Rupert Christiansen

The outsider who felt the cold

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Adam: An Anthology of Miron Grindea’s Adam Editorials

Rachel Lasserson

Vallentine Mitchell, pp. 260, £

The journal ADAM — an acronym for Art, Drama, Architecture and Music — was the life’s work of a Jewish Romanian exile Miron Grindea (1910-95), who was its only editor. Embodying a style of cosmopolitan cultural sophistication, it represents a fascinating episode in the history of the London literary world, its bent being more internationalist than Bloomsbury’s and less Bohemian than Fitzrovia’s or Soho’s.

Having started ADAM in Bucharest, Grindea arrived in London on the fateful day of 1 September 1939, re-establishing the journal in 1941 on the thoroughly insecure footing on which it steadfastly remained. But as it tottered heroically from financial crisis to financial crisis — at one point in the 1970s, Grindea sold the entire enterprise to the publisher Frank Cass, only to buy it back again at the first opportunity — ADAM published an astonishing selection of unpublished material, all of which Grindea had wheedled and winkled out of its authors or owners with his infuriating yet irresistible mixture of Eeyore-ish charm and bloody-mindedness.

Creative or critical or epistolary odds and ends by Eliot, Pound, Cocteau, Valéry, Sartre, Borges, Auden, Britten, Stravinsky and Picasso were the basis, garnished with reminiscences of those who had played supporting roles in the big picture — Tolstoy’s secretary, for example, Kafka’s niece, Proust’s waiter at the Ritz. Europe was the focus of Grindea’s aesthetic interests: America and its vulgarities did not engage him, and the ‘Third World’ could have been another planet for all the attention it received. But every issue was a piquant surprise — there was no formula and no overt ideology.

There is an endearingly Pooterish side to Grindea, who never felt quite at ease in his adopted land, despite his acquisition of an immaculate, almost Conradian English prose style. Everywhere, his best efforts were rebuffed: sensitive to any whiff of anti-Semitism, he constantly felt slighted, rejected, humiliated, victimised. His ADAM editorials, collected here by his grand-daughter, smart with a sense of exasperated disappointment. Running a literary magazine, he laments, is ‘as a rule considered a gratuitous activity, as unimportant as throwing yourself out of a window’; after 40 years of publication, he complains that ADAM ‘still feels like a newcomer making its debut — clumsy, unwanted, unrecorded’.

Yet browsing through these hugely enjoyable books, it is impossible not to relish Grindea’s elegant belle-lettrisme. For each issue, he laid out his wares with a wonderfully scholarly, immaculately footnoted introduction, spiced with the higher gossip and telling anecdotes of the celebrated writer and artist en pantoufles. One figure dominates: given Grindea’s anxious musings over the position of the assimilated Jew and his delight in the mapping of a web of personal connections, it is scarcely surprising that Proust was his leitmotiv, and that he seemed to inhabit the society of A la recherche du temps perdu more comfortably than he did his own. When he wrote that ‘what matters for Proustian scavengers and casuists throughout the world today is that the farandole of inquest and dissection is still tripped with unabated zest’ he was in effect patting himself on the back for his own enthusiastic inquiries into biographical minutiae.

But for Grindea at his most endearing, one should turn to the pages in which he pays posthumous tribute to Cyril Connolly and Horizon, the publication against which ADAM irritably measured itself. Connolly was the insider, of course, Grindea the outsider, and although he pays Connolly extravagant compliments — ‘he symbolised the very notion of Literature to the extent of making life more tolerable’ — he can’t keep the note of envy and resentment down, for Connolly, like the rest of the Establishment, never reciprocated by giving Grindea his due. ‘He wrote to me only once,’ he laments,

an incredible letter, asking whether I had absconded with the MS of an Auden poem (‘Elegy for JFK’) which he had read in our 300th number, when you last paid me a visit. … Never a master of repartee, I surprised myself with an almost witty reply. How could I have had access to the MS, I wrote back (in fact Auden, who was staying with the Spenders in St John’s Wood, asked me to call on him and, during the conversation, scribbled a copy of the poem, which was then made into a block) since I have never been to your house? Even this slightly indignant mise au point was ignored.

In that paragraph, with its melancholy final line, you have the essence of ADAM and the tragicomedy of Miron Grindea.