• Literature’s poor relation: history and identity in the writing and criticism of nineteen-fifties literature

      Brannigan, John Gerard (University of BedfordshireUniversity of Bedfordshire, 1995-12)
      All the major critics of postwar literature regard the fifties as a period in which literature was inept, conservative and conformist. This thesis argues that fifties literature was instead an active and successful agent in problematising conservative political orthodoxies, and in articulating alternative identities and politics. The study is concerned with two major themes: the relationship between literature and history, and the critical reputation and location of literature in nineteen-fifties Britain. It begins from positions that are already evident in postwar literary criticism towards both of these themes. Literature is understood in much of the critical writing of postwar Britain to be representative of social trends and attitudes, and its meaning is determined largely according to particular understandings of postwar British history and society. The literary text, if understood as 'representative', is capable of offering the reader direct access to the society of its production, and of reflecting the dominant trends and attitudes in a given period. Because it is the most recent period of realism in the history of English literature, the fifties seem to be particularly susceptible to this view. Reading fifties literature in the light of poststructuralist thinking on textuality and representation, this study argues that literature is not representative bu negotiates identities and social experiences of the fifties in a much more diverse way. These negotiations are demonstrated in readings of the work of John Osborne, Brendan Behan and Sam Selvon, and elaborated theoretically in the concluding chapters of the study. Literature's Poor Relation demonstrates that fifties literature is able to manoeuvre into a space wherein it can articulate oppositional and critical stances towards power, by firstly, imitating social detail and literary traditions, and secondly, reading these details and traditions in such was as to deconstruct them. The appearance of representativeness serves to seduce the reader into desiring the text (the idea that Look Back in Anger was representative attracted many of its original audiences to see it), and its readings and interpretations of history and identity deflect the reader's desire towards oppositional and critical moments in the text.