Study Guide

Malcolm Muggeridge

Malcolm Muggeridge Essay - Critical Essays

Muggeridge, Malcolm

Introduction

Malcolm Muggeridge 1903-1990

(Born Thomas Malcolm Muggeridge) English journalist, literary critic and novelist.

Muggeridge spent several decades as a journalist writing for English and Indian newspapers. His biting, satiric wit propelled him onto television and radio in the aftermath of World War II and, from 1953 to 1957, he served as editor of the British humor magazine Punch. During the 1960s Muggeridge, a socialist who had condemned the Soviet system early in his career, began modifying his views on politics, economics and religion, joining the Roman Catholic Church in 1982. From this time forward his writings centered increasingly on religious experience, emphasizing the development of Muggeridge's own faith. But Muggeridge never eased up on his caustic analysis of British and American culture, maintaining until his death an energy and style that make many of his essays classics in the satiric genre.

Biographical Information

Muggeridge was born on March 24, 1903 in Croydon, England. His father was an ardent socialist who was active in local politics and eventually served as a Member of Parliament. Graduating from Cambridge University in 1924, Muggeridge went to India to work as a teacher. He returned to England in 1927, married Katherine Dobbs, niece of Fabian Socialist leaders Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and worked for six months as a substitute teacher. He then traveled to Egypt where he took up journalism as a vocation. Muggeridge spent the winter of 1932-33 in the Soviet Union working as a correspondent for the Manchester Daily Guardian. Muggeridge was the first Western reporter to write truthfully regarding the Soviet government's role in causing the death and destruction of the Ukrainian famine. Because of his dispatches and two books based on his experiences, Muggeridge became somewhat of an outcast among English intellectuals and journalists, and so accepted an editorial position in India soon after his return to England. During World War II Muggeridge served in England's intelligence service. After the war he returned to journalism and enjoyed great success as a radio and television commentator, mercilessly criticizing the media and popular culture. His tenure as editor of Punch was marked by controversy as he refused to spare even the English Royal Family from satiric barbs. Beginning in the 1960s, Muggeridge began moving away from his youthful socialism toward a more conservative political vision and toward an acceptance of religious faith. He came to reject his former lifestyle, which had included serial extramarital affairs and alcoholism, but continued scourging English and American moral lapses even as he penned works of religious devotion. Muggeridge died on November 14, 1990.

Major Works

Early in his career Muggeridge published a play, Three Flats (1931), but it was his experience in the Soviet Union that brought his writing to wide public notice. Soon after returning to England he published two books based on his experiences. The satirical novel Picture Palace (1934) was withdrawn in response to a libel suit filed by Muggeridge's newspaper. The journalistic observations published as Winter in Moscow (1934) quickly solidified Muggeridge's reputation as an iconoclast who would question opinions generally accepted by those on both the right and the left wings of the political spectrum. Next Muggeridge penned a biography of Samuel Butler, The Earnest Atheist (1936), then, two years later, another novel, In a Valley of This Restless Mind (1938). Both works emphasize skepticism concerning human nature and the existence of any higher meaning to life. In 1940 Muggeridge's The Thirties appeared. In this, his first book to receive significant notice since Winter in Moscow, he used satiric sketches of personalities and customs to portray a decadent, world-weary England. After World War II, Muggeridge continued his extensive writing even as he took on the persona and duties of a public personality, but most of these writings consisted of shorter pieces for magazines and newspapers. Many of these were collected in Tread Softly for You Tread on My Jokes (1966). A number of Muggeridge's media performances were collected as Muggeridge Through the Microphone (1967). Soon thereafter Muggeridge began writing overtly Christian works, beginning with Jesus Rediscovered (1969) and his treatment of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Something Beautiful for God (1971). Muggeridge quickly became a prominent figure among Christian apologists, co-authoring a biography of Saint Paul, Paul (1972) and commencing a series of autobiographical works emphasizing his spiritual journey from hedonism and socialism to ascetic Christianity. He published two of three proposed volumes of his autobiography, Chronicles of Wasted Time: The Green Stick (1973) and Chronicles of Wasted Time: The Infernal Grove (1974), later completing the autobiography through publication of his diaries, Like It Was (1981) and the contemplative Conversion (1988). During this period Muggeridge also published another volume of Christian apologetics, Jesus (1975) and a highly critical commentary on the media's treatment of religion, Christ and the Media (1976).

Critical Reception

Muggeridge's provocative style, his vigorous criticism of established persons and pieties, and his ideological and religious shift late in life combine to make the status and importance of his work a subject of significant debate. His works of fiction were not critically successful at any time during his career, at least on their own merits. Muggeridge's notoriety as a Christian apologist in later life led to republication of several of his earlier novels. But these efforts are of interest more for their author than their contents, with the single exception of Winter in Moscow, a collection of journalism reputed for its subject matter and satiric skill. Critical interest in Muggeridge rests on three bases: his personal story as a self-indulgent intellectual who slowly develops a passionate religious faith; his iconoclastic scourging of the famous and powerful, which has taken the form of many short pieces of powerful satiric prose; and his Christian apologetics. In perhaps none of these areas did his work excel to such an extent as to gain him a place among the first rank of literary talents. But the contradictions of his personality and career, combined with the place accorded Winter in Moscow, renders his career as a whole a subject of enduring critical interest.

Principal Works

Three Flats (play) 1931

Picture Palace (novel) 1934

Winter in Moscow (journalism) 1934

The Earnest Atheist: A Study of Samuel Butler (biography) 1936

In a Valley of This Restless Mind (novel) 1938

The Thirties: 1930-1940 in Great Britain (history) 1940; published in the United States as The Sun Never Sets: The Story of England in the 1930s, 1940

Tread Softly for You Tread on My Jokes (essays) 1966; published in the United States as The Most of Malcolm Muggeridge, 1966

Muggeridge Through the Microphone (essays) 1967; revised and expanded edition published as Muggeridge: Ancient and Modern, 1981

Jesus Rediscovered (philosophy) 1969

Something Beautiful for God (biography) 1971

Paul: Envoy Extraordinary [with Alec Vidler] (biography) 1972

Chronicles of Wasted Time, Volume I: The Green Stick (autobiography) 1973

Chronicles of Wasted Time, Volume II: The Infernal Grove (autobiography) 1974

Jesus: The Man Who Lives (philosophy) 1975

Christ and the Media (lectures) 1976

Like it Was: The Diaries of Malcolm Muggeridge (diaries) 1981

Conversion: A Spiritual Journey (meditations) 1988; published in the United States as Confessions of a Twentieth-Century Pilgrim, 1988

Criticism

John Cournos (review date 1934)

SOURCE: Cournos, John. Winter in Moscow. The Criterion: 1922-1939 (1967): 670-73.

[In the following review of Winter in Moscow, originally pubished in 1934, Cournos praises Muggeridge for his blunt honesty and his humor in describing the actions of the Soviet government.]

There is something refreshing in Mr. Muggeridge's approach to the problem of Russian Communism which, during his eight months' tenure as Moscow correspondent of the Manchester Guardian, he has had ample opportunity to observe in practice, on and behind the scene. Whereas other writers who visited Russia for brief terms under the personal guidance of the Intourist or for long stays...

(The entire section is 1191 words.)

Paul Beard (review date 1938)

SOURCE: Beard, Paul. In a Valley of This Restless Mind. The Criterion: 1922-1939 (1967): 375-78.

[In the following review of In a Valley of This Restless Mind, originally published in 1938, Beard criticizes Muggeridge's combination of philosophical and moral skepticism as leading to a degrading acceptance of contemporary society's more base and decayed habits and practices.]

Mr. Muggeridge has added another to those perplexed enquiries into the state of the modern world, and like one or two of his predecessors he has followed the Pilgrim's Progress as a model. In a series of loosely-linked fantasies, In a Valley of this Restless Mind...

(The entire section is 1301 words.)

George Orwell (review date 1940)

SOURCE: Orwell, George. “The Limit to Pessimism.” In The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell Vol I: An Age Like This, 1920-1940, edited by Sonia Orwell, pp. 533-35. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. 1940.

[In the following review of The Thirties, Orwell finds Muggeridge's skepticism useful for analyzing a corrupt era, without precluding patriotism.]

Mr Malcolm Muggeridge's “message”1—for it is a message, though a negative one—has not altered since he wrote Winter in Moscow. It boils down to a simple disbelief in the power of human beings to construct a perfect or even a tolerable society here on...

(The entire section is 1215 words.)

R. H. S. Crossman (review date 1958)

SOURCE: Crossman, R. H. S. “Vanity of Vanities: Malcom Muggeridge.” In The Charm of Politics, and Other Essays in Political Criticism, pp. 110-13. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1958.

[In the following review of The Thirties, Crossman argues that Muggeridge's acserbic observations do not rise to the level of great satire because they fail to contrast society's evils with any vision of a higher good.]

‘Men aim at projecting their own inward unease on as large a screen as possible. When they tremble, the universe must.’ Thus Muggeridge on his first page; and his judgment upon the human race applies with peculiar appropriateness to his own mordant sketch of this...

(The entire section is 1043 words.)

Joseph Epstein (review date December 1966)

SOURCE: Epstein, Joseph. “Enfant Terrible.” Commentary 42, no. 6 (December 1966): 94-6.

[In the following review of The Most of Malcolm Muggeridge, Epstein pronounces Muggeridge's biting criticism self-indulgent and unseemly, but at times an amusing and useful corrective to mass-media fed hero worship.]

Malcolm Muggeridge revels in undocumented revelation. A piquant example is to be found in the essay on Max Beerbohm in this volume. “Beerbohm, it seems to me to emerge,” he writes, “was in panic flight through most of his life from two things—his Jewishness and his homosexuality.” Nor is Muggeridge skimpy with hyperbole; in a piece about his...

(The entire section is 1555 words.)

Time (review date 6 January 1967)

SOURCE: “Dance of the Iconoclast.” Time 89, no. 1 (6 January 1967): 36.

[In the following review of The Most of Malcolm Muggeridge, the editors of Time characterize Muggeridge's career as a reaction to a series of ideological disappointments, culminating in mellowed religious reverence.]

In his five years as Punch's editor in the 1950s, Malcolm Muggeridge quickened the dowdy humor magazine with pungent political satire. Circulation shot up. But when Muggeridge proposed lampooning Prince Charles's boarding school, he went too far even for Punch and was forced to quit. Nothing daunted, hardly loath and all that, he went on to ridicule the...

(The entire section is 907 words.)

Gerald Weales (review date 24 March 1967)

SOURCE: Weales, Gerald. “The Most of Malcom Muggeridge.” Commonweal LXXXVI, no. 1 (24 March 1967): 21-2.

[In the following review of The Most of Malcolm Muggeridge, Weales attacks Muggeridge's literary and social criticism as self-indulgently cynical.]

Malcolm Muggeridge is presumably a selling name, an advertisable presence for any magazine which prints him. Yet, his name on a cover elicits in me an inevitable response, a mixture of distaste and boredom. When TV Guide proclaimed that Muggeridge, “a British wit,” was going to hold forth in its pages on “Is Anyone Really Listening?”, I muttered, “Not Muggeridge again,” and “Who...

(The entire section is 1650 words.)

Jeffrey Hart (review date 2 December 1969)

SOURCE: Hart, Jeffrey. “The Conversion of Malcom Muggeridge.” National Revew 21, no. 47 (2 December 1969): 1228-29.

[In the following review of Jesus Rediscovered, Hart praises Muggeridge for his lively portrayal of Jesus and his harsh criticisms of contemporary liberalism, but criticizes him for failing to treat important theological issues seriously.]

In Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis tells us in some detail about his conversion, and, since he was a complicated person, the process of his conversion was far from simple. Yet at a pivotal moment he had to answer a simple, if overwhelming, question: Was Jesus actually God? He returned to the gospel...

(The entire section is 954 words.)

Anthony Lejeune (review date 21 December 1973)

SOURCE: Lejeune, Anthony. “No Regrets.” National Review 25, no. 51 (21 December 1973): 1418-19.

[In the following review of Chronicles of Wasted Time, Volume I: The Green Stick, Lejeune praises Muggeridge for skillfully showing the failings of the persons and institutions he studied during his long career in journalism and for pointing to faith as the sole answer to life's disappointments.]

Some years ago, seeking to prove the obvious, I listed all the participants in a season of television talk-shows, dividing them into left wingers, right wingers, and nonpolitical. The overwhelming majority, of course, were left wingers. But one name didn't fit into any...

(The entire section is 1298 words.)

Jonathan Dimbleby (essay date March-April 1974)

SOURCE: Dimbleby, Jonathan. “Intellectual in Search of Salvation: Malcom Muggeridge, A Profile of the Maverick at 70.” The Critic 32, no. 4 (March-April 1974): 38-44.

[In the following essay, Dimbleby emphasizes the influence of Muggeridge's jocular yet cynical personality on his written work.]

No man is easier to caricature than Malcolm Muggeridge. Walking through the steep narrow streets of the mountain village of Aspremont, bestowing beneficent smiles on old brown Provencal faces or stopping to pat the head or kiss the cheek of a pretty child, St. Mug has the benign air of a visiting emissary from the Kingdom above. In the village shop, speaking in immaculate...

(The entire section is 3843 words.)

Haven Bradford Gow (review date fall 1974)

SOURCE: Bradford Gow, Haven. “A Retreat from Utopia.” Modern Age 18, no. 4 (fall 1974): 426-29.

[In the following review of Chronicles of Wasted Time, Volume I: The Green Stick, Gow praises Muggeridge for pointing out the hypocrisy of Soviet communism's claim to value humanity, and the hypocrisy of liberal intellectuals who defended the Soviet system.]

I used to believe that there was a green stick buried on the edge of a ravine in the old Zakaz forest at Yasnaya Polyana, on which words were carved that would destroy all the evil in the hearts of men and bring them everything good.

—Leo Tolstoy...

(The entire section is 1695 words.)

Don Cupitt (review date 25 September 1975)

SOURCE: Cupitt, Don. “Scrap of Paper.” The Listener 94, no. 2425 (25 September 1975): 405.

[In the following review of Jesus, Cupitt criticizes Muggeridge for failing to present a sustained argument and for indulging in harsh criticism of contemporary moral and religious practices.]

‘It is one thing to be crucified: it is quite another thing to be a Professor of the fact that someone else was crucified,’ wrote Kierkegaard, showing that it is possible for a great religious writer to be waspish. But great religious writers are excessively rare. Their mark is a certain perfectly sustained purity and intensity, such as would be destroyed at once by the...

(The entire section is 643 words.)

John B. Breslin (essay date 11 October 1975)

SOURCE: Breslin, John B. “Jesus and St. Mug.” America 133, no. 10 (11 October 1975): 207-10.

[In the following essay, Breslin contrasts Muggeridge's iconoclastic reputation with his increasingly Christian outlook on life.]

In a review of the second volume of his autobiography, I referred to Malcolm Muggeridge as a “formidable commentator” on the follies of the recent past and present. As I traveled down from London to spend an afternoon with him at his cottage in Sussex several weeks ago, that phrase came back to haunt me.

I took some comfort from the assurances of people I knew who had met Mr. Muggeridge that he was both gracious and genial...

(The entire section is 2778 words.)

Malcolm Muggeridge with William Murchison (interview date 16 September 1977)

SOURCE: Murchison, William. “The Cheery Doomsayer: William Murchinson.” National Review 29, no. 35 (16 September 1977): 1050-51.

[In the following interview, Muggeridge presents contemporary society as beyond hope, and sees this as reason to hope for religious salvation.]

The face is familiar. The snow-white fringe of hair, the broad-tipped nose, the inimitable smile, with the corners of the mouth stretched wide as though fleeing panic-stricken from each other. The Malcolm Muggeridge who lounges comfortably in desert boots and work shirt has the outward look of that mass of electronic impulses the television talk-show hosts call “Muggeridge.” But the fleshly...

(The entire section is 1769 words.)

J. W. Gregg Meister (review date April 1979)

SOURCE: Meister, J. W. Gregg. “Christ and the Media.” Theology Today 36, no. 4 (April 1979): 137-38.

[In the following review of Christ and the Media, Meister criticizes Muggeridge for failing to put his criticism of television in academic or historical context.]

When the Berlin Wall was first constructed, two East German policemen dramatically leaped off the wall to freedom. According to eyewitness accounts, the soldiers had to jump three times before their leap was deemed visually acceptable for the television news team.

Lacing his book, Christ and the Media, with such anecdotes, Malcolm Muggeridge underscores his thesis that not...

(The entire section is 470 words.)

Anthony Powell (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: Powell, Anthony. “The London Charivari.” In To Keep the Ball Rolling: The Memoirs of Anthony Powell, Vol. IV, pp. 47-65. London: Heinemann, 1982.

[In the following excerpt, Powell describes Muggeridge's contentious tenure as editor of the English humor magazine Punch.]

Not long after moving to the country I lunched at the Authors' Club with Malcolm Muggeridge …, then Deputy Editor of The Daily Telegraph. The job seemed to suit him pretty well, his heart being in ‘news’ journalism, while the particular gradation of rank—so to speak third in command—represented a reasonably powerful sphere of influence not oppressively incommoded by too much...

(The entire section is 7176 words.)

Robert Inchausti (essay date 16 October 1985)

SOURCE: Inchausti, Robert. “Interpreting Mother Teresa.” The Christian Century 102 (16 October 1985): 919-20.

[In the following essay, Inchausti praises Muggeridge's Something Beautiful for God for capturing the power of Mother Teresa's simple faith.]

Goodness, like beauty, leaves us mute, unable to speak. And when we finally do produce halting words to express what goodness invokes in us, they always seem weak and inappropriate. So we look to skilled writers to capture for us the words over which saints bound on their way to God.

Many books about Mother Teresa have been written in the past ten years, each attempting to interpret her life....

(The entire section is 2012 words.)

Richard Ingrams (essay date 1987)

SOURCE: Ingrams, Richard. “Introduction.” In Picture Palace, pp. vii-xiii. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987.

[In the following introduction to Muggeridge's Picture Palace, Ingrams reviews events behind the novel's genesis and suppression and finds it valuable more as historical record than novel.]

A first edition of [Picture Palace], which came out in 1934, must be one of the rarest books in existence. For although it was published and review copies sent out they were almost immediately withdrawn following legal action by Malcolm Muggeridge's former employees the Manchester Guardian (now the Guardian). [It] has waited for over fifty...

(The entire section is 2222 words.)

William F. Buckley, Jr. (review date 19 February 1988)

SOURCE: Buckley, William F. Jr. “Uncovering Stalinism.” National Review 40, no. 3 (19 February 1988): 56.

[In the following review of Winter in Moscow, Buckley praises Muggeridge's command of detail and his ability to write convincing vignettes.]

Before there was Solzhenitsyn, or Pasternak, or Djilas, or Orwell, or Koestler, there was Muggeridge. He covered, or uncovered, the Soviet Union for the Manchester Guardian in 1932-33, laying bare its stupendous horrors even as Walter Duranty and Claud Cockburn were dutifully retailing their obsequious lies about Stalin for American and English readers. He told the West about the Ukrainian famine, a feature...

(The entire section is 788 words.)

Russell Kirk (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: Kirk, Russell. “Malcom Muggeridge's Scourging of Liberalism.” In The Politics of Prudence, pp. 125-41. Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1993.

[In the following excerpt, Kirk praises Muggeridge's ability to recognize liberalism's key weaknesses and powerfully point them out to his audience.]

In the preceding three chapters, and in this one, I discuss eminent conservative men of letters whom I have known. They have all crossed the bar and put out to sea now. My proclivity for quoting such vanished friends provoked a certain auditor at a large gathering, a few years past, into observing aloud, “Dr. Kirk, you're an anomaly: all of...

(The entire section is 4174 words.)

Richard Ingrams (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: Ingrams, Richard. “Epilogue.” In Muggeridge: The Biography, pp. 247-52. London: Harper San Francisco, 1995.

[In the following excerpt, Ingrams reports on the varied assessments of Muggeridge's career that appeared upon news of the writer's death.]

Malcolm's death was reported throughout the world and there were lengthy obituaries in all the British and most of the major American newspapers. They ranged from the affectionate memoirs of his many journalistic friends to the pious platitudes of the Catholic Press. The word ‘irreverent’ was in constant use. The New York Times paid tribute to his ‘impeccable prose style’, a writer in the...

(The entire section is 1404 words.)

Gregory Wolfe (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: Wolfe, Gregory. “Muggeridge One, Two or Three?.” In Malcom Muggeridge: A Biography, pp. vi-vxiii. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1995.

[In the following excerpt, Wolfe points out the seeming contradictions between perceptions of Muggeridge as journalistic iconoclast and Christian apologist.]

I give you the end of a Golden String,
          Only wind it into a ball,
It will lead you in at Heaven's Gate
          Built in Jerusalem's Wall.

William Blake

As a media figure for more than half a century, Malcolm Muggeridge understood the strange metamorphosis that turns an individual into an image. His face, his voice and his...

(The entire section is 2901 words.)

Henry M. W. Russell (essay date 5-12 June 1996)

SOURCE: Russell, Henry M. W. “Late to the Vineyard: Explaining Malcom Muggeridge.” The Christian Century 113, no. 19 (5-12 June 1996): 624-29.

[In the following essay, Russell argues that Muggeridge did not give up his skeptical objectivity in converting to Catholicism.]

Malcolm Muggeridge was aware that to account for his conversion to Christianity, many people might look for a “sinister explanation, expatiating upon how old lechers when they become impotent are notoriously liable to denounce lechery, seeking to deprive others of pleasures no longer within their reach; how a clown whose act has staled will look around for some gimmick, however grotesque and...

(The entire section is 3560 words.)

Mark Falcoff (essay date September-October 1996)

SOURCE: Falcoff, Mark “Muggeridged by Reality.” The American Enterprise 7, no. 5 (September-October 1996): 22-23.

[In the following essay, Falcoff praises Muggeridge's insight into the weaknesses of public figures, particularly those on the political left.]

For Americans born after 1960, the name Malcolm Muggeridge, if it means anything at all, refers to an eccentric English writer best known for his defense of orthodox Christianity. A handful of graduate students or lettered conservatives may know him as well from two volumes of memoirs published in 1972-3 under the provocative title, Chronicles of Wasted Time. The truth is, there have been several...

(The entire section is 1023 words.)