Growing interest among historians and social scientists in the work of Karl Polanyi has yet to produce detailed historical studies of how Polanyi's work was received by his contemporaries. This article reconstructs the frustration of Polanyi's attempts to make a name for himself among English socialists between his arrival from Vienna in 1934 and his departure for New York in 1947. The most obvious explanation for Polanyi's failure to find a following was the socialist historians’ rejection of his unorthodox narrative of the rise of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution in The Great Transformation (1944). But this disappointment was anticipated in earlier exchanges revealing that Polanyi's social theory, specifically his conception of the self and its social relations, differed markedly from the views prevailing among socialists of R. H. Tawney and G. D. H. Cole's generation. As well as casting new light on the intellectual history of English socialism and variegating our understanding of the contexts in which conceptions of the human person were invoked in the interwar period, this article seeks to illuminate by example the importance of deep-seated, often tacit, commitments to particular conceptions of the self and its social relations in structuring mid-century intellectual life.