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5 - Capturing the Scale of Fiction at Mid-Century

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 December 2017

David James
Affiliation:
Queen Mary University of London
Neal Alexander
Affiliation:
University of Nottingham, UK
James Moran
Affiliation:
University of Nottingham, UK
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Summary

Writing in spring 1947, Storm Jameson – the prolific Yorkshire-born novelist and former president of the English centre of International PEN – used the occasion of an essay on the ‘situation’ of contemporary fiction to glance back two years and reflect on her visit to an indelibly-scarred northern Europe. From an aerial vantage point, Jameson adopts, at least initially and fleetingly, a disinterested and reportorial perspective. Then the standpoint shifts, and with it the diction and gesture of Jameson's treatment of destruction. Dropping the objective pretence of reportage, she progresses into a more personalised and noticeably elegiac register of remembrance:

The aeroplane that in 1945 took me from London to Berlin and Berlin to Warsaw showed me what I shall never forget. It was a clear sunny day, and we flew very low, never higher than about 1500 feet, over Europe. It was my first sight of Europe for six years. The Europe I had seen last in June 1939 was still, in spite of this and that, alive. Who would have believed than [sic] in a few short years it would be nearer dead than not? During the whole seven hours’ flight from the Dutch Coast to Warsaw, I saw only two railway-trains on the move: the roads were empty of traffic, the snapped-off ends of bridges trailed in the rivers. The curiously rotted look, from the air, of bombed cities was much less grim than this collapse of Europe into mediaeval conditions of travel. The few aeroplanes hurrying from point to point in chaos took the place of the angels a mediaeval painter might put in the top corner of his canvas. It seemed, in that first glimpse I got, that what had happened in Europe was so terrible that not only was there no forgiveness for it, but no chance of recovery.

In contrast to what James on sees as the relatively inconsequential tumult of the years leading up to 1939 (summed up in a sub-clause by the unspecific pronouns of that colloquial phrase, ‘this and that’), Europe appears to her now in a state of terminal retrogression with ‘no chance of recovery’.

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Regional Modernisms , pp. 104 - 123
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2013

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