To Begin at the Beginning:
Love on the Dole by Walter Greenwood (1933)
Much of Walter Greenwood’s other fiction refers back to his first novel, Love on the Dole (1933), and so it should be helpful to start with a review for his first novel too, though it is his most famous. Love on the Dole established Greenwood’s reputation, was influential at the time and later, and rapidly changed his life (from being an unemployed worker in Salford to being a best-selling novelist and author).
The dust-wrapper of the first edition of the novel is striking if now very hard to find:
It also provided the basis (a number of details differ) for the image adapted designed for the programme of the London production of the play adaptation in 1935. This particular programme has been carefully annotated by an audience member with the words: ‘ A very important play, very well acted’.
Love on the Dole is the story of the Hardcastle family and their neighbours in a poor part of Salford: Hanky Park. Mr Hardcastle is a miner and Mrs Hardcastle a housewife; their son Harry works first at a pawnshop and is then an apprentice engineer, while their daughter Sally works at a textile mill. Neighbours include the qualified engineer, Larry Meath, and a group of older women who both help and exploit for their own gain the other inhabitants of Hanky Park. The characters represent a working-class economy which is always fragile, and which is then further damaged by the consequences of the Depression after 1929.
The novel looks at first as if it will focus mainly on Harry Hardcastle; having left school at 14, he has worked at a pawnbroker’s, a job which he hates partly because he must work on Saturdays and so can’t see his friends, and partly because he feels it is not a ‘man’s job’. The clientele are indeed all women, though the household economy of which pawning is part in fact fully involves men too, who are unable in bad times to hand over enough of their wages to allow the women to make their housekeeping money last the week (though Harry does not see this full story at this point). He really wants to work at the local engineering works – ‘Marlowe’s’ (based on the MetroVick works at Trafford Park) and thus take up his destiny as a proper adult male worker. So he manages to get taken on as an apprentice engineer, and at first feels that everything will now run smoothly. After seven years he will become a qualified and well-paid engineer and need never worry again about the rest of his life: ‘these new experiences … brought with them a calm serenity which gradually assumed an air of permanency (p.69, Penguin edition, 1962, 1992 – all references are to this edition).
However, the novel is set at a specific period (Harry’s starts his apprenticeship in 1924 and completes it in 1931) and this means that while the British economy might be in a reasonable state when he begins his apprenticeship, the international and national situation has become much worse when he finishes, as the Slump bites. Though Marlowe’s has a commitment to employ time-completed apprentices, in fact Harry and his peers are dismissed as soon as they qualify for a full wage: ‘they now were fully qualified engineers. They also were qualified to draw the dole’ (p.154). Harry’s imagined story of his life is now in ruins – and he has no alternative possibilities in imagination or reality, apart from the brief seaside holiday with his girl-friend Helen funded by a successful bet, when he fruitlessly imagines he might get a job in this wonderful place. Returned home, Harry tramps the street of the two cities looking for work – but there is none.
At this point in the novel, the focus to some extent shifts towards Harry’s sister, Sally, and the qualified engineer Larry Meath (Harry, Sally, Larry – the curious similarity of their rhyming names perhaps links then together as representatives of Hanky Park as a whole?). Larry is not only earning good wages as an engineer (forty-five shillings a week, the novel states), but has no dependents, and can afford books and records and even an annual holiday. He is also a political activist in the Labour party, trying to attract others to join him, and generally helps his neighbours and work-mates with troublesome official bureaucracies and form-filling. Sally, who has a job at a Salford textile mill (though it is notable that we hear very little indeed about her job – the novel is much more interested in male employment and unemployment) becomes interested in Larry after hearing him make a political speech at a street corner. Larry invites Sally to go on rambles with the Labour Party Club and things look promising for the couple.
However, just as Harry’s modest dreams have been shattered by economic circumstances, so too are Sally’s. In difficult economic times, Marlowe’s needs to shed some jobs, and though a good worker Larry is sacked after being picked out because of his political activity (though the bookie Sam Grundy also has a hand in his dismissal through his side-kick Ted Munter – Grundy would like Sally to become his mistress and therefore wants to undermine Larry’s standing). Sally is prepared to marry Larry anyway and live on her wages and his dole, but Larry rejects that outright .This is no doubt partly through pride, but also because he knows that a decent life is not possible on the dole and that, indeed, marriage on the dole is one of the things which reproduces poverty in Hanky Park, and that romance cannot survive under these conditions. As unemployment increases in Hanky Park, it becomes the majority experience. In the Hardcastle household, Sally becomes the only one in paid employment, and under the Means Test rules Harry is told that he will be paid no more dole. This makes his situation desperate, especially because his girlfriend Helen (who is in work at the same textile mill as Sally) is now pregnant. They do marry in order to be ‘respectable’, but have nothing to live on once Helen has to stop work.
In response to the Means Test and the cutting off of their dole, the unemployed men and some women of Hanky Park organise a protest march to the town hall. Though by this time quite ill, Larry goes to the march. But he and some other organisers disagree about the conduct (and purpose) of the protest. There are a lot of police present (including Larry’s sworn enemy Ned Narkey – another would-be rival for Sally’s affections) and Larry is anxious that the march remains peaceful and avoids giving any excuse for the police to disrupt it. Some of the other organisers encourage the marchers to be less deferential to the authorities and, anyway, the police already seem to have plans to deny entry to the town hall square. In the end, fighting breaks out and the police use their truncheons freely – this pleases Narkey who at the very start of the protest has said, ‘Ah hope t’Christ the bastards start summat’ (p.198). He and other policemen use their truncheons without restraint including on women, and Harry sees Larry hit three times, twice on the back and once on the head. Larry is dragged away to the cells, but is soon admitted to the ‘Esperance Infirmary’, where with Sally and Mrs Hardcastle present he dies of pneumonia.
There is considerable debate among critics about the way the novel handles the protest march and also about why Greenwood kills off the novel’s working-class intellectual, leaving the people of Hanky Park still trapped and apparently with no hope of change. The march was based on a real protest, remembered in Salford as the Battle of Bexley Square, which took place on the first of October 1931. Greenwood gives another account of the march in his memoir There was a Time (Cape, 1967 – see chapter 38, ‘Banker’s Benefit’), as does the Working Class Movement Library web-site in its entry on Love on the Dole (https://www.wcml.org.uk/our-collections/creativity-and-culture/drama-and-literature/walter-greenwood-and-love-on-the-dole/).
Though I have covered the main plot events, I have left out so far some important characters whose portrayal was much praised in contemporary reviews – the chorus of older women: Mrs Jikes, Mrs Dorbell, Mrs Nattle and Mrs Bull. Indeed, advertising for the novel in 1933 identified the group of older women as a selling point for the book, as in this brief advert from The Sunday Times, which spent most of its short notice on them: ‘A grim picture, lightened by humour, insight and a chorus of bawdy old women’. (18/6/1933, p.6). Some reviewers saw them as Dickensian figures, others as Shakespearian (clearly the latter group had the Scottish play in mind). These older women are in the main better off than the younger characters, with several having pensions but no dependents at this stage. They make what would be a precarious living anywhere else but Hanky Park through variously helping and/or exploiting their neighbours. (for example, by taking clothes to the pawnshop for a small commission). ‘Obliging’ is Mrs Nattle’s word for it (Mrs Bull is perhaps the nearest to being the people’s friend, and actually helping on occasion, but she is still an equivocal character).
Love on the Dole became the best-known novel of working-class life published during the nineteen-thirties. It was praised in newspaper reviews across the spectrum of political affiliations. ‘We passionately desire this novel to be read’ said the Manchester Guardian (30/6/1933). Later, The Times quoted Sir Herbert Samuel’s plea that the entire House of Commons should ensure they had seen the stage version to enhance their understanding of what unemployment figures really meant:
I wonder whether hon. Members have seen a play which is now being performed in London, called, “Love on the Dole.” If not, I would urge them to see it. That play paints in very poignant fashion the position of those 400,000 families who are in the state which I have just described (Hansard, Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons, 5th Series, Vol 298, Col 1665, 4/3/1935).
It seems possible that Ramsay MacDonald himself had read the novel, for it is recorded as being among sixty of his books which he donated to the ‘Million Books for the Unemployed Scheme’ in January 1934. (Reported in the Sheffield Daily Independent, 13/1/1934, p.6.)
Love on the Dole has a significant place in British history, because it quickly became, and has remained, the novel to turn to to illustrate or analyse the conditions of British working-class life in the thirties and the terrible impact of the Depression on the lives of individuals as well as whole towns and cities. A.J.P. Taylor refers to the novel precisely in these kind of terms in his widely-read 1965 book English History 1914-1945: ‘Unemployment became … a way of life, commemorated in Love on the Dole by Walter Greenwood, one of the few genuinely “proletarian” novels written in English’ (Penguin edition, p.436; originally written for the Oxford History of England series). In fact, the importance and influence of Greenwood’s text and his subsequent writing has not been over-estimated, but on the contrary considerably under-estimated through various acts of neglect (including that of a general cultural ’forgetfulness’ of Greenwood’s subsequent writing about working people throughout the nineteen-thirties, forties and fifties).
Love on the Dole has often been read as a novel with a very clear and simple message: it is ‘fiction with a definite social aim’, said the Yorkshire novelist and critic Phyllis Bentley (‘Contemporary British Fiction’ in The English Journal, Vol. 28, no.4. April 1939, p.257). But equally its worth as a novel, its meaning and its politics have often been the subject of much debate. I would welcome other readers’ responses to the novel or its impact.
(This article partly draws on material in chapters 1 and 3 of my book, Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole: Novel, Play, Film, Liverpool University Press, 2018)
His Worship the Mayor (1934) by Walter Greenwood
The dust-wrapper of Greenwood’s second novel was much more abstract that that of his first – indeed the design is constructed simply from a yellow line round the text of the novel’s title, which represents the Mayor’s gold chain, but perhaps also indicates how the new Mayor is set apart from the people he is meant to represent by his (undeserved) status and corrupt motivations.
In 1934, after the success of his first novel, Love on the Dole, was becoming apparent, Greenwood stood (for the second time) in local council elections in Salford, this time winning the very deprived St Matthias ward for Labour by 750 votes (see the Working Class Movement Library article on Greenwood: https://www.wcml.org.uk/our-collections/creativity-and-culture/drama-and-literature/walter-greenwood-and-love-on-the-dole/). Greenwood remained a city councillor for a year and drew on that experience for his second novel, His Worship the Mayor. The novel tells a story of local politics and corruption by focussing on the unexpected rise of Edgar Hargreaves, a near- bankrupt tailor who comes into a large legacy and whom it then suits the local elite of the Two Cities to court and adopt as a candidate in a local election. Edgar’s experience is up to a point a reflection of Greenwood’s (with Love on the Dole his unexpected legacy). However, Edgar is without any political belief except that he should have his share of the advantages harvested by the mutually-supportive ruling clique of the city. Unlike Love on the Dole (which I have always thought does little really to justify its ‘Tale of Two Cities’ subtitle), the novel does show a wider social panorama than just the microcosm of Hanky Park, and particularly shows the world of commercial success and local politics in parallel to the lives of the poverty-stricken and the unemployed:
Acres of plate glass glare forth with electrical extravagance when darkness descends . . . as though the street is making a concentrated endeavour to divert one from making the accidental discovery of crouching slumdom behind.
For it is there, this slumdom . . .a shabby, ugly, obscene consort to the Two Cities’ worldwide reputation of boundless wealth . . . and like ragged skirts the dreary acres of dilapidated slumdom spread out in all directions, a mocking, derisive and damning indictment of the practical application of that economic theory to which Manchester gave its name. (Jonathan Cape, Florin Books edition,1937, p.12; all subsequent references are to this edition).
The novel shows that there is much which needs attending to, but has little faith in the will of local politicians and their hangers-on (what are here called ‘Progressives’ are presumably meant to represent Liberals) to address anything but their own ambitions:
Frequently horse-drawn lorries passed whose sides were decorated with huge calico banners saying: ‘HARGREAVES. The People’s Friend,’ and such like; lorries full of dirty, ragged, ill-fed slum-children waving penny Union jacks and singing . . . Mr Crawley . . . said, with a gesture towards the songsters: ‘You see, Edgar, the distribution of cast-off clothing to the unemployed is paying a good dividend’ (p.156).
In some respects Winifred Holtby’s novel South Riding published in 1936, which also took local government as its theme, similarly sees local politicians as often motivated by self-interest, but it also suggested that civic and social progress can be made through even these imperfect instruments. Such unintended consequences have little place in the more cynical story of His Worship The Mayor, which sees Sam Grundy as, if anything, one of the more honest of the elected officials of Salford: ‘Sam Grundy, the bookie . . . was standing as Progressive candidate . . . Everybody knew Sam . . . “I ain’t no eddicated feller . . . I’m just plain Honest Sam Grundy . . . with a motto, ‘Sky’s the limit’ and all paid fair and square and no argyment”. Holding aloft his election address written by Mr Crawley: ‘An I’ll do all it says on t’paper’. (p.157)
One wonders if this treatment of local democracy even if aimed primarily at Conservative and Liberals did much to please Greenwood’s friends in the local Labour Party (not to mention the Vicar of St Thomas, Pendleton, who had helped Greenwood when he was writing Love on the Dole, given the collusive role in the novel of the Vicar of the ‘Ward of St Margaret’, p.148). The novel’s sympathies are mainly focused on the world of the unemployed miner, Jo Shuttleworth, who cannot believe that the local pit is shutting for ever: ‘Jo Shuttleworth was looking at the men demolishing the head-stocks. It frightened him . . . he could hardly grasp the significance of what he saw’ (p.162). This novel, like Love on the Dole, was well-reviewed by newspapers and periodicals with widely differing political viewpoints and readerships. The Marxist adult education journal Plebs praised the novel for its ‘implicit condemnation of social injustice’, and argued that it was likely to be ‘worth 1,000 Socialist propaganda speeches’. (See Andy Croft, Red Letter Days: British Fiction in the 1930s, 1990, p.248). The Manchester Guardian also gave the novel a good review, perhaps not surprisingly since the reviewer was the ‘Manchester School’ playwright Harold Brighouse who had very much liked Love on the Dole, and who brought out some continuities between the two novels (17/9/1934, p.6). Ralph Straus in the Sunday Times thought the novel drew ‘a finely ironical picture’, counterpointing the entirely unmeritocratic rise of Edgar Hargreaves against the equally undeserved fall of the poor Shuttleworth family: ‘his satire may not be appreciated in all quarters, but I for one enjoyed it’ (16/9/1934, p.7). It was also liked by the Daily Telegraph reviewer, who thought it ‘magnificent’ and ‘not an inch behind that grand book’ [Love on the Dole], and who seems to read Hargreaves’ story as well as that of the Shuttleworth family with sympathy: ‘Mr Greenwood gives us a double story of a struggling little draper who, through a legacy and graft, becomes Lord Mayor of the Two Cities, and of the heart-rending struggles of an unemployed miner and his family for mere existence’ (quoted on the dust wrapper of the Florin Books edition).
Greenwood was by no means a one-novel author as one might think from looking at many critical and journalistic accounts of his career (though see my review of his novel, Standing Room Only from 1936 for his thoughts about a fictional working-class author who did only have one book or play in him). Though now pretty much forgotten and not reprinted since the thirties, the positive public reception of his second novel was almost equal to that of his first (though I find it much less engaging than Love on the Dole). The novel’s main focus is corruption and cronyism, and thus scepticism about how well local democracy was able to represent the people of Salford and to allow the development of progressive policies for poor areas. However, its anti-hero Edgar perhaps also in a distorting way reflects something of the change of status which successful authorship had brought to Greenwood himself (he moved first to a better area in Salford and then to London). Hargreaves’ thoughts about there being other worlds beyond Salford may mirror the possibilities which now opened up for Greenwood:
He revolved hitherto unsuspected pleasant aspects of his present environment. New significances, potentialities began slowly to unfold; a strange sense of unhampered freedom, of there being no obligation to stay in the Two Cities against his will. (p.196)
Love on the Dole emphasised that everyone (apart from Sam Grundy) was trapped in Hanky Park. His Worship the Mayor suggests that some – but only some – can get out, perhaps something which did worry Greenwood, though his novels continued throughout the thirties and forties to represent working people and to argue that British society must be reformed in order to abolish the cycles of poverty which produced such intolerable social deprivation.
(This article partly draws on material in chapter 3 of my book, Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole: Novel, Play, Film – A Case Study, Liverpool University Press, 2018)
Standing Room Only (1936) by Walter Greenwood
The dust-wrapper to Greenwood’s third novel is similar in style to that of both Love on the Dole in its first edition (now almost unobtainable in its dust-wrapper) and his second novel, His Worship the Mayor (1934). In fact, only the dust-wrapper of the third novel is signed, revealing that the iconic chimneys of Love on the Dole’s cover were the work of J.Z. Atkinson, who also designed some posters in a related style for London Transport in the thirties (see as an example, poster number 50 from 1933 on this excellent blog site: 100 Underground Posters). His third cover for a Greenwood novel makes clear at once the theatrical concerns of Standing Room Only, with its depiction of rapt audience members ( I take it that the top-hatted figure on the spine is the newly- transformed working-class playwright who is the novel’s central figure – shown as he looks unobserved out towards his new and mixed-class / mixed hatted audience).
For Standing Room Only or ‘a Laugh in Every Line’ indeed surely refers, in a comic mode, to Greenwood’s own transformation from unemployed man into professional writer. The Times Literary Supplement reviewer thought it:
A pity that he has been lured from Manchester and Salford; his previous books have made him a name as a chronicler of contemporary life . . . but in his new book he deserts reality and gives pictures of a world in which he is as little at home as his hero Henry Ormerod. (Leonora Eyles, 18/7/1936, p. 598)
Actually, the novel does not simply abandon Salford, for much of it is set there, including much of its exploration of the world and business of the theatre, which was by no means alien to the life of the two Cities. What the reviewer seems to mean is that this novel does move on from the Salford which she would want to see again – a Salford which only symbolises urban-working class poverty. The idea that Greenwood ‘deserts reality’ presupposes that Hanky Park is the only reality to which such a working-class writer can have access. While lamenting what the book is not about, the comment that the novel ‘gives pictures of a world in which [Greenwood] is as little at home as his hero Henry Ormerod’ does almost catch what it is actually doing. Standing Room Only engages in its own way with the question of what might happen to working-class writers after they have achieved their first success.
Henry Ormerod is clearly based to an extent on Greenwood himself, and contemporary readers would surely have recognised this. Henrys works as a draper’s assistant and his ambition to be a playwright is scorned by his mother and would–be-wife Edna, who jointly regard it as both unachievable and a delusion which distracts him from fulfilling the roles of satisfactory son, fiancé and breadwinner. ‘It’s only wasting your time. You’ve got to be educated to write plays’ (Jonathan Cape, 1936, p.27 – all the following references are to this edition, but there is also a Howard Baker reprint of 1970 which may be easier to get hold of, and which has the same pagination).
Henry Ormerod (like Greenwood, who sent the typescript of the novel of Love on the Dole to two publishers simultaneously) has sent his play to two different theatrical agents – who happen to be long-time rivals. However, one, McPherson, accepts the play not so much because he is impressed with the play’s original genius as that it suits his plans to manipulate a wealthy patron into backing a play as a vehicle for a starlet in whom he is interested. The other impresario, Henry Ellis, is motivated by rivalry and through taking at face value information gleaned from his sneaked glance at the flattering acceptance letter which McPherson has sent to Henry Ormerod. In fact, McPherson has a reader’s report on the play which suggests that the play has some potential, but will also need rewriting: ‘This could be made into a highly diverting play’ (p.35). His rival Henry Ellis takes the same view, feeling it needs the attention of a ‘play doctor’, whose job it is to work up submitted play scripts into a satisfactory form for commercial production. The play doctor theme recalls, and is presumably based to an extent upon, Greenwood’s own experience with the adaptation of the novel of Love on the Dole into a play – since he was, indeed, not sole author of the play-version of what was indisputably his novel (he co-authored it with the already successful playwright Ronald Gow – by no means a ‘play doctor’, however). In the novel, Henry Ormerod’s play is taken over by the producer, Mr Ellis: ‘Here’s my offer. Fifty pounds down for six months’ option on the play … providing you’ll agree to collaborate with one of my play doctors’. (p.59). Thus Henry loses control of the text of his play and also of its finances, with everyone taking far more money out of it than he does (even his father, returning from touring his music hall act, insists on being Henry’s agent, on taking his five percent commission and, in short, on offering his ‘lifelong experience in matters theatrical’ – p.81).
Henry is, in return, transported to London’s theatre-land and a world of apparently Hollywoodesque glamour and intrigue. Meeting his Salford acquaintance, the former amateur actress, Dilys Richmond, who is to be cast as the leading lady in his play, ‘He breathed the faint perfume which hung about her: it was delicious; he eyed appreciatively, the set of her shoulders and the blonde knot of hair done stylishly at the nape of her neck’ (p.124). However, he soon finds that class issues are not left behind just because he is now an ‘author’ – three other men, a stage star, a Knight and a Lord are also interested in Dilys and he feels they have many advantages over him (Greenwood has some fun with his fellow working class-writer Walter Brierley from Derbyshire, author of Means Test Man, 1935, by naming his knight ‘Sir Walter Brierley’). Despite Henry’s romantic interest in Dilys, it quickly all becomes too much for him – the constant intrigues, the financial advantage everyone seems to expect to extract from the play – and soon the most comforting word he can imagine is ‘home’: ‘The moment Henry sat down in the train he felt happier: it was as though he had left London far behind’ (p.250).
In the end, Henry agrees in a moment of inattention, so glad is he to be home, to marry Edna. However, he lacks any real commitment, and their new, suburban home, funded by the weekly royalty cheques from his play, which is at last bringing him some money too, is not what he meant by the word ‘home’. The truth is that he now feels he fits in nowhere, something summed up by the car which Edna insists on:
That ‘thing’ stood as a barrier between him and his old friends. Before its arrival they had been uncomprehending of the significance of his new profession: it did not mean anything. He had used the tramcars and buses as themselves and had stood with them in the queues for these vehicles. He now had a vehicle to himself …Sometimes he passed a group of his friends as they stood chatting at the street corner. … he secretly yearned to join them again in those carefree evenings at the theatre or cinema. (p.285 )
There is misogyny here in blaming Edna for Henry’s own ill-considered decision to run away from London, but clearly the end of the novel laments Henry’s sense of exclusion from his origins.
Standing Room Only seems a reasonably successful comic novel about what might happen to a provincial working-class author who is taken up by the numerous agents who are part of the processes of publication and performance, though it does have a distinctly down-beat ending. Henry’s story is unlike Greenwood’s in that nothing follows his play: ‘Another play? He hadn’t an idea in his head. A one-play man with a now barren mind’ (p. 285). Perhaps Greenwood was reflecting on what might have happened had he been a one-novel author – as, ironically, posterity has tended to see him. The Time Literary Supplement reviewer was not the only one to be disappointed – Ralph Straus in the Sunday Times felt that satirical material critical of what went on behind the scenes of commercial theatre overwhelmed the ‘amusing episodes’ in the novel (9/8/1936, p. 8). However, the Chief Librarian of the Wellington Public Libraries in New Zealand, for example, thought it had ‘all the qualities which made Love on the Dole such a success’ and chose it as his Book of the Week in a newspaper review in 1936 (Evening Post, Wellington, 24/10/1936, p. 28). It is significant that he ended his review by emphasising that Greenwood’s writing provided ‘entertainment of the best kind’, seeing comedy as no impediment to self-improvement or literary value. Greenwood, though he called Standing Room Only an ‘entertainment’ rather than a novel, would surely have agreed, since all of his novels, including Love on the Dole certainly seek to offer entertainment as well as moral seriousness. Some of the contemporary reviewers clearly disagreed about the balance between the two elements in Standing Room Only, but it is a novel worth reading for its reflections on the status of a working-class writer and his or her relationship with some of the institutions through which writing is distributed and mediated.
(This article partly draws on material in chapter 3 of my forthcoming book, Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole: Novel, Play, Film – A Case Study, Liverpool University Press, 2018)
The Cleft Stick (1937) by Walter Greenwood and Arthur Wragg
Walter Greenwood is well-known for his novel Love on the Dole (1933), which is remembered as the iconic British novel of the Depression. By 1940 it had sold some 46, 290 copies in the UK, and had been seen in a stage adaptation by some 3 million people in Britain. Love on the Dole was often regarded as authentic testimony from a working-class author who had experienced unemployment in Salford between 1929 and 1933. Indeed it was unemployment (and the typewriter which he removed from his last place of employment in lieu of wages) which gave him the opportunity to write (see Geenwood’s memoir, There Was a Time, 1967. p.199). However, he did not begin by writing a novel, but by writing short stories about working-class life intended for fiction magazines. However, only one of these stories was accepted (‘A Maker of Books’), earning him twenty-five guineas in 1931, enough, he said, to live on for six months (There Was a Time, p.215). When Greenwood wrote to the successful popular novelist Ethel Mannin for help, she advised him to turn the short stories into a novel if he wished to make a living as a writer. This he did, reworking the stories to produce Love on the Dole in 1933.
It was not until 1937 that Greenwood published the original short stories in a form very different from that he first planned. They appeared in a lavish edition called The Cleft Stick which was a co-produced work with the artist Arthur Wragg (a graduate of Sheffield School of Art who was also, like Greenwood, from a poor background). The book included full-page illustrations, illustrated end-papers and an embossed cover as well as an illustrated dust-wrapper. By this time both Greenwood and Wragg had a certain celebrity status as working-class writers, and the book sold well. Arthur Wragg had published a number of illustrated works, often with highly original and strikingly contemporary versions of Christian themes. These included the controversial Psalms for Modern Life in 1933, which juxtaposed the texts of the psalms with his stark black and white drawings of contemporary life and Jesus Wept of 1934, either of which might have attracted Greenwood’s attention for their illustrations of the unemployment, poverty and dereliction of thirties Britain. The Cleft Stick has been extraordinarily neglected, yet it was favourably reviewed as a controversial sequel to Love on the Dole, and was widely read in Britain and the USA (there are still quite a few copies available second-hand at a certain price, but it would be excellent if the volume were re-printed).
If Love on the Dole was the most celebrated book about British working-class life in the thirties, The Cleft Stick was not that far behind, and it also kept Greenwood and his reputation in the news, as well as extending his celebrity by associating him with the artist Arthur Wragg, who was equally newsworthy. Many reviewers thought that The Cleft Stick showed considerable development, giving an even more pessimistic vision of British working-class life than did Love on the Dole. Indeed, The Cleft Stick is not even just another work of working-class fiction by the author of Love on the Dole: it is in fact a text which is intimately connected to Love on the Dole, for which it may be seen as either a prequel or sequel or even as the original version of what became Love on the Dole. If we are interested in Love on the Dole and working-class writing we certainly should be interested in The Cleft Stick too.
In their adverts the publishers, Selwyn and Blount, drew attention to Greenwood and Wragg’s joint work with the underlined heading, ‘A Brilliant Collaboration.’ They also quoted from a review in the south Wales newspaper, the Western Mail which emphasised the co-operative nature of the work: ‘Remarkable for the grim power and stark reality of the stories, and for the tremendously gripping drawings’.(in the Sunday Times, 21 November, 1937, p. 11). In a follow-up advert (11December) the publishers quoted what may seem (even to Greenwood fans) like extravagant praise from Edith Sitwell, stating that The Cleft Stick is ‘A wonderful book. It contains two of the greatest short stories that have been produced in a hundred years – I don’t mean in England, I mean in the world. Arthur Wragg is an enrichment of one’s life.’ Some reviews discussed only Greenwood’s texts, but most saw drawings and stories as equal contributions.
In his ‘Author’s Preface’ to The Cleft Stick Greenwood includes this account of the striking book’s origins and the leading role of Wragg:
Editors of popular magazines, whom I considered ought to have been proud to have included these stories in their pages, thought differently, though all were generous in their praise, one of them actually paying twenty-five guineas for the privilege of printing one. I was invited to write football stories, but, not having any feeling for such subjects, the effort would have been a waste of time.
Miss Ethel Mannin, a complete stranger to me at the time, was good enough to read the collection and to advise me to write a novel using some of the characters. I followed her advice, and Love on the Dole was the consequence.
Had it not been for a holiday in Cornwall last year when I spent a good deal of time in the company of my friend Arthur Wragg, the artist, I guess the short stories comprising most of this volume would still be in their brown-paper parcel (p.9).
In form The Cleft Stick is a two-hundred-and-twenty-page collection of fifteen short stories, accompanied by sixteen illustrations, of which twelve are full double-page images and four are full single page images. Thus each story has one accompanying illustration, apart from the final one, ‘The Old School’, which has two, though it is not strictly a story, since it is sub-titled ‘an autobiographical fragment’ (p. 212). There is also the three-page ‘Author’s Preface’. Of the fifteen short stories, twelve date to the period of unemployment when Greenwood first started writing — that is from 1928 to1931 — while the autobiographical fragment was first published in Graham Greene’s anthology The Old School (London: Jonathan Cape) in 1935. The two remaining stories, ‘Patriotism’ and ‘Any Bread, Cake or Pie?’, Greenwood tells us in his Preface (p.9), ‘are of recent vintage’ and are thus clearly written after Love on the Dole (1933). Wragg’s images were completely new pieces of work responding in his own unique style to Greenwood’s stories.
A number of the characters in Love on the Dole are shared by The Cleft Stick and some are portrayed in Wragg’s illustrations. Thus Ted Munter (pictured above by Wragg, on the thresh-hold of starting his own book-making venture), Sam Grundy’s side-kick in the novel, is the protagonist of the first story, ‘A Maker of Books’, while the Scodger family, minor characters in the novel, have a whole story to themselves in ‘Mrs Scodger’s Husband’. The title story, ‘The Cleft Stick’ gives a more complete account of the awful life of Mrs Cranford, whose story is told in passing in the novel, and the final end of Blind Joe Riley, who opens and closes the novel in his job as a human alarm-clock or ‘knocker-up, is told in ‘Joe Goes Home’. Ned Narkey, one of the villains of the novel, appears as an even more villainous exploiter of women in ‘The Son of Mars’, while two of the novel’s chorus of older women, Mrs Dorbell and Mrs Nattle are joined in ‘The Practised Hand’ by a third much less scrupulous and indeed murderous older woman who is not included in the novel at all, Mrs Haddock (Mrs Bull makes an appearance alone in ‘The Cleft Stick’). The character of Harry in ‘Any Bread, Cake or Pie?’ may bear some resemblance to Harry Hardcastle as a boy in the novel. A number of stories and their characters have no real equivalent in the novel, including two about small shops and businesses in Hanky Park. The shops might suggest the possibility of individual success and social mobility – and that would not fit with the overall theme of Love on the Dole which sees no way out of Hanky Park for most (except death). The two small-business stories are ‘The Little Gold Mine’ (which greatly expands a reference in the novel to Mr Hulkington’s grocery shop) and ‘ “All’s Well That Ends Well” ’ (which tells the story of ‘Babson’s High-Class Supper Bars’, a successful business which does not make it into Love on the Dole in any form). It should also be noted that two key figures in the novel have little direct equivalent in the short story collection: Larry Meath, the working-class intellectual and activist has no story, and there is no direct equivalent for Sally Hardcastle, the working-class woman who makes a desperate and appalling deal with the bookie Sam Grundy for the benefit of her male relatives and mother.
‘The Cleft Stick’ was in fact the second story which Greenwood wrote, as he recalled in an interview in the nineteen-seventies, and was originally called by the more literal title of ‘Jack Cranford’s Wife’ (‘Dole Cue’: interview with Catherine Stott, the Guardian, 2 April, 1971, p. 10). It is about the desperation of Mrs Cranford, who has too many children and not enough money: she decides to put her head in the gas-oven and end it all – but is defeated by not having a penny for the gas-meter – she is in the cleft stick. Though he did not place the story first in The Cleft Stick, Greenwood (and presumably Wragg) clearly felt that its mood and title summed up the atmosphere of the whole collection. There was not so much working-class writing published in the nineteen thirties that we can afford totally to forget such a once well-known and aesthetically interesting collaboration between a successful working-class writer and successful working-class artist.
For further information about The Cleft Stick see: Walter Greenwood and Arthur Wragg’s The Cleft Stick (1937)
PS for another review of The Cleft Stick, see Sylvia D’s on the Reading 1900-1950 site: Another Cleft Stick Review
The Secret Kingdom (1938) by Walter Greenwood
Sadly, the dust-wrapper to the first (Cape) edition of The Secret Kingdom is one of the dullest of all Greenwood’s dust-wrappers (but see the Dust-wrappers section of this web-site for the much more interesting Hutchinson reprint dust-wrapper ):
But the novel itself is not dull. Walter Greenwood’s father was a hairdresser and by the time he married Elizabeth Matilda Walter he had opened his own hairdresser’s shop (‘Tom’s Hairdressing Saloon’) at 56 Ellor Street, Salford (the premises are pictured in the frontispiece to Greenwood’s memoir, There Was A Time, 1967 and also on the website of the Walter Greenwood collection at the University of Salford Library: http://www.salford.ac.uk/__data/assets/xml_file/0007/530476/Greenwood.xml). The character of Robert Treville in Greenwood’s 1938 novel The Secret Kingdom is clearly a version of his father. Here, having just set up his barber’s shop in Salford, Treville considers his prospects:
Hadn’t he established himself as a popular character by virtue of having made himself a favourite at the Palatine Arms? Wasn’t he able to bring tears to the eyes of the customers there by way he sang ‘the Miner’s Dream of Home’? And hadn’t they told him he could tell a risqué story better than anybody else there? Patrons of the pub became his patrons as a matter of course (Morley-Baker reprint, Leeds, 1970, p.25; all subsequent references are to this edition).
Indeed, as Greenwood explains in his memoir, There Was a Time, his father was an ‘extrovert’ who tried ‘without success, to convince my mother that his visits to the pub were “for the sake of business” ’ (pp.13 and 15). The Secret Kingdom details the constant, tragic and unsuccessful struggle which Treville has in choosing between drink and respectability, between a downward and upward social trajectory, and this was certainly a familiar struggle in the early years of the Greenwood household, though it is presented comically in There Was a Time ‘ “nip round to the Temperance Hall and get me a Pledge Form . . . Father signed this with a great flourish and it was added to the collection’ (p.15). Robert Treville dies young of pneumonia, brought on more or less directly, the novel makes clear, by his chronic struggle with drink; Tom Greenwood also died young, aged forty-five, in 1912, but as a direct result, anyway, of chronic lung disease, probably TB.
Greenwood’s fourth pre-war novel, The Secret Kingdom, is set in Salford and focuses on the life of the socialist Byron family, and probably aims to be, like Love on the Dole, a socially engaged kind of fiction which might find sympathy among a broad range of readers. However, it also has a firmly romance-based plot (though not exactly a happy ending for the principals in this). Greenwood, needing to maintain both his income and standing as a professional author, may have been exploring how he might sustain his writing career using popular or middlebrow genres during the years following Love on the Dole and His Worship the Mayor.
Early on the novel introduces two characters who stand out from their environment, Bert Treville, who has come to Palatine Street, Salford, from as far away as Manchester and is thus a romantically interesting stranger, and Paula, eldest daughter of the Byron family, who has mysteriously disappeared from Palatine Street for six months, as well as being a member of a family known for their strangeness in the whole district, for William Byron the father ‘had books of his own, real books . . . You could see the books in the glass-fronted bookcase in the parlour where he took you when you went to ask his advice’ (p.14). Paula, has in fact, and despite what the neighbours all think, absented herself to work as a parlour-maid and to recover from her refusal of a proposal of marriage:
She could think of John Blake now without a pang. As for the other men . . . there didn’t seem to be any chivalry in them. Good manners were something to be shy, if not ashamed of. What then remained for her to satisfy her desire for colour and romance but Italian opera, Shakespeare, the poets and the classical novelists? There were, of course, that most secret and cherished release from reality, dreams.
Dreams! Impalpable things that could be, and often were, more real than reality. In these she could believe, whereas all that which she saw about her . . . was altogether incredible and alien to her nature. Who could countenance the mean lives of Lancashire workers, the endless dreariness of the streets, the dirt, poverty, weeping skies, the feeling of imprisonment, of no escape and the never-ending uncertainty of everything? (pp.35-6)
Bert Treville is equally romantically inclined, but in his case towards Paula: ‘Paula, oh Paula! So removed from collective woman; a creation apart, a thing unique, a shining light far away’ (p.27).
However, I have slightly misrepresented the novel thus far – if it draws on the language and plots of romance, it also has features which are not wholly conventional. For example, the opening scene-setting chapter (highly reminiscent of the opening of Love on the Dole) talks of the way in which the Two Cities can be differently understood from different ideological and class viewpoints:
Let it pass that children are taught that Manchester is a place at which anybody can point with pride as an illustrious example of national wealth, municipal enterprise and public-spiritedness. . . All this is, alas, only one side of the picture . . .
A stranger’s reactions to the districts surrounding the city’s centre will depend on two things, his or her social position and social conscience. . . Streets of houses where the proletariat put up a pretence of living: . . . cotton mills, engineering works, cheek by jowl; main streets lined with pettifogging shops that change hands ceaselessly, bankrupting each successive optimist; railway bridges, dripping arches, canals; dog-racing tracks, football fields, cheap dance halls and super cinemas. Of this there is no end. (p. 10)
This may not be revolutionary rhetoric, but neither is it obviously encouraging an easy acceptance of the status quo or avoiding entirely any disturbance to readers who may not share this kind of social analysis. Similarly, if in some ways Paula Byron is unimpeachably ‘respectable’ in her aspirations to high culture and her distaste for industrial Salford, she is also unimpeachably socialist in her beliefs. Thinking about her daily walk to work at her mill at 6 am, and the daily sight of the night-soil men emptying the ‘pestiferous ordure tins’ from Baxter Street,
aroused that other side of her nature, the fiery, indignant side which leapt in ardent response to the political debates and speeches in the Labour Club and the Manchester Free Trade Hall. (p.37)
Paula is the novel’s central character, but her plot-line is also balanced throughout the novel by a plot-line centred on a male character, first that of her suitor Bert Treville, and then, after his premature death through drink and pneumonia, that of her son Lance, a talented pianist. Though the novel is strongly interested in romance, it does also seem keen to provide points of entry for male readers. Thus though Bert’s struggles with the demon drink are, in the end, fatal, they begin with accounts of the part which the pub plays in his community for men as their main social focus, and his pleasure in this is explored sympathetically, although he eventually fails to hold the line between ‘respectable’ social drinking and ruinous neglect of his family and his own health. Equally, after Bert’s death, Lance’s engagement with the literary and musical education his mother scrimps to provide him with is balanced by insights into his struggles with other attractive forms of working-class masculine identity:
Lance was fed up with this school business. Gosh! Look at Billy Waring and the gang; all wearing overalls, talking professionally about capstan lathes, foundries, machine shops, castings, shell-cases, big guns, oh, and all the romantic things associated with the war! … and mother always harping on studying and winning a scholarship. As though it wasn’t bad enough having to study the piano . . . If he were wearing overalls would Aunt Anne have the nerve to ask him to be bringing her new baby to the mill every day at noon? (p.338)
At the end of The Secret Kingdom, after a long period of unemployment, Lance makes it as a concert pianist when he is broadcast live by BBC radio (the Byrons have to borrow a wireless to listen). The Secret Kingdom of the title is, it seems, a sustaining inner resource of higher things – a combination of socialist principles with high cultural participation. In many ways this is a classic Greenwood ending (reminiscent of his own deus ex machina acceptance letters for his early short stories and his first novel). The dire way out of Hanky Park through Sally’s becoming Sam Grundy’s mistress at the end of Love on the Dole is here replaced by a positive rescue for the impoverished Byron family coming out of the wider world from a (still newish) national cultural institution. There is a sense, despite Greenwood’s own experience, of which the reader is likely to be reminded, that there is an element of the wish-fulfilment, easy way-out ending to this. However, there is also for Paula a sense of the rest of her class abandoned, left behind by her individual advance: ‘Paula ‘saw herself . . . being rescued from the inhospitable desert island of poverty on whose shores … all the imaginable downtrodden were silently congregated, their unenvious eyes following her dumbly as she receded’ (p.412). It is a significant ending in terms of some issues about Greenwood’s class and gender identifications. If Lance feared earlier that there was a feminising element in his mother’s cultural aspirations for him, and even if these were dealt with partly by his own participation in the masculine world of the dole-office queue, there is nevertheless a sense here that he does, and his family with him, leave behind a world of manual labour characterised as masculine for a more feminised, bourgeois way of living.
Not all responses to the novel were positive. The review in the Times Literary Supplement praised his continued engagement with working-class life, but is unimpressed by the technique and quality of the novel:
It is pleasant to find that Mr Greenwood has not abandoned in imagination the working-class scene. Once more he writes of poverty and insecurity in the mean streets of Salford, of the response of different types of character to hard and ugly conditions of life. It is less pleasant to record that this latest book of his is a disappointment . . . The chief trouble . . . is an all too evident willingness to use the conventional and the ready-made. Paula Byron’s struggles to maintain the ordinary decencies of life, her courage and tenacity in the face of the handicaps that often daunt the slum-dweller, her yearnings towards the secret kingdom of Shakespeare, the Iliad and the Emperor Concerto – all this was potentially the stuff of a novel as true and revealing as Love on the Dole. Paula, as she is drawn here, is a ghost of a woman, not a person at all, but a personification of conventional working-class virtues (R.D. Charques, 21/5/1938).
One might, of course, say that all literary works do draw on conventions in one way or another, but the reviewer clearly feels that between Love on the Dole and The Secret Kingdom Greenwood has fallen from the position of original writer to that of merely conventional writer.
Other reviews were more positive, acknowledging a combination of attractive qualities. The Times too felt that the novel was rather schematic, ‘an instance of a novel where the ideas outdo the people’: ‘one missed the irrelevances of nature that transform a type into a man or woman, and yet as types they perfectly exemplify this theme of spirit endlessly at war with material circumstances’ (27/5/1938, p.22). However, the reviewer also took the novel’s social commentary as worthy of serious attention. Harold Brighouse at the Guardian wrote another favourable review and was particularly concerned to bring out differences from Greenwood’s first novel: ‘The Secret Kingdom is the best of Mr Greenwood’s novels since Love on the Dole. It lacks the raw force … of that specifically “depression” book and goes calmly about its gentler business of telling the life-story of a Salford working woman … This is a quiet and deeply-moving story’ (24/5/1938, p.9). Frank Swinnerton in the Observer thought Greenwood’s novel was based ‘upon true observation … and is always readable with pleasure’ (29/5/1938, p.6). It may well be that in fact much of Greenwood’s influence from the very beginning of his career comes from a certain middlebrow position in the literary market-place: he created novels which a very wide readership recognised as readable, entertaining, yet serious literary works, with the potential therefore for actual social and political impact.
Only Mugs Work (1938)
In my Greenwood book, I did not give his only thriller a good press: ‘Only Mugs Work, seems to me the least successful of all Greenwood’s writings of the 1930s. The blending of hard-boiled, American-influenced gangster novel and sentimental romance is not well-handled’ (p.225). Having just re-read it, I still think this is broadly right, but maybe I was a bit too unforgiving, mainly because I felt that there was so little here which was characteristic of Greenwood’s writing. However, if it is not a distinguished thriller, it is perfectly readable and does offer some reading pleasures and excitements. Here I will try to give a more neutral, less judgemental and indeed more detailed account of the book, and can point to a few traces of Greenwood’s more usual social and political interests.
Published by Hutchinson in 1938, this was the first novel Greenwood contracted with a publisher other than Jonathan Cape (there was a new cheap edition by the same publisher in 1947, and a small print of a new edition in 1969 by the publisher Morley Baker). The full title of the novel is Only Mugs Work – a Soho Melodrama, suggesting that it will be a heightened version of reality, rather than Greenwood’s usual realism. However, in the first edition unusual illustrated end-papers based on (actual?) newspaper clippings about gangsters counter-acted this generic hint of unreality by suggesting that acts which should belong only in the realm of the thriller had become everyday occurrences in contemporary London (the cheap edition sadly dispensed with the illustrated end-papers). The first chapter of the novel, ‘The Sinister Area’, does deploy a typical Greenwood device which he first used in Love on the Dole. It offers a distanced, perhaps aerial, overview of London as capital (and indeed world city) and then, using a cinematic zoom effect, focuses on the area of Soho itself.
First then we see the London of our expectations:
London, the biggest city the world has ever seen … London bold invader of fields and villages which it swallows, insatiably … The mother of parliaments, royal palaces, a king, a queen: Mayfair, where the nobs live; swanky hotels, places of historical interest; theatres and shops (p.9).
Next we move swiftly through theatre-land to day-time and early evening Soho, the Soho of Italian cafes and restaurants, which, as darkness falls, becomes the Soho of street-walkers, ‘private’ clubs and shows. Behind all that are the criminal organisers who take the profit:
The dog-track and race-track gangs, the pimps, ponces, spivs, dope and white-slave traffickers; the strong-arm and razor-boys, the smash and grab raiders, all well-dressed men of leisure without visible means of support, carry on their business in their own spheres. (p.11)
The concentration of specialised criminal language suggest the knowledge of the narrator, who is nevertheless clearly not himself part of this under-world. Again, this mixture of insider knowledge and critical distance is reminiscent of the opening chapter of Love on the Dole.
Next, though, instead of going further into the milieu just introduced, there is in the next chapter a switch of location to the Kent coast: ‘In a deserted part of the Kent coastline somewhere between Folkestone and Dungeness a couple of large saloon cars were parked’ (p.12). These motors are of course connected to bosses in Soho and there on criminal business, or rather businesses –narcotics, people-trafficking and modern slavery, including the branch then known as ‘the white slave trade’. A number of French and Russian women are picked up from a boat, and it is made clear that they are destined for Soho brothels. There are also two couples from Vienna who pay over large amounts of cash to a man called Gino, while the narrator focuses on the reactions of one of the two women:
She still could not grasp that fact that she was a fugitive, a victim of racial hatred; she still saw all this movement from place to place, this sneaking into a strange country as an incredible nightmare from which she must awake.’ (p.15)
Gino has already had his thoughts about this part of his business, which are utterly devoid of empathy: ‘he was thinking what a good thing this Nazi business had proved for the Gorelli gang. There were any amount of Jewish refugees fleeing’ (p. 14).
The Gorelli family are the novel’s dynasty of villains (the novel is by no means above the more obvious of stereotypes). Though their business concerns are generally going well, rooted in gambling, protection rackets, addiction and the desperation of refugees, they have a troubling rival in Soho itself – a mysterious entrepreneur known only as the Con Man. Most vexing of all, this competitor’s business, if not ethical, is at least technically on the right side of the law: ‘[Tony Gorelli] felt he would not have minded so much had the competitor been, say, some other gang … but the Con Man’s crowd —! Didn’t they pride themselves on not being law-breakers? (pp. 25-6). The Con Man’s game is pin-ball and slot-machine arcades, something the Gorellis also work, but run at a slightly lower profit-margin so that the Con Man’s establishments are now full while the Gorelli brothers’ arcades are deserted. The Con Man also has some kind of connection to a night-club – the South American, which is fronted by two men called the Duke and Nick Summers. The club also has a star, the American singer Susie Gaye, whose spirit and sense of independence may remind the reader of Sally Hardcastle in Love on the Dole, and a pianist called Vic Hanson.
Not surprisingly (perhaps not surprisingly enough?) , it is the rivalry between the Gorellis and the Con Man which motivates the thriller’s main events, when Tony Gorelli decides to unmask his rival and put him out of business by main force. The immediate spark for this is that the Con Man refuses to provide an alibi for the younger and rasher Gorelli brother, Mario. Mario has taken one of the Con Man’s cars while escaping from an improvised raid on a fur warehouse which was intended to incriminate the Con Man himself, and during which Mario has shot a policeman – fatally as it turns out. Shortly afterwards, Mario is killed in a high-speed police chase. There is then a scene at the South American when Gorelli and his men take the Duke, Nick Summers and their men captive, along with Susie, and torture them until the unlikely Vic admits that he is the Con man, in order to protect Susie (he has lost his job as a cinema orchestra leader after the talkies have come in, p.197). Soon, as the police pick up the trail of the Gorellis, Gorelli and his captives head for the Kent coast first in cars then in hijacked lorries to pick up one of their boats and escape to the continent.
However, the resourceful and courageous Susie manages to throw her handbag with a note in it out of the vehicle at the feet of some constables on point-duty in London. Soon the flying squad commander Inspector Harding is on the case (he is introduced into the story rather late and just does not have a chance to develop any character beyond that of the usual square-jawed utterly honest policeman). There is however, at the climax of the thriller, a quite exciting night-time car-chase with the clear novelty of police aerial surveillance. Tony Gorrelli, now at the wheel of a stolen police-car is bemused by the running commentary over the police-radio which makes clear that Harding knows exactly where he is: ‘This was uncanny. It was beginning to get on Gorelli’s nerves. How the devil were they keeping themselves informed at Scotland yard, Had they some secret instrument?’ (p. 223).
The thriller ends as you might expect: the villains are punished and the good rescued and rewarded (Tony goes prison, Vic and Susie plan to marry). Despite my scepticism, some contemporary reviews thought the novel worked well as a thriller – The Scotsman thought it, ‘full of excitement, suspense and terror’ (24/10/1938, p. 13). The Liverpool Daily Post thought Greenwood’s sense of gangster control in London must be exaggerated and clearly felt some distaste, but supposed that the story would please readers ; who find pleasure in being thrilled by the horrible and unnatural’ (3/1/1939, p. 9). The Middlesex Chronicle saw kinship with Love on the Dole in that both works revealed unknown Englands and applied the label ‘a sociological novel’ to both. However, the Aberdeen Press and Journal judged that the thriller precisely did not fall into Greenwood’s usual genre or achievement of reportage: ‘if the final effect is of unreality, then the book must be accounted a failure as a work of fiction … As a melodrama good, as a social document, of no particular account’ (3/9/1938, p.3). The novel though must have had its fans – one of my two editions, the cheap reprint of 1947, certainly seems to have been much borrowed from the ‘Silver Library Limited’: it bears dozens of borrowing stamps from the period between February 1948 and 31 August 1949.
How the Other Man Lives (1939)
Greenwood’s work, from Love on the Dole onwards, was quite often referred to as ‘documentary’, but very little of his writing really has obvious claims to membership of the new tradition of documentary writing (often influenced by theories of film documentary) which to many writers seemed so apt for describing the political and social crises of the time. Older novel genres, including the ‘condition of England’ novel (with its roots in the nineteenth-century) and the romance, seem more influential in his writing.
But one of his books, which has been sadly neglected, is fully in the documentary mode – his non-fiction contribution to the late thirties Labour Book Service series: How the Other Man Lives. Here Greenwood mainly lets the subjects speak for themselves though direct quotation and through his paraphrases of their views – though there are often implicit (and a few explicit) commentaries. The book is made up of thirty-seven sections each about a particular kind of working-class job, each based on interviews with a worker or workers. I know of no evidence about when and where these interviews too place, but they must have taken considerable time and effort. The book title to modern ears seems to assume that only men work – and there is some truth in this charge in that the majority of the sections are about occupations regarded as exclusively masculine at the time, or anyway use exclusively male exemplars. In fact, twenty-eight sections are about (or mainly about) male workers, while only nine are about female workers. However, my sense is that often the majority of public concern about employment and unemployment in the thirties was indeed with male workers, so that the ten female interviewees / occupations here may be better than it might have been, and it is at least to Greenwood’s credit that he sees ‘Housewife’ as a job equal to others rather than as a ‘natural’ role.
Many of the jobs covered are classically and solidly ‘working-class’: ‘The Transport Worker’, ‘The Miner’, ‘The Railwayman’, ‘The Docker’, ‘The Farm Labourer’, ‘The Main Line Assembly’, ‘The Apprentice’, ‘The Bus Man’, ‘The Fisherman’, ‘The Steel Worker’, ‘The Cotton Operative’, ‘The Taxi Driver’. Others jobs included are less obviously or typically part of industry or transport, but are firmly represented as equivalent in their frequent insecurity, their hard work, and in the lack of any pay which could possibly generate savings against bad times: ‘The Clerk’, ‘The West End Hairdresser’, ‘The Variety Artist’ and ‘The Small Shopkeeper’. Female occupations and/or jobs represented through female interviewees include ‘The Hotel Chambermaid – and Some Others’, ‘The Boarding-House Keeper’, ‘The Post Office Worker’, ‘The Super Cinema Usherette’, ‘The Shop Assistant’, ‘The School Teacher.’ One small but important group of ‘lives’ are precisely about those who have no paid ‘jobs’ and who must depend (at best) on the arrangements made by the state for their survival: ‘The Unemployed’, ‘Down and Out’, ‘The Old Age Pensioner’ and most shockingly, ‘Seventy Years in the Workhouse’.
There is one section which is distinctly different and does not deal with working-class people mainly from their own point of view (though one might also add to that ‘The Pawnbroker’ section). ‘The Inquisition’ deals instead with the workings of the ‘Public Assistance Committee’ (or PAC) which in the benefits system of the nineteen-thirties is the only source of financial support for those ‘who have no “insurable record”, that is to say, they have never been employed in an insurable occupation’ (p.144). Greenwood lists characteristic workers who have to turn to the PAC for assistance as hawkers, newspaper-sellers and odd job men, but also adds that in times of recession these also include uninsured ‘black-coated workers’ who have been left with no income after the collapse of large or small businesses. Greenwood starts the section with the ungrounded view of a gentleman ‘who had at least £3000 a year’ that ‘there are some men who get more relief from the rates than they could earn at a job of work.’ (p.144). He was of course, says Greenwood, ‘wrong’. Greenwood suggests that he has had opportunities to see how PACs work from two different viewpoints. Firstly as a ‘collector for a firm dealing with weekly payments’ (probably between 1933-34), he often visited families who depended on the PAC, and found them in houses which had in fact been condemned as unfit for human habitation. Secondly, though he does not quite state this as his own experience, a number of references to the involvement of elected councillors in the workings of the PACs may draw on his time as a Salford Labour Councillor (from 1934 to 1935). Greenwood’s account shows some ‘Relieving Officers’ who actually visited families or individuals at home to assess their eligibility for PAC funds to be humane and helpful. But he is mainly indignant about the behaviour of the Committees themselves and about the financial pressures exerted within an inefficient and unjust system: ‘the cry of the city and borough councils is “Economy at any cost. Business cannot stand further increases in the rates’ (p.151). Greenwood’s proposal is that such social support which is taken from local rates however poor the area and however great its needs be provided from a more equally shared ‘national pooling of rates’.
More characteristic of most sections are those (to take three examples) about ‘The Main Line Assembly Worker’, ‘The Farm Labourer’, and ‘The Super Cinema Usherette’. In The Main Line Assembly Worker’ (as in several other sections) Greenwood begins autobiographically by recalling his spell as a clerk in the Ford Motor works at the Trafford Industrial Estate. He says that it was one of the best-paid jobs he ever had, but also the most ‘objectionable to my taste’ because of the work’s ‘super-efficient’ Taylorist production system: ‘in the place of Man they substituted the Machine, and as for craftsmanship they laughed at it’ (p.90). Greenwood finds that plenty of men are willing to work in such systems for the good pay rates, but they also share his feeling that such work is alienating and bad for their mental health: ‘It’s sometimes more than a man can stand … the same job all the time makes you feel you’re going screwy by the time the weekend comes’ (p.93).
The account of the farm-worker’s life is perhaps more optimistic to begin with (Greenwood’s often-expressed love of nature and the countryside in many of his works has been overlooked), though its many deprivations are also included. The section opens with positively pastoral and romantic scene-setting paragraphs which focus mainly on the land rather than on people (‘Below in the valley, the village snugly nestled: from squat chimneys floated columns of sweet-smelling smoke from driftwood fires’, p.71). But to talk to the farm-workers Greenwood moves from this overview of the landscape into the village pub (Love on the Dole actually begins in a similar way). He immediately notes that the men try to make one pint of beer or cider last the whole evening – they cannot afford a second. He also reflects that it is not easy to get the farm-labourers to talk about their lives and by implication that to this townie they do not feel like modern free citizens, but more like part of an older kind of social order: ‘Most of them were of the cap-touching, respectful, servile type who referred to their employers as “the master”. Had it not been for the presence of the small-holder getting them to talk would have been a helpless enterprise’ (p.72). This section is unusual in the book in that Greenwood for a large part listens in to an argument between two different points of view from within an occupational group – if that can be said of a small-holder and a farm-labourer (the discussion makes very clear that the small-holder feels like a free man in a way which the farm-worker does not, and at times seems like a representative of a Marxist history in which the progressive bourgeoisie criticise the feudal order). The small-holder is highly critical of farmers, arguing that at this time they receive large government subsidies, while paying no rates and yet are constantly re-elected to the County Council as controllers of public monies by their own loyal farm-workers. This is clearly a public conversation in the pub and Greenwood turns aside from it to a more private talk with a farm-labourer to get his own viewpoint. The farm-worker feels that the small-holder has been too harsh on farmers ‘(generally-speaking the farmer is a generous sort of fellow’) and that conditions have improved. He also likes the advantage over the city-dweller of being able to grow a good deal of his own food. The argument seems balanced at this point, but a single topic produces in Greenwood an overwhelming indignation. The farm-worker observes that he has Sunday off these days, once he has milked the cows. Greenwood says he is presumably excused this Sunday-working during his annual holidays at least, but the worker replies that he has never had a holiday, but works fifty-two weeks in the year: ‘incredulously I asked him could that really be true? … Hadn’t he ever been to any other spot in the face of the earth for at least a few days?’ (p.76). As I noted in my book on Greenwood (p.17), the desire for an annual holiday is a perhaps unexpected but fully justified topic in the novel Love on the Dole. Here too Greenwood sees it as an essential for every worker and any pastoral sentiments are finally replaced at the conclusion of this section by radical indignation and a substantial quotation from the medieval peasant leader John Ball:
Good people, things will never go well in England so long as goods be not in common, and so long as there be villeins and gentlemen. By what right are they whom we call lords greater folk than we? … They have leisure and fine houses; we have pain and labour, the rain and the wind in the fields. And yet it is of us and of our toil that these men hold their state.
In contrast, the Super Cinema Usherette is a representative of a worker in a modern world of consumption and mass entertainment. This is one of Greenwood’s accounts of a exclusively female occupation and he and his interviewee have no doubt that what we would now certainly regard as inessential and discriminatory criteria are applied at appointment to this job at a West End cinema: ‘Good looks, a smart appearance, a good figure are the three essentials for those with ambitions to earn their livings by showing cinema patrons to their seats’ (p.152). As with some other jobs in the books which deal with what might appear to be ‘luxury trades’ rather than industrial production, this occupation is in fact hard. The interviewee says that the long hours are found hard by most of the women – they often start work at 8.30 am but do not return home again till 1.30 am.
Greenwood then asks some questions about her own use of leisure (perhaps precisely because she works in the leisure industry herself) and explores quite closely her views of cinema, theatre and novels. Asked if she and her friends go to the movies in their spare time, she says they prefer the theatre, but sometimes go to see specific films. Greenwood asks if she has favourite film stars and she names the now well-remembered Bette Davis and the less-well-remembered Barry K. Barnes (he was at this point best-known for his part in the 1937 British film of The Scarlet Pimpernel). Her tastes in films and novels are curiously contrasted – probably because the films are a constant background to her working life, rather than a choice:
‘And what kind of films appeal to you?’
‘Oh, anything cheerful. I like sentimental pictures and musicals.’
‘What about serious films?’
‘I don’t like them. When a film like Dead End is on, and you’re seeing it three times a day for three weeks, you get sick of it. You feel like throwing yourself under a bus. (p.153).
(Dead End was a successful 1937 Sam Goldwyn thriller which linked living in the New York slums to drifting into teenage crime – it is interesting that the usherette classifies it as a ‘serious’ film rather than as ‘entertainment’). When it comes to reading her preferences are rather different:
‘I prefer “deep” books. I can’t bear sentimental novels. I like those that tell the truth about people, though I must say I used to like the novelette types when I was younger …‘I think my job is as interesting as any novel – more interesting because I’m seeing real people all the time’. (p.156)
I find each of the thirty-seven sections equally fascinating and as well as giving quite a few insights into Greenwood’s own biography, this is surely a very under-used source for the social history of jobs in the later nineteen-thirties. A few copies – but not many – are currently available on online book-sellers. I think it is well worth finding a copy if you can (and if you like documentary) so that you can read each of the thirty-seven sections for yourself.
Something in My Heart by Walter Greenwood (1944)
Walter Greenwood is, of course, famous as the Salford author of the best remembered thirties depression novel, Love on the Dole, a novel which has had considerable impact, then and since. In fact, he lived for the rest of his life as a professional author, writing new works and adaptations right up until the late 1960s, and publishing four more novels in the thirties and one war-time novel, on which this review will focus, with the slightly un-warlike seeming title, Something in My Heart, in 1944. The story of Something in My Heart opens in 1937 and initially concerns three main characters from Salford: Helen Oakroyd, who works in a textile mill, Harry Watson, and Taffy Lloyd, both of whom are on the dole. Indeed, as the (unsigned but very striking) dust-wrapper image suggests, this novel is a wartime sequel to Love on the Dole, which has been surprisingly forgotten about.
Harry, Helen and Taffy reproduce aspects of the roles of Sally, Harry and Larry in Love on the Dole, as well as re-using two names from that novel (Harry and Helen). Confusingly, however, the Harry here broadly corresponds to Larry, Helen to Sally, and Taffy to Harry Hardcastle. Harry Watson is clearly a self-educated and politically active working man, Taffy is also committed but consciously less articulate than Harry Watson (‘I can’t put it into words like Harry’ p.8: all page references are to the first edition published by Hutchinson), while Helen is a ‘beauty’ on ‘twenty-five bob a week’, who craves romance and feels a thus far unrequited love for Harry, but who, like her predecessor, Sally, is remarkably independent and tough-minded in many respects. The names themselves are, of course, pointing the reader back to Love on the Dole, but so too do many other allusions in the opening chapter. Thus, Taffy thinking about his situation not only echoes Mr Hardcastle’s ‘oh God, gimme a job!’, but also summarises the sense which Love on the Dole gave so strongly of the impossibility of an ordinary life for the unemployed, and the resulting sense of hopelessness:
Blimey! A job! A quid in your pocket and a decent suit of clothes to your back. Aye and married to a girl like Helen. Aw, but chuck it man. How many more mugs are there like you in Britain thinking the same thing? Millions of ’em and all signing on the dole like you and Harry. Most of ‘em like you, too, young, strong and with the best part of their lives supposed to be in front of them. All being robbed of it, robbed of something that could never be replaced. (p.7)
The themes of love and marriage on the dole raised by Taffy are also strongly picked up by the other two characters in the first few pages. Helen thinks about how much she likes Harry Watson, but also shows her independence by asserting that she does not necessarily need a conventional marriage relationship, ‘If ever I fall in love with a fellow, I’ll not ask him for a thing’ (pp. 5-6). She also observes that Harry does not seem to notice her and reprises some of the romance / class dynamic between Sally and Larry in the earlier novel:
When, every Thursday, he was taking his class in economics at the Labour Club, she was among those present. Maybe he did guess how she felt and maybe this avoidance was his unspoken answer. No, no it wasn’t that … He was too interested in his political activities; that was the reason. She found herself hating them and his other studious interests. Yet, it was partly because of these he was so different from the other fellows; this was the quality in him that was the mainspring of her love. (p.6)
In fact, Harry shortly afterwards articulates his own refusal to respond to her as stemming partly from political commitment, and partly from a somewhat retrograde assumption that romance and domestication will inevitably erode the single man’s ‘freedom’ to engage with politics:
You’ll find yourself enmeshed … Instead of waiting for you at the street corner you’ll find her at your house and, maybe, when you feel like studying … Romance? Love? Who’s taking about these things? As well ask a soldier about those things when he’s in the middle of a battle. You’re in the same fix as a soldier – except that no battle can last long … Some of your fellow dole-birds have been out of work for ten years. A dreary, weary, spirit-breaking battle in the concentration camp of empty pockets (p.10)
The comparison of unemployment with military service and, indeed, combat has a particular resonance of course, given that this is a wartime novel. Indeed, the first edition rear dust-jacket makes this very clear, referring to Harry and Taffy as ‘two of that vast army of the unemployed’ who have now joined the RAF. The meaning of unemployment is thus shifted towards something more heroic than the dominant hopelessness represented in Love on the Dole (though that is evoked too by the striking reference to ‘the concentration camp’).
Indeed, though the evocation of Greenwood’s first novel is strong, there are also some notable differences between it and Something in My Heart. Where the 1933 novel often implies that the people of Hanky Park are in many respects trapped in a poverty very like that of the nineteenth-century, this novel suggests both a more modern England and also characters who are not quite so wholly stuck in the system into which they are born. Thus aspects of consumer England and modern leisure seem to be more often referred to, even if they are no longer possible for most of the characters, and there is a greater knowledge of the wider world:
Just look at ‘em, patent leather and pointed toe: the only ones I’ve got left and what I used to go jazzing in. Aw! I’m no blooming Red. I’m an ordinary guy, a skilled mechanic out of a job … But I can fix any blasted, broken-down car or machine with the next man (p.8).
There is also noticeably less use of Salford dialect and a greater use of contemporary idioms – often cinema or popular-fiction derived Americanisms such as ‘dough’. These are unemployed citizens, but citizens nevertheless of England rather than of just Hanky Park (indeed, the fact that Taffy is Welsh widens the picture of unemployment in itself, though this may also be an influence from the 1941 film of Love on the Dole, in which the politically-active Larry is played by the Welsh actor Clifford Evans with a clearly Welsh accent). Though Taffy and Harry are trapped for the moment, there are even some possible ways out. Thus, Harry is, among other things, good at boxing:
Lightweight champion of the Salford Lads’ Club three times running… You could have been British professional champion if you’d wanted and be walking about with a pocketful of dough just for poking somebody in the kisser. Turning the promoter’s dough down like you did (p.9)
However, Harry has ‘other fish to fry’, for he is studying through his union ‘for the Ruskin College scholarship’ (p.9). Both these escape routes, in their different ways, suggest a representation of unemployment in thirties Salford as less isolating than the version depicted in Love on the Dole. Where in the earlier novel Larry seems to be in most respects the only political activist in Hanky Park, an odd exception whose origins and history are not revealed in the novel, and the unemployed youngster Harry Hardcastle has in the end only the street corners to go to, here Harry Watson is part of a society possessing some collective working-class institutions which can help the unemployed: boys’ clubs, a Labour Club (p.6), a union which can fund study, and a national college for working people, to which some can aspire. The local entrapment of Greenwood’s earlier novel is to a degree opened up to a more national and even international culture here. The essentially passive inhabitants of Hanky Park have been succeeded by much more politically-conscious beings; during a political discussion about how Hitler came to power in Germany on the back of unemployment and loss of hope, Harry reminds Taffy of their joint attempts to do something: ‘We’ve collected for the people of China and Spain and the Vienna workers. You were at the meeting for Sacco and Vanzetti’ (p.21). The escape route through professional boxing is, of course, a more traditional one for working-class men.
Overall, then, this seems a slightly more hopeful Salford, even though the mass experience is still one of severe deprivation through joblessness. Another means of escape which is offered as a last resort in Love on the Dole is now seen as a focus of mobility. In a moment of desperation, Harry Hardcastle in Love on the Dole thinks his only course may be to join the army, but both Harry Watson and Taffy Lloyd share an obsession which is, if very marginally, at least contactable for unemployed men from Salford. At the very opening of the novel, Helen sees two ragged men and knows how they have spent their day: ‘they had signed on at the dole late this afternoon and thence had walked to Barton aerodrome to watch those who could afford it take lessons in flying’ (p.5).
Flying was used as a potent symbol for a number of things in the twenties and thirties – including escape, modern mobility, technological mastery of nature, the possibility of individual liberation from mass experience, and, particularly towards the end of the period, as a symbol of Fascist domination. Here it certainly symbolises escape for Harry and Taffy, but is also associated with the modern, with resistance to fascism and with individual and national recovery. Thus in due course the once desperate Taffy comes back to Salford to see Harry, who is still studying to get to Ruskin, having completed his (pre-war) RAF training as an Observer: ‘Taffy Lloyd stood on the doorstep, sunburnt and grinning. A winged “O” was on the breast of his uniform … The same Taffy and yet – what a difference! Bright eyes, straight shoulders, a living air about him’ (p.28). Where the civilian social order has failed him, the RAF has transformed him: ‘I’m telling you … the way they never taught us anything at school…the education in the RAF … those instructors, they really want you to learn’ (p.29). Harry, at the outbreak of war, joins Taffy in the RAF and qualifies as a pilot.
These transformations and modernisations of Love on the Dole are key to this wartime novel’s message (and message does seem the right word). What was a call for help from the forgotten region of Hanky Park is here put into the larger perspective of ‘Act 2’ of the nineteen thirties, the road to war and thence eventually to the hoped for post-war settlement for Britain. This perspective makes Something in My Heart a progressive narrative in several senses, where Love on the Dole is within itself a largely circular one, except for the bitter progress for the Hardcastle family achieved through Sally’s submission to Sam Grundy’s ‘patronage’. What was the identity-sapping nothingness of unemployment is here being written into a history – and a highly critical one – of pre-war government failure to manage this social and economic disaster and, prospectively, of what must replace such failures once the war is won.
(This review draws partly on material in my article ‘The Army of the Unemployed: Walter Greenwood’s Wartime Novel and the Reconstruction of Britain’, Keywords – A Journal of Cultural Materialism, Vol.10, October 2012 and partly on chapter 3 of my book, Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole: Novel, Play, Film, Liverpool University Press, 2018 – Chris Hopkins)
Lancashire by Walter Greenwood (County Books Series, Robert Hale, 1951).
Robert Hale’s County Books series set out in 1947 to give a detailed account of each of the counties of Britain (it was completed in sixty volumes in 1960). An established writer was commissioned for each volume, usually with a connection to the county or region in question, so that there was a personal touch to each book in the series. The writers approached were of a broad variety, including nature writers and travel writers, biographers, folklorists and writers for radio. A few were fiction writers, among them Richard Church (Kent), Lettice Cooper (West Riding), Esther Hallam Meynell (Sussex), Frank O’Connor (Leinster, Munster and Connaught), Alison Uttley (Buckinghamshire). Walter Greenwood was asked to do justice to his native Lancashire.
Greenwood dedicated the book ‘To My Friend James Park O.B.E. Alderman of the City of Salford’ (Park had been Mayor of Salford from 1941 to 1942 and he and Greenwood had known each other back in the thirties, probably from when both were Labour city councillors in 1935 – they co-founded their play and film production company Greenpark Ltd the following year). Greenwood starts the book with the forthright claim that Lancashire is not just another English county, but is the ‘keystone of our country’s economy’:
There is a tang about the name. It conjures at once a picture of mills, factories, foundries, pits, dinning roads, railway yards, canals and ports breathing smoke, fire and noise and all producing what? The wealth our country must export in order that all in our country may eat. (p.1)
Without Lancashire, Britain would not really be (or would not then have been?) Great Britain as we know it:
Within its boundaries resides the cream of this world’s skill in multifarious engineering, cotton, chemistry and all the other departments of production and distribution that is the backbone of the modern industrial age. Take Lancashire and all it stands for from Britain and at once we become an un-important storm-bound island lost in the mists of the north. (p.1)
However, Greenwood not surprisingly has much too to say about the cost of this industry and about how in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it ate up his previously rural county. Indeed, Lancashire itself, he says, became a merciless mill producing some paradoxical goods:
It is an anvil; it is a furnace. It not only produced misery in abundance and at the same time the best cotton textiles in the world … It also produced a type of man and woman that in spite of every conceivable disadvantage is, by virtue of an invincible armour-plated humour, immune against that most deadly of all human diseases – despair (p.14)
Greenwood structures the book to reflect his sense of the way in which the eighteenth and nineteenth-century industrial environments so quickly over-wrote rural Lancashire, and focuses on the new kinds of people this process brought into being. He then turns to the current generation and finally to the varied places of modern Lancashire:
- ‘The Classic Soil’
- Lancashire Women
- Lancashire Men
- The Younger Element
- Where We Live
Of these chapters the last is by far the longest – it takes two-hundred and fifty-seven pages to talk individually about twenty-eight cities, towns and places, while the other chapters combined only take up forty-two pages.
It is notable that the chapter on Lancashire women comes before that on Lancashire men, reflecting Greenwood’s view, as stated in the opening sentence of the first chapter that: ‘Lancashire Women are extraordinary’. They are extraordinary, says Greenwood, because in the face of ‘a permanent canopy of filthy smoke which deposits its soot on everything’ they never give up the battle to keep their home as clean and respectable as they can. In fact this word ‘respectable’, which is used quite a number of times in Love on the Dole, is also important in this portrait of Lancashire women. Many women will ‘have a collection of fully paid rent-books’ going back to the day when ‘as a young bride’ she first entered her married home. This collection, kept in her top drawer is ‘one of her many passports to respectability’ (p. 20). One of Greenwood’s points in Love on the Dole is that however hard they tried it became impossible under the conditions of the Depression for working-people in Salford (and elsewhere) to maintain the standards which they would have liked to have met. This point was made strongly in the novel to contradict the view that some much better-off commentators took – that poor households were not trying to manage and that their poverty reflected a lack of ‘thrift’ and related ‘moral’ virtues. This account from 1950 is, of course, under the conditions of the new post-war welfare-state, and Greenwood does not see things being as bad as they were in the thirties, but he is very careful to point out that many things have not yet changed and that there are some hard choices still to be made.
Greenwood says that there are still two main strategies for responding to lack of really sufficient means for Salford women – ‘pay as you go’ versus ‘easy payments.’ He clearly draws (and this is almost the only place that he refers to this) on his own experiences between 1931 and 1933 as a collector of weekly payments for a clothing company somewhat like the ‘Good Samaritan’ clothing club which is referred to in Love on the Dole:
In general those who patronise these clubs repay the instalments regularly. Usually they are the happy-go-lucky type who take the line of least resistance. Explain to them that they would have a wider choice and infinitely better quality by saving their cash until they can pay money down for what they want and they will say that our Dad or our Jack or our Molly wants this or that article now’ (p.17).
In contrast are those who choose to pay fully for clothes and other goods before they use them: ‘The wife who “pays as I go” is the backbone of what now is one of the biggest businesses in the world … the Co-op’ (p.18). However, Greenwood claims that this is not necessarily a sign of political commitment, but rather a thrifty recognition of the good deal that the Co-op ‘divvy’ offers: ‘She may be the most ardent Conservative politically … and be altogether unaware of the Socialist origins of “‘t’ Co-op” (p.18).
Greenwood next turns his attention to Lancashire men, for whom life means ‘graft’ (that is hard work). In return all a Lancashire man asks for is a steady sufficiency:
What he asks of the community is full employment at a wage he can be expected to live on in modest comfort. He hates the ruinous tax on beer, income and cigarettes as much as his wife hates the Purchase Tax’ (p. 29).
Greenwood feels strongly that those who were unemployed during the thirties have never fully recovered being untreated ‘causalities of peace’ (p.28). Among the ‘younger element’ (p.36) he says there is a certain amount of ‘juvenile delinquency’, the results partly of continuing bad housing, parental problems and the lack of any facilities: ‘the streets and the houses and “back entries” I used to play in as a boy are still there in my native city, unaltered except that they are those many years older (p. 37). However, there are also many young people taking up technical training, going to evening classes, taking part in amateur drama and walking on the moors. He argues that the huge post-war improvements for children need to be given time to work:
In ten years time the schoolboys and girls of today will be the young men and women of 1960. Today’s critics of extended education and cheap school meals would be well-advised to hold the horse of their criticism until then and give the kids a chance to show what metal they are made of. (p.41)
I am not going to attempt to work through all of Greenwood’s account of Lancashire cities, town, resorts and places of interest (though they are well-worth reading for his views of early post-war life in the county, and copies of Lancashire are currently available at very reasonable prices at internet booksellers), but will write about his view of Salford forty-five years after his birth (he was writing Lancashire during 1948).
Here in this birthplace of mine, is the ugly, scrawled, illiterate signature of the Industrial Revolution: here, if anywhere in Lancashire is the ‘Classis soil’ Friedrich Engels wrote about. One can only stand appalled at the spectacle of man’s handiwork. A raving maniac could not have dreamed up a more shocking place had he been suffering the most outrageous nightmare. (p. 138).
Greenwood’s love of the countryside and nature has not often been remarked, but there is a strand of deep nostalgia for the pre-industrial in his writing, and a hope for a far-distant post-industrial age of what we might now call environmental reformation. He had some immediate concrete reasons for hope in 1950 in the shape of post-war planning such as that in An Advisory Plan for South Lancashire and North Cheshire (p. 138). But his longer term hope is explained in the book’s last section, ‘All a Dream’, in which he imagines a work of continuing witness undertaken by his own (he hopes beneficent) ghost:
The vigil of this ghost of mine will, I fear, be long – as long as it take mankind to allow Mother Nature to restore to my native county the beauty with which it was clothed before the coming of the Industrial Revolution … You may tell me that I am living in a dream world of unreality. In this I could not agree more. Salford and all the filth and threadbare ugliness of north-country industrialism always has been and always will be, to me, not only a dream, but a hideous nightmare from which the conscience of man will one day awake. (pp. 295 and 297).
The final sentence echoes Stephen Daedalus’s declaration in Joyce’s Ulysses that ‘History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake’ (which in turn echoes Marx on the dead generations who weigh ‘like a nightmare on the brains of the living’ in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1852). It is an unusually allusive sentence for Greenwood, but one weighted with feeling. Finally in the book, he returns to a simple but seemingly impossible hope: that his ghost will one day see salmon swimming again in the river Irwell.
The Trelooe Trilogy by Walter Greenwood [So Brief the Spring (1952), What Everybody Wants (1954) and Down by the Sea (1956)].
(This article is longer than usual – it seemed best to discuss the whole trilogy in one).
Between 1952 and 1956 Greenwood completed his Trelooe Trilogy (published by Hutchinson – all references are to these first editions). The trilogy was set in Cornwall, where Greenwood had holidayed since meeting the artist Arthur Wragg in the thirties and where he was then living. The Trelooe Trilogy clearly sold steadily and is still highly-readable. However, there were no longer reviews in major national newspapers such as The Times and the Manchester Guardian, though Hutchinson placed display adverts for the novels in these papers. (for example, in The Times on 2/4/1954, p.18 and 5/7/1956, p.13). Instead, the novels’ covers quote from regional newspapers and magazines; an extract from a review in The Lady of What Everybody Wants is reasonably representative, though it under-represents a strand of serious social comment which is still present in the novels: ‘All takes place in a Cornish village. The shrewd humour is unfailing. Recommended for holiday reading’ (quoted on the dust jacket of the Hutchinson edition,1955).
All three novels actually show a strong sense of the changes brought about after the War: there are frequent references to increased taxation, the National Health Service, Nationalisation, and the Welfare State by richer and poorer characters alike. The attitudes of the novels to these developments sometimes seem neutral : they work through characters’ thoughts without the kind of explicit authorial narrative interventions in Love on the Dole. However, there are clear distinctions suggested between the post-welfare state respectable and unrespectable poor and, indeed, the post-welfare state honest and dishonest wealthy. The three novels share a number of characters, but each also introduces new characters who interact with the population of the fictional Cornish village of Treeloe; each novel spends considerable effort on portraying everyday life (perhaps, something in the manner of a ‘soap opera’), but also contains one much less ordinary adventure or event. A character who helps knit all three novels together is Randy Jollifer. Greenwood borrowed the name from a small boat which he bought to go sailing with the actor Robert Newton in Cornwall (Reported in a Daily Dispatch article about the play version of So Brief the Spring, 2/10/1945). Newton played Jollifer in the 1945 stage version of this story and the novel is dedicated to him – and indeed the character is based on some aspects of Newton’s life.
Randy is the central character in So Brief the Spring, though this is not at first obvious. He has wealthy relatives: his father, the miserly Arky Jollifer, acquires the local manor house and its farm through marriage, but disinherits Randy after his wartime marriage ends in divorce. Having served in the Royal Navy during the war (as did Newton), Randy now earns a modest living as a fisherman and by taking holiday-makers on fishing trips. He lives contentedly in a cottage and some features of his life suggest that he is rural-maritime-post-war kin to Larry Meath in Love in the Dole: his cottage boasts filled bookshelves, a typewriter, a radiogram and a gramophone, as well as records of ‘Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin’.(p.38). The bookshelf is regarded as ‘astonishing’ in such a man’s house by the female character who appears at first to be the novel’s central figure – Ann Halstead (p. 74). This recalls Sally’s observation of Larry’s bookshelf, and, indeed, Ann initially looks as if she is a new version of Sally.
She is in Trelooe on holiday alone to think about her future – she is doubtful about marrying her fiancé, and dreads living in a small flat in London, but is enraptured by Trelooe and especially the half-ruined manor house. Her discontent resembles Sally’s to an extent, but her dreams from the beginning have a more material aspect. She is attracted to Randy, but wants to re-acquire ‘his’ manor-house as well. In the course of winning the favour of Arky as part of a longer term stratagem, she receives an offer of marriage from the miserly father and accepts it (something which seems unconvincing in the novel, but which revisits Sally’s ‘arrangement’ with Sam Grundy ). So besotted is Arky that he alters his will in her favour (now disinheriting his two exploited farm-hand nephews Sam and Eb) and tells her that the cellar of his semi-ruinous house is full of biscuit-tins packed full of treasury notes and three cider-barrels of gold sovereigns – all the fruit of tax evasion via cash dealings during the first and second world wars and since. However, Arky dies of a heart attack as Ann accepts his proposal, and Sam and Eb, long on the look-out for their uncle’s hidden treasure, manage to knock over a lantern and set the house ablaze as they struggle to enter the cellar first. Amended will and treasury notes are destroyed – but Randy eventually inherits the melted mass of gold sovereigns. The moral seems to be that what was a desperate choice in the thirties for Sally is an avoidable choice in the nineteen-fifties – material need is different from material greed, and the context is now a different one. Though Ann happily marries a doctor friend of Randy’s, he marries a concert-pianist who frequently plays on BBC radio. Culture is still part of The Secret Kingdom referred to in his 1938 novel, which features the BBC and musical ability as ways out of poverty which also resist loss of personal integrity.
Randy Jollifer presumably represents a middle way – he is content to labour and deserves his fortune (which does not seem to alter him), but never becomes avaricious. But if the novel is critical of the money-obsessed rich, it also has some comment on the ‘idle poor’, and revisits thirties themes of ‘respectability’. A ‘disreputable family from the town slums’, the Connors, who have spent the war living in a house requisitioned in a 1939 from an absentee owner get very short shrift:
The mother was a slut and the father a servile loafer, content to draw the dole … As his shiftless wife could depend on her swarm of undisciplined children being fed at school, he could always find a customer for his meat ration coupons, which paid for some of his drink and cigarettes… he thought it just and proper that all who worked hard and were thrifty should be taxed severely to pride him and his with ‘my rights’. (pp.39-40).
The language directly picks up the ideas of respectability versus unrespectability of which Love on the Dole is so often critical (it is sadly notable too that this model ‘bad family’ are given an Irish surname). These may be the thoughts of Randy, who is the next door neighbour, rather than directly those of an authorial narrator, but he is normally the trilogy’s centre of sound judgement. This early example of what could be called a ‘Benefits Street’-style discourse of hostility towards ‘undeserving’ benefit claimants might seem very surprising in a novel by the author of Love on the Dole. But the point is presumably that things are now changed: this family are not like the Hardcastles, but more like Helen Hawkins’ parents, and they are not beset by the same pressing needs as the inhabitants of Hanky Park. The implication is that they could choose differently in a post-war welfare state with full employment.
Two sets of characters who are dismissive of the post-war working-classes certainly are implicitly criticised in the novel. The miser Uncle Arky comments on some hired workers: ‘Skulking, idle, good–for-nothings. Welfare State! I’d Welfare State ‘em if I had my way’ (p.17). Randy’s other neighbours are exposed to his criticism to an extent when they complain of the Connors: ‘they’re giving them a council house and providing them with furniture out of the rates. Everybody’s up in arms. We’re all paying for this – out of the rates’. (p.41). Randy accuses the speaker of malicious gossip. The speaker is Miss Perrow, who with Mrs Duckett, do indeed recall the ‘gossips’ in Love on the Dole, though their number is now reduced to two. They also appear in each novel in the trilogy, but Greenwood’s view of gossips seems to have darkened: the pair seem less ambiguous, are never helpful, and are more malicious and less comic than their thirties forebears (they are naturally in competition, but also positively hate each other despite their apparent friendship). They are as materialistic as Arky and as dishonest, and their views of the Welfare State and taxation are entirely opportunistic. They operate at a lower level in society than Arky does, but are equally greedy. In the second novel, Mrs Duckett offers help to an old man in a similar way to a predecessor in Greenwood’s nineteen-thirties story (and one-act play), The Practised Hand: having realised that old Garnet has £1500 hidden in his mattress (he does not trust banks) she takes him in and hastens his end with frequent applications of whisky.
Happily married by the end of the first novel, Randy is the stable core of the second two, but displaced in both from the star role of working-man made good by the character of Darky Durrant. He is a tough character on the margin of Trelooe society, (perhaps seriously damaged and isolated by his combat experience in the war). He is what the novel terms a ‘gypsy’ and is also a poacher, though with a distinguished war record (naturally of a slightly irregular kind: he was a Commando who was awarded a number of medals for bravery on unconventional missions). He lives in a semi-ruinous cottage and lives hand to mouth – a number of the characters and clearly the novel itself admire his close relationship to the natural world despite his disregard for many property laws. When it comes to real moral questions, however, Durrant always makes the right choices (he rescues the boy Mungo from crooks who steal horses to butcher and sell as beef). In What Everybody Wants he marries a capable orphaned servant girl, who during the course of the final novel, Down by the Sea, brings him to an extent back into contact with society, opening his cottage as a tea-room for tourists.
As the language used in reviews of the trilogy suggests, it has many features (including happy endings for the good, and pastoral tendencies) which we might call middle-brow. The three dust-wrappers (all unsigned, and perhaps on stylistic grounds not all by the same artist?) certainly support the review which saw these novels as ideal holiday reading and indeed suggest a focus on (holiday) romance and adventure. Where earlier in his career, Greenwood is happy to use popular conventions allied with an urge for social reform, there is in these fifties novels less pressure from social issues, though there is always a running commentary on obsession with money as a perversion of a satisfying life. In some ways, the trilogy picks up but allows fulfillment of Harry and Helen’s hopeless fantasy on their trip to Blackpool in Love on the Dole – that they could live there simply in a cottage and support themselves by growing vegetables and by Harry working on a fishing boat. However, Treeloe is not idyllic – the fisherman have to sign on the dole to make ends meet and the mean and self-interested are always with us, unfixed by post-war British social reform.
Saturday Night at the Crown by Walter Greenwood (1959).
Though best remembered for Love on the Dole (1933), Greenwood went on writing until the nineteen sixties and remained a popular author. I recently read his last novel and thought it reflected interestingly on his thoughts about later working-class life (depicted in leisure-mode on the dust-wrapper by Douglas Hall in a style reminiscent of some of L.S. Lowry’s paintings, a fellow Salfordian and contemporary of Greenwood’s).
Greenwood’s final novel Saturday Night at the Crown (1959) is set entirely in a Manchester pub over the course of a single day, and its urban, wholly working-class setting makes it quite easily comparable to his pre-war fiction. It follows the fortunes of the landlord Harry Boothroyd, the barmaid Sally Earnshaw, the cook Maudie and a number of customers including the dominant Ada Thorpe and her husband (who does not get the chance to speak for the entire course of the novel), her son Bert Thorpe and his new girl-friend Jean McLean, the extended Hardy family, who have hired a room after the funeral of the clan’s mother, old Mrs Hardy, and a group of US troops from a nearby base. This is a story notably set in a new world of fifties working-class prosperity. Some of the younger characters, such as Bert Thorpe, work in the thriving successor to Marlowe’s works in Love on the Dole (‘Metropolitan-Electric’s products … found their way all over the world’), making use of its sports facilities and even owning their own expensive racing cycles. Not everyone has enough money for everything they would like, but all the characters have enough surplus to make quite a night of it at the Crown. Indeed, this is a world with resemblances to that of Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (with which its representations of fifties working-class life might fruitfully be compared). However, there is considerable reference to the pre-war world, and sometimes in quite specific ways to the world of Love on the Dole. A narrative voice notes that near the Crown is ‘what had once been the pawnshop’:
But the larger part of the shop’s trade in these days of full employment, better pay and other financial advantages of the Welfare state, consisted in the sale of cheap clothing, appallingly ugly and badly-made furniture, radio sets and television receivers all bought and sometimes paid for … ‘on the never never’ (p.14).
There may still be things to criticise, but things are relatively better. Older characters are shown as more aware of the changes in their lifetime, though so too is the one younger character who is interested in politics, the significantly named Sally (Greenwood recycles a few of his favourite names). She refutes the landlord’s casually-expressed view that politics never make any difference saying:
‘You of all people …How many kids do you see running abut now, down-at-heel, shabby and half-starved like many of them were when I left school? …–and nearly four million men on the dole… Look at the children running about now, fine and healthy from vitamins and orange juice when they were babies… these things… had to be fought for. They weren’t just dished out like prizes in a silly TV quiz. (p.46).
It is noticeably now a world where everyone has access to a national culture of radio and TV – Bert dreams that he and Jean’s singing at the pub might be noticed by a talent scout: ‘Somebody from the BBC or commercial TV … their own weekly programme on TV … [Eventually] a film “The Bert and Jean story” … Look at Tommy Steele and the rest’ (p.2).
There are thus some new kinds of working-class dreams (though there is still betting going on in the pub) and if not all are achievable, many seem much more possible than was the case in Hanky Park. If Love on the Dole was an anti-romance or a novel about the impossibility of romance for working people under current economic conditions (‘the tragedy of a lost generation who are denied consummation, in decency, of the natural desires and hopes of youth’, Greenwood had said of Love on the Dole), then Saturday Night at the Crown is a novel dependent on the practical possibilities of romance. It is interested in marriages disrupted by greed (those of the Hardy siblings arguing about their inheritance) or by unequal power (that of Ada and Herbert Thorpe), but also the potential of future relationships based in equality and good economic planning. In the end Bert will have his Jean, Maudie will have her Scottish lorry driver Jock McCall and a jointly-owned transport café, and Sally will have her Harry Boothroyd and the country pub she has bought for him with her savings in place of the urban Crown. There are still things characters have to worry about (including the atom bomb, under-age sex, old age, greedy relatives, snobbery, vanity, dominant wives and skiffle bands), but this seems a world of working–class possibility where decent people can apparently make it. It is surely intended to be read (as various echoes suggest) with a memory of Love on the Dole in mind.
(This article draws on material in chapter 3 of my book, Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole: Novel, Play, Film, Liverpool University Press, 2018 – Chris Hopkins)
There Was a Time by Walter Greenwood (1967).
There Was a Time, revisits the setting and circumstances of Love on the Dole in a more autobiographical mode from the perspective of the nineteen-sixties. It is perhaps one of his best pieces of writing, and maybe the best in some respects. It was his last published prose work and was written after more than thirty years experience of being a professional writer. In particular, my feeling is that Greenwood had learnt by then to let the events of the narrative seem to speak for themselves (whereas earlier, including in Love on the Dole, he had often felt the need to use narrators who explicitly glossed the narrative events for the reader). A good example is when the Greenwood’s neighbour Mrs Boarder receives the second telegram telling her that her son as well as her husband have been killed in Flanders in 1916, and the text seems only to record her simple understatement: ‘Nay, nay. Not our Harry as well’ (p.116). No commentary could render the loss greater.
Jonathan Cape published the memoir in hardback in 1967 in a striking dust-wrapper with a black / white / red design by Leigh Taylor, who worked on a number of Cape books from the sixties until at least the nineteen-seventies. The cover portrays the periods covered by the book, starting with the nineteenth century on the upper rear cover and then moving round the spine to scenes from the nineteen-thirteen before moving back round to the lower rear cover, which depicted the nineteen-sixties including the TV, the Mini-car and a fashionable young woman in a mini-skirt. Penguin printed a paper-back version in 1969 (with the same cover design), which sold well.
The book is made up of forty-five concise chapters, each portraying a specific and memorable scene from Greenwood’s life between the 1900s and the publication of his first novel, Love on the Dole, in 1933 (the only part of his life covered after 1933 is in the concluding chapter, which looks back on his experiences, on Salford, and on British society from the perspective of 1966). The authorial voice is a modest and dead-pan one, recounting incidents vividly, but usually without drawing out any explicit judgements about their meaning. Much of the memoir at first emphasises Greenwood’s memories of his father, mother, grandparents, and neighbours, especially women. His father, a barber, is portrayed as an extrovert who enjoys a drink: ‘the company of his fellow men was imperative to his ebullient nature, and this need urged him … into any one of the pubs which were [then] open from five-thirty of a morning until eleven at night’ (p. 14 – all page references are to the 1967 Cape edition). Greenwood’s mother, though attracted in many respects by her husband’s gaiety, also often disapproves of his behaviour and urges him to think about the future rather than about immediate pleasure. He tries to convince her that ‘his visits to the pub were “for the sake of business” ’ (p.15), but she often suspects him of risking being ‘low-bred and undignified’, as when he tells risqué comic tales while cutting his male customers’ hair (though she could sometimes nevertheless be heard laughing in the back-room).
Greenwood writes of his father and mother (and their conflicts) with great affection, while leaving the reader to make up their own minds about whether his mother’s preference for longer term planning or his father’s addiction to spontaneous enjoyment is the more provident given their situation. Certainly, his mother sets high standards for Walter, not letting him go out to play in the street till he has correctly recited the current poem she has set him (‘And before you go off gallivanting have you learned the Wordsworth poem?’ – p. 80). Though there is characteristically no explicit comment, the memoir at times suggests ironic and/or comic contrasts between his mother’s cultural standards and the actual conditions in which they live. Thus, after his mother tells him he must do his piano practice and quotes the Old Testament to him (‘Train up a child the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart from it’ – Proverbs XXII, 6), Walter goes out to join his peers and finds them ‘engaged in a game of kick-can’, while: ‘Hetty Boarder .. had lifted her fraying skirt and was dancing the can-can to the music of Billy Sealey’s accordion. Alfie supplied the rhythm with a couple of pairs of rib-bones while Nobby did his best with a Jew’s harp’. (p. 111). Greenwood knew his Shakespeare well and it is hard not to believe that he has the cultural contrast between high and low suggested by A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s mechanicals partly in mind here (the bones being Bottom’s preferred instrument). However, the memoir despises neither low nor high, but sees values in both – showing perhaps more certainty about this than Love on the Dole’s ambivalences about the most popular past-times of Hanky Park (such as betting and drinking).
Sadly, by chapter 12 (p. 77), Greenwood’s father has died young, at the age of forty-five (his health probably affected both by drink and damage to his lungs from the industrial pollution of Salford’s factories and mills). Greenwood observes that ‘as was the case with almost every other man in the locality, my father left this world in the state in which he had entered it – penniless’ (pp.67-8). Greenwood’s mother had to return to work as a waitress at a restaurant in the day-time and for contract caterers in the evenings, in order to keep Walter and his younger sister. His mother usually finished work after midnight; Greenwood looked after his sister and put her and himself to bed, but had to let his mother in when she returned: he tied a string round his ankle so she could wake him up (‘the window string was, literally, a leg pull’, p. 72). Aged thirteen, Greenwood reluctantly but necessarily found a job as a boy clerk at a pawnbrokers, where he worked both before and after school hours. The year was 1916 (the memoir differs from Love on the Dole in explicitly devoting much more time to the First World War and its consequences). Walter left school the same year: he took a special test (‘the Labour Examination’) designed to enable the sons of deceased fathers to leave school a year early to help their families, if they could show they had ‘enough’ education. He went to work at the pawnshop full-time – an experience he detested: ‘Weekdays were bad enough, but to be imprisoned in the pawnshop until nine o’clock of Saturday night was excruciating’ (p.89). Even worse, he is left as the sole clerk in the shop after his fellow assistant, the seventeen year-old Reggie Sniblo, successfully lies his way into the army. Luckily, he is rescued ‘by an insect’ (p.108), that is body lice caught from infested clothing – probably originating from soldiers on leave from the trenches. His mother finds him a much better job as an office boy in the Co-op office at three times the wages.
Though undoubtedly an improvement, Greenwood was by no means happy with this position and craved a ‘proper’ man’s job in industry – on the railways or in engineering. However, his mother was opposed, reminding him of the ever-present possibilities of short-time and lockouts. Greenwood also had another more pastoral dream of an alternative to the Co-Op – indeed he was reprimanded for drawing horses on the accounts ledger – and without consulting his mother this time he got a job at a racing stables owned by a business-man in the Lancashire countryside, despite knowing nothing first-hand about horses. As Walter finds out, this is in fact a very tough life, but he learns on the job and though the chapter title (‘Holidays with Pay’) is partly ironic it is not wholly so. However, this escape from industry is temporary – for as in Love on the Dole, every part of the economy proves to be connected – ‘the north-country speculator was in financial difficulties and … his string of race-horses had to be sold’ (p. 157). Greenwood returns to various clerical and manual jobs, none of which last long, and by 1929 he is unemployed and on the dole. But he has formulated a clear ambition which is aided by taking home the office type-writer from his last job (in lieu of unpaid wages). He will become a writer and make a living from short stories.
His first and only success was when the first story he ever wrote (‘A Maker of Books’ – a story about betting) was accepted by the very reputable The Story-Teller Magazine in 1931. To its author and his family’s amazement, the fee was twenty-five guineas – enough for him to live on for a considerable period – ‘a pound a week for half a year’ (p.215). The story was republished in 1937 as the first story in his short story collection The Cleft Stick, for which it was probably the starting point (published by Selwyn & Blount with sixteen fine illustrations by the Christian socialist pacifist artist Arthur Wragg). After that, he had no further luck with short stories and magazine publication. Editors did not think the social critiques of his stories suited their markets – they were ‘not the sort of thing to interest readers who paid their money for romance, entertainment and excitement. If I cared to send something of a lighter nature, [they] would be happy to read it’ (p.216). But Greenwood felt he had to tell the story behind the Ministry of Labour statistics, a story of ‘human degradation and misery’ about which he felt ‘the newspaper chronicles were silent’ (p. 217). At the age of thirty-one, Greenwood felt that, like nearly two million others who were unemployed, he had little to hope for – except that work on his novel held him ‘in thrall’ (p.246). In 1933 Greenwood received a letter from the publisher Jonathan Cape which the memoir claims said simply, ‘Dear Sir, we will publish your novel’ (p.249). That letter changed Greenwood’s life and made him into a best-selling author. Together with Greenwood’s own story-telling talents and powers of social analysis, Jonathan Cape’s recognition of the importance and potential of the typescript he had been sent by an unknown working-class writer in the end contributed to enormous social changes and improvements for millions of British people.
Greenwood’s memoir skips over the rest of his forty-year career as a professional writer (though that is a gap which this web-site aims to fill) and ends with a single short chapter of reflection on those social changes. He watches his birth-place in Ellor Street and the rest of Hanky Park being demolished to make way for new tower-blocks:
Where the wreckers have finished their work only the cobbled roadways and pavements remain to mark the streets which were our childhood playgrounds and where our homes had stood. They were built when the British Empire was at the pinnacle of its wealth and power, and they had sheltered defrauded generations for whom life had been an endless struggle both insulting and deprived… Yesterday the Depression and lo! By a hop, skip and a jump the Space Age and the Welfare State. A five-day, forty-hour week, holidays with pay, superannuation pension schemes, lunch vouchers and works’ canteens. (pp.250-1).
Is the memoir sure that the bad times of old England can never be so bad again? Not quite. The last chapter is called ‘The Man at Uncle’s’ and a pawnbroker has the last words of the book: ‘Those three brass balls are staying up where they are. I’m no pessimist, but I don’t like the look of it’ (p. 253).
(This article partly draws on material in chapter 3 of my book, Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole: Novel, Play, Film, Liverpool University Press, 2018)
Greenwood’s plays are covered in another article, and there are images of the dustcovers of those which were published – see: https://waltergreenwoodnotjustloveonthedole.com/walter-greenwoods-plays-1934-1971/