of “Little” Magazines
It is some kind of commentary on the [modern] period that Joyce’s work and acclaim should have been fostered mainly by high-minded ladies, rather than by men. Ezra first brought him to Miss Weaver’s attention, but it was she who then supported him. The Little Review, Sylvia Beach, and Harriet Weaver brought Joyce into print.
This book so far may have given the impression that I have had no difficulty in making myself, that I sprang like a warrior out of the earth. If so, I have been unjust to my effort. . . . The causes I have fought for have invariably been causes that should have been gained by a delicate suggestion. Since they never were, I made myself into a fighter. . . . I remember periods when I have been so besieged that I had to determine on a victory a day in order to be sure of surviving.
These passages, quoted from two publishers who were closely associated with the foremost innovators in modernist literature, give a sense of context for discussing women’s contributions to the development of modern literature, particularly in terms of publishing. In any such discussion one ought to bear in mind the climate of opinion suggested by these quotations. McAlmon’s comment implicitly relies on masculinist assumptions and privileges—he characterizes women as “high-minded” and worth acknowledgment because of their promotion of Joyce’s writings, although his tone carries a distinct note of regret, or surprise, that women’s support was integral to Joyce’s success. In the second passage, Anderson expresses her sense of constant struggle not only for acceptance and “victory” but also for bare recognition of what she was trying to do; she expresses, in short, her feeling of being limited by social attitudes and prescribed roles. If one looks past the habitual flamboyance of both Anderson’s and McAlmon’s writings, one may see in these quotations the indications of substantial differences between the experiences of male and female modernists. Such differences come as no surprise to scholars aware of the nature of women’s history or the much higher proportion of attention that has been given to male modernists. Men, as had been usual, operated from an assumption of power and capability, looking among themselves for the important work of the new century; women, also as usual, faced exhausting struggles even to achieve passing notice. For readers who take seriously Anderson’s work as an editor of the Little Review, or the work of dozens of other women connected with modernist publishing, it is clear that women had far more to do with the support and evolution of modernism than has been generally acknowledged. The skein of women’s influence that I shall address in this book concerns the contributions made by some of the women who edited “little” literary and arts magazines.
The dynamic history of modernist publishing is embodied in the trajectories and vicissitudes of such little magazines. Many young writers, charged with the excitement of ideas and artistic perspectives that had been developing in Europe, could find neither a sympathetic audience nor a market among the generally conservative publishers of the day. Granted, the aesthetic risks of publishing experimental materials were underscored by obscenity laws that could—and did—censor publications and ruin businesses. As a consequence, scores of small journals sprang up, usually fueled more by energy than by funds or knowledge of the exigencies of publication. Nevertheless, these magazines created vigorous new connections between readers and writers who wanted to foster experimentation and challenge aesthetic traditions. George Bornstein notes a strong connection between the literature in and the editing of such new venues: “Both their astute sense of literary politics and their respect for documentary transmission led the major modernists to enmesh themselves in a wide range of editorial activities. They saw clearly that editors set the
field of literary study, both by deciding what works came to the public and by determining the form in which those works appeared.”1
Modern little magazines, as Frederick J. Hoffman, Charles Allen, and Carolyn F. Ulrich, authors of The Little Magazine: A History and a Bibilography
, describe them, were “designed to print artistic work which for reasons of commercial expediency [was] not acceptable to the money-minded periodicals or presses,” which appealed to “a limited group of intelligent readers,” and which expressed a “spirit of conscientious revolt against the guardians of public taste” (2-4). These iconoclastic publications—deliberately violating accepted principles of publishing and commercial success—afforded a particularly pertinent venue for the avant garde work that few established magazines were willing to print.2
The precarious and idiosyncratic nature of such alternative magazines meant that a good portion of the contents was acquired through word of mouth among circles of experimental writers and was often borne on the currents of internecine squabbles, strong personal enthusiasms, and plays for power and influence. The personalities of editors, like those of the writers and artists who opened the doors of experimentation, became central to the dynamics of modernist publishing. Considering the cultural constraints upon women at that time, it is therefore particularly significant that the editors of many of the most important avant garde journals were women.
One might not at first expect this to be true. Very few literary histories treat women editors seriously. Modern historians have concentrated on the works of men, for the most part, and the act of editing itself has drawn attention mostly in terms of what happened when Ezra Pound met T. S. Eliot’s draft of “The Waste Land” or when James Joyce added huge quantities of text to successive galleys of Ulysses
. The women editors who are mentioned in such influential works as Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane’s Modernism
(1976) generally appear as adjuncts or foils to the men whose works they printed. As Bonnie Kime Scott notes in the introduction to her book The Gender of Modernism
(1990), “Typically, both the authors of original manifestos and the literary historians of modernism took as their norm a small set of its male participants, who were quoted, anthologized, taught, and consecrated as geniuses. Much of what even these select men had to say about the crisis in gender identification
that underlies much of modernist literature was left out or read from a limited perspective. Women writers were often deemed old-fashioned or of merely anecdotal interest” (2). As a result, Scott notes, “Modernism as we were taught it . . . was perhaps halfway to truth. It was unconsciously gendered masculine” (2). Scott’s words reinforce the observations of a number of recent studies that note that in histories, biographies, compilations, critical commentaries, and memoirs, women’s contributions and reputations have rarely been treated with the same depth and discernment used for men’s work, which was assumed to be “universal” in scope—an assumption that affects many critical histories to this day.3
No compelling argument upholds such exclusion. In terms of women editors alone, for instance, most readers interested in the modernist era know that small magazines were extremely important in bringing the new literature to its public—witness the central roles played by Poetry, edited by Harriet Monroe and her associates, and the Little Review, edited by Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap. As the passage quoted from McAlmon indicates, the appearance of Ulysses itself depended upon the discernment and tenacity of various women, Heap and Anderson among them. Further investigation uncovers the names of a striking number of women editors active during the rise and flowering of modernism, including Monroe, Anderson, Heap, Kay Boyle, Bryher (Winifred Ellerman), Emily Clark, Caresse Crosby, Nancy Cunard, H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), Jessie Fauset, Florence Gilliam, Alice Corbin Henderson, Maria Jolas, Amy Lowell, Katherine Mansfield, Marianne Moore, Lola Ridge, Laura Riding, May Sinclair, Harriet Shaw Weaver, Rebecca West, and Virginia Woolf. The work of these women editors was extremely varied and highly influential; the incongruous paucity of scholarship about many of these women raises important issues for theorists of modernism who are willing to deconstruct the assumptions characterized by McAlmon’s statements and explore the hardships and strengths characterized by Anderson’s. What remains obscured in literary history that will be uncovered once women’s contributions to “gatekeeping” as well as to creative work are taken seriously?
Since women’s experiences, in literary as in other milieus, have differed considerably from those of men, women’s writings often reflect this
disparity through theme, writing style, and imagery.4
The pervasive nature of such differences shows the need to continue studying implications of gender bias in the history and operations of literary production, criticism, and evaluation. In some cases, the poetry or fiction women wrote has received far more attention than their editorial and critical work; in other cases, women’s editorial contributions have been overlooked, denigrated, or even attributed to men. Any assessment of the nature of modernism that aims to provide a sufficient overview, however, must address how women’s writing, criticism, and publishing affected literary history, and how the roles these women chose had distinctive effects on what they accomplished. Such study seems especially appropriate to the modernist era, with its literature expressing considerable anxiety over the upheavals that characterized the early twentieth century.
Modernist literary experimentation arose from many aspects of life that were affected by a strong contemporary sense of cultural flux. Pertinent historical pressures of the time included the First World War, the residues of works by Darwin, Marx, and Freud, immense technological innovation, and archaeological and philological discoveries that modified ideas of human history—a set of pressures that culminated in the “disestablishing of communal reality and conventional notions of causality . . . [and] the destruction of traditional notions of the wholeness of individual character. . . . [In modernism] all realities [had] become subjective fictions.”5
Reflecting on these momentous changes, modernist writers and artists attempted to express the flux of reality by dispensing with conventional modes of depiction and by experimenting instead with abrupt and unusual juxtapositions, sensory immediacy, linguistic play, and combinations of prosaic subject matter with idiosyncratic and esoteric allusions, all of which radically challenged aesthetic conventions.
Not surprisingly, the many aspects of modernist development have given rise to an impressive—and confusing—range of interpretations. Standard histories of modernism, particularly those predicated upon New Criticism, are currently being revised, although for the most part scholars still orient their studies toward literary and critical works written by men. Such an approach may express itself in the form of theoretical positions that do not include attention to women’s history, or in a “humanism” that claims to include women’s history and feminist theory but that in fact subsumes them, once again, into a presumably “universal” position.
In one discussion, for instance, historian Albert Gelpi finds that modernism, like the Enlightenment and Romanticism, was a response to “the rising sense of threat and confusion at every level of life in the West, religious and psychological, philosophic and political: a sense of crisis.”6
This crisis developed from the decay of the Romantic notion of “the individual’s intrinsic capacity to perceive and participate in the organic interrelatedness of all forms of natural life and . . . to intuit [through the imagination] the metaphysical reality from which that natural harmony proceeds” (3). Gelpi believes this decay turned into a skeptical modernism, of which the salient characteristics were “complexity and abstraction, sophisticated technical invention and spatialized form, the conception of the artist as at once supremely self-conscious and supremely impersonal” (5). The dualism of such paradoxical constructions reinscribes a good many of the qualities it seems to question, most obviously in the familiar notion that modernist dissonances expressing “crisis” necessarily undergirded a drive toward an encompassing consonance. It is also apparent that this sort of critical language itself reflects the values of a masculinist viewpoint that reinforces hierarchy.
Another way in which dualism tends to be reinscribed in conservative literary histories concerns the “break with the past” that many critics see as essential to the modernist agenda, as if the artistic expressions of the twentieth century were an abrupt and complete change from earlier traditions. In discerning and interpreting such a break, Michael Levenson decides, for instance, that the emphasis he sees on “two-ness” in the pronouncements of Eliot, Pound, Ford, and Hulme indicates a desire for “thorough historical discontinuity” (ix), which would obviously invest these men’s works with pivotal significance in the development of modern thought. One kind of radical discontinuity, however, is absent from Levenson’s own “genealogy” of modernism; this book, too, concentrates on the work of a few—mostly very familiar—male writers, despite its overt language of reproduction that might at least suggest the presence of women. Of course no single book can do justice to the huge range of writers and artists who might be included in a discussion of modernism, but it is particularly ironic, given Levenson’s refusal even to acknowledge the influence of such women as Dorothy Richardson, Gertrude Stein, and H.D., that he writes, “Part of the difficulty of modernism is that it has suppressed its origins” (xi). Indeed.
The problems occasioned by ignoring or suppressing women’s contributions must be taken seriously, since the effects infiltrate every aspect of history-making and canonization. One instance of such a “filtering” effect, as Shari Benstock terms it in Women of the Left Bank (27), can be found in the language of the following scenario from Hoffman, Allen, and Ulrich’s The Little Magazine: A History and a Bibliography, in which the authors note that little reviews often served as the key to recognition for beginning or experimental writers:
One may speak casually of an Ernest Hemingway’s receiving his first half-dozen publications in little magazines and thereby gaining a reputation. . . . But let us be more specific. Hemingway publishes his first story in The Double Dealer in 1922. Assume that the editor and a few other people read this story and like it. These people talk enthusiastically of the story and perhaps twice as many read the next Hemingway offering. Soon many admirers are talking—a snowball is rolling in the advance guard. A half-dozen little magazines are printing Hemingway stories and he has several thousand readers. An obscure, noncommercial press in Paris publishes his first thin volume, Three Stories and Ten Poems. The snowball rolls into the Scribner’s office. Finally in 1926 comes The Sun Also Rises. A writer has been started on the road to success—by the little magazines and their readers. 
One might well add, “and by their editors and sponsors.” If the appearance of Three Stories and Ten Poems
in 1923 helped Hemingway’s “snowball” to gain crucial momentum (or at least to bring him to Contact Editions’ affiliation with Three Mountains Press, which printed his In Our Time
a year later), then thanks in good measure can be laid not only at publisher Robert McAlmon’s door but also at the door of his wife, Bryher, whose funds and connections helped provide for the success of Contact Editions.7
After two brief publications in The Double Dealer
, Hemingway’s next appearances were in Poetry
, with poems and bits of literary gossip that were to become characteristic, and in the Little Review
, with six stories that later appeared in In Our Time
and the poem “They All Made
Peace—What Is Peace?”8
Clearly, the discernment of the women who edited little magazines and supported small publishing concerns proved essential to the “snowballing” of Hemingway’s reputation.
The Little Magazine: A History and a Bibliography (1947) remains the best general introduction to the role that small magazines played in the early twentieth century, but its tendency to highlight the works of men reflects an approach that many literary histories have used. This tone particularly affects interpretations of the psychological politics behind the creation and promotion of avant garde work. If men have been expected to be bold or experimental, and women have been expected to be emotional or compliant, then post hoc discussions of the bravado that is obvious in much modernist writing will be pitched a certain way. For instance, Hoffman, Allen, and Ulrich choose to characterize Ezra Pound as “truly the ‘personality as poet,”’ a man whose “critical remarks are characterized by spasmodic penetration, an arbitrary and cocksure forthrightness, and an obstinate refusal to brook what he considered untimely or petty opposition,” and who thereby became “one of the most effective sponsors of experimental literature in our century” (21). Their assessment of the Little Review notes some of the same energy and individuality but gives these qualities a distinctly different spin; the Little Review is characterized as a “personal” magazine that reflected Margaret Anderson’s “breathless racing with life” from interest to interest (20): “It was an exciting magazine, quixotic, sometimes immature, but always radiating the blue sparks of highly charged feeling. Many were the stars that danced before Margaret Anderson’s impulsive vision. . . . Inevitably, there was to come a time when she could glimpse no further horizon” (52). The style of Anderson’s magazine is equated with her personality and dismissed as a limitation, and Anderson’s successes in dealing with “opposition”—most notably in her and Jane Heap’s attempts to publish as much of Ulysses as they could in the face of legal and economic sanctions—are given little credit even during the more extended discussion of the...