Madge, Charles, 1912-1996

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Charles Madge (1912-1996) was the son of Lieut Col. C. A. Madge and Barbara, ne Hylton Foster, and was educated at Winchester College and Magdalene College, Cambridge, though he left without graduating. Although Madge worked successfully as both a poet and a sociologist, there was little congruence between the two in his life and his early promise in the former was soon eclipsed by the demands of the latter. Precociously talented as a poet, his work received greatest recognition in the 1930s when T. S. Eliot was his editor and Faber his publisher. As a sociologist, he co-founded Mass-Observation with Tom Harrisson in 1937, an endeavour which would occupy far more of his time and mind than any literary inclinations. The Charles Madge Archive illuminates Madge's aptitude as a poet more fully than they reveal his distinction as a sociologist, but both talents are well represented, not least in the 276-page typescript draft autobiography which traces the progress of his sociological career and covers Mass-Observation in detail. This work draws heavily on extracts from letters and diaries found elsewhere in the Archive and is an ideal starting point for anyone investigating either of Madge's mutually exclusive yet equally fascinating vocations.


Madge's development as a poet is amply revealed in his notebooks and in numerous files of verse dating from as early as 1920, when he had yet to reach double-figures. His Cambridge student days afforded the opportunity to establish connections with leading left-wing poets of the 1930s, although he left Magdalene College without a degree. Students of twentieth-century literature will find among his papers lively anecdotal information about key figures of the day, including W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood and T. S. Eliot. Eliot was Madge's editor at Faber and published some of his work in The Criterion ; he even pulled strings to help Madge secure a 'real' job as a Daily Mirror reporter in 1935 (dispiriting work as it turned out, but good grounding for his burgeoning interest in sociology and the experience of 'the masses'). Nine of his poems appeared in The Faber Book of Modern Verse (1936) and W B Yeats made further selections for The Oxford Book of Modern English Verse (1938) in which Madge appeared alongside Auden, Stephen Spender, Louis MacNeice and C. Day Lewis. Faber published two volumes of his poetry: The Disappearing Castle (1937) and The Father Found (1940). By the early 1940s, sociological work had become all-consuming, and it was not until retirement that Madge found renewed opportunity to write. His collected verse was eventually published as Of Love, Time and Places (Anvil, 1994).

Critical reaction to Madge's poetry is well documented throughout the Archive and ranges from informal correspondence (early praise from Rudyard Kipling and John Masefield) to transcriptions of ambivalent, yet often prescient, reviews in the press. The autobiography contains his own analysis of his poems and comments on their inspiration. Many autograph notebooks record the creative process. Among his non-sociological prose works are early short stories, an essay 'Notes on the Technique of Poetry' (from 1930s), and schoolboy essays on Blake and Milton. Published works present include Myth, Metaphor and the World Picture , a study of metaphor in literature, contrasted with its use in religious symbolism.


The poet Madge's early, vigorous output diminished after 1940 as the sociologist in him won out. A chance encounter with Tom Harrisson through the pages of the New Statesman in 1937 led to the pair's establishment of Mass-Observation, a unique social experiment to record the thoughts of 'ordinary' people on contemporary subjects. The wide-ranging and demanding work of this radical survey organisation triggered further studies conducted for other bodies, including the National Council for Social and Economic Research (1940-42) and Political&Economic Planning (1943). Madge became a director of Pilot Press in 1944 and published a quarterly magazine, Pilot Papers , with sociological essays by non-academics, copies of which are included in the Archive.

From 1947 Madge was Social Development Officer for Stevenage New Town, until in 1950 he took the first chair of sociology at the University of Birmingham. This he held until retirement in 1970, despite his lack of academic training and personal doubts about the validity of the discipline as it then stood. In the first decade of his tenure he worked for the United Nations' agencies in Asia and Africa. His documents of the time, and later recollections of the academic life contained within his papers, illuminate the volatility of the 1960s, including the student unrest of 1968.


'If this were a name-dropping autobiography, 1946 would be a year in which a great many names could be dropped.'

Charles Madge, autobiography, p. 164

As a well-connected polymath, it is unsurprising that Madge's extensive correspondence contains exchanges with a wide variety of eminent figures. Letters in the Archive range in scope from a brief note from W. H. Auden to long-running ruminations from J. M. Keynes. Exchanges with Geoffrey Grigson, Q. D. Leavis and Naomi Mitchison are also included. Madge's most voluble correspondence, however, was with his mother. A devoted amanuensis to her son, Barbara Madge transcribed even his earliest work and vigorously promoted it. The Archive houses 2,000 letters from son to mother, primarily written throughout Charles's school years, but the flow was maintained throughout his mother's life. Correspondence with Madge's first two wives, fellow poet Kathleen Raine (the two married in 1938), and Inez Spender (married in 1942), is smaller in size but particularly revealing. Often tortuous relationships within a close-knit circle of peers are recorded with candour (Inez was married to Stephen Spender when the relationship with Madge began). Madge's letters to Inez also record his work with Mass-Observation and the Communist Party in some detail. Inez died in 1976 and he married thirdly, in 1979, Evelyn Brown (d. 1984). The correspondents from his sociology universe are just as distinguished.

From the guide to the Charles Madge Archive, 1912-1996, (University of Sussex Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn William Empson papers Houghton Library
creatorOf Monro, Alida Klemantaski. Correspondence of Alida Klemantaski Monro, 1933. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Brooke, Jocelyn. Papers, 1831-1966. University of California, San Diego, UC San Diego Library; UCSD Library
referencedIn Archive of Mass Observation, 1937-1967, 1937-1967 University of Sussex Library
referencedIn New Directions Publishing records Houghton Library
creatorOf Charles Madge Archive, 1912-1996 University of Sussex Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Brooke, Jocelyn. person
correspondedWith Empson, William, 1906-1984 person
associatedWith Grigson Geoffrey 1905-1985 person
associatedWith Keynes John Maynard 1883-1946 person
associatedWith Leavis Queenie Roth 1906-1981 person
associatedWith Madge Barbara b c 1885 person
associatedWith Madge Inez d 1976 person
associatedWith Mass-Observation corporateBody
associatedWith Mitchison Naomi Margaret 1897-1999 person
associatedWith Monro, Alida Klemantaski. person
correspondedWith New Directions Publishing Corp. corporateBody
associatedWith Observation, Mass person
associatedWith Raine Kathleen Jessie b 1908 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Women authors
Poets, English
Sociologists Great Britain History 20th century


Birth 1912-10-10

Death 1996-01-17



Ark ID: w6f22srp

SNAC ID: 21793826