Arty Types

The Committee of the Edwin Savage Society

What arouses such fascination in this obscure literary figure?

This article is taken from the December-January 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

 You could be forgiven for not having heard of Edwin Savage. Professors of twentieth-century literature have gone through entire careers without having so much as heard the mention of his name. 

In fact, Savage (1892-1956), as a glance at the 400-word entry devoted to him in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography will confirm, was a very minor literary figure of the 1930s, author of a solitary novel, Loosestrife-patterned Hedge (1934), a handful of poems heavily in debt to W.B. Yeats and a quite entertaining memoir, Rolling Down Grub Street, published shortly before his death.

What is so fascinating about a man whom T.S. Eliot once described as “the shy and faineant belle Sauvage” that he should have inspired the creation of a scholarly society bent on perpetuating his name? 

The Savages, of whom there are currently 73, would point to the letter he sent to James Joyce drawing his attention to “certain thematic inconsistencies” in the early fragments of Finnegans Wake, the note he received from Orwell in 1936 (“Dear Savage, Afraid I can’t come to tea on the16th. Not very well. Yours go”) and the controversy he entered into with Kingsley Amis shortly after the publication of Lucky Jim, of which Amis remarked to Philip Larkin “Cross letter from that corking old bore Savage, which I felt like wiping my arse on.”

Savage, by these estimates, is, as Volume I of The Edwin Savage Society Journal declared, “a veritable centipede, with a foot in a hundred literary camps”. By this time, the society, mostly composed of men, but with a female assistant lecturer who had written a thesis on his dealings with the Bloomsbury Group officiating as secretary, had established an annual lecture. 

The texts of these addresses (“Auden: Spender: Savage: An Eternal Golden Braid”; “A Quietist Defies the Angry Young Men: Savage in the Fifties”; “Dear Matilda/Dear Edwin: A Poet Writes to his Aunt”) may be consulted in the Proceedings of the Edwin Savage Society, available to individual subscribers at £24 p.a. and to scholarly institutions at £30.

The Society’s committee has recently expanded to six persons: Dr Merryweather, its capable secretary, a president, chairman, treasurer, publications manager and press officer. They are diligent, enthusiastic people whose commitment to Savage’s memory cannot be faulted, if occasionally prone to exaggerate their hero’s influence on the literary world of his day (see, for example, the text of last year’s lecture “Onlie Begetter: Savage and The Wasteland”.) 

Just now there are plans for an annual conference, a pub crawl around various London hostelries visited by Savage in his youth and a scheme to publish in The Times Literary Supplement six recently-discovered letters Savage wrote to Cyril Connolly in the 1940s.

The letters will almost certainly not appear and the membership is unlikely ever to rise into three figures. On the other hand, there are worse ways of occupying your leisure. 

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