Ethel Mannin, he eldest of the three children of Robert Mannin, a postal worker and Edith Gray, a farmer's daughter, was born in Clapham on 11th October 1900. Her father was a socialist and encouraged her to have a career. In her biography she recalled: "My father does not care how I achieve happiness so long as I achieve it."
Her parents sent her to a local private school: In Confessions and Impressions (1930) she recalled: "The school called itself a preparatory school, hut for what it could possibly prepare anyone it would be impossible to say.... I was so agonisingly shy and timid that I was fair game for the older children's teasing. A group of the older girls would amuse themselves by tormenting me until I would say a funny little obscene word...here was also a girl of about twelve whom I thought both grown-up and beautiful, immeasurably beyond me, but she had nothing but contempt for me. She wore petticoats with wide lace to them, and knickers with coloured ribbons run through. She was fond of doing high kicks-presumably to show off this seductive lingerie. I knew a curious quickening of the senses at the sight of her; she was a dashing and lovely being infinitely removed from me. But I have forgotten her name. I suppose that it is because I unconsciously shrink from the memory of her. She was one of my sadistic persecutors."
As a young girl she began writing stories and the first of these appeared in the Lady's Companion in 1910. In 1915 she won a scholarship to attend a commercial school in London. According to her autobiography, Mannin fell in love with one of her teachers: "I loved her, dear heavens, how I loved her! Once when she kissed me at the end of one of our precious lovely Saturday afternoons I walked home in a trance of ecstasy. I loved her literally so much that it hurt, and she was for me the meaning of all things that are." The teacher was also a a member of the Independent Labour Party and the Fabian Society: "Through this Miss X I learned about George Bernard Shaw, the Fabians, Jingoism, and the Independent Labour Party."
After leaving school she found employment as a typist for the advertising agency, Charles F. Higham Ltd. She later recalled "I was given twenty-three shillings a week and was tremendously excited and happy." The following year Charles Frederick Higham promoted her to the post of copywriter. "At sixteen I was writing advertisements, running two house-organs - business magazines - and when I was seventeen was publishing my own stories, articles, verses, in a monthly magazine which Higham bought and left to me to produce." Her employer was to have a great influence on her career: "I have never met anyone to equal him; for sheer individuality he stands head and shoulders above all the others. He has a dynamic quality which I have never found in the same degree of intensity in anyone else.... We are alike in that we both know what we want of life and set out to get it by the most direct route and with unfaltering determination."
Mannin began a relationship with an artist who worked for Higham. "Every evening J.S. and I would have tea together and talk... He did most of the talking. I could not talk. I listened and my young mind sucked up knowledge like a sponge absorbing water." He introduced her to the work of Thomas Paine and Robert Green Ingersoll. She later recalled: "I was deeply religious until I was sixteen, and then the artist... who was my real education, put into my hands the essays of Robert Green Ingersoll and Thomas Paine's Age of Reason, together with a Rational Press Association Annual, and I became an agnostic." He also lent her books and articles by John Stuart Mill, William Morris, Upton Sinclair, Eugene V. Debs, Graham Wallas, Robert Cunningham Graham and Peter Kropotkin. On Sunday afternoons they went to Finsbury Park and heard Tom Mann speak.
In her autobiography, Confessions and Impressions (1930), she wrote: "I loved him in the perfervid way in which I had loved my Miss X., but at fifteen I was completely sexually unawakened, and even at sixteen, towards the end of our year's association, any manifestation of love-making from him completely bewildered me. I was sixteen and he was twenty-six. I became sufficiently awakened towards the end of the friendship to want to kiss and to be kissed by him, but any caressive intimacy from him merely troubled me. It seemed queer, and I resented it a little and wished he wouldn't." He was a conscientious objector during the First World War and in 1917 he returned to New Zealand in order to avoid joining the British Army.
In 1918 she became romantically involved with John Alexander Porteus (1885–1956), who was the general manager at Highams. She later wrote that during this period that "this friendship lit by passion" was the "happiest I have ver known". On 28th November, 1919, Mannin married Porteus: "I was a very young nineteen, in spite of the experimental adventurings - too young, and too much in love, to be depressed by the dreary registry office, the cold foggy day, and the fact that we had no money and no home." Soon after her marriage she gave birth to her only child, Jean.
With a young baby to look after, Mannin now worked from home. She still wrote advertisements and edited journals for Charles Frederick Higham: "I had a retainer fee from Higham... and increased my journalistic freelance output, and wrote extensively in the provincial press... My output was tremendous; the payment was small as it always is for a beginner. Eventually she turned to novel writing and published Martha in 1923. According to one critic, the novel "elaborately plots the life of the lovechild of an unmarried woman and the price the child has to pay for the sins of the parents." This was followed by the Hunger for the Sea (1924), Sounding Brass (1925) and Pilgrims (1927). The author of The Feminist Companion to Literature in English has argued that "these are socially and politically conscious works, alert to women's oppression".
In 1929 Mannin and Porteus separated and she bought a small house in Wimbledon. Her first volume of autobiography, Confessions and Impressions appeared in 1930. According to her biographer, Beverly E. Schneller: "In 1931 she published her first book of short stories, Green Figs, and her literary success made her popular with the press, who were eager for her progressive views on sexuality, motherhood and professionalism, and marriage."
Mannin was a supporter of progressive education and sent her daughter to Summerhill School. In 1931 she published Common Sense and the Child, a book about the educational theories of A. S. Neill. She argued that "all outside compulsion is wrong... inner compulsion is the only value". Mannin also suggested that "there is no such thing as the naughty child... there are only happy children and unhappy children." She also produced a novel, Linda Shawn (1932), on the subject of progressive education. Love's Winnowing (1932) was her first openly politically novel. In 1934 she began an affair with W. B. Yeats.
Mannin was political active and had declared herself to be a socialist in her early twenties. In 1935 she joined the Independent Labour Party and contributed articles to its journal, The New Leader. In 1936 she travelled to the Soviet Union but in her book, South to Samarkland, she expressed her disillusionment with communism although she always remained firmly on the left. Mannin married Reginald Reynolds, a fellow member of the ILP on 23rd December 1938. She became friendly with Emma Goldman and her next novel, Red Rose, was based on the life of her friend.
Mannin produced seven volumes of autobiography and fourteen travel books, recording her visits to Germany, India, Morocco, Burma, Egypt, Jordan, Italy, and elsewhere. In 1958 she published her first children's books. Mannin also published several books on philosophy including Loneliness: a Study of the Human Condition (1966) and Practitioners of Love: some Aspects of the Human Phenomenon (1969).
Virginia Nicholson, the author of Among the Bohemians (2002) argues: "Ethel Mannin didn't resent the passing of youth, but she felt displaced in the post-War world of the 1950s... In old age her pleasures were correspondingly elderly - good wine, good books, and her roses. Her robust impatience with humbug remained vigorous however. She continued to travel, espoused Buddhism, and signed up to a variety of liberal causes. Passion, she felt, was for the young, but 'the unending struggle against injustice and barbarism in the world' was perennial."
In 1977 Mannin published her final memoir, Sunset over Dartmoor. In July 1984 Mannin was injured in a fall at home in Shaldon, and died of pneumonia and heart failure at Teignmouth Hospital, on 5th December 1984. During her lifetime she had published over a hundred books.
My father does not care how I achieve happiness so long as I achieve it. My mother always clings to a wistful hope that I will "manage" without doing anything too "queer." They are both, I think, rather surprised at having produced anyone so "odd." No one in the family before had ever written, so perhaps it was a little "uncalled for"... But I began writing when I was seven years old.
I am very glad indeed that my parents are exactly as they are. It would distress me considerably to have a father who read The Morning Post and The Financial Times, voted Conservative and was "something in the city," and a mother who wore artificial pearls, carried a lap-dog and played bridge to while away the time between luncheon and tea, or tea and dinner.
Soon after I was six years old I was sent to a private school in a small private house. It was run by an elderly widow and her two undoubtedly maiden daughters. The memory of it comes back to me with the warm smell of privet flowers on sultry summer afternoons, for there was a high privet hedge in the garden, and its hot scent would come into the schoolroom with the school odour of children's bodies and india-rubber and exercise-books and ink.
The school called itself a preparatory school, hut for what it could possibly prepare anyone it would be impossible to say. The children were divided into two groups, " The Big Class," and " The Little Class "; it was all very indiscriminate. We learned history by committing to memory prose passages from history books. In this way I acquired the valuable piece of knowledge that William the Conqueror flew to Normandy, and I always pictured him flying up in the air in a magic trunk, like an illustration in my Hans Andersen fairy-tale book. I was given lists of words to learn to spell, and I learned them backwards, so that I would sit repeating to myself such things as " t-u-n spells nut," and " t-o-n spells not," and so on. I was given sums to add up. We used slates, which we used to clean with saliva, wiped off with sponges; we used each other's slates, and it did not occur to anyone that our cleaning process was highly unhygienic. I learned multiplication tables parrot-wise, without ever understanding them. I tried to learn to read, but without any marked success. I learned that the world is round like an orange, and that there are five continents and a North and South Pole, which I, of course, thought of as poles sticking up at the top and bottom of the world.
I was dreadfully unhappy and tormented here. I would feel dazed with all that I was told and required to commit to memory. Various small boys would create a diversion in the midst of this welter of tediousness by exposing their little genital organs under the desks for the amusement of the little girls. The habit spread, until the older boys used to follow suit. The little girls would giggle, but I would be frightened, because I had been brought up to be full of shame about bodies in general and genital organs in particular. I never used to tell my mother. I have often wondered since if the other little girls confided in their mothers. I don't think so, or they would have been removed from the school. We of that generation were all brought up on the same appalling hush-hush principle of shame and silence. Very few children of that generation, I think, made confidantes of their parents.
I was so agonisingly shy and timid that I was fair game for the older children's teasing. A group of the older girls would amuse themselves by tormenting me until I would say a funny little obscene word. But I would think of God listening, and of Jesus who had died for sinners, and keep silent, and then they would twist my wrists and goad me, "Go on, say it ! Say itI" until at last, unable to bear the torment any longer I would sob out the required word, trusting that God would understand how it had been forced out of me, and hoping He would not see it as a sin.... And then I would remember that Jesus had had nails driven through His Hands, and I could not stand a little pinching and wrist-twisting, and would be terribly ashamed....
It was an incredible school. A child would be refused permission to "leave the room" until the little over-strained bladder began to relieve itself and the poor child suffer agonies of shame by being sent home for the offence. This occurred not once but several times. I don't know whether those disappointed spinsters derived any sexual sadistic satisfaction out of it. I can think of no other way of accounting for this monstrous cruelty to children.
Sometimes we were taken out into the garden at the back of the house and rather ineffectively drilled or made to play round games. In the afternoons we were all assembled in what was referred to as "the morning room," and spent the afternoon at a long ink-stained table with the widow herself at the head of it, in a curious reading lesson, or we would be read to - and through a window at the far end of the room I would see my mother waiting outside with my young brother in the perambulator, and my heart would yearn for her, and the dear freedom of the outer world... but the voices would drone on, and the close room be drenched with the pungency of the privet flowers, suffocatingly. One would seem to smother in the smell of the place and the consuming ennui.
I made no friends at that dreadful little school, but I fell in love with a boy about two years older than myself who had wetted himself standing on the "dunce's stool," and burst into tears when he was finally released to go and do what he had already done. I felt his suffering terribly and loved him from that day on. I, wanted to tell him not to cry, that it wasn't his fault, that I understood, that he needn't be ashamed. Actually I never spoke to him all the time I was there, but I would lie in bed at night and think of him, and a warm new sensation, exciting and a little frightening, yet pleasurable, would sweep me. He got so much into my imagination that for weeks I would look forwaid to going to bed so that I could snuggle down into the warmth and dark and secrecy of the bed and indulge the voluptuous pleasure which invariably came with the thought of him. I was six years old and affected by a personality for the first time. I remember that the boy's name was Maurice, that I thought him beautiful with his riot of waving brown hair, and loved him with an aching compassionate love.
There was also a girl of about twelve whom I thought both grown-up and beautiful, immeasurably beyond me, but she had nothing but contempt for me. She wore petticoats with wide lace to them, and knickers with coloured ribbons run through. She was fond of doing high kicks-presumably to show off this seductive lingerie. I knew a curious quickening of the senses at the sight of her; she was a dashing and lovely being infinitely removed from me. But I have forgotten her name. I suppose that it is because I unconsciously shrink from the memory of her. She was one of my sadistic persecutors.
Part of the general stupidity of the educational system to which I was submitted was the monitor system, which did its best to make a prig of every child who kept on the right side of the teachers and the child who is not popular with other children must necessarily resort to ingratiation with the teachers. I was too much of an introvert to be very popular with my contemporaries at school, and became, therefore, one of those offensive, unnaturally well-behaved little prigs who are the darlings of the teachers. When I got slapped it was for stupidity, never for bad conduct. I did not mind these slappings very much, and had a contempt for the girls who would burst into tears - there were those who wept hysterically, overcome with shame and humiliation, and those who wept because they were physical cowards. The slappings would make one's arm sting and the red mark would stay for a long time, but one had a contempt for the teachers who slapped-they would look so silly, with their hair flopping up and down with the force of administering the punishment, and their faces going as red as the smacked arms, and they would look foolish and sheepish, somehow, afterwards. No, slappings didn't amount to much, it was "the cane" which was the ultimate disgrace. The shame attached to it was so unbearable. One could get " the cane " for very bad conduct in class, talking, laughing, or writing notes, or eating sweets, or for very bad work. If one did a series of bad examination papers one was liable to get the cane, though just how being struck on the palms of the hands with a cane was likely to give one a better understanding of the intricacies of decimal fractions, cubic measure, and compound interest, was never made clear to us. But then fear was the keynote of the educational system, and to a very great extent still is the dominating factor, fear of being kept in, of being bullied, held up to ridicule, sarcasm still being the last refuge of the schoolteacher brand of stupidity. The child has no defence against the cheap, petty malice of sarcasm flung like poisoned barbs into the sensitive naked flesh of its natural honesty, and the more honest and natural the child the more it is in the wrong with adults in general and schoolteachers in particular. I once in my childhood's simplicity told a teacher that I did not understand the sums I had been set; she shook me and sent me back to my place and told me to stop there until I did understand them. I was dazed beyond speech. I had not understood, I had told her so, and yet she was angry.... It was all bewildering. I thought: "If I sit here for ever I shan't understand, and she can't make me sit here for ever because she will want her dinner, and they will have to shut the school sometime..." Childhood develops early a sort of philosophic despair, a despairing philosophy, regarding the stupidity of adults.
Corporal punishment is dying out in schools, but it still exists, or the threat of it exists, and so long as that is so, so long as there is the liability of invoking it, however slight, fear must be the controlling force. Fear was at the back of all education of my generation - to a very large extent it still remains at the back of orthodox education today, but there is an incipient sanity, the small cloud on the horizon as yet no bigger than a man's hand. Our children stand a better chance of happiness today, and their children will stand a still better chance. But the monster Fear still stalks the earth. Fear was at the back of one's religious training, fear of the God who saw everything, and who finally separated people, some for everlasting joy and some for the horror of everlasting hell-fire. Fear was at the back of such sex education as one was able to evolve for oneself out of the scraps of half-knowledge which came one's way via experiments in school lavatories, and whisperings among groups of girls in corners of the school playground during recess and after school and on the way home from Sunday School.
Every evening after work J. S. and I would have tea together and talk. Presently we found an oak tearoom over a cinema, more congenial for talking in than the noisy A.B.C. He did most of the talking. I could not talk. I listened and my young mind sucked up knowledge like a sponge absorbing water. When he took a furnished house at Finsbury Park with another man we would go there on Saturday afternoons and talk and read, endlessly, for hours at a stretch, all the afternoon and far into the night, and my mind was insatiable. Hitherto I had always felt things, but now I was thinking - the engines of thought raced like mad. J. S. gave me the Robert Green Ingersoll volume, and I became an ardent agnostic and rationalist.
We worshipped at the Shavian shrine, and I read Socialism and Superior Brains, Man and Superman, and John Bull's Other Island. We went to vegetarian places to eat, and I became a vegetarian as readily as I became an agnostic. On Sunday afternoons we went to Finsbury Park and heard Tom Mann speak. We went to the Albert Hall at the inauguration of the Daily Herald and sang the Red Flag together. I learned the meanings of sabotage, of the activities of the I.W.W. and Eugene V. Debs. I learned about William Morris and the Kelmscott Press, and about Upton Sinclair. I read The Brass Check, and a good deal of Graham Wallas and Cunningham Graham on social economy. I read Prince Kropotkin's Mutual Aid as a sort of textbook, along with Ingersoll's Essays. At the week-ends when we were not at the house at Finsbury Park we would walk through Richmond Park or Bushey Park talking about strikes and lock-outs, and something which we referred to vaguely as "the revolution." We were very "red." We sat under the trees or amongst the bracken, surrounded by lovers, and J. S. would read to me from John Stuart Mill or Morris's News from Nowhere. I loved him in the perfervid way in which I had loved my Miss X., but at fifteen I was completely sexually unawakened, and even at sixteen, towards the end of our year's association, any manifestation of love-making from him completely bewildered me. I was sixteen and he was twenty-six. I became sufficiently awakened towards the end of the friendship to want to kiss and to be kissed by him, but any caressive intimacy from him merely troubled me. It seemed queer, and I resented it a little and wished he wouldn't.
I dined several times in Greenwich Village and on each occasion there was no difficulty whatever about securing drinks; no mysterious formula or password, no serving of cocktails in soup-cups, as I had them served elsewhere in New York City, but everything as open and simple as though Prohibition had never been heard of. But Prohibition alcohol is a mistake.
I freely confess that for me New York was an adventure in freedom. I did none of the usual things, and a great many that were highly unusual. How sad and mad and bad it was, but oh, how it was gay ! Most of the geography of New York I saw through taxi windows on my way to this, that, or the other rendezvous, yet I have the feeling of the streets and squares which I think I could not have got by solemnly doing the round of "sights." You have to "live" in a city before you can get the "feel" of it, and in New York I lived so intensely that I begrudged time for what little sleep I managed to fit in between one thing and the next.
American hospitality to English visitors is quite simply terrific. It is curious, this, when you come to reflect upon the quite bitter jealousy which exists between England and America as nations. We may dislike each other as nations, but the blood relationship is thicker than the waters of the Atlantic; fundamentally we are very much the same people. One may dislike Americanism and still like Americans. I do not pretend to have made any serious sociological survey of the American national character - America being a vast continent made up of so many different nationalities, I am not sure that such a thing is possible, anyhow - I only know that I have a general impression of ready friendliness and an overwhelming hospitality.
My general impression of the women is that they are perfectly lovely to look at, but less exciting to talk to. Their attractiveness is as much all outside as the attractiveness of the men is all inside. American women have lovely figures and a sense of chic; American men have lovely teeth and a sense of hygiene. It takes an American woman to wear a Paris model as its creator meant it to be worn. American women know so much about dress that the men have never had a chance to learn-they have been too busy making the money so that their women can demonstrate their dress-sense.
American women talk about art as though it were something you could spread on buttered toast. They are "crazy" on child-psychology, and not one in a hundred knows anything at all about it. There is a good deal more homosexuality amongst women in America than in England. The men are too busy, and too tired, to have much time for either. A slow, insidious increase in impotence and sterility is the price America is paying for Americanism. The result is that the women run to a chronic sentimentalizing over sex, and the men run to gifts-the unconscious sexual substitute.
Anita Loos makes Lorelei, the blonde whom gentlemen preferred, say of London that it was a place where "gentlemen have the quaint custom of not giving a girl many presents," and that she was glad to get back to the country "where men are Americans." The American male has no self-consciousness about "saying it with flowers"; he has been, as the women say, "trained up that way." The American woman has set a price upon herself, and the road to romance is strewn with orchids and dollar-bills.
In New York City there are no husbands; only married men. In the great heat of the summer all the wives go out of town, the houses are draped with dust-sheets and every scrap of stuff is put away as though the house were to be left uninhabited not for a few months but for a few years; the men usually have a bachelor apartment somewhere, though the wives don't generally know this. Charles Higham once said to me that the American businessman's "sweetie" was the salvation of American home-life.... The American male carries on with his job all through the summer, and it is, as a matter of fact, as cool as anywhere in an office at the top of a skyscraper. In the deep canyons of the streets the heat is terrific, and the noise and the crowds seem somehow to add to the heat. New York never sleeps; the roar never ceases; at any hour of the night or early morning the cafes and eating-houses are crowded with people eating; there is every kind and grade of cafe and restaurant devised; every nationality is catered for; there are cafes where you get everything out of machines by putting coins in slots; there are quick-lunch counters, help-yourself counters, sandwich counters. The majority of these popular eating places are incredibly garish and dreary and crowded with men who eat with their hats on and sitting in their shirt-sleeves; and these places are as crowded at three o'clock in the morning as at three o'clock in the afternoon.
I have always in the end got what I set out to get. Though keeping it may be another matter. But I have always believed profoundly in the magnetism of desire. There is no superstition about it - if one wants a thing intensely enough one must finally achieve it, for the simple reason that all one's thoughts and actions are directed towards that end, both consciously and unconsciously, and there is tremendous power in that unconscious propulsion towards the objective. The trouble with the majority of people is that they do not know what they want from life, and even when they have some idea, there is no passion in their wanting.
Few people understand passion apart from sexuality, or know anything of living "ready to be anything in the ecstasy of being ever" - which is the essence of the passionate life. Few people savour life as what poor Gerald Cumberland used to call "the vast luxury of living." The lives of the majority of people are fundamentally wrong; wrong at the core; nothing but a series of recurrent appetites, the gratification of which fulfils no profound organic satisfaction. In all this fussing with a myriad things there is a missing of fundamental satisfaction all along the line. One observes it in the faces of men and women in the streets, hears it in their voices, observes it in their taboo-ridden, convention-bound conduct. They are the slaves of fear and superstition and fetish.
Most people are dead, for all they move about the face of the earth. The women for the most part are not merely dead like the men, but buried as well. See them rushing to buy the banned book, to get hold of it by hook or crook, to see the risqué play, the substitute for the sexual satisfaction they have never known. Pitiful. Women talk very freely of their intimate lives, and I have talked with a great many women of all classes and temperaments, and not one in ten has ever had full sexual satisfaction, those who have been married for years and borne children, even those who have had several lovers. The ignorance of civilized people concerning physiology and its significance in this business of living fully is as astounding as it is pitiful. How can people live life as a pure flame when there is this fundamental dissatisfaction at the whole root of living. This sexual frustration and disappointment and incompleteness has a deadening effect; it accounts for the apathy and dullness of the English people as positively as their sexual awareness accounts for the vivacity and aliveness of the Latin peoples. We have made sex a smutty story; but for them it is life, and in their acceptance of it as such they have laid hold of the art of living. At the back of all our shame about sex is the puritanical hatred of life, and its fear of happiness. In this country if a man and woman go into an hotel and ask for a room they must have baggage and pretend, to be married before the English puritanical conscience will give it to them. The assumption is that they might go to bed together - which is a dreadful thing because it would be pleasurable; in this country you must have a licence for love, just as for a dog, or a wireless set, or a car. The English conscience works on the principle of, "There are some people trying to be happy - go and stop them; better, don't let them begin." Yet all English people know that even in this country people do go to bed together without the licence of a marriage certificate authorizing such conduct, and the people who will not countenance it in others - "on principle" - do it themselves. There is no limit to our national humbug. Our code of morality is exclusively concerned with sex; when we talk of "immorality" we mean a deviation from the sex code; with the larger immoralities of hypocrisy and pretence and spiritual dishonesty we are not concerned. We have reduced morality as we have reduced passion to a question of sexual ethics. We are rotten all through with the artificialities of civilization, which gives us everything, every device the ingenuity of science can devise - wireless, movies, aeroplanes, motor-cars, central heating, tele•vision, everything that is inessential to human happiness, and nothing that is.
What have we got out of our so dearly bought and so fiercely fought-for civilization? A few immaterial comforts, such as electric light, geysers, tap-water, and weighed against these things, syphilis, prostitution, machine-guns, slums, factories, nervous disorders, tear, the tyranny of church and school.
Civilization has corrupted us from a natural intelligence and simple enjoyment of life to an artificially fostered intellectuality and its blind stupidities and cruelties. For spontaneous happiness we have substituted organized pleasure.
Civilization has corrupted us from a natural intelligence and simple enjoyment of life to an artificially fostered intellectuality and its blind stupidities and cruelties. For spontaneous happiness we have substituted organized pleasure. As Aldous Huxley says, "Good times are chronic nowadays. There is dancing every afternoon, a continuous performance at all the picture-palaces, a radio-concert on tap, like gas or water, at any hour of the day or night.... The better the time (in the modern sense) the greater the boredom.... A few more triumphs in the style of the radio and the talkies, and the boredom which is now a mere discomfort will become an intolerable agony." He quotes the case of the Melanesians who "literally and physically died of ennui when they were brought too suddenly in contact with modern amusements. We have grown gradually accustomed to the disease, and we therefore find it less lethal than do the South Sea Islanders. We do not die outright of it; it is only gradually that we approach the fatal conclusion of the malady. It will come, that fatal conclusion, when men have entirely lost the art of amusing themselves; they will then simply perish of ennui. Modern creation-saving machinery has already begun to deprive them of this art. The progress of invention may confidently be expected to quicken the process."
D. H. Lawrence turned his back in disgust on civilization as we know it and attempted to find uncorrupted life in the Mexican wildernesses. Since his death various little people have written patronizing little articles about him pointing to his limitations, regardless of the fact that in his limitations he was infinitely greater than any of them in their fulfilments. His preoccupation with sex was a preoccupation with life. Much has been made of the fact that he was a sick man for a great part of his short life, and that sickness poisoned his outlook - they dare to say that of him, who amongst the last things he ever wrote, cried out that if only we were educated to live, instead of earn and spend, we could all manage very happily on twenty-five shillings a week....
But as Lawrence says, you can't do it. Orthodoxy has us too much in its grip. Orthodox education, orthodox religion, organized pleasure, these three; they are the prime curses of civilization, the three prime sources of that muddled thinking which is the root of all evil and all humanity's lack of satisfaction in life. The tyranny of the church and school, with their gospel of fear, the press with its mass-production ideas and ideals, together form a dark, relentless triumvirate which blinds poor bewildered humanity to the only living godhead, the light which is in themselves, in their own life-force, their protoplasmic consciousness in the cosmic scheme; but, blind and deaf, they must put their faith instead in a personal deity, in the Pope, in the peers of the press ; in anything but the living light in themselves.
We are driven by that blind shepherd intellectuality into the wilderness of civilisation, where the church, the press, and the school doth corrupt, and the wolves of Big Business seek whom they may devour. We have made of civilisation a wilderness inhabited by lost souls, where poverty is an offence, happiness beyond the circumscribed limits of the carefully drawn - up moral code a crime, and honesty forbidden altogether - for the really honest man is a Philistine in the camp of civilisation. The wonder is not that there is so much suffering and lack of satisfaction in life, but that there is any form of happiness at all. The decay of civilisation as we at present know it is humanity's only hope of saving its degraded soul alive.
For civilisation on its present terms, in its present form, involves altogether too much contentment with a makeshift half-life, too much acceptance of second-bests and substitutes, too much resignation and fobbing oneself off with "compensations." It is so dishonest; how can there ever be any compensations for lack of complete satisfaction in life and fulfilment of one's essential self? It isn't enough merely to warm both hands at the fire of life - though not so very many people seem to succeed in doing even that in these days - the art of living lies in warming one's whole body and to be able to complete each new day with the thought that if one died on this day or the next, one would have had, as we say, a pretty good run for the money - and the pains.
(X) Ethel Mannin, Confessions and Impressions (1930)
A philosophy of life, it seems to me, is of so much more practical value than a religion. Religion is for the defeated, or those who lack courage. I believe in life - which is to say in myself as part of the physical world we know, the world of flesh and blood, sap and spermatozoa, cells and atoms and chemical elements. The atom may be the scientific explanation of God. Or it may be another name for God. It doesn't seem to me to matter. The important thing is to be able to say not "I was" or "I will be," but "I am" to be; to savour life as a vast luxury, none the less precious because it is leavened by pain, or because it is finite. To live in the limits of one's being - that would seem to be the supreme and only necessity; therein lies the sole purpose and meaning in life - being. Blessed are they who realize it, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven - which is another name for happiness on earth.
(X) Ethel Mannin, Confessions and Impressions (1930)
I was more recently invited by a newspaper to reply to Dean Inge's diatribe on "dirty novels and adultery in fiction." But the editor refused to publish my reply after having specially asked for it - because I used the word "adultery" - in newspapers only deans, evidently, are allowed that privilege. This is what I wrote, "Dean Inge has apparently joined the ranks of the self-appointed, would-be literary dictators, when he deplores "dirty novels based on adultery," and what he regards as the modern tendency to exaggerate the part sex plays in life. What does he mean by the word "dirty" as applied to novels? Dirt, like beauty, is surely in the eye of the beholder. Why this persistent, puritanical shame about sex? Sex is life. To refer to adultery as a disgusting vice, and unsuited to novels, is ridiculous. The number of people who "commit adultery" - quaint phrase - out of sheer viciousness is infinitely small; people commit adultery because they are unhappy, disappointed, cheated of their dreams, hungry for the love that has died or that never happened. In an ideal state people would never be unfaithful to each other because they would love perfectly - that human nature is imperfect is pitiful, but how can it be "disgusting"? The serious novelist's job is to show life as it is, not as our puritans would like it to be. I would remind the Dean that one of the greatest and most beautiful pieces of literature we have ever had was a study of adultery, Madame Bovary.
There is, in this country, at any rate, no room for straight thinking, everywhere one turns one finds this welter of superstition, prejudice, romanticism, idealism, sentimentality, preconceived ideas, and fear. We use a language of cliches and think in platitudes. Any little tenth-rate mind can come along with some amusing remarks or some sensational diatribe and become a celebrity, but our scientists and thinkers work away unrecognized. They can't be celebrities.... they are never seen lunching in the Savoy Grill, or airing themselves at first-nights; they never get their pictures in the illustrated papers, or paragraphs from the gossip writers... Straight thinking, like unapplied science, has no commercial or publicity value, and therefore no popular esteem. Sanity is esoteric. I see no hope for civilization. It is anti-life, and will ultimately destroy humanity. It will go on until it blows itself up, like the frog in Aesop's fables, and then, perhaps, a simpler and more decent life will teem upon this planet, and because there will be no more church, schools, factories, morality councils, newspapers, organized amusements, there will be no more prisons, hospitals, lunatic asylums ; no more wars, no more disease, no more slums; and if anyone wants to express the naked truth, touching first and last things, as D. H. Lawrence did in Lady Chatterley's Lover, one of the truest and most beautiful and moving books the age has produced, there will be no more taking truth's name in vain, for truth will no longer be regarded as an indecency, and men and women will live and work and love and beget each other in the sun and wind and rain, cleanly and decently and simply as the animals do... who do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, nor make one sick discussing their duty to God, nor are demented with the mania of owning things."
Ethel Mannin didn't resent the passing of youth, but she felt displaced in the post-War world of the 1950s... In old age her pleasures were correspondingly elderly - good wine, good books, and her roses. Her robust impatience with humbug remained vigorous however. She continued to travel, espoused Buddhism, and signed up to a variety of liberal causes. Passion, she felt, was for the young, but 'the unending struggle against injustice and barbarism in the world' was perennial.