Literary Representations of Safety in British Fiction of the Long Decade 1939–1950

Kyte, Jacqueline (2017) Literary Representations of Safety in British Fiction of the Long Decade 1939–1950. Doctoral thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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Abstract

During and after the Second World War – a time of acute national danger – British authors reflected the huge premium placed on safety, exploring and expressing it in various manifestations. Safety is a fundamental human need, and yet it is a contingent concept. A major component of being safe is not being endangered – and the novelists addressed in this thesis were alert to the reciprocal relationship between the safe and the unsafe, between the desire for safety and the presence of danger. Critical work has largely been concerned with the crisis of conflict, with depictions of heroic combat or the impact of bombing raids on the Home Front; safety and its cognates have received little, if any, attention. This thesis investigates the protean representations of safety during the long decade, 1939–1950, in four key manifestations. Safekeeping: psychological and emotional safety may not be coincident with physical safety. The novels selected – Saplings (1945) by Noel Streatfeild, Doreen (1946) by Barbara Noble and Charley is My Darling (1940) by Joyce Cary – assimilate the ground-breaking advances in child developmental psychology to represent the contingency of safety in the figure of the child evacuee. Safe home: home is widely construed as safe and unsafe. Winifred Peck depicts how safe home is destabilised in wartime in House-Bound (1942), while Pied Piper (1942) by Nevil Shute and Hangover Square (1941) by Patrick Hamilton narrate safety in relation to rescue, homecoming and states of interior exile. Safe talk: talking can be safe, as in the therapeutic talking cure, and unsafe (‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’). Pretend I Am a Stranger (1949) by Jack Aistrop and Mine Own Executioner (1945) by Nigel Balchin represent conflicted experiences of talk for the war veteran and the lay analyst respectively. In Tell It to a Stranger (1947), Elizabeth Berridge captures the powerful currency of talk, juxtaposing its operations of openness and secrecy, which are compromised when mediated by technology. Safety and grief: grieving can be a disorderly, unsafe process but also a way back to psychological and emotional safety. Back (1946) by Henry Green, The World My Wilderness (1950) by Rose Macaulay and Little Boy Lost (1949) by Marghanita Laski are read in relation to models of healthy (safe) and unhealthy (unsafe) grieving. Building on the work of David Bromwich in Skeptical Music (2001), this thesis also engages with larger questions of representational intent, in which the desire for safety is often commingled with the allure of danger. Exploring fictional representations of safety enables us to think about literature’s specific and heightened response to wartime and postwar conditions and its resonances for contemporary readings in our own time.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
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: 17 May 2017 12:13
Last Modified: 17 May 2017 12:13
URI: http://bbktheses.da.ulcc.ac.uk/id/eprint/207

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