London 0 Hull 4

I am reading the books recommended by Arnold Bennett in his self-help guide Literary Taste: How To Form It, first published in 1909 and reissued in 1938. Can following a prescribed reading list from over a hundred years ago lead to forming a literary taste? A graph is normally included. This week, the Hull Literary Club. 

The Hull Literary Club (which really was a literary club and not a independent pop group such as The Bombay Bicycle Club) was founded in 1879 and met regularly until 1983. Talks were given and a journal was published. Apart from encouraging an interest in literature, it sought specifically to promote writers from Hull and the surrounding area. One of its members was Philip Larkin, whose poem The Mower⁠1 was published in Humberside, the club’s journal, in 1979. It grew out of an era of British history when provincial meant more than just having an accent. When, perhaps, not living in London was not seen as a handicap when it came to the reading of books.

Accounts of its meetings were published regularly in the the Hull Daily Mail. In January of 1939 the members of the club listened to Frank Thompson give a talk on The Modern Short Story, its debt to Maupassant and Tchekov and its current masters Somerset Maughan, Elizabeth Bowen, Aldous Huxley, H.E.Bates and James Hanley. He concluded by saying that if it was an art in its infancy, it was a lusty infant, suited to the expression of the age. In February it was the matter of “Recent Books” that caught the interest of the speakers. Bertrtand Russell’s Power, Louis Golding’s The Jewish Problem and a criticised Herbert Palmer’s Post Victorian Poetry were all discussed. Our man Bennett’s Literary Taste was surveyed lightly and humorously, while a careful study was made of Hall Caine’s Life of Christ and Dr Cronin’s The Citadel was contrasted with Francis Brett Young’s Dr Bradley Remembers. And so it goes on through the rest of the year with a slight interruption caused by the outbreak of war in September of that year. In November Frank Thompson, now club president, spoke of the challenge to the conventional values of life and that in the works of the the three Powys brothers, John, Llewellyn and Theodore, the essential truths of life could be found. And as at the end of every meeting, thanks were proposed and supported.

We have, of course, been visiting Bennett’s constituency of readers, not withstanding the light and humorous survey of Literary Taste. Indeed it could be said that it is because of the tone of the talk that we know that we are with like-minded people. And as it could be said, then I will say it. There is no Rex Warner here, no Henry Green, no James Joyce and definitely no Dorothy Richardson. Nor should there be. We are in the provinces. We may order our books from London publishers, we may even read the reviews in the London press, but we feel no need to ape their modish likes and dislikes.

1 The Mower

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found

A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,

Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.

Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world

Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.

The first day after a death, the new absence

Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind

While there is still time.

The blue rotary lawn mower that killed the hedgehog can be found in the archive of Philip Larkin’s work at the University of Hull, as can the archives of the Hull Literary Club.

%d bloggers like this: