Alexander Grafen (UCL) - 2017-18 Students

The Whitechapel Boys and the Little Magazine

I am researching the Whitechapel Boys and their relation to London modernism. Joseph Leftwich coined the name “Whitechapel Boys” to describe a group of Jewish writers and artists who grew up in the East End at the beginning of the twentieth century, all of whom were first or second generation immigrants from the Russian Empire. They included Isaac Rosenberg, John Rodker, David Bomberg, Mark Gertler and Leftwich himself. I am exploring the descriptive and explanatory value of Leftwich’s term by studying the works and networks of these writers and artists between 1911 and 1933 and charting their connections to the different factions of London literary and artistic culture. I am using little magazines to focus this research, since they served as an unusually accessible entry point to those factions for the Whitechapel Boys on account of the more acute anti-Semitism and classism they faced elsewhere.

The Whitechapel Boys’ work was first printed in little magazines and shows a negotiation between coterie and public ways of writing. Some magazines important for my research are The Egoist, Voices, Colour and the Yiddish language magazine, Renaissance. The conditions exacted on the Whitechapel Boys for inclusion in these publications, and the way that these conditions were navigated, reflects the more general conditionality of access Jewish immigrants were allowed to the English body politic. My research will elucidate important elements of Jewish diasporic history and the East End’s cultural and intellectual history, and it will contribute to a more nuanced, historicised portrait of London modernism.

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