May 15, 2015


Dennis Potter: there is a nostalgic, rightwing impulse in England : In a BBC World Service broadcast in 1979, Dennis Potter - who would have turned 80 this weekend - talked to Michael Billington about the relationship between good and evil in his play Brimstone and Treacle (Michael Billington, 15 May 2015, The Guardian)

MB: Can I bring you on to the political aspects of the play, because those intrigue me honestly as much as the religious ones. The head of the house, Mr Bates, Tom, does in fact lean towards the British fascist organisation the National Front, yet you also give him a speech in which he laments the England that once was, and in which he foreswears racial violence, and I wonder, do you feel that in England today there is a sort of sour middle-class discontent, but one that stops well short of fascism and well short of physical violence?

DP: Yes, I think in England it will take something utterly exceptional to produce a genuinely dangerous, fascist party. On the other hand, there is in England - and quite understandably - a yearning, a nostalgia, a basically rightwing impulse which is simple in the sense that it wishes things to be as they were: that is, socially, politically impossible.

Oxford's Influential Inklings (Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski, 5/08/15, The Chronicle Review)

We must picture Oxford, during the First World War, not as the neo-medieval paradise it would like to be, but as the military compound it was obliged to become. The colleges of Oxford turned nearly overnight into hospitals and officer-training camps, strangely quiet and emptied of students, "like monasteries where all the monks have died," as Victor Gollancz remembered it. The Oxford University Roll of Service records that of 14,561 students who served in the war, 2,708 -- nearly 20 percent -- perished. In a society known for its masculine "clubbability," yet haunted by the memory of so many friendships severed, so many men cut down in their prime, it scarcely surprises that the surviving remnant would seek out every opportunity for male companionship. The Inklings were, to a man -- and they were all men -- comrades who had been touched by war, who viewed life through the lens of war, yet who looked for hope and found it, in fellowship, where so many other modern writers and intellectuals saw only broken narratives, disfigurement, and despair.

If Virginia Woolf was right that "on or about December 1910 human character changed" in the direction of modernism and daring social experiments, the Great War intensified that change; according to standard histories of this period, the rising generation of British writers reacted to the catastrophe by severing ties to tradition and embracing an aesthetic of dissonance, fragmentation, and estrangement.

Yet the Great War also instilled in many a longing to reclaim the goodness, beauty, and cultural continuity that had been so violently disrupted. The Inklings came together because they shared that longing; and it was the Inklings, rather than the heirs of the Bloomsbury Group -- the other great, if ill-defined, English literary circle of the 20th century -- who gave that longing its most enduring artistic form and substance. Far from breaking with tradition, they understood the Great War and its aftermath in the light of tradition, believing, as did their literary and spiritual ancestors, that ours is a fallen world yet not a forsaken one. It was a belief that set them at odds with many of their contemporaries but kept them in the broad currents of the English literary heritage. They shared much with Bloomsbury, including love of beauty, companionship, and conversation, but they differed from their older London counterpart in their religious ardor, their social conservatism, and their embrace of fantasy, myth, and (mostly) conventional literary techniques instead of those dazzling experiments with time, character, narrative, and language that mark the modernist aesthetic.

Posted by at May 15, 2015 7:33 PM

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