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“A Quickening of the Heart”: Night Mail, Paul Bunyan, and the Multimodal Rhythms of Late Modernism

Pat Keely’s Night Mail publicity poster, 1936. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Fig. 1. Pat Keely’s Night Mail publicity poster, 1936. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

In the editorial statement of the first issue of Rhythm, John Middleton Murry writes: “Our intention is to provide art, be it drawing, literature or criticism, which shall be vigorous, determined, which shall have its roots below the surface, and be the rhythmical echo of the life with which it is in touch.”[1] He would later explain that the magazine treated rhythm as “the distinctive element in all the arts, and that the real purpose of ‘this modern movement’ . . . was to reassert the preeminence of rhythm.”[2] In 1911, Murry was articulating two foundational tenets of his conception of modernist art: first, different artistic media can and ought to be brought together and, second, rhythm is the principle under which the various arts can be unified. Though Rhythm, like many of the small magazines, had a narrow distribution and short print run, it is representative of a certain school of thought within modernism: one that understands particular formal structures and aesthetic principles as points of contact allowing for the co-existence and co-constitution of multiple artistic practices within one phenomenal space.[3] The common and preeminent rhythmic elements of different media, this school of thought suggests, facilitate the composition of multimedial art. In the same way that fiction, poetry, and visual art could occupy the space between Rhythm’s covers, rhythm, as a distinctive element, could facilitate a combination of these individual practices. An aesthetic cornerstone of literature, visual art, music, film, and dance, rhythm also operates as a common principle such that it can extend beyond any singular mode and allow for the development of multimedial and multimodal works defining of this modern movement.

Benjamin Britten and W. H. Auden, members of the generation that followed Murry’s, take up a similar theory of rhythm as unifying compositional principle in their collaborations; moreover, they extend and develop their theory of rhythmically organized art in order to utilize it in effecting zones of co-identification, such that the roots below the surface of various media can be understood as the same roots facilitating affective collectivization. One of the best-known teams in Anglophone vocal music, Britten and Auden worked together in the composition and setting of several pieces, but their collaborations on the documentary film Night Mail (1936) and their only full-length opera Paul Bunyan (1941) are their most ambitious in terms of the number and variety of incorporated media. Night Mail, a documentary produced by the GPO Film Unit, narrates and celebrates the mail’s nightly journey by train from southern England to Scotland, showcasing how the railway, like the Film Unit itself, provides a technological network of mediated connectivity across the country.[4] Similarly, in Paul Bunyan (produced by Columbia University), the zone of the multimedia work itself, within which separate medial components are enjoined, mirrors the spatio-temporal zones in which social and affective communality occurs. Ultimately, it is the interconnected rhythms of music, text, and moving images that allow for the creation of a cohesive multimodality. I argue that what served a strictly aesthetic function in Murry’s conceptualization of multimodal modernism takes on, in late modernism, a social function. No longer is rhythm simply a feature shared by the arts and thus a potential point of connection among them; it is a feature with such collectivizing potential that the interconnected arts become a vehicle for affective interconnection among audiences.

Beginning two decades ago with Tyrus Miller, several critics have theorized late modernism of the 1930s and 1940s as distinct yet related to modernism of the first decades of the twentieth century.[5] Jed Esty traces the ways in which the literary modernism of the thirties and forties responds to England’s colonial contraction and results in a literature motivated by an “anthropological turn”; Marina Mackay argues that “the importance of 1939–1945 lies in the multilateral nature of its modernisms . . . when ‘making it new’ could simultaneously be the rallying cry of experimental poetry, popular cinema and parliamentary politics”; and Thomas S. Davis understands late modernism as a moment in which art takes up everyday life as a central subject and “scene where world-systemic distress attains legibility.”[6] By turning to multimodality, I aim to synthesize and build on the work of Esty, Mackay, and Davis. Night Mail, with its documentary representation of British industry and infrastructure, and Paul Bunyan, with its source material of folklore and folk song, leverage multilateral approaches to their subject matter, subject matter that emerges from variations on the anthropological turn. Each work reflects a consideration of the everyday, but considerations deployed in multimedial and multimodal contexts such that they seek to attain legibility by way of an embodied and affective registration of rhythms across arts and media. Esty, Mackay, and Davis account for the relationship between the salient features of late modernism and various art forms beyond the literary, but examining the ways in which these art forms are combined and integrated complicates and nuances this relationship.

Auden’s collaborations with Britten present fitting case studies for the various forms of multimodality in the thirties and forties. Night Mail, with its celebratory treatment of the mail service, aligns with Esty’s anthropological turn, but it is also a work in which multimedial modernisms are brought to bear on one another within a single text. What risks political and aesthetic confusion finds cohesion through rhythmic synchronization of the verbal, aural, and visual modes. Paul Bunyan employs the phenomenal space of the opera house itself as a zone in which multiple modernisms can be organized under the regular rhythms of ritual and folksong.

Before examining late modernism as a period of development in multimodal artworks, let me  briefly explain this article’s terminology. Multimedia is the process by which various materials are brought together and encoded with meaning, whereas multimodality is the process by which the meaning-making event is decoded through a combination of sensory modes. Related to this decoding is intermediality, which occurs when one medium is understood through processes associated with other media. In the case of Britten and Auden’s collaborations, rhythm facilitates both a synchronic intermediality as verbal, visual, and aural modes operate according to fully integrated shared forms, as well as a diachronic intermediality as the rhythmic features of prosody, musical rhythm, and visual patterning are transferred and translated among one another. Rhythm, inasmuch as it is transferable and applicable across modalities, should be understood as the measured flow and systematic grouping of arrangements organized by recurrence, regular contour, and a pattern of emphasis and de-emphasis. Multimodality and intermediality have long been considered modernizing aesthetic practices. Aeschylus, Monteverdi, and Wagner all understood multimodality as means of producing works specifically designed for their respective contemporary moments and even the futures that would follow. To understand multimodality within modernism as in and of itself signaling the works’ inventiveness would disregard its history prior to the twentieth century, but the role of rhythm as interartistic and intersubjective connection makes modernist examples distinctive from earlier ones.

That distinction becomes especially apparent when we consider rhythm as operating in an affective capacity within modern multimedia. Kirsty Martin’s work on rhythmic sympathy interrogates the ways in which modernist texts explore rhythmically organized co-identification “less as pitying spectatorship, than as a complex form of sensory entanglement,” a loss of selfhood as the individual becomes sympathetically enmeshed with others.[7] What Lisa Blackman describes as “brain-body-world entanglements” collapse the distance between persons within a given space.[8]  The modern cityscape, for instance, with its mechanized rhythms and refrains of daily activity, presents a rhythmically-defined spatiotemporal zone within which individuals become as much entangled with one another as they do with the space itself. Derek McCormack describes how rhythmic spaces serve a “territorializing function: that is, they draw out and draw together blocks of spacetime from the chaos of the world, generating a certain expressive consistency through the repetition of practices, techniques, and habits.”[9] These spatiotemporal zones precipitate a sense of alienation by way of affective collapse, a collapse that presents a loss of self within the rhythmically structured context. A complement to this sense of collapse within the collective is one of estrangement from the collective. As early twentieth-century psychologists and physiologists, to lose the embodied sense of rhythmic regularity is a kind of pathology, a rupture of the self from collective, even cosmic, systems.[10] Mass mediated and technologically organized rhythms and their tendency to delineate discrete spatiotemporal zones, and the possibility of alienation from that zone, structure many of the spaces of modernist art. Modernism can be understood as a movement that was at once fascinated by the rhythms of modern life and profoundly anxious of them.

In the case of multimodal modernism, however, this dual position of fascination and anxiety is reoriented by the intermedial registration of rhythmic synchrony and flux. For example, in Walter Ruttman’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927) the rhythms of modernity are represented by Ruttman’s images and Edmund Meisel’s orchestral accompaniment. Urban rhythms do not serve to unify as much as to disrupt, deflect, lull, and shock, but the soundtracked montage of crowds, cars, buildings, and animals find intermittent moments of multimodal consonance in the collective registration of rhythmic modulation. Even in the case of asynchronous sound, the operations of co-constituting sign systems still structure a shared intelligibility and rhythmically organized experience. Antonin Artaud stresses the function of multimodality in theatre when in 1933 he explains his aim, bolstered by the electrification of the theatre, “to treat the spectators like the snakecharmer’s subjects and conduct them by means of their organisms to an apprehension of the subtlest notions.”[11] The modern cinema and theatre, thanks to amplified sound and the haptic sensation of those sonic vibrations, permit the reception of sound and images beyond aural and visual modes in isolation, as something understood in an embodied capacity. The sounds of the theatrical space, by nature of their transmission to the body, become rhythmic features of the multimodal work and underline an affective co-identification across the audience. More than feeling with one another, twentieth-century audiences of multimodal works feel as one another. A sense of rupture or dissonance when experienced by the collective body converts the pathological case of arrhythmia into a site of intersubjectivity—and it is the collective registration of flux and distress, according to Davis, toward which late modernism strives.

Brian Massumi’s description of the sports field as an event-space provides a useful analogy for the role of multimodal works in fostering an affective collectivization:

The dimension of the event is above the ground, between the goals, between the players, and around the ball on all sides. It is that through which the substantial elements interrelate and effect global transformations . . . The field of potential is the effect of the contingent intermixing of elements, but it is logically and ontologically distinct from them. In itself, it is composed not of parts or terms in relation, but of modulations, local modifications of potential that globally reconfigure (affects).[12]

What Massumi offers here is an understanding of the game itself as a combination of events and the space that makes those events possible. The game is not reducible to its rules; rather, the event-space emerges with the spontaneous and collective formation of those rules through group participation within a set of boundaries. Late modernism can be broadly understood as a moment that saw a sustained interest in event-spaces. From George Orwell’s essays to Elizabeth Bowen’s Blitz stories, from J. B. Priestley’s English Journey (1934) to Louis MacNeice’s Autumn Journal (1939), from T. S. Eliot’s English pageant The Rock (1934) to the one portrayed in Woolf’s Between the Acts (1941), British modernism underwent a substantial change in the 1930s and 1940s as its attentions turned toward the ways in which shared experience and shared space were mutually imbricated. The opera house and cinema were poised to become the privileged sites of this interchange in that they afforded highly visible means of cultural self-definition. Therefore, I am interested in how artists employed these event-spaces toward remaking the rhythms of modern life for the aesthetic and social goals of late modernism. Audiences within these different venues were quite distinct, to be sure, and class distinctions guaranteed that the collectivity registered by opera or film audiences was not wholly metonymic for a universal sense of solidarity. However, such a confirmed synecdochal relationship between an audience and the public at large is perhaps not as necessary as a perceived synecdochal relationship. This film and opera were created so that audiences would register social cohesion that extends beyond the cinema or theatre, even if that is not the case.

Night Mail and Paul Bunyan, though composed of different modal combinations and created with different publics and different aesthetic and pedagogical ends in mind, share more than a pair of collaborators. Both works combine multiple modes through rhythm with the goal that audiences collectively register that rhythm’s modulations. Night Mail incorporates moving images, synchronized sound effects and dialogue, Britten’s music, and a recitation of a newly commissioned untitled poem by Auden (later anthologized as “Night Mail”) with the aim of educating the English popular audience through non-fiction film. Paul Bunyan, a semi-opera written for music students, employs stagecraft and costumes, Auden’s libretto, and Britten’s music, for the dual purposes of educating young performers and entertaining a popular American audience. In both works the narrative’s setting is treated as an event-space within which the actions of a group of men lead to a rhythmically organized shared labor. The cinema and opera house become event-spaces in turn where the rhythms that organize the mail delivery and the lumberjacks’ effort organize the audiences into affective collectivity through intermedial rhythmic modulations. As John Grierson, founder of the GPO Film Unit, explains: “We were interested in all instruments which would crystallize sentiments in a muddled world and create a will toward civic participation.”[13] Multimodal rhythm is the primary instrument for that crystallization.

Night Mail’s Noise

During the 1930s the Documentary Movement emerged with the ambition of making the genre a distinctly British form of filmmaking.[14] Founded in 1933 by the UK General Post Office and led by Grierson, the GPO Film Unit was at the forefront of this attempt to create a British film industry that could compete with Hollywood.  Grierson gathered a thoroughly international group of film makers in support of this endeavor, including Brazilian sound designer Alberto Cavalcanti, German director and animator Lotte Reiniger, and New Zealand-born filmmaker Len Lye. The very label “documentary” can be misleading in that these films frequently employed techniques like staged sequences and Surrealist-inspired sound experiments. Cavalcanti proposed referring to the films as “neo-realist,” but Grierson believed the label “documentary” would be more appealing to the Conservative government to which the Unit had to answer.[15] Grierson would go on to coin what is perhaps the most well-known definition of documentary, “the creative treatment of actuality.”[16]

Night Mail, directed by Harry Watt and Basil Wright, was the second time Britten and Auden collaborated on a GPO documentary. The first was the much shorter Coal Face (1935), to which Britten contributed the score and Auden a short poem. Night Mail, which follows an LMS mail train, the 6115 Scots Guardsman, as it makes its nightly journey from London to Edinburgh, ends with the recitation of Auden’s poem, accompanied by Britten’s composition for chamber ensemble. This final sequence, in which the percussive noises of the ensemble are integrated with both the diegetic sound and Auden’s prosody, coincides with the train’s arrival in the major cities and towns of Scotland and offers a literal example of what Elizabeth De Cacqueray calls the Unit’s “filmic poetry.”[17] This conclusion, and the documentary as a whole, provide both a productive example of the uses of multimodal rhythm toward late modernist art’s social function and a complication of modernist conceptions of motion. Frequently, discussion of twentieth-century technology focuses on speed and modernity’s quickening tempos, and Night Mail’s locomotive subject seems to support this narrative—but I argue that the documentary is in fact more concerned with the collective registration of modulations in speed, with how the rapidity of the rail system and mail delivery meshes with its delays, uphill climbs, and the slower tempos of the countryside between cities.[18] Representing these changes in velocity not as points of rupture but as points of interartistic consonance and intersubjective feeling allows the film to reorient the excitements and anxieties of modernity toward explicitly pedagogical and particularly late modernist ends.

Toward the creation of a film that is simultaneously poetic and educational, Auden, Britten and the rest of the film crew followed Grierson’s philosophy that “it is the destiny of cinema to be the source of imaginative release and everyday inspiration for the common people of the world.”[19] Cavalcanti, who had worked with Ruttmann on Berlin as well as several other experimental and popular productions, used sound as rhythmic texture and musical accompaniment to create a sonic palette that provides both imaginative release and everyday inspiration, converting the noises of the railway into an aesthetic feature.[20] Though the sound design of Night Mail predominantly synchronizes sound and image, Cavalcanti was a proponent of asynchronous sound, claiming it to be a method for achieving an otherwise unattainable representation of reality.[21] In the more experimental GPO documentary The Song of Ceylon (1936), for instance, in the section titled “The Voices of Commerce,” Cavalcanti inserts the sounds of telegraphs and radios as Sri Lankans load crates of tea onto British ships. While The Song of Ceylon borrows from Surrealist practices of collage to create unnerving moments of contradiction, the implications of intermediality are still at work in these scenes. The Morse code functions metonymically, operating as index and “voice” of the commerce to which it points. This signifying operation occurs alongside the images of Sri Lankans’ embodied labor, functioning synecdochally for commerce as well, a function foregrounded by the modal combination. Cavalcanti’s sound design in Night Mail is technically inventive but far less experimental, working in combination with the staged camerawork that embeds the viewer within the action depicted on screen. The camera angles trained on human characters—able to precisely frame the chosen subjects thanks to much of the filming having been completed on a soundstage—secure an intersubjective identification between the viewer and the character. The result of Cavalcanti’s carefully orchestrated sound design and Watt and Wright’s staged sequences is a documentary that eschews mimesis in favor of an overriding artificiality. The rhythmic organization of sound—noise, music, dialogue, and poetry—and image transforms the film from index for the everyday operations of the British postal service into a field permitting co-presence between viewers and viewed.

Cavalcanti records and engineers the noises of mail delivery by train, but Britten rhythmically and musically orchestrates them in his score for the film. These noises treated as the fundamental elements of music function as signifiers of national rhythms—indices of the infrastructure the film celebrates—as well as impetuses for shared affective modulations. The positive treatment of noise as aesthetic element was an unusual position in 1930s England. In 1935, the Science Museum of London held the Noise Abatement Exhibition, which exhibited the dangers of exposure to the noises of modern life.[22] Noise was a perceived danger to one’s health,[23] but Cavalcanti and Britten convert it into an aesthetic feature. The novice’s training is organized only partly around the voice of his teacher—it embraces, too, the sound and haptic sense of the wheels over the bridges and beats of the train clanging over the tracks. His responsibilities are not disrupted by noise, but ordered by it. In the case of Night Mail, noise speaks to the embodied sense modality of the audience, like Artaud’s snakes. The night mail service offers mediated social unification across England’s geography. Cavalcanti’s noise indexes what this infrastructure makes possible. Jacques Attali says that “[w]ith noise is born disorder and its opposite: the world. With music is born power and its opposite: subversion.”[24] Britten and Cavalcanti find the point of intersection between these principles and the possibility of collectivity across spatial configurations. Like the mail system as itself a form of media potentiating communication across the island, sound in the documentary redraws geographical and intersubjective boundaries. The borders of this sonic space are subject to acoustic manipulation.

While working on Night Mail, Britten and Auden discussed founding what they called an “Academy of Combined art” with the express purpose of building social solidarity—similar to the intersubjective understanding accomplished in the documentary’s sound design—through solidarity among the arts (Mitchell, Britten and Auden, 87). Education’s relationship to the combined arts is also evident in the film as the embedded camera is trained on an unnamed novice’s learning and initiation. An extended sequence follows a young man who is, presumably, working his first shift on the train. We observe a young British worker’s education, his incorporation into the work of the night mail. As an experienced mail carrier demonstrates how to fill and bind leather pouches, not only is the regular process of pick-up and delivery emphasized through this act of instruction, but the viewer comes to identify with the novice through the embedded camera focused on him; both viewer and viewed undergo an education. After the mail pouch is full, the novice affixes the pouch to a swiveling arm that will extend from the train and deposit the mail at the next station. He asks when to swing the arm out from the train, and his teacher explains that he needs to wait for “two bridges and forty-five beats.” After the men feel the train pass over the two bridges, the novice counts the beats on his fingers and mouths the numbers silently to himself. As he counts, his teacher turns to someone off-screen and, in close-up, gives a smile and wink, creating a sense of recognition by acknowledging the audience. The documentary exceeds its didactic function here. The audience learns as the novice does; they also count with him, feel the rhythmic movement of the train with him, and become embedded within the film’s event-space with him.

Occurring midway through the film and lasting slightly less than a minute, what is notated in Britten’s score as the “percussion sequence” has no melody and is composed entirely of noise-making devices accompanying rhythmically recited narration. The music is written for an ensemble of compressed air, sandpaper, a small car moved along a stretch of railway, clanking booms, a drill through aluminum, a hammer against a conduit, a train’s whistle, and coal falling down a shaft. The accompaniment begins with the sound of compressed air from a cylinder, and the narrator describes the train’s journey: “North with a hundred tons of new letters to sort, the Postal special picks up and distributes the mails of industrial England.”[25] As the narrator mentions “the steel works of Warrington” and “the mines of Wigan,” those images appear on screen, punctuated by external shots of the train, appearing as little more than a row of lighted windows moving through the dark. While the visuals are difficult to distinguish—it’s hard to tell whether the town on screen is Warrington or Wigan—the noises refer to industrial Britain with more precision than the camera. The towns are represented in the language of the narrator and the images projected, but are indexically and affectively represented by the noise accompanying the sequence. A hand-cranked camera, a Motor Moy, creates a noise that accompanies the images recorded and refers to the recording process itself; material conditions of the visual mode become imbricated within the aural mode. In a brief sequence, the late modernist multimodal work represents complete modal and affective co-constitution. Julie Taylor describes emotion as “intensity qualified by insertion into the semiotic and semantic” while affect maintains its protean quality by resisting that reinsertion.[26] Here the noises, with their indexical function, operate in the semiotic register, but their conversion into music through rhythmic organization recovers affective intensity and allows them to serve not just as indices of everyday experience but also as a means of making perceptible the modulations within that experience.

The conditions of Night Mail’s screening did limit the possibilities for the haptic sensation of sound. Watt and Wright’s film, like many of the GPO’s documentaries, was not screened exclusively in public cinemas but rather, and more commonly, for private film societies; thus the amplification of modern movie houses was not consistently a piece of the audience’s experience of the film. That said, the documentary movement was motivated in large part by the 1927 Cinematograph Films Act, which placed quotas on movie houses for the number of British films to be screened. Grierson’s project was designed to take advantage of this law and find a way for British documentaries to compete with Hollywood films in the cinemas. Amplified sound and its affective impacts were not part of every screening of Night Mail, but its capabilities were certainly under consideration as a component of the movement’s larger pedagogical mission.

The documentary’s final minutes, in which the narration is replaced by Stuart Legg’s recitation of Auden’s poem, brings together this amplified sound, musical score, and metrically regular poetry in a single rhythmically organized and highly artificial sequence. The initial shots of this sequence are of a landscape—dark hills beneath a bright sky—as the camera tracks from left to right, accompanied by the sound of a wind machine and the quiet but persistent ostinato of a snare drum. With the beginning of Legg’s recitation, the camera comes to frame a train moving left to right—a co-extensive motion of the viewer and the viewed.[27] Initially, Auden’s text does little more than describe in rhymed couplets what appears on screen—“This is the Night Mail crossing the Border, / Bringing the cheque and the postal order”—as the train continues its left-to-right motion (Britten, Night Mail, 8). After the first three couplets, the camera cuts to an internal shot of a man shoveling coal, left to right, into the train’s engine: a graphic match and synecdoche for the train itself. The snare drum’s persistent beat and the visual rhyme of the shovel and train’s motion suggest unity between the individual and larger national mission, but that unity turns into co-identification between the individuals on screen and those in the audience with the cut to the train’s engineer, his gaze following the motion of the first man’s shovel.[28] His eyes, sweeping left to right, rhythmically reflect the audience’s eyes. The cut to an external shot—a train moving again from left to right along with the lines “Past cotton grass and moorland boulder, / Shoveling white steam over her shoulder”—elaborates the combination and creates a near total synchronization between the image, text, and personifying match of worker and train (Britten, Night Mail, 16). The A natural played in unison across the ensemble at the first syllable of “shoveling” further enforces the sense of synchronization. For the next five rhymed couplets, following the same metrical pattern as the poem’s opening, the accompaniment moves up by half steps, imitating how “the gradient’s against her but she’s on time,” eventually arriving at the key of E major before modulating to A major, the parallel major of the piece’s opening minor key (9). As the music finds a stable and unchanging major key, signaled by a dramatic upward glissando in the harp, the camera moves across the sky from right to left as Legg announces: “Dawn freshens. The climb is done” (22). The rhythm of the recitation up to this point has been dictated by musical notation, but the last lines are written without notation and spoken in an almost cantabile fashion. Ongoing motion without destination, tonally ungrounded music, and metrical monotony are replaced with wide-frame external shots, an expressive and broad major fanfare, and a pronouncement of arrival. Though the modulation, both musical and affective, is melodramatic and exaggerated, its delivery across semiotic registers and sensory modes allows for a collective perception of flux, a sense of uncertainty and its resolution made legible.

The rest of the sequence follows largely the same pattern: the accompaniment modulates to the dominant, E major, the images on screen move from left to right, and Legg recites predominately dactylic rhymed couplets in a tempo even faster than the sequence’s first stanzas, now marked più presto. This heightened intensity makes the cantabile recitation more dramatic, though not dislocating, when the text again departs from rhymed couplets for the sweeping conclusion:

Thousands are still asleep,

Dreaming of terrifying monsters . . .

But shall wake soon and long for letters,

And none will hear the postman’s knock

Without a quickening of the heart.

For who can bear to feel himself forgotten. (37–46)

With this mention of rhythmic knocking and the heart’s quickening, Britten’s accompaniment modulates to C major, returning the music both to the center of the keyboard and to the key of the film’s opening credits. Anxiety experienced in isolation, here described as the dream of terrifying monsters, is resolved, like the stepwise motion of the music resolving to tonic. As the music circulates through the circle of fifths, so does affect circulate through the audience; hearts, both in the audience and on screen, quicken with each destabilization in rhythm and key signature until, with the poem’s final grandiose gestures, stability is reached.[29]

Multimodality and intermediality facilitated by rhythmic synchronization expand the spatiotemporal borders of the film to impact the audience’s affective experience, ultimately allowing the film to serve its social and pedagogical functions while resisting a straightforwardly didactic approach. Davis categorizes late modernist art’s potential social functions into three types: emancipation, separation, and reconciliation. The documentary aesthetic, as he describes it, is one motivated by the aims of reconciliation: “[e]stablish consensus, merge the advances and potentiality of art with the social and political order, and remake art’s social function into one of compatibility, not antagonism” (Davis, The Extinct Scene, 31). Though the social function works toward compatibility, the intermedial stitching together of Watt and Wright’s embedded camera work, Cavalcanti’s sound design, Britten’s score, Auden’s poem, and Legg’s recitation elaborates on the social function’s aim of reconciliation and works toward a more decisive function: co-identification.

Paul Bunyan’s America

Five years after Night Mail’s premiere, Britten and Auden’s first and only full-length operatic collaboration, Paul Bunyan, premiered in the United States, the country where Britten and Auden spent the years of World War II. Paul Bunyan’s subject matter—headstrong lumberjacks reconciling themselves to the aims of the group—and its implementation of rhythm as an aesthetic feature across multiple modes and the social aims motivating the treatment of that aesthetic feature situate it within the same vein of multimodal modernism as Night Mail.

Britten and Auden developed Paul Bunyan for students and young performers to serve, like the GPO documentaries, an educational as much as an entertaining function. A semi-opera, the work is formally similar to Gilbert and Sullivan-style operettas, composed of individual songs separated by spoken dialogue or sung strophic narration.[30] The songs that make up this operetta represent a pastiche of American folk styles; blues, country western, spirituals, and hillbilly music are all present in a haphazard collection of Americana organized around only a suggestion of plot. Behind this collection of folk-inspired songs is Britten and Auden’s shared interest in the social power and collectivizing function of ritual and pageant. Auden dedicated much of his career to creating theatrically viable forms of verse drama and other practices of communal art. In the program notes to his one-act play “The Dance of Death” (1933), for instance, he writes: “DRAMA BEGAN AS THE ACT OF THE WHOLE COMMUNITY . . . IDEALLY THERE WOULD BE NO SPECTATORS.” [31] For Britten and Auden, ritual is a regulated form of creative expression that blurs the distinction between spectator and performer. The predictable rhythms of the pageant-like procession of lumberjacks joining the collective set to rhythmically regular and repetitive folksong forms suggest Paul Bunyan’s affinity with communal practices and ritualized verse drama. Avoiding theatre as mimesis, the opera embraces theatre as event-space. Taking Paul Bunyan seriously as an experiment in anti-theatrical opera allows for its treatment not as an aberration in two otherwise successful careers, as is frequently the case, but as a development in modernist musico-literary collaboration, part of the same set movement toward revisionary opera as Ariadne auf Naxos (1916), Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (1930), and Four Saints in Three Acts (1933).

Despite their high expectations for the opera’s social function, Britten and Auden’s opera premiered at Columbia University on May 5th, 1941 to largely negative reviews. Irving Kolodin of the New York Sun took issue with the British artists’ appropriation of American forms, complaining that “neither composer nor poet (now living here) has penetrated far into the sturdy Americanism of this legend.”[32] Virgil Thomson complained of the opera’s use of artifice alongside American folk forms and wrote for the New York Herald Tribune that the subject “is not Bunyan at all, nor even the loggers and farmers of the Northwest that it purports to depict. Its subject is literature itself” (Robinson, “Popularization or Perversion,” 2). What alienated the critics, it would appear, were the same features Britten and Auden intentionally stressed. Paul Bunyan demonstrates no ambitions of penetrating into sturdy Americanism; in fact, Americanism presents a repository of cultural signifiers that, at times rather problematically, these collaborators mine for their own socio-aesthetic ends. The opera’s ambitions are less to depict anything than to use rhythm to create intermedial bonds between the text, music, and the ritualistic qualities of communal drama.

Auden in fact found fitting source material for his collectivizing verse drama not in Paul Bunyan the folk hero, as the reviewers would believe, but in Paul Bunyan the advertising campaign. In 1914 William Laughead of the Red River Lumber Company published a small booklet of some of the stories about Bunyan circulating in logging communities of Wisconsin and the Pacific Northwest as a means of promoting his lumber company. “The Marvelous Exploits of Paul Bunyan,” though it includes pieces of early Paul Bunyan folktales from the oral tradition, invents many characters that went on to become part of the legend. Among these are Babe the Blue Ox, Johnny Inkslinger, Chris Crosshaulson (who appears in the opera as Chris Crosshaul), and Sourdough Sam, the possible inspiration for Auden’s Hot Biscuit Slim.[33] Because Laughead failed to copyright the booklet, many of his inventions appeared in volumes published in the years to follow, including Esther Shephard’s Paul Bunyan (1924) and James Stevens’s 1925 book of the same name, both of which Auden found in the New York Library while researching for the libretto.[34] The lumberjacks in Auden’s source texts—stock characters derived from a lumber company’s ad campaign—come to function almost as singing props in a piece of melodramatic pageantry in his libretto. Benjamin Kohlmann argues that the predictability conventionalized ritual and melodrama offer (distinct genres, to be sure, but organized around the same principles of received personae operating within familiar and predictable dramatic structures) is part of a larger shift in the affective economies of late modernism.[35] Melodrama presents a form that can be delivered with both irony and sincerity. This ambivalence, which allows aesthetic pursuits that are emotionally and intellectually directed but also baldly bourgeois in their ideologies, demands an artificial and non-mimetic treatment of the subject matter. Auden’s anti-theatrical libretto, like Britten’s imitations of American folk music, plays upon what Herbert Lindenberger describes as key to melodrama’s operations: the “audience[’s] knowledge and often too-willing acceptance of the conventions governing the so-called well-made play.”[36] Paul Bunyan, Johnny Inkslinger, and the others are not representations of folk heroes—they are stock personae designed to make legible a shared affect. The performers do not take on masks to become the characters; the characters are themselves masks, designed for the amplification and exaggeration of the conventionalized songs and stories situated within a pageant-like spectacle that unfolds with rhythmic regularity.[37]  

This spectacle pieced together by two Englishman, with its mosaic of American musical styles, presents a particularly late modernist approach to one of the unique features of opera. “The secret of  opera’s success and popularity,” writes musicologist Vlado Kotnik, “lies in a specific but multiple phantasm: namely that, throughout four centuries, the opera has been the privileged place for enacting the fantasy of a mythical or ‘imagined community.’” [38] There is nothing inherently unique or controversial in Britten and Auden turning to an American landscape for their opera; famous precedents such as Tristan und Isolde on the Cornish coast or Lucia di Lammermoor in the Scottish highlands had made this practice of utilizing foreign spaces familiar to operatic audiences. However, studying Paul Bunyan now, we can see how the opera’s subject matter and musical styles offer a complication of Esty’s evaluation of late modernism’s anthropological turn. This opera, like Eliot’s The Rock or Forster’s Abinger Pageant, exemplifies the turn to communal theatre and the social function of pageants, but Britten and Auden’s use of these forms is not a recuperative mission, as in Esty’s examples. Auden’s reliance on characters derived from advertising and Britten’s incorporation of popular musical forms run counter to attempts at historical salvage. Davis argues that, for late modernists, “the past is not a static master code” and that, in terms of how these works negotiate with traditional practices, “the artwork should not be cast solely as a privileged site of resistance or transgression” (The Extinct Scene, 20). Auden and Britten exhibit such a flexibility in relation to the past in how they recuperate traditional forms while also incorporating popular and ephemeral cultural signifiers within those forms. When Britten adapts the blues-style dirge and refrain for the opera’s “Quartet of the Defeated,” the plodding rhythm and regularly repeated chorus do not work to revive African American folk music as a static master code, but neither is it an attempt to resist and erase that history. Rather, the music and the melodramatic text operate toward producing responses and commitments to the opera house itself. Britten’s score does not refer to a historical America as much as it does to an ur-America, a blank field suited for the projection of a constructed identity that can be made and remade within the space of the theatre. The history of America is erased and replaced by the ritualized becoming of America.

Paul Bunyan opens by enacting this difference between inherited history and invented history. The tension is represented in a nearly mystical but parodic creation scene similar to the opening of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold. After an instrumental introduction, the opera begins with a chorus of old trees singing, in rhythmically repeated figures, that they prefer the slow, predictable rhythms of geologic time. In parallel octaves in the key of C major, they sing: “Since the birth of the earth, / Time has gone on and on.”[39] The rhythm persists with hymn-like regularity, but the chorus eventually breaks into harmony and modulates to E major. A chorus of young trees then suddenly interrupts with an emphatic “We do Not want life to be slow,” sung step-wise up the E minor scale, and the Old Trees’ immediate response is to call them “Reds” in a sustained E minor triad (Britten, Paul Bunyan, 4). This untouched landscape collides with the discourse of contemporary anxieties around socialism as the major and minor keys collide as well. The debates between the mythic and the contemporary, the individualistic and the socialistic, the major and minor, are brought to an end by a chorus of three geese, caricatures of Wagner’s Rhine maidens, who foretell the birth of Paul Bunyan at the next blue moon. In an ironic distortion of lunar rhythms, the moon literally turns blue, and the ensemble of geese and trees sings an E major chorale:

Once in a while the odd thing happens,

Once in a while the dream comes true,

And the whole pattern of life is altered,

Once in a while the moon turns blue. (21–22)

While it may be unproductive to overstress the imagery at work in this parodic scene, the blue moon presents a complex commentary on the operations of rhythm. The blue moon is out of step with the rhythms of modernity: the lunar cycle fails to line up with the monthly calendar, producing a second full moon in the same month. These lunar cycles, however, are related to cosmological and embodied rhythms and so the blue moon privileges these natural rhythms by marking the point at which they contradict the rhythms of the calendar. Each element in this humorous yet semi-religious invocation of the hero—lunar symbolism, descanting trees, and singing fowl—operates according to its own rhythm, but the conflicting orders of myth, history, and modernity are all subsumed within the canticle that brings the sequence to an end. The chorale which closes this sequence is more than a musical resolution; it is a reconstituting of rhythmic and social patterns within an instance of synchronic intermediality.

Following this parodic introduction and the narrator’s exposition, Bunyan delivers his first monologue from offstage (he never appears on stage). Bunyan, unlike the other characters in the opera, does not sing, but only speaks. His first lines, a Whitmanic description of an edenic and unformed American landscape, are accompanied by the warbling of a flute as he announces: “It is a forest full of innocent beasts . . . It is America, but not yet” (27–28). The primordial blankness of the American space, emphasized by the flute’s arrhythmic bird call, makes it an unmapped region upon which a new America can be projected, a vacuum to be filled by the labors of men: “Wanted: the lost, / Those indestructibles whom defeat can never change . . . / America, youngest of her daughters awaits the barbarians of marriage” (28–29). Bunyan’s America, unlike a mythologized space like Wagner’s Rhine Valley from which national myth and, by extension, national identity, emerge, resembles the field that Massumi describes: a field offering co-presence and co-constitution through shared participation in the rhythms and modulations of embodied activity. Bunyan never appears, so the disembodied voice and birdsong coming from the orchestra pit make the entire opera house, extended beyond the stage, a space inviting affective entanglement and incorporation of the individual audience member within the newly mapped and rhythmically defined spatio-temporal zone.

Though lacking a larger plot structure, the opera is organized around a predictable routine: an individual, often some kind of social outcast, arrives in the American wilderness and becomes integrated into the collective labor of the lumberjacks. Britten’s strophic and refrain-based musical forms reinforce this repeated process. Soon after Bunyan’s call for “those indestructibles” to join him in his endeavor, the Quartet of the Defeated arrive singing a dirge recounting their failures. This particular song, with its refrain of “You don’t know all, sir, you don’t know all,” employs the rhythm and chord progression of a slow blues so that each individual’s narrative of failure becomes part of a coherent sonic texture and the failures themselves part of the communal struggle (51). More than sympathy for the characters—an unlikely phenomenon given the artificial quality of their procession-like entry—the Quartet of the Defeated creates a rhythmic sympathy, converting the performance into a kind of invitation. Predictable refrains convert the performance space into an affective space; they essentially suspend musical progression and create the potential for an audience’s identification with and even participation in the performance.[40] The association of the blues with embodied labor—a labor that is, conveniently for Britten and Auden, divorced from histories of slavery—emphasizes the sense of the audience’s embodied co-presence. Paul Bunyan is an open field that leverages familiar and participatory repeated musical forms as vehicles for remaking the individual within a larger social fabric. Even Paul’s daughter Tiny, the character who represents the greatest threat to the rhythms of an all-male group, finds entry by marrying Hot Biscuit Slim.

One character, Johnny Inkslinger, resists integration within the embodied work of the lumberjack collective. This resistance is the only real point of tension in the opera, but its resolution serves to emphasize rhythm’s collectivizing capacities, even for bodies marked as distinct from the idealized collective. Queered in comparison to the others, Inkslinger is a bookish writer and artist, and his costume—an effete suit, bowler hat, and glasses—starkly contrasts with the mix of cowboy, fur trapper, and logger costumes the rest of the cast wears. [41] He desires time to dedicate to his writing but resigns himself to working as a bookkeeper for Bunyan’s team, though he operates on its periphery. Still, he remains anxious of fully giving himself over to the rhythms of physical labor and works to maintain a sense of creative individualism. Inkslinger’s ambivalence speaks to a broader late-modernist ambivalence regarding communality and embodied co-presence. Mackay discusses the complicated nature of co-presence during late modernism when she explains that, during World War II, “the intimacy that makes possible communality and fellow feeling has turned into something more grossly and fear-inducingly bodily.”[42] The embodied nature of rhythm, as well as the embodied nature of the lumberjacks’ labor, makes the intimacy of affective intersubjectivity for Inkslinger a source of anxiety, an anxiety that Mackay characterizes as widely experienced. By the opera’s conclusion, however, Inkslinger overcomes this anxiety to achieve an intimate and affectionate bond with Bunyan. The opera ends with a Christmas party where Inkslinger bids farewell to the lumberjacks, saving Paul for the final tearful goodbye. He asks in the opera’s final scene, “Paul, who are you?” to which Bunyan responds:

Where the night becomes the day,

Where the dream becomes the fact,

I am the Eternal Guest,

I am Way, I am Act. (Britten, Paul Bunyan, 172)

Bunyan’s spoken lines are the last of the opera, and with them he characterizes himself both as religious figure—the Eternal Guest, the Way—and as a moment of becoming. Bunyan claims to be the moments that define rhythmic cycles of change and action. It is around these moments that the lumberjack collective was formed. Action and modulation provide a means of overcoming the fear-inducing qualities of corporeal cooperation. In light of Mackay’s argument, we can see the resolution to Inkslinger’s conflict, his commitment to the collective and to Bunyan in particular, as corresponding to a shared social conflict within late modernism. The resolution suggests that the rhythms of embodied collective action counteract the anxieties of embodied copresence.

Ironizing Bunyan’s reverent tone, however, is the convenient resolution to the question of what Inkslinger will do for a living after the disbanding of Bunyan’s group. As the rest of the team is going their separate ways, Inkslinger receives a letter from Hollywood offering him a job as a “technical advisor for an all-star lumber-picture” (160). Inkslinger is a parodic mise en abyme for Britten and Auden: a foreign and queer element at once imbricated in and separated from the rhythms of American life and industry. His turn to Hollywood, not unlike Britten and Auden’s own turns to public and commercial art, represents the isolating work of the artist becoming reconciled with the life of the public. Bunyan may claim to be eternal, but Inkslinger is modern, and the rhythms of communal art and shared labor incorporate both.

Auden’s “The Dance of Death” shares a great deal with the opening sequence of Paul Bunyan. In both cases, there is an attempt to imagine an initial form, to find a point of origin despite the fact that such a point of origin cannot be recuperated, only constructed. Rhythm and ritual in Paul Bunyan are not means of accessing a prehistorical and primal kind of artistry. Instead, rhythm informs a non-mimetic practice less concerned with finding the roots of a cultural heritage than with finding the roots that connect different arts. The rhythmic regularity of folk music and pageantry combines the rhythms of poetry, music, and stagecraft within a larger public-facing spectacle working to strengthen the embodied and social bonds of that public. America, in Britten and Auden’s treatment, is a place with no history. It is an event-space in which rhythms transmitted across media and sensed across modes allow for an emergent collectivity. When Bunyan bids his final farewell to the other lumberjacks, he says:

Every day America’s destroyed and recreated,

America is what you do,

America is I and you,

America is what you choose to make it. (169)

With these lines, the operatic space, both the one onstage and the audience’s own perceived communality within the event-space of the opera house, returns to the same state as in the opera’s beginning: an unmapped zone to be made and remade via the collective registration of rhythm and rhythmic modulation.

Modernist rhythm was the foundational principle for the interpretive practice that made the composition of and engagement with avant-garde combinations of the arts possible. Britten and Auden’s pedagogical objective was to extend that practice beyond the context of small magazines and experimental art, to make it integral to popular art and capable of fostering collectivity among broader audiences. Night Mail and Paul Bunyan are not designed to discipline viewers into falling into step with the collective rhythms of modernity, but rather to encourage the necessary modes of attention for perceiving those rhythms. Giving these works the sustained attention they demand reveals carefully orchestrated moments of synchronization, integration, and productive disjunction. Britten and Auden’s collaborations teach us how to read, see, hear, and feel the rhythms of late modernism.


[1] John Middleton Murry, “Aims and Ideals,” Rhythm 1, no. 1 (1911): 36.

[2] Quoted in Carey Snyder, “Introduction to Rhythm and The Blue Review,” The Modernist Journals Project, 2012.

[3] Experimentation in regard to multimodality is not a defining characteristic of European modernism per se, though neither is Irving Babbitt and others’ theories of medium specificity. Both philosophies, not a single one, inform the artistic and media networks of early twentieth-century Europe.

[4] A subdivision of the UK General Post Office, the GPO Film Unit was founded in 1933 and tasked primarily with creating documentaries about the General Post Office’s activities. The scope of its documentary subjects, however, broadened soon after its establishment.

[5] See Tyrus Miller, Late Modernism: Politics, Fiction, and the Arts Between the World Wars (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).

[6] Jed Etsy, A Shrinking Island: Modernism and National Culture in England (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), 2; Marina Mackay, Modernism and World War II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 20; Thomas S. Davis, The Extinct Scene: Late Modernism and Everyday Life. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016), 2.

[7] Kirsty Martin, Modernism and the Rhythms of Sympathy: Vernon Lee, Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 8.

[8] Lisa Blackman, Immaterial Bodies: Affect, Embodiment, Mediation (Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2012), 1.

[9] Derek P. McCormack, Refrains for Moving Bodies: Experience and Experiment in Affective Spaces (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013), 7.

[10] Late nineteenth and early-twentieth interpretations of rhythm in both the aesthetic and social contexts emerge predominantly from Thaddeus Bolton’s Rhythm (Worcester, MA: Press of F. S. Blanchard, 1893), Christian Ruckmich’s “The Rôle of Kinaesthesis in the Perception of Rhythm,” The American Journal of Psychology 24, no. 3 (1913): 305–59, and Émile Jaques-Dalcroze’s The Eurhythmics of Jaques-Dalcroze (Boston, MA: Small, Maynard, and Company, 1913).

[11] Antonin Artaud, The Theater and Its Double, trans. Mary Caroline Richards (New York: Grove, 1958), 81, emphasis in original.

[12] Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), 75–76, emphasis in original.

[13] Quoted in Samuel Hynes, The Auden Generation: Literature and Politics in England in the 1930s (New York: Viking, 1977), 212, emphasis in original.

[14] See Donald Mitchell, Britten and Auden in the Thirties: The Year 1936 (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2000), 57.

[15] Alberto Cavalcanti, “The British Contribution (1952),” in The Documentary Film Movement: An Anthology, ed. Ian Aitken (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998), 205–14, 205.

[16] John Grierson, “The Documentary Producer,” Cinema Quarterly 2, no. 1 (1933): 7–9, 8.

[17] Elizabeth De Cacqueray, “Music, Poetry, Realism: Benjamin Britten and his Film Scores,” Anglophonia 11, no. 1 (2002): 227–36, 229.

[18] Wolfgang Schivelbusch’s The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), Andrew Thacker’s Moving Through Modernity: Space and Geography in Modernism (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), and Enda Duffy’s The Speed Handbook: Velocity, Pleasure, Modernism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009) are three texts dedicated to theorizing modernity’s relationship with increasing speeds. A fascinating counterpoint to this trend, however, is Paul K. Saint-Amour’s “Stillness and Altitude: René Clair’s Paris qui dort,” in Moving Modernism: Motion, Technology, and Modernity, ed. David Bradshaw, Laura Marcus, and Rebecca Roach (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 217–35, which examines Clair’s film as an instance in which stillness is a kind of apotheosis of speed.

[19] Quoted in Paul Swann, The British Documentary Film Movement: 1926–1946 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 8.

[20] See Ian Aitken, Alberto Cavalcanti: Realism, Surrealism and National Cinemas (Trowbridge: Flick Books, 2000).

[21] See Alberto Cavalcanti, “Sound in Films,” in Film Sound, ed. Elisabeth Weis and John Belton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), 98–111.

[22] See James G. Mansell, “Rhythm, Modernity and the Politics of Sound,” in The Projection of Britain: A History of the GPO Film Unit, ed. Scott Anthony and Mansell (London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011), 161–67, 162.

[23] See James G. Mansell, The Age of Noise in Britain: Hearing Modernity (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2016).

[24] Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), 6.

[25] Benjamin Britten, Night Mail: For Speaker and Small Ensemble, libretto by W. H. Auden, (London: Chester Music, 2002), 52–53.

[26] Julie Taylor, introduction to Modernism and Affect, ed. Julie Taylor (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015), 1–19, 9.

[27] Anna Claydon notes that Legg’s received pronunciation, lacking in regional markers, “signifies unity and even-temperedness to the audience” (“National Identity, the GPO Film Unit and their Music,” in The Projection of Britain, 197–87, 182). I would contend that the sense of unity and even-temperedness is not simply signified by the accent of Legg’s recitation, but operates in a semi-musical aural mode as well. The careful placement of the consonants and clarity of the vowels work in concert with the music, providing an additional and clearly articulated timbral layer to the rhythmically orchestrated ensemble. Instead of signifying the class distinction implied by Received Pronunciation, the voice’s song-like quality and its situatedness within the music exceed the language and the accent’s signifying functions.

[28] In Britten’s score, but not included in the film, are the lines “Thro’ sparse countries she rampages, / Her driver’s eye upon her gauges. / Panting up past lonely farms, / Fed by the fireman’s restless arms. / Striding forward along the rails, / Thro’ Southern Uplands and Northern mails” (Night Mail, 10–11). There is little evidence to explain why these lines were cut, one possible explanation being the awkward misalignment of musical and metrical stress, but it is worth noting how they would compliment what appears on screen.

[29] Night Mail comes close to qualifying as propaganda here. Mark Wollaeger describes one form of propaganda particular to 1930s England: integration propaganda. This “includes not just the usual state-sponsored suspects—political broadcasting, censorship, atrocity stories, and the manipulation of news—but also more diffusely constellated organizations and institutions, such as advertising, public relations, and popular films, whose interactions effectively reinforce official political propaganda without necessarily setting out to do so” (Mark Wollaeger, Modernism, Media, and Propaganda: British Narrative Form from 1900–1945 [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006], 9).

[30] Auden writes in a letter to A. E. Dodds: “At the moment I am hard at work on my Operetta which is rather fun; Gilbertian rhymes etc” (quoted in Matthew Paul Carlson, “Auden and Britten’s Paul Bunyan and the Frontiers of Opera,” Modern Drama 54, no. 4 [2011]: 409–34, 418).

[31] Quoted in Steve Nicholson, “1930s British Drama,” W. H. Auden in Context, ed. Tony Sharpe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 217–27, 217.

[32] Quoted in Suzanne Robinson, “Popularization or Perversion?: Folklore and Folksong in Britten’s Paul Bunyan (1941),” American Music 34, no.1 (2016): 1–42, 1.

[33] W. B. Laughead, The Marvelous Exploits of Paul Bunyan: As Told in the Camps of the White Pine Lumbermen for Generations during Which Time the Loggers Have Pioneered the Way through the North Woods from Maine to California (Minneapolis, MN: Red River Lumber Company, 1922). See Robinson, “Popularization or Perversion,” 5.

[34] Esther Shephard, Paul Bunyan (New York: Harcourt, 1924). James Stevens, Paul Bunyan (New York: Knopf, 1925). See Robinson, “Popularization or Perversion,” 6.

[35] See Benjamin Kohlmann, “Awkward Moments: Melodrama, Modernism, and the Politics of Affect,” PMLA 128, no. 2 (2013): 337–52, 338.

[36] Herbert Lindenberger, “Anti-Theatricality in Twentieth-Century Opera,” Against Theatre: Creative Destructions on the Modernist Stage, ed. Alan Ackerman and Martin Puchner (London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006), 58–75, 59.

[37] The cast of Paul Bunyan also includes a singing dog named Fido and two singing cats named Moppet and Poppet performed by singers wearing literal masks.

[38] Vlado Kotnik, “The Adaptibility of Opera: When Different Social Agents Come to Common Ground,” International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music 44, no. 2 (2013): 303–42, 321.

[39] Benjamin Britten, Paul Bunyan: An Operetta in Two Acts and a Prologue, libretto by W. H. Auden, piano reduction by David Matthews (London: Faber Music, 1974), 1.

[40] See McCormack, Refrains for Moving Bodies, 187–89.

[41] The sketches of the costumes of Paul Bunyan’s early performances in David Herbert’s The Operas of Benjamin Britten: The Complete Librettos Illustrated with Designs of the First Production (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979), 73–75, illustrate the contrast between the pastiche of American costumes worn by the other lumberjacks and Inkslinger’s suit and tie.

[42] Marina Mackay, “‘Is Your Journey Really Necessary?’: Going Nowhere in Late Modernist London,” PMLA 124, no. 5 (2009): 1600–1613, 1610.