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Charles Madge Archive

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Collection Description

Although Charles Madge worked successfully as both a poet and a sociologist, there was little congruence between the two in his life and any early promise in the former was soon eclipsed by the demands of the latter. Precociously talented as a poet, his work received greatest recognition in the 1930s when T S Eliot was his editor and Faber his publisher. As a sociologist, he co-founded Mass-Observation (see the Mass-Observation Archive) with Tom Harrisson in 1937, an endeavour which would occupy far more of his time and mind than any creative and literary inclinations. The 22 boxes of papers which form the Charles Madge Archive at the University of Sussex illuminate Madge’s aptitude for poetry more fully than they reveal his distinction as a sociologist, but both talents are well represented, not least in the 276-page typescript draft autobiography which traces the progress of his sociological career and covers Mass-Observation in detail. This work draws heavily on extracts from letters and diaries found elsewhere in the Archive and is an ideal starting point for anyone investigating either of Madge’s mutually exclusive yet equally fascinating vocations.

Madge’s development as a poet is amply revealed in his notebooks and in numerous files of verse dating from as early as 1920. His Cambridge student days afforded the opportunity to make connections with leading left-wing poets of the 1930s, although he left Magdalene College without a degree. Scholars of twentieth-century literature will find among his papers lively anecdotal information about key figures of the day, including W H Auden, Christopher Isherwood and T S Eliot. Critical reaction to Madge’s poetry is well documented in the Archive and ranges from informal correspondence (early praise from Rudyard Kipling and John Masefield) to transcriptions of reviews. His autobiography contains a personal analysis of his poems and comments on their inspiration. Many autograph notebooks record the creative process. Among his non-sociological prose works are early short stories, the scholarly ‘Notes on the Technique of Poetry’ (c.1930s), and schoolboy essays on Blake and Milton. Published works present include Myth, Metaphor and the World Picture, a study of metaphor in literature, contrasted with its use in religious symbolism.

The poet Madge’s early, vigorous output diminished after 1940 as the sociologist in him won out. A chance encounter with Tom Harrisson led to the establishment of Mass-Observation, a unique social experiment to record the thoughts of ‘ordinary’ people on contemporary subjects. This wide-ranging and demanding work triggered further studies for other bodies, including the National Council for Social and Economic Research where Madge worked under the auspices of J M Keynes. Madge became a director of Pilot Press in 1944 and published a quarterly magazine, Pilot Papers; a complete run is included in the Archive.
Madge held the first chair of sociology at the University of Birmingham from 1950 until his retirement in 1970, despite his lack of academic training and personal doubts about the validity of the discipline. In the first decade of his tenure he also worked for UN agencies in Asia and Africa. His documents of the time, and recollections of the academic life within his papers, illuminate the volatility of the 1960s, including the widespread student unrest of 1968.

Letters in the Archive range in scope from a brief note from W H Auden to long-running ruminations from J M Keynes. Communications from Geoffrey Grigson, Q D Leavis and Naomi Mitchison are also included. Madge’s most voluble correspondence, however, was with his mother. A devoted amanuensis to her son, Barbara Madge transcribed even his earliest work and vigorously promoted it. The Archive houses 2,000 letters from son to mother. Correspondence with Madge’s first two wives, fellow poet Kathleen Raine (the two married in 1938), and novelist Inez Spender (married in 1942), is smaller in size but particularly revealing. Madge’s letters to Inez also record his work with Mass-Observation and involvement with the Communist Party in some detail.

The correspondents from his sociology universe are just as distinguished. In 1939 he began a rewarding friendship with J M Keynes and the two men’s association is well documented in their letters and vividly recalled both in Madge’s autobiography and contemporaneous letters to Inez.

Archival history

The Archive was presented to the University of Sussex by Charles Madge’s younger daughter, Dr Victoria Randall, in 1999. It relates to, and complements, the papers of the Mass-Observation Archive, deposited at Sussex by the other co-founder, Tom Harrisson, in 1970.


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