Brendan Barrington, review of Jason Harding, The Criterion: Cultural Politics and Periodical Networks in Inter-War Britain (OUP 2000), 264pp., in The Irish Times (5 Oct. 2002), Weekend [q.p.]: extracts.

Can a literary magazine ever be anything more than a vehicle for the promotion of a coterie? Should it even try to be? Some of the most influential literary figures of the 1930s thought not.

“The eclectic is usually impotent; the alternative to eclecticism is clique-literature,” wrote Louis MacNeice in 1935. “The best poets of today belong to, and write for, cliques.”

Geoffrey Grigson, looking back in 1950 at his own journal, New Verse, praised it for avoiding ”that dotty inclusiveness, that mental masturbation which has come to be the character of ‘little magazines’”. And in 1980: “There is no excuse for such a magazine unless it promulgates the strong message of a new clique or group.”

MacNeice and Grigson flourished during a brief and fevered period. New Verse was launched in 1933 and ceased publishing in 1939, by which time its clique was no longer new, nor indeed any longer a clique. T. S. Eliot’s designs as a magazine editor were more ambitious, and required a more flexible, durable instrument.

“To be perpetually in change and development, to alter with the alterations of the living minds associated with it and with the phase of the contemporary world for which and in which it lives: on this condition only should a literary review be tolerated” – so wrote Eliot in the January 1927 issue of his journal, The Criterion , which appeared continuously from 1922 to, 1939.

[Jason Harding, The Criterion: Cultural Politics and Periodical Networks in Inter-War Britain (OUP 2000), 264pp.]

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