16 February 2009

PhD Thesis in Literature (2006): The Work of Lionel Britton: Abstract

The Open University has now put my entire thesis online, which makes it much easier to read - without the lost attributes - here.
Please note, though, that the final paragraph of the second Introduction has now been found to be completely incorrect: Lionel Britton, the writer of Hunger and Love, never wrote a will: The University of Texas got the wrong Lionel Britton!

.This thesis is the first long study of the forgotten novelist and playwright Lionel Britton, whose creative works were all published in the 1930s. Throughout, the emphasis is on his only published novel, the very long and experimental Hunger and Love (1931). The Lionel Britton Collection at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, U. S. A., along with many unpublished materials of Britton’s, holds former states of the novel, and I use a large amount of this material in my thesis; I suggest reasons why the content of the typescripts was gradually changed from the 1920s to 1930. Another vital issue is Britton’s status as a working-class author, and it is my contention that Hunger and Love is an important working-class novel, although it has been almost totally neglected by the critics .recovering this sub-genre. My thesis also addresses modernism in working-class fiction, a subject which has all too often been ignored by the almost automatic foregrounding of realism, and is a strong feature of Hunger and Love. Following this, my thesis broadens out to cover political minorities represented as outsiders in literature, and deals with the unmarried woman, the homosexual and the non-white, comparing them with the working-class protagonist in Hunger and Love. The concluding chapter involves the utopias and dystopias of minority groups, with special reference to Britton’s Brain (1930) and Spacetime Inn (1932), which as plays are very unusual to the science fiction genre.

The Work of Lionel Britton: Table of Contents

The Open University has now put my entire thesis online, which makes it much easier to read - without the lost attributes - here.
Please note, though, that the final paragraph of the second Introduction has now been found to be completely incorrect: Lionel Britton, the writer of Hunger and Love, never wrote a will: The University of Texas got the wrong Lionel Britton!

Introduction A: The Plan of the Thesis

Introduction B: Lionel Britton — A Brief Biography

Chapter 1: Hunger and Love and the Critics

Chapter 2: What Lionel Britton Is Up To

Chapter 3: Lionel Britton’s Place in Working-Class Fiction

Chapter 4: Outsider Modernism

Chapter 5: Alienation and Escape

Chapter 6: Past and Future Perfect?



Appendix: Hunger and Love: The Chapter Titles and Numbers

The Work of Lionel Britton: Introduction

The Open University has now put my entire thesis online, which makes it much easier to read - without the lost attributes - here.
Please note, though, that the final paragraph of the second Introduction has now been found to be completely incorrect: Lionel Britton, the writer of Hunger and Love, never wrote a will: The University of Texas got the wrong Lionel Britton!

A. The Plan of the Thesis

Over the previous thirty years there have been a number of attempts to recover from oblivion the literature written by the working classes, an area that has been largely submerged under the literature of the dominant classes; in general, this interest has concentrated on the inter-war years, a period when working-class literature was in considerable evidence. The recovery has placed some emphasis on works by authors other than the few well-known ones in the working-class ‘canon’ because a much larger body of working-class literature exists which had hitherto remained largely unknown.

However, a significant omission from this ambitious recovery project is the novelist and playwright Lionel Britton, who if mentioned at all has been so mainly as a footnote to a general critical work or even to reject his inclusion at all in this literature. One of the aims of this thesis is to draw attention to this omission, and to demonstrate that Britton deserves recognition for his contribution to working-class literature. My thesis also deals with the little-recognised phenomenon of modernist techniques in working-class literature, and more generally with Britton’s relation to the literature of alienation of the inter-war years from the viewpoint of certain groups of outsiders, and with his vision of an escape from this state of alienation. Throughout, my emphasis is on Britton’s seven-hundred-page Hunger and Love (1931), his only published novel: although he also published the plays Brain (1930), Spacetime Inn (1932) and Animal Ideas (1935), his central argument is contained in the novel, and his first two plays are illustrations evolving from this argument, or — in the case of Animal Ideas, about which I have very little to say in the thesis — a simpler re-statement of it.1Also, I refer throughout the thesis to many manuscripts and obscure published articles, a number of which were written by Britton himself, which are held at the Lionel Britton Collection at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, an invaluable source which I exploit throughout this thesis. 2)

I divide my Introduction into two sections because together with this plan, some biographical details about Lionel Britton are necessary as almost nothing has been published about his life, or at least the little that has been published is mainly hidden in newspapers or often obscure magazines from the 1930s. In the second part of my Introduction, as well as using information gathered from the LBC, I make use of material collected from such sources as the International Genealogical Index, census returns, trade directories, and birth, marriage and death certificates. I place some emphasis on the details of Britton’s family in the nineteenth century because in a number of ways these help to shed light on his later development, at the same time as they provide a backcloth to Hunger and Love: the novel has strong autobiographical elements. Other details of Britton’s later life also help to explain the reasons why he disappeared so quickly from public view.

In the first part of Chapter 1, ‘Lionel Britton and the Critics’, I give a short synopsis of the novel in order to make this and ensuing chapters more comprehensible, and in the second I examine the negative, mixed and positive critical reactions to Britton’s work, which largely consist of reviews of Hunger and Love in the early 1930s: as there has been virtually no critical work on Britton in recent years, most of the quoted material in this chapter is from newspapers and magazines from the first half of the 1930s; most of that material again comes from the LBC.

I make particular use of my findings at the LBC in Chapter 2, ‘What Lionel Britton Is Up To’: the title refers to one of the chapters in Hunger and Love concerning evolution, and my own chapter concerns the evolution of Britton’s book. Britton worked on his novel for several years, and an early typescript reveals the differences between this draft and the final copy, of which I give a number of examples. Of interest are the pencilled emendations Britton made to the typescript, because they reveal far more than the expected corrections of typographical errors or other inconsistencies: much more importantly, they facilitate an understanding of his artistic, aesthetic and political intentions. Also of interest to the development of Britton’s work is his attitude to censorship, and the problems it brought not only with publishers, but also the difficulties he experienced when wishing to stage his work; self-censorship is also relevant here.

In Chapter 3, ‘Lionel Britton’s Relation to Working-Class Fiction’, I begin by giving a brief overview of working-class fiction from the Chartist period to the end of the inter-war years, and then continue by assessing how much recent critical work has been written specifically on inter-war working-class literature, which is almost non-existent in the case of Britton. My main aim is to establish the relationship that Britton’s work has with working-class writers of the inter-war years; I analyse several working-class novels written by members of the working classes from the point of view of certain common preoccupations of this literature, continually drawing comparisons and contrasts between these novels and Hunger and Love. My chosen writers are all working-class authors with strong interests in the working classes as distinct from non-working class authors merely sympathetic to the working classes, and my chosen novels are mainly ones that have not previously received a great deal of critical attention.

I entitle Chapter 4 ‘Outsider Modernism’ because it is an expression which I find especially appropriate to what a number of working-class authors were attempting to say beyond the realist model: although realism is generally assumed to be the natural medium through which working-class authors express themselves, the true picture is a little more complicated than this. I begin by defining modernism and looking at its causes and manifestations, and then continue by examining the charges that it was elitist or bourgeois. I interpret ‘outsider modernism’ as a style of writing belonging to marginalized groups of writers, specifically the working classes in this chapter, and I explain the differences between this and mainstream modernism, analysing several passages of examples of outsider modernism in different writers, highlighting where appropriate their similarities to Britton’s novel. Finally, I briefly detail some of the realist techniques used in Hunger and Love, the recording of the minutiae of Arthur’s world, which I then contrast by giving several much more detailed examples of outsider modernist techniques in Hunger and Love, which probe the workings of Arthur’s mind. My main intention in this chapter is to establish that there is a continuation of modernist techniques in the working-class writing of the late 1920s and early 1930s, and which uses a different aesthetic from that of mainstream modernism. It links logically with the following chapter because outsider modernism is often an expression of alienation.

In my ‘Alienation and Escape’ chapter I again examine a number of texts and again draw analogies with a number of episodes in Hunger and Love. The difference is that in this chapter I am extending the analogy to incorporate authors not only from the working classes, but also from writers representing other dispossessed or disadvantaged groups of people. Alienation of some form affects all of these groups, and in order to shed more light on this, beginning with a definition of atheistic existentialism, I apply key atheistic existentialist concepts to several examples of the British literature of alienation during the inter-war period: existentialism, as I explain below, appears to have readier links to the general literature of alienation than any other philosophy. After analysing the books written by various authors, I then give several examples of alienation in Hunger and Love, all the time relating it to Sartrean existentialism. I conclude by stating that the novel is pointing towards an ideal society.

‘Past and Future Perfect’ is my final chapter. After defining the key terms ‘science fiction’ and ‘utopia’ and ‘dystopia’, in the early part of this chapter I address the specifically utopian and dystopian elements in Britton’s science fiction plays Brain and Spacetime Inn. I then briefly discuss the science fiction (a very unusual genre in working-class literature) in two of Grassic Gibbon’s novels and also Gibbon’s and Britton’s anarchism, followed by both authors’ preoccupation with the theme of nudity as an expression of freedom and truth, before broadening the chapter out to examine some utopias in writers from other minority groups, particularly (although not exclusively) in the genre of science fiction.

An Appendix illustrates the difference between the chapter titles in the different states of the novel.

B. Lionel Britton — A Brief Biography

As mentioned above, scarcely any biographical information about Lionel Britton is readily available, and since the mid-1930s his name has been almost forgotten. Information about Britton’s family background, though, is helpful to gain an impression of the formation of his ideas, particularly the importance of literature and foreign languages to him, and the reasons for his hatred of capitalism, religion, the law and institutions in general. The details of Britton’s life after the publication of his last imaginative work in 1935 are also an indication of why he disappeared from the public eye.

Lionel Erskine Nimmo Britton had far from humble beginnings. At his birth on 4 November 1887 his paternal grandfather, John James Britton, was a solicitor practising in the small Warwickshire market town of Alcester and his father, Richard Waddams Nimmo Britton, had very recently passed his intermediate examinations to be a solicitor and was now practising in the family business — Britton & Son — in the nearby village of Astwood Bank, where he lived with his family.3 Lionel’s maternal grandfather, Samuel Thomas, was for some time the representative in France of Samuel Thomas & Sons, manufacturers of needles and fish-hooks in Redditch; this business was founded by Samuel’s father — also named Samuel — who lived in a large house in front of his extensive British Needle Mills until his death in 1878.4 It was one of the largest businesses in the town, with one hundred and twenty-two employees at the time of the 1871 census. By the 1881 census, Henry Thomas, a younger son of Samuel Thomas senior, appears to have taken over the greater part, if not all, of the family business. By this time Samuel Thomas junior had returned to England on a permanent basis, and he too was a needle manufacturer, employing just twelve people.

Lionel’s mother, Irza Vivian Geraldine, was born in 1866 and had met Richard at Kings Coughton, in a former farmhouse near Alcester where Richard lived with his father and the rest of the family; Irza was a fifteen-year-old poetry enthusiast who had initially gone to the house to visit John James Britton, a ‘real live poet’ who had earned a minor reputation locally, and who later published a novel.5 Irza and Richard married in 1885 and moved to Astwood Bank, where Ivy was born the following year and Lionel the year after.6 There is only one listing of Britton & Son at Astwood Bank in Kelly’s Directories for that period: early in 1888, the company went into bankruptcy.7

Never fully qualified as a solicitor, Richard — who had previously worked as a teaching assistant and was given to writing philosophical musings by no means entirely different from those of his mature son Lionel — probably did not enjoy the legal profession. On his bankruptcy, he initially tried to find work again as a teaching assistant in England, although the family very soon moved to Paris, where Richard had found work as a managing clerk in a legal firm, and where Lionel’s brother Percy was born.8 France and the French language run throughout the Britton and the Thomas families: Samuel Thomas junior had spent a number of years in France, where at least six of his children, including Lionel’s mother, were born; both of Samuel’s wives were French, and both of Lionel’s parents spoke the language fluently. This strong French connection must to some extent explain Lionel’s fluency in the language, and is no doubt also indicative of the facility with which he later learned so many others: his friend Herbert Marshall claimed that Britton was fluent in over twenty different languages.9

However, Richard’s employment in France lasted only a short time, and the Brittons then moved to the Bournemouth area, where Richard again worked unsuccessfully as a solicitor, and where the family income was supplemented by Irza working as a boarding house keeper. A fourth child, Cyril, was born in 1891, and by the end of the following year the couple had significant debts. In 1894, when Lionel was seven, Richard died of tuberculosis.10 Irza, who already had at least one suitor, remained in the area and married a gunner in the Royal Navy in 1897, although no other details of this marriage appear to have survived, and she was later to change her name back to Britton.11

Lionel, Ivy, Percy and Cyril all moved to Redditch to live with their maternal grandparents, where their grandfather was then a traveller in a fishing tackle business. According to Lionel’s own account, he excelled at school and soon learned all that they could teach him. It seems evident that he showed some of the rebelliousness that would later be a notable feature of his character: he already hated religious instruction, and was excused music lessons because he thought them ‘silly’.12 By 1901 Ivy was still at school at the age of nearly fifteen, but her younger brother Lionel was almost certainly in London by this time. His grandparents had presumably not wanted, or perhaps had not had the means for, him to continue his education. For a brief period he lodged elsewhere in Redditch, later informing the Daily News and Westminster Gazette that his first job was ‘sandpapering fishing rods’.13 After running away and spending a few days as an office boy in Birmingham, Britton moved to London, and from this point his work life and intellectual life become very similar to that of Arthur Phelps in Hunger and Love.

In London, Britton found work as an errand boy at a grocer’s in Theobald’s Road, although he was dismissed from there for reasons unknown. He next found more errand work with an educational bookseller, the University Book Co. on Southampton Row, which according to Britton was the main catalyst to his intellectual curiosity, where he secretly read all he could in the firm’s time, which was also when he discovered ‘the penny-dump on the book-barrows on Farringdon Road’, ‘a mine of mind for empty pockets’.14 Britton worked at the shop for about six years, when he voluntarily left to work as a shop assistant for bookseller A. H. Mayhew (on whom Sarner in Hunger and Love is probably based) in Charing Cross Road for nearly two years; Mayhew found him ‘honest and industrious’ and ‘parted with him with regret’.15

Britton appears not to have mentioned World War I in newspaper or magazine articles or surviving letters, although the vicious propaganda machine in the novel, where the narrator tells of Phelps being urged by almost everyone around him into joining the war, seems to be comment enough on Britton’s experience of it: in an obituary, Raymond Douglas reveals that Britton was attacked by a patriotic mob for not enlisting, and was imprisoned as a conscientious objector for about eighteen months.16

As early as 1917, Britton started to learn Russian and applied for Russian citizenship, although his application was disallowed by the Soviet ambassador. Then in the early 1920s he found a more remunerative post with the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, where he worked for about six years, latterly as Assistant General Secretary. In his letter of reference in 1929, the General Secretary describes Britton as ‘an independent thinker, cautious and meditative, yet courageous in the expression of his opinions’, and who was also ‘a gifted linguist [whose] translation of the lesser European languages has frequently been of value to us’.17

For several years before this Britton had been working on his huge novel Hunger and Love, although he had disagreed with publishers because he refused to allow any cuts to be made to the content. It is a measure of his self-confidence and his powers of persuasion that he secured Bertrand Russell’s five-page Introduction to the novel, and that Constant Huntington of Putnam not only did not insist that he make cuts, but also allowed him to write the final amendments to it more or less as he wished.

The influence of the cinema on Britton’s writing is briefly mentioned in a chapter below, as film was of great interest to him: he was chairman of the experimental London Film Guild in the late 1920s, which had its studio in the same building as Foyle’s bookshop on Charing Cross Road. This voluntary organization was largely unsuccessful, only producing a small number of mainly critically unsuccessful shorts; Britton never directed a film, although he was responsible for some montage work.18 The secretary of the Guild was Herbert Marshall, who later moved to Russia for a number of years as a student of Eisenstein’s.

By the time Britton left his advertising job in favour of writing, his mother Irza was living with him in a flat in Marylebone, in Saville Street, which was later incorporated into Hanson Street. And by the late 1920s Britton had also met Sinead Acheson, a woman in the legal profession who was to be his devoted friend for the rest of his life, and with whom he appears to have lived intermittently during the 1930s and 1940s.

Britton also had a strong interest in the theatre over many years and frequently attended performances; when he was a teenager, he had been a supernumerary at Her Majesty’s Theatre under Sir Herbert Tree, and wrote his first play — ‘Fang; or, the Reluctant Employee’ — during this period.19 Before Hunger and Love was finally published, Britton had also written at least a first draft of his three published plays, and it is an indication of his strong powers of persuasion that the play would possibly not have been published without the assistance of Bernard Shaw, into whose hands he contrived to thrust a copy; Shaw passed it on to Sir Barry Jackson, which the press reported with great enthusiasm. Brain was published in May 1930, very shortly after its first and only performance, which was by the Masses Stage and Film Guild at the Savoy Theatre. Brain ensured that Britton was already relatively well known when Hunger and Love was published the following February, and after this his short-lived fame began in earnest and he was in great demand for a few brief years. He was asked to give a number of talks, to open theatres, he became the drama critic for the New Clarion, and established Left Theatre with André van Gyseghem and several others. There were many articles about him in newspapers and magazines, and a great deal of attention was also given to his second play, Spacetime Inn, for example: the blurb on the dust jacket speaks of ‘the play which was read at the House of Commons — the only occasion in the history of any Parliament that such a thing has ever happened’.20 Britton’s M. P. friend John Smith Clarke had made the occasion possible, but both the blurb and the headlines are slightly misleading: although Britton himself certainly read his play before a group of M. P.s, the session was only held in a House of Commons committee room.21 Critically, the play was better received than Brain, although it was performed for four nights only at the Arts Theatre in London, and once by the Hostel Players in Hoddeson the following year. (For this second performance, the play also attracted a great deal of publicity — much of it pictorial — because Bernard Shaw gave one of his old Norfolk jackets to his namesake in the play.)

There were many caricatures of Britton in the newspapers and magazines of the day because he was quite an unusual figure for the time. Shaw had called him a ‘wild young man’ and Arnold Bennett had thought that he looked as though he had just come from the French Riviera: he had a shock of wiry hair which stood up almost perpendicular to his head and which he rather amateurishly cut himself, and he always wore an open-neck shirt, usually with light trousers or shorts and plimsolls; he was teetotal and did not smoke.

Britton had been anticipating a visit to Russia for some years, and as the initial excitement of his success eased off considerably, he went there in July 1935 at the expense of the International Union of Revolutionary Writers. Five years previously, the working-class writer Harold Heslop had stayed there for the same amount of time as Britton: three months.22 The two writers’ impressions of the country have many similarities — Heslop was shocked by the poverty he saw, by his guide’s ignorance of Russian culture, and bewildered by the consternation which his desire to see Zamyatin caused; after attending a show trial, he called himself ‘a stranger in a world beyond my own belief’.23 Britton’s frequent letters to Acheson express his disgust with the country. He was also alarmed by the poverty, exasperated by the queues and what he saw as the ignorance of the Russian people, as well as the fact that they would not answer his probing questions or allow him to explore his surroundings unescorted; above all, perhaps, he thought that his belief in co-operation as opposed to competition was not being practised in Russia: he believed that food and other shortages were caused by the government channelling money into the defence budget. What he saw forced him to see the United Kingdom as more socialist than Russia; he still thought that Russian communism would eventually succeed in its goals, but thought that the gradualism of the British Labour Party was better suited to the country’s progress than the Communist Party of Great Britain.24 He returned by boat in October; Irza had become used to having more space, and most of Britton’s belongings had been moved to Acheson’s house.

Britton had awoken from his utopian dream to find a nightmare both in Russia and, more personally, at home. Putnam, having made only a modest profit from Hunger and Love (less than £100 after 10,000 sales and an expensive promotion campaign) and losses with Brain and Spacetime Inn, had already refused to give more than a perfunctory promotion to Animal Ideas. Britton had delayed his visit to Russia because the play was due to be published in the United Kingdom, but it proved to be a disaster: it was never performed (except by Britton himself at various readings), sales were very low, and it was largely ignored critically. In a revealing fourteen-page letter to Herbert Marshall, he called his experience ‘the snuff-out’: he was facing ruin as a writer and had little money left.1

Britton escaped from London to take part in a socialist project at ‘Netherwood’ in Hastings, which was perhaps chosen because of its connection with the working-class writer Robert Tressell. In the second half of the 1930s, Netherwood was a large run-down property which had been bought by the actor and playwright E. C. Vernon Symonds to convert into a left-wing guest house that was intended as a haven for socialist meetings and trade union conferences among other things. Britton received free board and lodging there in return for manual work — mainly gardening and reconstructing the swimming pool — and was eking out the remainder of his advance for the Russian edition of Hunger and Love, although he hated almost everything about Netherwood.

During his stay in Hastings Britton was writing the play ‘Du Barry’, although it was never published and never performed. He later wrote several more plays and a novel, philosophical works, and dramatized several novels, such as The Pickwick Papers, Barchester Towers, Gwyn Jones’s Times Like These and three works by J. Jefferson Farjeon. But apart from a performance of ‘Mr Pickwick’ at Rugby and two translations of rather obscure Russian writers in the 1940s, Britton’s career in the theatre and in print was at an end.26

Consequently, although he remained a committed writer, Britton was by economic necessity forced to find other means of survival, which led to an itinerant lifestyle. He taught from time to time, gave play readings throughout the country, and synchronized English dialogue to Russian films. And there was also another source of income: Acheson had bought a second-hand boat — known as ‘Spacetime Inn’, or simply ‘Spacetime’ — which she kept on the Thames and followed Irza’s suggestion to rent it out, with Britton collecting the proceeds from customers. He lived on the boat, in boathouses, or simply by the riverside, from about 1937 to 1944, although not continuously. And towards the end of the 1940s he was living with his mother again, now at Park House, a leasehold property at 66 Tufnell Park Road. In a draft application for a grant from the Civil List fund in 1951, he gave his income as ‘Between £70 and £80 per annum’.27

In 1954 Britton suffered multiple injuries in a car accident from which he was very fortunate to survive; however, he received an undisclosed sum in compensation, with which he hoped to publish his work and ‘be independent of publishers’ readers’.28 Britton was developing an obsession: he had amplified Bernard Shaw’s (possibly unfinished) play Why She Would Not, and for the rest of his life was concerned with the Society of Authors’s refusal to allow the simultaneous publication of both Shaw’s fragment and Britton’s ending. He kept scrapbooks of newspaper cuttings about the society along with its financial details, and biographical details of the committee members. And he was directly or indirectly supported by several prominent writers in opposition to the society’s exclusivity, including Bertrand Russell, who remarked of the society’s attitude to Britton’s writing: ‘If the principle became established that nothing should be published unless it aroused admiration in a number of elderly big-wigs, the result would be a disastrous censorship’.29 These were encouraging words, although they can only have fed the obsession: in 1964, Britton sent a two-hundred-and-eighty-five-paragraph dossier to the Director of Public Prosecutions alleging fraudulent activities on the part of the Society of Authors. Nothing was ever proved.30

Also in 1964, Britton formed a company — The Park Group Limited — with two Canadians using a bank in the Bahamas with the intention of publishing and producing his plays for stage and screen, of which the first was to be ‘the Shaw play’.31 However, nothing appears to have come to fruition from the Park Group, probably because Britton was insisting that ‘the Shaw play’ be published first, whereas the other directors (who were responsible for all of the company’s not inconsiderable expenses pending a refund from the ‘profits’) were worried about a possible court injunction.32 Three years later Britton established his own company — Promethean Publishers Ltd — which appears never to have published anything either.

Britton spent his last years as a virtual recluse in Margate. In 1969 he wrote a letter to Bertrand Russell from his new home, in which he states that he has had a nervous breakdown, and has lost his house in Tufnell Park along with all of his money; the reasons for this are not mentioned.33 But Britton was still trying to sue the Society of Authors as late as June 1970, six months before his death at the local hospital following a heart attack.#34 There were few obituaries, and even those commented on his obscurity.

Herbert Marshall, who was by that time Professor and Director of Soviet and East European Studies (Performing Arts) at Southern Illinois University, had all of Britton’s literary effects transported to the university, where they remain today.35 

1Lionel Britton, Hunger and Love (London: Putnam, 1931); Lionel Britton, Brain: A Play of the Whole Earth (London: Putnam, 1930); Lionel Britton, Spacetime Inn: A Play (London: Putnam, 1932); Lionel Britton, Animal Ideas: A Dramatic Symphony of the Human in the Universe (London: Putnam, 1935).

2Hereafter all references to this collection are abbreviated to ‘LBC’.

3Birth certificate, Lionel Britton, Feckenham, registration district of Bromsgrove, Worcestershire and Warwickshire, 4 November 1887; ‘The Law Society’, Times, 24 November 1883, p. 12.

4Death certificate, Samuel Thomas, registration district of Tardebigg, Worcestershire, 6 September 1878.

5Irza Britton, letter to Richard Britton, [n. d.], LBC, Box 2, Folder 29; John James Britton, Carrélla: Lyrics, Lays, and Sympathies (London: Bennett, 1867); John James Britton, The Lay of the Lady Ida: And Other Poems (London: Remington, 1883); John James Britton, Flight (London: Trischler, 1890).

6Marriage certificate, Richard Waddams Nimmo Britton and Irza Vivian Geraldine Thomas, Birmingham Register Office, registration district Birmingham, Warwickshire, 17 August 1885.

7G. Edward Saville, King’s Coughton: A Warwickshire Hamlet (King’s Coughton: The author, 1973).

8Thomas Perkins, letter of reference, 13 February 1888, LBC, Box 6, Folder 1; John Mourilyan, letter of reference, 15 March 1890, LBC, Box 6, Folder 1.

9Anonymous, ‘Forgotten Genius Ends his Days at Margate’, Isle of Thanet Gazette, 29 January 1971, [n. pg.].

10Death certificate, Richard Waddams Nimmo Britton, registration district of Christchurch, Southamptonshire, 1 December 1894.

11Marriage certificate, Francis le Breton and Irza Vivien Geraldine Britton, Portsmouth Register Office, registration district of Portsmouth, Portsmouthshire, 13 October 1897.

12Lionel Britton, ‘Lionel Britton’, typescript, [n. d.], p. [1], LBC, Box 6, Folder 1.

13Anonymous, ‘Young Playwright’s Romance: Work in Factory at Age of 13; Fame at 30: Mr. Shaw’s “Find”’, Daily News and Westminster Gazette, 18 March 1930, [no page], LBC, Box 12, Folder 11. (Hereafter, all references to unknown page numbers are referred to as ‘n. pg’.)

14Lionel Britton, ‘Lionel Britton’, unpublished handwritten notes, [c. 1960s], p. 3, LBC, Box 1, Folder 1.

15A. H. Mayhew, letter of reference to Irza Britton about Lionel Britton, 18 November 1918, LBC, Box 2, Folder 2.

16Raymond Douglas, ‘Lionel Britton’, Humanist, May 1971, pp. 151–52.

17Alfred H. Angus, letter of reference about Lionel Britton, 4 September 1929, LBC, Box 2, Folder 2.

18The Film Guild of London, newsletter, [n. d.], LBC, Box 6, ‘other programs, newsletters’.

19Animal Ideas, rear flap; Rebecca Gorski, ‘Biographical Sketch’, LBC.

20Spacetime Inn, front flap.

21Hannen Swaffer, ‘Play to Be Read in Commons: Whole Action in Flash: Only Clever M. P.s Will Know What It’s about!’, [Daily Express], [c. 1932], [n. pg.], LBC, Box 12, Folder 10.

22Harold Heslop, Out of the Old Earth (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe, 1994).

23Out of the Old Earth, p. 242.

24In spite of this conclusion, Britton had little interest in party politics, and it is evident from Hunger and Love that a form of anarchism is being advocated; it is no coincidence that anarchist sympathiser Bertrand Russell wrote a five-page Introduction to the novel, or that anarchist periodicals such as Freedom (quoted in Chapter 1) welcomed Britton’s work. I comment on Britton’s and Grassic Gibbon’s anarchism in Chapter 6.

25Lionel Britton, letter to Herbert Marshall, 20 May 1936, p. [7], LBC, Box 2, Folder 13.

26V[assili Grigor’evich] Yan[chevetsky], Jenghiz–Khan: A Tale of 13th Century Asia, trans. by Lionel Erskine Britton (London: Hutchinson International Authors, [1945]); N. Teleshov, A Writer Remembers: Reminiscences, trans. by Lionel Erskine Britton (London: Hutchinson, [1946]).

27Lionel Britton, draft application for Civil List grant, 4 January 1951, LBC, Box 13, Folder 13.

28Lionel Britton, letter to Bertrand Russell, 28 November 1955, in the possession of Harry Berberian (hereafter ‘HB’).

29Bertrand Russell, letter to Lionel Britton, 20 March 1956, HB.

30Attorney General [name illegible], letter to John Parker, House of Commons, 1 June 1970, LBC, Box 2, Folder 23.

31Cecil Thomas, letter to Lionel Britton, 4 December 1964, LBC, Box 2, Folder 21.

32Cecil Thomas, letter to Lionel Britton, 3 September 1964, LBC, Box 2, Folder 21.

33Lionel Britton, letter to Bertrand Russell, 10 June 1969, HB.

34Death certificate, Lionel Britton, Ramsgate, registration district of Thanet, Kent, 9 January 1971.

35‘Forgotten Genius Ends his Days at Margate’.

The Work of Lionel Britton: Chapter I: Hunger and Love and the Critics

The Open University has now put my entire thesis online, which makes it much easier to read - without the lost attributes - here
Please note, though, that the final paragraph of the second Introduction has now been found to be completely incorrect: Lionel Britton, the writer of Hunger and Love, never wrote a will: The University of Texas got the wrong Lionel Britton!

This chapter concerns the critics’ reactions to Hunger and Love, and in it I examine a number of critics who wrote about Lionel Britton’s work at the time of its publication in 1931. Before looking at some of the contemporary criticisms of Hunger and Love, though, an understanding of the observations made would be facilitated by a synopsis of the novel.

Hunger and Love is a semi-autobiographical account of the intellectual development of the working-class orphan Arthur Phelps, who is about sixteen years old at the beginning of the book, and the reader learns almost nothing of his past life. Set entirely in London from 1904 or 1905 to some time during World War I, it records in some detail the extreme poverty of the uneducated Arthur, who starts his working life at a greengrocer’s and then continues by working for several booksellers. Throughout most of the book he has very few friends, and almost all of his contact with others is through his work or by chance encounters in the street. Some of his limited spare time is spent trying to make his meagre earnings last until the end of the week — by, for example, mending his shabby clothes — but most of his time is spent in the manic pursuit of the education he never received as a child. Arthur devours any scraps of knowledge that he can, reading works of science or arts indiscriminately. He buys books from the penny ‘dumps’ on the book barrows that line Farringdon Road, and works his way through the Penny Cyclopaedia and Palgrave’s Golden Treasury. The novel details how Arthur takes advantage of any opportunity to increase his learning by reading at work, when sent out on errands, and during his lunch breaks. Periods of unemployment are described, a few political activities, and Arthur’s developing intellectual education arguing with the crowd gathered around Speakers’ Corner. There are also many descriptions of the book trade from a shop assistant’s point of view.

The ‘Hunger’ in the title clearly refers to Arthur’s lack of food, but it also alludes to both sexual and intellectual frustration; the ‘Love’ too refers to sex, as well as to the love of knowledge, and to a much broader love of humanity. The narrator has complete access to Arthur’s thoughts and no one else’s, and frequently addresses him directly in the second person, often to mock him. The world is thus largely seen through Arthur’s (or the narrator’s) consciousness, and the novel contains many unspoken insults directed at the bourgeoisie, the church, the government, or the police. Any figures of authority are the targets, and they are seen not only as impediments to his freedom, but throwbacks to an earlier period of evolution.

The novel is a long inter-war howl of contempt for the rule-makers and the people whom the narrator considers to be the war-mongers, the perpetrators of a vast conspiracy. For these reasons alone, it was inevitable that there would be some hostile reactions to the novel. Britton foresaw this, and joked about it before the novel was published: ‘I don’t think six months in gaol would stop me. Most of my friends say I shall get twenty years. The unkind ones say I shall deserve it’.

Hunger and Love is far from being a straightforward narrative, and a laudatory review by Geoffrey West in the TLS recognizes that Britton is ‘frankly contemptuous of the novel as story’.2 The novel is didactic, and filled with philosophical and scientific thoughts, becoming more complex as the book develops. Thoughts hold up the story, or rather, thoughts are a large part of the story: sickened by a world where business rules and the rich perpetuate their life-styles through repressing the poor both physically and psychologically, the narrator gradually develops a blueprint for a future ruled by the human mind. His future will be one in which people co-operate with each other instead of competing, and all energies will be devoted to the benefit of the world as a whole. There is no romantic nostalgia for a lost world, and Britton embraces technological progress as a means to a vaguely communistic society — or perhaps anarchistic to be more precise, as there is no support for any political party: Arthur Phelps’s voice is a lonely one.

It is clear, then, that the book is set in a battle context, as Arthur is constantly pointing out. He bemoans, for instance, the fact that work is taking his life away: ‘what is there in this future that will compensate you now for this […] almost total surrender of your life’ (p. 206). As the book draws to a close, a far more sinister threat than Phelps’s struggle for economic survival develops as preparations are made for war; the propaganda increases, and the pressure on Arthur to enlist for World War I becomes increasingly strong.

Although the narrator assumes that Arthur Phelps dies at the end of the book, it is by no means certain if he enlists in the army, is hit by shrapnel during an air raid, or dies in another way. All the reader is told is ‘Whether you stay at home or go and fight — life is coming to a close’, and ‘I don’t know where you are, but I think it is the end’ (pp. 691, 703). Herbert Marshall, who in his review of the novel seamlessly drifts between his own writing style and Brittonese, had evidently read a proof copy of the book, although he rather oddly speaks of ‘Private Phelps, lost among the war-murdered millions’, and reviewer C. H. Norman also mentions Phelps being ‘blown to bits by a shell on the battlefield’.3 Thoughts of joining the war certainly occur to Phelps, although only fleetingly, and only as murderous thoughts might easily briefly occur to a confirmed pacifist: if Phelps had been killed as an active member of the armed forces it would have been a psychological victory for the governing class, and it seems doubtful that this is the impression that the narrator wants to convey. It would be far more in keeping with Arthur’s ideas if he died in England, and if he continued to refuse to fight for a cause that he was incapable of identifying as his own. George Rees’s interpretation of the ending is much less assured than either Marshall’s or Norman’s; he does not even believe the assumptions of the narrator:

'In the end we simply lose sight of him. He disappears in wartime, and we are left to guess whether he is driven through the power of Parliament, press and pulpit, to join and thus forsake his principles; or whether, stoically enduring the opprobrium of the lickspittle bourgeois mob, he resolutely refuses to be a hired butcher, and lives until the world madness has passed'.4

Rees’s lack of conviction is an appealing interpretation, and the ending of the novel is perhaps better for its ambiguity.

Below, I mention several people who commended Britton’s Brain of the previous year because the reception of this work obviously affected the way Hunger and Love was anticipated and received: the interest generated by Brain prepared the ground for the interest in the novel, and even the negative reviews of Hunger and Love were lengthy. The fact that Shaw was instrumental in having the play performed is significant, as are his comments on Britton: he said that the play had ‘good vocal writing and natural theatre sense’, and ‘it is clear he can deliver the goods’, which was reproduced in many newspapers and magazines. But Shaw’s qualification of this remark, ‘as soon as he settles down into an established line of business, unless, ass [sic] seems probable, he starves in the meantime’, was omitted, as were his other reservations.5

Drama critic Hannen Swaffer was one of Britton’s greatest champions, and defended him against other critics who attacked his work. At the back of Hunger and Love, Putnam reproduced impressive snippets from Swaffer’s Daily Express review of Brain: ‘The most highbrow play ever produced in England…Had more thought in it than any other play for years…May be acted in every capital in the world…I prophesy for Lionel Britton a brilliant future’ [p. 707]. Britton was grateful for his support and wrote a letter to him from which Swaffer quoted in the Express: ‘Thanks for the courage with which you stood up against the whole pack of them’.6 Other reviews were also highly complimentary. In The Manchester Guardian ‘R. H. T.’ says ‘Many great men have amused themselves by forecasting the future of mankind. It seems to the present reviewer that Lionel Britton leaves them all a very long way behind’.7 He concludes by proclaiming Brain ‘a work of genius’. C. E. M. Joad also calls Britton a genius in a long review of Brain in The Sunday Referee, but it was perhaps the Introduction to Hunger and Love by another philosopher — Bertrand Russell — which more than anything else generated such interest in the novel.

There were many reviews of Hunger and Love, some positive, some negative, and some mixed. Nevertheless, and perhaps surprisingly for such an anti-Establishment work, hardly any review seems to have been unreservedly negative. Today Britton’s name is almost forgotten, with the occasional exceptions of entries in encyclopaedias or bibliographies of science fiction, utopias or computer science, and a very encouraging recent review by Adam Daly; but he was once very briefly a relatively well-known writer: in her biography of Virginia Woolf, for example, Winifred Holtby lists him alongside other working-class authors, all of whom are far better known today than Britton: James Hanley, Sean O’Casey and W. H. Davies.8

Frank Swinnerton’s reaction to Hunger and Love, full of anger at Arthur Phelps for having the gall to ‘steal’ from his employers’ time, is very negative. He says of the young worker: ‘His notion of his own greatness is such that he exploits his employers and then savages them […] because they dismiss him ’.9 Swinnerton was obviously proud of having worked his way up from office boy to editor of Chatto & Windus to emerge as a staunch member of the Establishment that Britton is attacking. And although self-deprecating about his own intellectual credentials, Swinnerton strongly resents the idea of the working classes becoming intellectuals:

'Mr. Russell calls Mr. Britton "a highly intellectual proletarian." What a description! And what a terrifying portent! The highbrow sustained by the parental dole is familiar to us but if the slums are also to send us highbrows the end of the world is overdue.'

Swinnerton nevertheless sees a number of positive points in the book, although none in Arthur, whom he finds selfish: the main argument in Hunger and Love is that it is the bourgeoisie who are selfish.

Rebecca West also has some positive things to say about Hunger and Love, and even admits that ‘One would have to be cold and a cad not to have a warm corner in one’s heart for Arthur Phelps’.10 However, she continues by saying that ‘Since Mr. Britton is cut off from his fellow creatures by this wall of hatred he has learned nothing about [others in a similar situation to himself]. He has written a book about the destiny of man without knowing anything about man.’

Harold Nicolson is more offended by Hunger and Love. He concedes that the book is interesting, but only as a ‘specimen’: ‘it is bottled life, preserved in vinegar’.11 He continues by denouncing Britton as ‘glum and humourless, and he likes to snarl’, adding that if the novel were intended as a satire on the self-educated it was a work of genius, but that he does not think that this is the case. Nicolson’s main complaint is that the book is dangerous because it is about class hatred.

Bernard Shaw’s assessment of Hunger and Love appears to be lost, although a comment on the front cover of the dust jacket of the New Zealander John E. Lee’s Children of the Poor states ‘A whopper. In its intensity I can only compare it with Lionel Britton’s Hunger and Love’.12

In an edition of the Johannesburg Sunday Times (Britton subscribed to press cutting agencies and collected many reviews of his books from around the world) ‘J. L. L.’ is slightly equivocal about the novel. He calls Britton’s book ‘amazing’, and adds that ‘All the destructive criticism in the world cannot rob “Hunger and Love” of a certain brilliance, or the author of intellectual endowments and a general knowledge of no mean quality.’13 But not many people would have understood the concluding remark: ‘If it were not for the fact that the author is obviously sincere and has given us much that reaches high levels of excellence, one would be inclined to use the title of his 31st chapter [‘All Balls’] as a tabloid description of his book.’

Arnold Bennett’s reaction to the novel was not as ambivalent as this, and he was even moved to write a pastiche of Britton’s style:

'Now Lionel Britton’s book. Very Long. Introduction by Bertrand Russell. Yes, by Bertrand Russell. […] I read and read. […] I was continually moving my arms, together with all the nerves, tendons, ganglions, veins, arteries, bones, concealed beneath my seven skins.

'The day wore on. Curtains. Bourgeois electricity. The surface of the planet on which I sat had moved several thousand miles, not counting its movement round the sun, nor its vaster movement as part of the ever-shifting solar system. Indeed I didn’t know where I was in spacetime. …

'Bourgeois dinner. Next day I resumed. Page after big page. I reached page 705. The last. But why the last? "Well", said I, to the invisible Lionel Britton, who was rushing through the ether as inconceivably fast as I was, "I’ve read your novel, Lionel Britton"'.14

Hunger and Love was the last book that Bennett reviewed for the Evening Standard, and in the article he also describes both his impression of Britton on the two occasions he met him, as well as his review of the novel, written in his own usual style. Bennett sat next to Britton during the premiere of Brain, and although he did not like the play, he was too polite to say so. However, had the invisible Lionel Britton mentioned in the quotation above actually been present at the time that Bennett finished reading Hunger and Love, there would have been no such embarrassment: Bennett enjoyed ‘a great deal of the book’, says that it has ‘genuine force’, that it is ‘not a book to be ignored’ and recommends it ‘to the stout-hearted’. It is evident that the review was written with a considerable degree of affection for the novel; he calls it ‘propaganda, strident as a brass band’, but although he does not mind propaganda, feels that Britton ‘frequently forgets that he is telling a story’. It must be said, though, that Britton would not have disagreed with Bennett’s criticism — in a ‘Caution to the Reader’ which was perhaps originally designed as an Introduction to the novel, Britton freely admits that the book has ‘not, strictly speaking, a story’, with ‘nothing of what is usually understood as characters’.15

This is one of the negative aspects that Orwell saw in the novel, and his comments on it are interesting. He calls the book ‘entirely sound’ as a ‘social document’, but (rather like Britton himself) fails to recognize it as a novel as such: it is more of ‘a kind of monologue on poverty’.16 But like a number of other reviewers, he finds the repetitions annoying. Nevertheless, as mentioned below in Chapter 3, the book (which Orwell stressed was ‘unusual’), certainly made a lasting impression on him, and almost certainly had an influence on Orwell’s work.

Hunger and Love attracted rather more negative criticism from Stephen Garry’s article in the Daily Worker; at the time, ‘socialist realism’ (though not used as an expression until about 1932) was all important to the Communist Party of Great Britain’s approach to fiction, although the degree of its inclusiveness of ‘acceptable’ authors varied considerably through the years.17 Garry’s article seems to represent the fierce strain of criticism of the time; he has obviously realized that the novel is largely autobiographical, and taking the cue from Britton he addresses him as the dead Arthur Phelps, playing on the word ‘dead’ to mean unthinking, and using the second person throughout. In a manner rather similar to the first section of Bennett’s review, although without any admiration — this is parody rather than pastiche — Garry begins with: ‘And so, Arthur Phelps, my boy, you are dead! And no wonder!’18 Garry has understood the book well, and his main argument is that if Phelps/Britton had spent more time in ideological struggle instead of forming lofty ideas about utopia, he would have arrived at the ‘correct’ way of thinking.

But interestingly, if the Communist Party of Great Britain (via the Daily Worker) did not approve of Hunger and Love, other reviewers on the left certainly did, and it is significant that one of the most enthusiastic reviews of it was in in the anarchist weekly Freedom. After giving his appreciation of the late Arnold Bennett, ‘B. M.’ says that ‘Lionel Britton’s work is fated to arouse violent and acrimonious discussion and resentment. People who are positive and have something to say infuriate authority’.19 The reviewer continues: ‘In my view it is a work of genius and of high literary quality.’ And his final words on Britton’s book are similar to Russell’s: ‘I cannot too strongly urge the claims of this book upon you.’

Another person on the left, J. F. Horrabin, calls Britton’s book ‘A Real Proletarian Novel’, and is almost as enthusiastic as ‘B. M’. He thinks that Britton should have done some editing of the book because he appears to have unloaded all the fruits of his self-education into it in a haphazard fashion, but says that it is ‘dead right in observation, magnificent in passion. Let no one be frightened off reading it by anything I have said above’.20

The Marxist Philip Henderson was also impressed: ‘Britton has written a work of undisciplined, elemental power. Its protest against the moral degradation that makes human life dependent upon possession of money, stands out like a huge volcanic rock in the polite literary world of our time’.21 Henderson claims that Britton’s depiction of Phelps ‘gives his work the quality of an epic’, and also mentions Bennett for having ‘the courage to hail the book as a work of genius’, but disagrees with him saying that Hunger and Love is better than Ulysses. Unfortunately, he does not give his source, although Bennett certainly said neither of these things in his Evening Standard review.

Geoffrey West’s review of Hunger and Love in the Times Literary Supplement is also highly complimentary, speaking of Britton’s ‘ambitious attempt to synthesize all relevant knowledge in a single coherent attitude to society and the universe at large’.22 He concludes: ‘Mr. Lionel Britton has written a remarkable work; if the term “work of genius” is due to originality in purpose and plan, to industry and vitality in execution on a large scale, then it is difficult to withhold it from “Hunger and Love.”’

Another very positive review of Hunger and Love, and certainly one of the last in a newspaper, was by the above mentioned George Rees in the Egyptian Gazette. In this, he understands Britton’s aim as being to destroy the status quo and begin an egalitarian society, and is obviously in full agreement with him. He is annoyed that the Book Society omitted it from their monthly bulletin, and like Britton, he rails against ‘the bourgeoisie and their system of plunder’ with apparently equal — and personally felt, the reader is bound to conclude — venom:

'One can understand now, perhaps, why the Society refused to recommend this novel; why, also, the fatly comfortable Gerald Goulds and James Agates have utterly ignored, in their recapitulation of the year’s best books, a work of striking beauty and originality'.23

Finally, a word must be said about Bertrand Russell’s Introduction to the novel. Russell calls Hunger and Love ‘a very remarkable piece of work’, ‘filled with a splendid rage against the humbug, the cruelty, and the moral degradation of the possessing classes’.24 He has doubts about Britton’s vision working in practice, but ends by saying that ‘Mr. Britton has portrayed his world with passion, with vividness, with a wealth of illustrative detail, and with a considerable power of generalising thought. […] I am convinced that his book deserves to be widely read’ (p. xi). Russell was one of the very few people who had any idea of how much effort had been put into the book, and one of the few to know that a considerable effort had also been put into finding a publisher for it.

1Lionel Britton, letter, ‘Should Authors Be Paid?’, Everyman, 4 December 1930, [n. p.], [n. pg.], LBC, Box 12, Folder 10.

2[Geoffrey West], ‘Hunger and Love by Lionel Britton’, 19 February 1931, TLS, 131.

3H. P. J. Marshall, ‘Towards the Human: Lionel Britton — A New Force in the World of Thought’, New World, May 1930, p. 10, LBC, Box 12, Folder 11, (also Box 6, unnumbered folder); C. H. Norman, ‘The Revolutionary Spirit in Modern Literature and Drama — XII’, Saturday Review, 26 November 1936, p. 3, LBC, Box 12, Folder 10.

4George Rees, ‘An Epic of Hatred’, Egyptian Gazette, 28 January 1932, [n. pg.], LBC, Box 12, Folder 10.

5Bernard Shaw, letter to Sir Barry Jackson, 16 September 1929, LBC, Box 2, Folder.

6Hannen Swaffer, ‘Brain a Book Now’, [Daily Express], [1930], [n. pg.], in the possession of the present author.

7‘R. H. T.’, ‘Brain’, Manchester Guardian, 26 June 1930, [n. pg.], LBC, Box 13, Folder 15.

8Lyman Tower Sargent, British and American Utopian Literature, 1516–1985: An Annotated, Chronological Bibliography (Boston, MA: Hall, 1979; repr. New York: Garland, 1988), p. 188; Everett F. Bleiler, Science Fiction: The Early Years: A Full Description of More Than 3,000 Science-Fiction Stories from the Earliest Times to the Appearance of the Genre Magazines in 1930 (Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 1990), p. 85; John Clute and Peter Nicholls, eds, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (New York: St Martin’s Griffin, 1993; rev. 1995), p. 161; Anthony Ralston, Edwin D. Reilly and David Hemmendinger, eds, Encyclopedia of Computer Science, 4th ed (New York: Grove’s Dictionaries, 2000), p. 706; Adam Daly, ‘The Lost Genius of Lionel Britton’, Wormwood, 6 (2006), pp. 47–57; Winifred Holtby, Virginia Woolf (London: Wishart, 1932), p. 58.

9Frank Swinnerton, ‘A Hero of Colossal Cheek!’, [n. pub.], [n. pg.], LBC, Box 12, Folder 11.

10Rebecca West, ‘The Exasperating Egotism of Lionel Britton’, Daily Telegraph, 20 February 1931, [n. pg.], LBC, Box 12, Folder 11.

11Harold Nicolson, ‘Nightmare Novel of an Author Who “Likes to Snarl”’, Daily Express, 19 February 1931, [n. pg.], LBC, Box 12, Folder 11.

12John A. Lee, Children of the Poor (London: Laurie, 1934; repr. Henry, 1949), front cover of dust jacket.

13‘J. L. L.’, ‘Hunger and Love: By Lionel Britton’, Johannesburg Sunday Times, 19 April 1931, [n. pg.], LBC, Box 12, Folder 10.

14Arnold Bennett, ‘Young Man’s Novel Slaps Your Cheek: Ferocious Hatred’, Evening Standard, 26 February 1931, [n. pg.], LBC, Box 18, Folder 3.

15Lionel Britton, ‘Caution to the Reader’, [n. d.], LBC, Series II: Drafts, Box 2, Folder 1.

16The Complete Works of George Orwell, ed. by Peter Davison, 20 vols (London: Secker & Warburg, 1986–1998; rev. and updated 2000), A Patriot After All: 1940–1941, pp. 203–05. (Originally published as ‘Poverty — Plain and Coloured’ by ‘Eric Blair’, Adelphi, April 1931, pp. 80–82.)

17Andy Croft, Red Letter Days: British Fiction in the 1930s (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990), pp. 59–95.

18Stephen Garry, ‘“Hunger and Love”: The Story of a DEAD Worker’, Daily Worker, 28 March 1931, [n. pg.], LBC, Box 12, Folder 10.

19‘B. M.’, ‘Books to Buy’, Freedom: A Journal of Libertarian Thought, Work and Literature, May 1931, pp. 6–7.

20J. F. Horrabin, ‘“Hunger and Love”: A Real Proletarian Novel’, Plebs, September 1931, pp. 210–11 (p. 211).

21Philip Henderson, Literature: And a Changing Civilisation (London: John Lane the Bodley Head, 1935), pp. 143­–44.

22‘Hunger and Love by Lionel Britton’.

23‘An Epic of Hatred’.

24Bertrand Russell, Introduction, Hunger and Love, pp. vii–xi (p. vii).

(Hereafter all page references to Hunger and Love are given in parentheses following the quotation.)

13 February 2009

The Work of Lionel Britton: Chapter 2: What Lionel Britton Is Up To

The Open University has now put my entire thesis online, which makes it much easier to read - without the lost attributes - here.
Please note, though, that the final paragraph of the second Introduction has now been found to be completely incorrect: Lionel Britton, the writer of Hunger and Love, never wrote a will: The University of Texas got the wrong Lionel Britton!

I have adapted the title of this chapter from ‘What Evolution Is Up To’, one of Lionel Britton’s chapter titles in Hunger and Love, as an indication that the content essentially concerns the long evolution of his novel. I discuss the problems that Britton had completing his work, the difficulties he had with publishers, how and why he changed Hunger and Love from its earliest surviving state through to the first edition, and conclude with Britton’s attitude to censorship.

The history of Hunger and Love is relatively long, and the first point to be borne in mind is that, although it was published in the early 1930s, it is in fact a work of the 1920s. A typewritten two-thousand-word biography of Britton by his P.E.N. friend Erik (later anglicized to ‘Eric’) Warman claims that the novel took a total of eight years to complete, adding: ‘About a quarter of this time was given over to revision for he is not easily satisfied with his work. Usually he expects to retain and revise a manuscript for at least a year after it is finished’1 Britton’s own comments on this subject strongly indicate that revision was of constant importance to — and difficulty for — him. In a letter to his close friend Sinead Acheson, Britton writes about explaining to Bernard Shaw the problems he had with a later book:

'He asked me how I was getting on and I told him things were a bit difficult because I took so long over everything, and the trouble was that I learnt as I went along, and by the time I’d spent a year over a work I knew so much more than I did at the beginning that I had to start all over again'.2
In some typewritten autobiographical notes, Britton appears to take his problem lightly, saying that the German edition of Hunger and Love was ‘so long translating, owing to Lionel Britton trying to get the translators to write it his way instead of theirs, that the Nazis won the race and it never appeared’.3 (He would of course have been unaware that Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists had been cut by about half its original length by Jessie Pope for Grant Richards, but Britton’s reaction can be imagined.)

Britton himself, then, was obviously to a large extent responsible for the delayed publication of his work, but this was also partly because he was obsessed with the question of it being his own work, as opposed to how others wanted it to appear. As Warman notes of the British edition of Hunger and Love, publishers ‘wanted to shorten it […] or to make it respectable, or both’. Britton’s response to the publishers was: ‘you don’t want to publish my book, […] you want to publish something that is not my work at all’.4 This remark is important to any understanding of Britton’s stance towards authorial possession: his words were virtually the only thing he owned, and he was not prepared to allow the dominant class to take them from him. Aware of the anarchist Proudhon’s dictum, Britton believed that property is theft; he considered his words to be part of his existential integrity, and believed self-expression to be more important than the publication of an inauthentic work. Anyone wanting to interfere with his writing is seen as directly attacking his life. His ideas belong not only to himself but to the people of the future: if the bourgeoisie changed his novel in any way, that property would in effect be stolen. It is in this context that the following outburst in the Clarion should be read, rather than as a violent threat: ‘Cut it for me, would they? I wonder how they would like me to cut their throats?’.5 It is almost as though the narrator of Hunger and Love, during one of his more extreme outbursts, has gained control for a moment. The paragraph below, written in a letter to Herbert Marshall shortly before the publication of Hunger and Love in the U. S. A., and concerning its future North American publication by Harper, gives a clear picture of Britton’s concerns:

'Harper’s man couldn’t bind himself over this side to have the book printed verbatim in [the] U.S.A. so I had to insert a clause in the agreement that I could refuse to give them the book unless they did. Very much disturbed about it. Didn’t like the great Harper’s being dictated to over a first novel. Never before happened in their experience. I told him it was an unusual first novel. Didn’t half make him wild.'6

Apart from the typesetting, there do not appear to be any differences between the British and the American edition: it seems that Britton’s wishes were respected.

Constable had already experienced Britton’s hostile attitude to cutting when they were considering publishing Hunger and Love in Britain. They had sent him a list, more than four pages long, of deletions they considered necessary before publication could begin. Some of their objections were, or at least purported to be, purely factual — any mention of Baldwin’s pipe in the Edwardian era was anachronistic, the expression ‘piddle complex’ was inaccurate because ‘a dog does this to find his way home. No complex; common-sense’, and they affirmed that Darwin had withheld publication of Origin of Species ‘in order to make his hypothesis water-tight’ rather than to make more profit, as Britton had claimed.7 They also disliked Britton’s repetitions and found his long philosophical digressions unnecessary. In all, they wanted to cut the typescript by about a quarter. Financial considerations obviously entered into their thinking because, at over seven hundred pages, Hunger and Love was very long as well as unusual. Britton began to write his responses to the required deletions. To the instruction ‘omit notes and preface’, he wrote that the notes were ‘never intended’, to the question ‘is distribution necessarily destructive?’ he wrote ‘No of course not’, and then simply wrote ‘No’ to all the required omissions on the rest of the page. It seems that at the beginning he was responding defensively and argumentatively, but he did not trouble himself to make a response to any of Constable’s requirements on the following pages: he had already read enough. And Michael Sadleir’s letter to Britton the following month confirms that, as a result of a long conversation between Britton and Constable’s Mr Tilby at the Constitutional Club, the publishers had withdrawn their provisional acceptance of Hunger and Love.8 C. E. M. Joad said of Britton, ‘Like most geniuses, he has refused to alter so much as a line, a colon, or a comma of his work’.9 Britton became noted for his attitude, to such an extent that most newspaper articles about him (and there were many: Britton made very good copy) would usually mention this refusal to delete anything. One newspaper had as a sub-title of one of its articles ‘Lionel Britton, the Author Who Won’t Be “Cut”’.10

On Britton’s death in 1971, Herbert Marshall repeated this story in a press release duly quoted in the regional newspaper: ‘He would not allow a single comma to be altered from his original text, so eventually quarrelled with his publisher, who refused to publish the vast, lengthy work without some editing and thus it remained until his very death.11 Nevertheless, in one newspaper article, Britton had attempted to dispel the myth that he never listened to advice on cutting his work, stating that he had written Spacetime Inn eight times and had ‘altered and cut it in the light of criticism received from friends’.12 It was the perceived arrogance of publishers that Britton was railing against, because they represented the bourgeois profit world that he so detested.

When Britton told Putnam about Constable’s rejection of his novel, it appears that he only mentioned their objection to the size of the book because Constant Huntington tells him: ‘of course, when people were holding pistols at your head to make you cut it, just on the ground of bulk, as the price of acceptance, you naturally dug yourself in and resisted to the death’.13 But Hunger and Love, of course, did not die. This was Huntington’s third letter to Britton, and Putnam had agreed — initially apparently unconditionally and without argument — to publish the manuscript in the same state as Britton had given it to them, but subject to any emendations he chose to make. Britton was evidently making final revisions to Hunger and Love about the time of Huntington’s letter, and there is even a comment on it in the published book, where the narrator says ‘I did this lying on my belly in Green Park in shirtsleeves in 1930, revising a manuscript written nearly four years before’ (p. 492).

And Putnam, or Huntington to be more exact, believed that Hunger and Love was an exceptional work. Before Russell wrote his Introduction to the book Putnam were apparently considering one of their own, written by Huntington. Several introductory pages have survived, and although the end is missing they contain at least two thousand words full of portentous praise: ‘The author himself has not called the book a novel, though he plainly regards it as the starting-point of something new in literature, and perhaps as the beginning of that new development to which the novel must finally come’.14

No part of the first draft of Hunger and Love survives. In an article in a 1934 issue of Pitman’s Journal of Commercial Education Britton reveals, ‘Hunger and Love was written in shorthand mostly in buses or at Lyons. I am sorry to say I destroyed the original MS. There was such a lot of it, and life was difficult in those days’. 15 However, excluding a bound proof copy which is almost identical to the final copy (hereafter FC), the LBC holds two other pre-publication copies in different states. The later one is a double-spaced mimeograph (hereafter MG) that Putnam sent Britton in three separate volumes16 It contains a few revised chapter titles, a number of deletions (sometimes where Britton is unclear about specific factual details), additions, and a very large number of changes in punctuation; otherwise, it is quite close to the FC, and there is no difference between the chapter titles in the MG, the revised MG (hereafter MG(R)), or the FC. Britton’s typescript (hereafter TS) is an earlier single-spaced draft that contains many differences from the FC, including many changes to the content and a number of chapter title alterations.17 Sometimes, Britton appears to be unsure about chapter titles, so omits them when typing and later adds them in pencil, or occasionally he crosses out typewritten titles and inserts new ones. There are thirty-six chapters in the TS and forty-two in the FC.

I now analyse several chapter title changes between the TS and the FC, suggesting reasons for them. Appendix 1 contains details of all title changes, including differences in punctuation where significant.

Chapter 1 of the TS, as in the FC, is entitled ‘The Rat Comes Out of his Hole’. However, the chapter title list (being the only prelim of the TS, and which was compiled at several different dates) refers to an earlier title, ‘Pot’erbs, Poetry and Smells’, which seems to encapsulate Arthur’s life adequately.18 There is the poetry and the literature he is maniacally reading in his pursuit to ‘get a mind’, the pot herbs he sells in the greengrocer’s and the pervasive unpleasant smells of his lodgings and the streets he wanders around. Superficially, the original title perhaps seems superior to the new one, although the rat leaving his hole — an image also used at the end of Animal Ideas — represents the first movement towards the slow evolution to a new civilisation. Throughout Hunger and Love, animal imagery is used for the representatives of British society, as they in turn, Britton believes, treat the working classes like animals. Arthur is an example of those classes, and his frantic attempts to educate himself are a huge effort to change his lowly status to one higher up the evolutionary scale. ‘The Rat Comes Out of his Hole’ is consequently a very appropriate title for the beginning of the novel.

Chapter 3 was originally entitled ‘The Sack. And Paradise’ (TS(R) pp. 18–34), and is among several other chapter titles added in pencil after the chapters had been typed. Later, however, Britton crossed out ‘And Paradise’ to create a new chapter, ‘Paradise’, on page 25. The point at which the chapters are separated corresponds exactly to the divisions between ‘The Sack’ and ‘Columbus of the Mind’ in the FC (TS pp. 12–21, FC pp. 22–35). It is not difficult to understand why Britton made this decision because these two chapters are strongly autobiographical and represent an important turning point in Britton’s and Arthur’s intellectual education: this is a fictional representation of the time that Britton was dismissed from his employment at the greengrocer’s and started work at the University Book Co., when he more fully immersed himself in the world of books.19 This was when Britton became acquainted with the penny dumps on the book barrows in Farringdon Road, although the date is slightly later in the novel. The change of chapter title is also significant. ‘Paradise’ may emphasize the narrator–protagonist’s feelings, but perhaps the religious connotations are too strong for an atheist like Britton, and ‘Columbus’ indicates the exploratory task Phelps is undertaking. And the finally revised title allows Britton to insert the crucial word ‘Mind’, being the second of three chapter titles towards the beginning of the book which contain that word.

The chapter title change from ‘x and y’ to ‘Nose Drip and Knowledge’ is also significant. Whereas ‘x and y’ presumably merely refer to Arthur’s early struggles with algebra, the signification becomes extended to the learning process in general with the word ‘Knowledge’, incorporating the many other areas of education which Phelps is battling with. The ‘Nose Drip’ also brings in the human element, with Phelps not only mentally battling to learn but battling with the elements in the winter as his cold hands hold a book on his way back from a publisher after having collected some books for the shop. It is an enduring image and a striking one that many critics were left with after finishing the book. For Britton, it was an image of himself that would not leave him, and it is significant that the title, as it were, fleshes Arthur out more.

Two chapter title alterations are an indication of the movement towards colloquialization which is such an important issue in the difference between the content of the TS and the FC. ‘Knackered’ and ‘Love in the Lavatory’ were originally entitled ‘Where We Stand’ and ‘W. C.’ respectively. ‘Knackered’, although now an inoffensive slang word, would perhaps have been thought slightly risqué in the 1930s. Here, the reader is clearly intended to see an analogy between Arthur and the blinkered carthorse walking along the well-trodden path of trade. But what makes the title ‘Knackered’ so effective is that the signification operates on three levels: firstly the horse is being taken to the knacker’s yard, secondly this is because it is ‘knackered’ (or terminally exhausted), and finally there is also in the title, as in the text itself, an allusion to the horse’s neutered testicles (or ‘knackers’). Linked to this is the understood but unwritten analogy between the lack of sexual potency of the horse and the virtual celibacy of the unmarried working classes which Britton saw imposed by the dominant ideology.

Finally, the original chapter title ‘Dans Cette Galère’ alludes to the expression ‘Que diable allait-il faire dans cette galère?’, a well-known quotation from Molière’s Les Fourberies de Scapin once in common use to question the reason why someone should find himself or herself in a particularly unpleasant situation.20 Louis MacNeice, for instance, used a similar expression in 1928 in a postcard to ‘one of [his] fellow Old Marlburians’ during a tedious liner cruise with his father.21 Britton’s appropriation of the expression for a chapter title is interesting; ‘galère’ is French for a sailing galley, and can be used figuratively to indicate an unfortunate situation, originally that of a galley slave: Britton appears to be underlining the fact that Arthur is a ‘slave’. But perhaps he abandoned the idea of using it because he thought it nevertheless sounded too pompous, and Herbert Marshall’s pre-publication comments on the novel, in an article in New World written in the style of Britton himself, gives the best explanation of the effectiveness of the change of chapter title to the simpler, and far more direct, ‘Why?’: ‘you don’t want disease, unemployment, unhappiness, repression of your urgings and your love. But THEY HAPPEN. They are CAUSED! […] In the name of the human race, WHY?’.22

All in all, the chapter titles indicate a move away from the academic and towards the more colloquial. They emphasize what Britton is doing to the book as a whole: they reflect a use of English more attuned to the working-class experience of it. And the titles are also a little mischievous: there is far more to Arthur than desperate bookishness and anger with the status quo, and Hunger and Love is filled with passages of mischief and humour as well as anger.

To move to the text itself, the overall impression the TS gives is of a patchwork, something to which Britton was continually making amendments. Some pages have obviously been added, some have been removed and retyped, and a number of pages — often used with either a different typewriter ribbon or a different state of the same ribbon — consist of two or three pieces of paper glued together. The largest number of added pages makes up the chapter ‘Romance and Reality’, which Britton wrote after the other chapters, and this concerns how the narrator sees ways in which the Establishment masks the truth from the population.

It is evident from all of this, then, that the TS was constantly evolving, with Britton making frequent alterations by deleting old paragraphs or pages and inserting new ones, although not necessarily in the same places. There is much in Hunger and Love which is autobiographical, so much that, apart from the names of his characters, it is sometimes difficult to know what is fictional. But the reader discovers almost nothing of Arthur’s life before the book begins. One very good reason for this is that Britton was consciously writing a ‘working-class’ novel, which will be discussed in the next chapter. In order to make Arthur’s working-class credentials watertight, and to highlight the gradual process of his education, Arthur more or less starts from an educational tabula rasa. The passage below provides an obvious example of Britton excising an incongruous reference to Arthur’s past. Near the beginning of the TS he deleted several paragraphs which deal with Arthur from a particularly personal angle, and an example of the differences between the TS and the TS(R) is shown below:

'The cause of his general loneliness, so far at any rate as male friends went, was simply that he was rather more intelligent than his fellows {& that his parents, while they lasted, had been better off }; such chance acquaintances as he made were lacking in sympathy, and remained casual. Society makes very little provision for "society" in his class […]' (TS(R), p. 21). There is no mention of Arthur’s parents in the FC.

One of the principal differences between the TS and the FC is in the punctuation: in the TS, Britton tended to use long, sprawling sentences punctuated by semicolons, colons and/or commas. While correcting the MG, though, he began excising a large number of ‘accidentals’ in order to create more sentences. The following passage, with a comparatively short sentence for Britton, is a typical illustration of his former style, where Arthur discusses his greengrocer employer:

'He did not feel the awe he was intended to, but sometimes he felt envy; he had rather an honest turn of mind, but there were times when he felt he would have liked to buy dear and sell cheap for himself; and when you became Mayor you could swank like hell' (TS p. 4).23

Ignoring the obviously incorrect order of ‘dear’ and ‘cheap’ (which Britton later corrected) and the interesting transformation from third to second person (a device of Britton’s which I shall comment on later), in the MG(R), as in the FC, each comma and semicolon is replaced by a full stop: from one sentence, five are created (FC p. 4).

Also part of the revision process is the breaking up of a large number of long paragraphs to turn a single line, phrase, or word into a whole paragraph, along with the creation of many one-word sentences. The general content of the consecutive paragraphs below exists in the TS, but does not appear in the same form in the FC:

'They did you out of the sun.
They gave you eight more shillings a week.
Girls there used to be in that other shop.
You were middle class now.
"Boy" then' (FC p. 270).

Here there are five separate facts springing into Arthur’s consciousness, five details broken into short, separate lines. One of the effects of this is to aerate the text, to create a greater impression of readability.

The rest of this chapter involves the changes in the ‘substantives’ from the TS to the FC. In spite of the many differences between these two states, there is no significant difference in word count between the single-spaced four-hundred-and-fifteen-page TS and the seven-hundred-and-five-page FC. In the interests of legibility — Britton was a rather poor and often erratic typist — all obvious typographical errors (he very rarely made any obvious orthographical ones) in all quotations I give have been silently corrected, although I have retained all the original punctuation.

Occasionally, Britton writes an ambiguous passage and corrects it later: for instance, he writes the sentence ‘The old man used to look in now and again, and then it seemed he was always in the way’ (TS p. 3). In the FC, ‘he’ is changed to ‘Arthur’ for clarity of understanding. Sometimes, changes are made where formerly there was clumsiness, such as ‘nd so you pass/ {You go} out/,/ into London’ (TS p. 227, FC p. 334). On many more occasions, the changes are purely aesthetic. In the following example, the original sentence was grammatically accurate and unambiguous, but here it is improved: ‘Less work for you /to do/, less trouble for me’ (TS p. 7, FC p. 8); the simple omission of two brief words creates a more symmetrically structured pattern. To take another example, one paragraph in the TS simply begins ‘Trodden off by feet’ (TS p. 156). The sentence is retained in the FC, but in front of it Britton later inserts: ‘And down here the pavement wears and is replaced, wears and is replaced again’ (FC p. 217). This is almost poetic in its rhythmic repetition. The emphasis is on the slow movement of time and its effects, which is one of the themes of the book as a whole.

Study of both the TS and the FC shows that there are many examples of emendations which attempt to use a more everyday language, such as when a sentence concerning the grocer’s shop is changed: ‘unless there were string bags /in evidence/{about }’ (TS p. 3, FC p. 4). ‘In evidence’ sounds a little incongruous, too formal for the occasion, and certainly too formal for Arthur. A similar emendation appears later: ‘A certain slight sense of his environment /percolated/ {oozed through} the upper crust of his consciousness’ (TS p. 9, FC p. 11). It is often impossible to distinguish the aesthetic changes Britton was making from the general colloqualizing of the text. Throughout the book, there are examples of this new style, in which, for example, ‘Youngster’ is changed to ‘kid’ (TS p. 4, FC p. 5), ‘head’ to ‘napper’ (TS p. 345, FC p. 589), and ‘Throw out your mouldy pennies!’ becomes ‘Throw out your mouldy coppers!’, with an obvious pun on a common slang term for policemen (TS p. 255, FC p. 381). When Arthur gets a half-holiday, his response in the later state is more in character with working-class speech: ‘By the Lord, this was aristocratic!’ (TS p. 26) becomes ‘Say, bo! can you beat it? This is life!’ (FC p. 23). The past tense has gone, the language invites reply, and the general effect is participatory. The effect of the colloquialization is to create a more credible — indeed a truer version of — Arthur.

Another example of the colloquialization is illuminating. In a passage in the TS which is without doubt autobiographical, and which is in the main omitted in the FC, the narrator explains his thoughts on religion:

'Having been forced in his ‘youth’ to go to church, the first act of his ‘manhood’ -- the freedom from restraint which comes of eating bread bought with one’s own money -- was to eschew, renounce and abandon all thought for or semblance of religion, as he imagined; at any rate, all conscious or willing obedience or respect' (TS p. 20).

The phrasing is certainly a little clumsy, therefore one of the reasons for excision, but the equivalent of this in the FC is very different and much blunter: ‘Arthur Phelps had had enough of religion at school. In common with all the other boys of the school he had pulled the plug on all willing obedience or respect’ (FC p. 16). The self-important, tautological language has been replaced, and ‘had enough’ and ‘pulled the plug’ are more direct and conversational than ‘eschew, renounce and abandon’. Britton’s thesaurus has its powerful moments, but this is not one of them. The consequences for the reader’s relationship with Arthur are plain — the narrator is speaking with his own (or rather Arthur’s) voice.

Another change is to give a greater impression of immediacy, of which the following is an example. In the TS:

'Going upstairs with his tin of Globe Polish in his hand, and his polishing rags, to do those infernal brasses, he saw a sixpence lying on the stairs. Where it came from, nobody knows to this day; it just lay there and shone, and he picked it up and put it into his pocket' (TS p. 58).

In the FC, this changes to:

'You are going upstairs with tin of Globe Polish and polishing rags to do those infernal brasses; and what is that on the stairs, Arthur, in that corner? That’s it! It’s a sixpence. I don’t know how it got there. You don’t know how it got there. It lay there and shone. You picked it up and put it in your pocket' (FC p. 65).

Of obvious significance here is that the narrator has changed his address to Arthur from the third to the second person. Furthermore, the narrator questions him, leads his gaze to the very spot where the sixpence lies; and Britton enhances this immediacy in a small way by adding exclamation marks (such as the one above) to his novel, but more importantly he devises other ways of developing the narrator’s depiction of Arthur. Repetition is one of the ways the narrator emphasizes his didactic points, how he shows that all learning (including evolutionary learning) is usually achieved through constant repetition, but repetition is also effective to emphasize a psychological point. In the above episode with the sixpence, the TS states ‘The truth is, that he was a thief’ (TS p. 58). Britton had obviously placed a comma in a rather unorthodox place to emphasize the fact ‘that he was a thief’, but the use of the comma-free repetition in the FC produces a more dramatic effect: ‘Thief thief thief thief thief thief’ (FC p. 65). The repetition can be read either as an insistent and direct mocking of Arthur by the narrator, or as part of the internal monologue. In this latter reading, it is the absence of commas that strengthen the sentence as the repetition of the word ‘thief’ brands itself into Arthur’s consciousness. Another notable use of repetition is in a much more positive context; in response to a statement from Sarner: ‘Arthur, I want you to take this parcel. Wait for the money’, which will take him out of the claustrophobic confines of the bookshop, the simple reaction of the Arthur of the TS is to think ‘Freedom!’ (TS p. 149). In the FC, though, Arthur is (at least mentally) rather more ecstatic: ‘Freedom, freedom, freedom! Open air. Freedom!’ (FC p. 207). The language here is more in keeping with the reality of Arthur’s enthusiasm, a more direct representation of what he thinks, and in the context is much more humorous.

The passage below is a clear example of another style of Britton’s:

'And here’s you, as cold as hell. Stuck up in /the/ shop all day, earning /someone else’s/ {old Sarner’s}living, nd having to/ hand{ing} over /the/ best books in /the/ shop{,} /to do it: books you really would like to have kept to have had a peep into yourself. Some/ great lout/,/ comes in{,} nd/ yanks ’em off. nd b/{B}y /the time/ dinner {time}/hour comes you/ have to use both hands to /help you to/hold /the/ pencil /to/ enter /them up/ in /the/ till-book{.}/;-- oh hell,/ {Ain’t } it /i s/ cold!' (TS p. 152, FC p. 212).

The movement of the revisions is towards the ‘head-line abbreviation’ Russell spoke of in the Introduction to the book, and the emendations are typical of the many thousands that became part of the FC (FC p. vii). In under one hundred words in the TS (later emended to about fifty in the FC), Britton has omitted the definite article six times, and ‘some’ and ‘he’ once. The two instances of ‘and’ become submerged in a more staccato narrative. The narrator says ‘oh hell, it is cold’ (Britton frequently uses spaced letters, as opposed to underscoring, to denote the use of italics) in the TS, although this is a little quaint and perhaps slightly artificial. The final version, ‘Ain’t it cold!’, with a colloquial rhetorical question replacing the pure statement of ‘it is’ seems to invite the reader into the narrative, the continuation of the exclamation mark in place of a perhaps strictly grammatically correct question mark again lending the passage a greater immediacy, charging it with a greater impact as the narrator moves away from the formality of language conventions. The use of the second person permits a greater flexibility, giving the narrator a more intensive access to the workings of Arthur’s mind than the use of the third person would have allowed. It also brings the reader more directly into contact with the protagonist.

Another paragraph also shows one extension of this editing process: ‘/You l/{L}ook at / phrase couple of times/, memorise /it/, nd then/ go about /the/ shop{,} do/ing the/ bourgeois job/;/{,} when /you’ve got the/ phrase thoroughly in/to your head/ {napper}, have another peep’ (TS p. 345, FC p. 589). In this passage, the reader’s perception of Arthur is caught up with the narrative style, and again the writing appears as if it expresses the way Arthur thinks. Britton has cut phrases to include only a minimum of words for intelligibility and deleted articles he believes to be superfluous. More importantly, the second person has been excised on three occasions. It is as though the narrator is merging with Arthur, making the passage read much more immediately than the previous one, and again this is an issue I shall deal with more fully in Chapter 5, on ‘Outsider Modernism’.

A final example of the above phenomenon is in the ‘Why?’ chapter. In the course of an ‘open-air parliament’ at Speakers’ Corner, when asked which authority Arthur’s views come from, the narrator transgresses the conventional sentence structure, even to the point of taking the clipped nature of his usual remarks to greater extremes. He asks four questions in a short space:

'What mean, authority? Will what say be different if stick name on? Same after as before. Give name,—how know name said what you said? or if say,— how know name mean what you meant? If not reasonable out own head, no use out someone else’s' (FC p. 286).

This is a variation of the ‘head-line abbreviation’, and again despite the truncation no meaning is lost but the writing is more casual in effect and more idiosyncratic. Also, by excising most of the pronouns, there is again a tendency for the language to merge into a vague oneness. And the voice that Britton arrives at through the revision process seems fresher than the slightly stilted use of the former narrative voice in the TS. Frequently, as Britton changed the wording of Arthur’s reactions to his appalling life, the anger intensifies.

As Britton wrestles with the process of colloquializing Hunger and Love, of investing it with more linguistic freedom, he is moving away from the self-consciously literary writing of the early days of the novel, and the sniping at institutions intensifies. Interjections are part of the sniping, and Britton frequently uses them, perhaps in the form of a sentence, a phrase or simply a single word added to the original TS. For example, in the TS he asks, ‘[W]hat’s the structure of society got to do with you?’ (TS p. 253), to which he later adds ‘Haven’t you got your nose-bag?’ (FC p. 376).

Putney Hill is one of Arthur’s Sunday haunts, where he goes during the brief time that he has free. And at the end of his day the intensified anger between the TS and the FC is quite evident, as in this example: ‘/Going/{You are coming }down Putney Hill, /night coming on;/{homewards to the rent-sneaks, } tradewards/./ {to the profit-sneaks, away from freedom, the open-air and life; the sun has gone, and night has come on}’ (TS p. 163, FC p. 229). His anger obviously grew as he relived the scene through the revision process, and the additions are a major improvement: the reader is given Arthur’s opinions about landlords and his boss, and can form an accurate idea of his growing resentment towards the injustice of society.

Sometimes, the narrator’s additions to the FC are casually bitter and cynical, as when he contemplates his boss Murdoch’s annual earnings, where he adds two sentences:

'/Twenty-/{Two thousand }five hundred pounds is quite a lot/,/{.} /but then the man really does nothing for it and it doesn’t strike/{Yet somehow it never struck} you as a lot/,/ because it is /so/ very little /in comparison with the/{for an} income/s/ of the do-nothing class/;/{. You took it as natural. Isn’t that what you went to Sunday School for? }. (TS p. 225, FC p. 330).

Religion is seen as the opium of the working classes, designed to control by stupefaction. Britton’s targets vary around the same circle, and very often the narrator finds something to add to an observation, and this is more often than not a howl of abuse aimed at the Establishment. Where a comment might be very bluntly — almost neutrally — expressed in the TS, in the FC it is much more fully developed.

To give a more recent example, an episode in the working-class writer James Kelman’s A Disaffection (1989) clearly shows in a few sentences the kind of transformation that was taking place in Britton’s typescripts. In disillusionment, the protagonist Patrick Doyle abandons his job as a schoolteacher; in many ways he is tired of his current life, but above all he is tired of leading it according to the rules of the Establishment. As he parks his car on his way to visit his brother, something happens to the narrative voice:

'He patted the car bonnet en route to the pavement where he proceeded to traverse the flagstones up the stairs and into the closemouth. Traversed the flagstones up the stairs and into the bloody closemouth. Is this fucking Mars! Traversed the fucking bastarn [sic] flagstones onto the planet fucking Vulcan for christ sake’'.24

Patrick is depressed and angry, and becomes even angrier when he finds himself adopting the middle-class discourse, using expressions such as ‘en route to’ and ‘proceeded to traverse’. The comments that follow disrupt this artificiality or pretentiousness and introduce a working-class discourse into the narrative: in so doing, the movement is away from a world which to the narrator appears be on another (even non-existent) planet. Britton is doing a very similar thing, although unlike Kelman he had more difficulties with the censors.

Britton was very much aware of the presence of the censor, and his opinion of the censorship of stage nudity, for example, is plainly expressed in a stage note in Brain. More than a century before, Martin Shee spoke of making changes to his play Alasco (1824) as of someone ‘cooking his conceptions to the taste of authority’.25 Britton, especially as one who compared books to mind food, would have sympathized with this view: he saw the taste of authority as extremely bitter, which is clear from the following stage direction digression in Brain:

'[A young man] is quite naked, but owing to a convention obtaining to-day among town councillors and clergymen that other people’s bodies are also obscene, the actual player will presumably be wearing skin tights. The implied insult to the rest of the world does not come from the author, nor, I should think, from any management courageous enough to produce this play. In print, the man is naked'.26 The above comment also links with my comments on nakedness in Chapter 6.

Remaining on the subject of theatre censorship but even more relevant to Hunger and Love because this concerns Britton’s use of language, which was seen by some as offensive, a letter concerning a licence to perform Spacetime Inn at an unnamed location is indicative of both his tact, and at the same time of his reluctance to be censored. In answer to the Assistant Comptroller of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, granting him permission to stage the play if he omits a number of offending words, Britton agrees to replace five instances of the word ‘Christ’ with ‘gawd’, three ‘bastards’ and one ‘sods’ with ‘swine’’, and an ‘arse’ with a ‘bottom’. He then makes a few attempts at a kind of plea bargaining: he wonders if, having agreed to forsake a few ‘bastards’ for ‘swine’, the Examiner of Plays (the Lord Chamberlain’s appointee) will relent and allow him to use the word ‘bloody’ twice on two of the same pages because ‘It is a strong situation, and it becomes silly unless a strong word is used’.27 He also points out that the Examiner of Plays appears to have overlooked one mention of ‘sods’, and offers to delete it, only immediately to request that he be allowed to retain ‘bloody insides’ because ‘they really are bloody when they are torn out’. Such niceties appear farcical today, of course, and it is difficult —perhaps impossible — to imagine Britton taking his letter entirely seriously, but, along with its apparent good humour, it must have been written with considerable irritation, if not anger.

But this kind of bargaining was not particularly unusual during this period. The above is an example of the kind of stage censorship that existed in the UK until 1968, when the Lord Chamberlain’s Office was closed down. With Putnam and the novel Hunger and Love, Britton initially had no obvious problems with censorship, although — perhaps unsurprisingly — the book was banned in what was then the Irish Free State.28 The sensibilities of the reading public were not protected by an equivalent of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, and all of the words Britton was forced to delete from the stage performance of Spacetime Inn were, as in the book itself, included in Hunger and Love. The language in the novel was possibly a little strong for 1931, but not especially so, although it is quite clear that Britton exercised some degree of self-censorship: he knew that there were limits beyond which he could not go.

Certainly the ‘All Balls’ chapter received more criticism than any other. Warman teasingly refers to it as ‘a certain chapter’, and reveals that the printers were very squeamish about it. The MG contains a large number of blue and red pencil marks, often ticked down the margins, and is one chapter that Britton left virtually untouched in his revisions. According to Warman it was the printers who objected to the chapter, and claims that Britton then forced the publishers to find new printers.29 But that was still not the end of the matter; Putnam later raised objections to Britton’s insistence that they use chapter headers on each page:

'Had long argument with Putnam over ALL BALLS chapter heading. […] Putnam’s first tried to persuade me not to have chapter-headings at top of page. […] Then it came out that what they really wanted was not to have ALL BALLS on page after page. Very good selling point, the bloody fools. However, they thought it salacious and didn’t want make [sic] money that way. I sympathise with them so far, but me salacious!'.30 In the FC the chapter headers are not capitalized, but this is a minor detail because Britton took obvious delight in seeing ‘All Balls’ as a chapter header.

Britton used scarcely any censorship between the TS and the FC: on the contrary, he intensified the risqué language and the anger. He appears to have exploited Putnam’s more sympathetic disposition to the utmost, or at least to have taken it as far as he thought it would go. As examples of the intensification, he changed ‘godstruth!’ (TS p. 258) to ‘Bleedin’ Jesus’ (FC p. 386), and, with a possible allusion to Tressell, ‘ragged-eyed blighter’ (TS p. 203) becomes ‘ragged-arsed loungers and scroungers’ in a paragraph that includes the same compound adjective three times, along with ‘ragged-arsedness’ (FC p. 297). The paragraph below, which is highly critical of a number of figures of authority, does not exist in any form in the TS:

'All balls they are, and mankind is expected to do reverence to them. See this fellow here?—he’s a horse-hair wig; see that chap?—he’s a pipe; see this one?—he’s a stand-up collar; that chap’s an eyeglass; this one is a nickname, that one is an attitude. You look at them and wonder what they would do without their balls' (FC p. 379).

Figures of authority, as in the quotation from the ‘All Balls’ chapter above, clearly dwell in a metonymic universe according to Britton: they are figures of ridicule, having no more substance as human beings than the objects they are represented by. And by moving along his chamber of horrors, pointing out his exhibits in the process, Britton borders on the surreal. Perhaps the fact that the suggestions in the chapter that ‘All Balls’ referred to the pursuit of golf, rather than being Britton’s judgement of ‘respectable’ society as a whole (which it undoubtedly was), are the only things that allowed it through the censorship net.

Bishops, judges, mayors and teachers are all obvious targets, although in the TS there is hardly any mention of royalty in the book. Britton again appears to be fully aware of the limits of his attacks, or perhaps to be more exact of his publisher’s limits. That Britton detested the monarchy is without question — like the tramp, he considered everyone who did not have a bona fide occupation, by his understanding of the expression, to be a parasite. However, his absence of attack on the monarchy seems to be an intentional omission. There is no mention of the euphemistic ‘His Nibs’ in the TS, although Britton says in the FC: ‘Even His Nibs has to do something to keep alive at all — if it’s only breathe. […] If His Nibs doesn’t work he must have somebody to work for him. He couldn’t even write a cheque if somebody didn’t make the ink’ (FC p. 376). It seems reasonably clear that His Nibs is the king, although Britton has left sufficient ambiguity in the remark to permit it to pass any censor. In effect, though, these oblique references amount to self-censorship of the offending expressions, while at the same time the ambiguity is something he can hide inside, with impunity. Interestingly, the FC contains a sentence ‘We allow—how long shall we allow?—the disease blotches to represent mankind.’ In the corrected MG the question between the dashes above has been added, although a comment after ‘disease blotches’ ‘—kings, bishops, prime ministers—’ has been deleted (MG(R) p. 414, FC p. 238). There is no coloured pencil mark in the margin: the assumption must be that this is another example of Britton’s self-censorship. Perhaps the fear of another prison sentence — this time for treason — really was too much for him.

Putnam printed the manuscript verbatim, even incorporating Britton’s obvious typographical errors: there is, for example, a reference to ‘Stopford Brook’ as well as the correct ‘Stopford Brooke’, and ‘trouser’ is used twice for ‘trousers’ (FC pp. 39, 59, 131).

There are, then, a large number of differences between the early draft of the TS and the FC. One way in which Britton is altering the novel is aesthetically: the long sentences, often joined by semicolons or colons, now become separate sentences, infelicities of expression are altered, and Britton makes corrections to any factual inaccuracies. At the same time, he colloquializes his language. In so doing, he is creating a more lifelike and believable Arthur, someone whose thoughts appear on paper as though in segments as they are actually thought, and not in the artificial manner of a grammatically correct sentence. One remarkable difference between the language of the TS and that of the FC is the degree of intensity of the language itself, particularly the insults towards those in authority: Britton seems to be working towards the means in which to express a working-class voice.

1Erik Warman, ‘Life and Lionel Britton’, typescript, [1932 (?)], [pp. 2–3], LBC, Box 6, Folder 1.

2Lionel Britton, letter to Sinead Acheson, 26 October 1935, LBC, Box 2, Folder 12.

3Lionel Britton, ‘Lionel Britton’, typescript, p. [2].

4‘Life and Lionel Britton’, p. [3].

5Lionel Britton, ‘The Mind of a Ragamuffin’, Clarion, May 31, p. 139, LBC, Box 12, Folder 10.

6Lionel Britton, letter to Herbert Marshall, 5 December 1930, LBC, Box 2, Folder 3.

7S. Looker, letter to Lionel Britton, 19 December 1929, LBC, Box 2, Folder 2.

8Michael Sadleir, letter to Lionel Britton, 11 January 1930, LBC, Box 2, Folder 2.

9C. E. M. Joad, ‘Future of the Human Race: “Brain” — A Brilliant Dramatic Philosophy of Life’, Sunday Referee, 27 April 1930, [n. pg.], LBC, Box 12, Folder 11.

10Anonymous, ‘G. B. S. and Eve in a Play: The Audience Requested to Laugh at It: Road Smash Symbol: Lionel Britton, the Author Who Won’t Be “Cut”’, Star, 3 August 1931, [n. pg.], LBC, Box 12, Folder 10.

11‘Forgotten Genius Ends his Days at Margate’.

12Anonymous, ‘Mr. Shaw as a Critic: Cryptic Comment on Work of Fellow Author: Potted History’, [n. pub.], [n. d.], [n. pg.], LBC, Box 12, Folder 10.

13C. J. Huntington, letter to Lionel Britton, 2 June 1930, LBC, Box 2, Folder 3.

14[C. J. Huntington], ‘Hunger and Love’, typed Introduction (fragment), [c. 1930–1], LBC, Series II: Drafts, Box 2, Folder 2.

15Anonymous, ‘Mr. Lionel Britton’, Pitman’s Journal of Commercial Education, 2 June 1934, p. 395, LBC, Box 6, unnumbered folder.

16Lionel Britton, ‘Hunger and Love’, MG, Volume I, [n. d.], LBC, Series II: Drafts, Box 2, Folders 3–4; Lionel Britton, ‘Hunger and Love’, MG, Volume II, [n. d.], LBC, Series II: Drafts, Box 3, Folders 1–3; Lionel Britton, ‘Hunger and Love’, MG, Volume III (one of two), [n. d.], LBC, Series II: Drafts, Box 3, Folder 4; Lionel Britton, ‘Hunger and Love’, MG, Volume III (two of two), [n. d.], LBC, Series 2: Drafts, Box 4, Folder 1; Rebecca Gorski, ‘Scope and Content Note’, ‘Hunger and Love Materials’, p. 1, 2004, LBC.

17Lionel Britton, ‘Hunger and Love’, TS, [n. d.], LBC, Series II: Drafts, Box 4, Folders 2–3. Some emendations are made to the TS in pencil, and when referring specifically to these revisions I shall use the abbreviation TS(R). In discussing the different states of the novel, text within the double forward slashes // indicates an omission, and when used within the brackets { } indicates an addition.

18Lionel Britton, ‘Hunger and Love’ Series II: Drafts, p. [i ], Box 4, Folders 2–3.

19S. W. Heaton, letter of reference about Lionel Britton, 18 November 1918, LBC, Box 2, Folder 2.

20Molière, Les Fourberies de Scapin (Paris: D. Thierry, C. Barbin and P. Trabouillet, 1682; repr. Gallimard, 1978), Act II, Scene VII.

21Selected Prose of Louis MacNeice, ed. by Alan Heuser (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), p. 222.

22‘Towards the Human’.

23Lionel Britton, ‘Hunger and Love’ MG, p. 4, LBC, Series II, Box 2, Folder 3.

24James Kelman, A Disaffection (London: Secker & Warburg, 1989), p. 252.

25Dominic Shellard and Steve Nicholson with Miriam Handley, The Lord Chamberlain Regrets…: A History of British Theatre Censorship (London: The British Library, 2004), p. 4.

26Brain, p. 74.

27Assistant Comptroller [name obliterated], Lord Chamberlain’s Office, letter to Lionel Britton, 18 December 1933, LBC, Box 14, Folder 9; Lionel Britton, letter to Lord Chamberlain’s Office, 27 December 1933, LBC, Box 14, Folder 9.

28Anonymous, ‘Censorship Act: Latest List of Banned Books’, Cork Weekly Examiner, 14 March 1931, [n. pg.], LBC, Box 12, Folder 10.

29‘Life and Lionel Britton’, p. [3].

30Lionel Britton, letter to Herbert Marshall, 5 December 1930, LBC, Box 2, Folder 3.