Walter Greenwood’s Short Stories
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).
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).
‘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 a 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, 1946 (WGC 1/11 and WGC 1/11/1).
‘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?).
‘Holiday for Norville’, Evening News 1/1/1947. Set in Trelooe and again features Randy Jollifer. Norville is a cat owned by a widow, Victoria Hilsteader.
‘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.