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'Postwar' is both a period and a state of mind, a sensibility comprised of hope, fear and fatigue in which British society and its writers paradoxically yearned both for political transformation and a nostalgic re-instatement of past securities. From the Labour landslide victory of 1945 to the emergence of the Cold War and the humiliation of Suez in 1956, this was a period of radical political transformation in Britain and beyond, but these changes resisted literary assimilation. Arguing that writing and history do not map straightforwardly one onto the other, and that the postwar cannot easily be fitted into the explanatory paradigms of modernism or postmodernism, this book offers a more nuanced recognition of what was written and read in the period. From wartime radio writing to 1950s travellers, cold war poetry to radical theatre, magazine cultures to popular fiction, this volume examines important debates that animated postwar Britain.
There are many ‘1940s’. For some it is and always will be the decade of the Second World War, and that conflict overshadows all other aspects of the period, not least because while hostilities ceased in 1945, the impact of the war continued to be felt – psychologically, emotionally and economically – in the state of the nation, the grief of its inhabitants and the pain of readjustment. For others, the 1940s is a beginning, not an end: the Cold War, immigration, the inception of the welfare state and the transformation of Britain as an imperial power. Yet the multiplicity of these 1940s is most often distilled into the crude division of 1945 and after. Studies of the century, whether literary or historical, concur with Jay Winter's argument that 1945 is the ‘real caesura in European cultural life’ of the twentieth century (1995/1998: 228). This book at once agrees with and challenges that assertion. Undoubtedly 1945 is a catastrophic year, etching European cultural memory with the indelible scars of the atomic bomb and what would later be termed the Holocaust. Nonetheless, the literary manifestation of such a ‘break’ is harder to pin down – it is a more diffuse production, the product of a nexus of temporal, historical, subjective and pragmatic considerations. The horror of 1945 is both anticipated and avoided by literature.