Walter Greenwood’s Forgotten Short Stories

Introduction

Greenwood set out to be a short story writer, hoping in his years of unemployment between 1929 and 1933 to make a living from publication in short-story magazines. In this he largely failed, and only achieved sustained professional authorship after Jonathan Cape accepted his novel Love on the Dole in 1932, leading him to become a best-seller within a year. However, short stories were an important aspect of his writing career and, in addition to his major short story collection, The Cleft Stick (1937), he was able to sustain his income and reputation through newspaper publication of short stories up until at least the nineteen-fifties. Some of the thirties stories published in newspapers (probably four) were collected in The Cleft Stick, but others listed and briefly introduced below have not been discussed, collected, nor republished. They represent significant aspects of Greenwood’s fiction as well as his social and political thinking, and some reveal interests not evident in Love on the Dole, or his other novels. The listing may not yet be comprehensive.

 

The Short Stories

‘A Maker of Books’, in The Story Teller, 1931. Republished in The Cleft Stick (Selwyn & Blount, 1937), with an illustration by Arthur Wragg. A story about a factory worker who thinks he will escape his current life by setting up as an (illegal) street bookie. Alas, his experiences are negative and he loses all he and his family have, but we see him still convinced at the end of the story that betting will rescue him one day if only he keeps investing.

 

‘Mrs Scodger’s Husband’, Daily Herald, Saturday 14 July 1934, p.17. Has Illustrations of Mr and Mrs Scodger (not by Arthur Wragg). Mr Scodger is a blacksmith, but also a diminutive man who is dominated by his wife, whose main pleasure in life is playing the trombone at the ‘North Street Mission Hall – when she is not practising at home. In a rare moment of luck, Alf Scodger wins a bet on a horse and on this basis tries to renegotiate his house-hold relations. He is uncertain that the harmonium on which most of his winnings are spent by Mrs Scodger is an improvement on the trombone, but he has at least drunk some of the money before handing it over (the ending is different from The Cleft Stick version – here Mrs Scodger is utterly triumphant, there Mr Scodger gets away with the ten pound note he has hidden in his boot).

 

‘The Practised Hand’, London Mercury, 1934 (see WGC7/6/1). Republished under the same title in The Cleft Stick (1937). There was also a 1935 play version. Mrs Dorbel’s long-term lodger, Ben, has been ill for fourteen weeks and though on the point of death, she thinks, he is ‘lingering’. This worries her for she has been paying two pence a week into a life insurance policy on him for twelve years and when he dies will receive twelve pounds and ten shillings. Going to the pub for a small whisky for her cough, she meets her neighbour Mrs Nattle and laments the sad state of her lodger. Mrs Nattle has some relevant experience, for her husband had lingered a little and had to be helped by Mrs Haddock, a ‘handy woman’ who acts as a mid-wife at the beginning of life in Hanky Park and as a layer-out at the end. Mrs Haddock when called upon says she will see if she can help the lodger, for a fee of ten shillings. As it turns out, Mrs Haddock is able to help and within half an hour the lodger is dead and Mrs Dorbel and Mrs Nattle set off to collect the life insurance money (and to ask the parish to bury Ben, since he is penniless). They lament that such a good lodger is gone, but feel a drink will do them good. The Manchester Guardian reviewer of The Cleft Stick felt that this was the most shocking story in a volume that he regarded as generally bleak – he was especially appalled at the idea that Greenwood had also written a one-act play version of the story and hoped that no one would go to see such an inhuman piece (Thomas Moult, 17/12/1937, p.9).

 

‘The Revolutionary’ in the TUC Labour magazine, March, 1935 (pp. 150-151). This is the story of Jack Tranter, a retired working-man, a life-long trade unionist, and now a widower with five children. His children want  to move to a better house (with a bath) and indeed seem to want to move away from a number of aspects of working-class community in Salford. They persuade Jack against his will to move to a new house and then object to his bringing old habits with him, such as sitting out in the evening on the front step, ready to talk to neighbours (indeed in their new neighbourhood, neighbours do not seem eager to talk). His now dominant children will also not allow him to hang his signed photograph of Keir Hardy in the hall of the new house, and are interested, Jack thinks, ‘in nothin’ but dancin’ and what neighbours’ll say … ‘ not one of ‘em knows a thing about politics’ (p.150). However, one evening three young canvassers for the Labour Party knock at the door and Jack realises that, after the death of his wife, he has lost all power in his home and become subservient to what are in effect the ‘modern’ consumerist lifestyles of his children. His children tell him to come indoors and not disgrace them, but he rebels, reasserts his power in his own home, and rushes out to join the canvassers in their efforts to invigorate the Labour vote. There are patriarchal aspects to the story (it assumes, that ‘naturally’ the father should have complete power over a household), but it also explores a very different perspective on working-class politics and life from that in Love on the Dole (1933). There, indifference to politics stems from lack of understanding and from the immediacy of poverty; here, the indifference of the younger generation stems from their absorption in mass entertainment, and in an apolitical sense of (bourgeois?) respectability. It is remarkable that this story has been utterly forgotten and its very different political commentary on the mid-nineteen-thirties been completely unnoticed (this is the only discussion of the story).

 

‘What the Eye Doesn’t See’ ( Evening News, 14/9/1937). This is a unique Greenwood Hanky Park story – it has a happy ending! A couple who have only been married for eleven months have their first major row, after a spoon is dropped on the floor after dinner. Neither will pick it up nor speak to each other till the other gives an apology and admits it was their fault. However, this trivial incident is really standing in for a major disagreement about whether they should go on holiday this year or move to a house in a new housing estate. The issue is resolved with the help of a neighbour and her small boy – the boy picks up the spoon and accidentally drops it down a drain, while the neighbour explains that the rent at the New Estate is completely unaffordable. Harry and Lil both save face and are delighted to be happily reunited and on their way to the Isle of Man for their two week annual holiday. It also appears in The Cleft Stick – see below.

 

The Cleft Stick – substantial short story collection, with illustrations and dust-wrapper by Arthur Wragg, Selwyn and Blount, 1937. See: Walter Greenwood and Arthur Wragg’s The Cleft Stick (1937)

 

‘Prodigal’s Return’ (London, John Bull, 29/1/1938, pp. 23–4). Greenwood was invited to contribute to a series in which authors of famous novels were given the opportunity to write a short story sequel. The story focuses on Sally Hardcastle, who is living with Sam Grundy in his sea-side house in Wales. She is well-off in material terms, but not content (though neither is Sam, who finds that Sally maintains her independent spirit, and despises him). Sally returns to Hanky Park on a visit, but feels that the lack of any possibility of a reasonable standard of living there is still an unacceptable price to pay:

Would it have been better for her to have stayed ‘respectable’ in Hanky Park with her father out of work, her mother a listless drudge, her brother also out of work and father of the child of Helen Hawkins, whom he had had to marry? The thought of such a respectability was revolting. (p. 23)

It is the social order of nineteen-thirties Britain which imposes this kind of choice on her. It is remarkable that Greenwood’s fictional return to Love on the Dole (and to Sally in particular as protagonist) five years after the novel’s publication has had no critical attention. See my book for some discussion (pp. 77-9).

‘Rose Red, Rose White’ (the Guardian, 24/6/1940, p.10). This is a story of about one-thousand words based on the old rivalry between Lancashire and Yorkshire, something which Greenwood only otherwise refers to in passing in his 1950 book, Lancashire, where he could hardly avoid it: ‘Two Lancashire men in an argument are only to be bettered by a Lancashire man and a Yorkshire’ (p.27). It is also unusual in Greenwood’s oeuvre in being an agricultural story. The central figure is a Yorkshire farmer: ‘Sam Ormroyd stood staring truculently at the broken plough. He looked from it to the narrow strip of unploughed land that remained.’ He regrets not having had the plough fixed, since he knew it was damaged, but also remembers that he could not bring himself ‘to part with the money’. He thinks a neighbouring farmer, ‘Owd Hardcastle’ might lend him his plough for a couple of hours to finish off (but he also is aware that Hardcastle’s farm is a little way away beyond a ‘tiny meandering brook [which] marked the boundary between Yorkshire and Lancashire’).

Ormroyd sets off on one of his two plough horses, firstly to save ‘shoe leather’ and secondly because he is convinced that ‘Owd Hardcastle wouldn’t lend me one of his nags to pull t’ plough back’. The further he rides, the more he broods on this Lancashire meanness, and with every paragraph which tells of his progress towards the Lancashire farm, his anger and indignation grows. With each of the next three paragraphs his temper gets hotter: ‘Ah’ve got a fat chance o’ borrowin’ his plough’. Finally, he arrives at the farmhouse door:

It was opened by Owd Hardcastle himself, and before he had time to open his mouth, Sam fixing him with a stare, said: ‘Tha’ knows what tha con do wi’ thi plough.’

Mystified, Owd Hardcastle watched his neighbour remount his nag and ride away.

 

Sam is suffering from a kind of negative empathy – he can already, he thinks, see so deeply into how Hardcastle will react as a type – a Lancashireman – that he develops his own furious response in advance. Clearly this is a story about prejudice and though the ending might be partly comic, it also shows just how dangerous it is when an individual’s mind runs along a groove so habitual that reality is never given a chance to show that things might work out otherwise than the stereotype. While not in Greenwood’s usual fictional territory, this short story does seem effective and substantial (though it does itself start by accepting a stereotype of Yorkshire meanness, and its local view of national unity might not be very cheering in the first summer of the war).

 

‘A Bit of All Right’. The Sketch, Wed, 20 November 1940, pp. 239-40 and pp.249-251. A substantial short story with five good illustrations by Steven Spurrier. About a clerk, Richard Peniper and a dog he accidentally adopts. It is a wish-fulfilment romance! He gets the girl and the dog!

 

‘Partners Three’, published in The Herald (Melbourne, Australia) on Saturday 9 July, 1949, p. 11. Details sent me on request in an email  by Trove (Australian National Library on 4 April 2018). Is about releasing a captured fox, is set in the country and includes Randy Jollifer, who is a central character in the later Trelooe Trilogy [So Brief the Spring (1952), What Everybody Wants (1954) and Down by the Sea (1956)].

 

Three ‘Autobiographical Fragments’ (but they read more like stories – in a similar mode to Greenwood’s memoir, There Was a Time, 1966):

‘The Little Scholar’, Evening Chronicle, 15/1/1945.

‘A Little Mutineer’, Evening Chronicle 11/11/1945.

‘The Little Zoologists’ (alternative title ‘The Little Fanciers’). News Chronicle, 1945?

(See Walter Greenwood Collection, University of Salford Library WGC/1/9, WGC/1/9/1, WGC/1/9/2: http://www.salford.ac.uk/__data/assets/xml_file/0007/530476/Greenwood.xml)

 

‘Landmark’, short story, Evening News, 27/8/1946 (WGC 1/11 and WGC 1/11/1).

The central figure of this story is Jack Tanglewood, a fisherman in the village of Trelooe. He has dog called Skirry, who is old, and blind and smells, but who everyday goes out in his fishing boat with him. Mrs Tanglewood says he really must be put down. Jack cannot bring himself to do it, but Randy Jollifer (who is the central figure in the Trelooe Trilogy) because he is fond of animals takes Skirry for one last walk on a hill by the sea and does the job for Jack to out the dog out of his misery. For Jack the hill is thereafter a landmark when out at sea. There is on the whole just not enough of going on to make this a very interesting story, but it adds something to Greenwood representation of Trelooe and is one of several stories about Randall Jollifer’s affinity with animals.

 

‘Mutineer’ in Voices on the Green, eds. A.R.J. Wise and Reginald A. Smith, London, Michael Joseph, 1945, pp. 157-162. Anthology of short pieces and illustrations about children by well-known writers and artists of the time, published to raise money for Saint Mary’s Hospitals for Women and Children, Manchester. The mutineer is the boy Nobby, whose very poor, harassed and frequently pregnant mother expects him to look after the second-most recent baby. He and the narrator decide to run away to Blackpool, but they do not get very far before falling out (the same story as ‘A Little Mutineer’ above?).

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‘Holiday for Norville’, Evening News 1/1/1947. Set in Trelooe and again features Randy Jollifer. The sea is rough and Randy is unable to go out in his fishing boat, so he goes to see Mrs Hulsteader’s cook, who often buys items Randy has poached. Victoria Hulsteader is a wealthy widow and Norville is her pampered cat.  Her cook explains that her employer is very worried because Norville is ill and won’t eat – even though cook has prepared the cat a special chicken broth. Randy says he has a friend who will cure Norville at a cost of six guineas four a two week’s treatment, and his offer is gratefully accepted. In fact, he just gives the overfed Norville less to eat, gives the chicken broth to the poor fisherman Jack Tanglewood and his family, and duly returns Norville in fine form in a fortnight. I’m not sure this is much of a narrative coup, but the story has a little more substance than ‘Landmark’.

 

‘A Day Off’, Lincolnshire Echo, Monday Short Story, 5 June 1950, p.4. Story about a washerwoman, Mrs Harris, who loves doing washing and who spends her one day on an outing to the seaside helping an old lady with her washing.

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