O Times Literary Supplement (TLS) fez 100 anos
LE MONDE | 28.01.02 | 11h29
Les cent bougies du "Times Literary Supplement"
Le célèbre hebdomadaire littéraire britannique fête son premier siècle d'existence. Plusieurs générations d'intelligence, de rigueur, de curiosité intellectuelle et de débats.
Qui aurait dit, le 17 janvier 1902, en découvrant les 8 pages de supplément littéraire vendues avec le Times du jour, qu'il deviendrait une institution sans pareille ? Le Times Literary Supplement (TLS) est pourtant plus le fruit de circonstances économiques que le résultat d'un projet culturel.
La critique littéraire au début du XXe siècle avait pris énormément d'importance au point d'engorger les pages du Times qui, selon un avis à la "une" de ce 17 janvier là, décida "durant la session parlementaire, de faire paraître ce supplément aussi souvent qu'il sera nécessaire afin de tenir au courant ses lecteurs des plus importantes publications en cours".
En fait, cinq ans plus tôt, le Times avait déjà lancé un hebdomadaire littéraire de 32 pages, bourré de publicité et intitulé Literature, avec pour objectif de faire rentrer de l'argent : The Times se trouvait en mauvaise posture après avoir dû payer une énorme amende pour avoir publié des faux lors de la célèbre affaire Parnell (le député Charles Stewart Parnell avait été accusé à tort d'avoir participé à l'assassinat du secrétaire pour l'Irlande à Dublin, en 1888).
Literature n'avait pas atteint le but recherché et le directeur financier du Times, Charles Frederic Moberly Bell, cherchait un repreneur tout en envisageant de lancer un nouveau supplément, la vente du premier devant forcément précéder le lancement de l'autre. Il semble évident que, dès le départ, Moberly Bell avait l'intention de publier régulièrement ce supplément afin d'attirer de nouveaux lecteurs. Mais il ne pouvait pas décemment annoncer aux nouveaux propriétaires de Literature qu'il était en train de leur concocter un concurrent sérieux, et il devait encore négocier avec le rédacteur en chef du Times le fait d'introduire dans le quotidien un supplément gratuit. La légende veut donc que, bien que la session parlementaire se soit terminée, le supplément ait continué à paraître sans que la direction y ait prêté attention. Jusqu'à ce que le numéro du 19 février 1914 annonce fièrement que le TLS devenait indépendant du quotidien et serait vendu séparément pour 1 penny.
ORWELL, ELIOT, RUSHDIE...
Petit à petit, il a réuni sa propre équipe et, parmi eux depuis 1905, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, T. S. Eliot et, au fil des temps, Anthony Burgess, Gore Vidal, Anita Brookner, Camille Paglia, Salman Rushdie, Mario Vargas Llosa, Joseph Brodsky, Seamus Heaney ou Martin Amis. Les articles n'étaient pourtant pas signés et on débattait souvent dans les milieux littéraires pour savoir qui avait dit du bien ou du mal de qui.
Depuis le 7 juin 1974, cette pratique a été abandonnée et un livre paru en novembre, Critical Times : The History of the TLS, de Derwent May, riche par ailleurs en enseignement sur l'histoire des idées et de la littérature au XXe siècle, dévoile l'identité de la plupart des signataires (que l'on peut trouver également dans les archives payantes du site Internet du TLS). Le TLS (le sigle est apparu pour la première fois le 2 janvier 1969) s'est peu trompé dans sa longue carrière - il a toutefois raté Ulysse de Joyce -, a été fâcheusement admiratif des premières heures de Mussolini mais vigoureusement antinazi. Il traite aujourd'hui dans ses 48 pages de livres en anglais comme en langues étrangères. Le numéro du centenaire consacre ainsi un long article aux œuvres complètes de Jean-Pierre Brisset, ainsi qu'au livre que lui a consacré Marc Décimo.
Jean-Pierre Brisset, prince des penseurs, inventeur, grammairien et prophète, traite de poésie comme de politique, d'économie comme de sciences naturelles, de philosophie, d'histoire ou de religions, sans oublier les célèbres Quiz et mots croisés. Racheté en 1981 avec le Times par Rupert Murdoch, il est dirigé depuis 1990, par un ancien conseiller de Margaret Thatcher, Ferdinand Mount.
• ARTICLE PARU DANS L'EDITION DU 29.01.02
The Times Literary Supplement: Centenary Archive
‘A cultural history of the twentieth century’
The Times Literary Supplement (TLS) is a cornerstone of twentieth-century cultural history, a comprehensive witness to all the best thought and new writing over nearly a hundred years. Now students and researchers may retrieve the complete run of the world’s pre-eminent weekly review over the web.
An important enhancement of the web-based edition is that the identities of the contributors to the TLS, who were published anonymously until 1974, will be disclosed for the first time. Under a research program directed by Jeremy Treglown, a former editor of the TLS and now professor of English at the University of Warwick, UK, new writings and influential criticism of hundreds of the twentieth century’s most important writers and thinkers will be revealed to students and researchers.
By uniting the existing TLS Index, this newly researched information on contributors and enhanced retrieval software, Primary Source Media now reveals the complete editorial and advertising contents of the TLS from first publication in 1902.
All contributions are shown in the image format and full-page context in which they were originally published, and may be searched by Author, Title, Contributor name, Genre, and Date of Publication as well as by keyword making the TLS Online an ideal resource for those studying and researching in the areas of literature, philosophy, religion and cultural science.
Among the many research opportunities offered by the fully searchable archive of almost 250,000 reviews, letters, poems and other review materials are:
access to the special issues that analyze the current state of play in the major fields of religion, politics, history and more.
the reception history of an author, his/her writings, literary movements and controversies.
the identities of contributors, and the workings of the literary ‘establishment’.
The complete image database of the TLS from 1902 to 1985 will cumulate in segments released over the next two years. The issues for the years 1902-1939 will be released in June 1999; the period to 1959 will be completed by April 2000; and the period to 1985 (including the deanonymising of contributors prior to 1975) will be completed by December 2000.
Critics and crotchets
John Mullan reads Derwent May's Critical Times: The History of the Times Literary Supplement and finds that only the passing of time can judge literature reliably
Saturday January 12, 2002
Critical Times: The History of the Times Literary Supplement
606pp, HarperCollins, £25
It is difficult to imagine that Derwent May's affectionate history of the Times Literary Supplement could ever get a rough ride from reviewers, for all of us are likely to hold the paper in the same affection as its historian. The book may be an official history, commissioned by the publishers of the TLS to accompany its centenary (its first issue appeared on January 17 1902); the author may even bravely own up to the personal encouragement of Rupert Murdoch. Yet so successful has the journal been at offering a space for unpartisan appraisal - and at recruiting all intelligent trouble-makers for its own pages - that May's consensual geniality is impossible to resent.
The most important thing that May's history makes clear is how much the traditions of the TLS (disinterestedness, catholic tastes, a certain severity of manner) owed to one man, Bruce Richmond. May rightly sees Richmond, who took over from the first editor, James Thursfield, after only a few months and remained in charge for 35 years, as one of the great figures of 20th-century literary culture. Fastidious, idealistic and gifted with what T S Eliot called "a bird-like alertness", he also had the nous to survive the antagonism of Lord Northcliffe, proprietor from 1908 to 1922.
May unearths some choice letters from Northcliffe complaining about the failure of the Lit Supp (as it was known) to be sufficiently populist. He also shows how Richmond cheated every effort to make him lower his sights. Originally given away with the Times, the Lit Supp acquired an independent life under Northcliffe and, despite its owner's doubts, a rather large circulation (42,000 per week in 1914). In 1922 Northcliffe actually issued an edict closing it down by merging it with the Times. Yet exemplary editorial vacillation defeated even this, the baffled proprietor dying later that year with his unwanted literary periodical still somehow alive and well.
As well as an iron sense of purpose, Richmond had literary judgment. Among his many achievements was his discovery, more or less, of Virginia Stephen (Woolf to be), whom he met, characteristically, through family connections. Once he had invited her first contributions in 1905, when she was 23, he saw he had "a star" and, as she put it, "pelted" her with books for review. In her first two years she wrote 50 pieces. Later, for long periods she was writing almost weekly. As even token quotation here demonstrates, she was a brilliant and witty reviewer, and writing for the Lit Supp enabled her to raise reviewing to an art form. It was, though, a hard way to make money, for the rates of pay, as May carefully shows, were as modest as they remain. Paid by the column inch, irrespective of a reviewer's eminence, contributions were measured with a special ruler calibrated in shillings and pence.
The range of Woolf's contributions is only beginning to be measured, for they were almost all anonymous. Only in 1974, when John Gross became editor, was the paper's policy of anonymity finally abandoned. And only very recently, with the completion of an electronic archive, has it been possible to put names to most pieces. May makes rather little of the speculation that often accompanied TLS reviews, anonymity sometimes, of course, making the question of a review's authorship more rather than less important. This was especially the case for the academics whose reputations could be shaped by a TLS review. He does, however, show how the policy was for decades essential to the paper's high-mindedness, its attempt to escape all partiality.
It is strange to think of, say, essays by T S Eliot that now look like confident stages of a great writer's singular progress originally being anonymous pieces jostling for attention alongside the transient judgments of his age. Eliot was, to the end, one of the strongest defenders of anonymity, which, he said, taught him "to moderate my dislikes and crotchets" and to erase "tasteless eccentricity or unseemly violence". What he did not say (and perhaps did not know) was that it had also enabled the paper to rely on a small circle of contributors who often dined as well as wrote in each other's company. Under Richmond, one reviewer in five was a member of the Athenaeum Club. The wife of his successor, D L Murray, wrote a review for the paper almost every week.
May chronicles this with humour and an ear for anecdote. As he surveys the changing corps of reviewers, and sketches the reception of every major writer, his book does often become just one thing after another. It is an insider's homage (May is a former staff member) rather than a distanced account of the paper's role in a national culture. Yet even this has its benefits. The compendium approach illustrates the errors of judgment when reviewers are faced by singular books.
Over and over again, we notice how really original writers are not at first understood. Plenty of classics-to-be were dismissively reviewed, from Under Western Eyes to Dubliners to The Wind in the Willows ("a book with hardly a smile in it"). Modernism was not really grasped at all. The Good Soldier, The Rainbow and Ulysses were simply not reviewed. (Woolf, in a retrospective TLS article, called the last "a memorable catastrophe - immense in daring, terrific in disaster"). "Prufrock" ("untouched by any genuine rush of feeling") simply bamboozled the reviewer. Women in Love was "a dull, disappointing piece of work". In contrast, Woolf's own fiction was rather intelligently appreciated (being a Lit Supp regular did help get you a fair hearing).
But then, the TLS reviewers
were striving for verdicts that would escape mere fashion. Newspaper reviewers
are lucky to have their judgments quickly fade. Both they and review readers
should find much of May's book salutary. It confirms that only the years judge
'em and weep
There's nothing so dull as old reviews. Derwent May provides almost 600 pages of them in Critical Times
Sunday November 18, 2001
Critical Times: The History of the Times Literary Supplement
HarperCollins £25, pp592
I rebelled against this book on page 400. On page 398, I read what Richard Cobb wrote about Marie Besnard, what John Sturrock wrote about Celine and what JP Cooper said about Lawrence Stone. On page 399, Derwent May tells us what DW Brogan said about Eisenhower's memoirs, what Simon Gray said about Norman Mailer and what AH Hanson said about Tariq Ali.
On page 400, we learn what WG Runciman thought of John Rawls and what Siriol Hugh Jones thought of Mrs Dale's Diary. But for some reason when I read that Rebecca West's opinion of Leonard Woolf's memoirs was that 'he represents himself as swimming against the tide when in fact he was swimming with it,' I could not stand another word.
Six hundred pages, summarising old book reviews! It has the solitary but undeniable virtue of making absolutely anything else - crown green bowling, ironing handkerchiefs, the autobiography of St Simon Stylites - seem as exciting as a round of nude Racing Demon.
Agonising as it is, how much worse it must have been for poor May, writing page after page about what Boodle said about Coodle in 1934 and Doodle's description of Foodle as writing 'at the height of his powers'. You imagine him in a cell deep in Rupert Murdoch's dungeons, a gun to his head, tremulously explaining that in 1985, 'Lorna Sage enjoyed Alison Lurie's Foreign Affairs'. As book reviewers say, May writes like an angel. The Recording Angel.
Why, by whom, and how so detailed a history of the Times Literary Supplement was thought desirable is an interesting question. From May's authorised history, you conclude that the TLS considers itself to possess a peculiar authority of judgment. May rarely compares the view of a TLS reviewer to a book's general reception. Even when the TLS is perverse or wrong-headed, it is presented as a significant judgment, a sentence passed down sub specie aeternitatis. In reality, Professor Buggins being snooty about a masterpiece by Henry Green is of no more interest than the baffled hack who writes the paperback round-up for the 'Daily Beast'.
In short, the TLS thinks highly of itself. It is true that detailed, learned books get much more attention in the TLS than anywhere else, even if you sometimes feel it would make more sense if the reviewer just sent a letter to the author. But the peculiar authority which the TLS claims seems by no means obvious. It has always been scrupulous, solid and rational and, consistently, the action has been somewhere else.
If Virginia Woolf published most of her best criticism in the TLS, there have been few other occasions on which it has enlisted the most exciting writers. The New Statesman and the Spectator have been far more telling cultural observers. Now the London Review of Books and Prospect both seem to matter more.
We ought to be glad that
this curious corner of Murdoch's empire exists. Why its endeavours deserve such
ambitious preservation, I cannot guess.
MONDAY NOVEMBER 05 2001
Secrets of the literary century
INTERVIEW BY PHILLIP HOWARD
To mark its centenary, The Times Literary Supplement opened its archives to Derwent May. He uncovered literary feuds - and unmasked the anonymous authors of its sometimes venomous reviews
Here is a desert island test. You are to be marooned as solitary as Robinson Crusoe for the rest of your life. You are allowed one luxury to keep you in touch with civilisation: a magazine, delivered by weekly albatross. Which periodical is it to be? No, Sharon. Not your celebrity mag that strokes the fungoid egos of gamma list nonentities. Kindly go to the bottom of the class. What was that, Max? Of course. Bright boy. Well, teacher’s pet, anyway. The “Lit Supp”, the TLS, The Times Literary Supplement.
With the TLS you will never be isolated from the entertainment and argument of the civilised world. In your tree house you will still ride shotgun with the intellectual pioneers of the world over the water beyond the coral reef. You will learn of every new publication of man’s defining achievement, the book. You will read the brightest and best of contemporary writers. You will never be alone with this Recording Angel of the thinking world, my son.
The Times Literary Supplement is 100 years old in January. Its official history, Critical Times, by Derwent May, is published today. May could be the most versatile of literary journalists. He is the resident ornithologist and bibliophile at The Times. He has been Lit Ed of The Listener, The Sunday Telegraph and The European. He has been allowed access to the archives and private parts of the TLS, where the bodies and hatchets are buried. And he has produced a book that is more than a centenary milestone in the record of a famous magazine. It is also the history of intellectual and literary life of the 20th century.
Derwent May has known all of the editors of the century who made the TLS, and worked for or with almost all of them. He says: “Arthur Crook, the phenomenon who joined The Times as a messenger at the age of 14, and rose to edit the TLS, was always expected to write this centenary history. When it became clear that he was not going to, I was invited to take over. It has been a huge job — a pleasure and an honour. I spent many happy days reliving the literary past with Arthur, and the others. All eminent but private men, who from the background of their bookrooms exercised great creative power and influence on the literature of the 20th century.”
So yes, Max. This book is fun as well as fundamental. Reviews were anonymous until 1974. So now the beans can be spilled about thunderous reviews, secretive plagiarism, crippling jealousies and literary feuds that have reverberated down the centuries. You can identify the apprentice work, brilliant or embarrassing, by writers who have since become household names. Who was the Oxford professor who wrote a long article arguing that when Shakespeare addressed the Dark Lady in his sonnets, he was referring to his MEMBRUM VIRILE, “the Shakespearean penis”? And who was the bad boy who responded with an equally magisterial article arguing that Milton’s sonnet On His Blindness referred not to the loss of his literary gifts but to his procreative powers, “rendered useless by the unhappy outcome of his marriage"? John Sparrow, of course, whose main literary achievements and continual mischief appeared on the world stage of the TLS. Here be the Leavises, Snows, MacDiarmids and Annans, and all the other big beasts of the bookish jungle, engaged in anthropophagy as bloody as that of Crusoe’s cannibals.
The history of The Times Literary Supplement flows from a vast catchment area. Merely to sweep every word of every issue would have taken seven maids with seven mops 25 years. May does not claim quite to have done that. “But,” he says, “I turned over and looked at every page in the bound copies in the archives. And when I selected a particular review for mention, I set it in context and quoted enough of it to give its flavour and to avoid a long list of reviews and reviewers that would have looked like a school honours board. Another author could have selected a thousand quite different reviews, equally brilliant, or notorious, or witty, or trendsetting or mould-breaking.”
But the published back numbers are only the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the public surface lie the unpublished documents. May says: “The ‘marked copies’ record, in the hand of a long- forgotten member of The Times staff, the names of the contributors across the pages, generally with the fee they were to receive, and sometimes with their addresses.”
So you can see there chrysalides metamorphosing into butterflies. Miss A.V. Stephen becomes Virginia Stephen and then Mrs Woolf. In those early days all contributors, whether literary hacks, regius professors or Prime Ministers, were paid the standard rate of £3 a column, which consisted of about 1,250 words. If we multiply by 40 to get the equivalent sum today, that makes about £100 for 1,000 words. This fee is very close to what is paid by the TLS today.
Nobody but a fool ever wrote for the Young Lady of Printing House Square, now removed to Wapping, for the money. May has seen the copious and wonderful letters to and from the Ed.
T. S. Eliot complains of the harsh reviews of his poetry, but at the same time brown-noses for work. Dirty linen is at last washed in public, of vendettas and log- rolling, office politics and boardroom coups, editors and owners.
Like The Times, the TLS was born by accident. Parliamentary business and the Boer War had created a long tailback of book reviews, which had appeared in the main body of the paper for 117 years. So a supplement was created in January 1902 to get rid of the backlog. The Boer War ended. Parliament rose. But in a fit of absent-mindedness by the editor of the main paper, The Times Literary Supplement carried on. And here it is: the abstract and (fairly) brief chronicle of our literary and intellectual world. Essential reading for all reading chaps and chapesses. A weekly university and delight. And the top choice of a magazine to be delivered to your Robinson Crusoe island.
Critical Times by Derwent May
A centenarian with teeth
17 November 2001
Literary journals tend to follow a predictable life-cycle. Founded upon the insurgent energy of an individual or group, they try hard in early years to disturb what they see as the offensive placidity of the cultural pond. Adolescent passion spent, they then enjoy a period of respected eminence, disposing of opinions and reputations with a papal largesse: writers jostle to review in their now-glamorous pages, publishers court the staff, circulation rises. Before long, however, signs of ageing appear: the content becomes stale, younger competitors steal the best writers, subscribers die. Eventually, a final issue carries a mournful threnody on the end-of-civilisation-as-we-know it, and the title joins the category of what librarians term "dead" periodicals.
The Times Literary Supplement is a remarkable exception to this pattern. It will be celebrating its 100th birthday in January 2002, and even the usual metaphors about looking spry or well-preserved seem out of place, since it still exhibits a pre-adolescent eagerness to embrace the abundance of the world. Every week it carries a score or more of reviews of books on a dauntingly wide array of topics. And, on the whole, it does not succumb to the review-page vices of puffery and back-scratching: indeed, it is sometimes reproached for carrying reviews that are too severe, though these bravura pieces of scholarly handbagging are an expression of its commitment to the highest intellectual standards. How has this particular paper managed to defy the laws of mortality?
Derwent May's centenary history provides a mass of material to draw upon in trying to answer this question, though this is to co-opt the book into a more analytical investigation than this genial, companionable chronicle really aspires to. May by and large confines himself to recording the sequence of editorships and to summarising some of the more notable contributions from each period. If you want to look up what the Lit Supp made of, say, the late novels of Henry James (not much) or the early novels of Martin Amis (quite a lot, but then he did work for the paper), then you will find this book enjoyable and satisfying. If you want to see hard questions asked about its place in British (and Anglo-American) culture, or about tensions between the scholarly and literary worlds, or about comparisons with rivals here and abroad, then the book may seem something of an opportunity missed.
What Critical Times does make clear is that the unique standing achieved by the TLS was principally the work of one man, Bruce Richmond, effectively its first, and certainly its longest-serving editor (1903-37). Richmond shrewdly remarked that the paper had contrived to have "two publics", which he characterised as those interested in "books for the drawing room" and those concerned with "books for the study". The well-connected Richmond catered to these overlapping publics very skilfully. But what was remarkable was the way in which, whatever the subject, the Lit Supp contrived more often than not to hit the note of impartial authority. Richmond sought out those with relevant knowledge, but cajoled them to write for a non-specialist readership.
The authority which came with being part of The Times counted for a lot in the early years; more important still, perhaps, the practice of publishing all reviews anonymously reinforced the impression of impersonal canons of judgement at work. The TLS (as it was generally known from the 1960s) did not abandon anonymity until 1974, and it is only as a result of research on the back files that the identities of those countless reviewers can be revealed.
One, perhaps unsurprising, revelation is that the reviewers were not as countless as all that. In any period, there was a pool of regulars, most drawn from the same narrow social circles: 20 per cent of reviews during Richmond's editorship were written by members of the Athenaeum club. But some of the greatest stars in the literary firmament contributed unsigned prose to its pages (albeit in some cases "anonymous, but signed in every line", as one wag put it). One of Richmond's discoveries, the kind literary editors dream of making, was the 23-year-old Miss A V Stephen.
She proved to be a dextrous, percipient, reviewer, with a great appetite for work, writing with accessible authority on almost any literary topic. She wrote for Richmond, almost always anonymously, for 30 years, through the latter part of which she was becoming, under her married name Virginia Woolf, the leading English novelist of the day.
Another talent nurtured by Richmond was T S Eliot, who, from 1919, reviewed regularly, publishing some of his most influential pieces on Elizabethan and Jacobean literature as lead reviews. When first invited to write for the paper, Eliot over-excitedly told his mother that this was "the highest honour possible in the critical world of literature". One can see why this 31-year-old PhD dropout and struggling writer might want to re-assure mumsy that he was making a go of his life, but even so his exaggeration is still a kind of testimony. As with many other names, the deal cut both ways: Eliot's assured and stylish pieces contributed to the tone of the paper, while prominence in its pages was a crucial element in the making of his literary career ("literary London" often had a pretty good idea who had written what).
The paper has had its blind spots, from its patchy and often unsympathetic reception of the more experimental Modernists such as Pound or Joyce to the reviewer of The Wind in the Willows who concluded "as a contribution to natural history the work is negligible". More recently, champions of literary theory or cultural studies may have felt there were pretty narrow limits to the TLS's catholicity. More technical works not just in science but in the social sciences, too, have proved hard to cover intelligibly. The success of "popular" science writing by the likes of Hawking and Dawkins has been widely remarked, but one wonders whether social sciences are not in need of similar intermediaries.
The clearest trend in the last two or three decades has been for "books for the drawing room" to be edged out by "books for the study", and in practice for the latter to become books for the stacks of university libraries or for the tenure-hunting CV. It would be interesting to know whether the use of increasing numbers of academics as reviewers, and of foreign contributors, has entailed more re-writing. After his piece appeared in heavily-edited form, Umberto Eco wrote to the editor: "I enjoyed your article, but I preferred my own".
The TLS has shown a Whiggish capacity to adapt to these larger cultural changes, and when the present editor, Ferdinand Mount, took over in 1991 he could still speak with some confidence of what he called the paper's "bedrock virtues": "the comprehensive coverage, the adventurousness, the readiness to cover any book". It's a proud credo, though one not subject to much sceptical analysis in this book. Birthdays are sentimental occasions, after all; as the TLS receives its telegram from the Queen, Derwent May's attractive volume will make a fittingly generous and celebratory present.
Stefan Collini is professor of intellectual history and English literature at Cambridge University
A graceful, almost flawless century
CRITICAL TIMES: THE HISTORY OF THE TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT
By Derwent May
The Times Literary Supplement will reach its 100th birthday
in January 2002. It is a very English cultural institution, reviewing literature
and thought from the point of view of cultivated and scholarly English critics.
Nowadays the TLS has a substantial circulation in the United States, where it is
to be found in every respectable college library, but in its earlier years the
circulation and focus of interest were predominantly on the English library
tradition, not even the American.
Derwent May has had access to all the private account books which reveal the identity of the anonymous reviewers. All reviewers were anonymous for the first three quarters of the life of the TLS. He has also had access to the editorial correspondence. To any reader of the TLS the account he gives of the institution is fascinating. Many of the most interesting contributors were never employed by the TLS. This is therefore a cultural history that goes much wider than the magazine itself; it tells one a good deal about the values of 20th- century English men and women of letters. Most of them, like the members of the Bloomsbury set, who wrote a number of the most important reviews, belonged to the English upper-middle class; the men had usually been educated at Oxford or Cambridge.
Inside the range of its interests, which broadened in the later decades of the century, the TLS did not miss very much. It had an excellent record in spotting good poets, strong on T. S. Eliot who was himself an important contributor, strong on W. H. Auden, strong on Larkin. It missed little in the way of intellectual novels, where Iris Murdoch was an appropriate favourite.
There were, however, some revealing failures. The most ludicrous was Evelyn Waugh, which started with the reviewer in 1928 who commented on Waugh’s first book, Rossetti, His Life and Work, that
Miss Evelyn Waugh … approaches the ‘squalid’ Rossetti like some dainty Miss of the Sixties bringing the Italian organ-grinder a penny.
This was an avoidable mishap, but Waugh continued to offend the sensibilities of the TLS reviewers; even Brideshead, on its first appearance, received the put-down, ‘in general Mr Waugh seems to have had his style cramped by a too obviously preconceived idea.’
Other men of genius to be underrated were W. B. Yeats — Virgina Woolf felt that ‘a few poems by Mr Yeats will survive’ — and Maynard Keynes, though the TLS was more favourable to The Economic Consequences of the Peace in 1920 than the Times itself, which Wickham Steed, then the editor, ‘dismissed as a piece of pro-German pacifism’.
These failures show the limitations of the English Oxbridge scholarly culture of the period, which the TLS epitomised. Things are better nowadays. A wide range of books has been given to a wider range of reviewers by a succession of more open-minded editors. The crystal prism of the old culture with its insular limitations has been cracked if not shattered.
In 1967, when the Thomson family bought the Times, it was decided that the TLS should cease to be part of the responsibility of the editor of the Times. Rightly so. As editor of the Times in that period, I played no part in the affairs of the TLS except to support the independence of Arthur Crook, though he believed in the tradition of anonymity, which I had ended on the Times. Arthur was an excellent editor of the TLS, but on that issue we differed. Anonymity only ended in 1977 under John Gross, his successor.
Derwent May’s book has only one villain, E. H. Carr, the Stalinist. He had a pernicious influence in the post-war years on the Times and on the TLS. I think his anonymous reviews would have mattered less if they had been signed. His cover of anonymity made the post-war TLS appear to have a sympathy for Stalinism and a weakness for bogus Stalinist Soviet historicism. Under his own name he might have been held personally responsible; the bias would have been apparent; the TLS itself might have been spared damage.
Under its present editor, Ferdinand Mount, the TLS is much broader and therefore more interesting. It retains the liberalism and standards of scholarship which were the great virtues of the leading English critics of the 20th century.
LOS ANGELES TIMES
Long Live the King of Book Reviews
The Times Literary
Supplement turns 100 with its lofty reputation still firmly intact.
By PETER WHITTLE, SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
January 24, 2002
great British institutions celebrate special anniversaries this year. One is
respected the world over, is highly regarded particularly in America and during
the course of a turbulent century has successfully kept both its integrity and
reputation as the exemplar of the highest standards. The other is the monarchy.
The Times Literary Supplement--known universally as the TLS--is a hundred years old this month. From its first densely printed, eight-page edition of Jan. 17, 1902, to its special bumper 48-page centenary issue currently on newsstands, it has carved out a unique position in the world of papers and journals as the reviewer of all that is best and most important in new books, from novels and poetry to academic studies and biographies.
Even people who don't read books often read book reviews, and sections devoted to them in daily newspapers, magazines and even on the Internet have expanded and proliferated. But when it comes to critical credibility, the cachet of a good review in the TLS remains unsurpassed. Despite a relatively small circulation of just under 40,000--with nearly half of that comprising American readers--it is still considered the most influential English-language critical journal in the world, remaining for a century at the center of intellectual and cultural life. So, even as Queen Elizabeth marks her 50th year as monarch, the TLS celebrates its own milestone by launching a poetry competition and London's National Portrait Gallery presents an exhibit depicting portraits of famous figures who have reviewed for the paper throughout the years. A major history by Derwent May, "Critical Times: The History of the Times Literary Supplement," has been published, and, in honor of the supplement, a Round Table Literary Debate was scheduled this month at New York's famous hotel of men and women of letters, the Algonquin.
That location is fitting, for in some respects, the TLS is now something of an Anglo-American journal. "In the early years," says May, "there was a resentful feeling in the U.S. academic world that British reviewers were a bit haughty about American scholarship." The paper argued that it was applying evenhanded standards; even so, by the '50s there was certainly a fresh attempt to get the paper read in America, in line with the growing interest in American writing. In fact, American academic work became so powerful and important that the TLS found itself including more and more U.S. material. Now, American books, and reviewers, are just as prominent as British ones.
Originally published with the Times of London at a time when the practice of reviewing new books was becoming increasingly popular, the TLS was first sold separately (for the princely sum of a penny) in 1914. Since then it has remained autonomous, with virtually no link to its parent paper other than common ownership, a situation that remains today. Its ultimate proprietor is Rupert Murdoch, and it operates out of the News Corp. complex in the district of Wapping, just east of the famous Tower Bridge in London.
Its modern offices give little immediate clues to its illustrious history, for a list of the writers and critics who have contributed to the TLS reads like a roll call of the greats of 20th century literature. T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Gore Vidal, Anthony Burgess, Salman Rushdie, George Steiner and Martin Amis are among the hundreds who have been featured as reviewers in its pages and contributed to its debates.
In 1919, Eliot wrote to his mother saying that he'd been invited to write for the Lit Sup (as it was then nicknamed) and that "this is the highest honor possible in the critical world of literature." In the past 30 years it has been joined by similar publications, most notably the esteemed New York Review of Books, but the position it occupies between the literary and academic worlds, and the fact that it reviews so many books each week--about 60 each issue--are what make it unique.
"It's the only journal of high culture that I know of," says Richard Sennett, an American and a professor at the London School of Economics, and a frequent contributor of 25 years' standing. "The others, such as the New York Review, are different animals. That makes its survival extraordinary."
That survival is due in no small part to a continuing sense of purpose and identity. "It's kept a very even keel--a steady, thoughtful, conscientious survey of books in all fields," says May. It doesn't pretend to create bestsellers--that is not really its point. "The TLS doesn't have that colossal an impact on the general reading public," says May, "but it has an impact on people who are interested in literature."
The trickle-down effect of this, along with its discussion of intellectual issues of the day, such as the decline of literary theory, multiculturalism and the death of Marxism, is, of course, all-important in determining the general cultural atmosphere. In this postmodern age of instant gratification, dumbing-down and attention-deficit disorder, qualities of thoroughness, steadiness and conscientiousness might seem quaint, dusty even. But they are also the characteristics that produce a singular authority, one that has remained remarkably intact.
"Contrary to our stuffy reputation," says Ferdinand Mount, the paper's editor for the last decade, "we've always had a lot of young reviewers--people tend to start really quite young." There are something like 3,000 reviewers on the TLS database (although, jokes Mount, some of these are probably dead, and some mad), and reviews are anywhere from 400 to 3,000 words long. Writers must be invited to review for the paper--as is the practice at many publications, unsolicited reviews are not especially welcome.
"It's quite a cunning little art form," says Mount. "You really are engaging in a conversation with the author of the book." Intelligence and a certain modesty are required, he says, to do it well. How can he tell whether a new reviewer has what it takes? "It's whether they can produce an article with a beginning, middle and an end, and a convincing argument running through it, and whether they are capable of enlivening what they write with the odd flash of wit, or sympathy."
You can tell very quickly it seems, whether someone can do the job. "People can get better with practice," he says, "but you've got a fairly good idea." Reviewing for the paper would always be a labor of love--it's the prestige that counts, as it pays only about 100 pounds per thousand words or roughly $70. In the early days, Woolf would have received around 2 or 3 pounds for her efforts, when a special ruler calibrated in pounds and pennies was literally placed on each article to gauge payment by column inches. "Nobody ever got rich writing for the TLS," says Mount.
In this era of the cult of personality, it's interesting to consider that all the pieces in the TLS were, until 1974, anonymous. Reviews and essays appeared without bylines as a common practice, and it has only been with the publication of May's book that the identities of the authors of more than 50 years of articles have been made public. Bylines were not included because, says May, "there was the feeling then that this was the voice of all reasonable, educated men. This was the voice of truth, as it were. There was the general sense of sharing the same 'civilized' values."
As times and philosophies changed, the notion that anybody could claim to speak with such implied impartiality became unfashionable. There was the feeling that people should stand up for their opinions and that such monolithic truth didn't exist. Author Edmund White, who has written over the years for the TLS and who contributed an article on George Eliot for the centenary issue, is resolute that he wouldn't have reviewed for the paper during the "anonymous" era. "The reviews were much more poisonous when they were unsigned," he says. "There is no such thing as objectivity." Now, who is writing about what is blazoned across the cover--in today's celebrity culture, no doubt a good commercial impulse as well.
But where does the TLS stand in a world where, it is often said, reading is going out of fashion? "I can see the TLS being there even in a world of mass illiteracy, which I don't think we're destined for anyway," says May. As long as there are people who take books and literature seriously, the TLS will thrive. Film, music and drama criticism may not be what it was, but the quality of literary criticism has remained high. "People want books to be good," says May.
Although reading may appear passive, it is actually an active pursuit. "You can sit and watch a film and have all sorts of emotional responses and at the end not really know what you've seen," says May. "You can't really read a book and not know what you've read. You can't read a book with glazed eyes."
The Chronicle Review
From the issue dated March 8, 2002
CRITIC AT LARGE
The 'TLS': a 100-Year Love Affair
By CARLIN ROMANO
In the attic of my congested Philadelphia house, full of books infiltrating crannies and corners the way Roman soldiers once bivouacked wherever open space permitted, six corroded boxes of old weekly newspapers still retain a pride of place, dragged from city to city, from student apartment to grown-up home, even as the contents yellow and break apart.
All hold copies of The Times Literary Supplement from my teenage and college years, when I'd subscribe at the introductory price, then pass up renewal for a second and third subscription at the introductory price. (Is there a statute of limitations on this offense?) I remember hoping that the distinguished paper's formidable attention to detail did not extend to dispatching agents in bowler hats to the United States to determine whether a link existed between the impecunious C.P. Romano, the indigent C. Paul Romano, and other cognate American supporters.
On those fateful moving days, requiring instant decisions on what matters eternally and what only ephemerally, the internal voice would warn, "I'll need that omnibus Vico article some day," or, "I can't remember everything that requires reading in that pile, but there are heaps of things, and I'll get around to doing it."
One simply couldn't throw them out. And dip into them, I have.
In my obsession -- my loyalty? -- I enjoyed trans-Atlantic company.
"Same here," confides Derwent May, "Lit Ed" at one time or another of The Listener, The Sunday Telegraph, and The European, now author of the splendid 606-page Critical Times: The History of the Times Literary Supplement, to be published in the United States by Trafalgar Square this month as part of the paper's 100th-anniversary celebrations.
As glasses and cutlery clink at Chez Gerard, a Times hangout just a walk from the paper's current home, in Times House on Pennington Street, the sprightly mid-60s veteran of English literary journalism (a former TLS staffer to boot) admits he squirreled away copies even before launching on the mammoth task of chronicling the world's finest book review.
"I think it's the old English ethos of common sense and fair play that marks it out, really," May says, asked to explain the paper's enduring attraction to educated readers. "It's both fairly omnivorous and selective, but it's never been cliquey. ... Over all, it's tried to be large-minded, but tough-minded, too."
That doesn't entirely explain the love affair many subscribers experience with their TLS, which from the first 8-page issue, on January 17, 1902, to the 48-page centenary blowout of January 18, 2002, has high-mindedly aimed at reviewing everything that's fit to read, often commenting on 50 or more books at a clip.
It can't capture how keeping up with the TLS becomes a badge of pride, or even a suggestion of proper pedigree.
For Americans, an atavistic, pre-Emersonian deference to English authority undoubtedly plays a role. Surely many of us harbor the batty notion deep in our Jungian substrata that the TLS editor must look like James Murray, fabled editor of the Oxford English Dictionary (a similarly charmed English literary institution), in the photo that fronts most editions of K.M. Elisabeth Murray's adoring biography, Caught in the Web of Words -- bearded, distracted, adrift in a rabbit warren of bookshelves stuffed with paper and books (the OED's Scriptorium), yet unquestionably the most authoritative bookman anywhere.
If that's so, stop reading here -- or the TLS mythos in your life will have to survive simply on the sound, up-to-date principles May notes, and other kindred virtues.
As Ferdinand Mount ("Ferdy" to all who know him) -- novelist, TLS editor since 1991, and former chief of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's policy unit -- ponders how much the projection of "authority" plays a role in the TLS's longevity and success (especially since 1974, when the paper dropped its "This is the Establishment speaking" tradition of keeping reviewers anonymous), one notices the banal, banausic scene outside the window of his functional, ultramodern office: a Texaco Express Shop and Car Wash, backed by three hideous apartment towers, architectural love children of Mies van der Rohe and Stalin.
He admits it keeps his august position (appropriate for the aristocratic nephew of the late novelist Anthony Powell) in perspective.
"We'd like to have authority," Mount, 62, a witty, ruddy-faced man, replies cheerily. "But I'm not sure that's what keeps us going. Because you're always uncertain and people are always coming up and telling you, you know, that you no longer have authority in this or that!"
Mount's TLS domain outside his corner office consists of a single rectangular space within Times House, about the size of a university classroom, lined with wall and waist-high bookshelves. The sartorial style is much updated from Murrayish black: One editor works in T-shirt, with banana on desk, as he might at Rolling Stone, Salon, or Spin. Although the 10 editorial staffers represent the largest TLS employment ever, its size is constrained by reality. With a circulation a shade under 35,000, half in the United States, the paper, in Mount's words, hovers "on the edge of profitability."
To Mount, the TLS prospers critically because, even given "a kind of oomph, a weight, attached to continuity over such a long period," it retains an "unchanging sense of mission" that he instantly recognized when revisiting the first issue: "To look at new books -- now also new plays, new films, and so on -- and try to get the best view of them that's available to you," usually by "trying to get the best people."
At the very least. But there's more. Let others describe in detail the book-reviewing tasks at which the TLS's rivals fail. Here are four at which the TLS ritually succeeds:
1. The TLS reviews the book under review. To outsiders, that might seem faintly obligatory. Insiders know better. As Mount indelicately puts it, in every TLS review, "there will be some effort made to say what the hell the book's about, and whether or not it succeeds in that." Once the reviewer accomplishes that task, "if you like, at the end, the reviewer can say what he thinks the book should have been about."
2. In an English-speaking literary world rife with hostile ideological encampments -- at least in the United States -- its pages remain officially open to writers of diverse political and aesthetic castes, as well as to oldsters and youngsters, Regius professors and ambitious graduate students on the make. And they know more about their subjects than what are in the books before them.
3. Long before anyone uttered the phrase "Listserv thread," the TLS Letters section established itself as the Hyde Park Corner of Olympian disagreement about issues of taste, knowledge, and truth raised in the paper, with debates raging for weeks or months at a time.
In the pages of Critical Times, May recalls prolonged exchanges about whether, for instance, Roman peasants lacerated their fingers on the prickles of briars, or whether that belief depends on a mistranslation of Virgil's Georgics. Currently, Richard Sennett and Raymond Tallis are at one another's throats, or other parts, about Foucault's notorious sex life in his final years, and its relevance to his relevance.
4. Finally -- whimsically, fetishistically -- the TLS not only honors truth but insists on accuracy in small things. Here the signature paragraph has always been the final, anticlimactic one, in which reviewer Jowett Trevelyan Macaulay huffs, "One should note that mutatis mutandis (sic) on p. 327 lacks italics, and that the much-mentioned Mr. Socrates downed his terminal libation in Athens, and not, as stated in footnote 37a, in suburban Corinth."
In Critical Times, an indefatigable tale of both opinions and the chronically opinionated, May traces these phenomena through all 100 years, rescuing scores of immortal sentences from the magazine's past, such as its 1917 view of G.K. Chesterton's A Short History of England: that Chesterton "stands on his head to proclaim that the world is upside down, and fails to realise that that is what he is doing."
May records the rise of T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf as prolific behind-the-curtain reviewers, documents the TLS's Houdini-like escapes from shuttering, notes later editor Stanley Morison's boast that he had made the paper "hard to read again," and captures all the strands of excellence that lead even a frequent critic like literary theorist Terry Eagleton to declare it "one of the towering intellectual achievements of 20th-century Britain." For all this, TLS -- centenarian, yet no mere cento -- we love you (even if you did miss Ulysses, The Rainbow, and a few other 20th-century books that matter).
One must note, nonetheless, that in the February 22 issue, columnist J.C. repeatedly refers to departing Slate editor Michael Kinsley as "Kinsey," and states that "a replacement has been found for Kinsey." Not so -- the bake-off between aspirants continues. And that Lindsey Hughes's review, in the December 28 issue, of H. Bruce Lincoln's Sunlight at Midnight, a history of St. Petersburg, fails to mention that the British Perseus edition is bound upside down -- rather like someone standing on his head.
Carlin Romano, critic at large for The Chronicle and literary critic of The Philadelphia Inquirer, teaches philosophy at Temple University.