Misrepresentations of Laura (Riding) Jackson

Misrepresentations of Laura (Riding) Jackson

Misrepresentations of Laura (Riding) Jackson begin early and end late, and, in fact, continue. The Seizin Press is a good enough example to begin with, it being of the earliest of times. All the biographers, for instance, of Robert Graves have presented the Press as though he were the founder of it, or if not his then with his name placed first: "In 1928 Robert Graves and Laura Riding set up the Seizin Press ... ", etc.As it happens, when it was first set up, the press was reported in The London Gazette of October, 1928, as follows:

THE SEIZIN PRESS; Laura Riding; Author; 35a, St. Peter's Square, Hammersmith, London, W. 6.

This information would be taken from the UK Companies House at the time, which is the official arm of the British Government for the registration of companies, the London Gazette being its government funded newspaper.

This little gem of information with regard to the founding and ownership of the Seizin Press has, ever after this date, been entirely disregarded by Gravesian scholars or 'little press' scholars, on the principle that Laura Riding was (and still is) considered a ne'er do well American interloper in English literature on the make. According to them, she was a destitute adventurer who, having no money of her own, lived off Robert Graves, .

Such 'scholars' of Graves ignore the fact that, by his own account in Goodby To All That (1929) he and his wife, Nancy Nicolson, were penniless in 1926, running a small village grocery in Boar's Hill, Oxford, imploring money from his parents to take care of their and their children's needs. Neither his shop-keeping nor his books made any financial progress up to the time Laura Riding Riding joined them in 1926. Graves would have had little enough money of his own to have funded the The Seizin Press in 1928.

So from whence did the money come? This raises a further question. In 1927 Riding and Graves published A Survey of Modernist Poetry for which Jonathon Cape gave them an advance, plus there might have been some royalties, although this is dubious given the time it takes for royalties to either accrue or be paid. It also needs to be considered that Riding had at least some money, enough, for example, to buy a ticket for her passage to England in January 1926, but it also needs to be considered that she and her husband, Louis Gottschalk, a university professor at Louiseville university, had just separated. What, one wonders, were the financial agreements between them? How did they divide their assets? It also needs to be taken into account that she may had earned money from her work in America, as with her translation of Anatole Frances At Home, by Marcel Le Goff  (New York: Adelphi, 1926), and, quite possibly, her poems in various magazines, and the promotional work she undertook at the time for Frank-Maurice, Inc, in New York (see Elizabeth Friedmann's biography, p.67). At any rate, she probably had more resort to finances than Graves whose parents had latterly refused to lend him any more money, again recorded in Goodbye To All That.

If we allow that the advance from Cape for A Survey plus possible royalties accrued  were the financial basis for purchasing the Seizin Press plus the necessary Caslon monotype, then this raises another controversial question: who was the main author of A Survey of Modernist Poetry.

The authors' names stated on the book are quite clear: 'by Laura Riding and Robert Graves'. As I have shown elsewhere, her name is first because she was the main author: A Survey is subtracted from a Riding book written at the same time as A Survey, Contemporaries and Snobs, which was published a few months later by Cape. All the methods in A Survey for reading poems, all the poets of note discussed, all the principles of what should be considered a 'genuine' poem or a fake, are in place and discussed in Contemporaries and Snobs. Even the final chapter of A Survey is adopted directly from it. But the tragedy of A Survey, a book well received at the time and which continues to be consulted today by astute academics, immediately arose because reviewers of it in the national newspapers referred to it as 'by Robert Graves', or 'by Robert Graves and Laura Riding', and it was seldom accorded the proper arrangement of names, with hers properly first. This misogynistic misattribution was something the two of them jointly highlighted the following year, 1928, when Cape published A Pamphlet Against Anthologies, another book which has its roots in Contemporaries and Snobs.

What has happened since then, in terms of modernist literature and literary studies, but in straight human terms, too, has been nothing less than disastrous. Generations of English students, scholars, plain readers, have been led down a garden path covered in weeds. Each of the four biographers of Robert Graves - Martin Seymour-Smith, Richard Perceval Graves, T. S. Matthews, Miranda Seymour, and more than possibly a fifth judging by her first volume, Jean Moorcroft Wilson - have, crazily, cast Riding as a 'witch' and a despotic mal-influence on Robert Graves, despite all his early pre-1940 comments to the contrary, despite all the evidence to the contrary, including her poems and books which not one of them give much if any evidence of having read apart from a pretended glance at this bit or that (none of them more than mention Contemporaries and Snobs, for instance), and despite the scholarship that has been undertaken since on Riding - the result of all this has been an extraordinary lost opportunity.

If we take but one instance of this lost opportunity from among a possible many, it has now been clearly demonstrated that William Empson took as the principal growth point of his Seven Types of Ambiguity the analysis presented in A Survey of Modernist Poetry of Shakespeare's Sonnet 129 which he extended to a book-length mode of criticism, contributing greatly to the 'New Criticism' of the last century as taught in the universities. This method of critical scrutiny ran for five decades and even beyond to the present day. And the sonnet analysis, as scholarship demonstrates, was by Riding, not Graves.

A Survey of Modernist Poetry, re-issued by Carcanet Press along withA Pamphlet Against Anthologies, is still much resorted to today as a text-book for the inception of 'modernism'.