With Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature's tour of the 20th Century now into the '20s, it's time to feature part two. This look through the literary lens takes us from 1910 to 1919.
1910Book of the year: Fortuna Chance by James Prior (1910)
Fortuna Chance was James Prior's last published work (he left two unpublished manuscripts). Prior used the Leen, Erewash and Trent Valleys as his locations, populating them with everyday characters struggling to make ends meet, often contrasted with those of a different class, background or politics. Fortuna Chance is the heroine of this sectarian story which begins in 1725 and is full of rebellion. Keen readers might recognise the Miller & Carter Sherwood Forest pub (also known as Halfway House and Seven Mile Inn).
To the south-east is the ancestral domain of the Byrons and the green valley backed by the hills of Arnold and Mapperley; to the south the park of Annesley, a long incline open to the sun. (from Fortuna Chance)
Nottingham’s first purpose-built cinema, the Victoria Electric Palace, opened on Milton Street in 1910. The 500-seat venue was enlarged several times, becoming the Moulin Rouge in 1960. In 1967 the Krays attended a screening, as did Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton the following year. Glamour, Stephen Lowe’s semi-autobiographical comedy play, was set in this Moulin Rouge era. The venue closed in 1970 and was later demolished.
Also opening this year was Pringles Picture Palace. Renamed Goldsmith Picture House two years later, it closed as a cinema in 1941 and became the Little Theatre, taken over by the (then) new Nottingham Playhouse in 1948. The first Playhouse theatre in Nottingham was recently home to Spanky Van Dyke’s eatery and bar. The building is now looking for new tenants.
1911Book of the year: The White Peacock by D. H. Lawrence (1911)
D. H. Lawrence’s first novel went through three rewrites over five years before being published by Heinemann in 1911 as The White Peacock, having had the working title Laetitia after the narrator’s sister. That narrator is Cyril Beardsall but the landscape is the better character and the damage the industrial revolution was having on Nethermere/Eastwood. There are plenty of Notts references.
Be a good animal, true to your instincts. (from The White Peacock)
Born in 1911, William Golding is perhaps best-known for his 1954 novel, Lord of the Flies, widely studied in many a Notts school. Exploring the savage side of human nature Lord of the Flies follows a group of adolescent boys stranded on a deserted island. University of Nottingham Professor Paul Crawford is the author of Politics and History in William Golding: the world turned upside down (2002). This book provides a politicised and historicised reading of William Golding's novels as a counter to previous universalising criticism.
The Trespasser by D. H. Lawrence (1912)
The second novel from D. H. Lawrence was published in this year. Originally entitled The Saga of Siegmund it drew upon the experiences of a friend of Lawrence’s, Helen Corke, and her adulterous relationship with her violin teacher that ended with his suicide. After reading Miss Corke's diary Lawrence urged her to write her story before receiving her permission to do so himself. Lawrence also urged Corke to publish her diary, which she did in 1933 as Neutral Ground. She also wrote several biographical works on Lawrence.
Feeling him abstract, withdrawn from her, Helena experienced the dread of losing him. She was in his arms, but his spirit ignored her. (from The Trespasser)
In 1912 D. H. Lawrence visited the home of Professor Ernest Weekley at a property on Victoria Crescent (pictured below) in Mapperley Park. He sought advice from his former lecturer about getting a teaching job abroad only to be greeted by Emma Maria Frieda Johanna Weekley whose husband was not home. The 33-year-old woman, who answered to Frieda, impressed Lawrence with her beauty and her foreignness. He was also drawn to her spontaneity, carelessness and directness, traits in evidence as the two quickly ended up in bed together. Extramarital liaisons were not new to Frieda but Lawrence was hooked on her. He wrote that she was the ‘most wonderful woman in all England’ and insisted that she was throwing away her life. They eloped, Frieda leaving behind her comfortable existence and three children. She may have been the daughter of minor German aristocrats but she was not wealthy, and her family were totally opposed to her abandoning her marriage and children for the love of a penniless writer. Lawrence insisted that she tell her husband about them but she repeatedly failed to do so. It was Lawrence who wrote to Weekley, declaring: ‘I love your wife and she loves me ...’. Weekley divorced her and in 1914 she married Lawrence.
Book of the year: Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence (1913)
'I tell you I've written a great book,’ said Lawrence to his publisher on sending a manuscript of Sons and Lovers, adding, ‘Read my novel – it's a great novel.’ Originally titled Paul Morel, Sons and Lovers is a highly autobiographical and compelling portrayal of childhood, adolescence and the clash of generations, all set in Lawrence's native Nottinghamshire. Paul Morel, the centre of his disappointed and fiercely protective mother's world, is torn between his individual desires and family allegiances.
‘That's how women are with me,’ said Paul. ‘They want me like mad but they don't want to belong to me.’ (From Sons and Lovers)
The former office building for the Imperial Fire & Life Insurance Co. became the Reform Club in 1913, designed as a place for Nottingham's new wealthy middle classes to meet and to engage in discussion. Sir Jesse Boot was counted amongst the membership. In the 1960s it became the Victoria Club, one of the country’s finest private members' clubs. It’s now a listed building.
Book of the year: The Prussian Officer and Other Stories by D. H. Lawrence (1914)
Sandwiched by Sons and Lovers and The Rainbow, The Prussian Officer and Other Stories is one of Lawrence’s finest collection of short stories. Published in 1914 by Duckworth in London, its eponymous tale tells of sexual tension and revenge. The twelve-story collection also features Odour of Chrysanthemums and Goose Fair.
Through the gloom of evening, and the flare of torches of the night before the fair, through the still fogs of the succeeding dawn came paddling the weary geese, lifting their poor feet that had been dipped in tar for shoes, and trailing them along the cobble-stones into the town. (From Goose Fair)
Jane Neave of Church Farm/Phoenix Farm in Gedling was an academic with a strong interest in both science and literature. She was also the aunt of J. R. R. Tolkien. It was at her farm in 1914 that Tolkien wrote his poem The Voyage of Éarendel the Evening Star. Éarendel, who first appears in this poem, later became “an important element in the mythical background of The Lord of the Rings,” according to Morton and Hayes (2008). This ‘Gedling poem’ may well contain Middle-earth’s origin.
Book of the year: The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence (1915)
Concerning three generations of the Brangwens, The Rainbow takes place between the mid-19th Century and the early 20th. Tom falls in love with a genteel Polish widow and adopts her daughter as his own. Interfamily relations (the daughter marries Tom’s nephew) produce a child, Ursula, a strong and spirited character who rejects convention. This powerful book is about relationships. The individuals’ desires for self-fulfilment, power and passion are told through their changing roles in an evolving society and landscape.
He worked very hard, till nothing lived in him but his eyes. (from The Rainbow)
In 1915, two months after The Rainbow was published, it was suppressed under the 1857 Obscene Publications Act. Its publisher was prosecuted for its frank treatment of sexual love. The prosecutor said, “although there might not be an obscene word to be found in the book, it was in fact a mass of obscenity of thought, idea, and action.”
The judge said that the book, “had no right to exist in the wind of war.”
After the trial, which Lawrence only heard about via newspaper reports, all copies of the novel were seized and destroyed. The work remained banned in Britain for the next 11 years.
Book of the year: The Sailor by J. C. Snaith (1916)
Nicely illustrated by W. A. Hottinger, the novel opens in a rough part of a Nottingham-esque town. Henry is a small boy crouched in desperate terror against the wall of a blind alley, while his drunken and terrible old aunt stands over him with a heavy lash in her hand, taunting the child before she strikes him. After escaping, he experiences an extraordinary life becoming a mariner.
A large woman in a torn dress stood at the gate of a rag and bone dealer’s yard. The season was November, the hour midnight, the place a slum in a Midland textile town. (from The Sailor)
As Snaith’s The Sailor was published, the Great war continued its destruction. Parcels of books were sent to sailors in the cruiser H.M.S. Nottingham, sunk by three torpedoes from a U-52 boat in the August of this year. It was our city libraries that brought this comfort to the sailors and convalescing servicemen, sending thousands of used books, magazines and periodicals out to them.
Book of the year: The Origins of the War: the testimony of a witness by Alice Zimmern (1917)
Nottingham-born Alice Zimmern’s last published work was a translation of The Origins of the War by the Romanian politician and short story writer Take Ionescu, one of the main politicians who manoeuvred Romania’s entrance into the First World War on the Entente’s side.
Boots, the Nottingham based drugs company, produced a staff magazine during the war. Wanting to create an ‘open line of communication’ between his staff and their colleagues serving at the front, Jesse Boot produced the newsletter Comrades in Khaki. The magazine detailed business, marriages, deaths, and featured letters ‘from the lads’. Money raised from the sale of the publication went to a sick and wounded fund for Boots’ staff.
One of the letters from the Front said, ‘anything with the name Boots on it is like a message from home to me. It bucks one up tremendously.’
Pandemic 1918: The Story of the Deadliest Influenza in History by Catharine Arnold (2018)
In the wake of the war, which took 18 million human lives, the Spanish flu pandemic killed up to 100 million more (250,000 in Britain), making it the deadliest natural catastrophe of modern times. Nottingham author Catharine Arnold’s book, Pandemic 1918, uses previously unpublished records, memoirs, diaries and government publications to uncover the human story of 1918.
July 1st saw one of Britain's worst wartime disasters, an explosion at the ammunition factory in Chilwell in which 139 people were killed. Canary Child by Alan Dance and David Field is based on this event. The book is a supernatural mystery drama in which an embittered divorcée has a strange encounter with the apparition of a girl who claims to have died in the explosion at the shell-filling factory.
The Children's Newspaper founded by Arthur Mee (1919)
Arthur Mee launched The Children’s Newspaper, designed to keep young people up to date with the latest in world news and science. Originally priced at 1½d it was designed to look like an adult newspaper.
Stanley Middleton was born in Bulwell. An author of 45 novels (at a rate of almost one a year) he wrote about the lives, frustrations and ambitions of Nottingham’s (he called the city Beechnall) middle-class professionals. Middleton studied at University College, Nottingham, and went on to have a long and successful teaching career at his old school, High Pavement. It was during his years teaching English that he wrote many of his books, including his Booker prize-winning Holiday.
1900-02, 1903-05, 1906-08, 1909-11, 1912-14, 1915-17, 1918-20, 1921-23, 1924-26, 1927-29, 1930-32, 1933-35, 1936-38, 1939-41, 1942-44, 1945-47, 1948-50, 1951-53, 1954-56, 1957-59, 1960, 1961-63, 1964-66, 1967-69, 1970-72, 1973-75, 1976-78, 1979-81, 1982-84, 1985-87, 1988-1990, 1991-93, 1994-96, 1997-99