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English Novels 1945-1955

From:   KlaraZthefirst  (Original Message)             Sent: 5/7/2008 1:03 AM
I'm currently reading novels written in this period---just finished Excellent Women by Barbara Pym, and A Wreath of Roses by Elizabeth Taylor , and have just picked up The Matchmaker by Stella Gibbons.  I'm particularly interested in finding novels that reflect English life in the immediate post-war years---of course, Sarah Waters new novel The Night Watch partly focuses on that period---but what I'm looking for are books that were also WRITTEN at that time. Any recommendations?
I think it's a fascinating 'lost decade'---after the war, but before the teenagers and rock and roll, so to speak.

From:   Evie_again                                             Sent: 5/7/2008 1:23 AM
One that immediately springs to mind is The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay. She is more famous for The Towers of Trebizond, and most of her novels were written before WWII, I think, but this is wonderful novel is a late one (she died in 1958), and is about a girl who has lived in France but is sent to London to live with her father after the war, and discovers a world of her own in a bombed out church - and it becomes about her dilemma over respectable life and her slightly rebellious nature. Delicious.

From:   Evie_again                                              Sent: 5/7/2008 1:28 AM
Klara - have you read Elizabeth Bowen? Again, most of her books - or her best known books - were written before the war, but there are some postwar ones too. I know you are looking for books about postwar life, but I can strongly recommend The Heat of the Day, pub. 1949, which is set during the war itself - it is marvellous, almost a thriller, but with a domestic setting - beautiful writing.
She was, of course, Irish, but lived in and mostly wrote about England.

From:   KlaraZthefirst                                          Sent: 5/7/2008 1:52 AM
Oh, thanks for those recommendations, Evie! I've jotted both of those titles down---I only know Elizabethan Bowen from her ghost stories (The Demon Lover---one of my favourites), but I have been meaning to try her novels for years.
I've got a few other books (mainly Virago Modern Classics--the ones in the 'old' green covers which I collect) that fit into this period. I've a Pamela Frankau novel lined up too.

From:   Evie_again                                              Sent: 5/7/2008 2:26 AM
Elizabeth Bowen is well worth exploring - all the novels of hers that I have read have been excellent.
There is, of course, the marvellous Rosamond Lehmann as well - The Echoing Grove springs to mind, as an exploration of the lives of women, I think it was written after the war (again, her novels span either side of WWII). She is just wonderful.
Hurray for those old Viragos with their lovely dark green spines!

From:   BillyLiar                                                  Sent: 5/7/2008 9:12 AM
Here are a few suggestions:
Jill, by Philip Larkin
Hurry On Down, by John Wain
Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis
Under the Net, by Iris Murdoch

From:   Meredith752                                            Sent: 5/8/2008 6:09 AM
Another author who came to mind was Olivia Manning. Having checked, I find she didn't publish much during the period which interests you, Klara, but one that I read recently and enjoyed, and which came out in 1955, was The Doves of Venus.
Other possibles (but it is a long while since I read them) are Marganita Laski and Daphne Du Maurier. It is a very rich period, just recovering, I think, from having been profoundly unfashionable for a time. Virago and Persephone Books have both published quite a lot by (mostly) female authors from this era, so it might be worth taking a look at their lists.

From:   bookfreak0                                             Sent: 5/8/2008 9:23 AM
Prompted by this thread I recalled from the dungeons of my memory two excellent novels on my mother's bookshelf by Norman Collins, Children of the Archbishop, written in 1951 about 2 (orphaned?) children in London and the even more popular London Belongs To Me by the same author.  
This latter one was written a little earlier at the end of the '30s and is about the tenants of a large house in pre WWII London as war looms on the horizon.   It was filmed starring Dickie Attenborough and Alastair Sim.
Norman Collins wrote many good novels.  He was a radio and TV executive and was made Controller of BBC TV and later got independent TV up and running.

From:   bookfreak0                                             Sent: 5/8/2008 9:53 AM
Klara, another well-known author from the decade you mention is H. E. Bates.  During WWII he was comissioned into the RAF specifically to write short stories when the Air Ministry decided the British people were more interested in the persons actually fighting the war than facts and figures about it.
Bates was a very prolific writer and amongst his most popular novels written during the '40s and early '50s were:
How Sleep the Brave
Fair Stood the Wind for France
The Jacaranda Tree
The Scarlet Sword
Love for Lydia

The Purple Plain (my own personal favourite, set in Burma. This was most successfully filmed with the absolutely gorgeous young Gregory Peck in the lead role!)
One should also not forget Bates' most famous The Darling Buds of May, published in the late '50s.

From:   bookfreak0                                           Sent: 5/8/2008 10:05 AM
And how about A.J. Cronin?  Another fabulous author of the '40s & '50s.   His renowned Shannon's Way and The Spanish Gardener both fit into the decade you are interested in.  The Citadel and Keys of the Kingdom were also great favourites of mine, but I believe they fall outside your specific timeframe.
Thank you, Klara, for having taken me on a trip down memory lane and thanks to my long-deceased mother for having had all these wonderful novels on her bookshelves for me to read!

To be continued - Castorboy

From:   Evie_again                                            Sent: 5/9/2008 11:44 AM
Today, on a train journey, I read the first 80 pages of A Girl in Winter, by Philip Larkin, published in 1947. I am thoroughly enjoying it so far - partly because the main character works in a library, and having spent 14 years working in one, it's interesting to see that not much changes! But it's a lovely mixture of lyricism, postwar dinginess and interesting characters.

From:   BillyLiar                                                  Sent: 5/9/2008 1:48 PM
Oh, I loved this book. When I saw this thread this was the first novel that came to my mind, but I thought - mistakenly - that it had been published before 1945. It's a pity it didn't achieve success in its time and so Larkin stopped writing fiction.

From:   Evie_again                                           Sent: 5/10/2008 1:22 AM
Hello Billy - glad someone else has read it, and liked it! I did think of Klara's thread straight away. I found the book on my sister's bookshelves, and it was the only thing there that immediately appealed to take on my journey, and it turned out to be an excellent choice.
I have read another Larkin novel - Jill - which I also enjoyed, though it's now quite a long time since I read it.
Philip Larkin was the most famous 'old boy' of the school in Coventry that I went to in the sixth form - I think he hated it, but of course the school was proud of the link anyway!

From:   BillyLiar                                              Sent: 5/10/2008 10:36 AM
A Girl in Winter is an example of sensitivity and of the ability of a male writer to create female characters. One wonders if it's the same writer who later acquired a reputation for misogyny.
A curious example of the opposite (a female novelist creating a rather convincing male protagonist) among English novels of this period is Iris Murdoch's Under the Net.Among the better known novels of this period, Amis's Lucky Jim, Wain's Hurry On Down and a little later Sillitoe's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and Braine's Room at the Top were very much novels written by men about men.

From:   MikeAlx                                                Sent: 5/11/2008 6:48 AM
I thought of mentioning Sillitoe and Braine and the so-called 'Angry Young Men', but I think they were slightly later than 1955 - Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was 1958, Room at the Top 1957. Colin Wilson's The Outsider almost sneaks in (1956). In the same year, Angus Wilson's Anglo-Saxon Attitudes was published, though he had published a couple of books before that. Of all that lot, I've only read Saturday Night and Sunday Morning - good book, and there's a good film of it starring Albert Finney.

From:   Evie_again                                           Sent: 5/11/2008 7:03 AM
Anglo-Saxon Attitudes is a novel I have wanted to read for a while - it's now out of print, and so far I haven't found it in secondhand shops. I remember a TV series of it, though my recollections are a bit vague.
A Girl in Winter is spending quite a long time in flashback now - I preferred the 'contemporary' bit about her working in the library and her relationship with her colleagues and the description of the town. But it's still a lovely read, I will say more when I have finished it.

From:   MikeAlx                                                Sent: 5/11/2008 7:17 AM
Larkin seems to be in the news a bit at the moment. Letters between Larkin and Fay Godwin, who photographed him on several occasions and with whom he seems to have had something of a rapport, have just been acquired by the British Library. Feature in the Guardian:,,2278265,00.html

The Sunday Times Culture section today has an article about letters of Larkin's acquired by the Bodleian. Article here:

From:   BillyLiar                                               Sent: 5/11/2008 9:06 AM
I thought of mentioning Sillitoe and Braine and the so-called 'Angry Young Men', but I think they were slightly later than 1955 - 'Saturday Night and Sunday Morning' was 1958, 'Room at the Top' 1957. Colin Wilson's "The Outsider" almost sneaks in (1956). In the same year, Angus Wilson's "Anglo-Saxon Attitudes" was published, though he had published a couple of books before that. Of all that lot, I've only read 'Saturday Night and Sunday Morning' - good book, and there's a good film of it starring Albert Finney.

Yes, we are in a different period here. For me "Postwar" spans the time of the Atlee government. Then, it's "the Fifties". Some of the best-known novels of the fifties, of course, are set in the forties (Lucky Jim, Under the Net) but they are written in the fifties' spirit.

From:   BillyLiar                                                Sent: 5/11/2008 9:19 AM
Pity that the Larkin's stuff that has been published posthumously has given him a rather unpleasant reputation. A pity because this reputation is likely to put off a lot of potential readers of his work.

(Not that Larkin while still alive didn't give a few misogynistic hints. Remember these lines in High Windows about the drivel of a bitch who's read nothing but Which?)

From:   KlaraZthefirst                                       Sent: 5/12/2008 6:27 AM
Thanks for the recommendations. I have read Larkin's novels, many years ago and I enjoyed them very much. At the moment I'm reading a novel that was reprinted by Virago in 1988, lst published in 1954, A Wreath for the Enemy, by Pamela Frankau. The first section is brilliant, but I'm finding the middle section, where there is a switch of narrator, a little more problematic.
I'm interested in tracking down good writers from this whose books are now only available second hand or from library stacks---or out of print books by well known writers like Stella Gibbons. I have a Book Club edition here of her novel The Matchmaker, and the dust jacket advertises other 'famous authors' such as Peter Cheyney, Philip Gibbs, F.L.Green, D.L.Murray, and Leo Walmsley---none of whom seem to be read today. Then there's Howard Spring, who seems to be very unfashionable now....

From:   Evie_again                                           Sent: 5/12/2008 6:39 AM
I did often find treasures in the secondhand bookshop near where I lived in Bristol - it's great fun trying to track things down, and finding nice old editions of things. I like having specific things to look for on secondhand outings - not necessarily specific books or authors, but things from a particular era, like you, Klara, or some of the older Virago publications.
Oh, I don't mean that you are from a particular era, of course!! But like you, I sometimes try to find things from a period that interests me - my own interests are slightly earlier, the 1920s and 30s are the time that I am drawn to.

To be continued

From:   MikeAlx                                                Sent: 5/12/2008 6:52 AM
Klara, is that the same Philip Gibbs who was an official war reporter in WWI?

From:   Dent-Arthur-Dent                                  Sent: 5/20/2008 7:48 AM
I'm surprised that not a single person has mentioned Orwell yet.  Surely the giant of this period?
Lucky Jim is also well worth a read.

From:   HeHireDramaticJet                               Sent: 5/20/2008 11:58 AM
I think we were all trying to avoid the obvious. Either that - or it just didn't occur to us!  
I see that the Gormenghast books of Mervyn Peake haven't been mentioned either.

From:   Evie_again                                          Sent: 5/20/2008 12:40 PM
Lucky Jim has been mentioned twice before.
Some of us are trying to promote books that don't get mentioned, let alone read, very often, but are well worth reading! And Klara's opening post made me think of the women writers I love. Everyone knows about George Orwell!

From:   BillyLiar                                                Sent: 5/20/2008 1:45 PM
I might add Julian Maclaren Ross's Of Love and Hunger, a brilliant novel now all but forgotten. It was published in 1947 but it is set in the late 1930's, just before the outbreak of the war. A beautiful book.

From:   KlaraZthefirst                                        Sent: 5/20/2008 2:16 PM
Oh yes! I have read that--brilliant, I agree. And isn't Julian MacLaren Ross said to be the model for 'X Trapnel' in Dance to the Music of Time?

From:   KiwiCaro1                                             Sent: 5/20/2008 2:45 PM
If it's brilliant, why has it been forgotten, do you think?

From:   HeHireDramaticJet                               Sent: 5/20/2008 11:32 PM
Well, quality is not necessarily a guarantee of longevity.

From:   TristansGhost                                       Sent: 5/21/2008 2:54 PM
Lord of the Flies by Golding is a good one. Simple but with depth

From:   Larry_Heliotrope                                  Sent: 5/25/2008 3:13 AM
I'll third that recommendation for Of Love And Hunger (as you might imagine I would from my handle). Really captures the bleakness of a small south coast town.
Two more for you: Patrick Hamilton's The Slaves Of Solitude (possibly my favourite novel of all time) and Norman Collins' London Belongs To Me.
Both are set just before/during the war, and the latter is something of an epic, depicting the lives of the inhabitants of a large boarding house in Kennington over several years. Not as stylish as Hamilton but a good depiction of the lives of 'ordinary' people at that time.

From:   Evie_again                                            Sent: 5/25/2008 4:00 AM
I have been meaning to read both Patrick Hamilton and Julian Maclaren Ross for ages - thanks for these reminders and recommendations! Mike Alexander is a fan of these books too.

From:   Evie_again                                            Sent: 6/23/2008 2:55 PM
I have just read Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd, one of Persephone's treasures - published in 1946, and very much about the war, from a slightly leftfield viewpoint. I have written a longer review in the Book Reviews section, in case anyone is interested - I did think of you as I was reading it, Klara!

Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd
From: Evie_again  (Original Message)                Sent: 6/23/2008 2:53 PM
It doesn't seem awfully odd to me to ask a man to stay when he's caught fish in your vest.
This line typifies this gently quirky novel, published in 1946 - a novel that tries to look at the meaning of World War II from a slightly unusual angle.

Miss Nona Ranskill is on a desert island at the start of the book, burying a man she refers to as the Carpenter. Gradually the story of how they have both ended up on the island unfolds - she was washed overboard from a cruise ship while trying to retrieve her hat, and is washed up on the desert island, where the Carpenter - Mr Reid - has also been shipwrecked. The improbability of this is neither acknowledged nor rationalised - the whole book is a kind of fantasy, certainly far-fetched. But after four years of them being together on the island, the Carpenter dies, and it is only after she has buried him that Miss Ranskill realises she has buried the one crucial tool to their survival with him - his knife. I don't know why she doesn't dig him up again to retrieve the knife, but she decides to take the boat he has built and set out for England. She is picked up by a British naval convoy, and only then realises that war has broken out. They do take her back to England, and then her problems really start.

She has no idea of the impact of the war on the British way of life she left behind; and because she has no ration book, no clothing coupons, no identity card, she is initially taken for a spy. The novel is about how she sets about both coming to terms with life back in so-called civilisation, and how she makes an impact on the lives of the people she meets.

What the book is really about is the question of what in the British way of life was worth fighting for. It looks at the war not from the point of view of how evil Hitler was or how stoical the Brits were, but from the point of view of someone who has known a different kind of freedom - and a different kind of deprivation. So some of the things that we tend to hold dear about how the British resisted the hardships of wartime life are ridiculed a bit - a woman who might have been seen as the salt of the earth in a different novel, for her commitment to maintaining order and routine and sticking to the rules and organising everyone, is portrayed as a figure of fun. Another character is shocked when Miss Ranskill prefers to eat her whole weekly ration of butter in one day, spreading it thickly on her bread, rather than ekeing it out through the week - 'Isn't it better to have one day a week when we can pretend there isn't a war on?' Her unconventional attitudes cause mild alarm and set her at odds with everyone. But she befriends others who see beneath the surface of the artificial stoicism of blackout blinds and making clothes out of bedsheets and staining your legs with tea when there are no stockings to be had - and Miss Ranskill finds a way to be useful to the war effort in a way that has a deep impact on the lives of those she helps. This is not twee, nor is it hugely profound - it is a story about being unconventional, about celebrating true freedom rather than the freedom to spread life, like butter, too thinly, about allowing the experiences that change us to remain real. Throughout the book the Carpenter speaks to her in her mind, reminding her of all she learned on the desert island, and at the end of the book she reaches an equilibrium.

It is a charming, thought-provoking, rather wonderful novel - an exploration of the war in an offbeat way, where the lines between humour and poignancy often blur, and where fantasy and reality are blended with skill so that however far-fetched the story is in danger of becoming at times, it remains true to the human spirit and human emotions and the human condition.

I discovered after reading it that the author was the creator of Worzel Gummidge! I think this was the only novel she wrote for adults; it received praise from Rosamond Lehmann, apparently, though its author had not liked Lehmann's own work. Now republished by Persephone, and a real delight.

From: Ann_M5                                                 Sent: 6/24/2008 6:27 AM
I knew I recognised the author, Evie, but I couldn't place her. I shall look out for that book because I enjoy that sort of discursive humour and taking ridiculous situations as given and going on from there. I suppose it matches an author who invented a scarecrow with interchangeable heads. I don't think I ever read one but I can remember John Pertwee being that scarecrow on television.

From: Evie_again                                             Sent: 6/24/2008 6:32 AM
I don't think I've ever read one either, Ann, but like you, remember Jon Pertwee! And Una Stubbs as Aunt Sally.

It is a very readable, enjoyable book, and I think you might like it, as one who likes Barbara Pym and similar authors. It's a bit more far-fetched than Pym, but a delight - I was thrilled to find it in the library.

My review is disappointing, I didn't read it before I sent it, but was tired last night and knew I was struggling to write what I really wanted to say about the book. But as a new insight into the way people lived during the war, and what was really important about the way of life being fought for, I found it a really good read.

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