Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Women of the Left bank Series Part 6: Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap

What do you think about, if you think about it at all, when you think about the Little Review? Most people think of James Joyce, or of Ezra Pound, the man who Gertrude Stein described as a:

village explainer. Good when you’re in a village, not when you’re not.

The person people don’t often think of is the review’s founder. And who was the Little Review’s founder? Only Margaret Anderson – one of the most impressive, fabulous and don’t-take-no-shit women of her era. 

(Stein wasn’t a huge fan of Margaret either, but she was fond of Jane Heap, more of whom later)

Writing about Margaret Anderson in my series on Women of the Left Bank is a bit of a cheat, as Margaret started her illustrious career on the other side of the pond. But she did spend a fair bit of time on the Left Bank, and she’s included in Benstock’s Women of the Left Bank, so I’m claiming her.  

Anderson was born in Indiana which – fact fans – is also where Janet Flanner was born. She was a talented pianist, and moved to Chicago in 1908 to pursue music, as well as writing books reviews for the Dial, and Chicago Evening Post.

Writing for other people wasn’t enough for Margaret though. She wanted to set up her own review, and so in 1914 Little Review was born. It really was a labour of love – when the money ran out the whole outfit decamped to a cabin on the edge of Lake Michigan. 

Anderson’s early life and the beginnings of Little Review are recorded, with wit and verve, in her sparkling memoir Thirty Years War

Unfortunately the book is now out of print, but I am lucky enough to have my very own copy – and a first edition no less. It really does need to be reprinted – it’s a vital history of one of the most important literary and arts moments of the 20th Century, and by one of its most interesting and influential women. The memoir is packed with stories and anecdotes about some of the most exciting women of the teens and twenties of the last century, including Emma Goldman and the Dadaist and character Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, who some say was the real artist behind THAT urinal.  

In 1916, Anderson met Jane Heap, and persuaded her to become the co-editor of Little Review. Heap’s brilliant intellect and excellent writing ability helped shape Little Review into the force it became, as it attracted all the new and exciting writing that was happening during the birth of modernism. 

Anderson and Heap fell in love, and if you want to see how in love just take Margaret’s gorgeous description of Jane in her memoir:

I felt in 1916 and feel to-day that Jane Heap is the world’s best talker.

It isn’t a question of words, facility, style. It isn’t a question of erudition. It isn’t even a question of truth. (Who knows whether what she says is true?) It is entirely a question of ideas. No one can find such interesting things to say on any subject. I have often I should my life over to talk-racing, with my money on Jane. No one else would ever win – you can win against magic.

Moving from the cabin in Lake Michigan to a ranch in Muir Woods and then Greenwich Village in New York, the pair published Little Review and, along with their London editor Ezra Pound, transformed it into the leading review of the time Hart Crane, Gertrude Stein, TS Eliot, Ford Madox Ford, Jean Cocteau, Hemingway – the list of authors and artists who contributed is pretty much a roll call of the most revolutionary and extraordinary people of the period. 

But it is perhaps for Ulysses that Little Review is most famous – and another example of how the women who helped bring Ulysses to print have been ignored by history (see Sylvia Beach). 

In 1918, Little Review began to serialise Ulysses, and they continued to serialise it until 1921 when the US Post Office seized copies of the magazine and refused to distribute it, citing its “obscene” content. 

Both Heap and Anderson were hauled up into the courts, charged with obscenity. They famously lost the case – having to pay a fine of $100 and Ulysses was banned in the US until 1934. During the trial, Heap defended their decision to publish Joyce’s most famous work. She said:

It was poet, the artist, who discovered love and created the lover, made sex everything that it is beyond a function. It is the Mr Sumners who have made it an obscenity.”

I love this quote. You can see what Anderson means, can’t you, about how Jane Heap talks? 

After the trial, the pair decamped to Paris (making them officially women of the Left Bank) and continued to publish Little Review there. Famously, they didn’t pay their contributors, proving that it’s not just today that writers have to work for free…

I’m tempted to say that our cultural forgetfulness of Anderson and Heap, without whom one of the most influential modernist publications would simply not have existed, is down to sexism. After all, the other great taste-makers of the age are remembered, although I am willing to concede that this could be contributed to the fact that they also produced their own novels and poetry (Anderson and Heap did too, although it’s not well circulated). I do think there is a whiff of sexism in particular about the forgetting of the three women who made such a difference to Joyce’s publishing history – especially as Joyce so spectacularly betrayed Sylvia Beach. 

There were a huge number of women publishing and distributing work in the modernist era, and most of their names are forgotten now. And yet, without women like Heap and Anderson, journals like Little Review would not have been the first publishers of some of the century’s most famous and revered writers and artists. We should celebrate these women; we should remember their names. They helped shape literary and cultural history. They were loved and respected by their peers and contemporaries. Let’s not allow them to be forgotten. 

Read the rest of the series

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