Malcolm Muggeridge Critical Essays

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.