Lost Horizon

The 50th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II has occasioned an outpouring of nostalgic literature in Great Britain. The elegiac note may be appropriate: the year 1939 was, after all, a great point of rupture. Out went big houses, servants, elegant restaurants, and high fashion; in came universal military service, rationing, government canteens (euphemistically named "British restaurants"), and a general leveling-down of all personal, economic, and cultural styles. This was exactly the moment that two determined Englishmen chose for launching a highbrow review of arts and letters. The magazine was Horizon, and Michael Selden, a professor of English at Indiana State University, tells its story in Friends of Promise.

The men were Cyril Connolly, a talented literary journalist who up till then had never quite discovered his métier, and Peter Watson, a wealthy art collector and patron now separated from his beloved Paris and looking around for a way to recapture the spirit of Bohemia. Horizon was obviously the ideal vehicle for both. There was no competition for what they set out to do—indeed, several major literary reviews, including T.S. Eliot's Criterion, closed down in the first weeks of the war. Nor could the challenge have been greater: to justify high culture in wartime, at a time when anything "highbrow" ran the risk of being labeled "escapist."...

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