Memoirs of the Forties Essay - Critical Context

Julian Maclaren-Ross

Critical Context

The 1940’s marked the high point of Julian Maclaren-Ross’ literary career. During this decade he published in rapid succession three collections of short stories, The Stuff to Give the Troops: Twenty-five Tales of Army Life (1944), Better Than a Kick in the Pants (1945), and The Nine Men of Soho (1946), and two novels, Bitten by the Tarantula: A Story of the South of France (1945) and Of Love and Hunger (1947). The promise of these works, which are marked by a fresh, idiosyncratic style, was not fulfilled; in subsequent years, Maclaren-Ross’ only significant publications were a reminiscence of his childhood, The Weeping and the Laughter: A Chapter of Autobiography (1953), intended to serve as the first installment of a multivolume autobiography (never completed), and the unfinished, posthumously issued Memoirs of the Forties.

The period covered by Memoirs of the Forties is treated in many other literary memoirs as well; the reader sees the same people and events from diverse and sometimes contradictory perspectives. Two fellow memoirists who must be read with Maclaren-Ross are Alan Ross, editor, poet, and cricket writer, and Anthony Powell, author of the twelve-novel sequence A Dance to the Music of Time (1951-1975). Ross, who was largely responsible for the publication of Memoirs of the Forties, includes a portrait of Maclaren-Ross in his memoir Blindfold Games (1986); in addition, his introduction to the 1984 Penguin edition of Memoirs of the Forties provides an excellent overview of Maclaren-Ross’ life and work. Powell, whose fictional character X. Trapnel, featured in several novels in A Dance to the Music of Time, was based on Maclaren-Ross, recalls that colorful figure and his milieu in The Strangers All Are Gone (1982), the concluding volume of his memoirs, To Keep the Ball Rolling (1976-1982).