Really, Tory Historian ought to start a series on insults or, rather, two series: one of literary insults and one of political ones. Whenever people moan and wring their hands about modern life becoming crude and modern politics so rude and unpleasant, TH snorts. Have you had a look at eighteenth century cartoons and political pamphlets, asks TH. Or nineteenth century ones, at that. The idea that a world in which MPs can complain because their opponents have displayed less than overwhelming courtesy to them, in which audiences at political meetings are not allowed even the slightest heckle, in which people are arrested and imprisoned for "insulting" and "upsetting" comments on social media is a particularly outspoken or, heaven forfend, rude one is laughable.

Anyway, on to literary insults, which are, TH is happy to say, alive and well though not, perhaps, as interesting as those of the past.

Reading about the literary magazine of the early twentieth century, The New Age and its extraordinary editor, A. R. Orage as well as the highly talented contributors in a period that can, with some justification, be called journalism's greatest, TH came across the name of Beatrice Hastings.

This lady, whose real name was Emily Alice Haigh and who was born in South Africa (according to the DNB but in Hackney according to Wikipedia) but lived her life in England and France, ought to be better known as she seems to have been an important part of literary and artistic life of that period in the two countries. Above all, she contributed a great many articles and ideas to The New Age under various pseudonyms, introduced in that magazine a number of important modernist writers, including Ezra Pound (though, to be fair, she seems to be the only person to say so) championed various causes, some less popular than others (she seems to have been one of the first to get excited about Lenin and his mob while The New Age was definitely on the other side), lived with Orage and later on with Modigliani, who painted her on numerous occasions and had an affair with Katherine Mansfield, which must have ended rather badly.

In 1936 her literary career and reputation appeared to be on the wane and she attributed it to the Machiavellian machinations of Orage (by then dead) and the lack of gratitude displayed by various literary luminaries who had preferred to be on the right side of a man whom she compares to various dictators and who, in her opinion, had no creative or editorial talent at all. She poured out her venom in a pamphlet published by the Blue Moon Press of Red Lion Street and entitled The Old "New Age": Orage - and Others.

Her description of Orage's talent or "pen" on page 6 of her pamphlet comes high on the list of serious literary insults:
... and what a flat, ponderous, stilted, maundering, when not coy, conceited and facetious, when not plagiaristic or outright thievish "literary" pen he had ...
TH is quite envious of that list of insulting epithets. How long did it take to put them together, one wonders.

Not content with annihilating Orage, Beatrice Hastings (to give her the right pen name) went on to do the same to Richard Aldington, best known as an imagist poet but also a novelist and literary critic. In 1933 he published a novel, entitled All Men Are Enemies: A Romance. Beatrice Hastings maintained that he had appropriated and used a title she had given in 1909 to a polemical publication: Woman's Worst Enemy - Woman.

In a note on page 9 of her pamphlet she writes:
Addington exploits this title [Woman's Worst Enemy - Woman] in one of his books, without naming me. That this silk-fingered, scratch-nailed, sob-stuffing, eaten-brained curate of the feminine soul is accepted by women as a champion shows what enemies to themselves they still are.

Finally, Katherine Mansfield, a close friend and lover of Beatrice Hastings's:
I never knew until this month of Jan. 1936, that Katherine Mansfield came back on the paper [The New Age]. The sketches published in 1917 look like the incredibly vulgar stuff I rejected.  .... That she must have fancied she was triumphing over me, although I never knew that she was offered to the readers in place of "Alice Morning" [another of Beatrice Hastings's pen-names] is not completely amusing; and it rather gladdens me to reflect that when Francis Carco's terrible study, Les Innocents, showed her that she was detected and classified, she had to reflect that poor Sophie Brzeska .... had been Fate's innocent instrument of revenge. After that book, Katherine began to play saint, prate about God and, as Olive Moore says, "twittered" her way out of a world she had fouled wherever she went.
Ah those literary and artistic rows of yesteryear!

Beatrice Hastings's end was tragic but, somehow, appropriately flamboyant. She drank too much, had squandered her inheritance, saw herself as betrayed and spurned by the literary establishment, against which she railed. At the end of October,1943 she

burned her correspondence, stuffed a towel under the door, cradled her little white mouse in her hand and turned the gas on.
She had left her possessions to her "devoted friend" Doris Lillian Green and her Literary Estate to the British Museum "or the first public library that puts in a claim". Oh but those letters! What joy it would be to read them. Surely, a woman who can write such elegant literary insults deserves renewed interest.


  1. S.M. MacLean Says:
  2. Here is an entry from American presidential politics in 1800 for your political insults category.

  3. Brilliant. Thank you. Will be used.

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