Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
After the Trauma

After the Trauma: Representative British Novelists Since 1920

Harvey Curtis Webster
Copyright Date: 1970
Pages: 216
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    After the Trauma
    Book Description:

    In this lucid book a distinguished scholar and critic measures British fiction from World War I through the convulsive effects of the Depression and World War II, and the importance of the writing that has been done since Finnegan's Wake.

    Webster presents a moving account of the shattering impact of the Great War upon British writers, particularly Rose Macaulay, Aldous Huxley, Evelyn Waugh, and Ivy Compton-Burnett. The cynicism and despair which afflicted them also bore heavily on the novelists of the thirties and forties -- Graham Greene, Joyce Cary, L. P. Hartley, C. P. Snow, who endured the disorder and violence of the Depression and World War II. Though all of these writers spoke with individual voices ranging from pessimism to joyful affirmation, they were all marked ineradicably by the turmoil of the period. The book closes with an overview of the writers who have developed since World War II.

    Penetrating, fresh, affirmative in its values, the book is an important assessment of this protean group of writers.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6513-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xii)

    Since neither I nor anyone else has read more than a small fraction of English novels published since World War I, it is with hesitance that I say the novelists I write about in this book represent the age they are unhappy with. I knew little about most of them when I taught American fiction and poetry at the University of Durham, England, in 1950 and 1951. I became aware then of the immense gaps in my knowledge of British fiction since Joyce, Forster, Lawrence, Woolf, and Dorothy Richardson, and I started (at first casually, later avidly) to read and...

  5. Chapter One The Trauma
    (pp. 1-9)

    The last year of an age golden enough to make us think it so opened quietly. The LondonTimesfor January 1, 1914, talked about the extreme cold, editorialized against pessimism, carried a leader in its literary supplement about Hans Christian Andersen, said in its special supplement about 1913: “We may surely . . . count among the securities for peace the existence of a better understanding between England and Germany.” On the same January day in 1914, theDaily Graphicfound nothing more sensational for its front page than pictures of those honored in the New Year’s list: twenty-five...

  6. Chapter Two Rose Macauley: A Christian a Little Agnostic
    (pp. 10-30)

    When rose macauley first came to London (she tells us in theLondon Magazinefor March 1957), it was from her home in Italy, where she spent most of her early childhood with her “never at all respectable” parents. Much of her childhood she spent reading omnivorously, learning Latin and math, going to a convent school, using Sunday “as a day for license and liberty and riotous living.” London was the exciting place where books came from, where on their occasional visits, the Macaulay children could buy also “ships, magnets, pistols, cannons, knives . . . and many other very...

  7. Chapter Three Aldous Huxley: Sceptical Mystic
    (pp. 31-50)

    It is tempting to suggest that Aldous Huxley felt the impact of World War I more than the disenchanted combatants. Kept from participation by bad eyesight and perhaps, like his character Richard Greenow, a conscientious objector who did not object actively, he did not see war as a noble crusade against Hunnishness. He wrote no war novels, and after the books published in 1920, said little directly about it, yet his books show the effect of the physical and psychical disgust he felt for its presumed consequences to a fuller extent than anything Rose Macaulay wrote. Possibly this was because...

  8. Chapter Four Ivy Compton-Burnett: Factualist
    (pp. 51-71)

    Though it was diffidently subtitled “A Study” when it first appeared, Ivy Compton-Burnett’s first characteristic novel,Pastors and Masters(1925) reveals in small the attitudes, preoccupations, and techniques she has modified and improved in the novels that have followed. It begins, typically, with a speech by a minor character:

    “Well, this is a nice thing! A nice thing this schoolmastering! Up at seven, and in a room with a black fire. . . . I should have thought it might have occurred to one out of forty boys to poke it . . . . And while you are about...

  9. Chapter Five Evelyn Waugh: Catholic Aristocrat
    (pp. 72-92)

    In the closing pages of decline and fall, Professor Otto Silenus, the architect who thinks the problem of architecture is “the problem of all art—the elimination of the human element from the consideration of form,” talks with Paul Pennyfeather:

    “It’s a good thing for you to be a clergyman . . . . People get ideas about a thing they call life. It sets them all wrong. I think it’s poets that are responsible chiefly. Shall I tell you about life?”

    “Yes, do,” said Paul politely.

    “Well, it’s like the big wheel at Luna Park. Have you seen the...

  10. Chapter Six Mid-View: The 1930s
    (pp. 93-96)

    The first world war, Stephen Spender wrote, “had knocked the ball-room floor from under . . . English life. People resembled dancers suspended in mid-air yet miraculously able to pretend that they were still dancing.” The writers who started towards artistic maturity in the twenties did have ball-room floor under them, however much they felt they must dance suspended. There is gaiety in the fiction of the twenties—sometimes despairing in Rose Macaulay, bitter in Huxley and Waugh, grim in Ivy Compton-Burnett, resigned in Maugham, glittering in Coward and Arlen, frivolous in Ronald Firbank. There is hope in the writers...

  11. Chapter Seven Graham Greene: Stoical Catholic
    (pp. 97-123)

    In his essay about Dickens inThe Lost Childhood(1951), Graham Greene remarks that he is “inclined to believe” that “the creative writer perceives his world once and for all in childhood and adolescence, and his whole career is an effort to illustrate his private world in terms of the great public world we all share.” Whether this is generally true or not, Greene has made out a convincing case for its truth about himself. When, at the age of ten, he read H. Rider Haggard’sKing Solomon’s Mines,he was most impressed by the figure of Gagool, the old...

  12. Chapter Eight Joyce Carey: Christian Unclassified
    (pp. 124-151)

    Much as he might have disagreed with him in other ways, Joyce Cary would have agreed with Graham Greene’s conviction that childhood and adolescence are fundamental in determining “the private world” the writer expresses “in terms of the great public world we all share.” It is arguable that the many differences between these two writers have their source in their disparate childhoods. Greene’s unhappy childhood made him conclude that this is a world where perfect evil walks, “where perfect good can never walk again, and only the pendulum ensures that after all in the end justice is done”; Cary’s happy...

  13. Chapter Nine L. P. Hartley: Diffident Christian
    (pp. 152-167)

    In a symposium about the “new novelists” inThe London Magazine(1958), L. P. Hartley was ranked among “the best” of them by three of the four contributors. Since Hartley was in his mid-sixties it is slightly strange that the well-informed contributors thought of him as a contemporary. Although he is esteemed in England and, to a lesser degree, in America, there is no mention of even his name in seven books having sections on contemporary British fiction that have appeared within the last ten years. In five other recent books and pamphlets of about the same time, he is...

  14. Chapter Ten C. P. Snow: The Scientific Humanist
    (pp. 168-190)

    Of all the novelists I have discussed so far, Lord Charles Snow (who prefers to be called C. P. Snow)isthe most traditional contemporary British novelist with a claim to representative eminence. He is traditional because he emphasizes substance and structure and engagement over form and texture and disengagement with the temporal (if one can agree on the meaning of any of these abstractions), in his sometimes pedestrian style, even in his use of headings for each chapter. He does not experiment with time-space, as Aldous Huxley and Lawrence Durrell do; with dialogue, as Evelyn Waugh and Henry Green...

  15. Chapter Eleven War, Cold
    (pp. 191-198)

    The trauma ended; its effects did not. In the twenties writers and readers alike (of course I allow for many exceptions) were bitter and disenchanted because the tea was no longer there at Grantchester, because neither the war nor the peace seemed worth its loss. The brief time of hope and depression ended at Munich has not reappeared in England (or elsewhere in the West) since, except sporadically in individuals and years. There were no war writers, no strenuous hopers for lasting peace even among those who of course supported the United Nations. Queuing and getting angry about it, hoping...

  16. Index
    (pp. 199-203)