The World Broke in Two by Bill Goldstein

Review published on January 26, 2018.

Many writers, it seems, suffered for their work – none more so than Virginia Woolf, who killed herself, and DH Lawrence, whose work was continually banned and who left England feeling forever an outsider. At the beginning of 1922 they were both suffering from influenza and with little written work with which to present to their publishers.

Included in this one year that is covered by Goldstein are (to me at least) the less well-known lives of TS Eliot and EM Forster.

Yet within this meticulously researched book are the details of each author struggling towards another novel or poem and fighting depression (nervous breakdowns and weeks ‘away’ to recover abound) alongside the complications of their relationships, the dynamics of the literary world criticising, praising or even worse ignoring their talents, and the fallout from the end of WWI still affecting so many.

The recent TV drama of Forster’s Howard’s End has brought into focus the literature of the Edwardian area. The Bloomsbury group of Virginia and Leonard Woolf and their Hogarth Press were pivotal to a lot of the circle. This included their encouragement for Forster to get on with A Passage to India and Eliot finalising his masterpiece The Wasteland, with Lawrence somewhat on the periphery, yet producing some of best work as he visits Australia and then America with his German wife, finding foreigners more welcoming than his Nottinghamshire home town.

The author is American and this perspective is useful to observe the allure with which the writers were followed and admired across the Atlantic as Lawrence and Eliot particularly are imbued with epic praise.

The gossip from letters and diaries is illuminating – writers are notoriously jealous of the success of other writers and James Joyce seems a real target for bad mouthing!

Readers of the classics will like this book as a personal (and perhaps indulgent) treat, although it may not fit into many book club lists with ease. It does, however, provide a backdrop to re-read the works that appeared in 1922 from the four writers to see them in the context of the emotions with which they experienced through these twelve months.

Philipa Coughlan 5/3

The World Broke in Two by Bill Goldstein
Bloomsbury Circus 9781408894583 hbk Sep 2017


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