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John Middleton Murry and Ethical (Anti-) Modernism

A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasure of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination; and poetry administers to the effect by acting upon the cause.

                                                                        —Percy Bysshe Shelley[1]

John Middleton Murry’s significance as a modernist critic and as an editor has been largely erased from literary history.[2] This elision is surprising given the recent surge in attention to modernist periodical culture, in which he played a dominant role, founding Rhythm in 1913, editing The Athenaeum from 1919–1921 and launching the long-lived Adelphi in 1923. A moment in the preface to Michael Levenson’s influential book A Genealogy of Modernism (1984) illustrates the extent to which Murry’s criticism disappeared into the invisible seams of institutional modernism. In the context of discussing the polemical attitude of most modernist literary doctrine, Levenson cites a single sentence in T. S. Eliot’s 1923 essay “The Function of Criticism”: “What Mr. Murry does show is that there are at least two attitudes toward literature and toward everything, and that you cannot hold both.”[3] Levenson adduces this sentence to demonstrate Eliot’s antagonism overpowering his logic in a rare “infelicity[y],” but for our purposes, the use of Murry’s name without any explanatory content suggests a complete lack of interest in the reference (Genealogy, ix). Eliot wrote the essay in question in response to Murry’s “On Fear; And On Romanticism” (1923), and the two pieces together initiated their protracted debate over Classicism and Romanticism. While Levenson provides crucial intellectual context to understand the genesis of this conflict, Murry’s role in it has been completely marginalized, to the point that the reader need not even know whom this Mr. Murry might be.[4]

Eliot’s shaping power over modernism and its creative and critical legacies guided our understanding and treatment of the period for nearly a century. The endurance of this version of modernism is certainly warranted by Eliot’s success as a poet, critic, editor, and influence over later models of literary interpretation. And yet, the expansion of modernism over the last few decades into the “new modernisms” has produced alternative genealogies that shed light on the multiple active vectors of aesthetic theory and criticism of the period. For example, Laura Heffernan’s work on Rebecca West illuminates the excision of another dissenting critical voice to Eliot’s; West herself, Heffernan points out, “attribute[d] the devaluation of her own work . . . to the rise of T. S. Eliot’s critical precepts and literary tastes.”[5] West’s critical methodology, in which she attended to the “wider social field” into which literature is disseminated as a major element of its meaning, conflicted with the Eliotic focus on the literary work as a self-enclosed object that gave rise to the New Criticism and its literary critical descendants (Heffernan, “Reading Modernism’s,” 310). Heffernan contends that “[d]etailing the lineaments of West’s alternative and decanonized critical practice ultimately makes the case that we must revisit our own critical approaches to literary value and reorient ourselves toward a forgotten body of modernist criticism” (312). Like West's, Murry’s “decanonization” resulted in great part from his opposition to Eliot's brand of criticism, although the expurgation of his work from the legacies of modernism to date has been arguably more hostile and thorough.

Throughout most of his career, Murry’s reputation was among the worst of any modernist literary figure. At the helm of The Athenaeum—his most prestigious position, which he assumed in 1919—he was seen by many as a petty tyrant parasitic on the creative talents of others, his own being strictly critical.[6] Despite his earlier intimacy with Lawrence, Murry returned most of the pieces Lawrence offered up to The Athenaeum, prompting Lawrence to call him, famously, a “dirty little worm,” and to maintain a level of distrust for him even in later periods of reconciliation.[7] Eliot’s early admiration for Murry devolved into condescension and dismissal, and Virginia Woolf ultimately called him “the one vile man I have ever known” (Kaplan, Circulating Genius, 1). After the Athenaeum years, a good deal of animosity toward Murry stemmed from what seemed like the exploitation of his wife’s legacy for his own gain, or his creation, in the words of Jeffrey Meyers, of a “cult of Mansfield” after her death. In addition to featuring Mansfield material in nearly every issue of the early Adelphi, he published her letters, her journal, and her scrapbook, and reissued earlier essays and stories. The vitriol with which this potential opportunism was met is recorded comprehensively by Meyers, who contends that Murry “took possession” of Mansfield “after death and transformed her into the docile woman he had always wanted.”[8] Meyers goes on to note the reactions of many of Murry’s friends and acquaintances, including Huxley’s damning portrait of him in Point Counter Point (1928) as the slimy editor Burlap, Lawrence's hostile portrayal of him in such stories as “Smile” (1926) and “Jimmy and the Desperate Woman” (1924), and S. S. Koteliansky’s decision to sever ties with Murry after the publication of Mansfield’s journal.[9] His persona for posterity, then, was constructed and disseminated by those with gripes against him. Moreover, the increasingly religious bent of Murry’s writing from the late 1920s on, followed by dabbling in Marxism, pacifism and other causes, served to discredit his earlier contributions to literary culture.[10] 

John Middleton Murry, photograph by Lady Ottoline Morrell, 1917.
Fig. 1. John Middleton Murry, photograph by Lady Ottoline Morrell, 1917. NPG Ax140603 © National Portrait Gallery, London.

In her study of vagueness, Megan Quigley disputes the supremacy of the Eliotic principle of a “‘hard’ and firmly delineated quality of modernist writing,” and contends that approaching modernism through contemporary “transformations in philosophy rather than under the rubric of modernist poetry’s manifestos has important implications . . . [for] reading these texts and understanding their political implications.”[11] Vincent Sherry likewise proposes “an alternate literary history” of modernism since “the absence that decadence occupies in the formative story has never been filled in with the import it originally owns” due to the overwhelming claims of symbolism on modernist poetics.[12] Focusing on genre, Michael Valdez Moses has recently called for greater attention to modernist criticism. Critical writing, he contends, is “a conspicuous and distinctive form of modernist writing, one not merely supplementary or ancillary to the main body of the modernist canon, but in fact one that occupies a primary, indeed essential, place in any representative account of literary modernism.”[13] Understood in opposition to Eliot’s Classicist tenets, Murry’s Romantic principles have stood as a foil to the core ideas of modernist criticism; revising our inherited impressions of Murry, however, allows us to read his ideas as alternative vectors of early twentieth-century thought that present intriguing precedents for later modes of critical inquiry.

As David Goldie has noted, Murry began his career (as the editor of Rhythm) with a commitment to the experimental and daring, influenced by Henri Bergson and post-impressionist art in Paris. Somewhat of an anomaly in the annals of early twentieth-century art and literature, however, he grew gradually less radical, denouncing work by James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Woolf and Dorothy Richardson as “incomprehensible,” defined by an extreme “artistic subjectivism.”[14] Despite this anti-modernist tendency, like W. B. Yeats, Woolf and others, he recognized and articulated the necessity of a new aesthetic and ethical dispensation adequate to postwar modernity. Murry’s editorial proclamation of a new Romanticism in 1923 in The Adelphi consolidated these ideas. Contemporaries and critics have long referred to the magazine's objectives, initially inspired by Murry’s devotion to Lawrence's ideas in Aaron's Rod (1922) and Fantasia of the Unconscious (1923), as vague and convoluted.[15] The dominant narrative of Murry’s career, in which the tonal and conceptual shifts represented by The Adelphi catalyzed his precipitous fall, neglects to consider the ways in which his wartime explorations of sympathy and his particular treatment of impersonality and emotion shape his later version of Romanticism. From the war years to the early 1920s, Murry developed convictions concerning the singular, ethical capacities of literature, which he would set against the burgeoning objective methodology that subsequently dominated the next few decades of English literary criticism.[16] This article will explore several threads of Murry’s ethical criticism: his treatment of imaginative sympathy, Romantic individualism, the interactive nature of reading, and the discourse of literary value.[17] In so doing, I hope to reintegrate his work into a more capacious genealogy of modernism.

War, Sympathy and the Ideal

Late in his undergraduate career, Murry traveled to Paris and fell under the sway of the Fauvists, the Symbolists and the philosophy of Bergson, whose influence came to dominate prewar modernist aesthetic culture. With the Scottish painter John Duncan Fergusson and friends from Oxford, Murry in 1911 founded the avant-garde magazine Rhythm, a publication determined to marry the best of continental post-impressionism to a new generation of English writing. In addition to his editorial duties, Murry contributed essays, book reviews and poems to nearly every issue of Rhythm, which featured original poems, stories, and artwork, including the first image by Picasso to appear in England. In his essay “Art in Philosophy” in the first issue, Murry notes the belated embrace of Bergson in England and contends that his philosophy “is a living artistic force. It is the open avowal of the supremacy of the intuition . . . the concepts of the reason . . . fail before the fact of Life.”[18] Bergson provided a solution to those depleted by the rise of scientific materialism by emphasizing the way consciousness cannot be approached or understood through mechanisms of the material world.

According to Faith Binckes, “Rhythm was viewed by many as Britain’s foremost organ of Post-Impressionism, and the Rhythmists as Britain’s best hope for contributing to and reshaping the movement.”[19] In a 1912 Rhythm essay, Murry and Mansfield asserted, “Freedom, reality and individuality are three names for the ultimate essence of life. They are the three qualities of the artist.”[20] This focus on the importance of singular vision would persist in Murry’s critical grammar, and this early collaboration with Mansfield establishes the social and aesthetic stakes of individuality: “Individuality in the work of art is the creation of reality by freedom. . . . It is that daring and splendid thing which the mob hates because it cannot understand and by which it is finally subdued” (“The Meaning,” 20). Murry’s commitment to imagination and autonomous thinking against “the mob” only intensified during the war and postwar years. In 1915, he ventured with Lawrence into another, short-lived publication, The Signature.[21] Murry’s contribution, “There Was a Little Man,” serves as a pre-text for The Adelphi, with its quasi-mystical sensibilities and confessional, even self-flagellating propensities. It powerfully captures Murry’s wartime despair, however, and addresses questions of art and individual integrity in the face of total war: “I love my country . . . in so far as it affords me freedom to work out my own justification. I seek from it the minimum of interference, and if I do not find it, then I will go elsewhere.”[22] Murry’s individualism recoils from the patriotic zeal of 1916, and he asserts the necessity of art and its social and psychological functions in the context of crisis.

Set in opposition to facile collective thinking, Murry’s war and postwar essays are preoccupied with the power of art to model sympathy and work against the dangers of the discrete individual consciousness. In the essay “The Defeat of Imagination,” written a month after the war’s end, Murry explicitly links the capacity of art to overcome otherness to its potential as an ethical good in a nearly destroyed world. The essay begins with Murry’s commentary on a quotation from Georges Duhamel: “‘L’être humain . . . souffre toujours solitairement dans sa chair, et c’est pourquoi la guerre est possible.’ . . . We had always known that it was so.”[23] Building on this insight, Murry writes,

A man cannot suffer his neighbor’s physical pain. If he could, there would be no war . . . why were not all the minds in the world implacably at work to discover the means by which one man may suffer with another [?] But all the minds of the world were engaged in discovering the means by which one man may inflict a yet greater infinity of suffering upon another, and himself be unwrung by the pain. (“The Defeat of Imagination,” 156–57)

Expressing dismay at the resources devoted to scientific and technological development at the expense of moral progress, Murry links the spiritual vacuum that allowed the war to take place with the failure of sympathetic imagination, an organ that only art and literature can exercise. Murry’s sense that the paralysis of a key human capacity allowed war to happen and escalate builds on the Romantic investment in morality and the sympathetic imagination, adapted from the eighteenth-century philosophical thought of Adam Smith and others, which coursed through the poetry and criticism of Coleridge, Keats and especially Shelley.[24] For Murry, because one individual cannot suffer or feel or hurt for and with another, casualties on a mass scale can take place in the name of country or ideology: “The war had shown that a catastrophe, against which imagination was the only defence, might be consummated long before imagination had prevailed among men” (“The Defeat of Imagination,” 164). Murry’s essays immediately after the war focus on the widespread lapse of sympathy or meaningful alterity, and his later work, which calls for a “period of critical and humanistic positivism in regard to ethics and to art,” emphasizes the way in which literature in particular can invigorate the capacity for inhabiting the position of the other.[25]

This direction in Murry’s work anticipates later avenues in literary theory that stress the salutary effects of literature on one's ability to bridge the imaginative gap between self and other. While it is true that Murry’s version of alterity does not envision differences of race, gender or class in ways that resemble the work of more recent years, the logic of his ethical vision relates to Gayatri Spivak’s claim that “[l]iterary reading teaches us to learn from the singular and the unverifiable. . . . to imagine the other who does not resemble the self.”[26] Indeed, as Mark Sanders writes, “Literature is an other-maker [making others, but also in being read, making itself other]. It is to this activity that literary theory must attend. That is why it is natural for it to turn to ethics.”[27] Murry’s Romantic claims for imaginative sympathy in the wake of total war do just this: only through the sympathetic function catalyzed by art can we begin again to strive to overcome our separateness.

In his introduction to a special issue of PMLA in 1999, Lawrence Buell provides an overview of the late-twentieth-century ethical turn in literary studies. Wayne Booth's ethical analysis of rhetoric, Martha Nussbaum’s neo-Aristotelian moral philosophy, the development of ethical modes of inquiry within the deconstructive work of Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida (driven by the discovery of Paul De Man's apparent past Nazi sympathies), and the redeployment of the work of Emmanuel Levinas in literary criticism and theory all represent strands of this new focus on ethics and ways of reading. The new ethics represent the “revival of a moral or social value-oriented approach to literary studies,” a tendency that was once perfunctorily dismissed.[28] As Nussbaum asserts, “any work that attempts to ask of a literary text questions about how we might live . . . and as being in some sense about our lives, must be hopelessly naive, reactionary, and insensitive to the complexities of literary form and intertextual referentiality.”[29] The assumptions Nussbaum indicates, in perhaps their earliest form and derived from growing consensus over Eliot’s influence and objective literary criticism, characterized the enduring reception of Murry.

Following Nussbaum, Kenneth Asher argues that “literature’s irreplaceable contribution to ethical knowledge rests crucially on the cognitive role of emotions and the necessary implication of appropriate emotional response in actions that would be considered fully moral.”[30] Modernism in particular (here, Woolf, Lawrence, Eliot, and George Bernard Shaw), Asher shows, “challenge[s] the view of the self, the role of emotions, and the possibility for individual agency” and this resistance to stable categories of character and morality proves fertile ground for rethinking ethics amidst the rapid changes of the early twentieth century (Literature, Ethics, 49). According to Stephen Ross, modernist aesthetics, far from rejecting the problems of morality as a Victorian vestige, explode and reconvene the elements of human experience that contribute to thinking and acting ethically:

Traditionally, ethics had relied upon the possibility that the subject was consistent and integrated and that he or she could know with relative certainty enough about a given situation to act rightly. . . .  modernism assumed instead that the self was fundamentally fragmented—or fragmenting—and that knowledge was often, if not always, fatally limited.[31]

In an essay on E. M. Forster, Ross argues that an embrace of indeterminacy and open-endedness captures the ethical dimension of A Passage to India, specifically through interactions between the human and the animal that foreground alterity: the “essentially other, radically alien, perhaps fundamentally inimical to existing epistemological frameworks” (“Thinking Modernist Ethics,” 307, emphasis removed). Despite high modernism’s objective and aesthetic bent, Ross and others argue, problems of political affiliation in the wake of total war, the mysteries of other minds, and ethical conundrums occupied its works as they were produced and consumed in a secular world.

Murry’s ethical sensibilities, then, connect with other modernist projects, such as Woolf's claims for the novel. David Sherman and Jessica Berman have recently read Woolf’s novelistic aesthetics as engaging with alterity in ways that extend toward a conception of the secular and the ethical, respectively. Woolf’s representation of being-toward-the-other rests on the fact of interiority, or, using Murry’s language, the “inner voice.” Sherman claims that in order to represent the secular, Woolf creates narrative techniques that imagine the interior of the other as the form that faith takes in a modern secular imaginary.[32] Building on Levinas, Berman argues that “Woolf’s novels revolve around the ways that writing can . . . brin[g] the epistemological and moral into conversation with each other, using aesthetics to make an ethical realm—or a fold—between the potentially universal and the personal . . . between the face of the other as stranger and the call of the ethics of intimacy.”[33] The links between their thinking here suggests that personal animus between Murry and Woolf herself has served to mask productive continuities in their strains of ethical modernism.

Murry’s essay “The Function of Criticism” appeared in the TLS in May 1920 (three years before Eliot’s more famous essay of the same title), during his time at The Athenaeum, and makes a compelling case for the unique ethical potentialities of literature and criticism. [34] Like his elaboration of the importance of imaginative sympathy, his definition of the “ideal,” or the hypothetical nature of literary representation, anticipates the discourses of alterity, immateriality and empathy that feature in discussions of literature's ethical and social value. In this response to an earlier piece by Eliot, Murry insists that true critics of art locate their foundational assumptions in the Greeks: “The imitation of life in literature was, for Aristotle, the creative revelation of the ideal actively at work in human life.”[35] This principle solidifies the link, illustrated by such critics as Coleridge, between the moral and the aesthetic as “an ideal of the good life,” a claim that Murry connects to the indispensible relationship between the beautiful and the good found in Plato's Republic (“Function of Criticism,” 7). Murry’s criticism rests on this fundamental parity even as the “separation of aesthetics from ethics” came to be “seen as a defining feature of modernism.”[36]

For Murry, the indivisibility between the literary and the ideal or imagined good, which he also refers to as “aesthetic intuition,” grounds the ethical and grants art autonomy and distinction among other products of human knowledge. This ideal cannot be intellectualized or objectified; the ideal to which literature is always already directed can only be expressed or partially revealed through intuition and “an incessant growth from a merely personal immediacy to a coherent and all-comprehending attitude to life,” or the passage from individual emotional experience to universal moral value (Murry, “Function of Criticism,” 14). Telescoping the unique and indispensible function of literature and criticism in our world, Murry contends that “there is a strict and mutually fertilizing relation between the moral and the aesthetic values,” “to search for the good life is in fact impossible, unless he has an ideal of it before his mind’s eye. An ideal of the good life, if it is to have the internal coherence and the organic force of a true ideal, must inevitably be aesthetic” (6, 8, emphasis in original). Any ethics, Murry argues, can only be derived from and modeled on Aristotle's notion of imitation, which works through the aesthetic in its relationship not to fact-based reality, but to an ideal or speculative principle. While this strain of his thinking may seem quite different from the emphasis on the sympathetic imagination, Murry’s exploration of the ideal actually illuminates the process by which imagination functions: in order to comprehend another's suffering, one must first enter into a kind of communion with the hypothetical. This is a literary dimension to which Dorothy Hale has recently referred to as the “as if,” or “the condition of imagination that makes one ethically vulnerable to beliefs that are not one's own."[37] Murry’s argument also accords with Peter Boxall’s recent discussion of the novel's relationship to justice, in which he contends that in the failure of the law in mimetic representation, “the ideal asserts itself as a latent element within the real.”[38] Boxall’s sense that the value of literature for our world lies within “its capacity to capture and express a dialectical relationship between the existent and the non-existent” reflects a defining element of the aesthetic on which Murry’s argument for criticism's importance rests (Value, 130–31).

Murry’s Romanticism

Most accounts of Murry’s career draw a definitive line between his position at the helm of The Athenaeum (which ended in 1921), and the launch of The Adelphi in 1923. The intervening months were life changing: Mansfield, his wife and partner of almost 12 years, succumbed to tuberculosis in January 1923. While Murry’s diaries and notebooks from 1913 to 1921 track his thoughts and many appointments and dates with figures in the literary world, his diary entries from 1922 are reduced to the recording of Mansfield’s deteriorating health, her weight loss, and each session with George Gurdjieff in Paris. Murry spent months tending to Mansfield and, after her death, was by his own account a changed and broken man. In the winter of 1923, he had a mystical vision of awakening into harmony with the universe, which he recounted in multiple places and credited with the inspiration to begin The Adelphi.[39] A more populist and spiritual venture than any publication with which he had hitherto been involved, the magazine was begun, with the help of Koteliansky, as a vehicle for Lawrence-inspired ideas, and Murry even planned for Lawrence to join the “brotherhood” on his return from America.[40] The Adelphi was both a mouthpiece for Murry and a monument to Mansfield in the early years, but it also included contributions from Lawrence, Richardson, J. W. N. Sullivan, and, once, Charlie Chaplin.[41] The new Romanticism that Murry elaborated in The Adelphi drew upon the principles of individuality and sympathy elaborated in his criticism over the previous decade.

Modernism’s relationship to Romanticism was deeply ambiguous, from outright rejection in the case of Eliot to clear poetic indebtedness on the part of Yeats, whose early poetry incorporated elements of Romantic vision and inspiration and whose more “modern” poetry like “The Wild Swans at Coole” and “Sailing to Byzantium” emerges from clear engagement with Wordsworth and Keats. For Yeats, like Murry, “Romanticism denoted not a specific historical epoch but rather a set of qualities that began much earlier, reached one peak of development in the Romantic period proper, and remained available to later artists like himself.”[42] As Goldie shows, Classicism and Romanticism “were markedly fluid and imprecise by the early 1920s” (A Critical Difference, 100). Various strands of anti-Romanticism (like those of T. E. Hulme and Irving Babbitt, for example) ran through modernist literary criticism, and were woven together in Eliot's work. The reliance on structures of authority and organization (religious, institutional, social) rather than on individual emotion or intuition distinguished Eliotic Classicism, and the move toward objective and formal criticism, motivated by Eliot’s idea of the dissociation of sensibility in poetry after Milton, came to be defined as anti-Romantic.

 Rhythm (June 1912), The Athenaeum (July 1920), and The Adelphi (September 1923).
Fig. 2. Collage of journal covers: Rhythm (June 1912), The Athenaeum (July 1920), and The Adelphi (September 1923).

Prior to his debates with Eliot, Murry’s critical practice was informed in many ways by his approach to the Romantic poets. In The Problem of Style, a series of six lectures delivered at Oxford in 1921, shortly after he resigned as editor of The Athenaeum, the example of the Romantics prevails, alongside Shakespeare and Hardy. He calls Coleridge’s Biographia Literatia “most magnificent piece of critical writing in the English language,” and borrows Wordsworth’s famous definition of the poetical process with only slight modifications to articulate the poet’s psychology of style.[43] His emphasis on the individual poet and the importance of emotion separate him from Eliot and Hulme, of course, but in fact he comes quite close to Eliot’s concepts of impersonality and the objective correlative. “[T]he highest style,” Murry contends, “is a combination of the maximum of personality with the maximum of impersonality; on the one hand it is a concentration of peculiar and personal emotion, on the other it is a complete projection of this personal emotion into the created thing” (Problem of Style, 35). While Murry’s concept of “projection” might sound similar to Eliot’s “depersonalisation,” Murry’s understanding of the relationship between the individual and the aesthetic object is more humanist and contextual than Eliot’s, for he believed that the poet had to seek the ultimate level of his own selfhood, not “extinguish” it, in order to pass through to something universal or impersonal.

In a comment that prefigures the critical boxing match in which he found himself in the years ahead, Murry contends that there is no “antithesis between personal and impersonal art,” despite the French examples of realism and Parnassianism, which were simply “protests against the extravagances of the romantic sensibility—that uncontrolled indulgence of factitious and unimportant personal emotion” (41, 42). Extending the logic of this claim shows that Murry considered his own Romantic individualism to be entirely different from the overly sentimental and histrionic versions of Romanticism condemned by contemporary critics. A Wordsworthian critical methodology derived from “emotion recollected in tranquility” runs through The Problem of Style, resting on the claim that true style emerges from an “originating emotion” and the subsequent “reassertion of conscious control over the disturbed being” (24). Murry modernizes this with language of hardness and discipline, like his sense of “Keats’s incessant reaching out towards objectivity,” and his elaboration of such terms as solidity, crystallization and plasticity (42):

‘Solid’ . . . conveys several things—complete economy, complete precision, and . . . to imply that the piece of writing has been completely ejected from the   author’s mind. . . . A piece of writing from which the recognizable personality of the author is deliberately excluded—and this, again, was promulgated as a necessary ideal by Flaubert in counterblast to the Romantics—may reasonably be, and frequently is, called ‘objective’ [or] ‘solid’ . . . there is no reason at all why ‘personal’ writing should not be every bit as ‘solid’ as ‘impersonal’ writing. (91)

Murry maintains a balance here between the indispensability of individuality and emotion and objective, controlled expression of these elements in the piece of literature. In subsequent years, however, when delimiting his ideas against Eliot’s Classicism, his essays grew less attuned to concepts of objectivity and impersonality, and more grounded in the idea of Romanticism as a national tradition of modern individualism.

In the editorial manifesto of the fourth issue of The Adelphi, “On Fear; and on Romanticism,” Murry reacted to a claim by Raymond Mortimer in the New Statesman that “the Romantics were making a last despairing stand in The Adelphi” against a contemporary resurgence of Classicism. Responding to Mortimer, Murry announced his position, and by extension, the journal’s: “I should seize the opportunity of consolidating my own position . . . I should accept the designation Romantic and try to give it a content of more importance than one based on opposition.”[44] Murry’s mode of Romanticism, not to be reduced to the early-nineteenth-century literary movement, constitutes the English tradition of individualism, the “secret source of [England’s] . . . peculiar vitality” (“On Fear,” 275). Pitted against the externally determined, ordered, cosmopolitan Classicism of Eliot, Murry’s tradition was characterized by the fidelity to individuality in the great English writers. He also frames this individualism as an “inner voice” or intuition, a Bergsonian cornerstone of his thought: “all our Classics are Romantics . . . It is not imposed by tradition or authority . . . they inherit only this: a sense that in the last resort they must depend upon the inner voice” (275). Always directed inward in order to penetrate and remake the outward, Murry’s English ethical criticism in The Adelphi was formulated in contrast to formalism and arcane, cosmopolitan frames of reference.

Eliot’s essay “The Function of Criticism,” which appeared in the October 1923 number of the Criterion, responded in hostile, oppositional terms and delivered discipline where Murry indicated self-direction, and external obedience where Murry designated loyalty to the self.[45] For Eliot, art could only be produced out of tradition and external systems of institutional authority, not liberated individualism: “There is . . . something outside of the artist to which he owes allegiance, a devotion to which he must surrender and sacrifice himself in order to earn and to obtain his unique position.”[46] In “More About Romanticism” Murry, in turn, clarified his position and added key elements to his new Romanticism, namely a historiography and a moral layer:

The Renaissance was the rebellion of a great Romanticism against a secular Classicism. The individual asserted himself against the external spiritual authority, consolidated and actual throughout the Middle Ages, of the Roman Church; he vindicated his right to stand or fall by his own experience, to explore the universe by himself.[47]

Renaissance humanism redirected the focus of knowledge and intellectual authority to the soul of man, away from the “external spiritual authority” of the Church, which Murry associates with Classicism. For Murry, the inward turn away from institutions corresponds with the historical rise of rationality and scientific knowledge. The essay sets up a distinction between what he calls the external world of necessity and the internal realm of freedom. These “contradictory categories” form the margins of man’s apprehension of himself in the world, and the work of the Romantic is informed by negotiating this foundational paradox (Murry, “More About Romanticism,” 141). In other words, having discovered his intellectual and spiritual authority, man had to grapple with the competing realms of natural laws and the freedom of the self, a problem of liberation from imposed systems of control that produces, for Murry, a striving for “synthesis” that underwrites the English literary tradition.

In response to calls for authority to shape and control literary production and personal morality sounded principally by Eliot, Murry suggests that our individual freedom constitutes the basis for deference to a more profound power: “Ethically,” he argues, “Romanticism is an attempt to solve the problem of conduct by an exploration of the inner world. If this exploration is complete it will result in an immediate knowledge of what I may and may not do” (149). Murry’s focus on interiority in his Romanticism may seem at odds with his commitment to the capacities of the sympathetic imagination to overcome the limitations of selfhood, but privileging the individual and the emotional facilitates a more profound comprehension of human experience than external categories of knowledge can produce. This sense of the personal spiritual discovery of shared values, which, for Murry, occurs in literature and the engagement with it, grounds his critical principles through the Adelphi years.

Literature and the Experiencing Mind

Given its potential indispensability to a good and just society, literature, Murry felt, had to integrate the life of the experiencing mind and the external world. A major complaint he had about modernist writing was its obsession with the direct presentation of consciousness or sensation, exercises he found ultimately absurd and unproductive. In the Athenaeum essay “Poetry and Criticism” he called for a new standard in criticism in which the vital “act of intuitive comprehension” distinguishes literary art, exemplified by Mansfield’s “Prelude” and Eliot’s “Portrait of a Lady.”[48] The “comprehension,” or the processing by the receptive mind capable of true style distinguishes these works from those which seek to “to register the mere facts of consciousness, undigested by the being, without assessment or reinforcement by the mind is, for all the connection it has with poetry, no better than to copy down the numbers of one’s bus-tickets” (Murry, “Poetry and Criticism,” 182). Murry articulated his disdain for stream-of consciousness and impressionist techniques in critical reviews of multiple modernist writers, including Joyce and Dorothy Richardson. His negative review of Siegfried Sassoon’s poems in 1918 even caused what Kaplan calls a minor “cause célèbre,” given Sassoon’s connections to many in Bloomsbury and Murry’s previous friendship with and support of Sassoon (he, along with Bertrand Russell, helped Sassoon to draft his notorious antiwar declaration).[49] Murry contended that Sassoon’s detailed and gruesome poetry of wartime experience no doubt communicates the “truth” of battle, but provides no “relation to the harmony and calm of the soul which it shatters,” and that subsequently the “data” of the majority of Sassoon’s war poetry does not allow for the “full octave of emotional experience.”[50]

This review and its consequences for Murry’s reputation illustrate a paradox in his career and criticism: even while calling for a new aesthetic modes of grappling with the devastations of modernity, Murry disapproved of the experimental forms that attempted the same goal. His seeming lack of vision, however, stemmed from a central element of his critical philosophy. While Sassoon’s war poetry is broadly recognized as some of the most important in the genre, largely for its unflinching look at pain, degradation and disgust, Murry’s qualms indicate an ethical interpretation of its cultural value. Without what Murry understands as a unique aesthetic shaping or an act of vital intuition that renders harmonious elements of human experience and perception, representation remains simply observational and fact-based, no matter the value of the shock of the new; for Murry, in other words, Sassoon’s distinctive immediacy is not poetry. As he writes in The Problem of Style, the writer’s “emotional experience, refined into a system of emotional conviction, is of a different kind from sensuous experience; the apprehension of the quality of life as a whole, the power to discern the universal in the particular, and to make the particular a symbol of the universal, which is the distinctive mark of . . . great style” (93). Murry’s version of recollection in tranquility contains his Romantic ethical imperative to move from the individual to the universal, to speak to a wider range of experience than that of limited subjective perception, and thus to link singular experiencing minds together in the context of the upheavals of modernity.  

Despite his investment in forging a new postwar dispensation through art and criticism, then, Murry consistently turned back to writers of the past to mine their work for insights and forms salutary to modernity. Focusing mostly on Keats and Shakespeare, with investments in the Russian novelists and Thomas Hardy, Murry’s criticism characterizes reading as an interactive event and insists on literature's potential to have a positive moral impact on a post-religious, post-war, modern sensibility. In an essay from 1920 entitled “The Republic of the Spirit,” he writes, “The appeal of art is from one single mind to another single mind. These other single minds may be many, or they may be few; but they cannot be deliberately provided for, because they are discovered (if indeed they are ever discovered) only by the event.”[51] In other words, despite the focus on individual writers of genius and his self-formulated tradition, Murry’s broader set of beliefs and practices in the realm of literary criticism rested on the activation of the potential “truths” in acts of engagement with texts. As Hale, building on the work of Wayne Booth, similarly makes clear, the text on its own cannot activate its ethical content: “The competent literary reader . . . the reader who can occupy the position prepared for her by the text by accurately decoding (affectively and morally) the values implied in specific and concrete narrative choices.”[52] This “accurate decoding” depends on the choreographed interaction between text and reader. Figured as complex personal engagements, Murry’s accounts of his encounters with texts similarly give rise to a criticism foundationally concerned with reading as an event. 

As might be expected, then, Murry’s criticism targeted the burgeoning objective criticism of the mid-1920s. In “Poetry and Reality,” the leading article in the May 1926 number of The Adelphi, Murry refutes the notion that a work of literature can be considered a self-enclosed aesthetic object by examining the “experiencing consciousness” of Shakespeare. The essay reviews I. A. Richards’s landmark Principles of Literary Criticism, a work that inaugurated a rigorous tradition of close reading and its institutional significance. Murry constructs a detailed defense and riposte to Richards, based on the complex union of the text and the reader, or “the outcome of the meeting of two elements: some quality in the tragedy itself, and a delicate sensibility in the reader.”[53] This essay relies on the term “experience” as a capacious and multivalent concept, and works against Richards’s project to “put literary criticism, considered as an active attempt to use literature as a tool of aesthetic education for the improvement of people’s lives, on something like the scientific footing required in order to qualify it as a discipline within the modern research university.”[54] Richards’s instrumentalist and self-contained understanding of the work of art, which was indeed to prove so influential in the modern institutionalization of teaching literature, ran counter to Murry’s investment in the function of art in revealing to its readers the world, or the real, by its rendering of the ideal.

Murry describes poetic knowledge, and particularly that set of concerns which we find in Shakespeare, as “the world of ordinary human experience; and the materials with which the poet sets about his work are unusually vivid perceptions of real and particular objects” (“Poetry and Reality,” 182). The substance of art is common experience, of which the poet has an uncommonly rich base of knowledge, which produces literature that “enlarge[s]” readers’ “small experiencing natures” (186). The kinetic, engaged nature of literature for Murry, then, extends among many sources of energy and activation, but “experience,” not the consumption of a self-contained textual object, grounds the potential that literature has to become dynamic in the world. Booth’s idea of potential energy in literature operates on a similar logic: “fictions . . . appear to be inert until a human being takes them in, but they differ immensely in their potential energy.”[55] Murry’s insistence that, on the one hand, the value of the text derives from Shakespeare’s singular mode of being in the world, and, on the other, that only reading subjectivities can activate value by accruing it, anticipates Booth’s contentions, as well as Stanley Fish’s influential “idea of meaning as an event, something that is happening between the words and in the reader’s mind.”[56]

Considering the twentieth-century vectors along which Murry’s ideas might have traveled renders more pressing Heffernan’s generative query: “How might we think about the institutional formation of modernism as eclipsing not just literary styles, but alternative modes of interpretation and critical practice?” (“Reading Modernism’s,” 310). Murry’s principles of ethical criticism, particularly his persistent emphasis on the dynamics among author, text and reader, resonate with subsequent approaches to literature like reader-response theory. Recent literary criticism that takes cognitive psychology as its point of departure likewise operates on the assumption that interactions with texts create their value and effect. Lisa Zunshine, for example, deploys the concept of “theory of mind,” or “our ability to explain people’s behavior in terms of their thoughts, feelings, beliefs and desires,” to argue that we are rewarded in our desire to read minds by good fiction. Zunshine contends that fiction stages practice and play with the way we attribute states of mind and intention to others, and “deliver[s] a rich stimulation” to us cognitively (Why We Read, 25). While Fish, Booth and Zunshine take the concept of the experiencing mind and its role in the valuation of literature in different directions, the centrality of this idea to their theoretical frameworks bears out Murry’s consistent focus on the essentially interactive quality of literature.

Murry and the Discourse of Literary Value

In “Poetry and Reality,” Murry builds his case against objectivism through a focus on literature's interest in the ordinary and the small:

The poetic, or aesthetic alone is concerned with the real in its particularity: it, does not seek to subsume particulars under universal concepts, nor does it confine itself to the measurable aspects of the world. It is primarily concerned with the world of ordinary human experience; and the materials with which the poet sets about his work are unusually vivid perceptions of real and particular objects. Like Antony in the streets of Alexandria he ‘notes the qualities of people,’ and of things: not for any practical purposes . . . but simply and solely for his own delight in the observation . . . he alone is able to see the world of particulars, where ordinary men, as it were, see only the headlines, and take note only of those salient features of the world which are useful for their practical ends. (182–83)

This remarkable passage offers a methodology of literary criticism, as well as a statement of literary value, telescoping a moment in Antony and Cleopatra and using it to illuminate not only the play itself, but the value of literature generally. While Murry elsewhere praises the way poetry speaks to the universal (always originating in the personal), here he captures beautifully literature’s resistance to the abstract and its fidelity to the specific and the singular, which distinguishes it from other ways of knowing the world (scientific, statistical, utilitarian, organizational, theoretical, mathematical). This definition of the literary aims directly at Richards’s sense, in Joseph North’s words, that “the work of literature . . . was to be a kind of therapeutic technology, and the critic was therefore to be something like a doctor of applied psychology, helping us to use that technology to improve our minds” (“What’s ‘New Critical’ About ‘Close Reading’?”, 143). Rather than an instrument to live a more effective life, literature for Murry delivers particularity and a democratic capacity for perception and engagement with the whole of reality. Herein lies another element of Murry’s critical ethics: the literary does not produce the real, but neither does it represent recognizable categories of reality. In its insistence on particularity generated from the fusion of “vivid perceptions” and the ideal, it allows readers to model and exercise their ability to relate to the singular and ordinary elements of experience that fall below the radar of other disciplinary perspectives. Murry’s interest in scale and scope here resembles Woolf’s imperative in “Modern Fiction” to “[e]xamine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions—trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel.”[57] From this injunction, Woolf builds to her famous declaration that “‘[t]he proper stuff of fiction’ does not exist; everything is the proper stuff of fiction, every feeling, every thought; every quality of brain and spirit is drawn upon; no perception comes amiss” (“Modern Fiction,” 744). For Murry, this shift in scope to the everyday and the multiple extends beyond the production of fiction to the whole of the interactive literary enterprise, from writers to critics to readers.

In his essay “The Function of Criticism,” in addition to outlining his moral view of aesthetics, Murry defends art from “those who would inflict upon art the values of science, of metaphysics, or of a morality of mere convention,” since art stands on its own, above and beyond the material, objective concerns of the scientific approach (12). Murry’s conventionally Romantic position that literature could not be assessed, accessed or understood through the lens of science, his refusal to accept any sort of hierarchy of the disciplines in which art was subordinated, provides valuable insights applicable to the denigration of the humanities that persists today. According to Nussbaum, this denigration and the disciplinary revaluation accompanying it portends the disappearance of such crucial social and individual skills as “the ability to think critically; the ability to transcend local loyalties and to approach world problems as a ‘citizen of the world’; and, finally, the ability to imagine sympathetically the predicament of another person” (Not for Profit, 7). Revisiting earlier attempts to distinguish the value of literature and the humanities from other, more vocational fields of study might serve as one useful response to these threats.

The First World War catalyzed Murry’s resistance to accepting advances in technology as evidence of steady human progress. In “A Cry in the Wilderness” (1920), he posits that the overreliance on “material progress” to deliver a new, salutary modernity has “plunged the world into catastrophe” by making science and rationalism the preeminent mode of producing knowledge about the self and the world (171). As he does elsewhere, Murry refigures Shelley’s claims in A Defence of Poetry that “the cultivation of those sciences which have enlarged the limits of the empire of man over the external world, has, for want of the poetical faculty, proportionally circumscribed those of the internal world; and man, having enslaved the elements, remains himself a slave” (845–46). The privileging of factual and technical knowledge has resulted, according to Murry, in a “fatal confusion of categories which has overcome the world. . . . the confusion between existence and value” (“Cry in the Wilderness,” 171). Since “the vital centre of our ethics is also the vital centre of our art,” the evacuation of moral values has led to an “insistence upon technical perfection as in itself a supreme good” and the literature of “objective realism,” exemplified by Stephen Dedalus’s childhood memory of his urine-soaked sheet in the opening of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (170, 171). Murry’s treatment of literature as the necessary moral counterpoint to fact, existence and necessity emphasizes its capacity to cultivate imaginative sympathy, ethical modes of thought and being, and new ways of encountering the world. Given the development of literary criticism and theory over the course of the twentieth century and after, the movement beyond Eliot's objective and aesthetic principles, particularly to questions of ethics, the time is ripe to resurrect Murry’s criticism from the detritus of history. As Boxall has recently declared, “[t]he challenge that faces those who would measure, now, the value of the arts, is how to capture and articulate the ethical force of the literary” (Value of the Novel, 9). Murry’s Romantic criticism, particularly as it was inflected with an energy born of wartime despair, proffers possible avenues for new critical expression, dissemination and activation of the ethical values inherent in literature.


[1] Percy Bysshe Shelley, “A Defense of Poetry,” in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume D, 8th Edition, ed. Stephen Greenblatt and M. H. Abrams (New York: Norton, 2006), 837–50, 844.

[2] Sydney Kaplan and David Goldie have recently made the case for Murry’s importance to modernism. Kaplan’s Circulating Genius: John Middleton Murry, Katherine Mansfield and D. H. Lawrence (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012) provides a rich and detailed overview of his major early works and the conditions of their production to consider the ways in which “modernist history looks different when Murry is at its centre” (9). Goldie’s account of the debates between Eliot and Murry in A Critical Difference: T. S. Eliot and John Middleton Murry in English Literary Criticism 1919–1928 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998) offers a valuable granular look at the development of their respective critical positions in dialogue.

[3] Quoted in Michael H. Levenson, A Genealogy of Modernism: A Study of English Literary Doctrine 1908–1922 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), ix.

[4] Levenson focuses on the roles of Henri Bergson, T. E. Hulme, Irving Babbitt, Eliot, Ezra Pound and others in order to delineate the Romanticism/Classicism debate in modernist critical circles, even though, as Goldie shows, Murry was a highly significant voice in the debate.

[5] Laura Heffernan, “Reading Modernism’s Cultural Field: Rebecca West’s The Strange Necessity and the Aesthetic ‘System of Relations,’” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 27, no. 2 (2008): 309–25, 309.

[6] While Murry wrote three novels and four books of poetry, they achieved no critical success. Over the course of their relationship, Lawrence tried to steer him away from creative endeavor, telling him in 1913 not to write a novel, but essays in the style of Walter Pater. See Lawrence to Murry, November 27, 1913, in The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Volume I, September 1901–May 1913, ed. James T. Boulton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 111. Lawrence later wrote to S. S. Koteliansky in 1916 that Murry’s novel Still Life was “the kind of wriggling self-abuse I can’t make head nor tail of” (Lawrence to Koteliansky, December 15, 1916, in The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Volume II, June 1913–October 1916, ed. George J. Zytaruk and James T. Boulton [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981], 53).

[7] Lawrence to Murry, January 30, 1920, in The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Volume III, October 1916–June 1921, ed. James T. Boulton and Andrew Robertson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 467.

[8] Jeffrey Meyers, “Murry’s Cult of Mansfield,” Journal of Modern Literature 7, no.1 (1979): 15–38, 15.

[9] Lawrence wrote a series of stories from 1924–25 that seemed “calculated to evoke public ridicule of the man he had once asked to be his blood-brother” (Kaplan, Circulating Genius, 195). These stories were inspired by Lawrence’s fury at the possibility that Murry and Frieda Lawrence had an affair after Mansfield’s death. Koteliansky and Murry’s relationship was also on the brink after their failed joint attempt to run The Adelphi. Recently, Galya Diment has gone so far as to claim that the magazine was really Koteliansky’s idea, and that he was excised by Murry, though there is little evidence for this claim. See A Russian Jew of Bloomsbury: The Life and Times of Samuel Koteliansky (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2011), 142.

[10] Murry’s late works include such tomes as The Necessity of Pacifism (1936), The Betrayal of Christ by the Churches (1940), and Christocracy (1942).

[11] Megan Quigley, Modernist Fiction and Vagueness: Philosophy, Form, and Language (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 1, 12.

[12] Vincent Sherry, Modernism and the Reinvention of Decadence (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 3, 4.

[13] Michael Valdez Moses, “Modernists as Critics,” in The Oxford Handbook of Modernisms, ed. Peter Brooker, Andrzej Gąsiorek, Deborah Longworth, and Andrew Thacker (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 139–55, 140.

[14] John Middleton Murry, “The Break-Up of the Novel,” in Discoveries: Essays in Literary Criticism (London: W. Collins Sons and Company, 1924), 129–52, 140.

[15] Michael H. Whitworth notes its “ill-defined and mutable [mission], perhaps by its very nature not definable. . . . [it] was a literary magazine, but was distinctive because it was ‘primarily concerned with literature in relation to life’” (“Enemies of Cant: The Athenaeum [1919–21] and The Adelphi [1923–48],” in Oxford History of Modernist Magazines, Volume I: Britain and Ireland 1880–1955, ed. Peter Brooker and Andrew Thacker (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 364–88, 376–77.

[16] Goldie focuses on the intertwined careers of Murry and Eliot and provides the most sustained examination of Murry’s life and works published in recent years. Goldie is primarily interested in the Classicism/Romanticism debate, its intellectual progenitors, and its gradual and somewhat artificial polarity, and secondarily in the reinstatement of Murry as a significant voice in the development of modernist literary criticism.

[17] While I am suggesting that Murry’s critical tendencies might now be seen as “anti-modernist,” given his antipathy to the work of such canonical high modernists as Joyce and Eliot, I am also arguing that his work is a specific outgrowth of key intellectual debates of the period and thus should be considered as part of our expanded sense of literary modernism.

[18] John Middleton Murry, “Art and Philosophy,” Rhythm 1, no.1 (1911): 9–12, 9.

[19] Faith Binckes, Modernism, Magazines, and the British Avant-Garde: Reading Rhythm, 1910–1914 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 2.

[20] Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry, “The Meaning of Rhythm,” Rhythm 2, no. 5 (1912): 18–20, 18.

[21] The Signature was authored solely by Lawrence, Murry, Mansfield (under the pseudonym Matilda Berry); Koteliansky served in an administrative capacity. While “the prospectus promis[ed] ‘a series of six paper on social and personal freedom,’” the pamphlet ran only three issues and featured Murry’s essay in three parts, Lawrence’s “The Crown” in three parts, and “Autumns” and “The Little Governess” (in two parts) by Mansfield (Binkes, Modernism, Magazines, 205).

[22] John Middleton Murry, “There Was a Little Man,” The Signature 1, no.1 (1915): 24–32, 28.

[23] John Middleton Murry, “The Defeat of Imagination,” in The Evolution of an Intellectual (New York: Knopf, 1920), 155–65, 155.

[24] For an overview of the link between philosophy and the Romantic sympathetic imagination, see Walter Jackson Bate, “The Sympathetic Imagination in Eighteenth-Century English Criticism,” ELH 12, no. 2 (1945): 144–64.

[25] John Middleton Murry, “A Cry in the Wilderness,” in Aspects of Literature (London: W. Collins Sons and Company, 1920), 167–75, 175.

[26] Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Ethics and Politics in Tagore, Coetzee, and Certain Scenes of Teaching,” Diacritics 32, no. 3/4 (2002): 17–31, 23.

[27] Mark Sanders, “Ethics and Interdisciplinarity in Philosophy and Literary Theory,” Diacritics 32, no. 3/4 (2002): 2–16, 4.

[28] Lawrence Buell, “Introduction: In Pursuit of Ethics,” PMLA 114, no. 1 (1999): 7–19, 8.

[29] Martha C. Nussbaum, Love’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), 21.

[30] Kenneth Asher, Literature, Ethics and the Emotions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 11.

[31] Stephen Ross, “Thinking Modernist Ethics with Animals in A Passage to India,” Twentieth-Century Literature 61, no. 3 (2015): 305–29, 306.

[32] See David Sherman, “Woolf’s Secular Imaginary,” Modernism/modernity 23, no. 4 (2016): 711–31.

[33] Jessica Schiff Berman, “Ethical Folds: Ethics, Aesthetics, Woolf,” Modern Fiction Studies 50, no. 1 (2004): 151–72, 159.

[34] The difference between Murry’s and Eliot’s positions on impersonality become evident in this essay, as does the divergence in their attitudes toward detachment and objectivity. As Lee Oser shows, Eliot’s participation in the “continuing debate in modern philosophy about the relation between aesthetics and ethics, a field of discourse dominated by . . . the possibility [raised by Kant] . . . of a full-fledged departure of the beautiful from the good” amounted to the analytic treatment of emotions by the intellect (The Ethics of Modernism: Moral Ideas in Yeats, Eliot, Joyce, Woolf, and Beckett [New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007], 50–51).

[35] John Middleton Murry, “The Function of Criticism,” in Aspects of Literature (London: Jonathan Cape, 1920), 1–14, 5.

[36] Andrzej Gasiorek, “A Renewed Sense of Difficulty: E. M. Forster, Iris Murdoch, and Zadie Smith on Ethics and Form,” in The Legacies of Modernism: Historicising Postwar and Contemporary Fiction, ed. David James (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 170–86, 170.

[37] In an essay that seeks to consolidate a “new ethical theory of the novel” from the work of literary theorists (Judith Butler, Geoffrey Harpham, Martha Nussbaum and others) invested in “the novel’s function as an agent of the reader’s ethical education,” Dorothy Hale revisits Wayne Booth’s theory of implied agents to diagnose the novel’s relationship to the hypothetical (“Fiction as Restriction: Self-Binding in New Ethical Theories of the Novel,” Narrative 15, no. 2 [2007]: 188–206, 189). The “as if” condition of the novel facilitates a submission to alterity that can generate readerly engagement with ethical values and moral judgments (199)

[38] Peter Boxall, The Value of the Novel (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 123.

[39] He recounts this experience in his editorial for the second issue of The Adelphi (“A Month After”), which was later collected in To the Unknown God (1924), and tells the story again in the introduction to God: An Introduction to the Science of Metabiology  (1929). Alone in a remote cottage, he reached “a pinnacle of personal being . . . being knit into the very substance of the universe I had feared” (John Middleton Murry, “A Month After,” in To the Unknown God: Essays Towards a Religion [London: J. Cape, 1924], 34–44, 43–44). The anecdote of inspiration behind The Adelphi concerns individuality passing into universality, and describes the rational universe of necessity being transformed, through a Romantic sensibility, into an irrational but organic and harmonious unknown approached through intuition.

[40] While Lawrence eventually insisted that his work not be published in The Adelphi, he was encouraging in its early days, contributing parts of Fantasia of the Unconscious, poetry, and his American essays, including “Indians and an Englishman,” “The Dance of the Sprouting Corn,” and “The Hopi Snake Dance,” among other pieces, and promising to come to England to work with Murry on it in the fall of 1923. He also offered Murry the following support during the Classicism/Romanticism debate: “Do attack them. Go for them amusingly like this. Satirise them to death. That’s your job” (Lawrence to Murry, September 17, 1923, in The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Volume IV, June 1921–March 1924, ed. Warren Roberts, James T. Boulton and Elizabeth Mansfield [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987], 500).

[41] It was only later that Lawrence turned on The Adelphi, writing to Murry in November of 1924 that the magazine showed that he “preferred to be soft, and to go on stirring your fingers in your own vitals” (Lawrence to Murry, November 17, 1924, in The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Volume V, March 1924–March 1927, ed. James T. Boulton and Lindeth Vasey [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989], 170).

[42] George Bornstein, “Yeats and Romanticism,” in The Cambridge Companion to W. B. Yeats, ed. Marjorie Howe and John Kelly (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 19–35, 20.

[43] John Middleton Murry, The Problem of Style (London: Oxford University Press, 1922), 20.

[44] John Middleton Murry, “On Fear; and On Romanticism,” The Adelphi 1, no. 4 (1923): 269–77, 274.

[45] Goldie and Harding have provided illuminating accounts of the series of thrusts and parries between Murry and Eliot from 1923–1926. As Goldie points out, the elision of Murry from a now standard account of modernist literary development neglects the fact that his foundational convictions remained in a sort of consensus with the progression of literary critical doctrine, specifically in Eliot’s mold, in which individuality and personality featured as a priori elements of artistic creation that had to be manipulated.

[46] T. S. Eliot, “The Function of Criticism,” Criterion 2, no. 5 (1923): 31–42, 32.

[47] John Middleton Murry, “More About Romanticism,” in To the Unknown God, 134–51, 137.

[48] John Middleton Murry, “Poetry and Criticism,” in Aspects of Literature, 176–83, 179.

[49] Kaplan details how Ottoline Morrell recruited Murry, along with Russell, to help Sassoon draft his opposition to the war in 1917, a statement that got Sassoon court-marshalled and eventually sent for psychiatric treatment to Craiglockhart Hospital. Murry’s subsequent negative review of the soldier-poet's work “divided Bloomsbury into pro- and anti-Murry factions. . . . [and] situated [Murry and Mansfield] in defiant opposition to anyone who might question their sense of moral integrity” (Circulating Genius, 101–02).

[50] John Middleton Murry, “Mr. Sassoon’s War Verses,” in The Evolution of an Intellectual, 70–79, 73, 75.

[51] John Middleton Murry, “The Republic of the Spirit,” in The Evolution of an Intellectual, 218–27, 220–21. Emphasis added.

[52] Dorothy J. Hale, “Fiction as Restriction: Self-Binding in New Ethical Theories of the Novel,” Narrative 15, no. 2 (2007): 187–206, 200.

[53] John Middleton Murry, “Poetry and Reality,” in Things to Come: Essays (London: Jonathan Cape, 1928), 177–81, 179.

[54] Joseph North, “What’s ‘New Critical’ about ‘Close Reading’? I. A. Richards and his New Critical Reception,” New Literary History 44, no.1 (2013): 141–57, 147.

[55] Wayne C. Booth, The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 86.

[56] Stanley Fish, “Literature in the Reader: Affective Stylistics,” New Literary History 2, no. 1 (1970): 123–62, 128. Emphasis removed.

[57] Virginia Woolf, “Modern Fiction,” in Theory of the Novel: A Historical Approach, ed. Michael McKeon (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), 739–44, 741.