Intellectuals Among the Masses; Or,
What Was Leonard Bast Really Like?


WHEN IT IS published in the United States, John Carey's polemic The Intellectuals and the Masses will probably startle reviewers. It certainly caused a flap when the British edition came out in the summer of 1992. Though an Oxford professor, Carey is a blunt literary populist: he argues that the fundamental motive behind the modernist movement in literature was a corrosive fear and loathing of the masses. Nietzsche, Ortega y Gasset, George Gissing, H. G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, T S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Sigmund Freud, Aldous Huxley, Wyndham Lewis, D. H. Lawrence, Ezra Pound, and Graham Greene all strove to preserve a sense of class superiority by reviling the mean suburban man. They convinced themselves that the typical clerk was subhuman, bestial, machinelike, dead inside, a consumer of rubbishy newspapers and canned food. The intellectuals had to create this caricature to maintain social distinctions in an increasingly democratic and educated society. Many of these writers ultimately disposed of the masses through fantasies of wholesale extermination, usually rationalized on eugenic grounds. [1]

Carey offers us, then, a sociological theory of taste. Until the early nineteenth century, literacy alone was enough to confer some intellectual distinction. As literacy spread and books proliferated, the intellectuals, to preserve caste, began to insist that they didn't just read books, they read Literature. By the early twentieth century, however, the masses were reading Literature too: the Board Schools had given them some introduction to Milton and Shakespeare, and they were buying the shilling classics of Everyman's Library by the millions. The intellectuals were hardly pleased by this democratization of culture: it is telling that the epithet they loved to spit at the masses was not "uneducated," but "half-educated." These writers could feel a patronizing fondness for ignorant peasants who stayed down on the farm; but the peasants had come to the cities and gotten educated after a fashion, and more and more of them were reading serious books.

Under those circumstances, the intellectuals could maintain their place in the class hierarchy only by inventing modernism. They had to create works that were deliberately obscureso inaccessible that, in effect, they rendered the common reader illiterate once again. It was the only way they could reverse the effects of universal education and put the masses in their place. In her modernist manifesto "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown" (1914), Virginia Woolf sneered at Arnold Bennett because he continued to write for a popular audience (and Bennett, as one might guess, is one of Carey's favorite novelists). Even more revealing is Mrs. Woolf's dismissal of Ulysses: precisely because it was the most literate novel of the century, she called it an "illiterate, underbred book," and she damned Joyce by comparing him to "a self-taught working man, and we all know how distressing they are, how egotistic, insistent, raw, striking, and ultimately nauseating. . . . I'm reminded all the time of some callow board school boy." [2]

Her husband shared her snobberies. In Ceylon, Leonard Woolf had lived for a time with a police magistrate named Dutton, who was reviled by some of the resident Englishmen as "A bloody unwashed Board School bugger, who doesn't know one end of a woman from the other." Though an erstwhile socialist, Woolf is not reluctant to admit that "there was some truth in the portrait." Bad enough that they are professional equals, but Dutton has the presumption to write bad poetry, play the piano, and read Home University Library books. Of course, Woolf assures us, there is no comparing his own Cambridge education with Dutton's self-education: "Literature, art, poetry, music, history, mathematics, science were pitchforked into his mind in chaotic incomprehensibility. When later on in Ceylon I became an extremely incompetent shooter of big game and, in cutting up the animals killed by me, saw the disgusting, semi-digested contents of their upper intestines, I was always reminded of the contents of Dutton's mind." [3]

Dutton also reminded Woolf of Leonard Bast, the clerk of E. M. Forster's Howards End. Even Forster, for all his gentle liberalism, embraced the class prejudices of modernist intellectuals. Bast is anxious and envious among the rentier intelligentsia, and his attempts to acquire culture are hopeless. Lets face it, says Forster, he is "inferior to most rich people." He is "not as courteous as the average rich man, nor as intelligent, nor as healthy, nor as lovable." He plays the piano "badly and vulgarly," and, what is worse, he plays Grieg, a bad and vulgar composer. [4] In literary conversations he is only capable of repeating cant phrases and dropping names. The problem, according to Margaret Schlegel, is that "His brain is filled with the husks of books, culture—horrible; we want him to wash out his brain." [5] (Note that the term "brainwashing" did not originate in the Korean War.)

Bast is literally crushed and killed by the weight of books. He really should have been a mindless shepherd or ploughman like his grandfather. Alas, sighs Forster, rural laborers today are typically "half clodhopper, half board-school prig," but get rid of that education and "they can still throw back to a nobler stock, and breed yeomen." [6] Of course, they would be making hay for Squire Forster, who thinks there is much to be said for "the feudal ownership of land." [7] Though it is usually read as a critique of the class system, Howards End is fragrant with nostalgia for a rigid social hierarchy. "It is all part of the battle against sameness," bubbles Margaret. "Differences—eternal differences, planted by God in a single family, so that there may always be colour; sorrow perhaps, but colour in the daily grey." And what advice does she offer Helen about Leonard, the murdered father of her child? "Forget him." "Yes, yes," says Helen, "but what has Leonard got out of life?" "Perhaps an adventure," shrugs Margaret. "Is that enough?" "Not for us. But for him." [8] What more does the man want? Only connect, but not with the likes of him. And that is the last we hear of Leonard Bast.

But what was he really like? Was Bast representative of that vast and growing army of Edwardian clerks? For an answer, we might look to the dozens of memoirs left by young men who were born into the working classes around 1890, attended Board Schools, read cheap editions of the classics, attended two-shilling concerts, and took one step up the social ladder into clerkdom. And when Leonard Bast has a chance to paint his own portrait, one sees how much Howards End missed.

It seems inconceivable to Forster that a clerk could actually be thrilled by literature. Bast pathetically grinds away at his Ruskin and his concerts, which mean nothing to him, but he is always hoping for a "sudden conversion, a belief . . . which is particularly attractive to a half-baked mind. . . . Of a heritage that may expand gradually he had no conception: he hoped to come to Culture suddenly, much as the Revivalist hopes to come to Jesus." [9] Of course a gradually expanding intellect is a wonderful thing, if you can afford to remain in school through university. But for people who lack that kind of leisured education, the discovery of literature is likely to produce an awesome intellectual epiphany. For W. J. Brown, a plumber's son, it happened at age ten, when an old sea captain at Margate allowed him to use his personal library. "It wasn't an incident," Brown recalls. "It was, in an almost religious sense, an experience. . . . Consciousness does not expand slowly and regularly, but, as it seems to me, in great leaps. The mind forms a certain conception of the world it lives in. . . . Then one comes across a fresh writer—ancient or modern—or a new acquaintance—and suddenly there is a vast expansion of consciousness, a lifting of the mind to a new level . . . a thrill beyond description . . . a moment of triumphant ecstasy. So with my admission into the world of books." [10]

What authors were likely to produce that vision? Sometimes it was the novelist the modernists loved to hate, Arnold Bennett. Sidney Campion, a Leicester woodworking machinist, admired Clayhanger precisely because it was a novel about the masses. Bennett, he wrote, "had written about the homely things: of the common people and their struggles: of their illnesses and adversity: of their happiness and good fortunes: of their peculiar self-expression and of their frustration He told me in plain words of the value of the street sweeper in the national system, and he told me that the thoughts and feelings of the street sweeper were just as interesting and as important as the thoughts and feelings of the doctor." [11]

Then there was John Ruskin. Forster considered him hopelessly irrelevant to Bast's mean little life, but a 1906 poll in the Review of Reviews revealed Ruskin to be the favorite author of newly elected Labour MPs. [12] An Oldham millworker, J. R. Clynes, recalled that The Seven Lamps of Architecture "thrilled me deeply, probably because of its noble prose." [13] For Coventry engineer George Hodgkinson, "The writings of John Ruskin began to implant in my mind a positive philosophy, the virtue of work, the need for a new standard of values, that man is a creative being. . . . I became an honest seeker after truth rather than a rebel with a chip on his shoulder, and one with a growing appetite for reading and for study opportunities." [14]

For autodidacts in general, The Book That Made All The Difference could be almost any one of the English classics—but not usually anything modernist. The colliery novelist Roger Dataller learned that lesson when he taught a literature class for the Workers' Educational Association in the 1930s. As far as his women students were concerned, Mrs. Ramsay's interior monologues in To the Lighthouse proved only that she was an inadequate homemaker: "That she should allow her mind to wander while trying on the stocking that she was knitting for her little son, seemed inept, and their sympathy was for the little boy with so introspective a mother." The class loved Dickens and Trollope for their ability to tell a straightforward story, but they were stumped by the poetry of W H. Auden and T S. Eliot: "Their attitude was that if a poet took little trouble to make himself understood, he must not complain of comparative neglect." [15] W J. Brown was introduced to literature by Robinson Crusoe, She, The Last of the Mohicans, and Around the World in Eighty Days, and he never moved far beyond that level. He tried reading The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov, but found them too depressing, perhaps because Brown's life was anything but Dostoevskian. [16]

Brown found work as a boy clerk in the Post Office Savings Bank at West Kensington for something under 15 shillings a week. Modernist texts, from Howards End to Bernard Shaw's Misalliance, have consistently depicted the clerk as a prisoner, trapped in a suffocating office and a mind-killing job. Many clerks did hate their work, but more than a few actually found their careers intellectually stimulating. Brown would get up early each morning, study for an hour, do a bit of rowing on the lake in Battersea Park, breakfast at 8:00, take a brisk forty-minute walk to work, and do his routine but painless job from 9:00 to 4:00. Then, after tea, he would enjoy "Five glorious hours of freedom" reading Darwin, Huxley, and Tennyson's In Memoriam at the Battersea Public Library: "I had then, I think, the happiest days of my life."

Brown worked in a huge room with two hundred other boy clerks. That scene recalls the opening of Billy Wilder's film The Apartment, and it conjures up the darkest nightmare of the middle-class intellectual: the fear of submergence in a mass of humanity. But working-class writers typically felt quite at home in that situation. As Brown put it, "I had the elementary schoolboy's love of crowds, the slum kid's love of the prolific life of the mass. And here I was back in the mass. . . . There was no rule against talking, and as, after a while, the work itself could be done mechanically, without engaging more than a fraction of one's conscious mind, conversation went on all the day long. Two hundred boys, coming from many different parts of the country, freely intermingling, exchanging experiences and ideas with each other, can act as a tremendous educational force one upon the other. We discussed, argued, and disputed interminably; approving, questioning and debating every proposition under the sun, and in the process adding enormously to our stock of ideas and knowledge." [17] The West Kensington Post Office Savings Bank was Brown's university, and his Oxford Union as well, for his debating skills won him recognition among his fellow boy clerks. He organized three thousand of them into a union, persuaded a Royal Commission to redress some of their grievances, and went on to become an important trade unionist and Labour MP. [18] What did Dostoevsky have to say to him? He much preferred the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.

Meanwhile, in Manchester, Neville Cardus was equally enjoying his work as a junior clerk for a marine insurance agent. He even found a scent of romance in the phrase he had to copy out in every policy: ". . . of the seas, storms, floods, pirates, jettison, letters of marque." Nominally the office hours were 9:30 to 5:00, but often there was little work to do, so he read in the office or else snuck out to the Manchester Reference Library. (In fact, quite a number of autodidacts confess to educating themselves on company time.) For Cardus, whose clerk's salary never rose above a pound a week, Manchester was a city of limitless cultural riches. He recalled one week when he attended a new Galsworthy play on Monday, a Brodsky Quartet concert on Tuesday, the French actress Réjane at a Wednesday matinee, the Hallé Orchestra on Thursday, and on Friday, Ibsen's Ghosts. [19] Afterwards, he and his fellow clerks would retire to a Lyons Tea Shop and, in a fever of intellectual excitement, talk endlessly about books and plays and music. [20] It may be presumptuous to cell E. M. Forster how to do his job, but one has to ask why there isn't a scene like that in Howards End.

At any rate, Cardus, with no formal training, went on to become a music critic for the Manchester Guardian. He was always amazed by the musical sophistication of his readers, whether they were millowners or millworkers. [21] Thanks to the touring system, stellar classical music was available not only in the larger cities. The passion for opera and other vocal music in the isolated mining towns of South Wales is legendary. As a clerk at a Brighton ironworks, A. E. Coppard was impressed to hear the laborers singing Tannhäuser above the uproar of the machinery, and he often met these proletarian opera buffs in the sixpenny gallery seats at the Carl Rosa Opera Company. [22]

That is why Thomas Burke, who grew up in poverty in Poplar, hated the condescension of settlement house workers who tried to bring culture to London's East End. They didn't notice that East Enders already had plenty of culture, thank you. As he wrote in 1932, "One of our intellectual novelists recorded recently, with a note of wonder, that on his visiting a Whitechapel home the daughters of the house were reading Marcel Proust and a volume of Chekhov's comedies. Why the wonder?" Burke pointed to the Bethnal Green and Whitechapel Art Galleries, the well-used public libraries, the proliferating literary circles, and the popular concerts at the People's Palace. [23]

Like Bast, Burke attended cheap concerts at Queen's Hall. Even a clerk earning 16 shillings a week could afford that if he skipped a meal and then gorged himself at a little Franco-Swiss restaurant in Wardour Street, where a full-course dinner could be had for a shilling. He resented the better-off patrons who noticed the incongruity of his shabby dress and his musical knowledge, but he was not himself immune to that kind of hauteur, as when he once took a working-class girl to a concert. The music came as a revelation to her, something she could not articulate: "I dunno how to put it. It's just—I never heard anything like it before. I feel all—you know—tied up." Yes, Burke lectured her, I once took that kind of simplistic approach to music, but read these program notes, and Grove's Dictionary of Music, and you'll understand what you ought to like and why you ought to like it. [24] Some years before, a middle-class girl had taken Brown to a concert and offered him the same condescending lessons. It all recalls the program notes in Howards End, which patiently explain to Leonard Bast what he ought to appreciate in Beethoven's Fifth.

Burke had those pretensions knocked out of him when he took an office job at a music hall. One day he was shocked to discover an eminent novelist at
the theatre bar talking quite as vulgarly as any East Ender. Burke had been taking great pains to correct his own accent, and he had "imagined that all authors were public-school men and scholars, with delicate manners, silver tongues and fastidious voices." That evening he attended a bohemian party, where he found the same disorienting clash of high and low culture. There he was introduced to a music hall songwriter, who was quite superbly playing Debussy, Schumann, Chopin, Wagner, Liszt, Grieg, Schubert, Brahms, Dvorak, and Berlioz—and then stopped to tell the joke about the bishop in the lavatory. "All my ideas were being thrown down today," he later recalled. "Here I was . . . listening to music that I had heard only at Queens Hall, played by . . . the composer of 'Mother's caught her Tongue in the Mangle,' 'The Randy, Brandy, Strand-y Boys', 'Can you see Baby's Eyes in the Stars, Daddy Dear?,' 'Ain't It Nice to 'Ave a Bit of Garden?,' 'Hold Tight to Your Tiddler, Father,' 'Say a Prayer Tonight for the Boys in Blue,' 'I don't Mind Him Kissing the Missus, but He Eats Me Breakfast too.'" [25]

Now, at this point a poststructuralist might be tempted to stand up and salute the proletarian author for deconstructing the bourgeois polarities of high and low culture. I would caution him, before jumping to that conclusion, to read some British working-class memoirs: generally they convey a very strict sense of cultural hierarchies. None of them argues that music hall tunes are as good as Beethoven. Burke's songwriter, in fact, complains that he has to earn a living grinding out this "sheer ghastly poppycock," when he really wants to compose "the Real Stuff." [26] Nevertheless, there was a clear class fault line cutting across definitions of culture. As John Carey notes, modernist intellectuals generally made a fetish of the highest culture and dismissed everything else as pernicious rubbish. [27] Working-class autodidacts, on the other hand, tended to believe that all culture had some value—though by no means equal value. Like James Joyce (one of the few modernists for whom Carey has some liking), they were not distressed by the jumbling together of high and low culture. Thomas Burke's ideal reader was one who could enjoy equally Virginia Woolf and Somerset Maugham and sportswriters. [28]

Carey also exposes and condemns the modernists' horror of suburbia, [29] another prejudice that most working-class writers did not share. Thomas Burke once wrote a travelogue of the London Suburbs—places "that every good Londoner, and every student of the human heart, should visit. You go and stare at some crumbling pile made by some predatory prelate some five hundred years ago, and from your rubber-necking you offer yourself some manufactured thrill. It's all wrong. The true thrill should come when you look at the new suburb and its half-built roads and houses, and remember that Mr. Wilkinson has taken that little house which still wants windows and is not yet connected to the main drainage, and is waiting to take his bride into it; that there they will begin their married life, and there will the young Wilkinsons be born. . . . To ignore such places as these is to mark yourself Philistine." [30] In what was supposed to be a cultural wasteland, Burke found numerous literary societies attended by clerks, shop assistants, and workers. True, like Leonard Bast, these people often resorted to "the worn platitudes upon the worn novelists and essayists, the cobbled summaries of the messages of the philosophers, the solemn introductions to the beauties of established poets. But to the pupils and teachers alike," Burke reminds us, "these things are shockingly new." [31]

Howards End conveys none of that naive but genuine intellectual ferment. It also errs in depicting Bast as a man hopelessly trapped in his job: he is assumed to be capable of doing only one specialized kind of insurance work, and when he loses that job, he inevitably and helplessly plummets into destitution. But why can't Bast embark on a new career? Why not try his hand as a writer? Margaret Schlegel does detect something of the poet in him, but she is sure that if he put his thoughts on paper—if he ever presumed to compete with E. M. Forster—"it would be loathesome stuff." [32]

Yet, as Thomas Burke recalled, opportunities for free-lance writers were expanding enormously in this period. London had nineteen daily newspapers and innumerable popular magazines, all of them hungry for copy. They represented the "New Journalism," the cheap periodicals that proliferated from the 1880s onwards, which Forster and other intellectuals reviled as the "gutter press." [33] Journals like Tit-Bits and the Daily Mail were, it was said, "written by office boys for office boys." So they were, but that sneer implies a tremendous social fact: now office boys could become professional authors. Burke paid for those exquisite Queen's Hall concerts by writing for Ally Sloper's Half-Holiday, a deliciously vulgar humor magazine. Of course, these periodicals had low literary standards; as Burke discovered, that made it easy for someone with limited education to enter the profession. Successful literary men had warned Burke that he could never hope to succeed in the writing game without connections, and urged him to read Gissing's New Grub Street. But Burke found that, with no connections at all, he could easily pick up an odd guinea placing a sketch or a short story. And he could not understand Gissing's complaints about the miseries of scribbling in a garret: Burke was scribbling in a garret, and he found it a wonderful liberation from the thrall of clerkdom. [34]

Having discussed the mutual disdain that separated the modernists and the masses, I should mention an exception that illuminates the rule. Raised among the narrowest of the puritan sects, the Plymouth Brethren, William Bowyer evolved into one of the few working-class intellectuals who embraced modernism wholeheartedly. He became a Second Division Civil Service Clerk in 1910—the year in which human nature changed, according to Mrs. Woolf, and Bowyer changed with it. He began by attending his very first play, Peter Pan. A few weeks later, at the same theatre, he was enjoying Granville-Barker's productions of Shaw's Misalliance and Galsworthy's justice. Then there was no stopping him. Read his memoirs, and you got a complete history of the arts in London from 1910 to 1914. This £70-a-year clerk managed to see plays by Ibsen, Schnitzler, and Chekhov; Abbey Theatre productions of J. M. Synge, Lady Gregory, and W B. Yeats; Gilbert Murray's translation of Iphigenia in Tauris; Pavlova, Nijinsky, the Diaghilev ballet, and opera. He heard and played piano music not by Grieg, but by Debussy, Borodin, Isaac Albéniz, Enrique Granados, Manuel de Falla, Dvorak, and César Franck. Elgar he dismissed as hopelessly bourgeois, stinking of "smug church-going respectability." For art, he read Roger Fry, attended the First Post-Impressionist Exhibition, and actually liked Van Gogh and Gauguin, though it took some time to develop a taste for the more abstract art of Matisse and Picasso. He was one of those rare working-class readers who denounced Ruskin as too preachy, and could not forgive him for failing to appreciate Monet and Whistler. [35] He enthusiastically read Conrad and Dostoevsky, Ford Madox Ford's English Review, and A. R. Orage's avant-garde weekly the New Age. And yes, he loved Howards End: it was exciting "to discover in its author a fellow human being who . . . felt as I did about . . . the hollow shams of the gospel of bluff and success, who distrusted the priests and yet was one for whom the paradoxes of Christian Charity shone like beacons." [36] By 1938 he was a curator of ceramics at the Victoria and Albert Museum and had published some books on the subject.

How did this ironmonger's son become a Bloomsbury modernist? That is a complicated sociological question, but one might begin by noting that he was, like middle-class modernists, alienated from his class. In his Plymouth Brethren Sunday School, he had been an object of suspicion precisely because he was a good student: "Any kind of learning was openly scorned as one of the devil's snares, that contaminated source of doubt and infidelity." Attending a conference of Brethren at age fifteen, he suddenly "noticed then, as never before, that not one of them was a well-grown human being. They appeared to be all of them deformed or undersized, flat-chested or round-shouldered, red-nosed and skinny, and I had a glimpse of the principle I was long afterwards to find enunciated in Samuel Butler: such ugly people could not possibly be right." [37] Two other salient facts set him apart from most working people of his generation: he hated his schooling and he hated his father. The latter, Bowyer claims, squandered the family's limited funds on prostitutes (no, he anxiously assures us, he is not suffering from an Oedipus Complex). Bowyer also rejected the classic authors who were crammed into him in school. He was therefore disposed to embrace anything new, beginning with the novels of H. G. Wells. [38] For the same reason he turned from the dreary Plymouth Brethren to the gospel of Virginia Woolf, "that all beauty must be its own justification; that truth is an affair, not of logical demonstration, but of passionate understanding and intuition."

But there is more to it than that. Bowyer admits that his "puritanism" prevented him from reading novels for "mere entertainment": "A novelist has needed to justify himself as a prophet or a visionary for me to read him with a clear conscience." [39] He grew up in a world of squabbling Nonconformist subsects, each one professing to be more saintly than the other, and the worst insult they could hurl at each other was "worldliness." In a sense, Bowyer never ceased to be one of the Brethren, but he translated "worldly" into "bourgeois" or "suburban" or "banal." The modernists were infinitely more aesthetic and hedonistic than the chapelgoers, but they were not less priggish. The "religion" of Bloomsbury, as John Maynard Keynes recalled, "closely followed the English puritan tradition of being chiefly concerned with the salvation of our own souls. The divine resided within a closed circle." [40]

Now many readers will object that Carey and I are terribly unfair to the modernists. After all, E. M. Forster was a devoted teacher at the Working Men's College for many years, and he formed close friendships with well-read workingmen before and after he wrote Howards End. [4l] Carey has noted the same undeniable paradox: George Gissing, Virginia Woolf, T S. Eliot, and indeed most important intellectuals of this period contributed their services to the cause of adult education. Many of them clearly enjoyed reaching working-class students—and simultaneously retained a withering contempt for the "semi-educated" masses. [42]

I am not sure how to explain this contradiction, but I suspect it was rooted in the fact that clerks constituted a rising class in Edwardian Britain. Forster consigns Leonard Bast to the lowest depths of the lower middle class, clinging by his fingernails to gentility, until he loses his grip and is precipitated into the abyss of poverty. Individual clerks certainly were vulnerable to unemployment, but on the whole clerkdom was a growth industry in the Edwardian economy, with expanding job opportunities and rising salaries. Of course, a clerk like Bast, at the beginning of his career, would have a pretty meager wage; but unlike the Schlegel sisters, who had fixed incomes, Bast could took forward to a sharply rising earnings curve over a lifetime. One sample of ten insurance clerks, earning an average of £121 in 1890, were making £423 by 1914—enough to afford a comfortable suburban home, a couple of full-time servants, and private schools for their children. For one week's salary they could buy 160 Everyman's Library volumes of classic literature. [43] Compare that £423 with Virginia Woolf's private income of under £400; Forster and his mother had a combined inheritance of £15,000, which earned an estimated £450 annually. [44] Economically as well as culturally, the clerks were breathing down the necks of the rentier intellectuals. You can pity a Leonard Bast as long as he remains poor; you can undertake to educate him; you can even invite him to tea as long as he goes home afterwards to his slummy flat; but it is a very different matter when he can afford to move next door to you.

The problem is even more acute at the end of the twentieth century. The rentier intelligentsia is gone, and its functions have been taken over by tenured professors. They now earn less than the descendants of Leonard Bast, who have become middle-management insurance executives. What is worse, the masses have decoded modernism. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is on every freshman English syllabus; everyone works in a Le Corbusier office building; and Jackson Pollock paintings no longer took odd to anyone. So how does an intellectual keep his distance from the masses? How can he sustain the pretense that he has a special and higher sensibility? He has to move on to something more modern than modernism—postmodernism, which strives to recapture the opacity and difficulty that modernism once embodied. Postmodernists may profess to disdain "high culture" as "elitist," but their real objection to high culture is that it has become mass culture. For all their denunciations of cultural hierarchies, these same intellectuals reverence "high theory" precisely because that is still the exclusive property of an elite. The intelligentsia is migrating once again, like a genteel household that moves to ever more remote suburbs, to escape the crowds of the encroaching inner city.


EDITOR'S NOTE: This talk was presented as part of the Gilbert A. Cam Memorial Lecture Series in May 13, 1993 in the Trustees Room of the Central Research Library. Professor Rose spent 1993 on sabbatical, pursuing his research from the Wertheim Study in the Main Reading Room.

1. The Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice Among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880-1939 (London: Faber & Faber , 1992), chaps 1-2. [—> main text]

2. Anne Olivier Bell, ed., A Moment's Liberty: The Shorter Diary of Virginia Woolf (London: Hogarth Press, 1990), 145-46, 148. [—> main text]

3. Leonard Woolf, Growing: An Autobiography of the Years 1904 to 1911 (New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975), 63-66. [—> main text]

4. E. M. Forster, Howards End (London: Edward Arnold, 1973), chap. 6. [—> main text]

5. Ibid., 142. [—> main text]

6. Ibid., 320. [—> main text]

7. Ibid., 146. [—> main text]

8. Ibid., 336. [—> main text]

9. Ibid., 47-48. [—> main text]

10. W. J. Brown, So Far . . . (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1943), 27-28. [—> main text]

11. Sidney R. Campion, Only the Stars Remain (London: Rich & Cowan, 1946), 50-51. [—> main text]

12. "The Labour Party and the Books That Helped to Make It," Review of Reviews 33 (1906), 568-82. [—> main text]

13. J. R. Clynes, Memoirs: 1869-1924 (London: Hutchinson, 1937), 36. [—> main text]

14. George Hodgkinson, Sent to Coventry (London: Robert Maxwell and Co., 1970), 24. [—> main text]

15. Roger Dataller, "A Yorkshire Lad," typescript, Local Studies Department, Brian O'Malley Central Library, Rotherham, 133-34. [—> main text]

16. W. J. Brown, I Meet America (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1942), 51, 138. [—> main text]

17. Brown, So Far, 43-46. [—> main text]

18. Ibid., 49-55. [—> main text]

19. Neville Cardus, Autobiography (London: Collins 1947), 37-49. [—> main text]

20. Neville Cardus, Second Innings (London: Collins, 1950), 127-36. [—> main text]

21. Ibid., 102-8. [—> main text]

22. A. E. Coppard, It's Me, O Lord! (London: Methuen, 1957), 91, 105-8. [—> main text]

23. Thomas Burke, The Real East End (London: Constable, 1932), 7-13. [—> main text]

24. Thomas Burke, The Wind and the Rain (London: Thornton Butterworth, 1924), 181-84. [—> main text]

25. Ibid., 227-37. [—> main text]

26 Ibid., 246. [—> main text]

27 Carey, Intellectuals and the Masses, chap. 4. [—> main text]

28. Thomas Burke, Living in Bloomsbury (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1939), 312-313. [—> main text]

29. Carey, Intellectuals and the Masses, chap. 3. [—> main text]

30. Thomas Burke, The Outer Circle: Rambles in Remote London (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1921), 13-14. [—> main text]

31. Ibid., 59-64. [—> main text]

32. Forster, Howards End, 142. [—> main text]

33. Ibid., 60. [—> main text]

34. Thomas Burke, Son of London (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1946), 156-70. [—> main text]

35. William Bowyer, Brought Out in Evidence (London: Faber & Faber, 1941), 137-200. [—> main text]

36. Ibid., 220-30. [—> main text]

37. Ibid., 76-80. [—> main text]

38. Ibid., 110-14. [—> main text]

39. Ibid., 234-36. [—> main text]

40. John Maynard Keynes, Two Memoirs (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1949), 84. [—> main text]

41. P. N. Furbank, E. M. Forster: A Life (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978), I: 175-76; 2: 165-66. [—> main text]

42. Carey, Intellectuals and the Masses, 15-16, chap. 5. [—> main text]

43. T. R. Gourvish, "The Standard of Living, 1890-1914," in Alan O'Day, ed., The Edwardian Age: Conflict and Stability 1900-1914 (London: Macmillan, 1979), 23-24. [—> main text]

44. Nicola Beauman, A Biography of E. M. Forster (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1993), 156. [—> main text]


[Note: I do not have a copy of sufficient visual quality to reproduce the images from the original article here. Captions are reproduced below. —R. Dumain]

Figures 1-2: Plates from Ruskin's The Seven Lamps of Architecture (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1849). Ruskin's social criticism was a source of inspiration to the self-educated men who founded Britain's Labour Party. — Berg Collection

Figure 3: Plebs was the organ of the National Council of Labour Colleges, which rejected the liberal education offered by the Working Men's College in favor of a doctrinaire Marxist curriculum. — General Research Division

Figure 4: "The Working Men's College, Crowndale Road." The Working Men's College was founded in 1854 by F D. Maurice. E M. Forster taught Latin there for more than twenty years and befriended several of the students. Illustration from A History of the Working Men's College 1854-1954, by J. F. C. Harrison (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1954) — General Research Division

Figure 5: "The Oval Room, Working Men's College, Great Ormond Street," from A History of the Working Men's College 1854-1954

SOURCE: Rose, Jonathan. "Intellectuals Among the Masses: Or, What Was Leonard Bast Really Like?" Biblion, vol. 2, no. 2, Spring 1994, pp. 3-18.

Note: The text of this article was incorporated into chapter 12 of the author's book The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001, 2003).

©1994, 2003 Jonathan Rose. All rights reserved. Published by The Autodidact Project with permission of the author.

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