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Back Issues - 1930s pseudonyms

Pevsner used pseudonyms to great effect in the Architectural Review during the 1930, writes Steve Parnell

‘Criticism’ was a series in the Architectural Review that began in 1935 as a platform for editorial opinion. Editor JM Richards would contribute under the pseudonym James MacQuedy and his understudy during the war, Nikolaus Pevsner, wrote as Peter FR Donner. As the introduction to these pieces stated: ‘These monthly articles are frankly about the aesthetic aspect of architectural design. They are written in the belief that we can now take the practical basis of modern architecture for granted’ – the perfect brief for an art historian’s view on architecture.

However, close reading gives away the identity of the writer. In an article on Roger Fry’s Omega Workshops in August 1941, Pevsner writes: ‘Of prospective customers there must have been plenty.’ The following month, Donner writes in his scalding criticism of the Bank of England’s extension: ‘Of the remodelling of the interior I cannot say much.’ This Germanic ordering of words reminds me of Timestyle – the writing fashion of Time magazine parodied by Wolcott Gibbs as ‘backward ran sentences until reeled the mind’.

Donner’s writing is as accurate and concise as Pevsner’s but less balanced: these monthly articles were about the critical aspect of architectural journalism.

During the same period, Donner also wrote ‘Treasure Hunt’, which encouraged readers to notice and appreciate the streets they walked through every day, and he contributed regular book reviews until the late 1940s.

It’s his letter in September 1941, however, that is most baffling (actually signed Peter FR Bonner). In it, he takes his alter ego Pevsner to task on a couple of points in his Omega article of the previous month and suggests a possible error and update to Pevsner’s 1936 book Pioneers of the Modern Movement. Ever the self-critical scholar, Pevsner updates the second edition (1948) of his definitive, if rather overly-neat evolutionist history, to accommodate the oversight.

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