The Reactionaries: W. B. Yeats. Wyndham Lewis. Ezra Pound. T. S. Eliot. John Harrison: D. H. Lawrence. Victor Gollancz.
This is a very bad book on what may or may not—we do not yet know, for it has not been formulated—be an important subject. It would hardly deserve a notice at all if it hadn’t been given much space by reviewers who have not said how bad it is, and what mysteries surround it.
Harrison’s ignorance is so extraordinary that one is bound to wonder when the book was written, and where, and what Harrison has been doing all these years, that he hasn’t read the most obviously relevant material. The book was published in August 1966. A bibliography lists 128 items. Of books or essays published after 1960 there are five: Yeats’s Essays and Introductions, 1961; C. Cross, Fascists in Britain, 1961; R. Albrech-Carriè, Italy from Napoleon to Mussolini, 1962; Gilbert and Gott, The Appeasers, 1963; Maisky, Who Helped Hitler, 1964. Whatever Harrison has been reading since 1960 (and we could go earlier than that date), he hasn’t been reading about the authors he is discussing. On Yeats he lists—and this might surprise even undergraduates —Ellman’s Identity of Yeats, Monk Gibbon, Hone, Menon, who is in fact the authority he most often quotes. A further mystery here: in the chapter on Yeats Harrison does mention Conor Cruise O’Brien’s celebrated essay on Yeats’s politics, but whether he is referring to the shortened version in the New Statesman, or the full version, in In Excited Reverie (1965), we do not know, for Harrison does not even bother to mention the essay’s title; and anyhow reading it hasn’t done him much good. Geoffrey Wagner’s book on Wyndham Lewis is certainly not, I imagine, the last word; but we have a right to suppose that someone engaged with Harrison’s subject should know it— little has been written on Lewis, anyhow; and Wagner might have helped Harrison to find out something more about right-wing writers than he knows. On Hulme Harrison lists nothing at all: he does not even know Sam Hyne’s edition of Further Speculations (1955). On Pound nothing at all. Which may explain why in August 1966 we find Harrison (p. 33) proving that Pound knew Hulme . . . A dramatic moment this. As this is the state of Harrison’s knowledge Cyril Connolly’s gentle murmur that Orage and the New English Weekly have been overlooked is over-sophisticated. To continue in this vein would be boring. A competent supervisor of undergraduate essays would have stopped the whole thing.