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Women Editing Modernism: 'Little' Magazines and Literary History.

The contents page for Vol. 4, no. 11 of the Little Review of March 1918, reprinted in Jayne E. Marek's Women Editing Modernism, is a revealing document. Featured among its list of trailblazing contributors are the names of Ford Madox Hueffer, James Joyce, Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound, and Arthur Symons. The editor of the magazine is Margaret Anderson, a woman whose name means little to most general readers and who is mentioned only rarely, if at all, in most of the classic studies of literary modernism. Yet, if not for Anderson, who would have heard of the others?

Anderson's case is paradigmatic. For up until the mid-1980s, even in an energetic climate of feminist revisionism of other literary periods, modernism was still perceived primarily as a male construct, with Virginia Woolf the only female figure to receive anything approaching sustained critical attention. In the last decade, however, feminist critics on both sides of the Atlantic have drawn attention to the enormous surge of creative energy and artistic experiment among women of the early twentieth century, many of them working side by side with more celebrated male contemporaries, and the long-overdue resurrection of writers as various as Djuna Barnes, H.D., Katherine Mansfield, Marianne Moore, Laura Riding, and Gertrude Stein has helped to build a very different model of literary modernism from the conventionally received version.

Women Editing Modernism sticks a further and very substantial puncture in the rapidly deflating balloon of male modernist supremacy. This thoughtful and scrupulously researched study of seven important women editors - Margaret Anderson, H.D., Winifred Ellerman (Bryher), Jane Heap, Alice Corbin Henderson, Harriet Monroe, and Marianne Moore - foregrounds their contribution to the genesis and publishing history of some of the most significant new work of the period. As Jayne E. Marek convincingly argues, it was their vision, commitment, and critical acumen, realized through their editorial practice in key avant-garde publications such as the Little Review, the Dial, and Close Up, which was to have such a profound impact on the shape and direction of the aesthetic revolution.

These 'high-minded ladies', as Robert McAlmon patronizingly referred to them, together with others whom Marek only mentions in passing here, such as Sylvia Beach, Nancy Cunard, Harriet Weaver, and Rebecca West, collectively display an astonishing combination of creative talent and critical insight. Yet more often than not these women played down their own contributions to the editorial enterprise in order to give credit to the men with whom they were associated. Marek touches on but does not fully explain this phenomenon, although her final chapter on the ambivalent interaction between such women and Ezra Pound exposes the paradoxical relationship that can exist between artist and editor as well as between male ego and female amanuensis. Notoriously, Pound publicly derided the achievements of the women who supported him while at the same time relying heavily on their efforts, and perhaps more than anyone else he was personally responsible for critical indifference to their accomplishments and their subsequent marginalization in literary history.

In general, however, the study does not adopt a defensive tone nor assume an automatically embattled feminist stance. Marek differentiates lucidly between her subjects, and her treatment of the minutiae of editorial practice forms a refreshing reminder of the essential conditions for the production and distribution of literary texts. Neither does she ignore the power of the incisive review in determining critical reception - 'Here is another man who hasn't written the great American novel', wrote Jane Heap shrewdly about Sherwood Anderson - and the resulting influence of women on the taste of their own and subsequent generations. When Ford Madox Ford complained that 'there are no efficient young men to manage things', he exposed his own complicity in the crime of making women invisible which was prevalent at the time and which has subsequently affected perceptions of the relative merit of participants in the literary process. Marek valuably reminds her readers of the true meaning of artistic collaboration at all stages of this process.

JUDY SIMONS Sheffield Hallam University
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Author:Simons, Judy
Publication:The Review of English Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 1998
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