Mid-century gothic : the agency and intimacy of uncanny objects in post-war British literature and culture

Mullen, Lisa (2016) Mid-century gothic : the agency and intimacy of uncanny objects in post-war British literature and culture. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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Abstract

This thesis reassesses the years 1945-1955 as a hingepoint in British culture, a moment when literature, film and art responded to the wartime hiatus of consumer capitalism by resisting the turn towards conspicuous consumption and selfcommodification. This resistance can be discerned in a gothic impulse in post-war culture, in which uncanny encounters with haunted, recalcitrant or overassertive objects proliferated, and provided a critique of the subject/object relationship on which consumerism was predicated. In the opening chapter, the ubiquity of bombsite rubble is brought into dialogue with mid-century mural painting both in literature and at the Festival of Britain. In the second chapter, Barbara Jones’s Black Eyes and Lemonade exhibition of ephemera is considered alongside the work of the Independent Group. The third chapter examines how the period’s new media and computing hardware further complicated the status of the subject, through an analysis of the work of George Orwell, Alan Turing and William Grey Walter. In the fourth chapter, haunted furniture and domestic ephemera threaten to become rival subjectivities, in works including Elizabeth Bowen’s The Heat of the Day and Marghanita Laski’s The Victorian Chaise Longue. The fifth chapter considers the ways in which mid-century clothes and apparel enabled or restricted the autonomy of their wearers, through a comparative analysis of the Coronation, the British Everest expedition, and Britten’s coronation opera Gloriana. Finally, the onset of atomic anxiety is explored through stories about bombs, prosthetics and bodily penetration including Powell and Pressburger’s The Small Back Room. The thesis concludes that the intimacy and agency of these unruly objects remain as half-submerged cultural signposts offering an alternative understanding of twentieth-century materialism.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: This thesis is not currently available for public use
Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
School/Department: School of Arts > English & Humanities
Depositing User: ORBIT Editor
Date Deposited: 27 May 2016 10:34
Last Modified: 02 Dec 2016 12:47
URI: http://bbktheses.da.ulcc.ac.uk/id/eprint/189

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