Why is Walter Greenwood Important?
A short short interview with Chris Hopkins by Liverpool University Press (2018)
LUP: Can you tell us a bit about Walter Greenwood and the context in which Love on the Dole was written?
CH. Walter Greenwood was born in a very impoverished area of Salford, known locally as Hanky Park, in 1903. His mother came from a family of committed socialists who were active trade unionists and sometimes suffered for this. His father was a barber, who ran his own small barber’s shop in Hanky Park, and perhaps had the potential to make a modest living from the small business. Greenwood Senior was something of a happy-go-lucky character and was often to be found during business hours in the pub on the corner – he claimed this increased the number of his clientele. However, Greenwood’s father died young (aged forty-three) in 1912, probably from TB (though drink may have contributed). Greenwood’s mother then worked long hours as a waitress and his sister worked in a textile mill, while he worked in a pawnbrokers before and after school. In 1916, aged thirteen, Walter was able to leave school (he hated it) a year early in order to contribute to the family income. He went to work in the pawnbroker’s full-time (and hated the long hours, the 6 day week and the depressing atmosphere ).
Thereafter he worked in a number of jobs, none well-paid: he was most often a clerk, but also assembled crates, packed wholesale drapery and was a stable-boy (he liked that best). But once the Slump struck in 1929 he was, like many others, unemployed and on the dole (until his benefits were stopped under the Means Test in 1931). This was the context in which Love on the Dole was written – Walter’s last job had been as a clerk and since his boss had disappeared without paying him his last week’s wages, he took home the office typewriter in lieu and determined both to write about what it was like to live in Hanky Park and to make a living as a writer. Three years of what looked like failure followed – he tried to sell short stories to fiction magazines, but had only one success (in 1931). He wrote to a then popular and socialist novelist (Ethel Mannin) and she advised him to write a novel if he wanted to get published. Greenwood combined material from a number of his rejected short stories, and added a good deal of new material and a unifying plot in order to create his break- through novel – Love on the Dole. In January 1933 he received an acceptance letter from Jonathan Cape and the novel came out later that year to almost universally good reviews – his story about the entrapped misery of being long-term unemployed was found persuasive by newspapers of Conservative, Liberal and Labour convictions. By 1934 Greenwood’s own personal fortunes (and those of his family) were transformed and he built on this over the next few years with further novels. A version of Love on the Dole adapted for theatre in collaboration with the playwright Ronald Gow in 1935 further enlarged his fame and his audience and his influence – it was seen by around three-million people in the UK by 1940. Greenwood was keen for there to be a film version in 1936, but the British Board of Film Censors said that a film of such a story could not be seen in British cinemas – they objected to the bleak portrayal of British working people, the critical attitude to the status quo and the sexual behaviours which were seen under the conditions people had to live under in Hanky Park. In peculiar wartime circumstances, the film did come to be made – but not until 1941. For the rest of Greenwood’s life he made a living as a professional writer – of novels, short stories, plays, radio adaptations and film scripts – but he kept on writing works which while entertaining and often comic also told the stories of working-class people and argued for changes in the social and economic structures of Britain.
LUP. Yours is the only book to explore the novel, play and film versions of Love on the Dole together. Why do you think this is the case? What is to be discovered from observing the three texts alongside each other?
CH. Greenwood has been well-served by his critics and there are around a dozen good critical essays from the seventies onwards as well as discussions in books about the nineteen thirties. But on the whole the literary critics have stuck to the novel (with only a few writing about the play), the film critics have stuck to the film and the historians while seeing Love on the Dole as a rich source have not looked at the considerable textual differences between the three versions. Nor have the film critics and historians and literary critics necessarily read each others work. Looking at the three versions together in an interdisciplinary way emphasises the complexity of the texts – which seek to deal with socially, politically and sexually difficult material, while also winning over a large audience to a new view of unemployment and of working-class people – and brings out differences in the possibilities of the three media at this period (for example, different censors dealt with plays and films, and came to different conclusions about the fitness of Greenwood’s work for performance and exhibition). Also, because the film was delayed until wartime, its meaning and relationship to its historical present was very different from those of the 1933 novel and the 1935 play.
LUP: How does Love on the Dole fit in relation to other works by Walter Greenwood?
CH. Greenwood was clearly very proud of his first novel and of its impact. One of the first things he did once he had some income from its success was to hire a clippings agency to collect systematically UK and US newspaper reviews of his work and other articles about him as a working-class celebrity (all the volumes of these clippings books are held in the Walter Greenwood Collection at Salford University Library Archives – and were one of the key resources for writing my book). Partly perhaps because of this pride, and partly because his social mission remained central to his writing, nearly all of his later writing, while exploring new territories and periods, does make more or less reference back to Love on the Dole. These revisitings range from the sustained topic of writing about what working-class life was like in Britain (in the thirties, the forties, the fifties, the sixties) to the reuse of characters, character types and /or characters’ names from Love on the Dole. For example, he reused the names Harry and Sally in his hitherto forgotten Second World War novel Something in the Heart (1944 – but confusingly for characters who do not wholly share characteristics with their forebears. Mrs Bull and Mrs Dorbell and Mrs Jikes also recur in some later works – as do some characters like them (indeed these characters may have influenced some characters in ITV’s Coronation Street). Since few people in recent decades have read Greenwood’s once widely-read later novels, these patterns of allusion, rewriting and updating, plus his habits and idiosyncrasies as an artist, have not been noticed.
Walter Greenwood’s ‘Love on the Dole’ uncovers various lost short stories alongside his extensive theatre and film work. Can you tell us a bit more about this work? Are there any works in particular that you feel deserve recognition?
CH. His plays after Love on the Dole were mainly workmanlike, rather than brilliant (though his 1949 Ealing Studios film with the director Harry Watt about early Australian struggles for democracy, Eureka Stockade, is well -worth watching). But the ‘lost’ Greenwood work which above all deserves re-recognition is his short story collection of 1937, The Cleft Stick, co-produced with the brilliant and also neglected thirties artist, Arthur Wragg (who studied in the nineteen-twenties at Sheffield School of Art – a founding institution for my university, Sheffield Hallam) . This collection is in fact made up of some of his early unpublished short stories and can thus be seen as a prequel to Love on the Dole (though in 1937 it was more often read as a sequel). I will be writing further articles about this work – but ideally it should be re-published so that Greenwood’s early writing and Wragg’s brilliantly matched illustrations can be seen, enjoyed and discussed as widely as they were in 1937. Greenwood also published quite a few other short stories which have never been reprinted or collected – but I need to do a bit more detective work to unearth them all.
Professor Chris Hopkins, Humanities Research Centre, Sheffield Hallam University, UK; firstname.lastname@example.org,.uk