John Middleton Murry

Grave of John Middleton Murry at Thelnetham Church in Suffolk

John Middleton Murry (6 August 1889 – 12 March 1957) was an English writer. He was prolific, producing more than 60 books and thousands of essays and reviews on literature, social issues, politics, and religion during his lifetime. A prominent critic, Murry is best remembered for his association with Katherine Mansfield, whom he married as her second husband, in 1918, his friendship with D. H. Lawrence, and his friendship (and brief affair) with Frieda Lawrence. Following Mansfield's death, Murry edited her work.


Early life

He was born in Peckham, London, the son of a civil servant. He was educated at Christ's Hospital and Brasenose College, Oxford.[1] There he met the writer Joyce Cary, a lifelong friend.

He met Katherine Mansfield at the end of 1911, through W. L. George.[2] His intense relationship with her, her early death, and his subsequent allusions to it, shaped both his later life and the attitudes (often hostile) of others to him. Leonard Woolf in his memoirs called Murry "Pecksniffian".[3] By 1933 his reputation "had touched bottom", and Rayner Heppenstall's short book of 1934, John Middleton Murry: A Study in Excellent Normality, could note that he was "the best-hated man of letters in the country".[4]


From 1911 to 1913, Murry was editor of the literary magazine Rhythm,[5] which was later renamed The Blue Review.

In 1914 he met D. H. Lawrence, and became an important supporter. The next year they started a short-lived magazine together, The Signature.[6] In 1931, after a complex evolution of the relationship, Murry wrote in Son of Woman one of the first and most influential posthumous assessments of Lawrence as a man.[7]

Medically certified as unfit for the military, with pleurisy and possible tuberculosis,[8] during the war years he was part of the Garsington circle of Ottoline Morrell.

In 1919, Murry became the editor of the Athenaeum, recently purchased by Arthur Rowntree.[9] Under his editorship it was a literary review that featured work by T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, and other members of the Bloomsbury Group. It lasted until 1921. It had enthusiastic support from E. M. Forster,[10] who later wrote that "Here at last was a paper that was a pleasure to read and an honour to write for, and which linked up literature and life".[11] Its fate was to be merged into The Nation, which became The Nation and Athenaeum, in the period 1923 to 1930 edited by H. D. Henderson.[12][13]

In 1923 he became the founding editor of the influential periodical, The Adelphi (The New Adelphi, 1927–30), which involved associations with Jack Common and Max Plowman. It continued in various forms until 1948. It reflected his successive interests in Lawrence, an unorthodox Marxism, pacifism, and a return to the land.[14]

According to David Goldie, Murry and the Adelphi, and Eliot and the Criterion, were in an important rivalry by the mid-1920s, with competing definitions of literature, based respectively on romanticism allied to liberalism and a subjective approach, and a form of classicism allied to traditionalism and a religious attitude. In this contest, Goldie says, Eliot emerged a clear victor, in the sense that in the 1930s London Eliot had taken the centre of the critical stage.[15][16]


He reviewed for the Westminster Gazatte and then the Times Literary Supplement, from 1912.[17] Initially he was much influenced by the philosophy of Henri Bergson, which he disavowed in 1913.[18]

He was one of an identified group of post-World War I critics that included Richard Aldington, Robert Graves, Aldous Huxley, Herbert Read, and Edgell Rickword.[19] Murry gave Huxley an editorial job at The Athenaeum.[20]

Murry led the charge against Georgian poetry. A leader in the 16 May 1919 edition of The Athenaeum was an early example of a reasoned attack against the Georgian style of verse; and Murry coupled this with an adversarial attitude to the London Mercury edited by J. C. Squire.[21] He reviewed quite harshly Siegfried Sassoon's Counter-Attack in 1918, despite having helped him in 1917 to draft an anti-war piece for H. W. Massingham's The Nation.[22] In-house, however, he was not master enough to award an essay competition prize to the then-unknown Herbert Read, over the wishes of George Saintsbury and Robert Bridges, who preferred the poet William Orton.[23]

F. R. Leavis admired and was influenced by Murry's early criticism.[24] Later he was to attack Murry viciously, in the pages of Scrutiny.[25]

On Romanticism

Murry gave his philosophy its fullest expression in his writings on Keats and Shakespeare and in an ambitiously titled volume, God: An Introduction to the Science of Metabiology. There, picking up certain concepts from his acquaintance George Santayana, Murry describes the project of Romanticism as one of inner exploration:

"To discover that within myself which I *must obey, to gain some awareness of the law which operates in the organic world of the internal world, to feel this internal world as an organic whole working out its own destiny according to some secret vital principle, to know which acts and utterances are a liberation from obstacles and an accession of strength, to acknowledge secret loyalties which one cannot deny without impoverishment and starvation -- this is to possess one's soul indeed, and it is not easy either to do or to explain."[26]

The upshot of this discovery results in the highest degree of ethical awareness, "an immediate knowledge of what I am and may not do."[27] The awareness of one being "really alone" in the universe,[28] as he put it, marks the final point of discovery which is followed by the upward ascent to spiritual life.

Murry vividly narrates this exploration as a spiritual conversion—what he describes as a "desolation" followed by "illumination" -- after the death of Katherine Mansfield (who had moved to Gurdjieff's Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man where she died).

The Adelphi

In 1930 Max Plowman joined Murry and Sir Richard Rees in developing The Adelphi as a socialist, and later pacifist, monthly; Murry had founded it in 1923 as a literary journal (The New Adelphi, 1927–30); Rees edited it from 1930; Plowman took on the role in 1938.[29] The Adelphi was closely aligned with the Independent Labour Party;[30] Jack Common worked for it as circulation promoter and assistant editor[31] in the 1930s.

Plowman co-founded in 1934 and ran the Adelphi Centre.[32] It was an early commune, based on a farm in Langham, Essex bought by Murry.[33] Short-lived in its original conception, it ran a Summer School in August 1936 that was stellar: George Orwell spoke on "An Outsider Sees the Distressed Areas" on 4 August, with Rayner Heppenstall in the chair. Other speakers were Steve Shaw, Herbert Read, Grace Rogers, J. Hampden Jackson, N. A. Holdaway (a Marxist theorist and schoolmaster, and a Director of the Centre), Geoffrey Sainsbury, Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Polanyi, John Strachey, Plowman and Common.[34]

By 1937 the commune had collapsed, and the house, 'The Oaks', was turned over to some 60 Basque refugee children under the auspices of the Peace Pledge Union; they remained until 1939.[35]


Murry had a Marxist phase in the early 1930s. With his third marriage in 1931, he moved within Norfolk, from South Acre to the Old Rectory, Larling, and wrote in two weeks his The Necessity of Communism.[36] It was this identification as "mystical Marxist" that led Bert Trick (1889–1968) to introduce Dylan Thomas to Murry, in 1933. The occasion went well enough for Richard Rees to publish Thomas in the Adelphi.[37]

He supported the small Independent Socialist Party (UK), a regional breakaway from the Independent Labour Party.

Pacifist and Christian

He was an outspoken pacifist, writing The Necessity of Pacifism (1937). He was a Sponsor of the Peace Pledge Union, and editor of its weekly newspaper, Peace News, from 1940 to 1946. Murry's opinions during this period often provoked controversy. He angered many left-wingers (including Vera Brittain) by arguing Nazi Germany should be allowed retain control of mainland Europe. Murry believed even though Nazi rule was tyrannical, it was preferable to the horrors of total war. [38][39] Murry's anti-feminism also drew criticism from feminist pacifists such as Brittain and Sybil Morrison. [40] Finally Murry's opposition to the Soviet Union was attacked by pro-Soviet elements in the peace movement. [38] Murry later "renounced his pacifism in 1948 and...urged a preventative war against the Soviet Union, ending his life as a Conservative voter".[41]

During this period Murry was widely known as a Christian intellectual. He had in fact considered ordination as an Anglican priest, but gave up on it after a diagnosis in 1938 of Buerger's disease, coupled with doubts about his marriages (his third was then breaking up messily).[42]

His views converged with those of Eliot; he supported a type of elitism foreshadowed by Samuel Taylor Coleridge's clerisy, and argued for by Matthew Arnold.[43][44] In Christianity and Culture, Eliot partially supported Murry's reasoning from The Price of Leadership (1939), though stopping short of the endorsement of Arnold.[45]


Murry was married four times: to Katherine Mansfield in 1918, to Violet Le Maistre in 1924, to Elizabeth Cockbayne in 1932[46] and to Mary Gamble in 1954.[47] With his second wife, Violet Le Maistre, he had two children: a daughter, Katherine Violet Middleton Murry who became a writer and published "Beloved Quixote, the secret life of John Middleton Murry" in 1986, and a son, John Middleton Murry, Jr., who became a writer under the names of Colin Murry and Richard Cowper. There were also two children of the third marriage.[48]

In fiction

Aldous Huxley portrayed him as Denis Burlap in Point Counter Point (1928).[49] He was the model for Philip Surrogate in Graham Greene's 1934 novel It's a Battlefield; Greene did not know him personally.[50] David Holbrook wrote that Gudrun and Gerald in Lawrence's Women in Love were based on Mansfield and Murry.[51]

Murry appears as a character in Amy Rosenthal's DH Lawrence biodrama On The Rocks. In the 2008 Hampstead Theatre production Murry was played by Nick Caldecott with Ed Stoppard as Lawrence and Charlotte Emmerson as Mansfield.[52][53]


  • Fyodor Dostoevsky: A Critical Study (1916)
  • Still Life (1916) novel
  • Poems: 1917-18 (1918)
  • The Critic in Judgement (1919)
  • The Evolution of an Intellectual (1920)
  • Aspects of Literature (1920), revised edition 1945
  • Cinnamon & Angelica (1920) verse drama
  • Poems: 1916-1920 (1921)
  • Countries of the Mind (1922)
  • Pencillings (1922)
  • The Problem of Style (1922)
  • The Things We Are (1922) novel
  • Wrap Me Up in My Aubusson Carpet (1924)
  • The Voyage (1924) novel
  • Discoveries (1924)
  • To the Unknown God (1925)
  • Keats and Shakespeare (1925)
  • The Life of Jesus (1926)
  • Journal of Katherine Mansfield (1927) editor
  • The Letters of Katherine Mansfield (1928) editor
  • Things to Come (1928)
  • God: An Introduction to the Science of Metabiology (1929)
  • D .H. Lawrence (1930)
  • Son of Woman: The Story of D. H. Lawrence (1931)
  • Studies in Keats (1931)
  • The Necessity of Communism (1932)
  • Reminiscences of D.H. Lawrence (1933)
  • William Blake (1933)
  • The Biography of Katherine Mansfield (1933) with Ruth E. Mantz
  • Between Two Worlds (1935) (autobiography)
  • Marxism (1935)
  • Shakespeare (1936)
  • The Necessity of Pacifism (1937)
  • Heaven and Earth (1938)
  • Heroes of Thought (1938)
  • The Pledge of Peace (1938)
  • The Defence of Democracy (1939)
  • The Price of Leadership (1939)
  • Europe in Travail (1940)
  • The Betrayal of Christ by the Churches (1940)
  • Christocracy (1942)
  • Adam and Eve (1944)
  • The Free Society (1948)
  • Looking Before and After: A Collection of Essays (1948)
  • The Challenge of Schweitzer (1948)
  • Katherine Mansfield and Other Literary Portraits (1949)
  • The Mystery of Keats (1949)
  • John Clare and other Studies (1950)
  • The Conquest of Death (1951)
  • Community Farm (1952)
  • Jonathan Swift (1955)
  • Unprofessional Essays (1956)
  • Love, Freedom and Society (1957)
  • Not as the Scribes (1959)
  • John Middleton Murry: Selected Criticism 1916-1957 (1960) editor Richard Rees


  • F. A. Lea, The Life of John Middleton Murry (1959)
  • E. G. Griffin (1968)
  • J. P. Carswell (1978), Lives and Letters: A. R. Orage, Katherine Mansfield, Beatrice Hastings, John Middleton Murry, S. S. Koteliansky, 1906-1957


  1. ^
  2. ^ Carswell, p. 66.
  3. ^ Downhill All the Way (1967), p. 49.
  4. ^ Lea, p. 213.
  5. ^ (Joy Grant, Harold Monro & the Poetry Bookshop (1967), p.34. It was infused with defiance and optimism.[...] Poetically it leaned towards modernity, printing free verse by Katherine Mansfield [...]. (Text available online.)
  6. ^ Lea, p. 45.
  7. ^ Jonathan Bate, The Oxford English Literary History (2002), p. 262.
  8. ^ Carswell, p. 99.
  9. ^ David Goldie, A Critical Difference: T.S. Eliot and John Middleton Murry in English Literary Criticism, 1919-1928 (1998), p. 34.
  10. ^ Nicola Beauman, Morgan: A biography of E. M. Forster (1993), pp. 307-8.
  11. ^ E. M. Forster, Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson (1932), Harvest edition p. 176.
  12. ^ Edward Hyams, The New Statesman (1963), p. 119.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Peter Davison (editor), George Orwell: A Kind of Compulsion 1903-1936 (1998), p. 181.
  15. ^ David Goldie, A Critical Difference: T.S. Eliot and John Middleton Murry in English Literary Criticism, 1919-1928 (1998), pp. 2-3.
  16. ^ Albert Gelpi, A Coherent Splendor: The American Poetic Renaissance, 1910-1950 (1987), pp. 116-7.
  17. ^
  18. ^ Mary Ann Gillies, Henri Bergson and British Modernism (1996), p. 60.
  19. ^ Alan Young (editor), Edgell Rickword: Essays and Opinions 1921-31 (1974), pp. 1-2.
  20. ^ Nicholas Murray, Aldous Huxley: An English Intellectual (2002), p. 111.
  21. ^ Robert H. Ross, The Georgian Revolt (1967) pp. 202-3.
  22. ^ Jean Moorcroft Wilson, Siegfried Sassoon 1886-1918, p. 373 and 496.
  23. ^ Lea, p. 67.
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^ God, p. 47)
  27. ^ God, p. 49
  28. ^ God, p. 26
  29. ^ Magazine Data File
  30. ^ Peter Sedgwick: George Orwell - International Socialist? (1969)
  31. ^ Archives Hub: Jack Common Papers
  32. ^ First World - Prose & Poetry - Max Plowman
  33. ^ Dennis Hardy, Utopian England: Community Experiments, 1900-1945 (2002), p. 42.
  34. ^ Peter Davison (editor), George Orwell: A Kind of Compulsion 1903-1936 (1998), p. 493.
  35. ^ Langham Basque Colony, Colchester
  36. ^ Lea p. 184, 193.
  37. ^ Andrew Lycett, Dylan Thomas (2003), p. 89.
  38. ^ a b Richard A. Rempel, "The Dilemmas of British Pacifists During World War II", The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 50, No. 4, On Demand Supplement (Dec., 1978), pp. D1213-D1229.
  39. ^ Lea, pp. 310-12.
  40. ^ Ruth Roach Pierson, Women and Peace: Theoretical, Historical, and Practical Perspectives,(1987) p.212.
  41. ^ Quoted in David Goodway,Anarchist Seeds Beneath the Snow (2006), p. 208.
  42. ^ Lea, p. 256.
  43. ^ José Harris, Civil Society in British History: Ideas, Identities, Institutions (2003), p. 233.
  44. ^ Roger Kojecky, T. S. Eliot's Social Criticism (1971), p. 166.
  45. ^ T. S. Eliot, Christianity and Culture, p. 62.
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^
  49. ^ Donald Watt, Aldous Huxley, the Critical Heritage (1975), p. 50.
  50. ^ Norman Sherry, The Life of Graham Greene volume I (1989), p. 466.
  51. ^ David Holbrook, Where D.H. Lawrence was Wrong about Woman (1992), p. 221.
  52. ^ Billington, Michael (2008-07-02), On the Rocks Review, The Guardian,, retrieved 2009-03-02 
  53. ^ Bassett, Kate (2008-07-06), On the Rocks, Hampstead Theatre, London, The Independent,, retrieved 2009-03-02 

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