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276 ARTHUR MORRISON: A COMMENTARY WITH AN ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY OF WRITINGS ABOUT HIM By Robert Calder (University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon) In his introduction to the 1969 edition of A Child of the Jago, P. J. Keating points out that little is known of Arthur Morrison's life before the beginning of his career as an author in the early 1890s and that little is known of his years following his retirement from writing in 1911. The scant facts are that he was born in Poplar, in the East End of London, on 1 November 1863, the son of an engine fitter. In his early twenties, he was employed in the administration of the People's Palace, the charitable institution established by Walter Besant. Following a year as sub-editor of The Palace Journal, he worked for a West End evening newspaper in 1890, and then quit to become a free-lance journalist. In 1892, Morrison married Elizabeth Adelaide, and their only son, Guy, died in 1921. Morrison retired in 1913 to High Beech, Essex, and moved to Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire , in 1930. He died in Oecember 1945. BiographicalIy , he remains an obscure figure, and it is unlikely that a full account of his life will ever be written. In a similar way, little is known or acknowledged today about Morrison's literary achievements. While he became a controversial figure in the debate about realism in England in the 1890s, and although he was fairly widely reviewed, often favourably, the number of substantial critical studies of his writing is small. Since the end of his career, the only serious examinations of his work have been the few written by William C. Frierson, V. S. Pritchett, Jocelyn Bell, T. Harper Smith, Vincent Brome, and P. J. Keating. In literary surveys, if Morrison is recognised at all, it is, for example in Legouis' and Cazamian's A History of English Literature, more often than not merely in a footnote. Today, even in the academic world, he is little read or studied. The lack of critical consideration of Morrison is regrettable , and certainly surprising when one examines his writing. In a sense, he was a writer with three distinct areas of accomplishment, each differing enough from the others to seem to be written by another person. After beginning his career by publishing stories in Macmillan's Magazine , Morrison established his reputation with books about slum life—Tales of Mean Streets (1894) and A Child of the Jago (1896)--certainly his best work. But at the same time he was producing the Martin Hewitt detective stories, and, 277 while reviewers pointed out that they suffered by comparison with Poyle's Sherlock Holmes adventures, they praised their ingenious plots and well-wrought suspense. It has been suggested that Morrison is in fact better known today for these stories than for his slum writing. Finally, his two-volume study The Painters of Japan (1911) was widely praised as a pioneer work, and Morrison was for many years considered one of the most knowledgeable of European students of Oriental art. Largely because of its social implications, Morrison's slum literature usually generated an ambivalent reaction in reviewers: while admitting that he demonstrated considerable technical skill, critics often found his subject matter unacceptable . Tales of Mean Streets, a collection of stories which reveal the monotony and dreariness of slum life, was on the whole well received. Athenaeum found it "absolutely convincing," Bookman (London) called it "scrupulously truthful ," and Spectator wrote of its "great power." But while reviews praised Morrison's characterisation and sensitive observation of ghetto life, several journals regretted that he failed to show any happiness or positive aspects in working-class life. Spectator, for example, argued that he presented the worst East End characters as representative figures and that he ultimately interpreted slum life through the eyes of a middle-class outsider. It was A Child of the Jago, however, that earned Morrison the most notoriety. Once again his vigour, sympathy, economy of style, and vivid characterisation were praised. But, having admitted this, many reviewers went on to raise questions about the veracity of his slum pictures or the artistic justification for explicit scenes of violence...


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