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The Century’s Midnight

Dissenting European and American Writers in the Era of the Second World War


Clive Bush

The Century’s Midnight is an exploration of the literary and political relationships between a number of ideologically sophisticated American and European writers during a mid-twentieth century dominated by the Second World War. Clive Bush offers an account of an intelligent and diverse community of people of good will, transcending national, ideological and cultural barriers. Although structured around five central figures – the novelist Victor Serge, the editors Dwight Macdonald and Dorothy Norman, the cultural critic Lewis Mumford and the poet Muriel Rukeyser – the book examines a wealth of European and American writers including Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Walter Benjamin, John Dos Passos, André Gide, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, George Orwell, Boris Pilniak, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ignacio Silone and Richard Wright.
The book’s central theme relates politics and literature to time and narrative. The author argues that knowledge of the writers of this period is of inestimable value in attempting to understand our contemporary world.


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Acknowledgements x


i My first American debt is to Muriel Rukeyser, ‘your Jewish mother’, as she called herself when she became a close friend in the early 1970s, helping me not only through a very difficult period of my life but responding with enthusiasm to my first book, The Dream of Reason. Not only was the range of her intellec- tual work extraordinary, and her radical politics faithful to the end, but her best poetry had a rare capacity to touch the heart as well as the mind. It was she who introduced me to Lewis Mumford in 1973. I spent a memorable September day with him in 1973, only to return to my post at the University of Warwick, bitterly regretting I was unable to take up his offer to stay and talk for a week. There was plenty to talk about. He was intrigued and surprised that this very young Englishman knew something about his circle: Waldo Frank, Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keefe, Dorothy Norman, Hart Crane among dozens of others, had even read right through Camera Work, and had a passionate interest in the history of technology and architecture. My writing was to take me in many other and different directions, but this book must have started its journey at that point. For any British scholar, the great American libraries and their always wel- coming and enabling staff set a world standard in care for the researcher, and in library expertise. Their collections are unparalleled anywhere else in the world....

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