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Literature of the 1940s: War, Postwar and 'Peace'

Volume 5

Gill Plain

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A groundbreaking re-reading of the literary response to a decade of trauma and transformation

This new study undoes the customary division of the 1940s into the Second World War and after. Instead, it focuses on the thematic preoccupations that emerged from writers’ immersion in and resistance to the conflict. Through seven chapters – Documenting, Desiring, Killing, Escaping, Grieving, Adjusting and Atomizing – the book sets middlebrow and popular writers alongside residual modernists and new voices to reconstruct the literary landscape of the period. Detailed case studies of fiction, drama and poetry provide fresh critical perspectives on writers as diverse as Margery Allingham, Alexander Baron, Elizabeth Bowen, Keith Douglas, Graham Greene, Henry Green, Georgette Heyer, Alun Lewis, Nancy Mitford, George Orwell, Mervyn Peake, J. B. Priestley, Terrence Rattigan, Mary Renault, Stevie Smith, Dylan Thomas and Evelyn Waugh.

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General Editor’s Preface
1. Introduction
2. Documenting
3. Desiring
4. Killing
5. Escaping
6. Grieving
7. Adjusting
8. Atomizing
Works Cited

About the Author

Gill Plain is Professor of English at the University of St Andrews. She has published extensively on twentieth-century popular culture, crime fiction, gender, sexuality and the writing of the two world wars. Her previous books include John Mills and British Cinema (Edinburgh 2006), Twentieth-Century Crime Fiction: Gender, Sexuality and the Body (Edinburgh, 2001), and Women’s Fiction of the Second World War (Edinburgh, 1996).


Gill Plain is a passionate, omnivorous and discerning reader, with strong instincts for what matters and sharp insights into its significance. In this rich and innovative study, she attends to  verse dramas and domestic thrillers, forgotten authors and big names alike in order to redress the neglect of an explosive, melancholy and jagged decade. Her live, highly democratic sense of personal dislocation and social reverberations creates a powerful portrait of complex mentalités at a time when, as Elizabeth Bowen wrote, everyone existed ‘in a state of lucid abnormality.’

- Marina Warner, University of Essex

It’s hard to imagine a better guide to the literary world of the 1940s than Gill Plain’s lucid, witty, and engaging volume. This is a book destined to send readers to the library to discover and re-discover the impressive array of texts discussed. It sheds brilliant light on how writers bore witness to the traumas and upheavals of the entire decade.

- Susan R. Grayzel, University of Mississippi

[A] meticulous work of literary-historical scholarship.

- Claire Seiler, Dickinson College, Modernism/modernity, Volume 22, Number 4

Literature of the 1940s is a coherent and comprehensive whole about a fragmentary decade.’

- Lucy Scholes, Times Literary Supplement

The main attraction of Gill Plain’s book lies in its entertainingly accessible coverage of literary texts and social, intellectual issues. It is grounded in scholarly research, yet it is impressively free of scholarly jargon.

- Robert Martínez, Eastern Illinois University, Journal of British Studies 53.3

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