BRITISH WRITING FROM 1945 to 1970 SPRING TERM 2014 Frank

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BRITISH WRITING FROM 1945 to 1970
SPRING TERM 2014
Frank Auerbach: London Building Sites 1952-62
[Q3165: British Writing 1945-70]
Course Tutor: Alistair Davies
Office: School of English B331
Email Address: H.A.Davies@sussex.ac.uk
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British Writing 1945-1970: Ruin, Catastrophe, Transformation
Course Outline
This course will explore the writing of a number of major British writers in poetry, drama and fiction
who worked in the wake of the Second World War and in the inaugurating decades of the
transformations of the post-war era: the era of the growth of mass consumption, the development
of cinema and television, the development of feminism and the women’s movement, the processes
of decolonisation. This is a period rich in literary achievement, the writing of the period made
complex by its engagement with philosophy, theology and politics and its interaction with
developments in the visual arts: painting, photography, sculpture and architecture.
The course will examine the complex and sustaining legacies of modernism, the dialogue between
new writing and the established writing of the pre-war period and reflect on the achievement of
those thinking through the consequences for the individual and for the collective of the mass
violence and destruction of the Second World War and the threat during the Cold War of nuclear
war and totalitarian domination.
This complex and rewarding period – where three generations overlap - remains the foundation of
contemporary literature, art and culture. Had modernism been discredited by Ezra Pound’s support
for Mussolini’s fascism (and the proto-fascism of many of his modernist contemporaries from W.B.
Yeats to Wyndham Lewis). Arrested as a collaborator in 1945, Pound escaped trial for treason by
virtue of being judged mentally unfit. Or were there progressive left-wing forms of modernism to be
found in the continental avant-garde? Or was realism, in drama and the novel, still the progressive
form it had been in the nineteenth century? What was an appropriate realism or an appropriate
cultural idiom for the post-war period? These are the literary questions in a period unusually rich in
debate about literary modes as new generations defined their sense of difference from their
predecessors.
Teaching Method
One two hour seminar per week, with formal student presentations, and one two-hour lecture and
discussion session per week. The seminar will address primary and secondary texts and offer the
opportunity for close textual analysis.
Assessment
The course is assessed by one 3000 word essay submitted mid-term, one formal presentation and by
one three hour unseen where candidates will be expected to answer questions on topics discussed
in the course and in the lectures of the ancillary two hour lecture and discussion session. Sussex
Direct will give you the weighting of each unit of assessment.
Resources
All items are marked with an asterisk* are available in digitised form via this reading-list on the
Library Web site. EJ stands for electronic journals.
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There are a number of general studies of the post-war period you will find useful to consult during
the course:
Bernard Bergonzi: Wartime and Aftermath: English Literature and Its Social Background
Steven Connor: The English Novel in History 1950-1995
Neil Corcoran: English Poetry since 1940
Patrick Deer: Culture in Camouflage: War, Empire and Modern British Literature
Andrezej Gasiorek: Post-War British Fiction: Realism and After
Robert Hewison: In Anger: Culture in the Cold War 1945-60
Adam Piette: Imagination at War: British Fiction and Poetry 1939-1945
Dan Rebetallo: 1956 and All That: The Making of Modern British Drama
Alan Sinfield (ed.): Society and Literature 1945-1970
Alan Sinfield: Literature, Culture and Politics in Postwar Britain
Lyndsey Stonebridge and Marina Mackay (eds.): British Fiction After Modernism: the Novel at MidCentury
Patricia Waugh: Harvest of the Sixties
Key Studies for Reading the Postwar Period
Perry Anderson: English Questions
Anderson remains a key figure of the New Left in British thinking. In the 1960s, he wrote two key
articles which queried why it was that Britain had failed to become modern and dynamic, attributing
this to the failure of Britain to complete its bourgeois revolution. Its intellectual life remained
provincial and empirical and closed off from the revolutionary ideas of the twentieth century.
Alistair Davies and Alan Sinfield (eds.): British Culture of the Postwar
A collection of essays which suggest that post-war British culture was not a culture of decline as
others have suggested but one marked by the richness of cultural difference and an international
outlook.
Jed Esty: A Shrinking Island: Modernism and the National Culture in England
Echoing Hugh Kenner’s acerbic study of twentieth century British literary culture A Sinking Island,
Esty argues that the work of T.S.Eliot as a cultural critic was an important antidote to the
provincialism and lack of ambition of British writing in the period.
Alan Sinfield: Literature, Politics and Culture in Postwar Britain
This provocative study is the single most important reading of English literature and politics of the
post-war period. It is immensely helpful in distinguishing the different social and class groups who
controlled cultural production in the period and who wrote and published in the period.
Martin J.Wiener: English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit 1850-1980
Few academic texts have had greater effect on British culture and politics. A key source for the rightwing transformation in policy to universities and cultural provision, it mirrors many of the positions
taken by Anderson on the New Left. Wiener argued that elite English culture was antientrepreneurial.
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Week 1:
European Culture in the Ruins
T.S.Eliot: Four Quartets (1942) and ‘The Unity of European Culture’ (1948) [Study Direct]
Course compendium: Dylan Thomas, Lynette Roberts, W.S.Graham: Celtic Modernism
The area around St Paul’s after the war-time blitz.
Eliot’s four poems – three of which were written during the Blitz of London when Eliot acted as a
fire-warden – produce one the most sustained reflections in English poetry on the crisis of
civilisation posed by war in Europe. Eliot had lived in London during the First World War and
produced the greatest poem of the period, The Waste Land (1922); he lived in London during the
Second World War and again produced the greatest poem of the period.
We will read Four Quartets in the light of Eliot’s earlier response to the First World War, The Waste
Land (1922) and we will focus on the critical essays Eliot wrote during and after the war when he
addresses questions of poetics and ethics, poetics and culture. Eliot’s poem has been read by some
as a celebration of Englishness through its most conservative traditions and institutions; by others as
a poem (in so far as it is an autobiography) as a poem about the inevitability mixed identity of
cultures in modernity.
We will consider Eliot’s poem through the frame of a critique of the aesthetic and theological
principles underlying his work. Does high culture prevent barbarism? Was it barbaric, as Theodor
Adorno argued, to write poetry after Auschwitz? Is violence endemic to western culture? How do
we respond to the grief of ruin in cities destroyed by the mass aerial bombing of the Second World
War which devastated some of the architecturally finest cities in Europe? Was the British bombing of
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German cities, as the British philosopher A.C.Grayling and a number of German writers have argued
recently, a war crime? We will also set Eliot in context by reading alongside his Quartets
contemporary poems by Dylan Thomas, Lynette Roberts and W.S.Graham.
Eliot’s unwillingness to address the Holocaust or reflect on the anti-Semitism of his writings before
1945 became a focus of discussion in the 1950s and subsequently – even though Eliot was clear in
his statement that western culture, called into question by the war, was a composite culture made
up of Greek, Roman, Jewish, Christian, medieval and Renaissance cultures. It is important to see how
profoundly scholars and writers in the aftermath of the war thought about such questions and how
that thinking informed the curriculum of the new universities. Was there an unbroken continuity?
Was there something contaminating in western origins? What was European culture and how was it
threatened by an increasingly American-style mass civilisation? Eliot was central to these discussions
as he was to discussions about culture, regionalism and rootedness; topics we will see repeated in
the poetry of Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes and Geoffrey Hill.
The first phase of the University of Sussex was designed by one of the most celebrated architects of
the post-war period, Basil Spence. In 1955, he won the competition to design the new Coventry
Cathedral to replace the medieval Cathedral destroyed in the mass bombing of Coventry in 1940. For
the consecration of the new building in 1962, Benjamin Britten was commissioned to write The War
Requiem which, using the Latin requiem mass and poems by Wilfred Owen, remains one of the
greatest achievements of modern music. You will, as preparation for the course, make a tour of
Falmer House to read Basil Spence’s architecture, shaped as it was by the discussions about
inheritance, legacy, transmission and the function of culture conducted in the period 1945-1965. The
building was a key element of a utopian, post-war space: the new university. So why was it such a
complex historical intertext? Why does it echo the Coliseum in Rome? Why does the moat, the
defensive feature of medieval and Renaissance castles, run round the inner court, a decorative
rather than an architectural feature? Why is the façade overlooking the main campus square built in
the form of a camera? What processes of memory, remembrance and recollection are involved in
the act of walking through Falmer House? What are the tensions at play in the movement from ruin
to reconstruction? You will note the art works in Falmer House and consider the implication of the
University’s motto: ‘Be Still and Know’.
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Stefan Muthesius: The Postwar University: Utopianist Campus and College
Louise Campbell: Basil Spence: Buildings and Projects
Louise Campbell: Coventry Cathedral: Art and Architecture in Postwar Britain
Bryan Appleyard: The Pleasures of Peace: Art and Imagination in Post-War Britain
Audio-visual resource: Arena: T.S.Eliot (BBC2 6th June 2009)
This is one of the best documentaries about a writer and is exceptionally interesting in presenting
Eliot’s somewhat enigmatic life from his childhood to his marriage to his second wife in the 1950s.
Eliot was as a writer an important public figure and one of the leading world writers in the post-war
period. He was awarded the Order of Merit and the Nobel Prize in 1948.
*David-Antoine Williams: ‘Ethics, Literature and the Place of Poetry’ in Defending Poetry: Art and
Ethics in Joseph Brodsky, Seamus Heaney and Geoffrey Hill, pp. 1-52
*Jed Esty: ‘Insular Time: T.S.Eliot and Modernism’s English End’ in A Shrinking Island: Modernism and
National Culture in England, pp. 108-162
*Genevieve Abravanel: ‘Make It Old: Inventing Englishness in Four Quartets’ in Americanizing Britain:
The Rise of Modernism in the Age of the Entertainment Empire, pp. 131-156.
Marina MacKay: ‘The Situational Politics of Four Quartets’ in Modernism and World War
*Raphael Ingelbien: ‘The Uses of Symbolism, Larkin and Eliot’ in Misreading England:
Poetry and Nationhood since the Second World War,’ pp. 13-28.
Jason Harding (ed.): T.S.Eliot in Context
A.D.Moody:’Four Quartets: music, word, meaning and value,’ in A.D.Moody (ed.) The Cambridge
Companion to T.S.Eliot, pp.142-157
A.D.Moody: ‘’1939-1945 Apocalypse’, T.S.Eliot, Poet, pp.203-264.
Jean-Michel Rabaté: ‘Tradition and T.S.Eliot’ in A.D.Moody (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to
T.S.Eliot, pp.210-222
Anthony Julius: ‘Making Amends, Making Amendments,’ T.S.Eliot, Anti-Semitism and Literary Form,
pp. 177-218
Steve Ellis: The English Eliot: Dream, Language and Landscape in Four Quartets
David Gervais: Literary Englands: Versions of Englishness in Modern Writing
A.D.Moody: Thomas Stearns Eliot, Poet
Bernard Bergonzi (ed): T.S.Eliot’s Four Quartets
Lucy McDiarmid: Saving Civilization: Yeats, Eliot and Auden between the Wars
Martin Warner: A Philosophical Study of Eliot’s Four Quartets
John Xiros Cooper: T.S.Eliot and the Ideology of the Four Quartets
H.Blamires: Word Unheard: a Guide Through Eliot’s Four Quartets
Patrick Deer: ‘The Empire of the Air’ in Culture in Camouflage: War, Empire and Modern
British Literature.
Peter Stansky: London’s Burning: Death and Art in the Second World War
Peter Stansky: The First Day of the Blitz: September 7, 1940.
Adam Piette: Imagination at War: British Fiction and Poetry 1939-46.
Marina MacKay (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of World War 2
Sebastian Knowles: A Purgatorial Flame: Seven British Writers in the Second World War
Craig Raine: ‘Four Quartets’ in T.S.Eliot, pp. 95-114.
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2.
Melancholy and Mourning: after the War[s]
Evelyn Waugh: Brideshead Revisited (1945)
Waugh’s writing, with its lushness and indulgence, seemed at the time to some to be a deliberate
response to the new welfare state, the democratisation of British politics which had taken place
during the war and the period of intense austerity after it. As we can see from his Put Out More
Flags (1941), he placed himself firmly against the notion of ‘a people’s war,’ the term by which the
collective efforts of 1939-45 were described. Death duties, the high rate of taxation and the
economic crises of the 1940s saw many country-houses fall into ruin and suffer demolition. Waugh’s
novel expresses his sense of the decay of the old order. To what extent did Waugh represent the
high point of the culture of the English leisure class which, since the 1920s, had been the dominant
force in British culture? Waugh’s horror at the increasing power of the state – and of the
intervention of the state in the production of culture – will enable us to consider the conditions of
freedom for the writer and explore in detail the debate in the 1940s about state supervision of the
arts. John Maynard Keynes was the first chairman of the Arts Council, set up to promote the high
arts with government funding. We will examine two instances of importance in this debate in the
1940s – the founding of the state-supported Edinburgh Festival and the development of
Glyndebourne as a privately funded opera house. Waugh’s post-war fiction included comic novels
concerned with American popular culture (The Loved One, 1947) and the esteem in which
continental modernism was held in post-war British culture (The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, 1958).
Madresfield Court: the model for Brideshead
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Waugh’s comic masterpiece is at once a pastoral evocation of a vanished world and a satire on the
social changes brought about during the Second World War. But it is also a study in loss and
melancholy, its vision of England a place destroyed twice within the period of twenty years, first on
the fields of Flanders, then in the course of the Second War. We will reflect on the reasons for the
use of the comic mode in the some of the finest and most important writing of the post-war period
from Anthony Powell to the Ealing Comedies and Kingsley Amis. Waugh’s conversion to Catholicism
in the 1930s made him one of a number of prominent Catholic converts in post-war British culture
(Muriel Spark and Grahame Greene were others) and placed the reading of his and other texts much
more explicitly within a religious discourse. Waugh supported traditionalism; Greene supported a
liberation theology. The growth of consumer society, generational change and social mobility all led
to a decline in formal religious attendance in Britain in the post-war period but the writing of the
period is in many instances haunted by theological questions and by questions of being and
nothingness.
Audio-Visual Resource: The Waugh Trilogy: Mayfair BBC 4 (via Box of Broadcasts)
Waugh’s post-war public persona was one of ill-tempered rudeness, emphasised in his later
interviews by the use of a large Victorian ear-trumpet. He began his career in the 1920s era of
celebrity and of the gossip columns and his performances were to some extent staged to create an
effect – he was a serious but best-selling writer and his success enabled him to maintain the large
house of an aristocratic country-gentleman. His origins were those of the professional upper middle
classes – his father was a publisher – and he was ridiculed by some for his social pretensions. This
programme will give you some sense of Waugh as a post-war public personality. There is also a
celebrated Face to Face BBC interview with Waugh you can find on Youtube.
*Patrick Deer: ‘Simplify Me When I’m Dead’ in Culture and Camouflage: War, Empire and Modern
British Literature, pp. 192-234.
Bernard Bergonzi: ‘Writers on an Island’ in Wartime and Aftermath, pp. 18-53
Alan Sinfield: ‘Class, Culture, welfare’ and ‘Queers, Treachery and the Literary Establishment’ in
Literature, Culture and Politics in Postwar Britain, pp. 39-59; pp. 60-85.
Alistair Davies: ‘Class, consumption and cultural institutions’ in Alistair Davies and Alan Sinfield (eds.)
British Culture of the Post-War, pp. 139-145.
A.Sinclair: Arts and Cultures: The History of the 50 Years of the Arts Council of Great Britain
Ian Littlewood: The Writings of Evelyn Waugh
David Wykes: Evelyn Waugh: A Literary Life
George McCartney: Confused Roaring: Evelyn Waugh and the Modernist Tradition
William Myers: Evelyn Waugh and the Problem of Evil
Jacqueline McDonnell: Evelyn Waugh
Martin Green: Children of the Sun: A Narrative of ‘Decadence’ in England after 1918
Humphrey Carpenter: The Brideshead Generation: Evelyn Waugh and His Friends
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3. The Individual: Totalitarianism and the Cold War
George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
George Orwell: ‘Politics and the English Language’ (1946) [Study Direct]
Written as the so-called Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West became the defining
framework for national and international politics, Orwell’s dystopian novel included a satire on the
totalitarianism of the left as well as of the right and raised questions about the forms left-wing
culture adopted in the wake of the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe after the Second World War.
Orwell’s analysis of the power of new technologies of surveillance, coupled with his awareness of
the ways in which history could be altered for party-political purposes, make this a still
contemporary text, as does the concern with reality as a simulacrum and his exploration of the ways
in which those in power write and rewrite the past. The city of the novel is recognisably an austerityridden and bomb-cratered London but its landmarks have been renamed to signify the nature of
totalitarian control in eradicating traces of the past and creating new forms of false collective
memory. Orwell explores a difference between popular and mass culture and the terms of his
difference are those which played an important role in the development of cultural studies in Britain
in the 1950s and the 1960s. We shall also examine Orwell’s critical relationship to the left wing
groupings in Britain in the 1940s, his influence on the poets of the Movement who began writing in
the 1950s and his contribution to left-wing anti-Americanism in post-war Britain. Orwell’s essays
critical of the Modernists – and his mode of writing - were very influential in encouraging a plain
style in poetry and prose and a robust deflation of the seemingly pretentious in literature and life.
*Alan Sinfield: ‘Freedom and the Cold War’ in Language, Culture and Politics in Postwar Britain, pp.
1165.
Patrick Deer: ‘The War on British Literature of the 1940s’ in Culture and Camouflage: War, Empire
and Modern British Literature, pp. 235-42.
Bernard Crick: ‘Nineteen eighty-Four: Context and Controversy’ and Ian Williams: ‘Orwell and the
British Left” in John Rodden (ed.): The Cambridge Companion to George Orwell, pp. 146-159; pp.
100-111.
*Richard Rorty: ‘The Last Intellectual in Europe’ and Michael Walzer: ‘George Orwell’s England’ in
Graham Holderness et al (eds.) George Orwell, pp. 139-160; pp. 182-202.
Ian Slater: ‘The Global Visison’ in Orwell: The Road to Airstrip One, pp.177-249
Stephen Lutman: ‘Orwell’s Patriotism’, Journal of Contemporary History, 2:2 (1967), 149-58.
John Rodden: The Cambridge Companion to George Orwell
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Bernard Bergonzi: ‘Writers on an Island’ in Wartime and Aftermath: English Literature and Its
Aftermath 1939-1960, pp. 18-53.
David Gervais: Literary Englands: Versions of Englishness in Modern Writing
Roger Fowler: The Language of George Orwell
Daphne Patai: The Orwell Mystique
David L.Kubal: Outside the Whale
Peter Buitenhuis and Ira B. Nadel (eds): George Orwell: A Reassessment
Ian Slater: 'The Global Vision,' Orwell: the Road to Airstrip One
Patrick Reilly: 'The Utopian Shipwreck,' George Orwell: the Age's Adversary
4.
In the Wake: What are Human Beings Capable of Doing? Post-war Fables
William Golding: The Lord of the Flies (1954)
Muriel Spark: The Girls of Slender Means (1963)
William Golding: * ‘A Moving Target’, ‘Utopias and Anti-Utopias’ and ‘Belief and Creativity’ in The
Moving Target, pp. 150-70; 171-184; pp. 185-202
‘Life in the late capitalist era is a constant initiation,’ wrote Adorno and Horkeimer in The Dialectic of
Enlightenment. Why is it that so many post-war novels about growing-up take the form of the antiBildungsroman, accounts of the failure of the young to become mature adults? Golding and Spark
were the leading figure of the new post-war generation of novelists who explored in allegorical form
the individual and collective tendency to cruelty and violence. Lord of the Flies– set in the aftermath
of a nuclear war – was read at once as a social satire and as a metaphysical exploration. It deals with
the ways in which a group of English choristers marooned on an island (in the wake of a nuclear war)
degenerate into hunters and victims. Golding, who had held progressive views in the 1930s, came to
believe that the ills of the twentieth century derived from the works of Darwin, Marx and Freud and
asks if human cruelty and lust for power is an instinct or a perversion of an instinct or a sign of some
original damage in mankind or a sign of what theologians would call ‘original sin’. Spark’s novel too
poses questions about evil, goodness and its reward. How did such thinking call into question
humanist ideas? Both writers use fable and their departure from realism made their works at once
experimental and demanding. Frank Kermode, the leading critic of the new writing of the post-war
period, used the idea of ‘de-creation’ as defined by the French writer Simone Weil to interpret the
post-war fable and we shall draw upon his rich reflections in our discussion. We will draw upon the
ideas of Simone Weil and Hannah Arendt on the nature of evil for this seminar.
Audio-visual resource: Arena: The Dreams of William Golding (BBC2 17th March 2012)
Jed Esty: ‘Alternative Modernity and Autonomous Youth after 1945’ in Unseasonable Youth:
Modernism, Colonialism and the Fiction of Development, pp.195-214
Franco Moretti: ‘The Bildungsroman in European Culture’ in Michael McKeon (ed.) Theory of the
Novel: An Historical Approach, pp. 554-565.
Mark Kinkhead-Weekes and Ian Gregor: William Golding: A Critical Study of His Novels
Kevin McCarron: ‘Intertextuality and Evil’ in William Golding, pp. 1-24
John Carey: William Golding: The Man Who Wrote The Lord of the Flies
Patricia Waugh: ‘Keeping Our Metaphysics Warm’ in Harvest of the Sixties, pp. 158-106.
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Frank Kermode: Modern Essays
Norman Page: Muriel Spark
Bryan Cheyette: Muriel Spark
David Herman (ed.): Muriel Spark: Twentieth-Century Interpretations
Martin McQuillan (ed.): Theorising Muriel Spark: Gender, Psychoanalysis, Deconstruction.
5. The Movement and the Angry Young Men: A New Generation
Kingsley Amis: Lucky Jim (1954) and Philip Larkin: Collected Poems [selections in hand-out]
Film: John Osborne: Look Back in Anger (1956/59)
Philip Larkin was dismissive of the poetry of David Jones, as he was dismissive of the poetry of Yeats
and Pound and the new modernist poets of the post-war period. His poetic career – like those of the
so-called Movement poets (Larkin, Kingsley Amis, Donald Davie, Tom Gunn) – was defined at the
outset by opposition to the Modernist and Romantic traditions – linguistic obfuscation linked to lack
of intellectual clarity, the Romantic notion of the poet linked to political totalitarianism and
extremism. (Auden was the person who first made these connections in his 1940s writings on
Romanticism.) This was the first post-war generation of writers and it dominated the period until it
was itself displaced by the radicalism of the late 1960s (of which it was powerfully contemptuous)
but which they did much to make possible through their anti-establishment position. Larkin and
Amis began as men on the left and ended as supporters of Thatcherism and the counter-movement,
the anti-counter-culture movement of the 1980s. The decisive moment for the communist Left in
Britain was the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 to put down an uprising against Communist rule.
The event was a crisis for the anti-capitalist (anti-American) groups on the Left in Britain and led
both to fissures within the groupings of the left and the development of a radical but nonCommunist New Left in Britain. We need to remind ourselves that the writing of the 1950s took
place within a deeply antagonistic culture defined by the Cold War (as you will see if you read John
Osborne’s Look Back in Anger (1956)). Thom Gunn settled in America, came out as a gay man,
mapped in Night Sweats the Aids crisis in poetry of great beauty and tenderness and differentiated
himself from the timidity and limitation of Larkin and Amis (both unapologetically homophobic).
Amis’ comic novel is the most celebrated of the campus novels of the post-war period and
the text which most fully expressed the assault on class, pretentiousness and hierarchy
amongst the so-called Angry Young Men of the 1950s – John Osborne, John Wain, Philip
Larkin and Kingsley Amis. Iris Murdoch’s Under the Net reminds us that female writers were
associated with this moment although the question of gender here should not be
overlooked. Literary historians neglect the fact that the first – and best – comic novel about
academic self-importance is Evelyn Waugh’s novella ‘Scott-King’s Modern Europe’ (1946)
which anticipates many contemporary novels about the politics of hermeneutics. Larkin is
regarded by some as the greatest of all post-war English poets, finding an idiom to reflect on
a culture losing its grounding in the conventions of the past, secular, irreligious and
ultimately consumerist.
Elaine Showalter: Faculty Towers: the Academic Novel and Its Discontents
Ian Carter: Ancient Cultures of Conceit: British Fiction and the Post-War University
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Stephen Regan: ‘Philip Larkin: A Late Modern Poet’ in Neil Corcoran (ed.): The Cambridge Companion
to Twentieth-Century English Poetry, pp. 147-158.
Donald Davie: Thomas Hardy and British Poetry
Blake Morrison: The Movement: English Poetry and Fiction of the 1950s
Blake Morrison: ‘”Still Going on, All of It’: The Movement in the 1950s and Today,’ Colin McGinn:
‘Philosophy and Literature in the 1950s: The Rise of the ‘Ordinary Bloke’’, Deborah Cameron: ‘”The
Virtues of Good Prose”: verbal Hygiene and the Movement,’ and Michael O’Neill: ‘”Fond of What
He’s Crapping On”: Movement Poetry and Romanticism’ in Zachary Leader (ed.): The Movement
Reconsidered: Essays on Larkin, Amis, Gunn, Davie and their Contemporaries, pp. 16-33; pp.123-138;
pp.139-154; pp. 270-291.
Adam Piette: ‘Pointing to East and West: British Cold War Poetry’ in Tim Kendall (ed.): The Oxford
Handbook of British and Irish War Poetry, pp. 632-652.
Bernard Bergonzi: ‘Anger and the Emprical Temper’ in Wartime and Its Aftermath, pp. 134-179.
Stephen Cooper: Philip Larkin: Subversive Writer
James Booth: New Larkins for Old
Terry Whalen: Philip Larkin and English Poetry
Laurence Lerner: Philip Larkin
Andrew Motion: Philip Larkin
Stephen Regan: Philip Larkin
Anthony Thwaite (ed.): Selected Letters of Philip Larkin
Week 6: READING BREAK to complete essay for the course
7. Post-war Modernisms: the Figurative and the Symbolic
The Paintings of Francis Bacon [hand-out]
Samuel Beckett: Waiting for Godot (1955) [DVD]
Francis Bacon is often linked to his fellow Irishman Samuel Beckett in their common representation
of the horror and extremity of modern existence. We will reflect on the ways in which European
writing, philosophy, film and painting enriched the contexts within which British writing in the mid1950s was produced and consumed. Bacon’s indebtedness to the work of Pablo Picasso – and the
echoes of his work of the 1950s and the post-war period – will help us to define the importance of
“international modernism” in the art and culture of post-war Britain. We shall also explore the
writing of John Berger – art critic, novelist, poet, controversialist – who defined and re-defined the
possibilities of European realism and of the avant-garde in his theory and practice in the post-war
period. You will find a fascinating interview with Berger if you access BBC Writers Archive on-line.
Audio-Visual Resource: Arena: Francis Bacon (BBC4 31st Oct 2009) and Francis Bacon in His Own
Words (BBC 31st Oct 2009)
.John Maybury (dir.): Love is the Devil – extraordinary film biography of Bacon, his lover and his circle.
You can watch this through Box of Broadcasts. The film was broadcast on 31st Oct 2009.
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1.
Francis Bacon: Screaming Pope
Francis Bacon:
Margaret Garlake: New Art/New World: British Art in Postwar Society
James Hyman: The Battle for Realism: Figurative Art in Britain During the Cold War 1945-60
John Russell: Francis Bacon
David Sylvester: Interviews with Francis Bacon
David Sylvester: Francis Bacon: the Human Form
Armin Zweite (et al): Francis Bacon: the Violence of the Real
Ernst van Alphen: Francis Bacon and the Loss of the Self
Andy Merrifield: John Berger
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8. W.H. Auden as International Modernist
W.H.Auden: Nones (1951); The Shield of Achilles (1957); About the House (1965) [handout]
Henry Moore: Falling Warrior (1956-7)
In the mid-1950s, Auden and Henry Moore collaborated to produce a series of poems and images.
Auden had left England for America in 1939 and had become in 1945 an American citizen. But he
spent half the year in Europe (in Italy before settling permanently in Austria in the 1960s) and was
the leading figure in post-war international modernism. He wrote a score for Igor Stravinsky’s opera,
The Rake’s Progress (1949) and produced a series of brilliant meditative poems on the Second World
War and the moral challenges posed by genocide and the mass destruction of the cities of Europe. In
1945, he had been sent – improbably as a major in the American army – as part of the team charged
with assessing the effects of mass bombing on German morale. In the late 1950s he bought a small
farmhouse near Vienna and wrote a poetic sequence – About the House (1965) – which may be seen
as the first post-modern self-representation of the poet: ironic, self-deprecating, ruminative,
domestic. By the late 1960s, he was a celebrity on the poetry-circuit and played a major role in the
development of a culture of poetic performance in America and England embraced by younger poppoets and performers. Auden’s poetry was at once an inspiration for and a provocation to his
contemporaries and he remains in my view the most significant post-war poet in English, the one
who mediates between the modernists of the 1920s and the postmodernists of the contemporary
period. In New York, Auden had met a number of the European intellectuals who had left Europe to
avoid Nazi persecution and his work after 1939 had the range and weight acquired through
discussions with figures such as Hannah Arendt and German theologians exiled in New York. His
return to Christianity - and his attempt to define the categories of love and of the good life – makes
his post-war poetry particularly rich and resonant.
Audio-Visual Resource: The Addictions of Sin: W.H.Auden (BBC 4 17th May 2009) and Tell Me the
Truth About Love (BBC 4 17th 2009).
Nicholas Jenkins: ‘The “Truth of the Skies”: Auden, Larkin and the English Question’ in Zachary
Leader (ed.): The Movement Reconsidered, pp. 34-61.
Alistair Davies: ‘Faltering at the Line’ in Alistair Davies and Alan Sinfield (eds.): British Culture of the
Postwar, pp. 125-138.
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Edward Mendelson: Later Auden
*Edward Callan: ‘Disenchantment with Yeats: from Singing Master to Ogre’ in A Carnival of Intellect,
pp. 143-162.
Anthony Hecht: The Hidden Law
John R.Boly: ‘A Necessary Angel’ in Reading Auden: the Returns of Caliban, pp. 157-191
Lucy McDiarmid: Auden’s Apology for Poetry
Richard R.Bozorth: Auden’s Games of Knowledge: Poetry and the Meaning of Homosexuality
Arthur Kirsch: Auden and Christianity
Tony Sharpe (ed.) W.H.Auden in Context
9. Europe and Its Others: The Realism of Spiritual Crisis
Graham Greene: A Burnt-Out Case (1960)
Greene had a world-wide reputation as a novelist in the post-war period. Influenced by Conrad, he
believed that writing should reflect the world and should be based upon the writer’s engagement
with it. A widely travelled journalist and essayist, his post-war fiction was not set in England but in
areas where the processes of decolonisation were in train – often (as in Indo-China) very violently.
His The Quiet American (1956) had dealt with early American involvement in Vietnam as the French
(the colonial power) face defeat. In this novel, Greene explored the sense of exhaustion with
western culture felt by its protagonist who decides to live in a leper-colony in Africa, of the kind
made famous by the doctor and humanist Dr Albert Schweitzer (a close relation to the French
philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre). The architect hero – or anti-hero – who feels that his work is
superficial is clearly an allegory of the writer himself and the novel, tragi-comic and full of detail,
become a work of meta-fiction. The text needs to be read with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
as an intertext.
Neil Sinyard: ‘Laughter in the Shadow of the Gallows’ in Graham Greene: A Literary Life, pp. 58-76
Bernard Bergonzi: A Study in Greene: Graham Greene and the Art of the Novel
Cedric Watts: A Preface to Greene
Michael G.Brennan: ‘The Writer in Search of New Directions’ in Graham Greene: Fictions, Faith and
Authorship, pp. 103-118
David Tucker: British Social Realism in the Arts Since 1940
Peter Mudford: Graham Greene
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Dr Albert Schweitzer
10.
Tormenting Others: Language, Power, Oppression and Control
Harold Pinter: The Caretaker (1960) [DVD]
Anthony Burgess: A Clockwork Orange (1962)
In the 1960s, Pinter was the leading experimental playwright in British culture and his work reached
a large audience not only through the film versions of his plays but also through the three films
directed by Joseph Losey for which he wrote the scripts: The Servant (1963), Accident (1967) and The
Go-Between (1971). Pinter was concerned less with language and silence than language and power
and the use of language to create identities and to subdue others. It will be illuminating to compare
the work of Osborne, Beckett and Pinter and to bring his work into conjunction with the most
celebrated novella of the 1960s, Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (1962). Written in an hybrid
language – coinages which combine Russian and English, to suggest a modern British totalitarian
state – Burgess explores notions of youth culture, violence, the transcendent power of art and the
operation of free will. This dystopian novel remains one of the most famous of its kind from the
twentieth-century. Made into a controversial film by Stanley Kubrick, Burgess’s work reached a
world-wide audience and one aspect of the writing of the 1960s we will consider is the growing
intimacy between writing and film, fiction and adaptation. We shall read Pinter and Burgess in the
light of the work of Simone Weil and Hannah Arendt on violence and evil. Margaretta von Trotta’s
film Hannah Arendt (2013) [DVD] is well worth watching.
Peter Raby (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Harold Pinter
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Victor L.Cahn: Gender and Power in the Plays of Harold Pinter
Michael Scott: Harold Pinter: A Caretaker. A Casebook
Steve Buckler: Hannah Arendt and Political Theory: Challenging the Tradition
Richard H.King (ed.): Hannah Arendt and the Uses of History: Imperialism, Nation, Race and Genocide
11. Second Wave
Feminism, Social Realism and the Divided Self
Doris Lessing: The Golden Notebook (1965)
Marriage and the family were key questions for poets, dramatists [most notably Harold Pinter in The
Homecoming] and novelists [from Iris Murdoch to Margaret Drabble] in the 1960s when the stigma
of pregnancy outside marriage was still immense and when lesbianism was hidden and male
homosexuality still a criminal offence (until 1968). We will read Philip Larkin’s poems on marriage
and the family (‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad,/They didn’t mean to but they do’) alongside
the fiction of Doris Lessing, (unexpectedly) awarded the Nobel Prize in 2007. We will read Lessing in
the context of the critique of the family made by the psychoanalyst and polemicist R.D.Laing, who
was a leading figure in the anti-psychiatry movement and who attributed many forms of mental
illness to the pathologies of the nuclear family unit. The critique of the family as an institution is a
key aspect of the radical culture of the 1960s as was the belief that conformity to the system was a
form of madness while madness was the purest form of sanity. (You might read Philip Larkin’s “The
Whitsun Weddings” to find a counter-image of marriage.) We will find in Doris Lessing a fascination
with the oppressions of the family and the oppressions of the “normal”. We will also engage with
the debate about realism and politics which became dominant in the 1960s with some arguing that
the nineteenth century social novel provided the model for an engaged literature while others
turned to the modes of the avant-garde.
In the lecture series, you will consider some of the writings of Linda Zerilli, who articulates a new
definition of the relationship between politics and gender seen as emblematic of third wave (that is,
contemporary) feminism. We will engage with the work of Lessing as a major – if not, the major –
expression of second wave feminism, even though Lessing has argued that she did not intend to
write a feminist work and that to read the novel in these terms is to mis-read it.
Lessing’s novel is at once within the realist tradition and an experimental critique of the limits of
traditional realism, a critique which owes a great deal to the influence of Brechtian ideas on writing
and criticism, particularly film criticism, in the 1960s. The experimental cinema of the French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard had a wide following amongst writers and intellectuals and discussions
about the strengths and weaknesses of realism were an important aspect of the intellectual and
critical discussions of the period. The left-wing novelist, art critic and essayist John Berger was
throughout the 1950s and 1960s an eloquent defender of modes of realism in contemporary culture,
finding the innovations of Cubism and of Picasso on whom he wrote an influential study heightened
and more precise modes of realism. Notions of the real were increasingly the subject of debate in a
decade when the image was becoming predominant, when TV was such a powerful medium, when
satellites made possible the simultaneous transmission of events from across the world and when
drug-taking became widespread and was defended as a means to widen’ the doors of perception,’
phrase from Blake used by Aldous Huxley in a book The Doors of Perception (1954) defending the
use of LSD.
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Doris Lessing
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament Demonstration 1964
18
Lessing’s novel is the key text for understanding the development of the women’s movement in
Britain in the post-war period since the personal struggles of its protagonist are linked to the political
struggles in which she is also involved – against nuclear weapons, apartheid in South Africa and the
restrictions of the nuclear family. A fragmentary text – it reflects the difficulty of integrating the
different aspects of the self within a fragmented and fragmentary world. As with Murdoch and
Pinter, this is a text which explores alternative familial structures to those of the traditional family
and gives us insight into the prestige of psychoanalysis and the psychoanalyst in the period.
Lessing’s five volume Children of Violence sequence gives an account of the twentieth-century from
the violence of the First World War to the violence of the Second and on (in its final volume) to a
post-nuclear apocalyptic future. Lessing’s quest to reflect on – and resolve – violence within the
individual and within society makes this a central text to understand the nature of writing 1945-70.
Her discussions within the novel about realism and left-wing politics are a key response to
modernism and part of the critique of modernism in fiction widespread in the 1960s and influenced
by the writing of the Marxist critic Georg Lukacs. We will read his key essay ‘The Ideology of
Modernism’.
Audio-Visual Resource: Imagine: Doris Lessing (BBC 1 27th May 2008) [This is also available as a DVD
in the audio-visual library]
Georg Lukacs: ‘The Ideology of Modernism’ in Michael McKeon (ed.): Theory of the Novel: An
Historical Approach, pp. 759-783.
Franco Moretti: ‘The Bildungsroman in European Culture’ in Michael McKeon (ed.) Theory of the
Novel: An Historical Approach, pp. 554-565.
Andrzej Gasiorek: ‘After Socialist Realism’ in Post-War British Fiction: Realism and After
*Sarah Henstra: ‘Mourning the Future: Nuclear War, Prophecy and The Golden Notebook’ in The
Counter-Memorial Impulse in Twentieth-Century English Fiction, pp. 80-110.
Patricia Waugh: ‘Planners, Politics and Poets: Intellectual Culture and the Limits of Reason after 1960’
in Harvest of the Sixties, pp. 107-48.
Ruth Whitaker: Doris Lessing
Louise Yelin: From the Margins of Empire: Christina Stead, Doris Lessing, Nadine Gordimer
Esther K.Labovitz: The Myth of the Heroine: the Female Bildungsroman in the 20th Century: Dorothy
Richardson, Simone de Beauvoir, Doris Lessing and Christa Wolf
Elizabeth Maslen: Doris Lessing
12. Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes and Geoffrey Hill: Towards the Post-human
Sylvia Plath: Selected Poems [hand-out]
Ted Hughes: Selected Poems [hand-out]
Geoffrey Hill: Selected Poems [hand-out]
Ted Hughes: ‘National Ghost’ in Winter Pollen, pp.70-72
Geoffrey Hill: Mercian Hymns (197 1) (available via electronic journals American Poetry Review 4:4
July/August 1974).
BBC 4: ‘Ted Hughes: Force of Nature’ (16th May 2009) available through Box of Broadcasts
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In 1962, Al Alvarez published The New Poetry anthology in which he included poems by new poets
who would dominate British poetry for the next three decades and beyond. He linked them to the
American confessional poets and he placed most of them outside the genteel tradition of English
letters. It is important to remember the important function of the anthology in the 1960s from
Alvarez’s The New Poetry to Michael Horovitz’s The Children of Albion later in the decade. Sylvia
Plath, American-born but resident in England by virtue of her marriage to the poet Ted Hughes, was
quickly acknowledged as an outstanding talent and then after her suicide in 1963, became
recognised as one of the leading female writers of her generation. The reception of her work has
been central to the developments and radical revisions within feminist criticism and overshadowed
to some extent by the assumption that Hughes was responsible for her death (a position long
discounted, not least with the publication of The Birthday Letters (1998), a series of poems Hughes
wrote about his relationship with Plath as he was dying from cancer). To what extent is the new
confessional poetry shaped by the new cultural of expression we find associated with the family
photograph and album? What is for us most interesting about Plath is the way in which – along with
many of the other American confessional poets of the era – she assimilates into her own personal
traumas the larger historical traumas of the generation growing up in the wake of the Second World
War, the Holocaust and the threat of nuclear destruction. Her use of imagery from the Holocaust
and her identification as a non-Jew with the victims of the Holocaust caused and causes controversy.
She was writing in a period when the memory of the Holocaust –revived in film and popular culture
since the mid-1950s – began to become a prominent feature as one of the main administrators of
the Holocaust Adolf Eichmann stood trial in Israel for crimes against humanity. We will explore her
achievement as a female poet and we shall engage with the controversies raised by aspects of her
writing. Robert Lowell, the most celebrated of the male American confessional poets, lived for a
period in England in the 1970s.
Hughes’ father was a survivor of Gallipoli and his father’s experiences of the First World War overshadowed his son who wrote many poems on the theme of masculinity, war and violence. Trained at
Cambridge as an anthropologist, Hughes was interested in myth, in the mechanisms of social order,
violence, sacrifice and the sacred at work in a culture (concerns which were at the heart of the
anthropological theory of Claude Lévi-Strauss and René Girard). On one level, Hughes was seen to be
an English writer on nature in the tradition of D.H.Lawrence; but his work – on animals, ecology,
social order – were refracted through his fascination with the First (and Second) World War. Hughes’
interest reflected a move in the wider culture – 1964 was the half-centenary of the outbreak of the
Great War – and the BBC made a celebrated epic documentary The Great War. Britten’s War
Requiem was the starting-point for a revised reading of Wilfred Owen whose collected poems were
published only in 1964. The fears of a nuclear war in the early 1960s – and the beginning of
American involvement in Vietnam War from the mid-1960s onwards – created a new audience for
writing about war and about the Great War in particular.
*Deborah Nelson: ‘Plath, History and Politics’ and Steven Gould Axelrod ‘The Poetry of Sylvia Plath’
in Jo Gill (ed.): The Cambridge Companion to Sylvia Plath, pp. 21-35; pp. 73-89
Jo Gill: ‘Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath’, in Terry Gifford (ed.): The Cambridge Companion to Ted
Hughes, pp.53-66
Diane Middlebrook: ‘The Poetry of Sylvia Plath and ted Hughes; Call and Response’ in Jo Gill (ed.) The
Cambridge Companion to Sylvia Plath
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Gareth Reeves: ‘”This is Plenty, This is More Than Enough: Poetry and the Memory of the Second
World War,’ in Tim Kendall (ed.): The Oxford Handbook of British and Irish War Poetry, pp. 579-591.
Claire M.Tylee: ‘British Holocaust Poetry: Songs of Experience’ in Tim Kendall (ed.) The Oxford
Handbook of British and Irish War Poetry, pp. 592-612.
Jacqueline Rose: The Haunting of Sylvia Plath
Christine Britzolakis: Sylvia Plath and the Theatre of Mourning
Elisabeth Bronfen: Sylvia Plath
Anita Helle: ‘Plath, Photography and the Post-Confessional Muse’ and Steven Gould Axelrod: ‘Plath’s
Torture: Cultural Contexts for Plath’s Imagery of the Holocaust’ in Sally Bayley and Tracy Brain (eds.):
Representing Sylvia Plath, pp. 32-53; pp.67-87
Linda Wagner-Martin: Sylvia Plath: A Literary Life
Heather L.Clark: The Grief of Influence: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes
James E.Young: Writing and Rewriting the Holocaust
Matthew Boswell: Holocaust Impiety in Literature, Popular Music and Film
Andrew Crozier: ‘Thrills and frills: poetry as figures of lyrical empiricism’ in Alan Sinfield (ed.): Society
and Literature 1945-1970, pp. 199-233.
Andrew Crozier: ‘Resting on Laurels’ in Alistair Davies and Alan Sinfield (eds.): British Culture of the
Postwar, pp. 192-204.
Kevin Hart: ‘Varieties of Poetic Sequence: Ted Hughes and Geoffrey Hill’ in Neil Corcoran (ed.) The
Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century English Poetry, pp. 187-199.
*Neil Roberts: ‘Class, war and the Laureateship’ in Terry Gifford: The Cambridge Companion to Ted
Hughes, pp. 150-161.
*Tim Kendall: ‘Fighting Back Over the Same Ground: Ted Hughes and War’ in Modern English War
Poetry, pp. 197-216.
Cornelia D.J.Pearsall: ‘The War Remains of Keith Douglas and Ted Hughes’ in Tim Kendall (ed.): The
Oxford Handbook of British and Irish War Poetry, pp. 524-541.
Raphael Ingelbien: Misreading England: Poetry and Nationhood since the Second World War
Tim Kendall: ‘Geoffrey Hill’s Debts’ in Modern English War Poetry, pp. 217-237.
David-Antoine Williams: ‘Geoffrey Hill: ‘A Question of Value’ in Defending Poetry: Art and Ethics in
Joseph Brodsky, Seamus Heaney and Geoffrey Hill, pp. 159-217
Edward Hadley: ‘Nobody Else Remembers’ in The Elegies of Ted Hughes
Keith Sagar: The Art of Ted Hughes
Keith Sagar: The Laughter of Foxes
Alan Marshall: ‘Quiet Americans: Response to War in Some British and American Poetry of the 1960s’
in Tim Kendall (ed.): The Oxford Handbook of British and Irish War Poetry, pp. 613-631.
John Brannigan: ‘English Journeys: Cultural Geographies of Contemporary England’ in Orwell to the
Present: Literature in England, 1945-2000, pp. 162-198.
Andrew Michael Roberts: Geoffrey Hill
Piers Pennington and Matthew Spurling (eds.): Geoffrey Hill and His Contexts
Jeffrey Hooker: ‘For the Unfallen: A Sounding’ and Martin Dodsworth: Mercian Hymns: Offa,
Charlemagne and Geoffrey Hill’ in Peter Robinson (ed.): Geoffrey Hill, pp20-30; pp.49-61
Jeffrey Wainwright: ‘The Speechless Dead: King Log (1968) in Acceptable Worlds
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