Aubrey Menen

Location

Charlotte Street Bloomsbury
London, W1T 4LU
United Kingdom
51° 31' 7.3416" N, 0° 8' 6.0612" W
Other names: 

Aubrey Menon

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Date of birth: 
22 Apr 1912
City of birth: 
London
Country of birth: 
England
Date of death: 
13 Feb 1989
Location of death: 
Trivandrum, India
Dates of time spent in Britain: 

1912-39, 1947-8

Location: 

Islington, London; Forest Hill, London.

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About: 

Aubrey Menen was a writer, essayist, broadcaster, journalist, drama critic and activist. His work explored the question of nationalism and the cultural contrast between his own Irish-Indian ancestry and his traditional British upbringing. He was born to an Irish mother and an Indian father in 1912 and was brought up in Islington, later moving to Forest Hill, south London. He studied philosophy at University College London (UCL), where he formed his own drama group, and befriended the artist Duncan Grant who introduced him to many members of the Bloomsbury Group, including John Maynard Keynes and Virginia Woolf. He persuaded H. G. Wells to allow him to adapt The Shape of Things to Come, even though Wells had already sold the rights to Alexander Korda. Korda agreed to three closed performances, which caused a sensation. At UCL he was rejected for the Rosa Morrison Bursary by the then Jewish Master of the college on the grounds that he was not of 'pure' English descent.

After graduating in 1932, Menen became the drama critic for The Bookman from 1933 to 1934. He also became involved with Krishna Menon's India League and toured the regions as a speaker. So that he would not be confused with Menon, a friend of his father's, he anglicized his name to Menen. In 1934, Menen, together with the actor Andre van Gysegham, founded the Experimental Theatre, which sought to create a politically engaging theatre in alternative performance spaces. His radical plays regularly ran into difficulties with the Lord Chamberlain and he was sued for blasphemy and obscenity for his 1934 play Genesis II. From 1937 to 1939 he worked as director of the Personalities Press Service. In April 1939 he moved to Bombay, finding work at All-India Radio. During the Second World War, he worked as a script writer and editor for propaganda broadcasts for the Government of India. He also broadcast regularly on the radio and became a leading radio personality in India. He subsequently worked for the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson's film department. In the late 1940s, after the war, he became a full-time writer. He briefly returned to Britain in the autumn 1947 to oversee the publication of The Prevalence of Witches. In 1948 he moved to Italy, to live in what he described as a space midway between India and England. He lived there until 1980. He spent his final years living in Kerala, where he died in 1989.

Menen's output was prolific and covered a variety of genres. Starting his career as a dramatist and critic, he moved to radio journalism. He authored nine novels, several travel books, autobiographical works, essays and reviews. He also published a version of The RamayanaRama Retold, which was banned in India but, despite its radical implications, performed in London amidst some controversy. His fiction is driven by a caustic satire and his essays reveal a passionate desire to break down the falsity of racial myths of 'Aryan' superiority, whether in India amongst Nairs or in Nazi Germany; a similar perspective is evident in relation to the hypocrisy of racial stereotyping in Britain. Menen expresses in his non-fiction the advantage of dual vision: born to Indian and Irish parents, brought up as a brown Englishman in Britain, and in India always a foreigner. This liminality takes on sexual dimensions throughout his autobiographical essays which reflect, despite his conversion to Catholicism, a radical homosexuality.

Connections: 

Mulk Raj Anand, Z. A. Bokhari, Bertold Brecht, Marc Chagall, Kamala Das (poet and relative), Roger Fry, William Golding, Duncan Grant, Andre van Gyseghem, John Maynard Keynes, Alexander Korda, S. M. Marath, Krishna Menon, Jawaharlal Nehru, Santha Rama Rau, George Bernhard Shaw, Ernst Toller, Gore Vidal, H. G. Wells, Virginia Woolf.

Organizations: 
Involved in events: 

Campaigned for the India League as a speaker in the regions

Propaganda broadcasting during the Second World War on All-India Radio

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Published works: 

The Prevalence of Witches (London: Chatto & Windus, 1947)

The Stumbling-Stone, etc. (London: Chatto & Windus, 1949)

The Backward Bride (London: Chatto & Windus, 1950)

The Duke of Gallodora (London: Chatto & Windus, 1952)

Dead Man in the Silver Market: An Autobiographical Essay on National Pride (London: Chatto & Windus, 1954)

Rama Retold (London: Chatto & Windus, 1954)

The Abode of Love: The Conception, Financing and Daily Routine of an English Harem in the Middle of the Nineteenth Century Described in the Form of a Novel (London: Chatto & Windus, 1957) 

The Fig Tree (London: Chatto & Windus, 1959)

Rome Revealed (London: Thames & Hudson, 1960)

SheLa: A Satire (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1963)

Speaking the Language Like a Native: Aubrey Menen on Italy (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1963)

A Conspiracy of Women (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1966)

The Space Within the Heart (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1970)

Cities in the Sand (London: Thames & Hudson, 1972)

Upon this Rock (New York: Saturday Review Press, 1972)

The New Mystics and the True Indian Tradition (London: Thames & Hudson, 1974)

Fonthill: A Comedy (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1975)

(with photographs by Brian Seed) London (Amsterdam: Time-Life Books, 1976)

(with the editors of Time-Life Books and photographs by Brian Seed) Venice (Amsterdam: Time-Life Books, 1976)

Art and Money: An Irreverent History (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1980)

Contributions to periodicals: 

The Bookman

Liliput

Vanity Fair

Secondary works: 

Elias, Mohammed, Aubrey Menen, vol. 7 (Madras: Macmillan, 1985) 

Innes, C. L.,  A History of Black and Asian Writing in Britain, 2nd edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008)

Nasta, Susheila, Home Truths: Fictions of the South Asian Diaspora in Britain (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002)

Ranasinha, Ruvani, South Asian Writers in Twentieth-Century Britain: Culture in Translation (Oxford: Clarendon, 2007)

Vijayan, K. B., Asvastharaya Pratibhasalikal (Kottayam: Current Books, 1995)

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Archive source: 

Private papers and mss, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, University of Boston