From the series featured on the Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature website (every Thursday)
Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence (1920)
Privately printed in 1920 (published commercially in 1921), Women in Love was considered by Lawrence to be his masterpiece but it was met with disgust upon its release. A sequel to The Rainbow, we continue to follow the stories of Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen. Their love lives and emotions are used to prompt much philosophical discussion about emotion, as the meaning and value of relationships is explored through Lawrence’s experimental techniques in a story that resembles a Greek tragedy. Critics at the time failed to see Women in Love as it was, a sharp response to a culture and world in crisis at the hands of 'progress'.
When Constance Penswick Smith (1878–1938) learned of the American Anne Jarvis's plans to introduce Mother's Day into the UK, she was alarmed. Smith felt that this would detract from the religious significance of the tradition of Mothering Sunday and so devoted the rest of her life to campaigning for the re-establishment of the more traditional observance. Smith founded the ‘The Society for the Observance of Mothering Sunday’ and, in 1920, she published The Revival of Mothering Sunday.
An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English by Ernest Weekley (1921)
Ernest Weekley (see 1912-14) had a dictionary published in this year. It was published for lovers of our language and those with ‘an intelligent curiosity as to words origins and earlier senses.’ From the point of view of vocabulary, it was the most complete etymological dictionary in existence. By the author’s own concession, dictionaries are out of date within a month of publication but with many slang words and expressions historically explained it’s a worthy addition to any bookshelf.
One of our grandest cinemas opened in 1921, The Elite Cinema, designed by Adamson & Kinns of London. It opened with the Mary Pickford film Pollyanna. One of the first of Nottingham’s ‘super-cinemas’ the exterior and interior were equally as stunning, plus there was a grand concert organ and a full orchestra, a Georgian Tea Room, a French Cafe (in Louis XVI style), a restaurant and a large ballroom. The first ‘talkie’ in Nottingham was shown here on Upper Parliament Street, Lucky Boy starring George Jessel. It closed as a picture house in 1977; the last film to appear being the ‘X’ certificate Take an Easy Ride. The building now has a Grade II listing.
The Rainbow Cat and Other Stories by Rose Fyleman (1922)
The story of a fairy cat with a violet nose, indigo eyes, pale blue ears, green front legs, a yellow body, orange black legs and a red tail, thus it is known as the rainbow cat and it lives in fairyland where it has lots of adventures. The Princess Who Could Not Cry, Why Pigs Have Curly Tails, Mellidora, A Goblin Lives in Our House and other short stories make up this fantasy collection for children.
In 1922 work began on the new University College buildings (the University of Nottingham’s present University Park campus) on land donated by Sir Jesse Boot who had purchased the Highfields Estate two years earlier. The plan for the East Midlands University included a new road system and parkland setting to the south.
Kangaroo by D. H. Lawrence (1923)
Lawrence wrote the first draft of Kangaroo in 1922, during forty-five days of living near Sydney, and it was first published a year later. Set in Australia, the work describes the country’s physical landscape, making political reflections and interpretations. Loosely based on the real people and events Lawrence witnessed, it’s mainly an account of a visit to New South Wales by the English writer Richard Lovat Somers and his German wife Harriet. ‘Kangaroo’ is the fictional nickname of the character Benjamin Cooley, ex-soldier, lawyer and leader of a secretive, fascist organisation.
Highfields Park opened in 1923. The Grade II listed park was opened by businessman and philanthropist Sir Jesse Boot and was one of the first manmade, large-scale parks of the 20th century. Later in the decade, after the University had moved to its current University Park campus, D. H. Lawrence wrote a somewhat sardonic poem entitled Nottingham's New University to ‘commemorate’ the occasion.
Byron and Greece by George Gordon Byron, Harold M. Spender (1924)
To mark the centenary of Byron’s death, there were several republications of the poet’s work, including The Works of Lord Byron (Volume 1-6), The Selected Poems of Lord Byron and Byron and Greece, the latter being an adopted text of the great classical edition of Byron's works, with chosen letters from his correspondence. The occasion also inspired Charles Richard Cammell to write a poem addressed to the Fathers of the Armenian Mekhitarist Convent (at the Isle of S. Lazzaro near Venice), which ended with these lines:
If England holds his body, Greece his heart,
You surely of his spirit hold a part,
Perhaps the highest, for with you remain
The Friendship and the Peace, but no the pain.
A. H. 'Henry' Whipple was appointed Nottingham's first Director of Education in this year having held a similar post in Blackburn. He re-organised the city's education system by dividing the schools into three classes: Infant (up to 7 or 8 years), Junior (with boys or girls from 7 or 8 to 11 years) and Senior (11 and up), and the city into 16 districts. Whipple was also a strong advocate for the education of women. The appointment had a hidden benefit for Nottingham as the director’s wife, Dorothy Whipple (1893-1966), wrote several bestselling books whilst living in Mapperley Park. Between the world wars Dorothy Whipple was Nottingham’s best-known novelist, and the ‘Jane Austen of the 20th Century’, according to J. B. Priestley.
Thus Far by J. C. Snaith (1925)Nottingham born John Collis Snaith (1876-1936) wrote a varied collection of novels, from whimsical comedy to poignant satire. Published by D. Appleton and Company (and Hodder and Stoughton), Thus Far depicts the creation of an enormously powerful, amoral, telepathic superman, created with rays, chemicals and elements from the ‘missing link’ in our evolution from apes. It questions whether or not science has gone too far, becoming dangerous.
Graham Greene began at the Nottingham Journal in November of 1925, working as a trainee in the evenings. He later said, “It was the furthest north I had ever been, the first strange city in which I had made home, alone, without friends.” He wasn’t quite alone (he lived with an aging, sickly dog), or friendless (he was pally with Cecil Roberts), but it’s fair to say that Greene didn’t see Nottingham at its best, with polluted air and freezing temperatures commonplace during his four month stay. It was, however, a hugely important period. It was at this time that Greene converted to Catholicism, and from his digs and landlady, to the sights and sounds he witnessed here, Nottingham can point to many influences on his writing. “I don’t know why a certain wry love of Nottingham lodged in my imagination,” wrote Greene, who later set a novel in a version of the city.
The Plumed Serpent by D. H. Lawrence (1926)Kate Leslie, the widow of an Irish revolutionary, discovers the intrigues, passions, and pagan rituals of Mexico in this imaginative and unsettling novel. Set in Mexico at a time of political post-revolution turmoil, it features a revolutionary mission, to revive the old religion and rid Mexico of capitalism and Christianity. First titled Quetzalcoatl, after one of the gods the movement wanted to revive, its main theme is the colonialist eradication of indigenous religion.
Lawrence’s wife, Frieda, said of the novel, “All of Lawrence is in that book. Two years he spent writing it, one winter in Chapala and the next winter in Oaxaca.”
Your gods are ready to return to you. Quetzalcoatl and Tlaloc, the old gods, are minded to come back to you. Be quiet, don’t let them find you crying and complaining. (from The Plumed Serpent)
Lord Byron’s 1821 epic poem Don Juan inspired an American romantic adventure film in 1926. The first feature-length film to utilize the Vitaphone sound-on-disc sound system - with a synchronized musical score and sound effects - it stars John Barrymore in the title role and is reputed to have the most kisses in film history, 127 of them.
A Princess Comes to Our Town by Rose Fyleman (1927)In this Nottingham fairy-tale, The Fairy King and Queen have chosen the man they want their daughter to marry, but Princess Finestra doesn’t want the prince, not yet anyway, life would be far too boring, she wants to have real adventures first. To that end, the princess’ godmother has her transported to real-life Nottingham’s Market-place. Many adventures ensue including the bringing to life of our (then) statue of Queen Victoria.
It was in 1927 that the Nottingham Writers' Club was founded at a meeting at the Black Boy Hotel in Long Row. The grand hotel has been replaced by what’s now a less grand Primark but the writers’ club is still going strong. Among the founding members was the published writer Arthur E. Ashley, who wrote under the pen name Francis Vivian, author of the Brother Ignatius and Inspector Knollis series’. It’s well-known former members include Alan Sillitoe (born a year after the club opened) and Helen Cresswell.
Goose Fair by Cecil Roberts (1928)
Cecil Roberts’ novel Goose Fair was first published in the USA in 1928 (also published in England as David and Diana, after the main characters).
Every first Thursday in October, following the custom of centuries, the good people of the city whose Sheriff was so soundly abused by Robin Hood, take leave of their senses. (From Goose Fair)
D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover was privately published in Florence in 1928. The last of his full-length novels it was famously banned in the UK for more than 30 years due its sexually explicit nature and profane language. The history of its many publications became befitting of a plot in itself.
The year also witnessed the birth of Alan Sillitoe, “…in the front bedroom of a red-bricked council house on the outskirts of Nottingham." Alan was the second of five children all growing up in poverty. He failed his eleven-plus twice and gained much education from reading books whilst recovering from TB with the RAF in Malaya. One of Nottingham’s greatest authors, Sillitoe is best remembered for his first two books. He was, however, a prolific writer who remained committed to political causes and social justice throughout his life.
By Dancing Streams by Douglas McCraith (1929)
Sir Douglas McCraith was appointed a Justice of the Peace in 1928 and President of the Nottingham Incorporated Law Society in 1930. He later served as Chairman of the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee for Nottingham and was Chairman of the Nottingham Bench. In 1929 he published the novel By Dancing Streams, which was followed by Dancing Streams in Many Lands in 1946 (published by Bromley Press). McCraith was born in Nottingham on New Year's Day 1878. The solicitor, Conservative politician and sportsperson, was educated at Harrow and Cambridge.