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6 - Regionalism and Modernity: The Case of Leo Walmsley

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 December 2017

Dominic Head
Affiliation:
University of Nottingham
Neal Alexander
Affiliation:
University of Nottingham, UK
James Moran
Affiliation:
University of Nottingham, UK
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Summary

Some notable recent re-evaluations of English modernism have placed stress, not on the cosmopolitan and international aspects of high modernist expression, but on a surprising turn towards England – and ideas of Englishness – in late modernism. This line of argument, in which Jed Esty's A Shrinking Island (2004) is a key landmark, was developed in a more popular format by Alexandra Harris in Romantic Moderns (2010), in a discussion which links literary trends with developments in the visual arts, giving the revisionist dynamic a purchase beyond academic publishing.

In their discussions of literature, Esty and Harris detect a new emphasis on place and region in the later writing of major modernist figures such as Woolf, Eliot, and Forster. Other critics have investigated the credentials of writers whose work signals an overlap between modernism and regionalism, such as Mary Butts, Margaret Storm Jameson, and Sylvia Townsend Warner. But this begs a question concerning the regional writing – and especially the rural regional writing – that burgeoned in the 1920s and 1930s, and which has usually been seen as quite other to the directions taken by literary modernism: conventional in style and subject matter, and often conservative politically, where modernism is innovative, surprising, and politically radical (one way or another).

This essay seeks to blur the line a little more through an analysis of a truly regional writer, Leo Walmsley (1892–1966). The son of a painter, and exposed to the avant-garde art world in his early days as a writer (he and his wife shared a house with Barbara Hepworth), Walmsley returned to the village of his youth, Robin Hood's Bay in North Yorkshire (which he fictionalises as ‘Bramblewick’) to write his best-known works, Three Fevers (1932), Phantom Lobster (1933), and Foreigners (1935). These books about an isolated fishing community, in the last days of smallscale inshore fishing, would seem to epitomise the backward-looking and traditional focus usually associated (sometimes correctly) with the regional novel of the 1930s. That apparent contribution to a conventional strand of English heritage might seem to be confirmed by other aspects of Walmsley's later career (as a writer of guide books).

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Regional Modernisms , pp. 124 - 141
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2013

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