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Take me to your Leda

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2007

Stanley Wells
Affiliation:
University of Birmingham
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Summary

CRASH

Let me begin with two voices: ‘Give up literary criticism!’ – the exasperation of a philosopher – and ‘We are not on trial; it is the system under which we live . . . It has broken down everywhere’ – the desperation of a politician. Both utterances surfaced in the same year, and the peculiar resonance they retain for modern British ears probably results from the fact that the year was 1929. I open with them because the crisis of 1929–30 and its bitter fruit still finds sufficient parallels in our current situation to make any echoes from its depths somewhat disturbing. On that basis alone it would not be unreasonable to argue that the period marks a genuine watershed in the development of British ideology. In May 1929 a general election had produced the second Labour government (albeit a minority one). Confident, hopeful, even with Ramsay MacDonald at its head, it rode full tilt into the great stock market crash of October of that year, inheriting the debacle that MacDonald’s words attempt to grapple with: ‘We are not on trial; it is the system under which we live’. The apocalyptic atmosphere was heightened by the ungraspable nature of the breakdown. It was inexplicable, a text impossible to decipher. And when readings were forthcoming, the man and woman in the street found these difficult to understand and very far from reassuring.

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Shakespeare Survey , pp. 21 - 32
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1988

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