Rethinking the Real: Modernist Realisms in Close Up and Life and Letters To-day, 1927-1939

Sarah Chadfield

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis analyses the work of the POOL group – Kenneth Macpherson, Bryher, H.D., and Robert Herring, with the addition of Muriel Rukeyser – in terms of the modernist realisms that were emerging in the context of the journals Close Up (1927-1933) and Life and Letters To-day (1935-1950). Starting from the premise that the modern age was concerned with representing new forms of reality, it is argued that writers’ invocations of ‘the real’ signal those points in modernism where meanings coalesce.

The thesis has four chapters. The first three argue that the real was a central concept in Close Up: Macpherson and Bryher believed that films had the potential to capture ‘real’ psychology, and often expressed this through idiosyncratic psychoanalytic readings of cinema; while H.D. thought that film, like other artworks, could loosen the binds of a singular reality and allow access to multiple realities simultaneously. These ideas were articulated and reconfigured in their writings for both journals and their other works from the period.

The final chapter examines Robert Herring’s editorship of Life and Letters To-day, and argues that the group’s understanding of the real changed in the context of the 1930s. With the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, Herring attempted to shock his readers’ conscience by publishing often-graphic first hand accounts of the fighting. The young poet Muriel Rukeyser provided the journal with its first eyewitness account from Spain, a text that demonstrates the challenges of writing a personal account of political events while asserting their historical significance. Across these four chapters this thesis aims to show that modernism and realism were in dialogue, and that critical understandings of the POOL group are enriched by bringing these terms together.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Armstrong, Tim, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Jun 2017
Publication statusUnpublished - 30 May 2017


  • Modernism
  • Hilda Doolittle
  • Pool Group
  • Cinema
  • Realism

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