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Week 12: 'The long 1939': literature and politics at the end of 'the Thirties'

Lecture slides  

Primary sources

Key sources:

W.H. Auden, 'September 1, 1939' (1939)

Cyril Connolly, 'The Ivory Shelter', New Statesman 7 October 1939, 482-3


E.M. Forster, 'The 1939 State', New Statesman 10 June 1939, pp.888-9

Virginia Woolf 'The Leaning Tower' (1940)

George Orwell, 'Inside the Whale' (1940), esp. pp.93-112

Seminar questions
  • Why did writers abandon political commitment at the end of the 1930s, and what did they adopt in its place?
  • ‘A low dishonest decade’ (W.H. Auden). Is this an accurate assessment of the 1930s?
  • How helpful is the idea of ‘the Thirties’ to understanding the literary history of the 1930s?
  • Is the idea of a ‘long 1939’ a useful way of thinking about the history of politics and literature?
  • When did ‘the Thirties’ end?

Key reading 

Steve Ellis, British Writers and the Approach of World War II (Cambridge, 2015), Introduction & ch.4

Samuel Hynes, The Auden Generation: Literature and Politics in England in the 1930s (London, 1976), chs.X-XI

Additional reading 

Sebastian Knowles, A Purgatorial Flame: Seven British Writers in the Second World War (Philadelphia, 1990), Preface & chs.I-III

Phyllis Lassner, British Women Writers of World War II: Battlegrounds of Their Own (Basingstoke, 1998), Introduction & chs.1-2

Sean Pryor, ‘Poetry and Decision: F.T. Prince in September 1938’, Review of English Studies 63 (2012), 818-40

Malcolm Smith, ‘George Orwell, War and Politics in the 1930s’, Literature and History 6:2 (1980), 219-234

Robert Colls, George Orwell: English Rebel (Oxford, 2013), ch.4;

Peter MacDonald, ‘Believing in the Thirties’, in Keith Williams & Steven Matthews (eds.), Rewriting the Thirties: Modernism and After (Longman, 1997), 71-90

John Baxendale and Christopher Pawling (eds.), Narrating the Thirties: A decade in the making, 1930 to the present (Basingstoke, 1996)

Leo Mellor & Glyn Salton-Cox, ‘Introduction’, Critical Quarterly 57:3 (2015), 1-9 (introduction to special issue on ‘The Long 1930s’)