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Born in 1903, Upward’s father was a financially successful Romford doctor. During the early 1920s, Upward was an undergraduate at Corpus Christie College, along with Christopher Isherwood. There, he had become attracted to the Communist Party and had attracted much attention as a creative writer of considerable originality. As undergraduates, he and Isherwood produced manuscript stories about grotesques in fantastic situations, produced entirely for friends to read. His first job after university was as a private tutor in Cornwall but he was still preoccupied with creative writing.
Only one example of the product of some of this undergraduate labour of love was ever aired when, in 1929 the short story, “The Railway Accident”, was permitted to be published by Upward. Much of the output had been, in any case, obscene, or at least would have been thought so at the time. One concerned a brothel for necrophiles!
Upward was to be, in old age, the last survivor of a generation of writers who associated themselves with the progressive left. More firmly than most such writers, Upward began attending meetings of the Communist Party in Bethnal Green in 1931 and was actually a member of the Communist Party for 16 years from 1932. He married Hilda Percival, much to his parents’ disapproval since she had been a Communist Party member since 1930 and came from a relatively poor background, in 1936; they were to remain married for the rest of their lives. Hilda came to left-wing politics after her father, a clerk, had died when she was 12 years old and she had then experienced poverty. Her first job was as a teacher in the Old Kent Road, which was when she became interested in the Communist Party.
His stories appeared in “New Country”, Penguin’s “New Writing” and, of course, “The Left Review”. Auden, Isherwood and Spender all regarded him as a literary and political mentor.
In 1937, he wrote “Sketch for a Marxist Interpretation of Literature”. In this he now rejected the fantasy writing that he had first made his name with and firmly expressed the view that identification with working class struggle made for more truth in creative writing. The following year, he published his novel, “Journey to the Border”, which illustrated such and approach. On becoming a teacher, he then ceased to produce literary output. He had reached the view that the “dilettante cult of violence, sadism, bestiality and sexual acrobatics” was offensive in an age of the Holocaust, for example.
In the immediate post-war period, along with others, he criticised Harry Pollitt’s “Looking Ahead” for revisionism and the Party leadership for developing into a corrupt elite. Upward was asked to appear before a disciplinary committee and later allowed his membership to lapse; Hilda positively resigned. Edward suffered something of a mental breakdown in this period but returned to his earlier love of writing creatively. In 1958, they both joined CND, whilst Edward’s semi-autobiographical novel, a trilogy beginning with “The Spiral Ascent” was begun in 1962 and completed in 1977. It is, essentially, about the difficulties of being a well-off middle-class intellectual as a member of the Communist Party.
Sources: The Independent Magazine 4th September 1993; Morning Star 27th October 1997