The Space Between: Literature and Culture 1914-1945

Dispatches from the Intermodernist Archive | "Latent Energy": Mulk Raj Anand's Letter to Langston Hughes

Edited and Introduction by
Amanda Golden
New York Institute of Technology

[Editor's Note:  With the 2019 issue, our fifteenth, we are pleased to inaugurate a new feature in The Space Between: Literature and Culture 1914–1945:  "Dispatches from the Intermodernist Archive."  This regular feature, edited by Amanda Golden, will offer documents and other artifacts that provide new critical insight into the space between.]

When the Indian writer Mulk Raj Anand returned to England from Spain during the Spanish Civil War, authorities confiscated his passport. The inability to travel meant Anand would miss the Second International Writers’ Congress in Paris in 1937, where he was to see Langston Hughes. As their meeting could no longer take place, Anand sent an effusive letter that remains with Hughes’s papers in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. While scholars have taken great interest in Anand’s work and its relationship to global modernism, the contents of his letter to Hughes have hitherto not been reproduced.1 In this letter, published here for the first time, Anand speaks to his political goals, those he hoped Hughes would help him realize. In doing so, Anand envisions the impact that “the latent energy of the people of India” will have when “unleashed.” The phrase “latent energy” is one that can also speak to an artifact, static and meaningless until read and interpreted. In this case, Hughes not only gave Anand’s ideas a larger audience, but also enabled his transcendence of the limitations he faced in England.

In his letter to Hughes, Anand’s choice of words revises those that he attributes to Gandhi in Untouchable, published two years earlier in 1935. In Untouchable, Gandhi tells his listeners, “[w]e can envisage the possibility of creating new races from the latent heat in our dark brown bodies. Life is still an adventure for us. We are still eager to learn” (153).2 Impressing upon Hughes the power Anand sees in India, the formerly racialized “brown bodies” become the “people of India.” Changing “heat” to “energy” is more modern, gesturing to infrastructure and technology.3 Anand’s reliance on the word “latent” does not end here; it becomes an anchor as he writes on behalf of the Progressive Writers’ Organization.4 While readers of Untouchable are aware of Gandhi’s influence on the novel, Anand’s letter reflects the ways that he mobilizes Gandhi’s words, even if he was unaware of doing so.5 In the process, Anand relies on them as a source of strength as he appeals to a renowned poet and public figure like Hughes.6      

Hughes’s role as an international political celebrity was undoubtedly a factor in Anand’s desire to make his acquaintance.7 When considering Claude McKay’s collection of Nancy Cunard clippings dating from 1932, Jeremy Braddock argues that this archive records “McKay’s interest in the political potential of Cunard’s iconicity,” and points out that their exchange is the result of what Jennifer Wicke sees as “unexpected networks of affiliation, exchange, and transformation set into motion by and through celebrity” (Wicke 1138–39; qtd. in Braddock 8). Anand stresses to Hughes that the members of the Indian Progressive Writers' Organization

are unanimously pledged to support the International Association of Writers in every aspect of the campaign against Fascism, the enemy of culture and human progress. We in India have lived under the reign of terror spread by British Imperialism, the reign of terror which was the precursor of Hitlerism, the harbinger of Mussolini’s Fascism, the reign of terror which taught the world the methods of the concentration camp and mass imprisonment, of the suppression of freedom of thought and speech.

Each time Anand repeats “reign of terror,” he does so with greater urgency, shifting his attention to the current political climate, which would have been of concern to Hughes and others in attendance at the Second International Writers’ Congress in Paris.8

Addressing the Congress, Hughes recounts receiving Anand’s letter, pointing to his treatment by the authorities as a symptom of larger injustices that must come to an end: “Today a letter comes from the great Indian writer, Raj Anand, saying he cannot be with us here in Paris because the British police in England have taken his passport from him. I say, we darker people of the earth are tired of a world in which things like this can happen” (98). The confiscation of Anand’s passport is one of many instances in which those in power have stood in the way of progress. Hughes asks, “Why is it that the British police seized Raj Anand’s passport? Why is it that the State Department in Washington has not yet granted me permission to go to Spain as a representative of the Negro Press. Why is it that the young Negro leader, Angelo Herndon, was finding it most difficult to secure a passport when I last saw him recently in New York? Why? We know why!” (99). When he left for Spain, as J. Ashley Foster puts it, Anand was “intending to combat fascism on the front lines” (284).9 It is this desire that Hughes argues poses a threat to those in power. He concludes: “It is because the reactionary and Fascist forces of the world know that writers like Anand and myself...long to be rid of hatred and terror and oppression, to be rid of conquering and being conquered, to be rid of all the ugliness of poverty and imperialism that eat away the hearts of life today” (99). Appealing to the “hearts of life,” Hughes broadens the “tenderness” to which Anand had gestured when pointing out that “[t]he genius of India has always been for the recognition of tenderness among men as the goal of civilisation.” The heart Hughes that envisions is threatened by destruction, evoking a more ominous sentiment, one that will call Hughes’s audience to action.

Perhaps to a greater extent than the Bloomsbury writers whom Anand admired, he may have sought to emulate Hughes, envisioning a more significant global presence in politics and culture. Writing to Hughes, Anand breaks away in certain respects from the constellation of British and Irish modernist influences with which critics have associated him.10 Although he was a part of Bloomsbury intellectual life, his politics differed to some degree from theirs. As Foster points out, Anand felt that “while many British intellectuals fancied themselves progressive at bottom they ‘believed in Pax Britannica’, and were ‘allergic to Gandhi, because he only wore a loincloth’” (284).11 Hughes, as we have seen, does not hesitate to critique imperialism. The survival of Anand’s folded letter also suggests that Hughes may have saved it and valued the exchange. Seeing the space that Anand’s words take on the page further draws into relief the physicality of such an artifact. It is a remnant of the connection that Hughes and Anand shared and a source of its energy.

Notes to Introduction

1 I thank Kewal Anand for permission to publish Mulk Raj Anand’s letter to Langston Hughes. I am also grateful to Jessica Berman, Elizabeth J. Donaldson, Dennis Duncan, J. Ashley Foster, Alys Moody, Emily Mohn-Slate, Nico Slate, and Rebecca Walsh. Slate discusses Hughes’s speech from the Second International Writers’ Conference in Paris (July 1937), in which he mentions receiving Anand’s letter (The Prism of Race 66). Hughes’s speech was published in The Volunteer for Liberty (August 23, 1937) and The Crisis (September 1937), and collected in Good Morning Revolution. I thank Slate for bringing this passage and source to my attention.  See also his related work in Colored Cosmopolitanism.

2 Writing Untouchable, Anand broadens the implications in Gandhi’s essay on “Hinduism.”  Referring to untouchables, Gandhi argues that “immense possibilities lie latent in them” (167). While Baer does not discuss this portion, he provides the page numbers of this essay and the prior essay in The Gandhi Reader, “The Untouchables,” as a source for Gandhi’s speech in Untouchable.

3 Rubenstein has addressed the role of infrastructure and creative production in Public Works. See also Rubenstein, "Life Support." 

4 Anand’s use of the word “latent” continues to accompany more encompassing statements. In 1939, he writes: “The latent genius of the masses enslaved for thousands of years will through, education, enlightenment, and organization of that enlightenment, liberate our nation” (Anand, “On the Progressive Writers’ Movement” 18–19; qtd. in Baer 584).

5 See Berman for further consideration of Gandhi’s role in the novel.

6 See Baer regarding Gandhi’s relationship to the Progressive Writers’ Movement.

7 See also the work of Walsh, who presented “Passages to and From India: Langston Hughes and Indian Anti-Colonial Movements” at the annual meeting of the Modernist Studies Association in 2015. Marcus also includes passages from a letter she received from Anand in 1997 in her Coda to Hearts of Darkness. In it, he discusses how Coolie began as a reaction to T. S. Eliot’s regard for Kipling’s protagonist in Kim (181–82). The letter itself is a form of interest in Anand’s career, publishing as he did Letters on India (1942) and, Clark notes, having read Marx’s Letters on India (1853) in 1932 (79).

8 Writing in 1937, Anand is also continuing the efforts he articulates at the end of Coolie, which he published the year before. Marcus argues that “[t]he last chapter of Coolie builds a platform for the victims of Empire to talk back to Europe” (173). What Marcus describes as Anand’s “talking back to Europe” can also be seen in his broadcasting for the BBC, which has been an interest of critics that include Kalliney, Berman, and Morse.  See also Bluemel's consideration of Anand in George Orwell and the Radical Eccentrics.

9 See Conversations in Bloomsbury and Berman regarding Anand and Joyce.

10 The organization also published the Left Book Club Anthology.

11 Foster is quoting from Anand in Conversations in Bloomsbury (8).

Transcription of "Latent Energy":  Mulk Raj Anand's Letter to Langston Hughes

                                                             As [?] from,
                                                                        7 Woburn Buildings
                                                                                     W. C. 11
      10 . 7 . 37
My dear Hughes,
                        I was very happy indeed to hear
from you, whom I have always admired, to whose each
book of poems I have looked forward, to hear from
you personally. And, reading your letter I realised how
much I have missed not going to Valencia: I should have met
you and others who have sung of the oppressed. But this
was not to be, as since my visit to Spain in March
I have been living in a panic due to the seizure
of my passport. I was assured that I would be
given facilities to travel and didn’t raise much
dust about the way in which the Folkestone customs
& police treated me. I am still hoping that when the
wind blows over, my freedom of action and speech
will be restored. But for the while I am
handicapped and live in a continual state of
nervous tension. For this reason you will understand
that I shall not be able to enjoy the privilege
of coming over to Paris for the 16th.

                         I sent a message on behalf of
the Indian Progressive Writers’ Association and I hope
that was read at the Conference in Valencia.2
                        Meanwhile, I would like you to
assure the secretariat that the Indian Progressive

                        [end page one]

Writers’ Association, one of the largest trade unions
of writers in Asia, are unanimously pledged to
support the International Association of Writers in
every aspect of the campaign against Fascism, the
enemy of culture and of human progress. We in India
have lived under the reign of terror spread by British
Imperialism, the reign of terror which was the precursor
of Hitlerism, the harbinger of Mussolini’s fascism, the a
reign of terror which taught the world the methods of
the concentration camp and mass imprisonment, we have [?]
of the suppression of freedom of thought and speech. We
have suffered and we know the implications of each
word and gesture in a protest such as yours through
the agony of our long suffering.

                        Nor are we allied to the International
Association of Writers only thus [then?] negatively. Because when the
latent energy of the people of India is finally
unleashed it will have a constructive contribution
to make to both cultures, with its ever increasing [?] the
new humanism that must come to be if the world
is to take the corner on the dangerous cross-roads
of history when to which it is moving today. The
genius of India has always been for the recognition of
tenderness among men as the goal of civilisation. And,
if the economic contrasts of Feudalism have in the
past brought about extremes of barbarism and
extremes of humanity, I am sure that the coming of
a better economic justice [?] and more equitable
                          [end page two]

order will bring about realise, for the first time in
India’s long history, the tenderness to which it has
always aspired, the new [?] humanism to the making of
which it has is already making it [?] frequent contributions.

                        Please believe, dear comrade, that I
cherish with gratitude the courtesy wh [?] with which you
and the International Association honoured me with
as in a renewed [?] invitation to the Congress, and I
hope that your deliberations will help to clarify
the many issues that are facing us, that are imperiling
our lives, today.

                        If you are in London soon, please
try and get in touch with me, and do let us

                        And, perhaps, when you convey my
message to the secretariat you will assure them
that I shall continue to send them information
about the progress of the work that the Indian
Progressive Writers’ Association are doing in India.

                        With kindliest wishes,
                                   Yours sincerely,
                                         Mulk Raj Anand

                          [end page three]

Notes to Transcription

1 Address of Promode Ranjan Sen Gupta, secretary of the Left Book Club Discussion Group. At other times, Anand lived at 8 St George’s Mews, Regent’s Park Road, London. Regarding Bloomsbury, see Blair. In her keynote presentation at the Annual Conference on Virginia Woolf, Nasta also displayed a map of Colonial writers in London.

2 See “Progressive Writers’ Association,” Making Britain. 

Works Cited

Anand, Mulk Raj. Conversations in Bloomsbury. Oxford, 1995.

---. Letter to Langston Hughes Box 7, Folder 154, Langston Hughes Papers, JWJ MSS 26. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

---. Letters on India. G. Routledge & Sons, ltd., 1942.

---. “On the Progressive Writers’ Movement.” Marxist Cultural Movement in India: Chronicles and Documents (1936–47), edited by Sudhi Pradham, National Book Agency, 1979.

---. Untouchable. 1935. Penguin, 1940.

Baer, Ben Conisbee. “Shit Writing: Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable, the Image of Gandhi, and the Progressive Writers’ Association.” Modernism/modernity, vol. 16, no. 3, 2009, pp. 575–95.

Berman, Jessica. Modernist Commitments: Ethics, Politics, and Transnational Modernism. Columbia UP, 2011.

Blair, Sara. “Local Modernity, Global Modernism: Bloomsbury and the Places of the Literary.” ELH, vol. 71, no. 3, 2004, pp. 813–38.

Bluemel, Kristin. George Orwell and the Radical Eccentrics: Intermodernism in Literary London. Palgrave, 2004.

Braddock, Jeremy. “Media Studies 1932: Nancy Cunard in the Archive of Claude McKay.” Modernism/modernity PrintPlus, Vol. 3, Cycle 2, May 30, 2018, accessed July 13, 2018.

Clark, Katerina. “Indian Leftist Writers of the 1930s Maneuver among India, London, and Moscow: The Case of Mulk Raj Anand and His Patron Ralph Fox.” Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History, vol. 18, no. 1, 2017, pp. 63–68.

Foster, J. Ashley.  “Bloomsbury and War.” The Handbook to the Bloomsbury Group, edited by Derek Ryan and Stephen Ross, Bloomsbury, 2018, pp. 277–93.

Gandhi, Mahatma. The Gandhi Reader: A Sourcebook of His Life and Writings, edited by Homer A. Jack, Indiana UP, 1956.

Hughes, Langston.  “Too Much of Race.” In The Volunteer for Liberty (August 23, 1937). Good Morning Revolution: Uncollected Social Protest Writings, edited by Faith Berry, L. Hill, 1973, pp. 97–99.

Kalliney, Peter. Commonwealth of Letters: British Literary Culture and the Emergence of Postcolonial Aesthetics. Oxford UP, 2013.

Making Britain: Discover How South Asians Shaped the Nation, 1870–1950. The Open University, accessed July 6, 2018.

Marcus, Jane. Hearts of Darkness: White Women Write Race. Rutgers UP, 2004.

Morse, Daniel Ryan. “Only Connecting? E. M. Forster, Empire Broadcasting and the Ethics of Distance.” Journal of Modern Literature, vol. 34, no. 3, 2011, pp. 87–105. 

Nasta, Susheila. “The Bloomsbury Indians.” Keynote Presentation. Annual Conference on Virginia Woolf, June 30, 2017, Reading, U.K.

Rubenstein, Michael. "Life Support: Energy, Environment and Infrastructure in the Novels of Mohsin Hamid." Post45.  July 3, 2017, accessed August 18, 2019.

---. Public Works: Infrastructure, Irish Modernism, and the Postcolonial. Oxford UP, 2010.

Slate, Nico. Colored Cosmopolitanism: The Shared Struggle for Freedom in the United States and India. Harvard UP, 2012.

---. The Prism of Race: W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson and the Colored World of Cedric Dover. Palgrave, 2014.

Wicke, Jennifer. “Epilogue: Celebrity’s Face Book.” PMLA, vol. 126, no. 4, 2011, pp. 1131–39.


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