The world is there and then is here
the fire without is deep within
and near is far and far is near
and the stars in my hands spin
and in the stars I am spinning

– Jack Lindsay, ‘To Giordano Bruno’


Norman Lindsay with Jack Lindsay
Norman Lindsay with Jack

Jack Lindsay was born on 20 October 1900 to artist, Norman Lindsay and his wife Kathleen (Katie), nee Parkinson. Norman was one of ten children to Robert Lindsay, surgeon from Londonderry, Ireland and Jane Elizabeth Williams whom he met in Melbourne. Five of the children (Percival, Lionel, Norman, Ruby and Daryl) became artists and writers. Katie was one of six children born to Patrick Parkinson and his wife Cassandra, nee Owens who met in India where their families worked in the British Civil Service. All but one (Lewis Gerald) of their children were born in India. The Parkinsons were also interested in the arts, with Katie’s older sister Mary and brother, Raymond – both published writers – opening their home to soirées where the latest cultural events were discussed. Here Katie met Norman and began an affair that was to result in a precipitous marriage and the appearance of young Jack.

Katie and Norman were not well suited, however; she not understanding his dedication to his work and he not able to supply the emotional support she required. When the marriage failed, Katie moved to Brisbane in 1909 to live near Mary, now married to a doctor, Jack Elkington who had been part of the cultural scene in Melbourne.


Qld botanic gardens 1920
Queensland Botanic Gardens 1920

In Brisbane Katie struggled to cope with management of the family, with the result that Jack received little formal education before the age of twelve.  Instead he read copiously and by his own account, spent much of his time wandering the grounds of Brisbane’s Botanical Gardens dreaming of the legends and myths he encountered in his mother’s books.  

Moreton Bay Fig Tree Drawing

Given Lindsay’s later interest in William Morris, there is an interesting parallel between the young William riding his hobby-horse around Walthamstow Forest, dreaming of being a knight, and the young Jack wandering among the Gothic Moreton Bay figs of the Botanical Gardens, dreaming the same dream.


When Mary and Jack Elkington realized how brilliant their young nephew was, they took his education in hand, finding him a school. There he was required to start from the youngest class and work through to his peer group, which he did in one year.  The Elkingtons also provided him with a room in their house where he could keep his books and study, away from the chaos of life with Katie, which was itinerant and usually involved boarding-house accommodation.

Old-government-house-brisbane-1879 copyWith Mary and Jack Elkington’s support and encouragement Jack successfully sat the scholarship examinations first for Brisbane Boys’ Grammar School and then the University of Queensland (pictured).  In both institutions he thrived intellectually, finishing his academic career with First Class honours in Classics.  At both institutions Jack also wrote for and edited the student magazine and at university he was politically active, supporting Aboriginal rights, workers’ rights and the Russian revolution of 1917.  He also turned his political criticism onto his own learning and the university itself, challenging not only the use of research & scholarship but also the political basis of the formation of institutional knowledge.

Jack’s experience of teaching at the Workers’ Educational Association in Brisbane reinforced his concern about the nature of knowledge. Some W.E.A. members expressed their concerns that the teaching sanctioned by the university and presented by university-appointed tutors was not objective or disinterested but served middle-class interests and reflected capitalist ideology. Jack debated these concerns with colleague and unionist, Jim Quinton, Director of Tutorial Classes and Christian socialist, T.C. Witherby and his associate Vere Gordon Childe, archaeologist and philologist, socialist and nascent Marxist. From these men Jack got his first taste of theoretically- and historically-informed political debate.

In 1919 Jack was contacted by his father, Norman, a successful artist, bohemian and cultural icon. After a decade of estrangement Jack was charmed by this attention and noted in ‘The Fullness of Life’ that ‘I was intoxicated by the voice: This is My son in whom I am well pleased.’ Its lexical reference to Christ’s Baptism and his acknowledgment by God the Father indicates the divine absence that Norman had become in his sons’ lives.

Soon afterwards, Jack completed his degree and was advised by Professor of Classics, J.L. Michie to wait for a year when a travelling scholarship would become available that would take him to Oxford or Cambridge, a doctorate, and a university career.  Needless to say, the Elkingtons were delighted, however Jack hesitated to accept life in the academy, which he had criticized in the University magazine, Galmahra (May 1921) for its coldness and dogmatism. Although Norman subsequently refused to advise him on choice of career, it seems likely that the opportunity to spend time with his father was also a major factor in Jack’s choice not to wait on the scholarship but instead to move to Sydney and commence his life in the arts. As his brother Philip would write in his own autobiography, I’d Live the Same Life Over [1941]:

Not until then did the brilliant phenomenon of the family reveal the cloven Lindsay hoof beneath his scholastic gown. In sudden rebellion, he hurled away his triumphs, kicked for ever out of hope his chances of a scholarship to Cambridge or Oxford, and entered the diablerie of art.
(p. 19)


Norman Lindsay with Beethoven's death mask by Harold Cazneaux
Norman Lindsay with Beethoven’s death mask. Photo by Harold Cazneaux

To prepare for reunion with his father Jack attempted to read and assimilate the manuscript of Norman’s manifesto, Creative Effort, a rejection of the bourgeois world for its crass materialism and hypocritical prudery. It was also marked by the sexism of its time, by a noxious anti-Semitism, and also by a rejection of any kind of political activism: ‘With all the vast display of administrative energy, methods of government, codes of morality and conduct, man himself remains unaltered. … Universal education, universal education— all this talk is idle. Intellect, wherever it is manifest, arrives without these aids.’ (p. 16)

For Jack, this doctrine was hard to accept, as it disclaimed all of his previous thinking; however, such was his need for his father’s approval and Norman’s own charisma that Jack abandoned his socialism and embarked on an artistic rebellion: ‘By concentrating on the concept of art-activity as the supreme concretising activity of the human mind I was able to move over from Blake the down-to-earth revolutionary to Blake the visionary’ (‘The Fullness of Life’, Chapter 1).

Norman Lindsay Illustration from Vision: A Literary QuarterlyFor five years Jack lived among the artistic and literary bohemians of Sydney, in the shadow of his famous, reclusive and charismatic father. He began his career as a writer and publisher, notably with the four issues of the literary quarterly, Vision (1923-1924) edited by Jack and poet, Kenneth Slessor. Illustrated by Norman and inspired by (and proselytizing for) Norman’s anti-modernist aesthetic, the quarterly’s short life alerted Jack to the tenuousness of their position; this was the period of the flowering of Sydney modernism; of Roy de Maistre’s colour-music, the recent Colour in Art exhibition (1919) featuring de Maistre and Roland Wakelin, Margaret Preston, Thea Proctor and Grace Cossington Smith. Alongside the Modernist experimentation with colour and form, Norman’s nymphs and satyrs seemed an echo of times past.

Nevertheless, Jack persisted with the Vision aesthetic, launching Fanfrolico Press in Sydney with John Kirtley and taking a major role in book design. The first books included collections of verse by Jack, Philip Lindsay and Kenneth Slessor, and Jack’s translation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrataall illustrated by Norman Lindsay.  Jack was still studying Blake and Nietzsche and working on books about both, writing reviews, and attempting unsuccessfully to write poetry.

Despite publishing an anthology of verse, Australian Poetry 1923 with co-editors Kenneth Slessor and Frank C. Johnson, Jack found his own poetry writing had stalled – a problem he would later relate to a growing uneasiness with his father’s aesthetic vision and its reactionary politics. Unbeknownst to Norman he was also covertly reading the modernist poetry of the Sitwells. Both the lack of public and critical enthusiasm for the Lindsay vision and his own venture into modernism were challenging Jack’s acceptance of Norman’s world.

His personal life was also complicated by the arrival in Sydney of his mother and brothers, one of whom (Ray) had sold Jack’s precious library in order to finance their move. In 1922 Jack married Janet Beaton, a middle-class member of Sydney’s bohemian society and an aspiring poet. Her family provided Janet with a stipend that enabled them to survive on Jack’s irregular and minimal earnings. Jack would later attribute to Janet also an emotional and intellectual generosity that he was too driven at that time to recognize, acknowledge or reciprocate. By his own account he spent his years in Sydney trying fairly unsuccessfully to enact the role of sexual adventurer that Norman believed was required of the artist. Their marriage survived Jack’s inconstancy, but not his next move, which was to take Fanfrolico Press to London.

Bruno is that moment when we find the hidden heart of things
in the colliding lives of men
as in the aspiring lark that sings
small in the light’s tall tree
with gyring wings

– Jack Lindsay, ‘To Giordano Bruno’


In 1926 Jack Lindsay and John Kirtley boarded a ship to Great Britain, aiming to use their publications to revitalize the Old World enervated by years of war and its artistic turn into abstraction. The following year Kirtley returned to Australia; Jack never would. With P.R. Stephensen and then Brian Penton as co-editors, he published twentyfive books between 1926 and 1930 at Fanfrolico Press, which included original books, translations from classical texts and edited collections. He designed them, and either wrote (seven), translated (ten) or co-edited (eight) of them, with Norman supplying illustrations and financial backing. His original works included critical studies of Blake and of Nietzsche and a number of verse plays. When the Great Depression destroyed the market for fine art books, Fanfrolico failed – though the books have now become highly collectible. Jack fell out badly with Norman over the Press’s bankruptcy, beginning a life-long uneasiness between the two.

During this period Jack had begun a relationship with poet, Elza de Locre whom he describes in ‘The Fullness of Life’, Chapter 2, as ‘a strange, lost, and beautiful person … who had recently left her husband’. After Fanfrolico folded she and Jack wandered for years around Southern England, Jack unsure how to proceed, virtually penniless and often just a step ahead of landlords on whom he often defaulted, with Elza increasingly depressed by a number of issues including her estranged daughter, who lived with her ex-husband and his new wife. This seems to have been something of a ‘dark night of the soul’ for Jack, who embarked on a period of soul-searching and Freudian self-analysis.

Jack also started to write historical novels, mostly set in ancient Rome, which led to a renewed interest in social structures and politics and how they impact on individuals.

He spent time among the working people of the region and re-discovered his class politics. And he rejected Norman’s obsessive sexualisation of women in favour of emotional intimacy, though he was unable to achieve this with Elza, whose own problems left her withdrawn, erratic and sometimes violent.  He also became a vegetarian, believing animals are kin and should not be victims to the human desire, but not need, for meat.

On Guard for Spain Performance
On Guard for Spain Performance

In the mid 1930s he began to read the work of Marx and Lenin, formalizing his understanding of their analysis and its revolutionary politics. He also became involved in the struggle against fascism, with his verse declamations, ‘On Guard for Spain’ and ‘Who are the English?’ performed publicly by those supporting the democratic Republican side against the fascist Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War.  The latter poem was a bold re-imagining of English political history, recalling those who had battled for equality – John Ball, John Cade and John Wicliffe, the Lollards, Luddites and Chartists, William Morris and the members of the Commune of Paris, and more recently the Durham Miners (a reference to the 1926 Lockout). It provides readers and listeners with an alternative version of their own reality, challenging the ‘ruling class’ histories that silence oppositional voices and erase them from the public record.

Adam of a New World by Jack Lindsay coverFrom 1936 Jack became a known figure in communist circles, particularly as a member of the cultural movement that was concerned with the building of a people’s culture (a Cultural Upsurge) that was richer and more genuinely democratic than mainstream, commercialised, ‘popular’ culture. Jack’s explorations of history, society and culture were the basis of the historical novels, historical and cultural studies, and verse declamations by which he earned a living. He also wrote a novel (Adam of a New World) about Giordano Bruno, Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician, cosmologist, poet and iconoclast, in many ways a mirror for Jack and his own intellectual journey.

World War 2 and After

Jack Lindsay in Army Uniform 1943
Jack Lindsay in Army Uniform 1943

In the early 1940s Jack was called-up for service in the Signals Corps and then transferred to the Army Bureau of Current Affairs (ABCA) War Office to write theatre and film scripts with an anti-fascist theme. He noted in ‘The Fullness of Life’ that membership of the Communist Party did not seem to register with Army Intelligence, which was far more concerned about trade unionists and those with criminal records.  He recounts one officer warning a group of twelve writers in the War Office that they must be careful not to let their work fall into communist hands, not realizing that eleven of them were communists and the twelfth was Trotskyite. (‘The Fullness of Life’, p.144) He also continued to write both contemporary and historical novels and published poetry about the war.  Many of the historical novels including a book for boys, The Dons sight Devon (1941) were set at times of war; characteristically, Jack used the distance of time and place to enable a reflection on contemporary events.

He was de-mobbed before the war ended, continuing his educational and propaganda work now for the Communist Party. He published the journals, Our Times (monthly) and Seven (quarterly), both of which were part of the Cultural Upsurge project.  His pamphlet, Perspective for Poetry (1944) spelled out his philosophy that: ‘All poets who have so far written, great or small, can be shown to have been propagandists for some set of values.’ And adds later: ‘The poet’s freedom is his right, his need, to be true to the fullness of life, not to one side of it, but to the complete meaning and movement.’

Unity Theatre Handbook Cover

For the rest of the 1940s he was involved with work for Unity Theatre, the Society for Cultural Relations with Russia, the P.E.N. group, and the Writers’ Group in the Communist Party.  He co-edited the Communist Party journal, Arena (1949-51), wrote for the short-lived political theatre company, Theatre 46, contributed essays to the Daily Worker and Horizonand puzzled over the doctrinaire turn in Zhdanov’s speeches about culture that argued for a form of didactic social realism that directly opposed the freedom of the artist Jack espoused in Perspective for PoetryHe also continued his prolific publication rate with historical and contemporary novels, verse, a critical analysis of art and music in Britain, a cultural study of the Roman Empire, an essay on his writer friend, Mulk Ray Anand and a translation of Longus’ Daphnis and Chloe. For his contribution to British literature, Jack received the first of many honours, elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (1944).

At the end of the decade he published a political study, Marxism and Contemporary Science (also originally called ‘The Fullness of Life’) that was not well-received by the Communist Party and resulted in Jack being called before the Cultural Committee to explain himself. His relationship with the Party was always contentious; in this case his only supporter was historian, Edward Thompson. He later acknowledged that the book was not well argued but noted that one of the major failings attributed to it was its use of an idealist concept of mind, encapsulated in the notion of a mind-body unity. He rejected this interpretation noting that the portmanteau term (mind-body) indicated the interrelationship of mind and body and their grounding in the material world.

Nevertheless, for about eight years Jack did attempt to follow party teachings and produce a form of Soviet-approved socialist realism.  It was during this period that he met Doris Lessing who would later describe him as ‘perhaps the purest example of a good writer done in by the Party.’ The orthodoxy of these years also exposed him to criticism from the literary establishment, with the Times Literary Supplement singling out his work as propagandist in 1953 and 1955. These works are not typical of Jack’s output, nor of his customary iconoclasm. The Party’s censure had unnerved him and it would take some years before he regained self-confidence and resumed his familiar engagement with individual freedom, bringing together Marx’s writing on the nature of being with his own observation and theorisation of the alienation caused by capitalism and his understanding of the role of the arts in bridging the personal and the political.

Ann Lindsay
Ann Lindsay

During this period Jack met Unity Theatre member, Ann Davies and the two formed a deep emotional bond that lasted until Ann’s death in 1954 in Castle Hedingham, Essex where they had moved in 1951. Ann had joined Unity in 1937 and was considered a talented actor, an excellent athlete and one of its most popular figures, taking a lead role in its most successful production, the political pantomime, Babes in the Wood (1938).  She became its first female President in 1942 and had worked in a variety of other positions and organisations, including the League of Nations, the British Drama League and the National Council of Social Services. As Ann Lindsay, she wrote a book about her experience of community and educational performance titled The Theatre (1948), published by Bodley Head.

The Cold War

The Cold War began in earnest in the 1950s and, as a recent study of Jack’s MI5 files shows, he was an early victim of secret service censorship. In 1949, when he was finding it quite difficult to live on his earnings as a writer, he had a translation of an ancient Greek play and an essay on British Literature produced on B.B.C. radio.  Both had been well-received and he was assured of more work, until he was suddenly notified that he could no longer be employed by the B.B.C., with no reason able to be given.  When a number of Jack’s MI5 files were released recently for public viewing, the reason was revealed – a thinly-veiled order from MI5 to a B.B.C. producer not to employ him, because of his ‘Communist connection’.

Jack and Ann Lindsay in Poland
Jack and Ann in Poland

Not resiling from his political commitment, he and Ann travelled to the U.S.S.R., visiting Russia, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Romania where they greatly enjoyed their time spent with fellow writers and also with workers, though they did not see the extent of repression under Stalin or the dictatorial Soviet-backed leaders of other satellite regimes. It might be argued that his outsider status enabled him to rejoice in the elimination of elements of bourgeois society that he rejected, while being freer to criticise the development of Soviet communism than any citizen of the Union; further, that his hosts were eager to show him the best possible view of their own society.  At the same time, it might also be acknowledged that the West saw the repression in the U.S.S.R. so clearly because it did not want to recognize repression at home, the infamous years of McCarthyism in the United States and its manifestations in other Western countries, which included witch hunts of writers and academics, with the entertainment industry and universities pressed into service as informers. Jack, as we have noted already, was an early victim of that repression, though he did not know it.

Nevertheless, the undermining of a career was not comparable to the regime of brutality, forced imprisonment, torture and execution that was revealed by Kruschev in 1956 as the legacy of Stalin. Like many Western Communist Party members Jack was shocked and disillusioned by these revelations and by the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian Uprising (against Soviet control) later the same year.  However, unlike many others, he did not resign from the Party; for him, capitalism was still not a viable system and socialism, realised institutionally as communism, was still a way forward to a better society, free of the alienation (of individuals from each other, their labour, their society, the natural world) that was endemic to bourgeois capitalism.

Jack was enormously productive throughout the 1950s, publishing thirty-one books, in his familiar mix of genres and modes, including studies of the works of Charles Dickens and George Meredith, edited volumes of the poetry of Robert Herrick and William Morris, and the first volume of his autobiography, Life Rarely Tells (1958) that ends in 1921 and his imminent move to Sydney. As Jack worked through his censure from the Party, he moved away from his disciplined acceptance of their view of socialist realism back to his own analysis of how individuals negotiate social and political forces and institutions, most personally in his autobiographical writings and also through his studies of writers such as Dickens, Meredith and Morris who portrayed the effect of industrial capitalism on everyday life.

Jack Lindsay and Meta in 1956
Jack and Meta in 1956

Before the fifties were even half over Jack was to lose his partner, Ann to cancer.  In the booklet, Nothing is Lost: Ann Lindsay 1914-1954 issued by the Communist Party of Great Britain to commemorate her death, Tony Adams writes of her: ‘… perfectly poised, beautiful, with one of the musical voices I have ever heard … her inner strength and composure were such that I never saw her angry.’ With her death Jack lost a soul mate; fortunately, he was soon to meet another wonderful companion, Dutch potter and World War II freedom-fighter, Meta Waterdrinker.  Meta moved to Castle Hedingham to be with Jack and they would live there until the mid 1980s when Jack’s increasing ill-health necessitated a move to Cambridge.

The 1960s

Clashing Rocks by Jack Lindsay CoverJack began the 1960s with the award of the Couch Gold Medal from the Australian Literary Society for his services to literature. He went on to publish thirty-two books in the decade, including many historical studies and biographies based in his studies of ancient Greece and Rome, Roman Egypt, and early Britain.  He continued to produce translations of ancient Greek and Roman texts, and also translated a collection of Russian poetry as well as Giordano Bruno’s Cause, Principle and Unity, which was influential on his own thinking. A long essay on William Morris was published, as were books on painters, J.M.W. Turner and Paul Cézanne, an overview of French painting from David to Delacroix, an edition of the poetry of Turner, and a book of interview, memoir and analysis, Meetings with Poets: Memories of Dylan Thomas, Edith Sitwell, Lois Aragon, Paul Eluard, Tristan Tzara (1968). He also published six novels, all but one of which were contemporary, and wrote the two remaining volumes of his autobiography. This work led to his election as a Fellow of the Ancient Monuments Society (1961) and in 1968 he was awarded the Soviet Badge of Honour for his services to culture.

The 1960s was a time of introspection and analysis, with Jack returning to Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts in an attempt to find ways of understanding how human being is formed in relation to social, economic and political practices.  Whether writing about his own development or that of other artists, he constantly interrogated this relationship, while studies of early Britain, Greece and Rome were meditations on the formative effect of social organization and economic and political practice on human being and behaviour. From this perspective Jack identified Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as a ‘great socialist novelist … not because he merely deals with the situation under Stalin with a powerful realism, but rather because this realism derives from a full grasp of the Marxist concept of freedom’ which he identifies as ‘realisation of the human essence, of the specifically human elements, the universality and freedom of man.’ (‘The Fullness of Life’, p. 244)

At the same time, he was deeply concerned by the growing threat of nuclear war that occupied people from the 1960s to the 1980s; from the Cuban Missile Crisis and the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) to the development of the Strategic Defence Initiative, nicknamed ‘Star Wars’. In ‘The Fullness of Life’ Jack writes his own analysis of the science that has led to this situation: ‘To say that science and its methods are neutral and that what matters is only the use made of them, is to show a blank ignorance of the formative process. It is to introduce into the heart of the moral problem the very system of alienation against which we are protesting.’ (p.222) For Jack, the abstraction at the basis of western scientific practice is a philosophical move that empties human being of its material specificities and renders it open to mathematical manipulation; people become numbers.

Blast Power & Ballistics by Jack Lindsay CoverThis had been horrifically demonstrated only twenty years earlier in the Nazi’s use of statistics to identify and kill whole communities. As he would write in his poem, ‘To my son Philip’ that prefaces his study, Blast Power & Ballistics (1974): ‘But now the breaking-point is near/ And we must use our better wits,/ Not merely count more bits and bits/ In treacherous ghost-infinities,/ A world where noting human fits.’ As ever, Jack returns not to ideology but to human being and human experience, warning of the same abstraction at the basis of digital technologies.

During the 1960s Jack also became a father; Philip was born in 1959 and Helen in 1961. Jack and Meta did not marry until after the death of his first wife Janet in 1973, though Meta had changed her name by deed poll to Lindsay some time earlier.  They were married in 1974 without any ceremony and Helen recalls: ‘I’m sure they got married in 1974 in Halstead because when I saw it [the marriage certificate] I remember thinking I would have been age 13 and they must have just gone off and got married while we were at school.’ This would cause problems in the 1980s when Helen, on her first visit to Australia, applied for citizenship in order to stay in the country for some time, only to find that in the censorious, straight-laced days of the 1960s, the fact that Meta and Jack were not married when she was born was an impediment. When Helen pointed out to the relevant authorities that they were barring citizenship to Norman Lindsay’s granddaughter, the objections quickly vanished and a passport arrived almost by return mail.

When the large joy we recklessly spend
finds securely its home and finds
at last the casual destined friend
the shaping hands inside the mind
present past and future one
in struggle with no end.

– Jack Lindsay, ‘To Giordano Bruno’

Struggle with No End

William Morris a Biography by Jack Lindsay coverIn the 1970s Jack published biographies of Cleopatra and Helen of Troy, historical and cultural studies of Roman Egypt, the Normans, the world of the troubadours and Defoe’s London, a book of verse and one of short stories (about ancient Sparta), a volume of critical essays, and critical studies of Gustave Courbet, William Morris, William Hogarth and William Blake.  This represented a slight slackening in pace with just fifteen books produced during this decade when Jack was in his seventies. In his 80s he published just a few works – studies of Thomas Gainsborough and J.M.W. Turner, a book on Marxism, and his unpublished novel about the conscription campaigns in Australian during the first World War, The Blood Vote was published. It is remarkable that in his final years Jack still managed an output that would be the equivalent or greater than that of most professional writers and academics in a lifetime. In 1973 he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.) by his alma mater, the University of Queensland.  He was appointed a member of the Order of Australia in 1981; and elected a member of the Australian Academy of the Humanities in 1982.

As his publications from this period show, Jack did not ever abandon the struggle to understand better the nature of human being and the kind of society and community that best supports individual freedom. Mostly, he approached his analysis slightly obliquely, through his study of those who had engaged in a similar battle, iconoclasts who struggled to achieve artistic and personal freedom in societies that failed to understand or appreciate their work. When Jack wrote about William Morris’ struggle to use his art to achieve political change, he might be writing about his own life-long endeavour:

For him art was both a dream and the awakening from a dream;
it was that which guided and formed men as well as something
that they formed; it was something that linked them in all that
was deepest in their humanity.  So the question of political
change was also a matter of art, as distinct from the manipulations, falsifications, and compromises that made up what was considered to be political method. (1975, p.246)

And when he describes the influence of Marx’s writings on Morris, we again might read Jack’s explanation of his own political thought:

He kept on trying to extend and deepen his grasp of Marx’s
central ideas.  He was indeed one of the few Marxists who
have understood, as Marx did, that in political economy we
deal not only with forces outside men’s control – the
exploiting side of production, in which alienation and
reification are concentrated – but also in the very life
process of men, in which what is produced and reproduced
is not merely commodities, but is men themselves and nature. (1975, p. 310)

In the Communist Party of Great Britain Jack had mixed and debated with some of the most stimulating writers of the twentieth century including Christopher Hill, E.P. Thompson, Eric Hobsbawm and Doris Lessing, and beyond this group with writers and artists including Pablo Picasso, Bertolt Brecht, Bernard Miles, Jean-Paul Sartre, Edith Sitwell, Dylan Thomas, Paul Eluard, Tristan Tzara, and Mulk Raj Anand. His iconoclasm and stubborn adherence to his own vision often brought him into conflict with the official Party line, just as it precluded his assimilation into the academy although his books, particularly his classical translations, made their way onto many university reading lists and his studies of writers and artists such as Dickens, Turner and Morris influenced both academic and non-institutional researchers and writers. Nor was he afflicted by the unrelenting negativism of many academic theorists; instead, as writer and critic, Michael Wilding noted, ‘all of Lindsay’s work …stresses the positive message that can be drawn.’ (1984, p.178) For Jack the struggle was on-going but it was, therefore, vital, engaged, hopeful and even joyful.

Jack in the mid-80s
Jack in the mid-1980s

The final words are from an essay by eminent historian, Christopher Hill who would write of Jack’s historical studies: ‘Specialised academic scholars sometimes get to know so much detail about their subject that it inhibits their ability to generalise at all. Jack Lindsay’s brilliant intuitions are much more exciting.’ (1984, p.267) He notes that Jack’s enthusiasm could at times ‘lead him astray where the plodding specialist would hold back’ but that ‘when he is good he is very very good.’ Furthermore, Hill adds, Jack never writes down to his readers.  And he notes the ‘selflessness’ of Jack’s writing, in a final tribute to the man and his work:


He doesn’t write to show off his very great erudition, nor to be clever, but to use the study of history and the analysis of art and literature for what after all is their main purpose – to help to make the lives of men and women on earth fuller, freer and richer. (p. 268)


7 thoughts on “Biography

  1. can you give me some information on jack and philip heseltine peter warlock thank you tom clarke flat 14 42 great pulteney street bath ba2 4 dr somerset england thank you tom

  2. Hi Tom, the only information I have about Jack’s relationship with Philip Heseltine is in Jack’s manuscript ”The Fullness of Life’, which is on this web site (see Writings). There are three references in Chapter 2 and one in Chapter 3. They met through Jack’s work at Fanfrolico Press where he and Heseltine co-edited a reprint of Sir John Harrington’s ‘Metamorphosis of Aiax’. That was published in 1927, so their meeting was in Heseltine’s final years (d. 1930) and not long after Jack arrived in London at the age of twenty-seven. The book is described online as ‘The work was resurrected and reprinted thus by that enfant terribles of 1920s British private press publishing, Jack Lindsay, and the outrageous and flamboyant Peter Warlock (alter ego of composer Philip Heseltine) both of whom were acquainted with another great British eccentric, Aleister Crowley.’
    Another Fanfrolico book, ‘Loving Mad Tom’ (1927) is described as ‘Bedlamite Verses of the XVI and XVII Centuries. With five illustrations by Norman Lindsay. Foreword by Robert Graves. The texts edited with notes by Jack Lindsay. Musical transcriptions by Peter Warlock. Pp. [ii]+110+[2](colophon, verso blank).’
    This isn’t a relationship I have followed up but Jack had an interdisciplinary interest in the arts including music. It would be interesting to explore further. Best wishes, Anne

  3. I have a book with sketches that are signed by a Jack Lindsay. I wonder where I could find out if this is the same Jack Lindsay that is talked about here.

    1. Thanks, Anne. Well, it’s a book by someone else but some of the pages in the book just had a little writing on them and were mostly blank – someone named Jack Lindsay drew some sketches on some of the pages within this book. They were dated 1940.

  4. Hi Melissa, still not enough information, I’m afraid. I know Jack did some designs for a book by Elza de Locre, but I wouldn’t call them sketches. I’m not aware that Jack did any sketching; he was really a writer There have been some artists called Jack Lindsay whom you can read about just by googling ‘Jack Lindsay artist’. Good luck with the search, Anne

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