Group ’27

Spanish novelist and critic Jose Joaquin Bermudez Olivares posting on the Spanish literary website¬†Todo Literatura has nominated a generation of English writers as Group ’27. He refers to a group of Spanish writers with a similar denomination, although their relevance to the English group is not particularly clear. It should be noted in this regard that the computer translation of the essay leaves much to be desired. Olivares introduces the English writers as follows:

All temporal division is relative, but there are several factors that lead me to use ’27 to characterize the authors that I will cite below. Born just after the death of Queen Victoria (1901) and, therefore, Edwardians – a term that would later become almost pejorative – affected in their adolescence by the Bolshevik coup of 1917, too young to fight in World War I, university students around 1921 (the annus mirabilis of In Search of Lost Time, Ulysses, Mrs. Dalloway …, they live through the general strike of 1926 at the end of their educations and they start publishing around 1928. We are talking about great men (and women) like George Orwell (Eric Blair), Cyril Connolly, Evelyn Waugh, Nancy Mitford, Henry Green, Anthony Powell … without wishing to be exhaustive.

Olivares then, without much justification, strikes Orwell from the list. This is explained because he didn’t attend Oxford, as did the others (except Mitford), nor did he associate himself with each of them, as they did with each other. That is not entirely fair since Orwell did attend Eton with Connolly, Powell, and Green, and was friends of both Connolly and Powell and, latterly, with Waugh. Mitford is also somewhat set apart as the only aristocrat at a time when English women rarely enrolled in universities. Conspicuous by his absence is Graham Greene (b. 1904) who was a student at Balliol College, Oxford.

Olivares next briefly explains the importance of the group:

It can be said that, at the time, the one with the greatest impact was Waugh, better known now for Brideshead Revisited (and the unforgettable television series […]), ¬†than for, at the time, the massive sales successes with his youthful novels: Vile Bodies, A Handful of Dust, Decline and Fall, Scoop …, that the most cultured was Cyril Connolly (author of The Unquiet Grave and for many years editor of the influential Horizon magazine), the most hermetic, Henry Green ¬†(pseudonym of H. Yorke), author of Party Going and the finest and most elegant, Anthony Powell (at least so thought his friend Kingsley Amis), with his dozen novels grouped together as A Dance to the Music of the Time.

The influences on the Group of ’27 are then considered:

[…] If we had to seek intellectual influences on these authors, I would look at their “older brothers”: Aldous Huxley (1894), Dorothy Sayers (1893) or Maurice Bowra (1898). It should be noted that social environment, the milieu, is more important to them than ideology: they wrote about each other, lived in daily contact, frequented the same places in London and identical vacation destinations … they were an elite within a very small social group. Nancy Mitford amused herself in compiling a glossary of terms used by the upper class […].

It would also suffice to read Waugh’s A Little Learning on Connolly [?¬†Tambi√©n bastar√≠a con leer Una educaci√≥n incompleta de Connolly sobre Waugh], Powell’s At Lady Molly’s or Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate (Waugh himself was in love with her sister Diana and, after her wedding to the heir to the Guinness brewery, dedicated to the couple his Vile Bodies of 1930). Not all of these works are necessarily of the roman a clef type, but the “joyful deathbeds” [?¬†“alegres lechos de muerte”], to use an expression of Connolly, which fill them are often their own shared or solitary beds.

An important point would be who can we consider as the [literary] influence on this group? […] Curiously, those references seem to be all poetic: Eliot, Pound, Yeats, Apollinaire, Val√©ry … but only Connolly occasionally wrote poetry; it is true that Eliot and Val√©ry were important critics. On the other hand, it is curious that these referents were politically “reactionary”, at least in an aesthetic sense and, in the case of Pound even with criminal consequences, while Mitford, Orwell and Connolly were, nominally Marxist, with a strong commitment during the Spanish Civil War.

Thus it seems that, like most groups, these “twenty-sevens” were more aligned “against” than “for”. […] The question that ¬†arises is whether today, a century later, Conrad and James are more provincial than Waugh or Powell.

Or perhaps it is that literature is a continuum, where each work occupies its place, like a tile, in the great mosaic that we contemporaries, too close, cannot see; and groups, schools and generations are mere mnemonic pretexts to save us the effort of detailed and conscious reading. Fortunately, many of these authors’ works have recently been rescued in Spanish […]. Perhaps this time of isolation is a good occasion for your (re) reading.

Olivares was originally an academic biochemist but switched professions, publishing his first novel in 2017: El ultimo de Cuba. As noted above, the Google translation of his essay is not particularly good in this case. Some of our readers may want to comment or correct the edited version quoted above or discuss some of the deleted portions of the essay that defied editorial efforts. The Spanish original is available at this link.

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