PENGUIN PARADE : NEW STORIES, POEMS, ETC., BY CONTEMPORARY WRITERS
By Jim Burns
Anyone interested in little magazines, or in literature during the
was in existence before its now more-famous partner made an
appearance. The first issue came out in November, 1937, and seems to
have been popular enough to be reprinted in February of the
following year. Edited by Denys Kilham Roberts, it aimed to be
published at “(roughly) quarterly and later, possibly, at monthly
intervals”. It was, perhaps, an ambitious programme to follow,
especially considering the still-shaky economic circumstances in
It’s impossible, in a short survey like this, to point to all the
contributor in each issue of
Penguin Parade, so the ones I do mention are only a sample of
those in its pages. Some of the writers are still remembered, while
some may not cause any heads to nod in acknowledgement of their
continued popularity. I’m not sure how many people will now
recognise the name of James Stern, but in his day, which was
probably the 1930s and 1940s, he was considered a first-rate writer
of short stories. The initial issue of
Penguin Parade featured
his “The Man from
Another writer who may be little read today, though he achieved some notoriety in his lifetime, was James Hanley, whose novel, Boy, ran into censorship problems when it was published in a cheap edition in 1934. Its account of life at sea, which Hanley had experienced, got a little too near reality when it hinted at homosexuality. His story in Penguin Parade also had a sea-faring angle, with a sailor fighting to survive when he’s flung into the water as his ship founders.
Sherwood Anderson, H.E. Bates. I.A.R. Wylie, and Herbert Read are all names that might be known to at least some contemporary readers, though I have to admit that I knew nothing about I.A.R. Wylie before coming across her name when writing this article. But she had an impressive list of publications, and some notes say that “Much of her work has been filmed by the leading American companies”.
Stella Gibbons, who wrote
Cold Comfort Farm, is still remembered, but what of Raymond
Watkinson who, like Gibbons, was published in issue 3? He was born
There are names that are listed in the contents (I’m skipping around
various issues now), and attracted my attention when I first came
across issues of the magazine. Joseph Vogel was an American writer,
and I knew of him because of a novel,
Man’s Courage, that I’d
read, and which is sometimes mentioned in books about radical
writing in the
Matters relating to the publishing schedule appeared to be running reasonably smoothly, and issues 4 and 5 appeared in 1938 and early 1939, and both went into later reprints. Leslie Halward was in issue 4. He had already been published in numerous prestigious magazines, and his collection of short stories, To Tea on Sunday, had been praised by critics. Does anyone read him now? The same can perhaps be said of Gerald Kersh, though some of his work has been reprinted in recent years. His “The Extraordinarily Horrible Dummy” in issue 6 was a briskly-told tale of a ventriloquist whose dummy takes over. As the man says as his mental state declines, “It isn’t I who makes Micky talk. Micky makes me talk”. Kersh wrote some excellent stories. I was lucky enough to come across several of his books in a charity shop recently. I got them for next-to-nothing (they were showing their age) and enjoyed most of what I read.
It’s worth mentioning that also in issue 6 (1939) was a story by
Martha Dodd, the daughter of the American Ambassador in
It’s obvious that the start of the Second World War in September, 1939, had an effect on publishing. and only five more issues appeared on an annual basis, with none in 1944, between 1940 and 1945. It’s interesting to speculate on the reason(s) for this. Paper rationing was introduced during the war, and Penguin New Writing was launched in 1940, so was there a decision to use resources for it and restrict publication of Penguin Parade? Denys Kilham Roberts continued as editor, so it doesn’t seem to have been a case of him being summoned for service in the armed forces. Or maybe he was, but could still find time to edit the occasional issues of the magazine? A replacement editor could easily have been found, anyway. And sufficient material to fill both publications wasn’t likely to be a problem. Little magazines of one kind or another flourished in the war years, despite the paper shortages and other problems. And it was a democratic period in terms of the number and range of people who wanted to express themselves in print.
It’s indicative of the wartime conditions that names began to crop
up that might not have done otherwise. The American novelist and
short-story writer, Irwin Shaw, was in issues 8 (1941) and 9 (1942).
Shaw was a war correspondent, so was possibly in
Appearing alongside Shaw’s contribution in issue 8 was a story by
Ralph Bates who had served with the International Brigades during
the Spanish Civil War. He wrote novels like
The Lean Men and
The Olive Field about
In connection with
The Yorkshire-born writer, Eric Knight, had stories in issues 9
(1942) and 10 (1943) which focused on where he came from, though he
had moved to the
There wasn’t any indication in issue 11 (1945) that it was the final issue in the first series of Penguin Parade. Denys Kilham Roberts was still around (he died in 1976) and active as an editor and writer generally. Without access to the Penguin archives, it’s impossible to know why a decision was made to discontinue the magazine. Times were still tough for publishers in terms of obtaining paper and other materials, and there does seem to have been a decline in interest in little magazines once the war ended and both soldiers and civilians had to face up to the domestic demands and austerities of life in post-war Britain. By 1950 Penguin New Writing, Horizon, and many other publications had closed down, and the rest were on the brink of doing so in the next couple of years.
An attempt was made to revive
Penguin Parade in 1947 when a second series was launched under
the editorship of J.E. Morpurgo. Three issues appeared in 1947 and
1948, but the approach was different, as was made evident in the
Foreword to the first issue: “Whereas the first series was devoted
principally to the short story, to poetry, and to reportage, the
second series will emphasise critical and informative writing”.
Morpurgo did also say that the “work of contemporary ‘creative’
artists obviously demands inclusion in any periodical that purports
to reflect some aspects of life to-day”, so some work by poets and
fiction writers would appear, though “short stories of quality are
very rare indeed”, and “reportage, the utility furniture of
war-time, has lost much of its freshness and usefulness”. Morpurgo
eventually became a professor at
I suppose it might be said that the idea was to give Penguin Parade a more intellectual base. And was that comment about the lack of “short stories of quality” a dig at the contents of the earlier series? It may have been true that there was a leaning towards stories that could be read quickly and easily while on guard duty, or fire watch, or in the breaks between shifts in a factory. But, looking at a few of the titles of essays that were in the three issues that Morpurgo edited, we see “Criticism and Reviewage”, “Literature and the Libretto: An Uneasy Friendship”, “The Psychological Aspect of Strikes”, “War and the Writer”, and “An English Successor to Van Dyck”. It’s not being insulting to the readers of those earlier issues of Penguin Parade to suggest that they wouldn’t have wanted to sit down to read material like that when they were tired and hungry and wondering when and where the next bomb might fall. It’s difficult to imagine what sort of readership Morpurgo had in mind for the revived Penguin Parade.
It’s a personal intrusion, but when I read the essay on “Criticism and Reviewage I came across the following observation: “Between criticism and reviewing it is possible to make a distinction. One difference is that reviews have to be readable”. As a reviewer for many years, and having struggled to keep my eyes on the page while reading a lot of contemporary academic criticism, I tend to agree with that statement.
I’m not suggesting that any of the pieces in the “new” Penguin Parade were bad in themselves, and some of the essays aroused my interest, including one on the revolutionary, Auguste Blanqui, and another on jazz, though the latter gave no sign of its writer knowing anything about the music beyond its early origins. He probably didn’t think that what came after the music he described had any real connection to jazz. Puritanism was often a characteristic of much writing about the music. The point I’m making is that the new series was directed at a different audience to the readers that, on the whole, most likely bought the first one. Whatever the aim, it clearly failed and Penguin Parade died permanently in 1948. I suspect that sales simply hadn’t justified its continuation.
Out of necessity I had to be selective when mentioning specific writers and their stories in the first series. Space wouldn’t have permitted me to refer to them all. As with any magazine of its period, a lot of the writers never established major or lasting reputations, though it is interesting to read the notes on contributors and see how many of them had published books, as well as work in a wide variety of publications. Or how others were relatively new to publishing (have you heard of E.C. Harris, Mary Milne, Thomas S. Faulks, Nina Gifford, Audrey Burton, Elisabeth Cluer, Edgar Howard, and Sidney Young?). I’m always fascinated by the names I come across and wonder what happened to the people concerned. Most writers eventually slip from view. They may have only written, or had published, a story or two, but they made a contribution to literature, no matter how minor.