.
The social upstart The novels of this period explore the contrast between the low-born reporters and the subjects of their reports: statesmen, Dukes and Royalty, perhaps for the first time expressing the strange dual life of the reporter: ‘Those men in the reporters’ room, and the girl – Katherine Halstead – seemed to him types of characters outside the range of ordinary experience. Hardly a serious word had escaped their lips while he had been listening to them. Yet some of them had been onlookers during the day of the serious business of life. One of them had been witness to a dreadful tragedy. He had been struck by Brandon’s order for tea and toast after his description of the girl condemned to death…’(Gibbs, 1909: p.44)
The loveable rogue Another character ‘type’ in these novels is the ‘loveable rogue’ – he or she does not quite play by the book, but they are forgiven because they are charming/brave/impoverished or all three. Here is Tommy, the boy/girl hero/heroine of Jerome K Jerome’s novel Tommy and Co (1904): she scoops the rest of Fleet Street, getting an interview with a foreign prince (‘an ill-tempered and savage old gentleman’ (p.25)) by climbing into his moving train carriage via a signal box between Waterloo and Southampton. The Prince, impressed, gives Tommy the interview before sending her back to Waterloo in a first class carriage and with a hearty supper and money for a cab back to her offices.
The early press baron in two plays The Earth by James Bernard Fagan (1909) What the Public Wants by Arnold Bennett (1909) portray this new figure in British society as brutal, brilliant, recently knighted. In The Earth he is Sir Felix Janion is: ‘a man over fifty, of huge burly frame...His face is enormously powerful, and his mouth shuts like a steel trap... His movements are quick and resolute… In What the Public Wants he is Sir Charles Worgan: ‘Brusque. Accustomed to power. With rare flashes of humour and of charm. Well dressed, but not too carefully. Strong frame. Decided gestures. Age 40.’
The stage direction for Worgan is at odds with Bennett’s first impression of Alfred Harmsworth, when he sees him at a theatre on October 17 1896 and describes him thus in his Journal: ‘Harmsworth (director of 14 weeklies reaching 3,300,000 copies, and three daily papers) with the head of a poet and thinker; blond hair; quiet, acute, self-contained; a distinguished look about him. One would take him for a …young lion of the people- despising kind, a contemner of popular taste and of everything that caught the public fancy. Never did a man’s appearance so belie his true character…One felt that it would be good to talk to him.’
Bennett’s diaries in the early part of the twentieth century reveal a gleeful interest in high profile criminal and libel cases he reads in the popular press until a distaste for sensationalism emerges in May 1908, just before he starts work on What the Public Wants: yesterday’s storm blew down two kilometres of telegraph poles on the other side of Melun. Not a word … in the Continental Daily Mail, of course. It was full of its third anniversary and of the horrible agonies of a man in USA who died slowly of hydrophobia. Questioning news values of the popular press
The plays examine the issue of large circulations and the concentration of power to manipulate public opinion into the hands of one man, specifically a man who pays little heed to ideas of social justice that both writers supported. In The Earth Janion uses his power to try to destroy a Liberal Cabinet Minister’s Wages Bill that would end sweated labour for women and children. Janion is opposed to it as he feels it would curtail Britain’s industrial expansion: ‘The circulation of my morning papers alone is close on four million a day; and its going to be more. I disapprove of your Bill. I’ll smash it if I can.’ Fagan, The Earth, p46
Elitist/highbrow anxieties Although we must not forget Lord Salisbury’s dismissive comments about the Daily Mail when it was launched, a paper written by office boys for office boys ‘Class’ papers disparage the new upstart halfpenny press. They are given short shrift by the novelists who wrote for the popular papers: In Edgar Wallace’s thriller The Four Just Men, older ‘serious’ newspapers such as the Telegram can only look on and snipe as the Daily Megaphone, modelled on the Daily Mail, clinches scoop after scoop on the story: ‘It is not so easy to understand,’ said the Telegram, ‘why having the miscreants in their hands, certain journalists connected with a sensational halfpenny contemporary allowed them to go free to work their evil designs...unfortunately in these days of cheap journalism every story emanating from the sanctum sanctorum of sensation-loving sheets is not to be accepted on its pretensions…’ (Wallace, 1905: p.46) How does Wallace ‘send up’ the language of the posh press?
New Papers’ subject matter In Mightier than the Sword by Alphonse Courlander, an Express reporter, two of the characters in the novel die in the course of their duties. Wratten gets pneumonia and dies after reporting from the scene of a mining disaster, where a mine explodes and lots of men are killed Humphrey Quain dies covering a French farmers’ riot over the price of grapes: As he takes his last breath, ‘an odd, whimsical idea twisted his lips into a smile as he thought: “What a ripping story this will make for The Day”’ What do you note about the subjects of these stories?
Today we may think nothing of that, but back in 1912 this was nothing short of revolutionary, that the working classes’ lives and struggles were worth recording in a newspaper.
B Ifor Evans, Fortnightly Review 1930, vol 127 ‘Delane understood his world and mastered it, but it was a small, circumscribed world…the circulation of The Times when he became editor was 10,000 copies…it was the sphere of the men who governed…Meanwhile outside those well- lighted windows behind which Delane gossiped and dined…there stood a vast mass of men and women whom the Education Act had endowed with a power to read but who could find nothing in contemporary journalism that they could understand…
Things did not turn out the way he had hoped though… ‘In retrospect one can realise that the decade in which the new journalism appeared was one fraught with enormous possibilities, the opportunity of turning a merely literate democracy into an enquiring and cultured democracy lay before the country. We still suffer from the tragedy that it was never accomplished…’ (Evans)
Coverage of the Boer War (1899-1902) Much of how journalists are viewed by writers is dictated by how papers covered WW1, which we will look at in week 2/3. To give some context, it’s worth spending some time seeing how journalists covered the previous great conflict, the Boer War in South Africa. the sieges of Mafeking, Ladysmith and Kimberley were covered with the help and consent of the army, whose telegraphic facilities were often needed by reporters away from the commercial centres.
Knightley describes the period 1865-1914 as the ‘golden age’ of the war correspondent, with many of the battles reported on not directly concerning the future of the country: ‘Thrilling accounts of battles, slaughter and bravery could be reported from both sides with no danger of the reader’s identifying himself with anyone except the intrepid war correspondent, who, as a result, rapidly became the hero of his own story’ (Knightley, 2004, p44).
Boer War coverage “In a second, in a twinkling of an eye, the searchlights of the Boers fell broad and clear on the doomed Highlanders…The Highlanders reeled from the shock, like trees before the tempest. The best, the bravest fell in that wild hail of lead…Once again the pipes peeled out and ‘Lochaber no More’ cut through the stillness like a cry of pain, until one could almost hear the widow in her Highland home moaning for the soldier that she would welcome back no more.” (Daily News, January 9, 1900, p.3)
The war correspondents became celebrities, like Archibald Forbes of the Daily News and G W Steevens of the Daily Mail. Harold Spence with his pistol and special ink for hot countries is in that mould. This swashbuckling image lasted right up until WW1, as is clear from Gibbs’s autobiography: Goes to Serbia to cover the Balkan Wars (1912-13) and meets Frederic Villiers, ‘FV had a wonderful kit, with a glorious leather coat, and looked a romantic old figure. His pencil, his pocket knife, his compass were fastened to his waistbelt by steel chains. He still played the part of the war correspondent familiar in romantic melodrama…’
Newspapers and dissent The Liberal press at the turn of the century was split over the rights and wrongs of the Boer War, with the Morning Leader, Pall Mall Gazette and the Daily News taking anti imperialist stances and the Daily Chronicle changing tack to becoming imperialist during proceedings (van Wky Smith, 1978, pp125-130). As a result, anti war poets and writers had plenty of mainstream press, as well as pacifist periodicals in which to air their views, unlike the First World War, when dissent was virtually absent from the papers. During the Boer War Liberal papers published prose and poetry which, as well as their own correspondents’ despatches presented death unvarnished. This poem, published in the Daily Chronicle on October 20 1899, for example: ‘A lung and a Mauser bullet; pink froth and half-choked cry…A burning throat that each gasping note scrapes raw like a broken shell…’ presages Robert Graves’s A Dead Boche (1917) that I discuss in week 3
Writers v the press? The difference is that in the Boer War this vivid depiction of bloody and painful death in battle was published in the daily newspapers, obviating the pressing desire felt amongst First World War poets to publish what has now been called a ‘literature of correction’, much of it aimed against the newspapers
Why bother with writers of fiction at all? In his book about Edwardian literature, The Haunted Study, Keating (1989) says that the new journalism, started by W T Stead in the 1880s, and refined by correspondents like Steevens, ‘proved to be journalism’s most forceful challenge to fictional realism’
Why do we need poets and novelists when journalists can turn out this? For a while, poets did not react with envy. In fact Edwardian poets like John Davidson wrote poems about the thrill of Fleet Street. But less than a decade later, another poet, Richard Aldington would write: ‘newspapers have spoiled our sense of poetry’.
A bit of politics… Conservative Administration failed in December 1905 and Liberals asked to form a Government; in the election the following year, the Liberals won a huge landslide. The spirit of the great Victorian reformers – men like John Ruskin and William Morris – was alive in young Liberals at the century’s turn, and their responses to the social problems of their time were strenuous and indignant and seemed to promise that a liberal government, when it came, would be a reforming government Series of reports into the poor of Britain, including L G Chiozza Money’s Riches and Poverty (1905), Rowntree’s Poverty: A study of Town Life (1901) and Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s Minority Report of the Poor Law Commission (1909) Poor felt that they were being listened to and that they had a voice
A bit of literature… Since the Renaissance the minute and accurate depiction of the world had remained the primary mode of the literary and visual arts. This method of presenting the world in literature is known as Realism. Writers wrote about what they saw. Realist writers of late C19, early C20 were influenced much by journalists such as Steevens whose journalistic style has been described as cinematographic.
Journalism and literature The vivid realistic correspondence, now arriving from far flung places within days, sometimes hours of its happening, presented realist literature’s greatest challenge and is possibly a reason why writers from the early C20 onwards starting experimenting with points of view, internal monologues and other disorientating techniques…
Bit more literature… literature and the visual arts in the early twentieth century are strikingly characterised by a departure from the conventions and assumptions of realism in the sense of verisimilitude used as a means of understanding. Think surrealism, dadaism, cubism etc While this change had certainly begun before the First World War, it wasn’t until the Great War overturned all the old certainties, in all walks of life that writers consciously started experimenting with form, narrative technique and multiple viewpoints that contribute to the new movement that was to be called Modernism
In the run-up to WW1… Some writers departed from the ‘journalists are heroes and journalism is great’ theme of the previous decade
CE Montague, A Hind Let Loose (1910) C.E. Montague’s A Hind Let Loose, first published in 1910 deals almost entirely with the responsibility of journalists and editors in the new age of mass readership. The story is set against a backdrop of imminent change as the result of the launch of a new halfpenny paper, The Paper, under a local entrepreneur named Roads ‘who was going to send them all to the workhouse (p.155)’ and who is not beholden to any political party and who has made his fortune in racing papers.
The power of the big circulation The new paper, ‘undoubtedly gave you a more poignant first sense of the appalling or intoxicating character of yesterday than any of the older journals offered for double the money. You might think, from the way those niggards fobbed off their customers that nothing seismic or cataclysmic at all had happened for twenty four hours (P.163). Like Ferrol of The Day, Roads takes full advantage of new technology to feed his readers’ appetite for news: ‘the lusts of New York and the homicides of California enriched for the first time the sacred home life of English families at their next morning’s breakfast.’ (P.163 – 164). A Liberal intellectual, who objected to the Daily Mail’s jingoism, in A Hind Let Loose CE Montague expresses his own quandary: how can a populist press with a mass readership exercise its power responsibly?
A Turning point… In The Public Life Spender writes: ‘Perhaps the wonder is, as we look back on this period, that it lasted so long, and that the proprietors of the great newspapers – let alone the editors and writers – were so slow in discovering the possibilities of the power that lay in their hands…With few exceptions they were the servants and not the masters of the politicians and did their bidding without any thought of any interest of their own which might conflict with it…(1926)
The Village Rudyard Kipling’s short story ‘The Village that Voted the Earth Was Flat’ identifies the potent dark side of a powerful press run by irresponsible journalists and proprietors. Who are the real baddies of the story? The journalists? Thomas Ingell? The villagers? The Irish?