As a sociologist, he co-founded Mass-Observation with Tom Harrisson in 1937, an endeavour which would occupy more of his time than literature. The Charles Madge Archive illuminates Madge's aptitude as a poet more fully than it reveals his distinction as a sociologist. A 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.
Charles was educated at Winchester College and Magdalene College, Cambridge (which he left without a degree). He was a literary figure from his early twenties, becoming a friend of David Gascoyne; like Gascoyne he was generally classed as a surrealist poet. He worked for a spell as a reporter for the Daily Mirror. By the end of the 1930s, he was more involved in Mass-Observation surveys and reports, socialist realism (in theory) and Communism.
The two Madges were active in Cambridge University Socialist Society. Cyril Bibby comments with reference to them as well as Maurice Dobb, the Cumming-Bruce twins, Margot Heinemann and "the beautiful Eileen Wynne" that "it was noticeable how many of these extreme left-wingers came from privileged upper-class homes" (Reminiscences of a Happy Life, p. 171)
Life as a poet
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 (the company published his poetry as The Disappearing Castle (1937) and The Father Found (1940)) 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 the 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.
Life as a sociologist
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.
His archived correspondence with Kathleen and Inez is particularly revealing. Often tortuous relationships within a close-knit circle of peers are recorded with candour. Madge's letters to Inez also record his work with Mass-Observation and the Communist Party in some detail. Inez died in 1976.
From his marriage to Raine he had two children: Anna Madge (born 1934) and James Wolf Madge (1936–2006). James married Jennifer Shirley Alliston, daughter of architect Jane Drew with her first husband James Thomas Alliston.
In 1979 he married Evelyn Brown, who died in 1984.
- Grids, perspectival space, and rules of deduction: Of Love, Time, and Places; Selected Poems (1994) Anvil.
- Charles Madge & Humphrey Jennings, eds. May the Twelfth, Mass-Observation Day-Surveys 1937, by over two hundred observers, London, Faber & Faber, 1937. ISBN 0-571-14872-7
- New General Catalog of Old Books and Authors
- Poems of Today, third series (1938), p. xxvii.