The Space Between: Literature and Culture 1914-1945

Book Review | Time and Tide: The Feminist and Cultural Politics of a Modern Magazine

Time and Tide: The Feminist and Cultural Politics of a Modern Magazine. By Catherine Clay. Edinburgh University Press, 2018. 320 pp. $110 (cloth); $33.95 (paper); $110 (ebook/PDF); $33.95 (ebook/epub).

Reviewed by Barbara Green, University of Notre Dame

In November 1925, Naomi Royde-Smith reviewed two books for the feminist weekly Time and Tide: Sylvia Lynd’s short fiction collection, The Mulberry Bush and Other Stories, and Rose Macaulay’s essay collection, A Casual Commentary. In a new study of this important magazine, Time and Tide: The Feminist and Cultural Politics of a Modern Magazine, Catherine Clay uses this episode to describe the magazine’s promotion of a modern criticism that refused the stance of detached impersonality and instead invited critics to “make themselves heard as ‘flesh and blood’ readers connected—as their reviews also sometimes make visible—to other flesh and blood writers, artists and critics” (97). Royde-Smith, Clay tells us, frankly acknowledged that in a “‘small and friendly’” literary arena, “‘the time must come when each of us is asked to review the book of a friend,’” but then resolved this problem by “making her friendship with the authors a model for the ideal writer-reader relationship” (98). Clay uses this example, one among many, to argue that the magazine Time and Tide provides a rich archive of modes of cultural engagement that have been largely overlooked in critical studies of the period. This example also suggests that “the time must come” for the author of this review to acknowledge that she has co-edited a publication with the author of the volume reviewed.1

Catherine Clay’s Time and Tide: The Feminist and Cultural Politics of a Modern Magazine is the first monograph to study this important interwar weekly magazine in detail, and it shows by example how an in-depth study of a single periodical can reshape “current critical narratives about both literature and feminism in Britain during the interwar period” (1). Clay’s book puts feminism at the heart of the modern media environment and reveals how this woman-owned publication became a key showcase for the work of women writers both as contributors and board members. Even a very partial list of the women affiliated with the magazine is impressive: Elizabeth Robins, Cicely Hamilton, Rebecca West, Winifred Holtby, and E. M. Delafield were board members and contributors; Iris Barry, Stella Benson, Elizabeth Bowen, Kay Boyle, Marganita Laski, Sylvia Lynd, Rose Macaulay, Naomi Mitchison, Kate O’Brien, Jean Rhys, Naomi Royde-Smith, May Sarton, Christopher St. John, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Vita Sackville-West, E. H. Young, and E. Ayrton Zangwill were among the many women writers who published in Time and Tide. Clay argues that Time and Tide “has much to contribute to revisionary accounts of the period” and this impact is especially evident as Clay explores the magazine’s diverse contents, which included book reviews, theater reviews, literary criticism, and film criticism as well as short fiction and other creative work (75). Through these materials, the magazine developed a “feminist modernist criticism” and featured the “feminine middlebrow” (130, 178). Time and Tide saw itself as an intellectual weekly, and Clay gives equal attention to the rich mix of genres in the magazine, highlighting not only literary content but also commentary on national and international matters, articles addressing women’s politics, recurring features, and article series covering topics of the day.

Clay breaks her study into three parts, each reflecting a phase in the magazine’s history: the early years from the magazine’s founding by Lady Margaret Rhondda in 1920 to 1928; the years of expansion from 1928-1935; and a period of reorientation from 1935-1939. In Part I, Clay describes the magazine’s most overtly feminist phase. The first chapter is devoted to the care with which the magazine handled its relationship to the “‘feminist’ or ‘women’s periodical’ category,” alternately disavowing and embracing this aspect of its identity (16). Though Time and Tide had an all-female board of directors and an investment in equalitarian feminism, the magazine sometimes wore its feminism lightly. Drawing on advertisements and behind the scenes negotiations (the phrase “unpublished evidence” recurs throughout the project and  indicates the depth of archival research that shores up this project), Clay tracks where Time and Tide muted its status as a women’s periodical and where it leaned deliberately into a “‘frankly feminist’” stance, as in the “Women’s Programme” of 1920 that launched the Six Point Group, the interwar equal rights feminist organization (20, 21). One of the strengths of this longitudinal study of Time and Tide is that it takes the time for latitudinal work as well, mapping the ever-changing periodical communities relevant at a particular moment in the publication’s history. While feminist periodicals such the Woman’s Leader provided one periodical community for the magazine in its early years (as addressed in Clay’s first chapter), the socialist press provided another. The second chapter explores this engagement through an investigation of the recurring feature, “The Weekly Crowd” by “Chimaera” (poet and short story writer Eleanor Farjeon). Chimaera’s seemingly lighthearted play with questions of leisure pushed back against Time and Tide’s investment in a feminist “‘duty’ to work” by drawing on depictions of holiday leisure in the radical and socialist press (36). Readers of this journal may be particularly interested in the story Clay has to tell in the third chapter on the publication’s cultural criticism, since in its reviewing Time and Tide offered readers a feminist “mediation of culture,” particularly in the theater and film criticism of Christopher St. John and the book reviews of Rose Macaulay, Sylvia Lynd, and Naomi Royde-Smith (76).

Parts II and III, covering the periods 1928-1935 and 1935-1939 respectively, have the greatest potential to shift dominant readings of the magazine since they show that “feminism remained a central motivating and shaping force” even as the magazine seemed to distance itself from the overt feminist engagements of the early phase (4). In Chapter Four, a master class on how to read a periodical through its advertisements, Clay reads Rhondda’s efforts to compete with the intellectual weeklies (the Nation and Athenaeum or the New Statesman) through strategies designed to attract new readers and advertisers, rebranding the magazine “as a more general-audience review,” even while she maintained a reader base of professional working women (107). Similarly, in Chapter Five Clay tracks the simultaneous increase in the use of male contributors in the magazine offset by the anonymous, signed, and pseudonymous contributions of Winifred Holtby, many of which contributed to the magazine’s enhanced coverage of international politics. Through a reading of the successful middlebrow “Diary of a Provincial Lady” series by E. M. Delafield and attention to the "Miscellany" section, which published short stories by prominent women writers (such as Bowen, Rhys, and Warner), Chapter Six shows that Time and Tide remained devoted to middlebrow culture and its “core female readership” even as it began to promote professional approaches to literary criticism (179). The final section explores the challenging years between 1935-1939 when many of the key features of the magazine as a women’s periodical, such as the focus on middlebrow culture, had disappeared, or been reduced, such as the number of women’s signatures. However, Clay’s careful archival work into board member and contributor Theodora Bosanquet’s experimental automatic writings complicate this picture. Bosanquet’s automatic writings expressed a feminist “metacommentary” that informed her approach, though these musings were not included in her book reviews. For Clay, these mystical writings suggest the “female perspectives which continued to inform the periodical from beneath” (252, 253).

Clay’s meticulously researched book is crucial reading for periodical studies scholars and those interested in gender and modernity more broadly. Given the recent release of a new subscription digital archive of Time and Tide (Adam Matthew, Interwar Culture collection), now is an excellent time for researchers to follow Clay and investigate this important weekly.

1 Catherine Clay, Maria DiCenzo, Barbara Green, and Fiona Hackney, editors. Women's Periodicals and Print Culture in Britain, 1918-1939: The Interwar Period, Edinburgh UP, 2017.

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