Founded in 1923, The Adelphi was a popular literary and political magazine that ran until 1948. The first issue sold out quickly and had to be reprinted three times (Lea 109), and at its height it had a distribution of over 30 000 (Philip 222). It featured the work of George Orwell, D. H. Lawrence, and Katherine Mansfield, and many other writers working between the wars.
From its founding, the character of The Adelphi was closely linked to the character of its editor, John Middleton Murry (a short bio can be found here). It was founded at a critical shift in Murry’s career, and to understand what kind of magazine it was and where it fit in the periodical community, we must look at Murry’s history. Before The Adelphi, Murry was editor of several others magazines, including the modernist magazines Rhythm and The Blue Review. He was a contributor to The New Age, and it was through this that he met his wife, Katherine Mansfield. He was the final editor of the Athenaeum, a magazine that ran for almost a century and ended its run in 1922. In short, Murry was a literary critic and well-reputed editor deeply immersed in the literary and periodical community that enabled the publication of the greatest modernist works.
Not long after the demise of the Athenaeum, Katherine Mansfield died. After her death,
Murry underwent a mystical experience which led him to make a holocaust of his former life and deliberately renounce his specialized role as literary journalist and critic. He emerged as a cultural critic with a mission. His new magazine, The Adelphi, offended most of the intelligentsia and D. H. Lawrence, for who it was purportedly founded, but the journal acquired a broad public following and Murry gained disciplines. (Cassavant 2)
The Adelphi was immediately a source of controversy. Murry filled “early issues…with Katherine Mansfield’s unpublished letters and journals, disregarding her written wish to destroy her papers” (2). Though many criticized Murry for betraying his wife’s wishes, the presence of her work in The Adelphi played a role in sustaining and even increasing her fame. Murry also devoted much of The Adelphi’s space to the work of his good friend D. H. Lawrence. Despite this, Lawrence disliked The Adelphi, going so far as to say its real purpose was “to attack everything, everything, and explore in one blaze of denunciation” (90). This was at least partially accurate–Murry framed The Adelphi as “deliberately middle-brow,” a magazine unwilling to pander to the “intellectual elite” that had made up the readership of his earlier magazines (25). In his prospectus for the magazine, Murry wrote:
The Adelphi aims at filling a place apart among contemporary magazine. Of magazines of fiction, or political and literary reviews, there are already enough and to spare. What is needed, and what The Adelphi is designed to supply, is a magazine in which subjects of vital interest to modern readers are treated with honesty and conviction. The standard by which the contents of The Adelphi will be decided is ‘significance for life.’ (Lea 106)
(more excerpts from Murry’s prospectus can be found here)
It is interesting to read the April 1932 issue–published almost a decade after the magazine’s launch–with these initial goals in mind. Despite Murry’s hopes, The Adelphi resembles, in form or content, the little magazines that proceeded it: The New Age, The Little Review, The Egoist. It features reviews, articles on art of all kind, and a letters sections where readers debate literature and politics. The few advertisements are for books, films, and other periodicals and all seem aimed at a readership engaged in a cultural and intellectual community.
It is still deeply reflective of Murry’s own character, both in its advertisements (the largest advertisement is for Murry’s own book, another advertisement for The New Leader uses Murry as a selling point) and in its politics. By this time, he had embraced socialism. His Marxist-leaning socialist ideals can be read in his “Notes and Comments” or the article “Communism for Englishmen,” an essay on Murry’s book The Necessity of Communism. Adelphi is the greek word for brothers, and the magazine and its editor lived up to this name by advocating for a more egalitarian socialist state. Murry was an active member of the Independent Labour Party, and the Adelphi name was clearly associated with the socialist movement in Britain: the Adelphi Centre was opened in 1936, and it was a kind of socialist commune in rural Britain whose vague mandate was to convert the citizens of Britain to socialism (Philip 227). It did not remain open long.
Given the scarcity of advertisements, it is unclear who the large readership of The Adelphi might have been, and if Murry himself even knew. Reading this issue closely, one can sense an anxiety over who the audience of was and how Murry could relate to them. He came from a middle-class intellectual background, both in his upbringing and in his literary career, and as he embraced his new socialist mission, he had a certain concern about being perceived as a bourgeois among proletariats. In the article “Communism for Englishmen,” G. D. H. Cole writes that Murry’s book is addressed “primarily to the relatively rich, to those who are at any rate lifted economically above the proletariat by the possession of some degree of economic security” (445). Cole goes on to write, “In what sense can [Murry] and I identify ourselves with the proletariat?…can he and I become proletarians in spirit and idea? He certainly has not, in this book, and I know I cannot” (445). Here, he identifies the chief tension in Murry’s work: writing for and about a class you cannot fully identify with. Cole goes on to present Murry’s solution to his problem, that is, full commitment to the proletariat cause, “we can…subordinate our class-values, and make the cause of proletariet utterly our own, ready to sacrifice any conflicting class-value of our own to the exigencies of the cause” (445).
I would argue that the audience that Murry addresses, in his book and his magazine, are much like himself and Cole: they possess economic security as well as cultural capital, and at least some interest in the causes of equality and social justice that are reflected in Marxist and socialist ideologies. The Adelphi, like the Adelphi centre, attempts to reach this audience and convert them. But it seems that the magazine is never fully successful. The scholarship about The Adelphi does not discuss its social or political impact. Instead, it dwells on the personal dramas of Murry’s life and their consequences for the magazine, the rejection of the magazine by leading literary figures like D. H. Lawrence, and the controversy surrounding the magazine, including its post-humous publication of Katherine Mansfield’s papers. In short, the current scholarship firmly grounds the magazine in that same intellectual community it sought to escape. Perhaps new scholarship could uncover The Adelphi’s critical role in the political movements of the 20s and 30s, and it looks to have been an important site of political and cultural debate (the “Adelphi Forum” contains an interesting letter about abortion law in England at the time). All the same, current scholarship suggests Murry’s political vision was ultimately overshadowed by the more dramatic and literary aspects of his life story.