War and space in English fiction, 1940-1950

Smith, Warwick (2016) War and space in English fiction, 1940-1950. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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This thesis argues that a preoccupation with space is a characteristic feature of English fiction in the years following the outbreak of the Second World War and, more specifically, that the war’s events caused this heightened interest in the spatial. Writing from the 1940s exhibits an anxious perplexity in its spatial descriptions which reveals an underlying philosophical uncertainty; cultural assumptions about spatial categories were destabilised by the war and this transformation left its mark on literature. Writers in London during the war were among civilians shocked by new sensory assaults and dramatic changes to the urban landscape. These material facts exerted pressures on the collective imagination and a major part of the literary response was an urgently-renewed interest in the problematics of space.

The primary literary focus here is on Elizabeth Bowen and Henry Green, though work by other writers including Graham Greene, Mervyn Peake and William Sansom is also discussed. I draw on the philosophy of Maurice Merleau-Ponty to illustrate the challenge phenomenological thinking posed to prevailing cultural conceptions of space in this period and to suggest how the war directed writers’ attention to the role that embodied perception plays in composing spaces.

I also examine how technological change, particularly development of the V2 rocket, shook established spatial thinking and I discuss how conceptual categories such as adjacence, linearity and sequence were further disrupted by the political divisions of post-war Europe. Documentary and diary sources are used to support literary evidence.

English fiction changed abruptly and significantly in the 1940s because of a fresh spatial understanding emerging from the war which shaped the culture of the Cold War and the space race. This change demands reassessment of a decade often dismissed in literary history as a dull interlude between temporally-dominated high modernism and a postmodern ‘turn to the spatial.’

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > English
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR6000 1900-1960
P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR6000 1900-1960 > PR6003.O657 Bowen, Elizabeth
P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR6000 1900-1960 > PR6013.R416 Green, Henry
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 24 May 2016 14:49
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2022 15:49
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/61022

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