The Little Review: A Review

HSP’s book of the month is – in commemoration (and anticipation) of the IRIS III finale and launch – not a book, but a magazine: Margaret Anderson’s The Little Review.

Anderson founded the magazine in 1914, and with the help of partner Jane Heap and editor Ezra Pound, published a selection of hugely influential modernist writings and art, including the first serialisation of Joyce’s Ulysses, and works by Mina Loy, William Carlos Williams, Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia, among many others.  

Envisioned (supposedly) during a troubled sleep, Anderson memorialised the set of thoughts that led her to the publication:

First precise thought: I know why I’m depressed — nothing inspiring is going on. Second: I demand that life be inspired every moment. Third: The only way to guarantee this is to have inspired conversation every moment. Fourth: most people never get so far as conversation; they haven’t the stamina and there is no time. Fifth: if I had a magazine I could spend my time filling it up with the best conversation the world has to offer. Sixth: marvellous idea – salvation. Seventh: decision to do it. Deep sleep[…]

In pursuit of these aims, Anderson proved a difficult editor to satisfy. In lieu of good enough work, in the September 1916 issue, pages 1-13 were blank –  Anderson added a scathing editorial note on the front page:

The Little Review hopes to become a Magazine of Art. The September issue is offered as a Want Ad.

Other issues were equally enigmatic. One was devoted entirely to Henry James (August, 1918 – The Henry James Number, inc. criticism from Pound and Eliot). The final issue consisted of a selection of ‘Confessions and Letters’ from past contributors, responding to a questionnaire written by Jane Heap. The questions were vaguely standard (“What do you look forward to? What do you fear most from the future? What has been the happiest moment of your life?”). Artists and writers alike were unwilling to offer responses. The final editorial was brought to a close by Heap ruminating on the value of editorship, literature, and expression. It finishes, semi-pathetic, semi-optimistic, semi-cliché:

Perhaps the situation is not so hopeless as I have described it. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Or perhaps it would be more than an intellectual adventure to give up our obsessions about art, hopelessness, and Little Reviews, and take on pursuits more becoming to human beings.

You can find copies online here: (rather than amazon). Or libraries should have them.



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