John Lehmann’s New Writing
In 1936 at the age of 29 the poet John Lehmann (1907 - 1987) launched a new monthly literary journal, New Writing, which became the mouthpiece for a generation of writers that included Cecil Day Lewis, W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood. These writers, who were too young to have fought in the First World War but old enough to have been left deeply traumatized by it, felt themselves to be overlooked, misunderstood and ignored by the older generation and subsequently felt a keen sense of isolation.
Whereas Lehmann characterized the older generation as ‘sympathetic observers’ (his description of Virginia Woolf with whom he had a fraught artistic and business relationship at Hogarth Press), he believed the artist’s role was not merely to reflect, but also to actively participate in shaping political and social events. With New Writing he wanted to bridge the gap between the author and reader: to create 'an effective brotherhood border between victims of oppression' and the 'sense of broader comradeships.'
The inclusion within New Writing’s pages of biographies and photographic snapshots of the writers, and himself as editor, were an attempt by Lehmann to develop personas that he hoped would breed a sense of their familiarity among its readers. Photographic images, of not just the writers, also played an important part in his design. He used them to share art from home and abroad alongside scenes from everyday life in order to blur the lines of distinction between the two.
Although Lehmann recognized that he ultimately failed in his ambition to bring the writer and the reader closer together (and just as the magazine had turned its back on the previous generation, in 1950 it found itself snubbed by the one that followed), New Writing has been deservedly described as a 'collective masterpiece of a generation.'
The books in the photographs are Penguin paperback issues of volumes No. 5 (April 1941) and No. 32 (1947) that contain prose and poetry from C. Day Lewis, W.H Auden, Edith Sitwell and Lawrence Durrell. The magazine was initially published by Bodley Head and continued to appear sporadically in hardback format till 1946. Its move to Penguin in 1940, where it ran for 40 editions until 1950, no doubt, broadened its popularity and helped it to secure a reliable source of paper in a period of scarcity during the Second World War. Its first Penguin edition also contained the first publication of George Orwell’s essay Shooting the Elephant (1940).
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