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  • John Middleton Murry's Editorial Apprenticeships:Getting Modernist "Rhythm" into the Athenaeum, 1919–1921
  • Marysa Demoor

When Norman MacColl's thirty-year editorship of the Athenaeum ended in December 1900, there was little to indicate that this prestigious Victorian weekly had started a slow downward spiral drawn out through successive editors, changes in the cultural scene, and the war, all contributing to its inevitable demise in 1921. The next two editors, the fairly uninspiring Vernon Rendall (1901–1916) and the young socialist politician Arthur Greenwood (1917–1918), tried hard to keep the journal afloat in a period of rapid social change and in the context of explosive growth in the periodical press. Their efforts were not entirely fruitless: the journal did survive the war but only barely so. What studies of early twentieth-century literature and literary modernism have tended to overlook, however, are its final editor's efforts to revive this Victorian giant by modernizing its profile.1 This article aims to address that lacuna by considering the impact of John Middleton Murry's experience as the editor of Rhythm and its short-lived sequel, the Blue Review, on his editorship of the Athenaeum. Since Katherine Mansfield was closely involved in each of those editorships, her role in these ventures will be touched upon, though the primary focus will remain on Murry and Mansfield's ambitions for the journal itself rather than on their editorial collaborations.

Rhythm as a Prologue

Immediately after the war Arnold Rowntree, a wealthy chocolate manufacturer and philanthropist, purchased the Athenaeum and approached Middleton Murry about becoming its editor. Murry had acquired quite some experience and a reputation as an editor during the prewar years. He had edited and cofounded the very promising, new [End Page 123]

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Fig. 1.

The cover of Rhythm, Summer 1911

Cambridge University Library

[End Page 124]

literary journal Rhythm: A Quarterly of Modern Literature and Art, which appeared from Summer 1911 to March 1913 (Fig. 1). Rhythm's professed aims were set forth on the last page of the first issue (Fig. 2):

To treat what is being done to-day as something vital in the progress of art, which cannot fix its eyes on yesterday and live; to see that the present is pregnant for the future, rather than a revolt against the past; in creation to give expression to an art that seeks out the strong things of life; in criticism to seek out the strong things of that art—such is the aim of RHYTHM.

"Before art can be human it must learn to be brutal." Our intention is to provide art, be it drawing, literature or criticism, which shall be vigorous, determined, which shall have its roots below the surface, and be the rhythmical echo of the life with which it is in touch. Both in its pity and its brutality it shall be real. There are many aspects of life's victory, and the aspects of the new art are manifold.

To leave protest for progress, and to find art in the strong things of life, is the meaning of RHYTHM. The endeavour of art to touch reality, to come to grips with life is the triumph of sanity and reason. "What is exalted and tender in art is not made of feeble blood."

The overnight success of Rhythm turned Murry, then still an undergraduate, into something of a literary phenomenon: here was a new, unknown force on the literary scene who had started what looked like an energetic attempt at improving on the many existing and newly emerging reviews and magazines. Rhythm's manifesto extols an art that breathes movement, vigour, force, rebellion and revolt. In doing so, the editor actually anticipated the ambitions of Wyndham Lewis and Ezra Pound's vorticist-inspired Blast (1914). The journal prided itself on its numerous illustrations contributed for free by some of the most promising young artists: Jessie Dismorr, Pablo Picasso, Othon Friesz, Anne Estelle Rice and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, to name only a few. The art section was in the hands of the Fauvist painter John Duncan Fergusson. The cover displayed the stylized body of a naked woman and...


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pp. 123-143
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