The Transatlantic (Bilingual, and Multi-genre) Review

The Paris-based literary magazine the Transatlantic Review, as my title suggests, did more than simply cross oceans; with its unique blend of works by old and new authors, as well as contributions by artists and musicians, its contents spanned languages, genres, and movements. Existing for only one year, 1924, it is often viewed by literary historians as less successful than other modernist literary reviews, such as the English Review or the Little Review, which lasted longer or published only the experimental works of avant-garde writers. Yet the Transatlantic Review also published modernist authors and, at the same time, presented an editorial variety that distinguished it from the other publications. The magazine owes its uniqueness to the interests of its editor, Ford Madox Ford, the pieces he included, and the audience he marketed to. The British novelist was already well established as a writer and publisher in 1924. His widely popular war novel, The Good Soldier, for example, had been published in 1915, and his London-based literary magazine, the English Review, had already enjoyed a run of 16 years.  Not much is known about how the Transatlantic Review got started (a 1929 fire at its publishing house destroyed most documents), but the idea for a Paris-based review may have come from Ford’s brother (Harding 177). It almost certainly also arose from Ford’s presence in the Paris literary scene and in his desire to expand the scope of modernist magazines. With so much happening in English-language literature by American ex-pats in Paris, and their collaboration with French and other writers, it seemed insufficient if not impossible to produce a modernist magazine in 1924 in London alone.

Starting in January 1924, Ford published 12 monthly issues of the Transatlantic Review before having to cease production due to financial troubles. Each issue ran about 120 pages and cost 7.5 francs each (5 francs for the first three numbers). Although editorial offices were located in Paris, the magazines were printed in both London (by Duckworth and Co.) and New York City (by Thomas Seltzer) and were distributed in all three cities. The magazine was affordable but not cheap, somewhat lengthy, and printed by English-language printers. So who was the audience? Jason Harding writes that Ford was originally going to call the magazine the “Paris Review,” but the change of name allowed him to obtain advertising support from the Compagne Tranatlantique shipping line. These facts suggest that Ford primarily hoped to target admirers of the literary American ex-pat community in Paris—whether they lived in Paris, New York, or London. Each month the publisher printed around 5,000 copies of the magazine (Harding 185) and sold up to 4,000 of those. The circulation was considerably more than some other avant-garde literary magazines at the time.

Indeed, Ford was trying to provide something in his magazine that wasn’t available elsewhere. As a long-established British writer with a significant interest in what was happening in Paris, “he had hoped that the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ would be equally represented in [the Transatlantic’s] pages and that the general effect would be comparable to what he had tried to achieve in the English Review days, that is to say an attempt to ‘cement together the Immortals’ and ‘les jeunes’” (Poli  62). Ford’s personal view on what should be included in his magazines was “based on getting into print that which he regarded as the best of its time whether or not that work was experimental” (Harding 181). In other words, Ford did not restrict his magazine to simply avant-garde writing, as did some others, and he sought to attract a larger, more diverse group of readers than that of other Paris literary reviews.

Nonetheless, the writers who are mentioned most often in discussions of the Transatlantic Review are the ones from the newer generation—Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce, for example, all had work published in the magazine. Pound and Hemingway were also sometimes involved in the running of the magazine, with Pound providing some initial funding and Hemingway acting as guest editor for one issue. Transatlantic readers saw excerpts from Stein’s massive modernist novel, The Making of Americans, short stories from Hemingway (“Indian Camp,” not yet named and published as a work in progress, “Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife,” and “Cross-Country Snow”), and installments of Joyce’s linguistically challenging Finnegan’s Wake. But alongside these more fashionable authors, readers could also encounter English writers who belonged to an older school or a distinctly British one, such as Joseph Conrad, with whom Ford once collaborated to write three novels, or A.E. Coppard, who wrote short stories about the English countryside that Ford was among the first to publicly admire. As an Englishman himself, Ford may have associated more closely with these writers, and he believed they were producing work of the highest quality.

More than anything else, Ford seems to have been dedicated to producing a diverse magazine that showed a range of 1920s literature and related arts. The Transatlantic Review included not only English literature from both sides of the Atlantic, but also (although in minority) French literature produced around the corner in Paris. Ford, who had a “lifelong absorption with art and music” (Wiesenfarth 167) also recognized the important influence of other art forms on literature, and a number of his magazine’s issues included music and visual arts supplements. The Musical Supplements included, for example, sheet music written in Erik Satie’s own hand, music by George Antheil, and musical criticism by Ezra Pound (under the name of William Atheling), while the Art Supplements included reproductions of drawings and photographs by such artists as Picasso, Constantin Brâncuși, and Man Ray. One article reviewed a London exhibit, and another, in French, discussed cubist painter Georges Braque and was accompanied by prints of his work. This sampling showed the collaboration that was occurring between literary figures, musicians, and artists of the time, and was aimed at art enthusiasts speaking either English or French.

In the end, Ford’s attempt to meld the old with the new wasn’t as effortless or as appreciated as he had hoped. Rather than bring the diverse groups together in one forum, he learned that writers from old and new schools weren’t always fans of one another and that his choices for the magazine were at odds with what his literary advisors wanted. Ezra Pound, for instance, disliked it when Ford published “regular ole magazine stuff,” and Ernest Hemingway felt that “many young American writers were better than the English ones who were appearing in the transatlantic” and that “Ford’s running the whole damn thing as compromise” (Gasiorek 705). Conflicts about what should appear in the Transatlantic Review increased as the magazine continued publication.

Despite its short existence and view by scholars as less successful than other literary magazines from the period, the Transatlantic Review nevertheless provides an important microcosm of the literary world of 1924. Ford Madox Ford could have called his magazine the Paris Review, but he didn’t. Presenting conflicting styles, dominating and unpopular groups, and varying art forms, the Transatlantic Review gives perhaps a better idea of the overall literary scene in Paris than do some better-remembered literary magazines that confined their publishing to only highly experimental English-language pieces.


Works Cited

Ford, Ford Madox, ed. The Transatlantic Review. London: Duckworth, 1924. Print.

Gasiorek, Andrzej. “Exiles: the transatlantic review (1924) and The Exile (1927-8).” The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines: Volume II, North America 1894-1960, ed. Peter Brooker and Andrew Thacker.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.

Harding, Jason. Ford Madox Ford, Modernist Magazines and Editing. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2010. Print.

Poli, Bernard, Ford Madox Ford and the Transatlantic Review. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1967. Print.

Wiesenfarth, Joseph. “Ford Madox Ford and the Arts: Introduction.” Contemporary Literature 30.2 (1989): 167-69. Web.


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