“And so with the moderns”: The Role of the Revolutionary Writer and the Mythicization of History in J. Leslie Mitchell’s Spartacus
Keywords:Spartacus, J. Leslie Mitchell (1901–35), Lewis Grassic Gibbon, communism, myth-history
The focus of this article is J. Leslie Mitchell’s Spartacus (1933), his fictional representation of the slave rebellion in ancient Rome led by the eponymous gladiator. The article begins by examining Mitchell’s contribution to debates over the role of the revolutionary writer in Left Review in the mid-1930s and his place in the British Left in this era, before going on to survey the ways in which the figure of Spartacus and the German Spartacists are represented across Mitchell’s oeuvre. It then explores key source material utilized in the writing of the novel, as well as outlining comparisons between Mitchell’s representation of Spartacus and those of his fellow novelists Howard Fast and Arthur Koestler. Including close readings of Spartacus and informed by archival research and previously unpublished manuscript items, the article argues that at the same time as denouncing the cruelties of Roman rule, Spartacus also signals Mitchell’s passionate opposition to what he considered the violent histories of oppression suffered by the commons of the earth of all times, culminating in the capitalist crisis of Mitchell’s own period in the 1930s. Mitchell creates this effect of historical simultaneity by writing a work of myth-history – as opposed to historical realism or political propaganda – that employs the utopian legend of the Golden Age to inspire radical dissent against modern deprivation.
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