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Whistling in the Dark

Whistling in the Dark: Memory and Culture in Wartime London

Jean R. Freedman
Copyright Date: 1999
Edition: 1
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Whistling in the Dark
    Book Description:

    Few historical images are more powerful than those of wartime London. Having survived a constant barrage of German bombs, the city is remembered as an island of courage and defiance. These wartime images are still in use today to support a wide variety of political viewpoints. But how well do such descriptions match the memories of those who survived the blitz?

    Jean Freedman interviewed more than fifty people who remember London during the war, focusing on under-represented groups, including women, Jews, and working-class citizens. In addition she examined original propaganda, secret government documents, wartime diaries, and postwar memoirs. Of particular significance to Freedman were the contemporary music, theater, film, speeches, and radio drama used by the British government to shape public opinion and impart political messages. Such bits of everyday life are mentioned in virtually every civilian's experience of wartime London but their interpretations of them often clashed with their government's intentions.

    By exploring the differences between wartime documentation and postwar memory, oral and written artifacts, and the voices of the powerful and the obscure, Freedman illuminates the complex interactions between myth and history. She concludes that there are as many interpretations of what really happened during Britain's finest hour as there are people who remember it.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4816-8
    Subjects: History, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    Winston Smith gave up too easily In the same city where he found a man’s memories to be only “a rubbish heap of details,” I found a great deal more. My interviewees were conscious and intelligent witnesses to history Over countless cups of tea in sitting rooms, senior citizens’ centers, churches, and synagogues, they shared thoughts, ideas, and experiences; they allowed me to question and tape-record their lives. This is as close as we can get to the past; no museum reconstruction, no Cecil B. DeMille film, no fake verisimilitude can render history more truly than the words of those...

  5. 2 London Can Take It: Ideology and Wartime London
    (pp. 15-33)

    In 1939 London was the largest city in the world, the world’s busiest port, and the home of more than eight million people. Greater London consisted of many urban boroughs and two administratively designated “cities”: the ancient city of London, consisting of one square mile and home to its financial district, and the adjacent city of Westminster, where most government business was enacted. Around the core of these two cities the boroughs spread in concentric circles for miles, each with its own personality and self-contained neighborhoods. Financially and commercially London was one of the most powerful cities on earth, though...

  6. 3 Careless Talk Costs Lives: Speech in Wartime London
    (pp. 34-79)

    InThe Dark Lady of the Sonnets,George Bernard Shaw paints a delightful picture of the speech habits of Londoners: he shows the young Shakespeare walking around the city and writing down what people say. These notes become the dialogue of his plays; Shakespeare is depicted here as a great folk-poet, taking the living language of his people and crafting it into a work of his own, what Henry Glassie (personal communication) calls “the individual expression of the collective will” (or, in this case, “the collecting Will”). While Shaw’s portrayal of London speech is (unfortunately) exaggerated, his emphasis on the...

  7. 4 Time Long Past: Narratives of Wartime London
    (pp. 80-124)

    Stories about wartime London are to this day an important component of British cultural and national identity Told with relish to tourists, scholars, and bored or fascinated grandchildren, these stories are ways of keeping the past alive and of asserting one’s own place in a crucial historical epoch. They are also the precious cultural capital of the generation that experienced the war. The many small stories told by the much-touted “ordinary people” of wartime London flow into the master narratives of European history; enriching them, enlivening them, and occasionally colliding with them. Even before the war’s end, people realized how...

  8. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  9. 5 London Pride: Music and Wartime London
    (pp. 125-174)

    Few art forms cover so broad a base as the one called music.¹ Some arts, such as theater, are essentially communal, while others, such as literature, are in large measure solitay Some are basically the province of amateurs, such as storytelling, while others are largely the domain of professionals, such as sculpture. Yet music encompasses all these realms: it ranges from the communal forms of symphony and choir to the solo vocalist or concert artist to the solitary music student practicing in a small room. Music ranges from the highly virtuosic, in symphonies and chamber orchestras and opera companies, to...

  10. 6 Present Tense: Memories of Wartime London
    (pp. 175-204)

    Any study of the past is in some sense a study about memory The past is gone irretrievably; but memories remain, providing us with information and yielding meaning about past events. Even historical sources apparently created “on the spot” are the creations of memory; a general’s account, a newspaper report, and a descriptive letter are all created after the events that they recount. Memory is thus inherent in any historical study Though there is certainly a difference between a memory of five hours and a memory of fifty years, it is not always clear how this difference is manifest; the...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 205-211)
  12. References
    (pp. 212-221)
  13. Index
    (pp. 222-230)