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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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Introduction: Lighting the Circle 1


1 from old, to take seriously Weil’s insight that the past has to be fought for and lifted above that level of mediocrity with which it is inevitably presented. The first section of this book deals with the case of Victor Serge, novelist and journalist, Polish-Jewish refugee, ex-Bolshevik and finally ex-Trotskyite. He fled revolutions turned sour in the early part of the twentieth century, saw fascism triumph in Spain, was hunted by Nazis through France and miraculously escaped finally to Cárdenas’s Mexico, leaving behind him a record of inestimable value of the turmoil of the first half of the twentieth century, of the small people of decency and articulate intelligence crushed first by Stalin, then Franco and finally by Hitler. His novels, written under impossible conditions take us far beyond pure documentary. He worked to a degree in new narrative and symbolic modes, fully aware of the possibilities of fictional modernism whether practised by an André Gide or a John Dos Passos. His autobiography Memoirs of a Revolutionary, unpublished in his lifetime, is still one of the unsung masterpieces of the twen- tieth century. The writing is a great work of mourning and testimony, and it is offered here because of his extraordinary correspondence with the American libertarian thinker, journalist and editor Dwight Macdonald and his wife Nancy Macdonald who created, in New York, a supportive international community of European refugee writers and American dissenters in a moment of global war. Serge’s own work created a memory that touched...

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