Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow

Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
Also by Ina Habermann
Myth, Memory and
the Middlebrow
Priestley, du Maurier and the Symbolic
Form of Englishness
Ina Habermann
© Ina Habermann 2010
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First published 2010 by
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Habermann, Ina, 1965–
Myth, memory and the middlebrow: Priestley, du Maurier and the symbolic
form of Englishness / Ina Habermann.
p. cm
ISBN: 978–0–230–24136–7 (hardback)
1. English literature—20th century—History and criticism. 2. National
characteristics, English, in literature. 3. Nationalism and literature—England—
History—20th century. 4. Group identity—England—History—
20th century. 5. Priestley, J.B. (John Boynton), 1894–1984—Criticism and
interpretation. 6. Du Maurier, Daphne, 1907–1989—Criticism and
interpretation. 7. England—In literature. I. Title
PR478.N37H33 2010
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10
Printed and bound in Great Britain by
CPI Antony Rowe, Chippenham and Eastbourne
To England
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Part I Introduction: Englishness as a Symbolic Form
1 Identity: Englishness and the Reconfiguration
of the Nation
2 Myth: Ideologies, Symbolic Forms and
the ‘Mythical Present’
3 Memory: Shaping the Present out of the Past
4 Media: Challenging Modernism – the ‘Middlebrow’
and Memodrama
Part II J. B. Priestley: Shaping Communities
5 Steak-and-Kidney Pie in the Land of Cockaigne
5.1 The Good Companions
5.2 They Walk in the City
5.3 Faraway
6 English Journeys
6.1 H. V. Morton
6.2 J. B. Priestley
6.3 George Orwell
7 Addressing the People
7.1 The pamphleteer
7.2 The broadcaster
7.3 The storyteller
Part III Daphne du Maurier: (De-)Familiarizing
the Nation
8 Dreamtime in Cornwall
8.1 The Loving Spirit
8.2 Frenchman’s Creek
viii Contents
9 From Gothic to Memodrama
9.1 Jamaica Inn
9.2 Rebecca
10 The Skeleton in the Cupboard
10.1 The public and private faces of war
10.2 Hungry Hill
10.3 The King’s General
This book is the result of an intellectual and emotional journey that
started with my essay, ‘On the Pain of Not Being English’ (B. Klein and
J. Kramer, eds, Common Ground: Crossovers Between Cultural Studies and
Postcolonial Studies, Trier: wvt 2001, 137–51). In order to be confident
in my position as a German Lecturer of English, I felt that I needed to
explore both the construction of Englishness and my investment in it.
While the latter is spelt out in the above-mentioned essay, the former
has proved a much bigger task. Indeed, this study presents an argument
restricted to literary negotiations of Englishness within a specific period.
It still feels as if the journey has just begun.
The book is part of my ‘habilitation’, and I particularly wish to
thank Doris Feldmann for supervising this project, for her support
and excellent advice about life in the academy. Rudolf Freiburg and
Silvia Mergenthal also provided essential support and helpful feedback.
A warm thank-you goes to my colleagues at Erlangen and Basel, particularly to Nadine Böhm and Susanne Gruß at Erlangen who became close
friends along the way and who kept me going when times were hard.
The same holds true for Ralf Schneider.
I also wish to thank Lara Feigel, Elizabeth Maslen, Janet Montefiore,
Gill Plain, Ina Schabert and Anna Snaith for fascinating and helpful
conversations; Anke Bernau, David Matthews, Bernhard Klein and,
particularly, Gordon McMullan for much inspiration, kindness and
enduring friendship; and Damian Quinn for insight into the pain of
being Scottish and much besides. I am very grateful to Sheila Regan for
polishing my English and to Paula Kennedy of Palgrave Macmillan
for believing in the project. Thanks also go to the anonymous reader
for very helpful and detailed feedback, to Laura Walder for diligent work
on the manuscript and to Steven Hall, Benjamin Doyle and Jo North for
seeing this book through production. A very personal thank-you goes
to Bernd Niehoff.
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Part I
Introduction: Englishness
as a Symbolic Form
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Identity: Englishness and the
Reconfiguration of the Nation
‘If it were simply Old, Deep and Enduring’, says Kevin Davey, ‘Englishness,
like an oak table, wouldn’t need much more than an occasional polish.’1
Lacking the solidity of an oak table, however, ‘Englishness has had to
be made and re-made in and through history, within available practices
and relationships, and existing symbols and ideas.’2 In 1998, when the
journalist Jeremy Paxman published his widely acclaimed The English:
a Portrait of a People, he repeated the received wisdom that the English
‘have not devoted a lot of energy to discussing who they are. It is a mark
of self-confidence: the English have not spent a great deal of time defining themselves because they haven’t needed to.’3 While this statement
is debatable, it is true that Thatcherism changed the national climate to
such a degree that a noticeable struggle about collective identity began
to take place in the public sphere. Paxman himself identifies the fairly
representative points that prompted him to write his book: ‘These four
elements – the end of empire, the cracks opening in the so-called United
Kingdom, the pressures for the English to plunge into Europe, and the
uncontrollability of international business – set me wondering. What
did it mean to be English?’4 Paxman also takes the view that the English
are perhaps patriotic but not nationalist, and if nationalism surfaces, it
is a British rather than an English phenomenon. Robert Colls and Philip
Dodd believe this type of ‘innocence’ to be ‘culpable’,5 because the
focus on myths of Englishness and the more quirky aspects of national
culture tends to gloss over existing asymmetrical power structures. As
Stephen Yeo puts it, ‘[b]ehind the myths of “Englishness” lies the reality
of Imperialist Britain.’6
Such debates question the nature of the relationship between
Britishness and Englishness. Britain is usually seen as a consciously political invention, covering the older national cultures of England, Scotland
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
and Wales. As the historian Linda Colley argues in her influential study
Britons: Forging the Nation 1707–1837 first published in 1992:
Great Britain did not emerge by way of a ‘blending’ of the different
regional or older national cultures contained within its boundaries as
is sometimes maintained, nor is its genesis to be explained primarily in
terms of an English ‘core’ imposing its cultural and political hegemony
on a helpless and defrauded Celtic periphery. As even the briefest
acquaintance with Great Britain will confirm, the Welsh, the Scottish
and the English remain in many ways distinct peoples in cultural terms,
just as all three countries continue to be conspicuously sub-divided into
different regions. The sense of a common identity here did not come
into being, then, because of an integration and homogenisation of disparate cultures. Instead, Britishness was superimposed over an array of
internal differences in response to contact with the Other, and above all
in response to conflict with the Other.7
The ‘Other’ in this case was France. However, this idea of distinctively
Welsh, Scottish and English people, standing under a Union Jack umbrella
as it were, did not go unchallenged. As Kevin Davey argues, ‘[t]he Scots,
the Welsh and the Irish may have dual identifications, but for the
Anglo-British, Britain serves as another name for the ambitious and self
confident England that has existed as a nation state since the fourteenth
century.’8 Indeed, until they became contested in the 1980s, the terms
‘British’ and ‘English’ were widely used in an unselfconscious way as if
interchangeable. One seminal contribution to this debate about national
identity and political hegemony appeared in the History Workshop
Series in 1989, ‘born out of anger at the Falklands War’.9 In his introduction to the first of three volumes, the editor Raphael Samuel launches
an eloquent attack on the ‘Little Englandism’ and conservationism he
notices in contemporary culture: ‘The more cosmopolitan capitalism
becomes, the more it seems to wear a homespun look; the more nomadic
its operations, the more it advertises its local affiliations.’10 Davey briefly
outlines the subsequent stages of the debate:
During the same period in which the opposition to the Conservatives
grew, and a winning social partnership was brokered by Blair’s modernising nationalism, many of the nation’s former regimes of truth
became reflexive. By the 1980s, critical intellectuals had produced
genealogies of the discipline of English which revealed it to be a form
of elitist cultural nationalism which had been deployed against the
Identity: Englishness and the Reconfiguration of the Nation 5
powerful currents of democracy, popular culture and cultural markets
that are central to modernity. The new heritage industries operated
in a similar fashion, offering nostalgic narratives to cover the failings
of the neo-liberal modernisation of Britain being pursued by the
Thatcher regime. These tales did not go uninterrupted by the left.
By the 1990s the new discipline of postcolonial studies was investigating the racialised formation of the West, and of Englishness and
its representations. The gulf between these reflexive debates on the
national-popular and the cultural politics adopted by New Labour,
provides the intellectual and political context for this book, and its
main cause of concern.11
Criticizing the facile multiculturalism of ‘Cool Britannia’, Davey outlines
what he sees as the necessary political agenda for the new millennium:
‘A residual white Englishness, which has long struggled to shore up
its fractured identity, must be helped to unlearn its privilege’ and the
former elites must ‘adjust to the global flows and circuits of capital and
culture, and the transnational social forms that regulation will increasingly take, and to construct new relationships, real and imaginary,
with its cohabitees and neighbours in England, in Europe and across
the globe’.12 Although Davey talks quite specifically about Englishness
and the ‘Anglo-British’, the political debate tends to crystallize around
Britishness and the past, present and future shape of Great Britain,
while explorations of cultural identity mostly focus on Englishness.
This is probably due to the long practice of (con)fusing Britishness and
Englishness, and the fact that England is not a political, but a cultural
nation.13 As an expression of cultural identity, Englishness has lately
received much attention, attracting a great variety of critical approaches
to the subject.
Some critics take the ‘cultural studies’ approach of examining a combination of cultural artefacts, images, narratives and social institutions
with a view to understanding cultural mentalities, acknowledging the
fact that people’s minds are not as compartmentalized as academic
disciplines. They explore such stock characters as ‘the Bobby’ or ‘the
Tramp’, national symbols, such as John Bull and Britannia, the social
rituals of Guy Fawkes night and Armistice Day, educational institutions
such as Oxbridge and the public schools, Protestantism and the Church
of England, Empire, ‘Constable country’ and the landscape garden,
ruralism, language and literature including such formative texts as the
Mother Goose Tales, portraiture, ‘national’ music, empiricism and the
intellectual cultures of Liberal Individualism, Toryism and Socialism,
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
monarchy, the class system and the role of state power as well as such
fashions of popular culture as ‘doing the Lambeth Walk’.14 To look
at these central icons, however more or less enduring, of Englishness
(sometimes extending to Britishness) is to take an additive approach,
rather like a scholarly version of the lists people like to come up with
when asked what they associate with ‘England’. It is necessarily an
open field; more aspects can always be included, and usually little or no
attention is given to the question of how these factors combine to form
distinctive collective identities and mentalities. Other studies focus on
political history, war and such institutions as the parliamentary monarchy or the legal system, or address regional and cultural variety within
Britain.15 Many critics focus on one strand of the discourse in accordance
with academic disciplines – for example on literature, both in terms of
the institutionalization and canonization of English as a university subject and the various genres and modes of writing and narrative held to
be representative,16 or on landscape and place.17 Importantly, discourses
of national identity have been renegotiated in recent years from a postcolonial perspective.18 The general tendency in critical debates about
Englishness is to be as specific as possible and focus on a particular
historical moment or period, which avoids an earlier essentializing
approach to ‘English character’ or ‘the English spirit’.
I would argue that the residual notion of Englishness which has
increasingly been perceived as outdated in the last twenty years was
created in the decades following World War One and that we need
to look back to the interwar period in order to understand both this
process of creation and its unravelling as Britain moves into the new
millennium. This study will therefore explore Englishness as it emerged
after World War One. The interwar period was a time of massive change,
characterized by the trauma of the ‘Great War’, the crumbling of the
British Empire, the Slump, by changing class and gender relations as
well as by the emergence of an increasingly Americanized mass culture
oriented towards consumption and entertainment and disseminated
through the new media of radio and film. These changes entailed a
negotiation and reconfiguration of national identity in the 1930s and
1940s and it is with the cultural hermeneutics of this process from the
perspective of media history and literary criticism that I am concerned.
After World War One and the extension of the franchise, more attention
was paid to the needs and opinions of a larger proportion of the population, which led to a more inclusive notion of ‘the people’. These people
were addressed as citizens by the news media and as consumers of goods
and mass entertainment through advertising. An increasing number of
Identity: Englishness and the Reconfiguration of the Nation 7
people spent their recently acquired leisure time touring their country
in buses or the new compact, affordable Austin cars; they bought the
same British ready-made products, took photographs, read popular fiction provided by lending libraries and book clubs, watched films in the
cinema and listened to the BBC. This element of participation increased
yet again in the context of the war effort during World War Two. As Angus
Calder states in his pioneering study The People’s War: ‘In 1940 and the
years which followed, the people of Britain were protagonists in their
own history in a fashion never known before.’19 The new Britain which
emerged from World War Two after the Labour landslide victory in 1945
was a smaller-scale Britain, seeking to readjust to peacetime conditions
and come to terms with the process of decolonialization. Its collective
rationale was the shared feeling of sacrifice and heroism in a period of
violence and austerity, transformed into the ‘Blitz spirit’ by the recent
memory of its ‘finest hour’ which extended as far as to the welfare
state, even if the changes in society were not as far-reaching as many
had hoped. This book deals with the reconfigurations of collective
identity and cultural memory and the related forms of mythmaking
accompanying this process of change.
For all the attention lavished on it, ‘Englishness’ largely remains
elusive. On the most basic level, the abstract noun ‘Englishness’ denotes
a set of stereotypes which are thought to characterize Britain and (certain
parts of ) its population. It is in the nature of stereotypes that they may
be contradictory and at times contrafactual without losing effect. Thus
in terms of ‘character’, for instance, stereotypical Englishness includes a
sense of humour, stoicism and emotional reticence (the ‘stiff upper lip’),
politeness verging on hypocrisy, self-deprecation, decency, endurance,
individualism and refined manners, as well as hooliganism. Society is
seen as class-ridden but also harmonious (as in the ‘upstairs, downstairs’
motif ), the political system seems characterized by institutional stability
and traditional continuity, and ideas about the country itself comprise
pastoralism and ruralism, most frequently expressed in the imagery of
the ‘English countryside’, but also by the smoking chimneys of the industrial North. My aim here is not to state the obvious in arguing that these
stereotypes are cultural constructions that are often contradictory and
contrafactual. Rather, I propose to offer a detailed description and analysis of the major reconfiguration of national identity which took place
within a specific period in the interwar years and until the end of World
War Two. My theoretical premises in the analysis of this reconfiguration
are, first, that the notion of Englishness has a mythical dimension that
is beyond the scope of ‘mere’ cultural stereotyping; second, that identity
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
is intrinsically connected to various forms of memory; and third, that
it is crucial for a historically specific analysis to pay attention to how
the media shape representations and interrogations of Englishness.20 To
understand Englishness in the interwar period, it is essential, I will argue,
to see it as a ‘symbolic form’, created by the interaction of various kinds
of mythmaking and memory, and disseminated in medialized form to
shape the cultural imaginary of the community.21
Myth: Ideologies, Symbolic
Forms and the ‘Mythical Present’
Cultural stereotypes are often explained with recourse to Roland Barthes’
structuralist concept of myth as expounded in his Mythologies (1958). For
Barthes, myth is a sign system that repeats the structure of language on a
secondary level of signification. Just as a (linguistic) sign – in Ferdinand
de Saussure’s structuralist theory of the sign which Barthes draws on – is
made up of a signifier and a signified, myths are made up of signs as the
signifiers on the level of myth, and ‘concepts’, or cultural connotations
as the signified on the level of myth. In combination, the sign and the
‘concept’ create what Barthes calls the ‘signification’ of the ‘myth of the
everyday’. People can look at a sign, for example, a Latin sentence in a
grammar class, the photograph of a black soldier saluting the French flag
on the cover of the magazine Paris Match, to mention just two of Barthes’
examples, and subconsciously take in the wider political implications
that the sign carries without actually denoting them – like medicine on
a sugarlump. If, after looking at the neat young black soldier saluting the
flag, people have a half-conscious idea that the French Empire is a good
thing after all, the myth of the everyday has done its work. The trajectory of this process, which justifies the usage of a secularized concept of
myth, is a move from history to nature, a naturalization of ideological
formations; it is the task of the cultural critic to unravel these myths
and expose their political content. Barthes’ theory helps explain why the
notion of Englishness is so extraordinarily fuzzy. On a surface level, it can
be seen as a myth of the everyday, made up of a wide variety of ‘concepts’,
or cultural connotations, expressed through at least as wide a variety of
images and symbols, that is, to use Barthes’ terminology, of signifieds and
signifiers on the secondary level of myth. It seems as if Englishness were
a timeless and essential substance with a natural, or rather mythical life.
Thus, even those critics trained in cultural analysis often find it difficult
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
to examine the intuitive conviction that a notion such as Englishness
needs no further explanation because it is as self-evident as beans on
toast. This impression of the ‘always already’ is a key characteristic of
myth as described by Barthes.1 Still, the idea of a semiotic trick, sometimes even in bad faith, does not adequately explain the extraordinary
richness, depth and appeal of such a notion as Englishness. The ‘magical’
quality of the myth needs to be explored further in the wider context of
the spiritual state of the nation in the interwar period.
Following a nineteenth-century crisis of the Christian faith, metaphysical thinking in Britain during the early twentieth century was
in a state of flux. Many people turned away from traditional faith, at
the same time still in need of a metaphysical dimension to their lives.
There was an interest in occultism and spiritualism, in Indian theology
and philosophy, in theosophy as expounded by Madame Blavatsky, in
the mysticism taught by the Russian intellectual P. D. Ouspensky, who
had come to England in 1924 and was disseminating the ideas of his
teacher G. I. Gurdjieff, in J. W. Dunne’s serial theory of time coupled
with other popular notions of science inspired by impressionist notions
of Einstein’s theory of Relativity, Quantum Theory and Heisenberg’s
Uncertainty Principle, in a new type of Christianity promoted by the
Oxford Group, and, because of a growing conviction that the conscious,
rational mind has its limits, in Freudian and Jungian psychology. Some
people actively created their own idiosyncratic mythologies, among
them well-known writers such as Katherine Mansfield, D. H. Lawrence
or William Butler Yeats. In their interesting snapshot of the period,
Robert Graves and Alan Hodge give an – admittedly biased – impression
of the forms this could take:
Lawrence preached the Sun as a procreative deity; urged women that
happiness for them lay only in yielding submissively to the dark
sexual urge of strong-loined men; and mixed up for himself a confused private religion of the theosophical incoherences of Madame
Blavatsky, the yoga writings of an obscure prophet named Pryse,
the philosophical view of Heraclitus, Bacon and Bergson that all is
flux, Jeans’ interpretation of Einstein, the anthropology of Sir James
Frazer (whose Golden Bough was a key book of the period) and others,
Mexican legend, and the whole literature of Freudian, Jungian and
Adlerian psychology.2
Prominent among these metaphysical quests for individual and collective identity was a fascination with myth, and the study of myth was
Myth: Ideologies, Symbolic Forms and the ‘Mythical Present’ 11
approached from every conceivable angle. In his book Four Theories
of Myth in Twentieth-Century History, Ivan Strenski gives a somewhat
exasperated definition of myth:
Myth is everything and nothing at the same time. It is the true
story or a false one, revelation or deception, sacred or vulgar, real
or fictional, symbol or tool, archetype or stereotype. It is either
strongly structured and logical or emotional and pre-logical, traditional and primitive or part of contemporary ideology. Myth is
about the gods, but often also the ancestors and sometimes certain
men. It is ‘Genesis’ and ‘General Strike’, ‘Twentieth Century’ and
‘Cowboy’, ‘Oedipus’ and ‘Frankenstein’, ‘Master Race’ and ‘Chosen
People’, ‘Millennium’ and ‘Eternal Return’. ‘Myth’ translates muthos,
but also die Sage, die Mythe or lili’u. It is both ‘la geste d’Asdiwal’
and ‘le mythe de Sisyphe’. It is charter, recurring theme, character
type, received idea, half-truth, tale or just a plain lie. […] Thus,
instead of there being a real thing, myth, there is a thriving industry,
manufacturing and marketing what is called ‘myth’.3
Sir James Frazer published the first edition of his study of myth, The
Golden Bough, in 1890, and the monumental third edition appeared
in 1911 in twelve volumes. Robert Ackerman sees this as ‘both the
culmination and the swan song of old-style evolutionary anthropology’, commenting that as ‘1911 recedes, The Golden Bough looms more
and more like a beached whale, and Frazer (despite the influence
of Tylor and Smith) increasingly shows his true affinities to be with
the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century polyhistorians’.4 Although
Frazer did give considerable thought to the function of myth within a
community, his project now appears largely antiquarian. It has since
been superseded by modern-style anthropologists such as Bronislaw
Malinowski, who developed the technique of fieldwork and suggested
a functional approach to myth, seeing it as a kind of action answering
a particular need within the community. Others who followed Frazer
were mainly interested in the connection between myth and ritual.
Just before World War One, the Cambridge Ritualists and the mythand-ritual school gained prominence in the academic world. They
shared Frazer’s interest in ritual, but while he concentrated on ‘primitivism’, the Cambridge Ritualists were classicists concerned mainly
with Greek drama, but also with myth and literature.5 This approach
to myth became a casualty of war to a large extent, but it is important
to note that the Cambridge Ritualists went beyond Frazer’s positivist
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
approach differing from Malinowski in that they based their analyses
of the inner workings of past societies on the idea that there was a
collective substratum that could be accessed by the researcher. ‘Only
when anthropology founded itself on a psychology that could deal
with the unconscious was effective work possible’, as Ackerman argues,
and this ‘new psychological formulation, variously called animatism,
pre-animatism, or the theory of mana, was associated especially with
K. T. Preuss in Germany, R. R. Marett in England, and Lucien Lévy-Bruhl
in France.’6 The idea is connected to the sociologist Emile Durkheim’s
notion of ‘collective representations’ as well as Sigmund Freud’s and
particularly Carl Gustav Jung’s concept of the ‘collective unconscious’.
Freud’s writings on totemism, taboo and the uneasiness in culture
(Totem und Tabu, 1913; Das Unbehagen in der Kultur, 1930) are relevant
here, and Jung’s analytical psychology, which was very influential in
England, contained a fully-fledged psychological theory of myth.
Jung emphasized the importance of images for the human mind; as
he saw it, all human beings were born with certain preformations or figurations in their psyche. While these ‘archetypes’ remain unconscious,
‘archetypal images’ present themselves to the conscious mind through
dreams or visions. These can be analysed and indeed influenced in
a person’s process of individual development, termed ‘individuation’.
As Stephen Walker explains, these archetypal images are also the basis
of myth:
From the treasure house of archetypal images are drawn the elements, the archetypal motifs, of mythology. Whether represented
visually, dramatically, musically, or verbally, these motifs are usually
found linked in a sequence, which we call a myth. Myths are thus
not purely spontaneous products of the psyche; they are culturally
elaborated. Over the centuries innumerable cultures have created a
bewildering variety of myths out of the common human fund of
the archetypal images of the collective unconscious. Mythology as a
whole therefore constitutes a mirror for the collective unconscious,
which is the common psychological basis for all human life.7
The collective unconscious as conceived by Jung manifests itself in
the archetypal images that appear in an individual’s mind, and it is
‘“creative fantasy” – the human imagination – that creates myths out
of archetypal images. It is through a process of conscious, imaginative
elaboration that spontaneously generated archetypal images become
the specific culturally determined figures of mythology.’8 According to
Myth: Ideologies, Symbolic Forms and the ‘Mythical Present’ 13
James Hillman, a prominent Jungian, ‘the very basis of the psyche is
“poetic” – or mythopoetic.’9 Given Jung’s emphasis on the deep psychological and cultural significance of images and narratives, it is easy to
see why his thinking about myth and the psyche had particular appeal
for many artists and writers. Both J. B. Priestley and Daphne du Maurier
were strongly influenced by Jung’s theories.
On the question of myth and collective identity, it is perhaps appropriate to point to the importance of German thinking in England in
the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly since the
rise of Nazism and the war have obscured these crucial links.10 German
Idealism and Romanticism developed a theory about a mythical connection between a people and the land that also influenced British
and Irish thought. As Robert Ackerman puts it, ‘[i]t was the political
and cultural project of German Romanticism in the nineteenth century to create a nation; the theoretical basis for this movement had
been enunciated in the speculations about the Volksgeist by Herder and
those who followed him.’11 This thinking introduced a new concept
of history, which was now ‘conceived as sending its taproot deep into
the irrational depths from which spring many of the richest sources
of human life’.12 In exploring the nexus of myth, collective identity
and history, the myths of the ‘primitives’ were regarded as a means of
access to original and genuine expressions of relations between human
beings and the world around them (Lebenswelt). Many pioneers of myth
study, for example, Georg Friedrich Creuzer, Schelling and Max Müller,
were German ( J. J. Bachofen was Swiss), but their influence was far
from being limited to the German-speaking world. In some cases, the
connection with England is immediately obvious: Max Müller, author
of Comparative Mythology (1856) and a proponent of ‘solar mythology’
which held that all myths could be traced back to sun cults, was professor of comparative philology and later of comparative religious studies
at Oxford. Müller was one of the leading orientalists of his day and the
East India Company engaged his services because of his eminence as a
Sanskrit scholar. In British thinking, Ackerman argues that the
historicist outlook itself was basically a foreign import, not well established compared with the sturdy native rationalism of Philosophical
Radicalism, which was very much a creature of the Enlightenment
in its ahistorical outlook. Nor had any British thinkers – not even
Coleridge or Carlyle, most attuned to German romantic philosophy –
developed a doctrine concerning the relationship of myth to national
consciousness, as had occurred in Germany.13
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
In order to obtain a more comprehensive idea of the impact and cultural
significance of such ‘foreign imports’, it is useful to look at the study
of folklore. Searching for ‘authentic’ expressions of a national culture,
Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm famously pioneered the collection and
study of folk tales, publishing their Kinder- und Hausmärchen in 1812. As
Jennifer Shacker notes, these were ‘warmly received outside Germany’,
introducing ‘a new research methodology and the powerful rhetoric of
field-based authenticity. Nationalistically motivated folklore enthusiasts
in Norway, Switzerland, Russia, and many other European nations followed the Grimms’ lead.’14 Edgar Taylor published the Grimms’ tales as
German Popular Stories in 1823, and ‘[f ]rom the 1820s onward, dozens
of folklore books were issued by London publishers, making available
to English readers the epics, ballads, folk-songs, myths, legends, and
other “traditionary tales”’15 collected by the scholars of folklore. Seeing
the formation of national identity as a ‘contrastive’ process, Shacker
As popular reading material for an expanding audience, tale collections
offered opportunities for reflection on the oral Other, but also on the
modern self, on the transformation of popular culture, on the nature
of ‘Englishness’ in the midst of rapid social, cultural, and technological change. Popular English editions of foreign popular tales contain a
form of reflexivity, of modernity constructing and reflecting on itself
in print while presenting and representing oral narratives.16
Thus, the Continental mythopoeic discourses of national identity were
not only available to intellectual circles, they were also more widely
disseminated through popular tales. Moreover, the influence of the
German approach to myth was not limited to the more historically
or politically minded researchers of myth. As Strenski points out, the
link between Bronislaw Malinowski’s thinking and Continental Idealist
philosophy and Lebensphilosophie (philosophy of life) is also strong.
One thinker who influenced Malinowski particularly in this respect
was Wilhelm Dilthey, the most prominent German proponent of
Lebensphilosphie. Strenski describes Malinowski’s approach:
Further in the romantic vein, myths reassert ‘heroic’ and natural
values in a native culture gradually coming under the sway of
Western rationalisation. Myths sing the praises of ‘the glorious
past’ and ‘enliven’ the natural landscape by assigning landmark
significance to otherwise meaningless places. One at once calls to
Myth: Ideologies, Symbolic Forms and the ‘Mythical Present’ 15
mind Frazer’s Golden Bough, and suspects that this great work has
here influenced Malinowski. But Malinowski’s diaries point rather
to the German Volkish background of his feeling for landscapes and
idealistic association of myth and soil. Any number of instances in
the diaries or Argonauts could be cited to make this point, but perhaps none does so better than Malinowski’s use of a single German
word – landschaftlich – fully aware of its rich romantic associations.
Malinowski saw the Trobriand Islanders as mythically ‘rooted’ in
their own natural surroundings, just as he felt his own roots to lie
in the Polish countryside he had known in his youth.17
One of the lines of development in this discourse on myth and collective
identity leads to a right-wing idea of Völkischness, a blood-and-soil mentality which found its most awful expression in the Nazi ideology, but
which also attracted many people in Britain and elsewhere, at least in
the early days. In this thinking, identity is conceived as directly emerging from and shaped by the land and expressed in the response to the
landscape. C. G. Jung does not entirely escape the influence of this idea;
in the 1920s, he sought a biological and organic basis for his notion of
the collective unconscious:
One of the most peculiar ‘evolutionary’ doctrines that Jung adopted
and modified was the idea of Bodenbeschaffenheit, which signifies the
influence of the natural environment or soil on the human soul and
physiognomy. According to this ‘earth mysticism’, the geographical conditions of the land (climate, geological structures) shape
the minds, and to a certain degree also the physical features, of its
inhabitants. […] Jung propounds the idea of earthly influences on
the mind in his essay Seele und Erde (1927). […] He argues that we still
have a close connection with our ‘ancestral spirits’ and racial history,
and that this connection in its turn links us to Mother Earth, which
has been nourished for centuries by the blood of its inhabitants.18
In light of these ideas, it is not surprising that Jung succumbed briefly to
Nazi ideology while trying to separate an Aryan from a Semitic unconscious, until he returned to the universalist view of archetypal images
and myths. Time and again, this earth mysticism appears in English
texts by Rupert Brooke, D. H. Lawrence and others. As Alex Potts notes
in his analysis of ruralism in the interwar period, the ‘true England of
Christopher Hussey’s The Fairy Land of England (1924) was this beautiful
“legendary country”, the “dust we are made of, and to which we will
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
return”.’19 H. V. Morton, whose travel writing will be discussed in some
detail, describes a crucial scene in In Search of England (1927) where his
traveller persona picks up a handful of earth in a churchyard. When the
vicar remarks diffidently that this is ‘all we have’, he replies: ‘You have
England.’20 This gesture of Morton’s traveller repeats the one allegedly
made by the poet Edward Thomas in World War One. Roger Ebbatson
relates that ‘[w]hen, in 1916, Eleanor Farjeon demanded of Edward
Thomas, “Do you know what you are fighting for?” his response was
immediate […]: “He stopped, and picked up a pinch of earth. ‘Literally,
for this.’ He crumbled it between finger and thumb, and let it fall.”’21
The soil is also the central element in organicism and spiritual
materialism as disseminated in England by H. J. Massingham amongst
others. In fact, organicism is a variant of English ruralism prominent
in the interwar period. According to Matless, this discourse, focused
on agriculture and the ‘English earth’, appears in the 1920s, persists
throughout the 1930s, and gains a renewed emphasis in wartime
through the work of H. J. Massingham and Rolf Gardiner. As Matless
explains, ‘Massingham presented earth as the key element in a spiritual
materialism’, adding that ‘[l]ike preservationist-planners, organicists
presented themselves as anti-picturesque and even opposed the call for
a functional design aesthetic. In fact, both preservationists and tourists
alike were presented as being guilty of picturesque fantasy.’22 This idea
of organic England, inspired by among other things Rudolf Steiner’s
anthroposophy, is bound up with a cult of the soil as well as wholesome food, bodily fitness, skill in ancient crafts and specific notions
of community and cultural heritage – gardening, dancing, the Church
and cricket on the village green. Understandably, in view of the consequences of the cult of the soil, a fairly persistent aversion exists among
many academics today towards facing the 1920s and 1930s infatuation
with myth and the mystical, conceived as an irrational, essentialist and
unsavoury element of human cultural expression. However, it is worth
examining these discourses in some detail, because often superficial
resemblances in imagery and terminology hide quite significant differences. There is another line in the German discourse about myth and
identity which leads to an anti-essentialist, symbolic approach, and it is
perhaps no coincidence that many of the thinkers who helped develop
this approach – Hermann Cohen, Aby Warburg, Ernst Cassirer, Norbert
Elias – were Jewish and, however assimilated, were thus aware of the cultural variety in Germany, and in Europe. It is this approach that seems
to me ultimately most relevant to a discussion of the reconfiguration of
Englishness in the interwar period. In order to substantiate this, I propose
Myth: Ideologies, Symbolic Forms and the ‘Mythical Present’ 17
to draw on the philosophy of Ernst Cassirer, who developed the most
consistent symbolic approach to identity formation, in particular in his
Philosophy of Symbolic Forms (1923–9).23
Cassirer was a philosopher of international repute in the late 1920s
and 1930s, although his importance is now often overlooked since he
was exiled in 1933 and died in 1945 without leaving behind a ‘school’
of followers.24 The particular relevance of his thinking for the present
context lies in the fact that he developed a ‘Symbolic Idealism’,
a pluralistic philosophy of culture that managed to be at once rooted
in German philosophy, representative of its own time in topics and
images, and yet forward-looking.
The worldview of ‘Symbolic Idealism’ is opposed both to the metaphysics of dogmatic Realism and to the metaphysics of so-called
Positivism. It combats something which, despite all their apparent
differences, is a common basic feature in both of them: that they
see the source of intellectual life and its functions in some kind of
‘reproduction’ and ‘mirroring’ of some ‘reality’ given independently
of them. In the older metaphysics this reality is the absolute being of
things; in Positivism it is the, no less absolute, givenness of ‘simple’
sensations. In contrast to these views, the fundamental starting point
of our way of looking at things is that no separation can be made
between some positively given being and the intelligent [ geistig]
functions, which are presumed to apply subsequently to this material. We have access to no ‘Being’ of any kind – be it metaphysical or
psychological in nature – prior to and independently of intelligent
action, but only in and through this action. Even the very idea of
severing the two from each other, of contrasting in our imagination a
purely passive ‘givenness’ with intellectual [geistig] ‘activity’ is deceptive. There is no form of ‘Being’ for us outside of these different kinds
of action (in language, myth, religion, art, science) because there is
no other form of determinacy.25
Cassirer insists that human beings have no access to ‘immediacy’ or ‘life
itself’ other than through their sensory perceptions, shaped into symbols through intellectual activity. Therefore ‘man’ (sic) is not the animal
rationale of earlier philosophy, but animal symbolicum. This symbolizing
activity takes various forms; it is the unity of a formative principle in a
diversity of shapes. According to Cassirer, there are different ‘pathways’
from the senses to meaning, or ways of relating to the world, which he
calls ‘symbolic forms’, such as language, myth and religion, science or
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
cognition, history and art. The earliest definition of the ‘symbolic form’
appears in the early 1920s, in a talk given at the Warburg Library in
A ‘symbolic form’ should be conceived as the mental energy which
ties an intellectual idea or meaning to a concrete, sensual sign,
thereby forging an intrinsic connection between idea and sign. Thus
we are faced with language, the mythic-religious world or art as
specific symbolic forms, because they are all expressions of the basic
phenomenon that our consciousness is not content merely to receive
an outward impression, but that it fuses each impression with a free
activity of expression. A world of man-made signs and images confronts that which we call the objective reality of things and holds its
own in independent wealth and original power.26
Images do not simply represent the world, they create it in the mind.
Cassirer’s ‘Symbolic Idealism’ became a philosophy of culture through
what could be called an anthropological turn in his thinking, triggered by
his close association with the Warburg Institute and Library in Hamburg
during the 1920s when he was writing his Philosophy of Symbolic Forms.
The renowned art historian Aby Warburg had undertaken a comprehensive study of the classical heritage in European culture. Regarding, as did
Cassirer, processes of symbolization as essential to the working of the
human mind, he believed that no strand of this process could be studied in isolation. He had therefore spent decades collecting writings not
only about art history, but also ethnography, anthropology, philosophy,
science, religion, myth etc., arranging them in an intricate and unique
system so that obscure links would become visible – a daunting task
before the days of the Internet which surely contributed to the effect on
Warburg’s mind and ‘nerves’, such that he had to spend years in a Swiss
sanatorium. The collaboration between Warburg and Cassirer proved
felicitous because Cassirer’s clear, rigourous thinking provided a muchneeded structural framework while Warburg’s material offered a richness
of detail which helped Cassirer to support his general thesis and fill his
as yet rather abstract philosophy of symbolic forms with life.27
Myth is one important symbolic form to which Cassirer devotes a
whole volume, originally published in 1925. Myth is a form of life
(Lebensform) which combines a form of thought (Denkform) with a form
of intuition (Anschauungsform). As a form of thought, myth enables a
specific organization of space and time, supplying images and narratives which structure space as a realm of human experience and time as
Myth: Ideologies, Symbolic Forms and the ‘Mythical Present’ 19
a meaningful organization of pattern and sequence. Mythical thinking
has its own logic, its own notion of objects and its own causality and
coherence. It is characteristic of myth not to think in terms of abstract
relations, but of substances, which leads to the ‘law of the concrescence
or coincidence of the members of a relation in mythical thinking’, so that,
for example, ‘[t]he whole man is contained in his hair, his nail-cuttings,
his clothes, his footprints. Every trace a man leaves passes as a real
part of him, which can react on him as a whole and endanger him as
a whole.’28 Similarly, objects do not have properties, but they are their
properties, and outward similarities of shape are taken as evidence of
an internal substantial identity. ‘In the tobacco smoke rising from a
pipe the mythical consciousness sees neither a mere symbol nor a mere
instrument for making rain – it sees the tangible image of a cloud and
in this image the thing itself, the desired rain.’29
Due to this mythical notion of substance and the related importance
of intuition, myth cannot be reduced to its intellectual dimension as a
form of thought:
For nowhere in myth do we find a passive contemplation of things;
here all contemplation starts from an attitude, an act of the feeling
and will. Insofar as myth condenses into lasting configuration, insofar
as it sets before us the stable outlines of an objective world of forms,
the significance of this world becomes intelligible to us only if behind
it we can feel the dynamic of the life feeling from which it originally
grew. Only where this feeling is aroused from within, only where
it manifests itself in love and hate, fear and hope, joy and grief, is
that mythical fantasy engendered which creates a world of specific
It is this emotional aspect of myth which led Cassirer in his later work
The Myth of the State, published posthumously in 1946, to consider it
dangerous. Even though he never understood myth as merely ‘irrational’ or ‘atavistic’, the rise of Nazism and fascism led him to recognize
the danger that a collective in the grip of powerful emotions could, by
means of a fairly coherent mythology, make these the rationale of their
violence against others.
In the last thirty years, in the period between the first and the second
World Wars, we have not only passed through a severe crisis of our
political and social life but have also been confronted with quite new
theoretical problems. We experienced a radical change in the forms
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
of political thought. […] Perhaps the most important and the most
alarming feature in this development of modern political thought is
the appearance of a new power: the power of mythical thought.31
Given the importance of mythical thought in the period under consideration, it would be tempting to classify Englishness as a ‘myth’, especially
since some of its characteristics resemble the mythical as described by
Cassirer. Yet, this would invite all manner of misunderstanding due to the
complex nature and history of the concept as well as its colloquial usage
as ‘fantasy’ or ‘lie’. I suggest rather the concept of the symbolic form, as
there is a sense in which Englishness, as a specific way of conceiving of
a collective, has a definite shape, although it is represented, or expressed,
by a multitude of divergent and often contradictory images. In fact,
contradictions are cancelled out by the holistic character of the symbolic
approach to collective identity. Englishness is not a mere construction,
a more or less arbitrary collection of cultural signifiers, but its conception
starts from an observation of the material and social world, moulding
the individual impressions into a definite shape which is not artificial or
essentialist, but symbolic. Regarding collective identity, the English did
not, by and large, begin to subscribe to a blood-and-soil cult in the early
twentieth century, although that option was available as I have argued
above. Still, Englishness was charged with the emotional energy of myth
as a ‘form of intuition’. The ‘law of concrescence’ ensured that the most
diverse elements taken to express collective identity became fused in a
mythical union, satisfying a yearning for wholeness in a modern world
torn by war and social strife. The most important material and visual
expression of this wholeness is landscape. The painter Paul Nash provides a paradigmatic description of the nexus between spirituality and
the land:
English art has always shown particular tendencies which recur
throughout its history. […] There seems to exist, behind the frank
expression of portrait and scene, an imprisoned spirit; yet this
spirit is the source, the motive power which animates the art. These
pictures are the vehicles of this spirit, but, somehow, they are inadequate, being only echoes and reflections of familiar images. If I were
to describe the spirit I would say it is of the land; genius loci is indeed
almost its conception.32
For Alex Potts, the painter’s rhetoric is contradictory, because it ‘almost
takes on the glow of easy romanticism which Nash’s modernism – his
Myth: Ideologies, Symbolic Forms and the ‘Mythical Present’ 21
sophisticated and spare self-denial – seeks to distance’.33 This contradiction disappears, however, if Nash’s style is seen in terms of the symbolic
form, where the symbol is understood with recourse to Romantic philosophy as the human intellectual response to a sensual perception of the
world. ‘Genius loci’ is almost the ‘conception’ of this spirit, but not quite,
because there is an acknowledgement that the process of perception gives
shape to the vision. The topographical impulse can also be found in social
and political thinking on the ‘condition of England’. Simon Grimble
traces this back to the criticism of Thomas Carlyle:
One of the effects of Carlyle’s setting up of the ‘condition of England’
is to direct the reader to a geographical entity that is thought of primarily as a single landscape which has been humanised and improved
by a single body of people and which is imagined as being apprehended by an observer, rather than to a political entity – Britain –
which is only pictured comprehensively on a map. When seen on
a map shorn of Scotland and Wales, England seems an unfamiliar
and truncated cartographic body, but it is as landscape that Britain
seems nonsensical – the term has to refer to too much variousness of
scenery, politics and culture.34
In the interwar period, this discourse produced a ‘sense that writers
were intellectuals who should survey culture and politics as if it were
a landscape’, and that this ‘landscape of England’ had to be re-read.35
A symbolic approach to landscape is thus at the heart of the symbolic
form of Englishness. In this discourse, ‘landscape’ means much more
than just a set of geographical data. In the words of Dennis Cosgrove
and Stephen Daniels,
a landscape is a cultural image, a pictorial way of representing, structuring or symbolising surroundings. This is not to say that landscapes
are immaterial. They may be represented in a variety of materials and
on many surfaces – in paint or canvas, in writing on paper, in earth,
stone, water and vegetation on the ground. A landscape park is more
palpable but no more real, nor less imaginary, than a landscape
painting or poem. Indeed the meanings of verbal, visual and built
landscapes have a complex interwoven history.36
This notion of landscape is also pivotal in Sir Ernest Barker’s extensive
collection of 1947 entitled The Character of England. The aim of the book
is to ‘describe the spirit of England, rather than all the varied material in
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
which that spirit works’.37 Dealing with a great number of facets making
up English culture and providing illustrations and photographs, it is
framed by an opening essay, by Jacquetta and Christopher Hawkes,
describing ‘Land and People’ and a closing ‘Attempt at Perspective’ by
Barker himself. Predictably, the opening essay begins with an evocation
of various rural scenes and a mezzotint by David Lucas (after Constable)
showing Stonehenge. Taking a holistic approach, the authors assert that
the ‘character of each type of country shows itself in every part from
the largest to the smallest, from the contours of its surface to the insect
life which it supports; equally in something intangible in the quality of
the atmosphere and in the sounds which cut across it’.38 The last image
included in the closing essay is again a mezzotint by David Lucas after
Constable, showing Salisbury Cathedral and illustrating the ‘mythical
present’ of Englishness as described by Barker:
There is a sense in which men themselves are parts of a habitat –
conscious, indeed, and consciously acting (more and more in the
course of time), but none the less parts, and parts which are subject
to the action of the whole to which they belong. We are companions
of trees and grasses and plants, and of birds and animals; and
we are companions with them in a way of life which is generally
harmonious. We are companions, too, of sky and clouds, of wind and
rain, of airs and waters. The pageant of the clouds, as it rises above
the English landscape (and as it figures in our landscape painting),
may well appear to be the greatest pageant of England.39
The English landscape is characterized by a ‘softening of sharp edges’ that
has ‘its parallel in English thought, which allows a margin of imprecision where accommodation and compromise are possible’ (553). People
see ‘what we see in terms of the quality of English light: and perhaps we
also think in the same terms, and under the same control’ (553), which
produces ‘social homogeneity’ (563), ‘amateurism’ (565), ‘the figure and
idea of the gentleman’ (566), a ‘voluntary habit’ (567), ‘eccentricity’
(568) and a ‘youthfulness’ (569) expressed in the love of sport and
‘“nonsense”’ (570). This holistic entity is then circumscribed by its
boundaries: ‘Habitat, clouds, and climate – margin of imprecision, compromise, and the adaptability and equability of individual skills – round
all these there flows the sea, and these, in their measure, all flow from
the sea’ (555). ‘An Attempt at Perspective’ is an apt title for the closing
essay, because Barker seeks – in accordance with the mythical ‘law of
concrescence’, to amalgamate the various facets of Englishness into one
Myth: Ideologies, Symbolic Forms and the ‘Mythical Present’ 23
single gestalt, aware at the same time that it is the perspective which
creates the impression of wholeness. The volume expresses anxiety as
to England’s future in the postwar period, and reacts to this uneasiness
with a unified vision, very palpable in the substantial volume, of the
symbolic form of Englishness.40
In her book A Land published in 1951, at a time when, arguably,
the practice of seeing Englishness as a symbolic form was very much
on the wane, Jacquetta Hawkes,41 who had contributed the opening
essay to Barker’s volume, gives the most comprehensive description of
the phenomenon that I have found so far. The book is conceived as a
‘biography’ and a celebration of Britain, although, with the familiar
sleight of hand, Hawkes talks mainly about England.
[ T ]he image I have sought to evoke is of an entity, the land of Britain,
in which past and present, nature, man and art appear all in one
piece. I see modern men enjoying a unity with trilobites of a nature
more deeply significant than anything at present understood in the
processes of biological evolution; I see a land as much affected by
the creations of its poets and painters as by changes of climate and
vegetation. The nature of this unity cannot be stated, for it remains
always just beyond the threshold of intellectual comprehension. It
can only be shown as a blurred reflection through hints coming from
many directions but always falling short of their objective.42
Hawkes begins at the very beginning, with ‘a white-hot young earth
dropping into its place like a fly into an unseen four-dimensional cobweb’ (11) and takes her narrative to the present day, telling ‘the story of
the creation of what is at present known as Britain, a land which has its
own unmistakable shape at this moment in time’ (10). Aware of the fact
that such narratives are ‘in some sense creations of the storyteller’s mind’
(10), Hawkes states that ‘the counterpoint to the theme of the creation
of a land shall be the growth of consciousness, its gradual concentration and intensification within the human skull’ (10–11). The growth
of consciousness is related to forms of memory, ‘recollections of the
world and of man that are pursued on behalf of consciousness by geologists and archaeologists’ (11). Hawkes describes various landscapes and
explores the ways in which people have responded to and shaped their
environment, for example through the use of local building materials.43
Searching for a landscape that essentially expresses Britain, Hawkes
remarks that it would have been most consistent with her theme to
choose the northern highlands or the western isles, ‘for their country
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
is the most ancient and there men live in ways not far removed from
those of the prehistoric peoples whose tombs survive all round them.
Yet it seems that I was not free to make this choice’ (235). Instead, she
chooses the Lake District, and Wordsworth as a poet ‘physically and
imaginatively nourished by our land’ (237), to the extent that he has
‘permeated Cumberland. So much did he intertwine himself with the
mountains that later poets write of Wordsworth as part of the landscape’ (237). It is again obvious here how much thinking in terms of
symbolic forms is ultimately rooted in Romanticism. Hawkes finishes
her picture:
I have brought together in consciousness a few of the pieces that
make this island of Britain, pieces whose shaping in time by geological process, by organic life, by human activity and imagination
I have already described. I have ended with those mountains that
can symbolize the foundations both of our consciousness and of this
land. I must draw round it the containing coasts – the curved sandy
bays, shingle spits and desolate salt marshes, the infinite variety
of the rocky coasts broken by savage inlets and by peaceful coves,
adorned with caves, arches islets and towering stacks and visited by
the grey, white and black birds of the sea. I will close it with the long
line of the chalk cliffs. Into them I must set esplanades and bungalows, hotels and boarding-houses; fishing towns and villages; docks,
jetties and piers; estuaries thronged with pleasure craft, and crowded
ports, and round them all the movements of the small craft, the coming and going of great ships. So I have tried to celebrate the creation
of this land and our consciousness of it and there is no more to be
done except to express thankfulness for ‘An appetite; a feeling and
a love…’ (239)
This is the ‘mythical present’ of Englishness, energized and spiritualized by the Romantic emphasis on the conscious observer of the scene.
Significantly, Hawkes quotes Wordsworth’s famous poem ‘Tintern
Abbey’, which explores the development of ‘spirit’ through an emotional engagement with nature. In Wordsworth’s poem, the love of
nature comprises ‘the mighty world / Of eye and ear, both what they
half-create, / And what perceive; well pleased to recognize / In nature
and the language of the sense, / The anchor of my purest thoughts’.44 To
half-create and perceive the symbolic form of Englishness is ultimately
a romantic project, which is then recast as a specifically modern interaction of the conscious mind with a collective unconscious – perhaps
Myth: Ideologies, Symbolic Forms and the ‘Mythical Present’ 25
symbolized by the ocean whose waves are forever crashing on the shore
of the imaginary island of England. Hawkes’ account throws into relief
the distinction between the essentialist blood-and-soil idea of the nation
and Englishness as a symbolic form. England is a mythical realm, but
Hawkes never tries to short-circuit the, in Stephen Greenblatt’s words,
‘circulation of social energy’.45 England is shaped by a process of cultural change, and conceived as an entity, or a symbolic form; it is a
product of a perceiving and creating consciousness, cast as a process of
Jungian ‘individuation’ on a collective level. Ultimately, A Land is an
expression of cultural memory, and also an act of remembering in the
concrete sense of the word – the act of putting together the pieces after
the great cataclysm of war. In 1922, in The Waste Land, T. S. Eliot had
seen only fragments, ‘shored against my ruins’,46 but out of these fragments many artists and writers – including Eliot himself – attempted to
shape the symbolic form of Englishness as a holistic fantasy of unity and
Finally, it should be noted that beyond the yearning for wholeness
in the face of a fractured modernity, the symbolic form of Englishness
also demands analysis in terms of participation and ownership. In a
revealing passage from E. M. Forster’s Howard’s End, the question of
who owns England is raised:
Does she belong to those who have moulded her and made her
feared by other lands, or to those who have added nothing to her
power, but have somehow seen her, seen the whole island at once,
lying as a jewel in a silver sea, sailing as a ship’s soul, with all the
brave world’s fleet accompanying her towards eternity?47
Regarding Englishness as a symbolic form seems a kind of entitlement,
a form of symbolic and moral ownership especially for the middle
classes who had no stake in the country until they could travel through
it, see its ‘true’ shape and even, with the help of the new and easy-to-use
photographic devices, put themselves in the picture.48
Memory: Shaping the Present
out of the Past
It has been argued that discourses about identity, both individual and
collective, are mythopoeic. This process of mythmaking also implies a
relation to ‘the past’, and to memory. An exploration of Englishness
thus needs to address various forms of memory; for my account of this
I draw on the work of Jan and Aleida Assmann who have developed an
influential and sophisticated theory of collective memory.1 They take
their cue from Maurice Halbwachs’ notion that memory is essentially a
social phenomenon, and that there could be no individual memory to
speak of without social interaction and an individual’s integration into
a network of social relations.
A strictly individual memory would be something like a private
language that is only understood by one person – in other words,
a special case, an exception. For this reason Aleida Assmann and
I have proposed the term communicative memory to describe the
social aspect of individual memory identified by Halbwachs. This
memory belongs in the intermediary realm between individuals;
it grows out of intercourse between people, and the emotions play
the crucial role in this process. Love, interest, sympathy, feelings of
attachment, the wish to belong, but also hatred, enmity, mistrust,
pain, guilt and shame – all of these help to define our memories
and provide them with a horizon. Without such definition they
would not imprint themselves on our minds; without a horizon they
would lack relevance and meaning within a specific cultural context.
For a functioning communicative memory, forgetting is just as vital
as remembering. This is why it is not ‘photographic’. Remembering
means pushing other things into the background, making distinctions, obliterating many things in order to shed light on others.
Memory: Shaping the Present out of the Past
This is what brings horizon and perspective into individual memory
spaces, and these perspectives are emotionally mediated.2
Due to the emphasis on personal communication, the ‘communicative
memory’ has a time frame of about three generations or roughly eighty
to one hundred years. Alongside the individual ‘bonding memory’,
there is a form of collective ‘bonding memory’ which is deliberately
shaped, for example by authorities of the state. Assmann calls this a
‘collective memory in an authentic and emphatic sense’ (6), and it is
the task of this memory ‘to transmit a collective identity’ (7). ‘Collective
memory’ in this specific sense ‘is particularly susceptible to politicized
forms of remembering’ (7). This is the realm of battle cries, such as
‘Remember 1690!’ and the ‘political cult of the dead’. ‘Memorials, days
of remembrance with the corresponding ceremonies and rituals (such
as wreath-laying), flags, songs, and slogans are the typical media of
this form of commemoration’ (7). This type of collective memory is
‘a projection on the part of the collective that wishes to remember and
of the individual who remembers in order to belong’ (7). It is easy to
see why collective memory in this sense can be extremely problematic.
Collective identity is often forged out of the deliberate rememberance
of conflict and of mechanisms of othering and exclusion, such that
the conflict has to be perpetuated in order to guarantee group identity,
which then militates against political and cultural change and possibilities of integration and peaceful resolution. In order to ‘furnish’ the
collective memory,
[b]oth the collective and the individual turn to the archive of cultural
traditions, the arsenal of symbolic forms, the ‘imaginary’ of myths
and images, of the ‘great stories’, sagas and legends, scenes and constellations that live or can be reactivated in the treasure stores of a
people. […] Our memory has a cultural basis and not just a social
one. This brings me to what Aleida Assmann and I call cultural
memory. (8)
‘Cultural memory’ is a form of ‘collective’ memory because it goes
beyond the individual, but it is different from ‘collective memory’ in
the more deliberately political sense as outlined above. Rather, it ‘can be
considered to be a special case of communicative memory’ (8), communicative memory on a larger scale, as it were, since ‘[i]t has a different
temporal structure. If we think of the typical three-generation cycle of
communicative memory as a synchronic memory-space, then cultural
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
memory, with its traditions reaching far back into the past, forms the
diachronic axis’ (8). Cultural memory opens up the depths of time.
We arrive here, in the first place, at a point far beyond the horizon of
communicative memory. The nature of this horizon has been illuminated by research in the field of oral history. This has shown that with
the methods of oral interrogation it is not possible to progress further
than a horizon of eighty to a maximum of one hundred years. That
is the distance in time achieved at best by personal memory relying
not just on actual experiences but also on the direct communications
of others. [. . .] Communicative memory is a generational memory
that changes as the generations change. Second, we arrive at a point
that goes decisively beyond the horizon of collective and connective
bonding memory. Its horizon is determined by the memory formulas
and configurations that underpin our sense of community and by
the memory needs of a clearly defined ‘we’. Within the framework of
a bonding memory, the past is always ‘instrumentalized’. (24)
Media play a crucial role in all forms of memory, but particularly
in the make-up of cultural memory. In oral cultures, collective and
cultural memory tend to coincide, whereas in ‘written cultures,
handed-down meaning, translated into symbolic form, swells into
vast archives of which only more or less limited, albeit central parts
are really needed, inhabited, and tended’ (24). Beyond this, cultural
memory also contains tensions ‘between what has been censored and
uncensored, the canonical and the apocryphal, the orthodox and the
heretical, the central and the marginal’ (25). Mindful of this, Aleida
Assmann distinguishes between ‘functional memory’ and ‘stored
memory’: those items within the reservoir of cultural memory that
are currently made use of and ‘inhabited’, and those which are stored
in some medial form, but are currently ‘uninhabited’, so that ‘stored
memory’ can be seen as a cultural form of the unconscious. The
boundaries between these areas of cultural memory are constantly
shifting, which is one of the preconditions for cultural change and
renewal.3 Jan Assmann summarizes: ‘Cultural memory, in contrast to
communicative memory, encompasses the age-old, out-of-the-way,
and discarded; and in contrast to collective, bonding memory, it
includes the noninstrumentalizable, heretical, subversive, and disowned.’4 With cultural memory, ‘the memory spaces of many thousands of years open up, and it is writing that plays the decisive role in
this process’ (28). To illustrate this with just one example, one might
Memory: Shaping the Present out of the Past
think of the impact that the rediscovery and dissemination of ancient
texts had on European culture in the so-called ‘Renaissance’.
To speak about Englishness is always to tell stories about collective
identity, and thus in a way to engage in a process of mythmaking –
a process which crucially involves the interaction between individual,
communicative, collective and cultural memory. The interwar period
is a fascinating time to study, because it is just about to move out of
the synchronic memory space of communicative memory, dropping
below the horizon of the present, as it were, into history. Temporarily
Janus-faced, the interwar period provides a link with history, but it also
speaks to us in ways that are of immediate importance in the present
moment. The increasing overlap between communicative and collective memory is a phenomenon characteristic of a time of national peril,
apparent in Britain during both World Wars. The period between the
wars is characterized by a more fragmented discourse of national identity and a tendency to reach into the past beyond the trauma of war
in search of symbols of national identity which allow for a meaningful
explanation of the present and a projection of the future. At the beginning of the new millennium, British cultural institutions, such as the
BBC and the Imperial War Museum turn their attention to World War
Two as an important landmark in the collective memory of the people,
as the last time when the nation appeared united. Using ‘oral history’
techniques appropriate to communicative memory, these institutions
ask individuals to supply their own experiences and stories. There is a
‘seize-the-moment’ element in this because World War Two is beginning to move out of the framework of communicative memory and its
context of intersubjective communication and first-hand experience,
that is, it will cease to be ‘living memory’. To put it bluntly, the Spitfire
pilot who fought the Battle of Britain will not be around much longer to
tell the tale. As events fade into the past, they are first replaced by individual and collective narratives influenced by such factors as hindsight,
nostalgic idealization, political bias and acts of false memory, and then
by increasingly medialized second-hand accounts. During this process,
the cultural artefacts belonging to the historical moment – objects,
texts, films and other visual material, recordings of voice and music etc. –
become increasingly important. The Imperial War Museum furnishes
the ‘functional memory’ with its large selection of toys, models, posters and gifts, including such oddities as the Blenheim Bouquet Travel
Set. There are books, videos, DVDs and CDs such as Forces Romance,
which invites listeners to ‘[t]ake a trip down memory lane with this
nostalgic and well loved collection of romantic songs and melodies
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
from the early forties. Familiar tunes that will evoke happy memories
from those poignant, but often romantic times.’5 These are traces of the
past available for explorations of early twentieth-century discourses of
Englishness which gain political and social meaning in the context of
the new millennium.
The present study is largely concerned with the important role played
by literature in creating the symbolic form of Englishness. Literature,
including various forms of non-fiction, is seen as mythopoeic in its
expression and negotiation of that form. As William Ferrell metaphorically puts it, ‘[l]iterature, in the form of the novel, short story, poetry,
drama, and motion picture, provides the cave wall on which the current
storytellers represent and present the ideas of their most deeply rooted
instincts, hopes, and fears.’6 In order to provide a context for the following case studies, the final part of this introduction will explore the role
of literature in the early twentieth century.
Media: Challenging
Modernism – the ‘Middlebrow’
and Memodrama
Modernists, such as Wyndham Lewis or Ezra Pound, announced with
iconoclast pathos that the past would disappear in a vortex and give way
to the new, as expressed in such experimental movements as vorticism,
futurism, imagism and other forms of highbrow literature.1 The same
period saw the development of modern mass culture.2 Education had
improved literacy levels, and technological progress in printing made possible the replacement of the expensive three-decker novel common in the
nineteenth century with cheaper one-volume editions. This furthered the
development of a literary mass market in which relations between authors
and publishers were increasingly influenced by agents. New magazines
appeared and fuelled the demand for entertaining journalism, travel
accounts and, significantly, short stories. A number of new publishers
entered the fray, such as Mills & Boon, founded in 1908, whose name has
become synonymous with popular romance. ‘Between the fall of the threedecker and the outbreak of the First World War were twenty years in which
fiction was perhaps the most important sector of the leisure industry.’3
Despite the relative success of popular historiography and other forms
of non-fictional writing, fiction was clearly the driving force in this
expansion of the literary market, and a number of new genres appeared –
many of course with roots in the nineteenth century – among them, as
noted in the Oxford Companion to Edwardian Fiction, ‘Boer War fiction’,
‘crime fiction’, ‘exoticism’, ‘fantasy fiction’, ‘feminist fiction’, ‘historical
romance’, ‘horror stories’, ‘invasion scare stories’, ‘marriage problem fiction’, ‘Ruritanian Romance’, ‘science fiction’, ‘spy fiction’ and ‘suburban
fiction’.4 Much of this is lowbrow writing, for instance, the ‘Ruritanian
Romance’ The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) by Anthony Hope, or Elinor Glyn’s
Three Weeks (1907), a novel which gained notoriety due to an initiation
scene on a tiger skin rug. ‘Exotic’ tales from the Empire were also very
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
successful, for example, Ethel M. Dell’s The Way of an Eagle (1912) or the
desert romance The Sheik (1919) by E. M. Hull, filmed with equal success
in 1921 with Rudolph Valentino starring as the sheik.
Between the high culture of the avantgarde and the formulas of
lowbrow entertainment, there is a broad field of ‘middlebrow’ literature,
the study of which promises important cultural insights since its widely
disseminated products negotiate and express the values, world views
and mentalities of a large part of the population.5 Middlebrow aesthetics
are not tied to a particular medium; they can inform radio programmes,
films and various kinds of writing including fiction. The terms
‘highbrow’ and ‘lowbrow’ were imported into British usage some time
before World War One from the United States. The imagery originates in
the field of phrenology where the height of the forehead was believed
to indicate the intellectual capacity of the forehead’s owner. ‘Highbrow’
came to denote intellectualism and high achievement in art, while
‘lowbrow’ signifies unsophisticated taste and a preference for formulaic
entertainment that does not greatly challenge the consumer’s intellect.
The term ‘middlebrow’ was extrapolated from these two concepts in the
late 1920s in the context of the growth of mass culture, including new
media like radio and film, and the expansion and diversification of the
market for printed matter. Moreover, the institutionalization of literary
criticism as an academic discipline, with F. R. Leavis as its high priest,
contributed to the distinction between professional readers and a more
general educated middlebrow audience. To quote John Baxendale and
Chris Pawling, ‘[i]n the audiences who – unable to stomach Stravinsky –
remained loyal to nineteenth-century romanticism; and in the readers
who, finding Joyce, Woolf and Lawrence hard to take, sought the continuance of nineteenth century realism, the “middlebrow” was born.’6
While literary works considered middlebrow did not have the highest
cultural prestige, they had a wide appeal and may therefore be considered as influential ‘cultural texts’, to borrow Aleida Assmann’s term.
Such books were available in relatively inexpensive editions, heavily
advertised and disseminated by book clubs and lending libraries.
Highbrow critics considered them second-rate and philistine, often
expressing a general cultural value judgement rather than a considered
opinion about any particular text.
The BBC, founded in 1922, provided a relatively new, influential
forum for debates about literature as cultural capital. In 1925, the satirical magazine Punch joked that the ‘B.B.C. claim to have discovered a
new type, the “middlebrow”. It consists of people who are hoping that
some day they will get used to the stuff they ought to like.’7 The tone
Media: Challenging Modernism – the ‘Middlebrow’ and Memodrama
in these debates was acerbic, and there were plenty of axes to grind,
since authors got into the habit of reviewing each other unfavourably
in newspapers, magazines and talks on the wireless. Arnold Bennett
called Virginia Woolf the ‘queen of the high-brows’, and she called
him and J. B. Priestley the ‘tradesmen of letters’.8 In 1926, Priestley
published an article in the Saturday Review entitled ‘High, Low, Broad’,9
where he argues that it is best to be ‘Broadbrow’, which translates into a
catholic taste with a large and inclusive vision of life, supplemented by
critical intelligence. In contrast, both ‘high’ and ‘low’ are merely victims
of fashion and the herd instinct. To quote Priestley: ‘Just as Low, you
might say, is the fat sheep with the cigar from the City of Surbiton, so
High is the thin sheep with the spectacles and the squeak from Oxford
or Bloomsbury.’ In October 1932, he gave a talk called ‘To a High-Brow’
in the BBC series ‘To an Unnamed Listener’ where he attacked what he
saw as the condescension and preciousness of intellectuals and repeated
his ‘Broadbrow’ philosophy. The following week, Harold Nicolson retaliated with a talk entitled ‘To a Low-Brow’ which he had to rewrite and
tone down before the BBC would consider it suitable for broadcasting.
Many authors, such as Aldous Huxley, Desmond MacCarthy, Leonard
and Virginia Woolf and critics such as Q. D. Leavis entered the fray,
and each faction accused the other of herd instinct. In this process of
cultural enclosure, the sheep flocked to their various shepherds, and the
bleating was broadcast to the high heavens.
Virginia Woolf, annoyed by the ‘Battle of the Brows’ which ‘troubles,
I am told, the evening air’, wrote a letter to the editor of the New Statesman
in which she takes up the issue of brows and cultural value judgements.
The letter was not sent, but was published posthumously under the title
‘Middlebrow’.10 It is a nasty tilt at the ‘middlebrows’, ‘busybodies’ (179)
of ‘middlebred intelligence’ (180) who are ‘in pursuit of no single object,
neither art itself nor life itself, but both mixed indistinguishably, and
rather nastily, with money, fame, power, or prestige’ (181). The mischief
they do to the ‘highbrows and lowbrows joined together in blood brotherhood against the bloodless and pernicious pest who comes between’
(184) is amplified by the ‘Betwixt and Between Company’ who ‘use their
control of the air […] to stir strife between brothers’ (184). And this pest
is everywhere, ‘Middlebrow on the cabbages’ (184) and ‘Middlebrow
infecting that poor old sheep’ (184). Woolf herself is proud to be a
‘highbrow’ (177), living in Bloomsbury where ‘the adjective “priestly”
is neither often heard nor held in high esteem’ (185). The exaggerated
praise she extends to ‘lowbrows’, ‘you, who write so beautifully when
you write naturally’ (182), is remarkably condescending and insensitive.
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
‘I love lowbrows; I study them; I always sit next to the conductor in an
omnibus and try to get him to tell me what it is like – being a conductor’
(178). Of course this is all very ironic, but the mind boggles at the thought
of Virginia Woolf chatting up bus conductors, which she might have
done at a pinch. The debate brings out the worst in everyone; so betwixt
and between the wars, there was a culture war on, conducted by a fair
measure of brow-beating.
What is at stake in the ‘Battle of the Brows’? It is a struggle for air
time, for audiences and readers paying money and attention, and
for ideological dominance in the public sphere in a context of rapid
modernization – a modernization which included, in the words of
Q. D. Leavis, a ‘disintegration of the reading public’.11 There were
various parallel publics now, and high quality novelists who had
taken on board the formal innovations of French and Russian modernism found themselves increasingly marginalized, to the extent
that it became impossible to make a living by one’s pen without hack
work. A highbrow novel would sell about three thousand copies, the
number that a real bestseller would sell every day for a year or more.
Writers had to think about their readers even more than in the days
of periodical serialization, and, thus, the process and the implications
of reading received considerable attention in the interwar period.
Such diverse figures as Hugh Walpole, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, Ezra
Pound, E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf and the Leavises engaged in a
debate that was additionally fuelled by an anxiety that the radio and
cinema would replace reading and lower the intellectual standards of
the population.
In her pioneering study, Fiction and the Reading Public published in
1932, Q. D. Leavis argues that contemporary fiction can usefully be seen
as stratified with reference to the ‘brows’, since authors, reviewers, publishers and readers use these terms and there is widespread consensus
about what they denote, even though value judgements vary according
to the camp to which any given speaker belongs. Leavis’ study is interesting because she sits on the fence for a while before coming down
on the side of the highbrows, and it is remarkable that she undertook
this ‘anthropological’ research in the first place. According to her findings, middlebrow literature needs to be subdivided further into the ‘B’
category, middlebrow writing read as ‘literature’, and the ‘C’ category,
middlebrow writing not read as ‘literature’, but not writing for the
lowbrow market. I would maintain that middlebrow writers of the ‘B’
category, for instance, J. B. Priestley, a writer with a political message,
continue the English tradition of socially committed fiction associated
Media: Challenging Modernism – the ‘Middlebrow’ and Memodrama
with condition-of-England novels, such as those by Charles Dickens,
Elizabeth Gaskell or George Eliot, although belief in the perfectibility
of man has worn rather thin since the halcyon days of positivism.
Middlebrow writing is careful and eschews the formulaic, but its
focus is not the literary work of art, but rather the ‘novel plus something else’, as Priestley variously said, with an emphasis on story and
character, and realist in style. In contrast to the aims and achievements of modernist writers, there is no attempt to draw attention to
form and to language as a medium, but rather readers are supposed
to project themselves into the fictional world. While their imaginary
journey includes ‘escapist’ entertainment, it is not intended to be the
end, but the beginning of a process of deliberation and development,
partly conscious, partly subconscious. As the Oxford English Dictionary
has it, middlebrow fiction should meet certain ‘moderate’ aesthetic
and intellectual expectations. It should therefore, in addition to being
carefully written, relate to literary traditions, history, philosophy and
science, which goes some way towards explaining why middlebrow
authors do not turn out two hundred novels. The function of such narratives is neither ‘mere escapism’ – whatever that may be – and light
entertainment, nor intellectual challenge through aesthetic innovation, but an imaginative projection of lived experience conducive to a
negotiation of identity and emotional ‘entertainment’ in the sense of
providing sustenance. Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night, published in 1937,
may serve as an example of a typical middlebrow novel. It is a hybrid
combining detective story, bildungsroman, ‘portrait of the artist’, campus novel and romance. The individual chapters have epitaphs taken
from ‘high’ literature, but there is also an intrinsic link between the
nature of the mystery, the romantic plot, the artistic quest of the protagonist Harriet Vane and debates about the ethics of scholarship and
women’s university education. The thrill of crime and the frisson of
romance provide a vehicle for far more complex psychological, social
and political considerations.
The most important aspect of middlebrow writing is an accessibility
unhindered by either high sophistication or an alienating reliance on
cliché. As Priestley relates in his essay ‘Too Simple?’ published in 1949,
a ‘young critic’ expressed surprise that Priestley’s conversation was ‘much
more subtle and complex than his writing’ and Priestley, slightly irked,
sets out to explain that he spent ‘years and years trying to make my writing simple. What you see as a fault, I regard as a virtue.’ He believes that
the younger generation of authors and intellectuals grew up ‘in revolt
against the Mass Communication antics of their age’ and that therefore,
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
they came to ‘literature like specialists summoned to a consultation at a
king’s bedside’. His formative years were before World War One, he goes
on to say, so that ‘[r]ightly or wrongly, I am not afraid of the crowd. […]
Because I am what is called now “an intellectual” – and I am just as much
“an intellectual” as these younger chaps – I do not feel that there is a
glass wall between me and the people in the nearest factories, shops, and
pubs.’ Because his thoughts and feelings are not different from theirs, he
prefers ‘a wide channel of communication’. Whatever he has to say, he
wants ‘to write something that at a pinch I could read aloud in a barparlour’. ‘And the time came’, he adds defiantly, referring to his famous
BBC ‘Postscripts’ to the 9 o’clock news during the Battle of Britain and
the Blitz, ‘the time came when I was heard and understood in a thousand
bar-parlours.’ His ideal is the ‘prose that is like an easy persuasive voice’,12
in line with his strongly democratic outlook. Priestley’s concern is for
the individual within the community; with novels such as his bestseller,
The Good Companions, which made his name and fame in 1929, he wants
to move his readers to think and criticize – not to be satisfied with alienating working conditions, exploitation and Americanized mass entertainment, but to hold on to domestic traditions of active enjoyment, to
bands and communal singing and, time and again, the music hall. The
socially committed fiction of George Orwell or Winifred Holtby is less
optimistic in outlook, although it addresses the same concerns, as in
Orwell’s Coming Up for Air (1939) or Holtby’s South Riding (1936). Holtby
was also quite clear that she did not presume to produce Art with a capital ‘A’. An example of a middlebrow novel more conservative in outlook
would be Evelyn Waugh’s nostalgic country house novel, Brideshead
Revisited, published in 1945, or some of the writings of Hugh Walpole,
William Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene.
While many middlebrow novels, such as The Good Companions or those
by Evelyn Waugh, appealed to and were read by both men and women,
women were particularly prominent as readers of fiction, and there is
an important segment of middlebrow literature written by women and
directed especially at a female readership. In her study, The Feminine
Middlebrow Novel 1920s to 1950s: Class, Domesticity, and Bohemianism,
Nicola Humble seeks to rehabilitate the term middlebrow as applied to
the widely read fiction by women authors in the interwar period. In this
literature, is is noteworthy that there is a joining of literary value and
gender with class. To quote Humble:
If this is a feminine literature, it is also very much the literature of the
middle classes, paying a meticulous attention to their shifting desires
Media: Challenging Modernism – the ‘Middlebrow’ and Memodrama
and self-images, mapping their swings of fortune at this most volatile
stage in their history. As a result, it not only reflected shifts in middle
class opinion and ideology, but also inspired them. I will argue that
what I call the ‘feminine middlebrow’ in this period was a powerful
force in establishing and consolidating, but also in resisting, new
class and gender identities, and that it is its paradoxical allegiance to
both domesticity and a radical sophistication that makes this literary
form so ideologically flexible.13
Humble goes on to say that the middlebrow is a hybrid form, ‘comprising a number of genres, from the romance and country-house
novel, through domestic and family narratives to detective and children’s literature and the adolescent Bildungsroman’ (4). These texts
address ‘the desires and self-images of their readers’ (5) who oscillate
‘between knowing and surrendered readings’ (6). Humble includes
novels such as E. M. Delafield’s partly autobiographical Diary of a
Provincial Lady, published in 1930, which started life as a column in
the magazine Time and Tide and was followed up with three further
collections. In the second volume, The Provincial Lady Goes Further,
which appeared in 1933, the ‘provincial lady’ has become a successful
middlebrow author. The diaries, switching in their humour between
self-deprecation and self-righteousness, deal with the tribulations of
a middle-class wife and mother who lives in the country and is not
quite as well off as she would like to be. A member of the Women’s
Institute, an occasional speaker at their meetings and a writer producing respectable entertainment, she is constantly snubbed, both by
her husband’s aristocratic employer Lady Boxe and by some highbrow London acquaintances who specialize in outrageous outfits and
loose morals and consider it de rigueur to travel to Paris in order to
get their hands on a copy of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
Delafield’s books, like many others included in the variety of middlebrow writing discussed by Nicola Humble, negotiate the concerns of
an increasingly self-conscious middle class, whose ‘members began
to question their own identity, the role of their class and its future in
the nation’ (57). This affects women in particular, in so far as they are
seen as the guardians of social status, and in the texts, this translates
into the expression of constant worries about money and respectability, manners, style and social hypocrisy. The spectrum here covers the
snobbishness and exasperation of middle-class women whose livein servants are deserting them, as well as thorough explorations by
enfranchised modern women of how they might redefine their role in
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
the family and society at large. To quote Sarah Burton, the 39-year-old
red-haired headmistress of a girls’ school, from Holtby’s South Riding:
‘I was born to be a spinster, and by God, I’m going to spin.’14
Finally, there is another type of feminine middlebrow novel more
remote from middle-class women’s direct experiences in their laboursaving homes. It is exemplified by Daphne du Maurier, who is usually
classed as a writer of quality romance, a label which she herself did not
like, as is often the case with labels pinned on authors. ‘Middlebrow’
is just such a label, being as it is a culturally loaded term involving
prejudice and denigration. According to Alison Light’s study, Forever
England,15 du Maurier is a conservative exponent of a smug and domesticated middle class who sought to escape its suburban, circumscribed
lives through flights of fancy. However, while the value system that
emerges from du Maurier’s novels and stories may appear conventional
at times, the gothic quality of much of her writing rebels against this
surface respectability, and some of du Maurier’s explorations of female
psychology are quite searching. I take Daphne du Maurier’s novels as
prime examples of the mythopoeic quality of middlebrow fiction which
reveals the dependence of identity formation on a mixture of memory
and imagination, or fantasy, carried and fuelled by archetypal images
and narratives expressing the ‘mythical present’ of Englishness. Dealing
with the middlebrow, I prefer the descriptive over the evaluative mode.
It has emerged from what I have said so far that middlebrow is partly a
value judgement, attached to texts which are not considered as innovative works of art by those who feel qualified to make that judgement. In
the context of this issue of evaluation, the question of the uses of fiction
presents itself with some urgency. What do people think they are doing
when they take home a ‘nice book’ from the lending library?
Q. D. Leavis offers a list of reasons, based on communications with
authors of all levels and conversations with readers, for why novels are
read in the period under consideration. She comes up with the following: 1. To pass time not unpleasantly. 2. To obtain vicarious satisfaction or compensation for life. 3. To obtain assistance in the business
of living. 4. To enrich the quality of living by extending, deepening,
refining, coordinating experience. In their leisure time, as Leavis found,
many readers look for mental relaxation and want to be entertained
without undue effort, so that it must be easy to visualize the story and
identify with the characters. Thus, such reading ‘offers ideal companionship to the reader by its uniquely compelling illusion of a life in
which sympathetic characters of a convincing verisimilitude touch off
the warmer emotional responses’ (58). Leavis also examined fan letters
Media: Challenging Modernism – the ‘Middlebrow’ and Memodrama
from grateful readers to bestselling authors, which often emphasize, as
in one letter quoted in this context, that the characters ‘are real, very
lovable people who stay by one as friends and give one real help’ (59).
‘This kind of interest’, Q. D. Leavis grumbles, ‘leads critics to compare
the merits of novelists by the size of the portrait gallery each has given
to the world’ (59). She adds as an aside, however, that this is also an
important element of Shakespeare’s popular appeal.
Leavis also notes the ‘emotional drive’ and ‘luxuriant vitality’ of
popular authors, praised by one of her ‘highbrow’ correspondents.
Intriguingly, she classes this praise, which recalls Woolf’s words quoted
earlier, as ‘the fascinated envy of an ever-intellectual novelist for the
lower organism that exudes vital energy as richly as a manure heap’ (62).
Popular novels ‘excite in the ordinary person an emotional activity for
which there is no scope in his life’. They employ the ‘key words of the
emotional vocabulary which provoke the vague warm surges of feeling
associated with religion and religion substitutes, e.g. life, death, love,
good, evil, sin, home, mother, noble, gallant, purity, honour’. Responses
to these are easy to trigger, so that ‘every self-aware person finds that
he has to train himself from adolescence in withstanding them’. In
contrast to the self-aware person, the general reader experiences a ‘feeling of being helped, of being in touch with ideals’ (63). Readers want to
be ‘uplifted’ (66), they want their problems dramatized, and the lower
levels want to keep ‘posted with news of what is stirring higher up’ (67).
Literary novelists, the middlebrows, substitute a more ‘civilized tone’
for the ‘crude power of the bestseller’ (71), but they provide essentially
the same service for a more educated readership, whereas the superior
novel allows ‘the reader to live at the expense of an unusually intelligent and sensitive mind’ and experience ‘the exhilarating shock that a
novel coming from a first-class fully-aware mind gives’ (70). In contrast,
‘touching grossly on fine issues’ solidifies the ‘herd prejudice’ (65).
Worst of all, a ‘habit of fantasying will lead to maladjustment in actual
life’ (55). ‘[T]he ordinary reader is content with the general directions for
what his literary training recognizes as appropriate, and his imagination
will do the rest’ (61).
This last statement throws into relief Leavis’ ambivalence about her
subject, because although she is often condescending, she does in an offhand way credit the reader with considerable creative power. Bringing
him or her into conjunction with the author, the fictional text is produced, much as reader-response criticism argues, in the space between
the author and the reader, or the interpretive communities. Perhaps
this is why popular fiction today often spawns so many rewritings and
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
spin-offs while hypertext novels with pre-planned reader interventions
languish on the Internet? We might ask exactly what is wrong with
readers being entertained, having their problems dramatized for them,
and exercising their emotions and their imagination? This can only be
considered ‘dangerous’ (63), as Leavis puts it, from a paternalist viewpoint which assumes that readers, given half a chance, will be carried
away and misled due to a lack of judgement. Ultimately, however, there
is no way of knowing how any given reader will read any given novel,
because they will make up their own minds about it, or put it away if
they do not like it. Having said this, most readers do prefer some kind
of guide in the fictional world, rather like Dr Watson, who might solve
the mystery once Holmes has given him some vital clues, and the fact
remains that many readers were left behind by, to quote Woolf’s definition of the highbrow, ‘the man or woman of thoroughbred intelligence
who rides his mind at a gallop across country in pursuit of an idea’.16
So, to my mind, the various brow levels indicate first and foremost a
proliferation of types of fiction, of which different uses can legitimately
be made, possibly by the same readers at different times. The aggressive
language of the culture war obscures the fact that many contemporaries
were equally happy to read a detective story on a train or in the bath tub,
to lift the gloom of a cold in December with Priestley’s Good Companions,
or to give their attention to a short story by Katherine Mansfield on a
rainy Sunday morning.
For a great number of readers, middlebrow fiction simultaneously fulfilled all the aims listed by Q. D. Leavis – entertainment, compensation,
assistance with the business of living, and an enrichment of the quality
of living. Therefore, it may be taken to offer some fairly representative
insights into contemporary ways of making sense of the world, into
habits of mythmaking and the negotiation of national identity as well as
into the changing and conflicting categories of gender and class. While
middlebrow includes idiosyncrasies and eccentricities, it seldom deals in
the truly exceptional; neither does it dish out prepackaged cliché. There
is often an element of reflection and literary aspiration, although the
content always takes precedence over aesthetic considerations. Moreover,
middlebrow was an important mode of address for a British people
increasingly aware of community values in the period up to and during
World War Two, preferred, if Q. D. Leavis is correct, by many people with
cultural and political influence, such as schoolmasters and teachers, clerics, lawyers and businessmen. ‘Middlebrow’ had indeed ‘infected’ the very
highest places, as can be gathered from the First Annual Lecture of the
National Book Council, entitled ‘The Resources and Influence of English
Media: Challenging Modernism – the ‘Middlebrow’ and Memodrama
Literature’ and delivered by His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury,
Dr William Temple, at Caxton Hall, Westminster on 21 May 1943. His
Grace, formerly Headmaster of Repton School, announces that he will
express some views not likely to appear in the Times Literary Supplement.
After discussing some practical points about the promotion of reading such
as, for instance, funding for libraries and built-in bookshelves in houses,
he proceeds to discuss various kinds of literature, from the Limerick to
Shakespeare’s tragedies. His main argument is that aesthetic appreciation
cannot be divorced from content and that it may only be achieved if the
reader is fundamentally in sympathy with what is being presented to him.
Giving a personal example, he relates that he loved Priestley’s The Good
Companions, and hated ‘Hardy’s great masterpiece Tess of the D’Urbervilles’,
because it is completely irrelevant to Tess’s fate whether she was, or was
not, as introduced on the title page, a ‘pure woman’.
The creation of that sense of purposelessness and futility in life I regard
as the greatest disservice any man can render to his fellows, whether
through literature or anything else. Having such a conviction I am
quite incapable of yielding myself to the undoubted artistic power
that is displayed by Hardy in that great artistic achievement; I remain
quite incapable of appreciating it; so let me say once more, don’t leave
out this varying capacity for sympathy in your estimate of the kind of
literature which different people are capable of appreciating, and recognize that it does leave you with a complete impossibility of arriving
at final and absolute judgments.17
I take this as a fairly representative middlebrow credo and propose to
study middlebrow aesthetics and ‘sympathies’ as a good way of taking
the temperature of British society in the early twentieth century.
I have argued above that the depiction of particular kinds of landscape
is crucial in evocations of the symbolic form of Englishness. This literally
or metaphorically visual experience is primarily synchronic, but in so
far as identity is shaped by various forms of memory, as outlined above,
other forms of mythopoeic fictional dramatization of Englishness need
to be considered. Some of the texts I will analyse in this study engage
directly with the process of identity formation through memory; I will
thus call these ‘memodramas’. They combine an attention to time
with both an awareness of the aesthetic shape and the situatedness of
memory, and are thus narrative performances of identity. Due to their
emphasis on individual and communicative memory, memodramas also
ask readers to engage with the experience and recreate the process of
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
identity formation in their minds. A memodrama is thus an ‘emoting
apparatus’, as it were, enabling readers to share in the performance of
identity formation through memory.
Memodramas of Englishness, such as J. B. Priestley’s Bright Day (1945)
and Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (1938) and The King’s General (1946),
address the development of collective identity focalized through an individual. Both case studies in this book explore Englishness as a symbolic
form and yet they have different trajectories, since Priestley’s central
trope is ‘the People’ and du Maurier’s is ‘the family’. Part II thus charts
the development of Priestley’s notion of communality from its early
formulation in The Good Companions (1929) via the propagandist idea of
the ‘People’s War’ to a fragmentation into various subcultures at the end
of World War Two. Daphne du Maurier’s contribution to the symbolic
form of Englishness, discussed in Part III, is a fictional statement of the
genealogical approach to national identity as represented in the family,
and its rootedness in the landscape, in particular Cornwall. Much like
Priestley, however, she moves from a vision of wholeness in The Loving
Spirit (1931) to a more fragmented and decentred view of national
identity in The King’s General (1946). Placing both authors side by side
highlights their crucial and complementary role in the exploration and
creation of Englishness.
Part II
J. B. Priestley: Shaping
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Steak-and-Kidney Pie in the
Land of Cockaigne
J. B. Priestley was a highly influential middlebrow writer who captured,
expressed and shaped the mood of the interwar period. Highbrow writers
and critics such as Harold Nicolson, Virginia Woolf and the Leavises
deplored the influence of the ‘Priestley/Walpole regime’ on the public
mind and a cultural struggle took place, visualized as a ‘battle of brows’,
whose ultimate trajectory was the reformulation of collective identity in a
context of modernization after the crisis of World War One. In this process,
Priestley’s voice was clearly audible in the interwar period and beyond. In
1964, The Times called him ‘a man of letters in the good old sense of the
phrase’.1 Secondly, Priestley fashioned himself and was perceived as an
embodiment of Englishness. On the occasion of his seventieth birthday,
Kingsley Martin wrote to him praising his ‘Red Brick personality’, stating that ‘[y]ou stand in the public mind as a Yorkshire stalwart, a good
trencherman, a Falstaffian character who smokes a pipe and won’t stand
any nonsense.’2 Indeed, Priestley cultivated this image of himself as ‘one
of the people’, and he refused a knighthood and an OBE. He was proud,
however, to be made a Freeman of the City of Bradford, his native town
which remained an important point of reference throughout his career,
although he never returned there to live. Bradford features time and again
in his novels as ‘Haliford’ or ‘Bruddersford’. His publisher called Priestley
the ‘gasfire Dickens’,3 and it is a mark of the recognition and the high
esteem in which Priestley was held as an eloquent spokesman of England
that he was awarded the Order of Merit by the Queen in 1977. The fact
that Priestley now receives so little attention reflects the profound changes
in British society which have taken place since.
Priestley was an extremely prolific writer, and his output is more varied
and complex than is often recognized. He tried, and mostly succeeded, to
be popular in his journalism, essays, broadcasts, lecture tours, novels and
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
film scripts, but he also wrote criticism and experimental drama. In fact,
he is now most remembered for such plays as Time and the Conways
(1937), or An Inspector Calls (1946). Deeply committed to the tradition of
the music hall and the theatre world, Priestley actively participated in the
rehearsal process and monitored the success of his plays, keeping them
running at his own expense if necessary, and taking great pains to have
them performed in the United States. Johnson Over Jordan (1939) is one
such play in which Priestley also engages with contemporary theories of
time as publicized by J. W. Dunne – a subject that held a deep fascination
for him.4 Originally directed by Basil Dean, Johnson Over Jordan starred
Ralph Richardson and the music was written by Benjamin Britten. To
finance such highbrow projects, Priestley wrote scripts for Hollywood
films, sometimes insisting that his name be removed from the credits
if he was reluctant to be associated with the product.5 Priestley’s career
shows how hard it was, and is, for writers to avoid being pigeon-holed
in accordance with a strictly layered system of literary value and cultural
credit. While repeatedly expressing his resentment towards a condescending application of the label ‘middlebrow’, he did want his work to have
wide appeal and he was proud to be popular. Like many of his highbrow
antagonists, he felt the need to influence and educate the public taste. For
a brief period, he became a member of the Selection Committee for the
Book Society, but he did not care to be a functionary within the literary
business, complaining that ‘there is a bargain basement atmosphere about
publishing’.6 Instead of giving himself up to this business, Priestley preferred to be an ‘all-round man of letters on the 18th Century plan, which
allowed or commanded a man to write essay or poem, novel or play, just
as he pleased’,7 so that neither ‘Fleet Street nor Bond Street can claim me:
I come from Grub Street.’8
Priestley gives the impression of a writer confident that he could make
himself understood if he committed fully to it; he does not distrust
language to the extent that many modernist writers do. Often subtle
in observation and perception, he is more robust in opinion and value
judgements; for example, when he states in Literature and Western Man
that James Joyce ‘created his own magnificent cul-de-sac’.9 As a writer
with a message, or as Supriya Sengupta describes him, a ‘man with a
mission’,10 Priestley aimed at a simple style, ‘prose that is like an easy,
persuasive voice’. He turned to fiction as a mode of writing with wide
appeal and strong potential for persuasiveness, although he did not
regard himself first and foremost as a novelist.11 In Margin Released,
Priestley says that he ‘believed that a great many people would read
something that called itself a novel when they would never dream of
Steak-and-Kidney Pie in the Land of Cockaigne 47
looking at any piece of social criticism’, admitting, however, that the
‘danger of this hasty topical novel-writing is that while taking so wide an
aim you may hit nothing except your own reputation, failing to give
your readers a story that satisfies them and equally failing to convert
them to your point of view’.12
Priestley as a writer and a public figure spoke from a central position
within his culture until well into the 1950s, simultaneously highlighting its faultlines and contradictions. His blend of political action and
artistic creation is very much his own and, at the same time, characteristically English. In view of my focus on cultural memory and collective
identity, I will concentrate on those works that enjoyed wide appeal
when published. I will treat Priestley’s novels, his travel accounts and
wartime propaganda as cultural texts which are as much part of the
cultural imaginary as they are of the cultural and collective memory.13
These texts thus also form part of a national identity expressed in what
I have termed Englishness as a symbolic form. I will first look at some
fiction in the condition-of-England tradition in which Priestley develops
his myth of England as a knowable community. This will be followed by
an analysis of Priestley’s English Journey in the context of interwar travel
writing and the ‘discovery of England’ where he consolidates his idea of
community. The case study closes with a discussion of Priestley’s wartime
work, his contribution to a propagandistic celebration of Englishness and
his final deconstruction of the myth of community.
5.1 The Good Companions (1929)
Priestley won international fame in 1929 with The Good Companions.
The novel shows England in the grip of depression and tells the
story of how some English characters – men and women of different
ages and from different social backgrounds – surmount their various
difficulties by getting together and helping each other. They form a
concert party and tour a bleak country for a season, bringing joy and
comfort to many people, not least themselves, eventually managing
to create a future out of the broken pieces of the past. The bestselling
novel, which was also distributed as a Book Club choice, was eagerly
received as the optimistic tale of provincial English community life,
and the characteristics and values celebrated here – humour, eccentricity, common sense, companionship, honesty, reliability and sound
craftsmanship – run the whole gammut of the English stereotype.
I would argue, however, that Priestley moves beyond stereotype
towards the expression of a symbolic form of Englishness. For Priestley,
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
the close-knit community is the living expression of national identity,
but it needs to be understood as grounded in the material world,
in the cultural landscape that represents the ‘mythical present’ of
Englishness. In line with this, the chapters introducing the three
main characters who join the concert party evoke three archetypal
landscapes, beginning with the North:
There, far below, is the knobbly backbone of England, the Pennine
Range. At first, the whole dark length of it, from the Peak to Cross
Fell, is visible. […] Great winds blow over miles and miles of ling and
bog and black rock, and the curlews still go crying in that empty air
as they did before the Romans came. […] [T]hough these are lonely
places, almost unchanged since the Domesday Book was compiled,
you cannot understand industrial Yorkshire and Lancashire, the wool
trade and the cotton trade and many other things besides, such as
the popularity of Handel’s Messiah or the Northern Union Rugby
game, without having seen such places. They hide many secrets. […]
These windy moors, these clanging dark valleys, these factories
and little stone houses, this business of Intaking, have between
them bred a race that has special characteristics. Down there are
thousands and thousands of men and women who are stocky and
hold themselves very stiffly, who have short upper lips and long
chins, who use emphatic consonants and very broad vowels and
always sound aggressive, who are afraid of nothing but mysterious
codes of etiquette and any display of feeling.14
The country itself, its geology and climate, the lie of the land, its
history, its inhabitants and the traces of their industry, their buildings,
their physical characteristics and language, their games, rituals and
customs, their modes of interaction and their feelings are all conceived
of as intrinsically related in this vision, as if they had grown out of
each other with the inevitability of biological determinism. In fact,
the causalities suggested here are completely irrational, because there
is no intrinsic relation between windy moors, the cotton trade, stocky
figures and short upper lips, unless one subscribes to a bizarre racist
climate theory. Moreover, this would hardly explain the preference for
a German composer’s music, but this is not the gist of Priestley’s argument. The suggestively mystical sentence, ‘[t]hey [the lonely hills] hide
many secrets’ points rather to the ‘law of concrescence’ that characterizes myth as described by Cassirer. Priestley evokes the symbolic form of
Englishness, whereby many unlike things can mentally be amalgamated
Steak-and-Kidney Pie in the Land of Cockaigne 49
into a holistic image of culture, enlivened by and embodied in the
community. The representative of Northern England is Jesiah Oakroyd,
a middle-aged working man from ‘Bruddersford’. Oakroyd is depressed
and bored and has a desire to travel ‘down South’, which he does after
losing his job and quarrelling with his family. After some picaresque
adventures, he joins the concert party as a builder, stage hand and
general helper.
The second archetypal cultural landscape is the Cotswolds:
Once more we look down upon English hills, lit by the same
September sun. But it is another England[.] […] Here are pleasant
green mounds, heights of grass for ever stirring to the tune of the
south-west winds; clear valleys, each with its gleam of water; grey
stone villages, their walls flushing to a delicate pink in the sunlight;
parish churches that have rung in and rung out Tudor, Stuart, and
Hanoverian kings; manor houses that have waited for news from
Naseby and Blenheim and Waterloo and Inkerman and Ypres, […]
but have kept their stones unchanged; and here and there, in the
wider valleys, little woods where you could play A Midsummer Night’s
Dream[.] […] Here is a place of compromise, for Nature has planed off
her sharp summits and laid down green carpets in place of bog and
heather and rock, and man has forsworn his mad industrial antics, has
settled himself modestly and snugly in the valleys and along the hillsides, has trotted out his sheep and put up a few tiny mills, and has
been content. Yes, these two signed a peace here, and it has lasted a
thousand years. (48)
This is the mythical green and pleasant land, Shakespeare’s Arden,
the ruralist and conservative ‘Deep England’ whose sweetness and
unostentatious mildness is also contrasted with Wales as the Celtic
Other. This landscape is embodied by Elizabeth Trant, upper middle or
upper class, middle-aged, and unmarried. Miss Trant is busy auctioning off the family’s belongings before moving out of the manor house
she can no longer afford after the death of her father, Colonel Trant.
In Priestley’s picture, the North is rough, masculine and working class,
while the Cotswolds are genteel and feminine and peopled by the
descendants of the builders and administrators of Empire. Free for the
first time in her life, Miss Trant buys a small car from her intellectual
nephew Hilary, one of the editors of The Oxford Static, and goes on
holiday, where she meets Oakroyd and agrees to manage the stranded
concert party.
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
The third English archetypal landscape is the Fens:
We have left all the hills behind; our faces are turned towards the
long strands, salted and whistling, of the North Sea. Here, the land is
a great saucer, patterned with dykes and arrowy roads. To the north
and to the south are smudges of smoke, the bright webbing of railway lines, towers that are older than the distant fields they chime to,
Peterborough, Ely, Cambridge. We are on the edge of the Fens. It is
a place plucked from the water. […] It is a country to make a farmer
fat; these are fields to put beef and pudding and ale on a man’s table.
Yet it seems to be still haunted by its old desolation. Perhaps the
sky, which can show a spread of cloud and blue by day, a glitter of
stars by night, not to be matched elsewhere between Berwick and
Penzance, is too big, too masterful for a man’s peace of mind, unless,
like so many in the old days, he comes here simply to worship God.
[…] The vague sadness of a prairie has fallen upon this plain of dried
marshes. Like a rich man who gives but never smiles, this land yields
bountifully but is at heart still a wilderness. (78)
In this archetypal landscape, agriculture and religion still form an
archaic, mythic unity, out of which grows a melancholy intellectualism.
This is embodied by Inigo Jollifant, a young university graduate and
teacher with hopes of becoming a serious writer. He wants to be highbrow and grapples earnestly with his writing, but his real talent is for
playing the piano and dreaming up light and entertaining tunes. When
he is sacked from his teaching post, he joins the concert party as pianist
and composer. The ‘Dinky Doos’, who have just been deserted by their
manager and their musicians, consist of the ageing comedian Jimmy
Nunn, Mr and Mrs Brundit, a pair of rather old-fashioned singers, slick
dancer Jerry Jerningham, blonde singer and dancer Elsie Longstaff and
pretty Susie Dean, singer, dancer and comedienne. With the addition
of Oakroyd, Miss Trant, Jollifant, and Mr Mitcham, an old globetrotter
with a banjo, they become the ‘Good Companions’, assisted by Miss
Thong, a faded, consumptive seamstress whose life is brightened by the
colourful fabrics she uses to make costumes for the performers.
Music hall entertainment is Priestley’s crucial symbol of English
community life. The element of participation is as important here
as the merriment, creativity and wit involved, while the singing
and dancing express the celebration of community. The ‘Good
Companions’ not only integrate various classes and backgrounds,
they also bridge a social and psychological gap between the pre- and
Steak-and-Kidney Pie in the Land of Cockaigne 51
postwar generations. Jimmy Nunn and the Brundits look back to an
essentially Victorian tradition of music hall entertainment, and when
the company finally breaks up, they will continue to tour the watering
places and provincial towns while the younger performers are set to
become stars of modern mass entertainment. England is shown to be
grappling simultaneously with depression and industrial decline, and
hovering on the brink of an Americanized modernity. The condition
of England is symbolized by Tewborough, a ‘depressed and depressing’
(397) industrial town in the Midlands where the ‘Good Companions’
spend a miserable week. Placed beside the archetypal landscapes of
Englishness, Tewborough figures the present state of decay; it ‘could
not be amused by their show or any other show’ (398). The ‘Good
Companions’ experience a ‘black week’ and almost fall out with each
other, but they manage to pull through and become very successful, playing to packed houses. On a particular night, a great crowd is
gathered: ‘people who ought to be in hospital, people who ought to
be in prison, people who ought to be attending the Victoria Street
Wesleyan Chapel concert, the Triangle Girl Guides Rally, the debate at
the Mundley Y.M.C.A., the Gatford Cycling Club Whist Drive’. They
are ordinary people ‘chattering, eating chocolates, reading football
scores in the paper, turning over their programmes’ (532).
Priestley typically draws his picture of Englishness through juxtaposition and enumeration blended with social comment in order to recreate
an intricate web of everyday life which appears authentic because the
individual items – character types, places, objects, activities – are instantly
recognizable as part of everyday existence. Music has the power to integrate this potentially fragmented series of impressions into a communal
experience. With the opening tune, Inigo Jollifant’s ‘Slippin’ Round
the Corner’, the community has its mythical moment of being, which
transforms the audience into a congregation:
And at this moment, as it comes softly twirling through the magically
lighted curtain, the mischievous lilt of it working like leaven in the
dark mass of the audience, it is lovely indeed, a rhapsody of love and
idleness, news from another and brighter world than this in which
we portion out our wages. It dances Gatford clean away[.] […] And
up it comes, shaped and coloured anew by the sorcery of the flying
crotchets and quavers, this other Gatford, shining and fair, a suburb
of Old Cockayne, with fountains sprouting the alternate black and
gold of Guinness and Bass, gold-flake and honey-dew heaped in the
streets, arcades of meat and pudding done to a turn, silk stockings
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
and jumpers to be picked where you like, dances round every corner
and prize for everybody, goals to be scored at any hour of the day,
girls like laughing and passionate queens, boys who would love you
for ever and always in evening dress, and children, swarms of them,
rosy and fat, with never a white drawn face or a twisted limb, scampering everywhere, running and tumbling out of the happy houses,
out of the depths of memory, out of the very grave. (533)
Of course this magical moment is transient, and the ‘Good Companions’
are sabotaged by a cinema owner who sends his thugs to disrupt the show
and demolish the Gatford Hippodrome because his business is affected
by this unwelcome competition. Thus, predictably, cinema destroys
the music hall, yet this does not mean that The Good Companions can
be reduced to a nostalgic tale condemning modernity.15 The turn to
memory at the end of the community’s ‘moment of being’ is significant, because the image of the grave suggests the Great War as a huge
stumbling block in recent communicative memory – an event which
somehow prefigures and inaugurates the present misery. In line with
Priestley’s progressive stance, the novel’s happy ending is thus programmatic. While the vision of a new society is still tentative, it is crucial
that the ‘Good Companions’ know and care about each other, and that
they have become an integrated community less divided by hierarchies
of class and gender than before. Elizabeth Trant, a Colonel’s daughter
and now a respectable doctor’s wife, reads The Stage and goes up to
London sometimes to see Susie and Jerry perform, the simple-minded
and melodramatic Mrs Brundit writes letters to Elizabeth with the wit of
Chesterfield, Mr Oakroyd listens to ‘Slippin’ Round the Corner’ on the
gramophone and Inigo, who has written a ‘sternly literary’ (615) volume
of essays, makes his living as a composer of musical comedies. Priestley
leaves his readers with a holistic image of community which transcends social and cultural hierarchies through a network of individual
Thus, The Good Companions envisions Englishness as a symbolic form,
carried by a knowable and sensed community which is Priestley’s version of modern England as an imagined community, an idea he later
developed in the context of wartime propaganda. A process of contraction and decentring is noticeable in this discourse of wholeness, and the
expansive Englishness of the decidedly scruffy Mr Morton Mitcham, the
‘wanderer over the face of the earth’ (207), as he calls himself, who
perpetually reminisces about his adventures in Bangalore, Singapore,
Bangkok, Hong Kong, Shanghai, New Orleans and New York, is clearly
Steak-and-Kidney Pie in the Land of Cockaigne 53
a thing of the past. He embodies imperial Englishness, a fading memory,
and he comes ‘creaking into the room, an unmelodious jangle of bones’
(414), like a ghost, wearing a sombrero and a bizarre overcoat, called the
‘Silver King’. He finally drops anchor in Sandybay, ‘for ever discovering
old acquaintances from the East among the anglers who drink Scotch
every morning and evening in the little bar at the end of the pier’ (616).
Finally, the narrative comes full circle, situating the image of an evolving
community in the landscape – itself anthropomorphized through the
image of the backbone or spine – which figures the ‘mythical present’
of Englishness: ‘There are the Derbyshire hills, and there, away to the
north, are the great fells of Cumberland, and now the whole darkening
length of it, from the Peak to Cross Fell, is visible, for this is the Pennine
Range, sometimes called the backbone of England’ (613).
5.2 They Walk in the City (1936)
The Good Companions reflects the condition of England in the process of
modernization, also a central theme of They Walk in the City (1936). This
later novel by Priestley is discussed here as it introduces London, conspicuously absent from Priestley’s vision of community life in The Good
Companions. The novel is initially set in ‘Haliford’, another fictional
version of Bradford, and tells the story of its decline, the old factories
superseded by the Americanized ‘Keep-Yu-Kozee factory’, a ‘successful
example of the modern method of mass-production’.16 The manager of
this outfit does not live in Haliford but divides his time between London
and the ‘nice little manor house in Hampshire’ (7) where he and his
wife pretend to be members of the landed classes. The protagonists of
the novel are two young working-class people, Rose Salter and Edward
Fielding, the latter ‘as much a product of Haliford as Rose herself’ (20),
who meet briefly, fall in love, lose their jobs, and drift apart due to a
misunderstanding. With their emblematically English names, Rose and
Edward stand for all the young English working class who have to make
their way in a rapidly changing society, and, it appears, a challenged
civilization. Rose moves to London in search of a new job, and Edward
follows her but finds her only after a series of tribulations. The novel
offers affectionate descriptions of the Salter family, a large and cheerful
working-class family with no ambition at all to appear middle class.
Here, the sympathies of the narrator are clearly with wholesome English
working-class culture as opposed to Americanized mass-production and
mass-entertainment. The cheerless evenings Rose spends at the pictures
and in bars with her friend Alice in the company of various spotty
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
youths are set against the glowing afternoon in the countryside when
she falls in love with Edward.
The novel’s title refers to the epitaph, ‘They walk in the city that we
have builded’, and London is presented as a vast stone jungle in which
the two young people lose themselves, at least for a while.
In Greater London, a stone and brick forest nearly thirty miles long,
thirty miles broad, eight million people eat and drink and sleep,
wander among seven thousand miles of streets, pay their insurancemoney, send for the doctor and die. Through the centre of this vast
area of asphalt hills and paved valleys, these orchards of lamp-posts
and traffic-lights, the River Thames goes winding, looking from
above no more than a silvered thread lying across an arterial road.
Yet the river made all this. […] The river carefully laid along its terraces a nice mixture of clay and sand, that brick-earth out of which
this forest grew. The inhabitants drink the river, run it through their
wash-basins and bath-tubs, two hundred million gallons a day. […]
As we know, there are eight million private dramas being acted in
this jungle of brickwork and cement, where steel-clawed ravenous
monsters like bankruptcy and unemployment and angina pectoris
and starvation and cancer come crashing through the thickets, where
a favourable bank-balance and a good digestion and an easy mind
and love-found-and-fulfilled occasionally light the jungle ways with a
flash of blue wings. (130–1)
The Good Companions presents archetypal landscapes as the ‘mythical
present’ of Englishness, and through the extended metaphor of the
forest it might seem, at first glance, that the metropolis is also cast as
an archetypal landscape. In contrast, however, the mental blending of
the city and the countryside highlights the city’s unnatural character.
London does have an element of the spirituality often associated with
ruralism, best felt on mornings where the river ‘is simply not true’ and
the city is like ‘a place in a Gothic fairy-tale, a mirage, a vision, Cockaigne
made out of faint sunlight and vapour and smoke’. Politically minded,
however, the narrator resignifies this ephemeral vision as an ‘enchanting façade’ behind which ‘suggestions are being put forward for little
schemes that will eventually bring revolution into Central America and
mass-murder into the Near East’ (183). Naïve young people get into
various tangles in the big bad city. Since the narrator casts himself as
the spokesman of these two young people, who feel many things but
have ‘no tongue for them’ (183), the tone of the narrative often seems
Steak-and-Kidney Pie in the Land of Cockaigne 55
patronizing and much more censorious than The Good Companions.
Indeed, Priestley tries to smuggle in too many moralizing comments on
modern English life to make the novel successful as a work of fiction:
Americanized mass-entertainment, young women’s use of expensive
face cream, the fake Copper Kettle café, stiff and horrible aristocrats
like the Holt-Ibstocks in their cold and gloomy houses, the slavery of
domestic service, the predicaments of old-fashioned comedians, the
bad quality of entertainment, the neglect of serious art and intellectual
endeavour and so on and so forth.
London is demonized in They Walk in the City, because here the
problems of modernity are foregrounded while the communalism of
provincial life and the healing power of the countryside are far away.
Priestley’s earlier London novel, Angel Pavement (1930), which describes
the decline of a business enterprise, approaches the theme from a different angle, but is equally dystopian in tone, so that London represents
Englishness in the gothic mode. London is not a nice English forest but
a hostile and alien jungle and with the uncanny inclusion of matter such
as the steel-claws, the organic metaphor breaks down. Priestley’s image
of the stone forest suggests claustrophobia and stasis rather than a living organism whose roots tap into the past. It seems that, in an oblique
manner, Priestley is in dialogue here with more conservative writers
about the cultural identity of England. Christopher Hussey, for example,
in a Country Life publication entitled The Fairy Land of England (1924),
cast London as the embodiment of England by ‘organicizing’ it:
How is it that this grim and muffled labyrinth, these rambling masses
of stone by the river’s brink, come to contain the meaning of the
English countryside – to be the symbols, in fact, of England. It has
been as though the river, ever washing against its left bank, as it
sweeps in a semicircle from Westminster to Wapping, had through the
centuries piled up these masses on its shore – the Abbey, Parliament,
and the Tower; had laboriously compounded them of infinitesimal
grains borne from remote upland brooks, from sleepy meadows and
dark forests of legend. The river bore these grains, not of sand or rock,
but each a life – a grain of the living soil of England. Splendid lives
of kings, bishops, lords, poets, soldiers, judges. Little soft lives. Dark
lives. Lives, forgotten as the sands of the sea, of millions and millions
of nameless workers, heaped one upon another, great and gross, granite and mould, rammed down and trampled to make these symbols of
England. On such a platform do we walk to-day. In such a soil do we
bury the Unknown Warrior.17
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
Although Hussey speaks of symbolization, his notion is not one of
giving shape and meaning to perceptions, but rather a vitalist and
essentialist conception focused on ‘living soil’ that is different from
thinking in terms of symbolic forms. Priestley’s stance is preservationist
and thus ecological, but not organicist. In the image of the ‘steel-clawed
ravenous monsters like bankruptcy and unemployment’ who stomp
through the stone forest, he satirizes the organicist idealization of
London as the ‘hallowed rood of England’ – a London that Hussey
celebrates, with an imperialist twist, not only as the centre of England
‘but of that infinite State, without dimensional shape, stretching over
the world; not only of the Dominions, nor of the scattered islands;
but of each Englishman wherever he may be working throughout the
world’.18 Like Hussey, Priestley speaks about the river’s deposits of brick
earth ‘out of which this forest grew’, but this is clearly a metaphor
here – people have to make the earth into bricks and build houses
with them, and the conditions under which they live in these houses
will shape them. Paradoxically, the massive development threatens to
throw people back into a primaeval, almost pre-cultural space ruled by
jungle law. A community cannot thrive here, and neither could it in
Angel Pavement, where a predatory businessman such as Mr Golspie can
come in from outside, exploit and wreck a business and then disappear
into the blue yonder. In They Walk in the City, Rose and Edward plan to
go home to Haliford once they have disentangled themselves from the
London mess. Again, for Priestley, contraction is a crucial element of
modern Englishness, and London is too big to be positively English.
5.3 Faraway (1932)
I will conclude my discussion of Priestley’s fictional construction of
Englishness as a symbolic form with Faraway (1932), a novel with an
‘exotic’ setting atypical for Priestley. This confrontation with the Other,
however, adds an important dimension to Priestley’s communitarianism.
The story’s main protagonist is William Dursley, a quiet, middle-aged
English bachelor who owns a small malting business in Buntingham.
His Uncle Baldwin, an old globetrotter slowly dying from heart disease, barges into his quiet life and bequeathes to William a secret with
a distinctly Stevensonian flavour. It transpires that Uncle Baldwin
found an uncharted island in the South Seas which he claimed for
England, named ‘Faraway’, and where he discovered a large deposit of
pitchblende, a rare and valuable ore from which radium could be
extracted. William receives this information, together with the names of
Steak-and-Kidney Pie in the Land of Cockaigne 57
two people – the retired English Commander Ivybridge and the American
P. T. Riley – who respectively know the longitude and the latitude of the
island as they had each once done Uncle Baldwin a good turn during
his travels. Backed financially by the Northern English businessman
Ramsbottom, William Dursley determines to convince Ivybridge and
Riley that they should all go on an expedition to find ‘Faraway’ island.
While Ramsbottom and Ivybridge are making their way to Tahiti, Dursley
travels via San Francisco to secure Riley’s support. The original P. T. Riley
is dead, but his daughter Terry, a Hispanic beauty, is keen to accompany
them. The partners meet in Tahiti and spend some time there, waiting
for a schooner to take them further south in search of the island. When
they eventually get to ‘Faraway’, they find that the island has meanwhile
been claimed by Chile and that a former partner of William’s uncle has
secured the right to exploit the island commercially. With ‘Faraway’
simultaneously found and lost, they travel back via the Easter Islands,
where the Commander dies. After a tragic love affair with Terry, who
is picked up by a film crew in Tahiti and whisked away to Hollywood,
William marries the reliable English widow Margery Jackson, whom he
met in Tahiti. He takes her back home to Buntingham, where they settle
after the end of the imperial episode. The demise of the Empire is often
seen as part of the process of contraction and decentring noticeable in
the interwar period. Faraway emphasizes that this demise entails the dissolution of a rather peculiar form of English community based on the
solidarity and recognition of Englishmen far away from home.
William’s uncle, larger than life, perpetually guffawing, expansive,
mercenary and soaked with whisky, represents the English adventurers
who acquired and exploited the Empire, while Commander Ivybridge,
a disciplined, stiff and moral military man, stands for those who
administered and policed it. In contrast, William is reticent and gentle, and his existence has been provincial and insular. When he starts
travelling the world in the footsteps of his uncle, he rapidly reaches
a point of crisis which leaves him torn between two emotions that
Germans call Fernweh and Heimweh – the desire for that which is far
away, and for home. Thus, whilst completely fascinated by the elusive
Terry, the embodiment of ‘exotic’ enchantment, he cannot be content
in an alien environment, which makes him responsive to Margery’s
desire for home, expressed in a jingoist outburst:
I want to go home. What is the matter with us English people,
anyway? Why have we to be always going away when we’ve got the
loveliest little place in the world? Yes, we have. I don’t care what you
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
or anybody says about cold and rain and fog and all the rest of it,
England’s the loveliest place. I’ve got one of the nicest gardens on
this island – anybody will tell you that – and I’d gladly exchange it
all just for one little wet primrose. […] I’m sick of these big showy
sticky sickly flowers. Those little wild flowers we have at home that
come peeping up in the woods and the hedges when it’s still cold
and wet – there’s something in Shakespeare about that, isn’t there? –
we used to learn it at school – but it’s all true, too – a handful of
them’s worth more than all this sickly tropical stuff put together.
And then the green, green fields – not like the green here, but all
fresh and sweet – with the daisies and dandelions and buttercups in
them! […] I’m English and I want the English things, all the lovely
little English things. They go to your heart, and nothing here goes
to your heart. […] They call it a human paradise and all that, but
I don’t want a human paradise. And, anyhow, this isn’t one, except
for sloppy lazy people who don’t want to make an effort.19
This is followed by some racist condescension towards ‘these natives’, an
‘irritating lot, just like big brown babies, who must either be playing and
laughing or crying’. This applies in particular to the girls: ‘Any decent
white girl is worth ten of them to any decent white man, a man who
wants a real woman by his side and not a pretty little brown animal’ (414).
After this tirade, William decides to propose to Margery, so that her perspective appears to be endorsed to a certain extent by the narrative, which
is focalized through William. However, when they are back in England,
comfortably settled in their snug home decorated with ‘Polynesian odds
and ends and numerous photographs of South Seas life’, ‘schooners
and islands on the wall’ and ‘a much enlarged snapshot of Commander
Ivybridge’ (561), Terry, now a glamorous Hollywood star, pays William the
briefest visit, thus inducing a massive attack of Fernweh:
There, with Terry radiant in the heart of it, was enchantment. […]
Looking up, his eye was caught by the masts of a schooner and by
silhouetted palms like dark stars, and at once all the photographs
there came to life terribly, and he found himself overwhelmed by
a great tide of longing for the Pacific and the islands, the distant
blue magic of the South Seas. His wife and [his friend] Greenlaw sat
there like a pair of lumpish warders. […] He stared stupidly at the
[chess] pieces. He knew they were in some significant array, but for
the moment he was too bewildered, baffled, annoyed with the world
and himself to discover exactly what it was. (567–8)
Steak-and-Kidney Pie in the Land of Cockaigne 59
As William stares at the chessboard by his fireplace, the large, global
playing grounds, on which the likes of Uncle Baldwin and Commander
Ivybridge moved with unselfconscious ease are receding into the distance.
Thus, Faraway envisions the plight of modern, more private and domestic
Englishmen who feel the Empire like a phantom limb, and in it Priestley
presents the interwar period as the point at which this expansive mode of
Englishness was turning into a memory. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s Poison
Island (1907) is a possible intertext for Faraway due to similarities of plot
and motif. Commenting on this novel, Roger Ebbatson says that ‘[t]he
tale conforms precisely to the prescriptions for the late-Victorian romance
pioneered by Stevenson, Rider Haggard and Andrew Lang, originating
in the west country and culminating in the quasi-imperial voyage of the
tropics.’20 He also quotes Diana Loxley, who emphasizes the gendering of
the island voyage: ‘The island territory provides the ideal mythic space –
a fictional parallel of the actual historic and geographic sites of colonial
activity – as a laboratory for the propagation and nurturing of a perfect
Significantly, Faraway loses its adventure tale quality after the first
three chapters, developing into a more complex inquiry into William’s
response to travel. Priestley notes in his preface to the 1933 edition that
this shift was criticized because the early chapters were thought to have
more ‘vitality’. However, those chapters were written in England, before
Priestley went on his own tour of the South Seas, and perhaps this is why
they carried more conviction with many readers because they fulfilled the
expectations of the armchair traveller about an ‘exotic’ adventure tale,
whereas later parts of the book deconstruct the adventure tale by engaging with the very nature of fantasy and mythmaking. This is also where
the film crew comes in, because this boozing and cynical crowd does
not want to have anything to do with Tahiti; they stay on their yacht
and shape their ‘location’ so as to conform as closely as possible to an
American audience’s preconceived idea of the South Seas, complete with
grinning and waving natives. For Priestley, the South Seas function as a
‘geographical symbol of romance’ (vii), and he states that he ‘wanted to
make use of the familiar hunting-for-treasure story as a basis for a symbolical novel of the romantic and the realistic’, romance being seen as
‘the bloom on things that are strange’. As he admits, ‘Romance v. Reality
is the leit-motif, at which I hammer away from the very first chapter to
the last […], as plain to the eyes as the Siegfried theme is to the ear in the
last two operas of The Ring’ (viii). He could have ‘invented a new ocean
and sown it thick with imaginary islands’, he says, because ‘it is what goes
on in William Dursley’s head that matters here’ (x). Priestley presents the
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
elements of romance and reality as equally strong in his Englishman’s
mind, and it soon transpires that the assumed binary opposition between
the two terms is untenable. The perception of material realities – food,
climate, encounters with people – cannot be divorced from the cultural
imaginary that provides the context for such perceptions. Priestley uses
the term ‘symbolical novel’, and it appears that his dialectics of ‘romance’
and ‘reality’ interrogate the process of symbolization, acknowledging
that perceptions of material reality must always be seen as shaped by the
perceiving consciousness.
Faraway gestures towards an inquiry into how national identity is
produced and reiterated, exploring the question of what makes William
Dursley English, and how this affects his outlook and performance.
Confronted during his journey with his own Englishness, he realizes
that he could not live outside England for any length of time, but he
also understands the limitation of his own outlook, so that sometimes,
the celebration of domestic small-scale community is not enough. In
Priestley’s rewriting of the adventure tale, the ‘exotic’ island no longer
serves as the fictional parallel of actual colonial activity, as suggested by
Diana Loxley, but neither does it epitomize a nostalgic longing for an
imperial past. As Priestley modernizes and psychologizes the adventure
tale, contrasting ‘romance’ and ‘reality’, ‘romance’ comes to signify the
desire to bridge the unbridgeable gap between human consciousness and
the material world. Priestley’s deconstruction of romance endorses what
Kant called the ‘Copernican revolution’ in philosophy, the decentring
of the human being, radicalized in Freud’s concept of the unconscious,
so that finding and losing ‘Faraway’ amounts to a quest for the self
which turns out to be an inverted colonization of the psyche, and ultimately the realization that the self already contains ‘the Other’. Dursley
travels home to England as a decentred subject without the perspective
of making an impact on a globalized world. He is condemned to lead a
domestic and private life on a small island on the edge of Europe and
battle against his Fernweh as best he can – perhaps as a psychological
equivalent to the periodic bouts of malaria that became the legacy of
the tropics for many colonizers. Soon after having explored the mind
of ‘William Dursley, of Buntingham, England’, Priestley went on a tour
to explore England itself.
English Journeys
6.1 H. V. Morton
After looking at Priestley’s fiction, I will analyse how the symbolic form of
Englishness was expressed in non-fictional work. The interwar period saw
an expanding market for travel literature. As Paul Fussell has noted, most
of this writing consisted of accounts of travels abroad,1 but there are also
guides and maps for tourists as well as some influential travel accounts
exploring the condition of England, which engage thus in a (re)negotiation
of Englishness in the period. Victor Gollancz asked Priestley to undertake
a journey through England, and his account was published in 1934 under
the eighteenth-century-style title of English Journey. Being a Rambling but
Truthful Account of What One Man Saw and Heard and Felt and Thought
During a Journey Through England During the Autumn of the Year 1933.
On the one hand, this evokes a tradition of travel writing that goes back
to Defoe’s A Tour Thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724–7), to Arthur
Young’s Tours in the late eighteenth century and to William Cobbett’s
Rural Rides (1830), and on the other hand, there is a connection with a
genre of social expeditions into ‘unknown England’ which can be traced
back roughly to the middle of the nineteenth century.2 As regards the
contemporary scene, Priestley’s English Journey can usefully be compared
with the extremely popular travel books written by H. V. Morton.
In critical accounts of Priestley’s social explorations, or those of other leftwing writers such as George Orwell, whose work I will also discuss below,
Morton usually figures as ‘the other’ – a conservative popular writer with
an unreconstructed view of Englishness, a writer who can be dismissed
in passing. For example, John Baxendale and Chris Pawling express a
typical preference for travel writers who display social concern like that
of Priestley: ‘Such travellers – unlike, for example, the interwar favourite
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
H. V. Morton – are not looking for an identity that is already there, an
essential “England”, deeply rural and deeply historical, simply waiting to
be revealed. They are constructing identity, not revealing it.’3 I suggest that
a closer look at Morton’s work, which is still popular and widely available,
is warranted in order to position Priestley’s account more clearly in the
contemporary discourse of Englishness. Attending to these texts in some
detail will show that it is far too simplistic to understand the debate about
national identity in terms of a dichotomy of progressive construction and
traditionalist revelation.
H. V. Morton was born in 1892 and grew up in Birmingham where
his father was a newspaper editor. After World War One, during which
Morton served as a soldier but apparently saw no action, he embarked
on a career in Fleet Street where he worked for conservative newspapers controlled by Lord Beaverbrook, first the Evening Standard and
subsequently the Daily Express. He quickly became a star writer and
also published some books on London – The Heart of London (1925),
The Spell of London (1926), The Nights of London (1926) – which started
life as series of articles for the Daily Express. It is a mark of Morton’s
professionalism, or opportunism, as a journalist that, after a quarrel
at the Daily Express, he began to work at the left-wing Daily Herald
where he wrote a series on slums which was published by the Labour
Party as What I Saw in the Slums (1933). Morton was by no means
a public figure, and he kept his personal political views to himself,
although his diary, discussed in a recent study on the author,4 reveals
conservative opinions and even a flirt with fascism. Postwar Britain
did not appeal to Morton and he was displeased with the heavy taxation of his income. Undeterred by apartheid, he emigrated to South
Africa, where he built himself a residential home and continued
to work for publications such as the American magazine National
Geographic. He died there in 1979. Morton produced a great deal of
travel writing over the years, but it was his In Search of-series which
made him famous and wealthy, particularly the first part, In Search of
England (1927). This travel account, followed by In Search of Scotland
(1929), In Search of Ireland (1930), and In Search of Wales (1932), is
the key text of a genre David Matless calls the ‘motoring pastoral’.
In the interwar period, many middle-class families were able to afford
a small car, while working-class people on holiday used buses and
charabancs, so that in the context of an explosion in leisure activities that were no longer reliant on the railways, which linked cities
and towns, ‘the open road’ was rediscovered in the context of an
expansion of leisure activities.
English Journeys
Motoring became styled as a modern practice in pursuit of an
older England, serviced by the AA and a wide illustrated literature.
The petrol engine allowed a nostalgic passage to an old country, its
landscape and rustic inhabitants fitting through photography and
prose into pictorial pastoral conventions. Publishers such as Odhams
and Batsford established a distinct mode of country reproduction,
while the BBC gave the traditional countryside extensive airspace.5
If genre is a kind of ‘family resemblance’, it is important to note not
only the likenesses, but also the differences between such ‘motoring
pastorals’, and indeed, Morton produces up-market accounts where he is
particularly careful to differentiate himself and his implied readers from
‘thoughtless’ tourism. This deplorable leisure activity, facilitated by guide
books like the Shell Guides edited by John Betjeman, is epitomized by
riotous charabanc parties letting rip on the village green, self-consciously
‘quaint’ villages, modern ‘pilgrims’, muscular hikers and Americans on
the Shakespeare trail. This stance repeats a topos in the discourse of
tourism, as Jonathan Culler points out in his essay on the semiotics
of tourism. ‘Ferocious denigration of tourists is in part an attempt to convince oneself that one is not a tourist. The desire to distinguish between
tourists and real travelers is a part of tourism – integral to it rather than
outside it or beyond it.’6 John Taylor explains the ‘travelling hierarchies’
that obtained in the interwar period:
There are three main groups – travellers, tourists and trippers.
The three terms denote a hierarchy in touring. Travellers are the most
serious and dedicated explorers. They expend more time, money and
attention to their practice than tourists, who set out to confirm what
they already know through tour guides and brochures. The lowest
position of all is occupied by trippers, who characterstically have
the least time, the least money and the most superficial interest in
the place they are visiting. […] Travellers practice the gaze, which is
contemplative and penetrative; tourists glance, which is accumulative but shallow; and trippers see everything (if they see at all) in
disconnected blinks, blurs or ‘snaps’.7
Morton writes for educated tourists who would like to be travellers.
He is aware that his books are commodities and he did very well from writing them, but he does not aim at the straightforward commodification
of England, accomplished through the creation of myths of Englishness
as theorized by Roland Barthes. Therefore, I would query David Matless’
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
conclusion that ‘in Morton’s England everything is to be consumed as a
sign of itself; the village as village Englishness, the pub as typical village
pub. Sites become archetypes, and if they are not archetypes they are
not proper sites.’8 This is precisely the touristic approach that Morton
eschews. He is, rather, trying to create what I have called a ‘mythical
present’ of Englishness, which is in fact the antithesis of tourism – not
Englishness as a commodity, but as a way of seeing. Related to this,
Morton’s practice of travel is indeed ‘highly theatrical’, as Matless rightly
observes, not because it is in some sense artificial, but because it is performative. The search for an English heritage, perhaps predictably shaped
as a quest, is based on a strong sense of spatialized cultural memory and
involves a reciprocal movement in which the English middle classes
travel through the country, inscribing meaning into the material world
as much as they take it from there. As a reward for the special effort,
Morton’s readers can rest assured that they are travellers rather than
tourists. As Morton says in his introduction:
When the public really feels that these signposts along the road
which the English people have followed in the course of their development are not dead shells of the past but a living inspiration to the
present, to the future, and, in addition, that they possess a personal
interest to them as part of a common racial heritage, then we shall
have advanced a long way and – perhaps the petrol engine will have
atoned for a few of its sins!9
This ‘living inspiration to the present’ is the key to Morton’s project, and
he sees the ‘Back to the Land cry’ as a ‘sound instinct of racial survival’,
placing in a racial discourse of national identity the familiar observation
that English people who make money build themselves a country home.
The village ‘is still the unit of development from which we have advanced,
first to the position of a great European nation and then to that of the
greatest world power since Rome’ (xxi). ‘Racial anaemia’, ‘ancient instinct’,
‘racial survival’ – the kind of language which pervades Morton’s introduction suggests a right-wing and essentialist organicism, and it appears that
Morton’s stance is not nostalgia for a bygone past, such as is often found
in conservative writers like Evelyn Waugh, but the connection of national
identity to memory in the shape of a collective unconscious that needs to
be tapped to achieve a rejuvenation of the nation.
Having said this, it must be noted that the tone of the introduction
differs from the rest of the travel account. The traveller, whom I will distinguish from the author by referring to him as ‘the narrator’ or ‘Morton’,
English Journeys
is a pleasant, young, well-educated gentleman amateur.10 He appears
fair-minded and charming, occasionally ironic and self-deprecating but
also romantic and enthusiastic. Throughout, the account has a lightness
of touch, and occasional caustic remarks – ‘There is […] something about
Gretna that makes one sympathize with the apoplectic fathers in the
coach behind’ (214) – make it amusing and balance the more sentimental
moments. Thus, if there is a racist subtext, a blood-and-soil mentality as
suggested by the introduction, it is not actually very noticeable in the
main text, which is more concerned with processes of symbolization.
‘Morton’ is self-conscious, and an awareness of the literary and utopian
character and selectiveness of his quest for England sometimes shines
through. As so often, England means the rural South, ‘the beautiful
Old England that I love’ (201). He is aware, however, that this vision of
England is always already a memory of England, or rather a myth, and
he acknowledges this in his account of how he decided on his quest.
This passage is worth quoting at some length because it presents such a
clear expression of the symbolic form of Englishness. ‘Morton’ reports a
massive attack of Heimweh:
I believed that I was dying in Palestine. […] [T]urning as accurately
as I could in the direction of England, I gave way to a wave of homesickness that almost shames me now when I recollect it. […] Perhaps
in instinctive contrast to the cold, unhappy mountains of Palestine,
there rose up in my mind the picture of a village street at dusk with
a smell of wood smoke lying in the still air[.] […] I remembered
how the church bells ring at home, and how, at that time of year,
the sun leaves a dull red bar low down in the west, and against
it the elms grow blacker minute by minute. […] When you think like
this, sitting alone in a foreign country, you know all there is to learn
about heartache. But does it seem strange that a townsman should
in his extremity see this picture? Would it not be more reasonable
to expect him to see his own city? Why did I not think of St Paul’s
Cathedral or Piccadilly? I have learnt since that this vision of mine
is a common one to exiles all over the world: we think of home, we
long for home, but we see something greater – we see England. This
village that symbolizes England sleeps in the subconsciousness of
many a townsman. […] The village and the English countryside are
the germs of all we are and all we become: our manufacturing cities
belong to the last century and a half; our villages stand with their
roots in the Heptarchy. […] I took a vow that […] I would go home
in search of England, I would go through the lanes of England and
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
the little thatched villages of England, and I would lean over English
bridges and lie on English grass, watching an English sky.11
This is English pathos, made palatable, characteristically, by English
irony. Even the sky is English, probably because God is an Englishman.
The essentialism that the narrator expresses in this passage is certainly
qualified. On the one hand, he draws on an organicist discourse with
terms like ‘germs’ and ‘roots’, on the other hand he sees the English village as a symbol, that is, the result of a cultural construction of meaning.
The key word here is probably ‘subconsciousness’, but far from being a
subconscious, or unconscious, residue of racial development, as the narrator is trying to make out at this point, English ruralism was very much
part both of older and of contemporary discourses, and if the English
village was to be found in the unconscious of Englishmen, it would
seem to have been placed there through processes of cultural signification that do not run in the blood. ‘Morton’s’ project is thus riddled by
a half-acknowledged contradiction right from the start, and he seeks to
gloss it over by casting the landscape as a material link with the past
and asserting the possibility of bringing that past to life. Therefore, the
trope of enlivening, the reliance on rhetorical energeia is among the most
prominent features of In Search of England.
Dismissing suburbia, Morton’s journey truly begins ‘at the Place
Where London ends’ (9); he might have started, Harry Potter-like,
from platform 9¾, since he soon encounters ‘the last bowl-turner in
England’, who looks to him ‘like a shy, middle-aged faun’ (11). ‘Morton’
has high praise for a verger in Winchester Cathedral who
humanized the history book. […] We saw as he talked, down a long
tunnel of time, the Kings of Wessex riding through a country that
was not yet England; we saw the long boats of the pirates pointed to
our shores; we saw the Roman cities desolate on their hills. […] The
old story, like all old stories told properly, took on a new importance,
became dramatic and somehow near at hand. The crowd had heard it
before at school; but they had never seen it before. (20–1)
This is an expression of the ‘mythical present’ which conceives of the
past as existing in another dimension, as it were, potentially accessible through a tunnel normally closed, but to be opened by the key of
imagination. The account is suffused with romantic spiritualism,12 as
‘Morton’ wonders in Beaulieu ‘whether it is possible for the odour of
Sanctuary to cling to a place’ (39). A woman who lives in the remains of
English Journeys
Beaulieu Abbey tells him that one sometimes hears a choir singing where
the monks used to live, ‘as if one had “tuned-in” to something’ (43).
‘Morton’s’ feeling of enchantment appropriately increases when he
enters Cornwall, but he is always careful to introduce some jovial
irony so as not to alienate the rational reader: ‘I knew, of course, that
I was in fairyland!’ (83). As ‘Morton’s’ account progresses, it becomes
ever clearer that he conceives of the enlivening of the past as a series
of epiphanies. He whispers to himself as he leaves St Just-in-Roseland:
‘[N]ow and then one seems to touch again the fringe of romance: it’s
just a flying second that stays for a flash – and never long enough to be
grasped – before it flies on to Eternity to join all the lovely dreams and
all the foolishness which one has, from time to time, lost’ (96). This
reflection is full of qualifications – the seeming touch of romance is too
fleeting, and it is unreal, related to ‘lovely dreams’, and a ‘foolishness’
which is then from time to time not found, as might be expected, but
lost. ‘Morton’s’ attitude is wistful and awkward at this point, which suggests that he is aware of the primarily fictional character of his version
of Englishness, even though the fiction expands to the scale of myth.
This note is already struck in the last stanza of the poem which prefaces
In Search of England:
You will remember how we walked the Vale
Through Maere and Westhay unto Godney End;
And how we said: Time is an endless lane
And Life a little mile without a bend …
Behind us what? Before us, if we ran,
Might we not be in time to see the Grail?
It seems only logical, then, that ‘Morton’s’ encounter with the legend,
and the myth, of Arthur at Tintagel is one of the high points of his
account. Intriguingly, though, this is also the point where he is at his
clearest about the constructed nature of the experience. ‘For eight hundred years the story of that king who rides down history on a harpstring
has soaked itself into the imagination of the English people’ (108), he
says, adding that ‘there are two Tintagels: one is in Cornwall, the other
in cloudland; one on the map, the other spun out of verse and music;
and this is the real Tintagel, no dead rock in a grey sea, but a country of
dream more real than reality’ (109). This belief in the power of imagination is embedded in a strong moment of individual memory, in which
‘Morton’ thinks back to the enchantments of his childhood reading:
‘Do boys still read Malory? Do they lie on their stomachs in orchards
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
with that book propped up before them in the grass?’ For the narrator,
Tintagel is haunted, ‘not by Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
but by that moment in our lives when imagination caught fire and
blazed’ (110). ‘Tintagel’, he concludes, ‘is to be found only within the
covers of a book’ (112). England is in the eye of the beholder.
Stratford triggers another self-consciously literary moment. In this
case, the magic does not reside in the town where the Shakespeare myth
is sold to Americans, but, predictably, connected with A Midsummer
Night’s Dream, in the woods nearby: ‘The tourist never goes to them; the
tripper knows them not. […] And this is the place where you will meet
Shakespeare, if you want to meet him, in this wood, which I swear is
that magic wood “near Athens”’ (278). Again, as in the case of Malory,
it is one of the uses of literature, the formative texts of cultural memory,
to offer privileged access to the real England of the imagination.
In ‘Morton’s’ realm, one would not be surprised to encounter the piper
at the gates of dawn. This vision of England is intrinsically performative
and theatrical. Fittingly, the official guide to Kenilworth Castle, ‘the best
guide in England’ (290), turns out to be a former actor in the famous
actor-manager Sir Frank Benson’s Shakespeare company:
He built up the tattered walls of Kenilworth for us, he took us through
the Middle Ages and he brought us through Tudor Warwickshire in
the train of Queen Elizabeth. […] Turning to face the meadows
below, he waved his magic stick and filled the fields with the water
of the famous lake of Kenilworth; another wave and barges sailed
there; another wave and here he rebuilt the castle, filled its gaunt
corridors with the sound of laughter and the thin sweet sound of
the virginals. […] He spoke about the long pageant of history that is
England[.] (290–1)
The actor, like the talented writer of travel accounts, has the gift of
bringing history to life, catering to the widespread desire for unmediated experience and charismatic display which remains popular today
and which induces many people to take part in or watch historical
re-enactments, to read popular historical novels like Zimmer-Bradley’s
The Mists of Avalon and to watch films like Braveheart or Excalibur. If a
beautiful story competes with historical accuracy, ‘Morton’ makes no
bones about his preference. He is ‘impressed and depressed’ (285) by a
conversation with a gentleman in Coventry who disputes the legend
of Lady Godiva on the basis of the interpretations offered in Sir James
Frazer’s The Golden Bough: ‘I hate killing old stories’, ‘Morton’ complains,
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‘I like to believe […] that Canute had a conversation with the sea. And
I shall go on believing that Godiva rode through the market attended
by two thanes, and that nobody paid any attention to her’ (285).
‘Morton’s’ investment in a particular kind of Englishness is thrown
into relief even more clearly by his record of moments of failure.
Stonehenge, for instance, in the absence of suitable romanticizing
stories, does not come alive for him, and ‘sheep crop the grass on the
ancient barrows which lie in the shadow of the dead temple’ (58).
The stories that the place might tell, a vague idea of horrible rites performed
here, are rejected as no part of a desirable cultural memory. Instead,
‘Morton’s’ constant analeptic point of reference is Rome as the forerunner of a British Empire which is, for all practical purposes, conflated
with England. Equally, he gladly exchanges the image of Arthur as a
primitive chieftain suggested by the rough coast of Tintagel, for the
romanticized literary version. The preference for romanticism is a consistent feature of Morton’s writing. Anticipating Hugh Trevor-Roper’s
work,13 Morton’s narrator emphasizes the romantic origins of national
mythmaking in In Search of Scotland, to which Michael Bartholomew
draws attention; Morton
could break the spell and shrewdly recognise that Scott ‘created the
modern conception of Scotland’ by writing books that glamorised
the Highlands, the clans and the kilt. Morton also noted that it was
Scott’s astute choreography of the visit by a tartan-clad George IV
to Edinburgh in 1822 – the first visit from across the border by a
Hanoverian monarch – that habituated Scots to the alien dynasty.
Morton acknowledges that Scott prepared the way for Queen
Victoria’s Balmoral love affair with the Highlands. Jacobitism had
been transformed from a persistent threat of civil war to a romantic,
noble memory.14
‘Morton’ is thus obviously aware of the constructed character of the
romanticized past, but in spite of this, or rather because of this, he prefers it to what he perceives as the realities of the modern world. When
he reports on evidence of social injustice, this appears in a specifically
modern setting, as he inspects an Atlantic liner in Southampton. In
the world of the rich, ‘gold lifts’ shoot up and down and there is a
‘gymnasium full of electric horses, camels, rowing boats, cycles and
machines designed to pommel the horrid stomachs of fat men’ (37).
Deep down in the ‘bowels of this grotesque hotel’, he encounters hundreds of emigrants huddled together and observes that there is ‘no more
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
heart-aching sight than this in any country. It seemed to me that the
gold lounges upstairs were a crazy dream, and that here in the unseen,
neglected, unthought-of lower deck I had touched reality’ (37). In the
tiny village St Anthony-in-Roseland, ‘Morton’ gets another glimpse of
disconcerting modernity: ‘As I walked down the little path I turned and
saw, framed in the yellow window, the new picture of rural England: old
heads bent over the wireless set in the light of a paraffin lamp. London
coming to them out of space’ (92).
The modern touristic commodification of the countryside, cast as crucially different to his own quest, is a frequent target for ‘Morton’s’ satire.
For example, he ridicules the fake ‘quaintness’ of Clovelly, a village
policed by an ‘autocrat, the lady of the manor, Mrs Christine Hamlyn’
(126). ‘Clovelly is so beautiful’, he grumbles, ‘and has been beautiful for
so long that it can well afford to take my knock at its self-consciousness
and its postcard commerce with the contempt such remarks deserve’
(126–7). ‘Morton’ is annoyed that ‘even the usual band of fishermen in
blue jerseys who stand forever gazing out to sea seem instinctively to
adopt “quaint” poses as they sweep the horizon’ (127). Thus, he constantly reassures his readers that their activities could not be confused
with vulgar tourism. His implied readers are emphatically constructed
as middle class, since condescension to the lower orders and (especially
American) foreigners is combined with ridicule of the upper classes. The
weekend sports of the country gentry, their absurd get-ups and their
‘hunts Point-to-Point’ (48) get short shrift, and ‘Morton’ describes how
the meadows are churned to pulp by the parking cars, the grounds of
the otherwise deserted manor houses are suddenly seen to swarm with
old men wearing ‘check clothes that would strike the observer dead in
a city’, and young men ‘with nothing but “horse” on their minds’ (48)
who will surely, ‘Morton’ believes, turn into centaurs when they die.
Morton as a writer is catering to his readers here, but there is also a sense
in which the observant journalist cannot turn a completely blind eye
to the problems of inequality, economic depression and commercialization. Yet, by a curious, wildly ahistorical sleight of hand, these become
exclusive features of the twentieth-century world.
In accordance with this, the route Morton took in preparation for
In Search of England – from the Home Counties through cathedral cities
to the West, through Cornwall, not too far north, with the briefest dip
into Wigan and back to London via Stratford – was deliberately chosen
to exclude Industrial Britain. Bartholomew quotes Morton’s comment
that he deliberately ‘shirked realities. I made wide and inconvenient
circles to avoid modern towns and cities. I went through Lancashire
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without one word about Manchester and Liverpool. I devoted myself
entirely to ancient towns and cathedral cities, to green fields and
pretty things.’15 In contrast, in his books on Wales and Ireland, he did
discuss aspects of modern life as, for instance, the importance of the
industrial culture in Wales and the political struggle which led to the
creation of the Irish Free State, but with regard to England, he appears
to have found this approach unsatisfactory. While ‘Morton’ is not very
explicit about the uses of the romanticized past for the present, mere
escapist medievalism will not do, and he mocks his own youthful worship of Frank Benson, the ‘high priest of the Stratford Festival’ (275):
‘With the splendid faith of Youth we pilgrims believed that England
could be made “merrie” again by hand-looms and young women in
Liberty gowns who played the harpsichord. Then, I seem to remember,
shortly after that, war was declared’ (275). As so often, World War One
is invoked here as the chasm which severs the continuities of cultural
development and kills both romance and utopia. The quest is somehow
to bridge this chasm.
In Search of England offers a unique blend of historical and geographical
information, legend and myth, literature, anecdote, folklore and imagination, with landscape as a memoria system perceived to store the cultural
memory and the social energy that can be released by someone who
holds the key. Paradoxically, ordinary English tourists apparently cannot
tap into the ‘racial heritage’ which they are said to possess, but they have
to be initiated into it by someone with the erudition and the charisma
to bring to life a past which is conceived as the necessary basis of future
development. The English travel writer who tours England for his English
readers thus becomes a go-between whose task it is to rescue historical
incident from a labyrinthine stored memory and introduce it into the
functional cultural or indeed even the collective memory of the nation.
He is a perpetrator of myths and a guardian of what will be included in
the national identity, inviting the ‘discerning’ reader to experience the
‘mythical present’ of Englishness. If then, England is a commodity, its
central characteristic is its resistance to commodification. Morton’s book
seeks at times to naturalize the processes of cultural construction and to
gloss over the political implications of its selectivity, but it also registers,
if only in the form of a distant rumble, the contradictions that riddle the
negotiation of national identity.
It emerges that in In Search of England, ‘Morton’ is a sophisticated,
urban, modern traveller about the business of mythmaking. Although
the book is calculated to appeal to a wide audience, it addresses a rather
specific middlebrow readership. As mentioned above, this implied
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
reader appears to be middle class, male or female, educated, perhaps
with a literary bent, but not excessively learned, who lives in an urban
or suburban environment. David Matless argues that Morton’s book
fits into a specific interwar discourse of Englishness which combines
a conservative outlook with an interest in social reform, and claims
that particular types of travel were part of this ‘preservationist’ interest.
‘Between the wars the car moved into the symbolically safe hands of the
middle classes’,16 from whose ranks emerged many advocates of English
ruralism who were more than mere nostalgic sentimentalists. In fact,
they might be responsible citizens likely to work for institutions such
as the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, and while there
would occasionally be an element of mysticism and spiritualism in their
investment in nature,17 this could be compatible with political reform.
Therefore the equation of ruralism with Old England and the high
Tory outlook of the squirearchy is problematic. Looking for a suitably
distinguished as well as intellectually and aesthetically satisfying heritage, preservationists were as well served by In Search of England, which
went through twenty-six editions until 1939, as were the large number
of armchair travellers seduced by an England that is to be found only
within the covers of a book.
In Search of England conducts an ambivalent dialogue with organicism.
‘Morton’ finishes his book with a series of striking images of organic
England – a village church decorated for thanksgiving after a plentiful
harvest, a drink of old port, sipped out of Georgian glasses, with a philosophical vicar who asserts that ‘the newspapers are only another kind
of fairy story about the world outside’ (298), and, most significantly,
a handful of English earth.
The little church was full of corn sheaves. Apples, picked for their
size and colour, washed and polished, stood in a line against the altar
rails. Above the empty pew of the absent squire, barley nodded its
gold beard. The church smelt of ripe corn and fruit. […] I went out
into the churchyard where the green stones nodded together, and
I took up a handful of earth and felt it crumble and run through my
fingers, thinking that as long as one English field lies against another
there is something left in the world for a man to love. ‘Well,’ smiled
the vicar, as he walked towards me between the yew trees, ‘that, I am
afraid, is all we have.’ ‘You have England,’ I said. (299)
This suggests a return to the biologistic preoccupation with race introduced in the preface to In Search of England, and provides an interesting
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gloss on the continuity of place ‘Morton’ sees as a basis for his ‘mythical
present’ of Englishness. The village as a symbol of England would appear
to be resignified as the seedbed of Englishness. However, this vision is
haunted by an uncanny version of ‘enlivening’ introduced by the vicar’s
information that his parishioners believe in physical resurrection. ‘They
believe that a trumpet will herald the end of the world, and that the bones
in this churchyard will join together. So you see they like to be buried on
top of their fathers and grandfathers, because they will rise together as a
family’, the vicar says, adding that they find this more friendly, as they
are ‘[c]lannish in life, clannish in death’ (292–3). Thus, the earth ‘Morton’
handles so lovingly in the churchyard appears to be composed of the
organic residue of English bodies. Superficially, it looks as if ‘Morton’ is
endorsing an organicist notion of Englishness, perhaps reminiscent of
Rupert Brooke’s famous idea that a buried English soldier creates ‘a corner
of a foreign field that is for ever England’. Yet the unappetizing vision of
an apocalyptic procession of Home Counties zombies staggering towards
Judgment Day jars with this literal connection of materiality with meaning.
Instead, an imaginative and performative relation of memory and place
along the lines described throughout In Search of England appears to be a
more promising basis for the creation of national identity.
The character of In Search of England becomes clearer once it is placed
alongside other travel guides. The Beauty of Britain, a guidebook with
photographs published in 1935, has a more explicit preservationist
agenda. It advocates travel as a democratic activity and a means of developing a responsibility for a country in the process of modernization. The
editor Charles Bradley Ford says in the ‘Foreword’ that it
seems a pity that those concerned in helping John Smith to select his
this-year’s destination should largely restrict themselves to a group
of crowded resorts and conventional holiday areas, leaving the real
country to the enjoyment of its normal population plus a small and
discriminating circle of the more enterprising who feel the spell of
its bountiful attractions. The chief purpose of this book is to attempt
to reveal to the public at large, through a group of able and experienced guides and with the help of up-to-date photography, some
aspects of Britain’s beauty that do not normally figure in the tourist
The text covers the various regions and is supplemented with high-quality
pictorialist photographs of landscapes, and to hold this compact volume
containing ‘the whole of Britain’ in word and image could well convey
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
a sense of symbolic ownership gratifying to middle-class citizens, thus
creating a protective impulse. J. B. Priestley wrote the introduction to
this work, asking readers to support the activities of the Council for the
Preservation of Rural England. He concludes that this work ought to
persuade many readers to explore their country. ‘If those readers will also
decide that this bright enchantment must not perish but must be allowed
to cast its spell on unborn generations of our countrymen, then this book
will have done a great work.’19 The Beauty of Britain provides a more sober
reading experience than In Search of England with its flights of fancy, but
it appears to target the same readership, and both books are much more
progressive in outlook than the earlier Country Life publication The Fairy
Land of England quoted above. One reason for In Search of England’s great
and enduring popularity is probably that it is a ‘good read’; Morton as a
star journalist knew how to captivate and hold his readers.
Thomas Burke’s The Beauty of England caters for less ambitious tourists,
and no ulterior motive is connected with travelling other than ‘absorbing
England’.20 And there is much to choose from: ‘There is the Cathedral
tour, the Castle tour, the old Town tour, the Historic Houses tour, the
Literary tour, the Village Church tour, the Old Inn tour, the Landscape
tour. There are the attractive tours sketched by the various motor clubs,
cycling clubs and footpath associations.’21 There is even an ‘unpremeditated tour’ on which it is possible to go without much prior planning. In
this book, the commodification of England, and particularly of landscape,
as a tourist attraction is much more pronounced than in the other works
so far discussed, and the ‘packaging’ emphasizes the contraction in the
image of England that was taking place at the time, appreciated here for
its snugness and convenience:
Each of these landscapes is a miniature of the world’s landscapes –
little Alpes, little steppes, little fiords, little Volgas, little rapids, little
canyons, little deserts, little Black Forests. In a week’s tour you may
see Dutch landscapes, Swiss landscapes, Italian landscapes, and
Scandinavian landscapes. And each is self-contained. Because of this
England is one of the easiest countries to ‘see’. It offers itself in a
series of packets – Little Englands.22
Burke also informs his readers that ‘the genius of a landscape is the
genius of the people around it’ and, in an extraordinary instance of
navel-gazing, that England is ‘so pleasant a country that the man
who cannot be happy in England can hardly hope to be happy anywhere’.23 It is important that the book also includes photographs of
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what there is to ‘see’, as was increasingly the practice. As John Taylor
argues, photographs as ‘archetypes of the home landscape’ perform
the function of ‘becoming a source for national identification among
people who would never own such landscapes or even visit them’.24
Commenting on Benedict Anderson’s notion of the nation as an
imagined community, he argues that ‘communities are distinguished
not by the “falsity/genuineness” of their shared images, but by the
style in which they are imagined.’25 According to Taylor, the most
important element in the interwar depiction of England is stability:
‘[T]he guides and pictures set out to restore the readers’ faith in a personal and national stability which could be gained through owning
objects and repeating signs.’26 The development of photography for
general use and Kodak’s aggressive marketing are important factors
in this:
The essence of Kodak was certainty, and that preceded and transcended
any other use consumers made of the products. Their memories were
not as predictable or as standard as the dependable film in the yellow
carton, but the material which was placed in the realm of shared memories in family albums or their equivalent, for the pleasure of family
and friends, was stable over generations. […] So the consumer bought
sameness in the reliable make, and difference in the shape of personal
mementos. Simultaneous sameness and difference, just like the simultaneous appeal to the anxiety of time passing and reassurance that time
could be made to stand still, were (and remain) central principles in the
capitalist marketplace. […] The Kodak world was free from anxiety.27
Images thus played a crucial role in depicting Englishness as a symbolic
form and, in terms of symbolic ownership of the country, people could
even put themselves in the picture and pose in the very mountains where
Wordsworth wandered lonely as a cloud, or in front of stately homes,
thus inscribing themselves into a holistic image of Englishness.28
Morton’s In Search of England expresses a particular cultural moment in
the negotiation of Englishness just before the great increase in tourism
and the development of photography for general use. This is borne out
by a comparison with his later English travel account, I Saw Two Englands,
which was published by Methuen in 1942 and subtitled ‘His last glimpse
of pre-war England and his first impressions of England at war’. By that
time, Morton had become a famous journalist and travel writer, and
some of the restrictions on wartime travel were relaxed for him, since
his book was perceived to serve the purposes of propaganda. Although
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
superficially similar, this text is very different from In Search of England,
and the past tense in the title already indicates that change. Gone is the
dashing quality of ‘Morton’s’ charm; the new voice is more subdued and
cynical, with the occasional irritable aside, such as ‘[t]he word “sir” is
heard in these days only on the lips of people who have been expensively
educated. I wish elementary school teachers would tell children that
there is nothing servile about the word.’29 This sense of discontent with
what is perceived as a moral and social decline in recent years is quite
pronounced at times. Commenting on the situation of castles and stately
homes, ‘Morton’ remarks that he ‘thanked God that Leeds Castle does
not belong to me. To have to live in such a colossal place, and to maintain there a great pack of retainers, every one of whom no doubt expects
to be motored to the nearest cinema at least once a week, is just my idea
of purgatory’ (51). In ‘Morton’s’ account of many locations, history book
wisdom has replaced the sense of adventure prominent in the previous
work. Occasionally, he recycles suitable material from his earlier text, as
in his account of the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral.
More significantly as regards the whole project, however, ‘Morton’ flatly
contradicts his earlier conception of landscape as a starting point for time
travel. Although he still perceives the landscape as shaped by human
beings, this no longer amounts to a symbolic form of Englishness, partly
because the vitalist link with the past appears to be broken.
Many people do not realise that the English countryside is always
changing its appearance. I have met some who will take their stand
on a hill and believe, as they look around them, that they are
gazing upon the same scene which met the eyes of our remote
ancestors. Except maybe on the chalk downs of Kent and Sussex,
and on Salisbury Plain, this is not so. […] Physical changes such as
forest clearance, the draining of fens and marshes, changes in
agriculture and in land tenure, and the use of brick in building,
have each made some difference to the appearance of England.
Our grandfathers contributed the railway, the telegraph and treeplanted landscape; and we have added the electric cable, the grid,
the bypass and the arterial road. It is not, therefore, right to talk
about the ‘natural beauty’ of the country; it is a beauty that is
anything but natural, the result of centuries of hard work and
innovation. (76–7)
Much as ‘Morton’ had formerly emphasized the continuity of place
and had infused the landscape with a spiritual, vitalist energy, he now
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deconstructs the myth of ‘Deep England’, noting that the landscape may
sometimes figure as a palimpsest of the processes of cultural change,
and sometimes not even that. He also turns his attention to the social
changes that have taken place in the patterns of settlement. ‘Sussex
has suffered an invasion almost as complete and overwhelming as that
which transformed the northern towns during the first stages of the
Industrial Revolution’, he observes. This invasion, however, is ‘not of
workers but of retired people and wealthy weekenders. The Sussex squire
has been replaced by the London stock-jobber, and the Sussex cottage
has become the paradise of the London financier’ (80). In Binsted,
‘Morton’ is glad to see a smith shoeing a pony, an event which has
‘a certain antiquarian charm about it’, and he leaves the place, ‘glad to
have seen that a bit of old England still lives there’ (118/120). Malory is
not much on ‘Morton’s’ mind these days, but he reserves high praise for
Izaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler. Uncharacteristically, one of the last
stages of ‘Morton’s’ journey is Oxford; never having been to a university,
H. V. Morton tends to omit the usual praise for Oxbridge in traditional
accounts of Englishness. Now the narrator sees Oxford as a ‘quaint
repository of much that is precious and lovable in the English character, among which I would mention humour, toleration, and a casual
acceptance of eccentricity’ (133). The account ends on a down-beat, as
‘Morton’ returns to London with an unrelieved sense of gloom and the
expectation of ‘widespread death and destruction’ in a ‘land that is no
longer an island’ (156).
The first journey had ended in June, and ‘Morton’ sets off again in
October 1939, about one month into what he calls the ‘Great Inertia’
(219), the ‘phoney war’. He comments sarcastically on the effects of
the evacuation of city people to the country, where ‘hiker and cyclist,
until recently so fond of country delights, viewed the rural scene from
a new and unexpected angle, and found it not what it had been on
Saturday afternoons’ (160). In a more propagandistic vein, ‘Morton’
then proceeds to sing the praises of ordinary English people as encountered in the village pub: ‘I thought how surprised they would be if
I rose up and told them that, as they stood there arguing in loud, fearless voices about national and local affairs, they represented nearly
everything we are fighting to preserve in England’ (162). Equal praise is
extended to the brave fishermen who do business as usual in the dangerous sea, and to the hard-working land girls. ‘Morton’ visits factories
where bombers, tanks, AA guns and shells are made and looks at tanks
on Salisbury Plain; he goes to the coast to see the Navy’s contraband
control, witnesses pilot training, gains access to ‘Hush Hush Hall’,
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the BBC’s country hideout, and visits the Postal Censorship. There are
some fascinating passages in this account, in which ‘Morton’ displays
his talent for vivid description. However, although it is clearly his task
to disseminate a propaganda message, his tone is sometimes subdued
and almost ‘defeatist’. His accustomed leisurely style of travel has to be
abandoned because he must keep appointments, and the blackout is a
very great and depressing inconvenience to him. He regrets that in the
first months of war, England – he does not speak about Britain – did
not have a ‘full-blooded leader’, and it seems to him ‘the first hour of
English history that had not produced its man’ (227).
In the late 1920s, Morton had gone ‘in search of England’, and the
account of his quest produced a sense of adventure and discovery,
a sense that new ways of talking and thinking about Englishness needed
to be found. In 1939, modernity is much harder to ignore, and familiar
packages of Englishness must be disseminated through the propaganda
channels. Interestingly, however, at the end of his journey ‘Morton’
returns to the symbolic village that he had seen earlier as the epitome of
Englishness, finishing his account with the image of the village Home
Guard keeping a night watch to prevent invasion. However, there is a
significant variation to this image of the village, since for ‘Morton’, it
now expresses total seclusion. England, which ‘Morton’ conflates with
Britain in both books although he does not do so in all his texts, has
shrunk from the greatest Empire in the world to the size of a village,
‘my parish has become England’ (234). Wartime dangers have thrown
England into the seventeenth century and the threat of invasion has
achieved what ‘musical young men from Oxford, with bells at their
knees, and earnest women in Liberty silk gowns hoped to do a decade
ago; it has made England almost “merrie” again’ (234). Although he
asserts, of necessity, that this is in many ways a good thing, he does not
sound very convincing. Now that he has to guard the ‘village that symbolises England’, as he put it in his earlier book, it ceases to be a symbol
and becomes a plot of ground defined by its limitations.
At the end of I Saw Two Englands, the radical vision of ‘little England’
prompts an inversion of the earlier imagery. In fact, ‘Morton’ describes a
scene which is the mirror image of the one at the beginning of In Search
for England, the image that had allegedly induced him to travel through
England in the first place:
Still, proud as I am to be parochial, I confess that, as I stand on
guard, I relieve the weary hours with memories of those lovely
places in England which I shall not see again until the War is over.
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My mind flies from the Downs of Sussex to the grey stone country
of the Cotswolds; from the luscious Midland shires to the cold,
walled country of the North. I remember how the waves come
rushing up the white face of Flamborough Head; how the tide leaps
upon Lindisfarne; how the bore runs between the banks of Severn;
and how the slow, sweet Avon sings through Warwick’s meadows.
I think of Ely kneeling like a nun above the fenlands; of Durham like
a knight in armour, most pious of fortresses, and of the Galilee there,
so eastern and mosque-like, as if a Crusader, bringing some trophy
from the Holy Land, had planted it on a hill above the Wear. I love
to remember Wells and Exeter, Winchester and Salisbury, Hereford,
Worcester and Gloucester. I remember […] the high castles of the
Welsh Marches; and, by way of contrast, Oxford, and Cambridge
too; the ripe, red fields of Devon, and the wild splendour of Exmoor.
Then my eye falls to the nearness of my own parish: to the group
of ancient cottages, the thatched barns, the cornfields and the dark
woods. And I say to myself how good it is to have been given the
chance to guard a few square miles in England. (235–7)
In the earlier book, ‘Morton’ had looked longingly to the England of
the mind from Palestine, and now he casts the same longing look from
a village within that England, a prison house where he has to remind
himself how lucky he is to be in it.
To a certain degree, of course, this is one middle-aged writer’s story,
a writer who was out of step with modernity and democracy and eventually left his perfect country home – so perfect that it was featured
in Country Life – to go to South Africa, where the political system was
more to his taste. Still, Morton was widely read and appreciated; he
was an extremely well-informed, observant and professional journalist,
and can thus be seen to register important changes in the discourse of
Englishness that took place in the interwar period. The question of the
extent to which he includes or marginalizes Industrial Britain in his
vision of Englishness is much less interesting in the present context
than the subtle changes in his evocation of ‘England’. Before, he had
seen the rather static image of a village at dusk, and now his vision,
though still conforming to a traditional town-and-country format,
includes contrast, movement and variety. It also comprises more than
England proper, although he does not draw attention to this, and at
the centre of the passage, recalling the earlier vision in Palestine, is the
Crusader from the Holy Land. The imagery expresses a striking contraction: in 1927, the world contained England, almost as the still point at
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
its centre, and England contained the world. In 1940, little England,
beleaguered, is seen to stand alone. Historically, this was of course
not true, but Morton does express a wartime notion of Englishness
which shows that the new, contracted sense of the nation had now
become dominant.
6.2 J. B. Priestley
J. B. Priestley’s English Journey, undertaken six years after Morton’s first
journey and six years before his second, is far removed from a ‘motoring
pastoral’; it is rather an account of the ‘condition of England’ with the
author cast as a social explorer. However, this is no Mass Observation
project and no piece of ethnographic research which aims to be ‘objective’. Instead Priestley insists, in the title and throughout the text, that
he is recording subjective impressions. ‘I am not writing an economic
geography of this country. I am making a journey to see how my
fellow-countrymen live and work and play.’30 He goes on this tour as a
novelist skilled in the perception and description of atmosphere, and
as a political author, a man of letters with a voice in the public sphere.
Sometimes he makes it clear that he has a separate, private agenda as
well, for example when he rearranges his itinerary to take in his home
town Bradford so that he can attend a military reunion dinner or to
enable him to attend the opening of one of his plays in Manchester:
‘Honesty is my policy while recording this journey. I will confess then
that I was not here in Manchester entirely on your business, as readers
of this book’ (256). Priestley is also careful to present himself as a
human being and to register his moods and his reactions to such things
as bad weather, depressing hotel rooms or bad food. On one occasion,
he gives a long description of the cold in his head and the medication
he is constantly obliged to take, remarking that this ‘is not an attempt
to force upon you a more than usually disgusting bit of autobiography,
but a possible explanation of why things looked very queer indeed and
were a little larger and wilder than life during these next few days’ (288).
He later takes up this theme again, saying that ‘I have no doubt that
the subjective element, against which I warned you at the beginning
of this chapter, now comes into play, blurring the scene; but I will at
least make an honest attempt to put down what I thought I saw that
day’ (310). Such narrative devices serve to emphasize the truthfulness
of Priestley’s account, which is also underlined by a certain unevenness of tone, suggesting that he typed up chunks of the text as he went
along without attempting to smooth them into a continuous narrative
English Journeys
afterwards. While Priestley developed a persona for the description of
his travels, it is very close to the public persona of the author as seen
elsewhere and I will thus assume that the political opinions expressed
are those of J. B. Priestley, the author.
Priestley travels by bus, by train and by car, sometimes with a driver,
from Southampton via Bristol, the Cotswolds and the Midlands to
Yorkshire, Lancashire, Tyneside and East Durham, and then south
again via Norwich to London. Unlike Morton in In Search of England,
he marginalizes the Home Counties, leaves the West Country alone
and spends much time in the North, which is in accordance with his
political agenda. His account is thus usually seen as a left-wing contribution to the debate on the ‘condition of England’, focused on the
industrial regions hit hardest by the economic depression. Discussing
constructions of the symbolic form of Englishness, however, I will argue
that there is a lot of common ground between Morton and Priestley
and that it is very instructive to explore the points where these two
writers from such different segments of the political spectrum agree
with each other. So after analysing Priestley’s text and situating it in
certain genre traditions, I shall highlight points of contact between
Priestley and Morton.
Priestley’s implied reader is clearly middle class – perhaps the sort of
person with influence and a social conscience who could be galvanized
into action by a graphic account of the plight of the unemployed: ‘We
will assume now that our goal is other people’s happiness, that what
we want is that the mass of people should have a chance of leading the sort of life we lead – or should like to lead – ourselves’ (96).
From the beginning, there is an understanding that Priestley knows
the country well and is addressing contemporary fellow countrymen,
but there is also a clear idea of a class barrier behind which lies an
unknown England. When Priestley has a conversation with some
miners’ wives, a ‘circle of women sewing on the razor-edge of life’, he
is an outsider made to feel bad: ‘Most of my fellow-authors do not go
blundering in like that’; they ‘continue writing their charming stories
about love affairs that begin in nice country houses and then flare
up into purple passages in large hotels in Cannes; they have some
sense and so never feel like fat rich men’ (333). This happy oblivion
characterizes not only authors of popular tales, but also the highbrow
intellectual artist: ‘If T. S. Eliot ever wants to write a poem about a real
wasteland instead of a metaphysical one, he should come here’ (310).
Thus, Priestley takes his stand as a middlebrow author prepared to
gaze unflinchingly on the grim reality and report to others from the
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edge of the abyss. In a characteristically English way he talks over the
heads of the working classes to readers who are part of a middle-class
public sphere.
This places Priestley in the tradition of the nineteenth- and early
twentieth-century social explorers, some of whom Peter Keating
has brought together in his classic anthology Into Unknown England.
Keating says about such writers as James Greenwood, Charles Booth,
Rider Haggard, C. F. G. Masterman and Mary Higgs that ‘[a]cting as
representatives of upper- or middle class life, they cast themselves
as “explorers”, entering, for the good of society as a whole, a world
inhabited by the poor and destitute.’31 The main focus here is imperialist Victorian England at the height of the industrial period, and
the idea that this working-class England is an unknown, foreign and
dangerous country is the most important trope in this discourse. For
Priestley writing in the 1930s, working-class England is not quite
as remote as it formerly seemed to be, and this is due not only to
Priestley’s own lower-middle-class background and brief connection
with the wool trade. Although class segregation was still pervasive,
major events such as the extensions of the franchise, World War One
and the beginnings of modern mass culture had firmly established the
working classes within English society. Thus, the social explorers of
the interwar period are no longer philanthropic ladies and gentlemen,
but left-wing proponents of the ‘documentary idea’ who seek to
develop a more inclusive vision of the nation through a medialized
discourse of social realism. Andrew Higson also emphasizes this in his
study on British cinema:
The documentary idea and the documentary movement were the
products of the cultural and political debates of the late 1920s and
1930s, and developments in film were only one strand in a much
broader field of social-democratic cultural practice. During the 1930s,
social documentation was exploited in radio, painting, theatre, journalistic and literary writing, photojournalism and photography, social
anthropology (e.g. Mass Observation), and so on[.]32
Higson argues that documentary realism produces a form of public gaze
which seeks to combine ‘factual accuracy’ with ‘moral truth’. However,
it is also ‘the visual enactment of the moral and physical separation
of the documentarist from his or her object of investigation’.33 The
documentary gaze is still authoritative and defining, which Priestley
acknowledges obliquely in the manner of description he adopts for his
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visit to the houses of unemployed Lancashire weavers. Contrary to his
usual practice, he prints the notes he made:
I shall be under less suspicion of monkeying with the facts; and also
for this one paragraph I may be admired in some quarters as a stylist
in the best modern staccato manner. // First house, an elderly couple.
Long, toothless man, just got up and now sitting down to bowl of
sensible soup. This made by wife, jolly woman who said: ‘Ay, there’s
been lots worse off nor us,’ and meant it. These two lucky. Man been
out of work between four and five years. All savings went. Lived on
10s. a week. (280)
This passage shows both Priestley’s investment in the documentary
idea, and his reluctance about it, which is also underlined by the fact
that he prefers to describe members of the working classes in what he
sees as the more personalized form of fiction. Still, he can hardly escape
the limitations of his own class perspective.
After the English Journey, he wrote the script for the up-beat film comedy Sing As We Go (1934), starring Gracie Fields as a Lancashire weaver
who loses her job due to the depression, goes to Blackpool where she
holds down a series of more or less ridiculous jobs and then contrives
to save her cotton mill and get the people back to work. For Higson, the
attitude behind this popular piece of fantastic wish fulfilment is basically
the same as in the documentary approach, ‘the bourgeois onlooker gazing at the carnival of Sing As We Go’.34 Moreover, the documentary gaze
contains a certain element of voyeurism connected to the admiration of
physical work in a virile world. Priestley expresses this in his description of
Tyneside shipbuilding, then sadly in decline: ‘I could not lend a hand with
that work, but let nobody assume for a moment that I cannot appreciate
its grim strength and mastery, its Promethean and Vulcanic grandeur, or
that I moved through this setting for it like a flinching minor poet dreaming of roses’ (311). In her exploration of the homoerotics of the 1930s
documentary, Marsha Bryant also draws attention to a form of bourgeois
scrutiny which mixed sexual and ‘class voyeurism and social reformism’,
noting that ‘documentarists of the 1930s departed from their Victorian
predecessors by ostensibly seeking to learn from – rather than instruct –
the people they observed’, and that, in order to ‘understand fully the
decade that continues to provide us with models of socially engaged art,
we must restore gender and sexuality to the documentary frame’.35 Bryant
also mentions George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) to which
I will return below, in which Orwell, with characteristic bluntness, also
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registers a kind of sexual inferiority complex that represents a faultline in
the more inclusive public sphere envisaged by social reformers: ‘[b]ecause
I have been to a public school I am a eunuch. Well, what about it? I can
produce medical evidence to the contrary, but what good will that do?’36
Priestley’s English Journey is very much part of this 1930s discourse
of social reform, and he writes at length about the desolation of the
industrial North and especially the state of Lancashire cotton weaving,
Tyneside shipbuilding and coal mining in East Durham. This account
takes up a quarter of the book, but Priestley does not paint everything
in Dickensian black, rather electing to give a variegated account of the
places, their inhabitants and the activities there. The reader is informed
about the Liverpool slums, about the situation of ‘half-caste’ children, the
decline of Chinatown, the Irish quarter, the attractiveness, or otherwise,
of local accents, about Blackpool as a product of ‘industrial democracy’
(266), and about Community Houses, amateur theatricals, discussions
about communism, watercolour painting, funeral culture, brass bands
and the problems of housing schemes. The apex of the journey, in a
quite literal sense, is reached in the village of Shotton in East Durham
with the notorious Shotton ‘tip’: ‘The “tip” itself towered to the sky and
its vast dark bulk, steaming and smoking at various levels, blotted out
all the landscape at the back of the village. Its lowest slope was only a
few yards from the miserable cluster of houses’ (336). Worst of all is the
smell, the atmosphere being ‘thickened with ashes and sulphuric fumes;
like that of Pompeii, as we are told, on the eve of its destruction’ (337).
Priestley leaves Shotton in some haste because he cannot breathe there,
and his tour of the ruins of industrial Britain ends with an alienating
counterpoint in York, ‘the guide-book man’s paradise’, where the past is
described as ‘weighing tons’ (349) and the hotel is full of ‘sunset-faced
racing men guffawing over double whiskies’ (350). In sight of the Shotton
‘tip’, Priestley is careful to take up a leitmotif of social criticism:
I stared at the monster, my head tilted back, and thought of all the fine
things that had been conjured out of it in its time, the country houses
and town houses, the drawing-rooms and dining-rooms, the carriages
and pairs, the trips to Paris, the silks and the jewels, the peaches and
iced puddings, the cigars and old brandies; I thought I saw them all
tumbling and streaming out, hurrying away from Shotton – oh, a
long way from Shotton – as fast as they could go. (337)
In an argument that anticipates Martin Wiener’s conclusions in
English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit, Priestley attributes
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many of the ills of the industrial age to this habit of gentrification.37
The captains of industry have taken the profits and installed themselves
in a ruralist dream of Old England, leaving the workers to choke on
the fuming piles of debris. To quote one of Priestley’s images in which
he genders and sexualizes industrial exploitation: ‘What had the City
done for its old ally, the industrial North? It seemed to have done what
the black-moustached glossy gentleman in the old melodramas always
did to the innocent village maiden’ (411).
Priestley sees an instructive contrast between the situation in the North
and healthy provincial cities like Bristol and Norwich with a long civic
tradition rooted in the cultural history of an ‘old city, an ancient capital
in miniature’ (26). In Bristol, people ‘are proud of their city, and do not
see it, as some north-country people see their towns, as a place in which
to make money and then to sneak out of, thinly disguised as English
gentlemen’ (31). In Bradford, on the other hand, ‘having made some
big lucky gambles in wool, you made a fortune there and determined to
retire and set up as an English gentleman, you never stayed in Bradford’
(159). Equally, in Hull, the cultured life of music and drama has drained
out of the city; there has been a ‘retreat of the wealthier and more
conservative classes from a full urban life in the provinces’ (359), while
‘the country-gentleman tradition is livelier to-day than it was twentyfive years ago’ (359). From all this pleading it emerges that Priestley sees
the professional and entrepreneurial middle classes as the guardians of
society, and that their responsible citizenship – as free from a patronizing attitude as possible – ought to provide the framework for a more
general welfare. This notion also forms the background of Priestley’s
vision of ordinary people, the ‘sound conscientious hard-working craftsman’, on whose behalf he professes himself ready to ‘fight against any
scheme that would turn him and his kind into different beings’ (193).
Hence Priestley’s dislike of communism and socialism, and his preference for liberal democracy where exceptional people will be able to
make their mark. ‘Exceptional persons not only refuse to be moulded
by their environment but actually set about changing environments
themselves. […] Average people are largely products of a temporary set of
conditions’ (407–8). Also, in liberal democracy individualism will have
pride of place: ‘Who cares about masses? I wouldn’t raise a finger for “the
masses”. Men, women and children – but not masses’ (29).
Priestley is an advocate of the people in this sense, but the plight of
the unemployed is only one element of the problematic condition of
England. Another aspect of industrial Britain’s legacy is the pollution
of the environment. The Shotton ‘tip’, belching sulphurous smoke, is an
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emblem of this, and Priestley expresses the ironic wish that it will remain
‘as a monument to remind happier and healthier men of England’s old
industrial greatness and the brave days of Queen Victoria’ (338). Time
and again, Priestley emerges as a spokesman of 1930s preservationism.
The landscape has become confusing: ‘It was strewn with broken-down
pitmen’s cottages and the ruins of higgledy-piggledy allotments. I never
saw a bit of country that was in more urgent need of tidying up. If any
decent woman had been shown a room half as bad as this, she would
have itched to be at it’ (310). This ‘hideous muddle, where industry had
had a dirty black meal and had done no washing up’, must have been
‘depressing folk for years’ (310). Here as elsewhere, Priestley connects
the dire state of the environment with people’s listlessness and mental
devastation, almost as if people’s minds had been polluted along with the
air and the rivers. As he dwells on these ills, Priestley’s imagery becomes
more and more gruesome, and the remains of the dirty industrial feast, ‘as
useless to the industrial and social body as nail-parings and hair-combings’
(311–12), are eventually transformed into fragments of a rotting body
politic: ‘They are, I gather, partly the result of severe surgical operations
in our post-war economy. Neither the patient nor the operating theatre
seems to have been cleaned up; and the resulting mess is not a pretty
sight’ (312). Taking the stance of a progressive and modern individual
and insisting that he writes ‘not as a worshipper of the past, an antique
snob, a connoisseur, but as an ordinary ignoramus who happens to use
his eyes’ (239), Priestley tells the tale of England’s decline:
I am not given to sentimentalising (318) the distant past, and have
argued often and ferociously with those who do and have seemed to
me to gloss over its ignorance and brutality and the narrow limits
of its life. […] England would not be the England we know if the
Tyneside were not the Tyneside we know. […] But still I wondered,
as I stood there, shivering a little, whether it had all been worth
while. Here was the pleasant green estuary, blackened and ruined,
it seemed, for ever. Here was a warren of people living in wretched
conditions, in a parody of either rural or urban life, many of them
now without work or wages or hope, not half the men their peasant
ancestors were. […] The ramshackle telephone exchange, at the back
of my mind, put the call through, and I heard the bell ring and ring:
but there was no reply. (317–18)
Under such circumstances, the country and its people are sadly lacking
in dignity. Characteristically, at this point, Priestley’s thoughts turn to
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the reforming influence of art, as he wonders whether the dismal streets
of Gateshead could produce a poet: ‘We could do with one from such
streets; not one of our frigid complicated sniggering rhymers, but a
lad with such a flame in his heart and mouth that at last he could set
the Tyne on fire. Who would rush to put it out? Not I, for one’ (320).
This is as near as Priestley comes to a revolutionary spirit. For him, the
good life of the mind is as intrinsically connected with creativity in a
communal framework as the good life of the body is based on clear air,
good wholesome food and drink, exercise, decent housing and products
of good quality. With respect to quality, Priestley reveals himself as an
admirer of the crafts, praising his modern writing desk ‘made this year
to order’ (388), the ‘almost lost art of dry-walling’ (53), high-quality
Lancashire cloth and the superior ware of the Potteries, which ‘would
be still more superior if it did not reflect the taste of the ’fifties and the
Great Exhibition.’ Luckily, some of the ‘better firms are now beginning
to make use of the services of real artists’ (223). All this makes Priestley
an advocate of what Matless calls ‘conservative modernity’,38 which, far
from being a contradiction in terms, is a key note of the 1930s discourse
of Englishness. It also makes him the intellectual heir of Thomas Carlyle
and John Ruskin as well as of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts
The most explicit discussion of Englishness is found at the end of
Priestley’s account, where, travelling towards London through Essex
in a thick fog, he reflects on the recent memories which rise ‘like milk
coming to the boil’ (397). It becomes clear to him that he has seen
not one England but many, and he isolates three for more detailed
description. The first is ‘Old England, the country of the cathedrals and
minsters and manor houses and inns, of Parson and Squire; guide-book
and quaint highways and byways England’ (397). Since this England
has ‘long ceased to earn its own living’, Priestley opts for ‘scrupulously
preserving the most enchanting bits of it, such as the cathedrals and the
colleges and the Cotswolds, and for letting the rest take its chance’ (398,
italics mine). The second England, described vividly with admirable
skill and precision, is
nineteenth-century England, the industrial England of coal, iron,
steel, cotton, wool, railways; of thousands of rows of little houses
all alike, sham Gothic churches, square-faced chapels, Town Halls,
Mechanics’ Institutes, mills, foundries, warehouses, refined wateringplaces, Pier Pavilions, Family and Commercial Hotels, Literary and
Philosophical Societies, back-to-back houses, detached villas with
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
monkey-trees, Grill Rooms, railway stations, slag-heaps and ‘tips,’
dock roads, Refreshment Rooms, doss-houses, Unionist or Liberal
Clubs, cindery waste ground, mill chimneys, slums, fried-fish shops,
public-houses with red blinds, bethels in corrugated iron, good-class
drapers’ and confectioners’ shops, a cynically devastated countryside, sooty dismal little towns, and still sootier grim fortress-like
cities. (398–9)
This England, run by tough Victorians who ‘liked to weep over their
novels and plays’ and with a workforce living ‘like black-beetles at the
back of a disused kitchen stove’ (399), appears to Priestley as ‘a debauchery of cynical greed’ (400), the result of a dirty trick. ‘At one end of this
commercial greatness were a lot of half-starved, bleary-eyed children
crawling about among machinery and at the other end were the traders
getting natives boozed up with bad gin’ (401), and it will be a pressing
task for future generations to clear up the mess.
The third England is the new Americanized postwar England:
This is the England of arterial and by-pass roads, of filling stations
and factories that look like exhibition buildings, of giant cinemas
and dance-halls and cafés, bungalows with tiny garages, cocktail bars,
Woolworths, motor-coaches, wireless, hiking, factory girls looking
like actresses, greyhound racing and dirt tracks, swimming pools, and
everything given away for cigarette coupons. (401)
Priestley is profoundly ambivalent about this new England. He approves
of it because, ‘rapidly Blackpooling itself’ (402), it is essentially democratic, critical of privilege and ‘as near to a classless society as we have
got yet’ (403). On the other hand, this England is ‘a bit too cheap’
(403) for his taste. Priestley’s argument here is reminiscent of the
familiar critique of mass culture voiced by the social philosophers of
the Frankfurt School40 because, although he grants that people choose
their entertainments, he suspects that they are ‘doing not what they
like but what they have been told they would like’ (403). Everything
is ‘regimented’ and ‘standardized’ (404), and even though Priestley
concedes that it is ‘better that people should be leading decent useful
contented lives than that they should be asking to be immortalised in
their misery’ (405), he feels that ‘this new England is lacking in character, in zest, gusto, flavour, bite, drive, originality, and that this is a
serious weakness’ (405). In other words, the new England is not English
enough. Priestley remembers his boyhood in Yorkshire, where men
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met in taverns for a sing-song, ‘not being humbugged by any elaborate
publicity scheme on the part of either music publishers or brewers’
(403), but these men ‘were singing glees over their beer because they
liked to sing glees over their beer; it was their own idea of the way to
spend an evening […]; they drank and yarned and roared away, happy
in the spontaneous expression of themselves’ (403). English authenticity is thus held up against and preferred over the blandness and
monotony of Americanized amusements.
This diagnosis triggers a praise of English virtues. ‘Milton could be
living at this hour’ (412) because of English liberty; there is freedom
of speech, a political culture, ‘the natural kindness and courtesy of the
ordinary English people’ (415), people’s modesty and humour, ‘the
inner glowing tradition of the English spirit’ (417), Shakespeare and
other great men, great ideas and civilization. While Priestley reels off
this familiar catalogue of national stereotypes, he admits that he is
‘probably bursting with blatant patriotism’ (417), wishing that he ‘had
been born early enough to have been called a Little Englander’, because
‘the little sounds the right note of affection. It is little England I love’
(416). He also adds that he ‘shall never be one of those grand cosmopolitan authors’ and that not ‘until I am safely back in England do I ever
feel that the world is quite sane’ (416). Having reached this conclusion,
Priestley is greeted by the familiar firelight of ‘home’ (418).
So much for English heritage and character, but there is more to
Priestley’s vision of Englishness than this explicit appreciation of identity embedded in individual and cultural memory. Behind the three
Englands he offers up for scrutiny, there is a fourth England which
Priestley alludes to when criticizing the devastating effects of industrialization. Nineteenth-century England has ‘done more harm than
good to the real enduring England. It had found a green and pleasant land and had left a wilderness of dirty bricks. It had blackened
fields, poisoned rivers, ravaged the earth, and sown filth and ugliness
with a lavish hand’ (400). In a later passage, he repeats the point that
the English ‘have ravished for unjustly distributed profit the most
enchanting countryside in the world, out of which lyrics and lovely
water-colours have come flowering like the hawthorn. And I saw again,
clean through the fog that was imprisoning me, the exquisite hazy
green landscape’ (415–16). So here we are back again with the English
countryside as the common ground, the most profound expression and
lifespring of Englishness. What does Priestley say about this ‘real enduring England’?41 In an early passage of his account, travelling from the
New Forest to Salisbury, Priestley offers a quite precise description of
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how the countryside is connected to cultural memory, emphasizing the
emotional investment in this relation:
I believe most of my pleasure in looking at a countryside comes from its
more vague associations. Clamping the past on to the present, turning
history and art into exact topography, makes no appeal to me; I do not
care where the battle was fought or the queen slept, nor out of what
window the poet looked; but a landscape rich in these vague associations – some of them without a name – gives me a deep pleasure, and
I could cry out at the lovely thickness of life, as different now from
ordinary existence as plum pudding is from porridge. It is the absence
of these associations, these troups of pleasant ghosts from history and
art, that makes a new country in which nothing has happened, like
some great tracts in America, appear so empty and melancholy, so that
a man has to get drunk there to feel his imagination stirring and rising.
The Hampshire whose gilded fields and deep blue shadows were all
about me that morning had this power of quickening and enriching
the mind with associations, now reminding me of the old landscape
artists, now of Hazlitt, now of the medieval England that must have
looked like this through county after county; and so the journey
turned into a most pleasant and satisfying experience. It reached its
peak when we crossed the spur of the Downs, looked into the distant
vale and saw, far away in the autumnal haze, the spire of Salisbury
Cathedral like a pointed finger, faintly luminous. This is a noble view
of England, and Constable himself could not have contrived a better
light for it. You have before you a Shakespearean landscape, with
shreds of Arden all about, glimpses of parks of Navarre, and Illyrian
distances. (22–3)
Even more clearly than the archetypal landscapes of The Good
Companions, this is an expression of the ‘mythical present’, the epitome
of Englishness as a symbolic form. It is cultural memory inscribed into
the landscape and a national identity formation which derives its spiritual continuity from the countryside seen as a rich tapestry of cultural
meaning. Blocking English people’s access to this source of inspiration emerges as the ultimate crime of industrial pollution, because as
they forget its texture and quality, they lose themselves in globalized
modernity. The symbolic form of Englishness is thus evoked to aid the
preservationist cause.
As might be expected from the emotional colouring of the scene, the
experience triggers personal memories for Priestley, and contemplating
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the Yorkshire Moors, he is transported back twenty years to the
enthusiasms of his youth: ‘Oh, spaces more wide and open to me than
all Montana or the Rhodesian plains, bless you all, and may the lark sing
to you for ever and the ling never cease to bloom! With you, have I not
fleeted the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world?’ (179). If this
suggests shades of Wordsworth, this is no coincidence, since the romanticism of the ‘old magician’ (175) informs Priestley’s form of nature
worship especially with regard to his own home in the North: ‘We have
to make an effort to appreciate a poet like Shelley, with his rather gassy
enthusiasm and his bright Italian colouring; but we have Wordsworth
in our very legs’ (174). No wonder in such surroundings that Priestley
remembers ‘a solid West Riding countrywoman and not one of your
fanciful arts-and-crafts misses, who swore that she saw fairies dancing
on the hillside’ (176). One other feature is emphasized that expresses
the magical ‘Wordsworthian quality’ (155) of the North for Priestley, and
this is the preponderance of stone walls, ‘firmly binding the landscape.
[…] [N]o landscape looks quite right to me without them. If there are not
a few thousand leagues of them framing the bright fields of asphodel,
it will be no Elysium for me’ (154). Priestley’s social conscience, which
really ought to provoke him to slip in a condemnation of the social
consequences of enclosure in passing, is obviously taking a holiday here.
Stones also play a large role in Priestley’s account of the Cotswolds,
‘the most English and the least spoiled of all our countrysides’ (47),
which is illuminating in the present context. Enchanted stone is at the
heart of the Cotswold mystery. The stone has
no colour that can be described. Even when the sun is obscured and
the light is cold, as it was that evening, these walls are still faintly
warm and luminous, as if they knew the trick of keeping the lost sunlight of centuries glimmering about them. […] Not a sunny morning
since the Wars of the Roses has passed here without conjuring a little of its golden warmth into these stones. Villages, manor houses,
farmsteads, built of such magical material, do not merely keep on
existing but live like noble lines of verse, lighting up the mind that
perceives them. (48)
Talking about the Cotswolds stone, Priestley grounds the idea of the
‘mythical present’ of Englishness in material culture. Priestley describes a
‘definite tradition’ of shaping the environment, which means that if ‘you
told a Cotswold man to build you a house, this is how he built it’ (52).
Although the tradition is dying out at the time of writing, there are ‘still
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
some old Cotswold masons who work in that tradition and could work
in no other. In their hands the stone flowered naturally into those mullions. They can see Cotswold houses already stirring in the very quarries’
(53). The symbolic form is seen to emerge from a dialogue of human
beings with their environment, and this is how elements of material
culture can become so fused with cultural meaning as to form an inextricable whole. People’s ways of living as well as their spiritual and artistic
responses to their environment have created such a harmony that the
country appears to be ‘made out of men’s visions’ (50). Fittingly, the
Cotswolds mason Priestley claims to have been introduced to is called
‘Old George’. There is more than a hint of the patron saint about him
and Priestley remarks that ‘if ever we do build Jerusalem in this green
and pleasant land, I hope he will be there, doing the dry-walling’ (54).
Because of its spiritual qualities, Englishness as a symbolic form seduces
those disposed to dedication. Priestley meets some such people ‘dreamdrowned in these green valleys’ (57). It is all too easy, he says, to enter
into one of the ‘enchanted little valleys, these misty cups of verdure and
grey walls, and you are gone and lost, somewhere at the end of space
and dubiously situated even in time, with all four dimensions wrecked
behind you’ (58).
Englishness here is seen to take on the quality of a drug. No wonder
then, that eccentricity is a frequent ingredient of the English character.
Priestley visits an English gentleman who lives in a Cotswolds village
in a house that has a ‘Gothic craziness’ (59) and which is filled with an
extremely weird collection of things. This gentleman does not contribute to society and Priestley is critical in principle of people like him, but
in a fit of English tolerance, he is inclined to believe that a ‘system that
rigidly excludes him will prove to be too narrow for the good life, which
would not be good if it banned the mild dreamer and his antique trifles
and his toy villages’ (63). Priestley’s excursions into the fantastic seem
designed to interpellate and charm a middle-class readership reluctant
to be won over to the cause of preservationism by a simple rehearsal of
facts and figures.
Passages like those quoted here could have been written by
H. V. Morton. There are many opinions which the two writers share –
Morton waxes lyrical over thatching as Priestley praises dry-walling, and
both are contemptuous of what Priestley calls the ‘Ye Olde game’ (57),
the self-conscious exploitation of the picturesque for tourism. Equally,
both share an aesthetic appreciation of old things. As Priestley says, to
see ‘Beverley Minster suddenly hanging in the sky is as astonishing as
hearing a great voice intoning some noble line of verse’ (352). In spite
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of his disclaimer that he is ‘no Catholic, no mediaevalist, no Merrie
Englander’, he asks himself why the modern age does not yield ‘superb
aesthetic surprises. You go up and down this country and what makes
you jump with astonishment and delight is something that has been
there for at least five hundred years’ (352). Morton would agree just as
heartily with Priestley’s opinion, informed by preservationist ideals of
planning, that ‘[w]e ought to make up our minds to use all the space
inside our towns[.] For my part, I would much rather live in the centre
of a town and have quick access to unspoilt country, than live in a
wide wilderness of little bungalows, in neither honest town or country’
(358). Because they occupy different positions in the public sphere and
must be situated in very different segments of the political spectrum,
the similarities of these two writers are usually overlooked, but their
journeys eventually take them to the same ‘real enduring England’,
to a ‘mythical present’ expressing a symbolic form of Englishness that
has its roots in the countryside. When Priestley reflects about the right
approach to the country’s problems, it is almost as if he was talking to
Morton’s narrator:
[T]he right course of conduct, I reflected, was not, unless you happen
to be a professional custodian, to go and brood and dream over these
almost heart-breaking pieces of natural or architectural loveliness,
doing it all at the expense of a lot of poor devils toiling in the muck, but
to have an occasional peep at them, thus to steel your determination
that sooner or later the rest of English life, even where the muck is now,
shall have as good a quality as those things. (398)
Morton’s and Priestley’s personal life choices are interesting in the
light of what has been discussed here: Morton defected to South Africa,
and Priestley did the very thing that seemed to him so deplorable in
retired industrialists: as soon as he could afford it, he purchased a huge
residence in the country, a deed which prompts his biographer Vincent
Brome to call him a ‘self-appointed member of the landed gentry’ living
in a ‘baronial establishment’.42 In fact, he had added a country seat to
Highgate Grove, his London house, in the very year that he undertook
his English Journey. Billingham Manor in Brookhill, surrounded by fifteen acres of grounds, was situated on the Isle of Wight, and Priestley
had a study with large windows built on top of the house. The curved
windows, which ‘gave the illusion of being on the bridge of an oceangoing liner’,43 allowed for a beautiful view over the bay. There were
servants, of course, including a nanny for the children and a butler, and
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large parties were entertained most weekends. Travelling was often done
in a hired chauffeur-driven Daimler. In 1959, Priestley and his third wife
Jacquetta moved to Kissing Tree House in Warwickshire. Diana Collins,
a friend of the Priestleys from the days of the Campaign for Nuclear
Disarmament – one of the forms that preservationism took in postwar
England44 – describes the new residence:
This fine eighteenth-century house, white and harmonious, is surrounded by green space, stretches of lawn and field, with belts of
trees to shield it from the roads that run down the east side and along
the southern boundary. It is a far cry from the wild and spectacular
beauties of Brooke Hill. Here all is calm and restful; to the south of
the lawn is a wide green field, sometimes full of grazing cattle, to the
west more fields, one of which Jack lent to the village as its cricket
ground, and beyond it the village church – an English idyll in what
must be the centre and heart of England. […] Yes, it was certainly
‘gracious living’, in a style to which, in post-war Britain, neither John
nor I, nor most of our friends, were accustomed, but, of course, we
loved it, as did all the Priestleys’ friends, left-wing or otherwise.45
Vincent Brome also emphasizes the Englishness of the place the
Priestleys selected as their home: ‘Thirty-five acres of quintessentially
English countryside protected the house from encroachment with an
almost idealised English meadow grazed by a neighbouring farmer,
noble trees whose roots were deep in the past’, and the ‘only sign of
twentieth-century England beyond the meadow was an occasional red
double-decker bus which slid past, half hidden by a hedge.’46 Susan
Cooper, an earlier biographer of Priestley’s, relates that the place
featured ‘everything that made Browning glare with such homesick
distaste at his gaudy melon flowers; a great yellow sweep of daffodils
flows away from the house and into the distance, as far as you can
see; […] and every morning early the world is still and misted and
new-green’.47 The setting was matched to the action, since Priestley’s
wives took a very active interest in country matters; Jane Priestley was
a birdwatcher and ran a farm for some time, and Jacquetta Priestley,
archaeologist and writer, who campaigned for nuclear disarmament
with her husband and friends, was a member of the Council for the
Preservation of Rural England.
In his autobiography Rain Upon Godshill, Priestley describes his English
Journey as ‘an uneasy sort of book’, expressing annoyance at the fact
that the Times ‘rebuked me for exciting myself and trying to excite my
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readers about various national problems that had, it said, “exercised
for years the minds of all right-thinking people in this country”’.48 He
remains uneasy, Priestley says, because it does not appear that the problems are really being tackled. Still, his uneasiness is always tempered by
his investment in ruralist Englishness and bathed in an English light
that is ‘heart-breakingly beautiful, turning earth and air into music’.49
Paradoxically, then, Priestley created for himself the essential England of
‘Morton’s’ doomed quest out of the proceeds of being a left-wing man of
letters, and because of this he could still reside in his manor house with
servants attending to his needs when the majority of middle-class people
had resigned themselves to the fact that they had to do the cooking and
cleaning themselves in their labour-saving suburban homes.
Priestley himself notes his inconsequential attitude in English Journey,
which, perhaps shirking the issue a little, he attributes to the fact that
he considers himself first and foremost a writer of fiction: ‘I reminded
myself firmly that I was no economist, that I had not that sort of mind,
moving easily among abstractions. My childlike literary mind always fastens upon concrete details’ and ‘real people’.50 Equally, he can find it in
himself to prefer a problematic environment with ‘solid lumps of character’ to bland perfection: ‘We all know that you can make a novel or a play
out of an unhappy marriage’, Priestley opines, ‘whereas a happy marriage
is a tedious theme.’51 Priestley was consciously political as a writer and a
person; personally, he did not hesitate to take on a public and political
role in the war effort; he became a member of the ‘Authors’ Planning
Committee’ and was an instigator of the ‘Authors’ National Committee’
and subsequently chairman of the ‘1941 Committee’, a left-wing brains
trust; he was a member of the British Drama League and stood as an
Independent candidate for Cambridge in the 1945 election; he was a delegate to the UNESCO conference in 1947 and was instrumental in initiating the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1950s, and political
issues also permeate his fiction. Mostly, however, he held his official posts
only for a short time and was reluctant to sacrifice his privacy for public
service. Hence Priestley is less a public intellectual than an English man
of letters committed to preserving a healthy and beautiful environment
for a community of English people.
6.3 George Orwell
George Orwell was initially far more impatient with what he saw in
England than Priestley. The Road to Wigan Pier, commissioned by Victor
Gollancz, is anything but a rambling travel account. In the first part
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of his pamphlet, after the unforgettable description of the Brookers’
boarding house, Orwell never takes his eyes off the living conditions of
the miners and the plight of the unemployed. With grim precision and
armed with facts and figures, he dwells on working conditions, housing,
dole money, fuel and the workers’ diet and health.52 In this respect, and
also in view of his earlier book Down and Out in Paris and London (1933),
he belongs more clearly than Priestley to the ‘Into unknown England’tradition of social exploration. It is therefore not surprising that he
mentions Jack London’s The People of the Abyss (1903). He does so, however, in the context of his incisive discussion of English class prejudice
and hatred. His own snobbism, Orwell asserts, prevented him from
seeing ‘that the working class were human beings. At a distance, and
through the medium of books – Jack London’s The People of the Abyss,
for instance – I could agonise over their sufferings, but I still hated them
and despised them when I came anywhere near them’ (131). Orwell
talks about industrial pollution, planning and slum clearance and the
quality of food, expressing opinions which suggest a preservationist
stance, but this is not the main focus of his work. Neither does he see
Englishness in terms of landscape, but rather as a social topography.
Above all, in The Road to Wigan Pier, Englishness is expressed through an
infinitely complex class system, the crucial point being that class must
not primarily be seen as a matter of economic status, but as a mentality
and a whole way of life.
Orwell describes the bitter struggle of poor, ‘shabby-genteel’ (115)
lower-upper middle-class people to keep up an appearance of respectability, denounces the snobbishness bred in English public schools and
paints a glowing picture of the English working-class home of recent,
more prosperous times, ‘[e]specially on winter evenings after tea, when
the fire glows in the open range and dances mirrored in the steel fender’
(109). Most importantly, he emphasizes the fact that middle-class people considered the physicality of working-class people, their smells and
bodily practices, as repulsive and categorically different from their own –
so different as to make ‘real intimacy impossible’ (145). Orwell points
out how deeply ingrained class is in every individual’s personality in
All my notions – notions of good and evil, of pleasant and unpleasant, of funny and serious, of ugly and beautiful – are essentially middle
class notions; my taste in books and food and clothes, my sense of
honour, my table manners, my turns of speech, my accent, even the
characteristic movements of my body, are the products of a special
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kind of upbringing and a special niche about half-way up in the social
hierarchy. (149)
Orwell speaks here about the habitus that is the expression, on the level
of the individual, of cultural mentalities, so that on a performative level,
the class habitus must be acknowledged in any account of the symbolic
form of Englishness. This is not just to state the obvious and say that
class has played an important role in the socio-economic history of
England, but to emphasize the different discursive strands that make up
a symbolic form – an inextricable mixture of body practices, activities
and beliefs, institutions, environmental settings and objects of material
culture. Because these various elements are related both metonymically
and metaphorically, they can stand in for each other and signify in
highly complex ways connected to a person’s unconscious and emotional make-up. So a rose is a Tudor rose is a double-decker bus is a
smoking chimney is irony is a Shakespeare play is a rainy day is a cup
of tea is democracy. Thinking in terms of symbolic forms also promises
a deeper understanding of the working mechanisms of stereotypes.
When he does talk about place in The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell has
some interesting things to say. He points out that the class system has
actually been projected onto, or inscribed into, the geography of England
in the shape of the ‘North-South antithesis which has been rubbed into
us for such a long time past’ (101). Arguing that ‘English regional snobberies are nationalism in miniature’ (105), Orwell describes the ‘cult of
Northernness’ which has it that the ‘Northerner has “grit”, he is grim,
“dour”, plucky, warm-hearted and democratic; the Southerner is snobbish, effeminate and lazy’ (101). Addressing his implied reader, who is
constructed as a middle-class person from the south-east of England,
Orwell grumbles, in reference to a friend’s praise of running water in the
North: ‘Not only are you and I and everyone else in the South of England
written off as “fat and sluggish”, but even water, when it gets north of
a certain latitude, ceases to be H2O and becomes something mystically
superior’ (103). Saying this, he effectively draws attention to the fact
that places and landscapes can never be seen and appreciated ‘in themselves’, divorced from the activities of the people who live there and the
perspective of the onlooker. Thus, in addition to explaining the impact
of class on the individual, Orwell offers a lucid description of the process
in which cultural meaning is inscribed into the environment.
The political situation in 1936 was highly precarious, and made more
so, in Orwell’s opinion, by antagonistic class relations in England, aggravated by doomed attempts at ‘class-breaking’ and the ‘crankishness’ of
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English socialism, which prevent an economically advisable solidarity
between the lower middle class and the working class and so might open
the door to fascism. A man of many words but also of action, Orwell put
down his pen after he had finished his book and went to Spain to fight.
At the end of Homage to Catalonia, after relating his experiences in the
Spanish Civil War, Orwell conjures up a vision of an England dangerously
unaware of the advance of fascism:
And then England – southern England, probably the sleekest landscape
in the world. It is difficult when you pass that way, especially when
you are peacefully recovering from sea-sickness with the plush cushions of a boat-train carriage under your bum, to believe that anything
is really happening anywhere. Earthquakes in Japan, famines in China,
revolutions in Mexiko? Don’t worry, the milk will be on the doorstep
tomorrow morning, the New Statesman will come out on Friday. The
industrial towns were far away, a smudge of smoke and misery hidden
by the curve of the earth’s surface. Down here it was still the England
I had known in my childhood: the railway-cuttings smothered in wild
flowers, the deep meadows where the great shining horses browse
and meditate, the slow-moving streams bordered by willows, the
green bosoms of the elms, the larkspurs in the cottage gardens; and
then the huge peaceful wilderness of outer London, the barges on the
miry river, the familiar streets, the posters telling of cricket matches
and Royal weddings, the men in bowler hats, the pigeons in Trafalgar
Square, the red buses, the blue policemen – all sleeping the deep, deep
sleep of England, from which I sometimes fear that we shall never
wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs.53
In this passage, Orwell actually evokes the southern English countryside,
yet not as a sight of pleasure and a source of identity, but as an emblem of
political unconsciousness which expresses the author’s alienation. There
is no sense of coming home to the essential England, as in Priestley’s
description of the same situation in Rain Upon Godshill:
I have travelled often and sometimes travelled far, and I have never
been sorry to see the magical white cliffs again. In those boat trains
from Southampton I have stared out of the window with tears in
my eyes, not because the chop on my plate was half-raw and the
vegetables uneatable, as they always are, but because I was seeing
once again the misty trees and the gold-and-white scribble of the
buttercups and daisies in the passing meadows. Nobody has praised
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more enthusiastically than I have the diamond light of the Arizona
Desert, but it never catches at my heart as a certain light in England
does, the light of a fine morning in June when every leaf or piece of
blossom in the foreground is sharply vivid, but beyond them everything is gradually shading and melting away into what is in the far
background nothing but an exquisite green tenderness.54
For all their similarities, the fundamental differences between Orwell
and Priestley can be seen in a nutshell in these passages. Orwell does not
present his sleeping England as the hub of the universe, but as a backwater of life, positioned on the margin of Northern Europe and dangerously oblivious to what is happening in the world. In The Road to Wigan
Pier, class is the crucial ingredient of the symbolic form of Englishness,
and the marginalization is not seen as a blow dealt to the English, but
as the fate a class-ridden society has brought upon itself.
When Orwell wrote his famous essay ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’,
the bombs were falling, and while he did not achieve the same status
as Priestley in wartime progaganda, he actively supported the war effort
through writings and broadcasts. Setting the scene for his vision of
political change, he begins his essay with a ‘thick description’, to use
Clifford Geertz’s term, of Englishness. The air, the beer, the feel of coins,
people’s bad teeth, a culture ‘somehow bound up with solid breakfasts
and gloomy Sundays, smoky towns and winding roads, green fields and
red pillar-boxes’. England has a continuity, as ‘in a living creature’, and
if you happen to be English, ‘you will never be happy away from it for
any length of time. The suet puddings and the red pillar-boxes have
entered into our soul.’55 The ‘nation is bound together by an invisible
chain’; in fact, it ‘resembles a family, a rather stuffy Victorian family,
with not many black sheep in it but with all its cupboards bursting with
skeletons’, with ‘its private language and its common memories’, and
‘with the wrong members in control’,56 but still a family. This is Orwell
in the propagandistic vein, because ‘at this moment we are in the soup,
full fathom five’, and he seeks to enlist patriotic feeling for a political
revolution, turning ‘England into a Socialist democracy’.57 Then, it will be
goodbye to the Tatler and the Bystander, and farewell to the lady in
the Rolls-Royce car. The heirs of Nelson and of Cromwell are not
in the House of Lords. They are in the fields and the streets, in the
factories and the armed forces, in the four-ale bar and the suburban
back garden; and at present they are still kept under by a generation
of ghosts. Compared with the task of bringing the real England to
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the surface, even the winning of the war, necessary though it is, is
secondary. By revolution we become more ourselves, not less. […]
I believe in England, and I believe that we shall go forward.58
The ‘real England’ which needs to be brought to the surface is, in this
case, a variation of the ‘People’s War’-theme, based on a military and
revolutionary genealogy, and its trajectory is towards the classless
society. In his peroration, Orwell departs from his usual practice of
critical description in order to posit a true Englishness which is somehow always in peril and buried under layers of inauthenticity. As with
Morton’s ‘essential England’ and Priestley’s ‘real enduring England’, it
emerges that authors tend to draw on this discourse of crisis when they
have a particular grievance or political agenda.
In ‘The English People’, commissioned by Collins in 1943, written in
1944 and finally published in 1947, Orwell changes his tune and offers a
comparatively good-natured account of Englishness, saying that ‘[d]uring
the bad period of 1940 it became clear that in Britain national solidarity
is stronger than class antagonism.’ Also, preservationism is taken more
seriously than before, and the high British morale during the Blitz is seen
as ‘partly due to the existence of the national “persona” – that is, to their
preconceived idea of themselves’ as ‘phlegmatic’ and ‘not easily rattled’.59
While Orwell notes with a sarcastic undertone that the English ‘ambition
to be a country gentleman’ is as strong as ever, he concedes that England
has ‘an equable climate and pleasantly varied scenery’ and that, since it
is almost impossible to ‘be more than twenty miles from a town’, rural
life is ‘less inherently boorish than it is in bigger countries with colder
winters’. Surprisingly, considering his earlier views, Orwell goes so far as
to argue that the British ruling class has behaved with ‘comparative integrity’, which is ‘probably bound up with their idea of themselves as feudal
landowners’ – an idea that extends to large sections of the middle class.
Nearly everyone who can afford to do so sets up as a country gentleman, or at least makes some effort in that direction. The manor
house with its park and its walled gardens reappears in reduced form
in the stockbroker’s week-end cottage, in the suburban villa with its
lawn and herbaceous border, perhaps even in the potted nasturtiums
on the window-sill of the Bayswater flat. This widespread day-dream
is undoubtedly snobbish, it has tended to stabilise class distinctions
and has helped to prevent the modernisation of English agriculture:
but it is mixed up with a kind of idealism, a feeling that style and
tradition are more important than money.60
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Dreamy idealism, style and tradition have become positive English
values. This seems like a proleptic reference to Orwell’s dystopian vision
of England in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), where the suggestion that true
Englishness somehow resides in the countryside comes in through the
back door, as it were. The totalitarian Airstrip One ruled by Ingsoc is
collectivist, modernist, urban, and deadly. All good things – real coffee,
wine, tea, sugar, chocolate, creamy paper, a pen and paperweight, a
clock on a mantlepiece – are associated with a past that lives on as party
privilege, while ordinary people, forced to consume pseudo-food and
synthetic gin, are fettered to the present by a technology of brainwashing and surveillance. At the heart of Winston Smith’s confused rebellion
is the dream vision of the ‘Golden Country’:
Suddenly he was standing on short springy turf, on a summer evening
when the slanting rays of the sun gilded the ground. The landscape that
he was looking at recurred so often in his dreams that he was never fully
certain whether or not he had seen it in the real world. In his waking
thoughts he called it the Golden Country. It was an old, rabbit-bitten
pasture, with a foot-track wandering across it and a molehill here and
there. In the ragged hedge on the opposite side of the field the boughs
of the elm trees were swaying very faintly in the breeze, their leaves just
stirring in dense masses like women’s hair. Somewhere near at hand,
though out of sight, there was a clear, slow-moving stream where dace
were swimming in the pools under the willow trees.61
Smith’s paradise is slightly bedraggled, but still recognizable as the
countryside symbolic of ‘real enduring England’ and the ‘mythical
present’ expressing a battered symbolic form of Englishness. Memory
and fantasy, the past and the imagination, are inextricably linked in
this vision. Indeed, few texts forge such a strong link between memory,
imagination and identity as Nineteen Eighty-Four, where memory and
the past are seen as prerequisites of imagination and identity formation,
and the destruction of memory – individual, communicative, collective
and cultural – also destroys individual and national identity. ‘When
there were no external records that you could refer to, even the outline
of your own life lost its sharpness’ (35). There can also be ‘no dignity of
emotion’ and no tragedy, because it ‘belonged to the ancient time, to
a time when there was still privacy, love and friendship, and when the
members of a family stood by one another without needing to know
the reason’ (33). Smith’s vision of the Golden Country is conjured up by
the memory of his mother who, he believes, sacrificed herself for him.
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
She is replaced in his dream by Julia, before he knows her name, who tears
her clothes off with a ‘gesture belonging to the ancient time. Winston
woke up with the word “Shakespeare” on his lips’ (34). Here, as in the
‘vague associations’ Priestley liked so much when looking at the countryside, a metonymical relationship is established between landscape
and cultural heritage. On his first excursion with Julia, Winston actually
discovers the place in the countryside, the site of love and sexuality, as
if he had dreamt it into existence: ‘“It’s the Golden Country – almost,”
he murmered’ (127). Thus, to go to the countryside, where it is possible to feel, to love and be private, becomes Winston’s first big act of
transgression in the collectivist world of Big Brother.
In The Country and the City, Raymond Williams also emphasizes this
connection between memory and identity, exploring how this nexus
came to be bound up with ruralism. He observes that accounts of the
decline of the countryside are often triggered, or at least supported,
by childhood memories, and thus, in what Williams compares to the
movement of an escalator, each generation believes that it has witnessed
the demise of rural England. Therefore, the critic must be sceptical
about ‘sentimental and intellectualised accounts of an unlocalised “Old
England”’.62 A more detailed analysis of the discourse leads Williams
to the pastoral tradition and its changes from classical antiquity to the
present. He describes ‘the conversion of conventional pastoral into a
localised dream and then, increasingly, in the late seventeenth and
early eighteenth centuries, into what can be offered as a description
and thence an idealisation of actual English country life and its social
and economic relations’ (26). This is transformed again through a
romantic focus on landscape and scenery, often promoted by those
who do not actually have to work on the land – ‘[f]lowers and privilege;
factory smoke and democracy’ (196). During industrialization, ruralism
comes to function as a new kind of counter-discourse:
[S]o much of the past of the country, its feelings and its literature,
was involved with rural experience, and so many of its ideas of how
to live well, from the style of the country-house to the simplicity
of the cottage, persisted and even were strenghthened, that there is
almost an inverse proportion, in the twentieth century, between the
relative importance of the working rural economy and the cultural
importance of rural ideas. (248)
Williams places the Georgian poets of the early twentieth century,
such as Edward Thomas, for example, in this context, where ‘a dream
English Journeys
of England, in which rural labour and rural revolt, foreign wars and
internal dynastic wars, history, legend and literature, are indiscriminately enfolded into a single emotional gesture’, combined sometimes
with an ‘uncritical interest in myth, which made the land and the
people a scene and characters into which anything could be projected,
with or without the inclusion of scraps of a classical education.’ Thus,
impatient of mythmaking and symbolization, Williams concludes disapprovingly: ‘a traditional and surviving rural England was scribbled
over and almost hidden from sight by what is really a suburban and
half-educated scrawl’ (258). Because of this, writing about the country
moves so often ‘from record to convention and back again, until these
seem inextricable’ (261). At the end of the book, Williams observes
that ‘the common image of the country is now an image of the past,
and the common image of the city an image of the future’, the former
with a pull ‘towards old ways, human ways, natural ways’, the latter
associated with ‘progress, modernisation, development’ (297). Coming
back to the idea of childhood memory prominent in rural nostalgia,
Williams points out that accounts of urban childhoods also tend to
have a nostalgic quality, so that childhood must generally be seen to
stand for deeper feeling, more immediate experience and a (false?)
memory of innocence. Williams concludes that ‘we have really to
look, in country and city alike, at the real social processes of alienation, separation, externality, abstraction’ (298) that account for the
dissatisfaction with modernity.
In the English utopian, or dystopian tradition from Thomas More to
H. G. Wells, as also in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s
Nineteen Eighty-Four, the utopian world is usually imagined in terms of
collectivism and order, but these very things are often seen as uncongenial to English identity characterized by an anti-planning impulse,
a suspicion of efficiency, and a preference verging on eccentricity for
privacy, personal space and individualism. According to this logic, the
image of the countryside becomes the archetypal setting for a variety
of things prized highly in English culture, so that idealist thinking in
England so frequently fastens on the past, taking the form of nostalgia.63 The idea of childlike innocence suggests a point of connection
with prelapsarian visions of the Golden Age, and perhaps this explains,
pace Williams, why the ‘memory’ of a vanished paradise has a greater
cultural resonance when connected with a nostalgic (re)turn to the
countryside rather than to urban spaces.
As Michael Bunce points out in his book The Countryside Ideal, the term
‘countryside’ became common in the early eighteenth century, associated
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
for the landed classes ‘with the sporting pleasures of hunting, shooting
and fishing, and with a life of genteel ease in carefully landscaped surroundings’.64 His study traces the process in which the countryside ideal
‘was forged in the rise of modern urban civilisation’,65 and by a somewhat
different route, he comes to the same conclusion as Williams, pointing
out that ‘lurking beneath the cultural fabrication of countryside idealism are the deeper anxieties about modern life.’ The countryside ‘thus
becomes a symbolic landscape because it conveys meanings which speak
of the very associations which urbanism and modernism have broken,
and which our nostalgia drives us to restore’.66 As I have shown in this
chapter, the interwar period was a crucial time for a negotiation and reformulation of the English countryside ideal. In his study on H. V. Morton,
Michael Bartholomew testifies to the continued appeal and emotional
complexity of this ideal:
Has my study of Morton purged me of the myth of an essentially
arcadian England? Do I now see it plainly as an elaborate artifice,
a myth constructed and manipulated by writers as skilful as Morton
undoubtedly was, and sustained to this day, seemingly incorrigibly,
by magazines like Country Living and This England? Obviously yes,
but I still cycle round the English lanes, and trudge the footpaths,
faintly haunted by a residual shred of belief that I’ll pedal round
a bend, or plod over a horizon, and suddenly find myself in the
England for which Morton searched, and which – because it is,
after all, a myth – he never found.67
The countryside ideal, the rural myth of England, the essential England,
the ‘real enduring England’, the ‘mythical present’ is the most enduring
expression of the symbolic form of Englishness. Reshaped, modernized
and disseminated in travel writing of the interwar period, it was readily
available in World War Two when propagandists needed to explain to
the people what they were fighting for.
Addressing the People
7.1 The pamphleteer
Priestley was a prominent author in the 1930s, but he reached the
height of his fame and popularity in wartime with a great number of
domestic and overseas broadcasts. In particular, his series of ‘Postscripts’
to the nine o’clock news, introduced to counter Lord Haw Haw’s Nazi
propaganda, was so popular that over 50 per cent of the adult population regularly tuned in. If the BBC was the ‘voice of Britain’ at the time,
Priestley embodied it, second only in this to the Prime Minister himself.
In fact, Churchill and Priestley can be regarded as complementary radio
persona in that the Prime Minister expressed a chivalric, high Tory ideal
wheareas Priestley represented the ‘ordinary people’. It is often noted
that Priestley was eventually taken off the air because his commitment
to a socialist, or social-democratic postwar reconstruction of society
was resented in some high places, and that the BBC and the Ministry
of Information ended up accusing each other of being responsible
for this action.1 The disgruntled Priestley is then said to have sought
other channels for the dissemination of his political views.2 While this
account is acceptable in principle, it must be remembered, as I have
shown above in some detail, that Priestley was no revolutionary. Jean
Seaton also notes this in her history on broadcasting, concluding that
‘the most notable feature of Priestley’s talks was that a concern for
ordinary people and their future emerged and was expressed by very
traditional images of rural England, village communities, and nature.’3
I suggest that a closer look at the forms and contexts in which Priestley
disseminated his political views and propaganda messages is warranted
in order both to do justice to the complexity of Priestley’s work and to
understand its role in the construction of wartime myths of Englishness.
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
This section will deal in turn with some of Priestley’s political writings,
his ‘Postscripts’ and other broadcasts as well as with the wartime novels
in order to explore Priestley’s idea of community as a facet of the symbolic
form of Englishness.
In his pamphlet, Out of the People, published in 1941, Priestley
expounds his political credo plainly and at length. He begins by
explaining his notion of ‘the people’, which he opposes to ‘the masses’.
‘The people’ conjure up ‘a confused but lively vision of a hundred faces
and a hundred voices, as if a picture by old Breughel had suddenly
come to life’.4 ‘The masses’, on the other hand, are inhuman, ‘bundles
of instincts and appetites’, ‘units of man-power’. ‘The people always
have roots, whereas the masses are rootless; moving almost like sleepwalkers everywhere, anywhere, in and out of their giant factories or
mechanical places of amusement’ (18). It is one of the quarrels Priestley
has with communism that he believes it to be based on such an idea of
the masses. In much the same vein as George Orwell variously argued,
Priestley says that ‘no artist of any kind ever believes in the masses’, and
‘wherever this conception of the masses dominates the scene, no matter
how much public money may be spent on encouraging the arts, true art
soon begins to wither. And more than art begins to wither, because
there is less knowledge and less love’ (22). Individual people carry these
emotional and aesthetic qualities which are expressed in ‘character’,
and there is a certain danger, in a modern context of mass-production,
that people might ‘degenerate’ into masses. As already pointed out
above with respect to Priestley’s English Journey, his vision in such a
context is very close to the cultural critique of the Frankfurt School.
Robot-like workers’ ‘amusements and recreations soon seem almost as
mechanised and standardised as their work. Hollywood and the cheap
Press do not provide antidotes but only change the flavouring of the
poison. Their very dreams come from another mass production factory’
(60). Theatre and books and intellectual pursuits which demand some
energy are abandoned in favour of popular film and radio.
Resistance to such a development must come from the people themselves. Priestley sees the people as a community of responsible citizens
and believes that the ‘state can never be the perfect expression, in political and economic action, of the community’ (93). Consequently, party
politics are not the answer to contemporary problems. ‘Every demand
made by Labour might be granted and even then many of the people
concerned would still be living a narrow and colourless existence, pent
up in dingy streets, robbed of the country and yet not enjoying an urban
civilisation’ (47). What the people need is ‘a gayer, richer, nobler way of
Addressing the People
life’ (47), which will only be gained through communal participation.
‘Politics must no longer be like professional football, in which a few men
play while a hundred thousand others look on. It must be more like village
cricket, where there are more on the field than round it’ (100–1). Seeing
the British people’s morale in times of war, Priestley is optimistic that
they will demand, and receive, a better deal after the war, and he devotes
some space in his pamphlet to explaining the causes for his optimism
as well as the impediments which stand in the way of improvement.
Class is one such impediment, on which Priestley has some interesting
things to say. With the real aristocratic system gone, he sees much of ‘this
class business’ as ‘merely an ornamental cover’ for ruthless exploiters who
take ‘advantage of the English weakness for tradition’. One slave driver
of the industrial North ‘suddenly vanishes, and then up pops another
good old English gentleman in Hampshire or Hereford, to sit under the
Union Jack (as if he owned it) on Tory platforms and to put in his plea for
“our good old English way” ’. This element of ‘fancy dress’ (25) makes an
exploitative social system much more dangerous which ‘still talked about
tradition and the classes’, but ‘had a real if hidden structure of a very
different kind’, just as a ‘modern picture theatre, designed to look like an
Egyptian temple, is really an affair of steel girders and concrete’ (26).
Again, as in the English Journey and in close resemblance to
H. V. Morton’s views, this interpretation of the conditions of modernity, combined with the threat of war, led Priestley to a contracted
vision of his country: ‘[T]he whole quietly genteel style of life, which
may have been the result of much heroic self-sacrifice, was menaced;
and the green little island, which had seemed a shining Avalon perhaps
throughout years of deserts or jungles, was now seen to be bristling
with mantraps and mines’ (29). The radiant core of the British Empire
has become beleaguered Little England. In the new wartime Britain, ‘we
are bound up with our community, as if we had developed mysterious nerve-ends outside ourselves […] like wireless receivers that had
suddenly and greatly enlarged their range of reception’ (27). Thus, a
rhizomatic community is about to replace the stratified, expansive
society which persists only as masquerade. Due to this focus on community, Britain should not be seen as a sum of private properties, but
as ‘the home of the British people’, and nothing ‘in this communal
home should be sacrificed to making money that would not be sacrificed in an individual home. No man has the right to make a dirty
mess of the place for his private gain’ (45–6). Here, the image of the
British people as a family, also evoked, skeletons and all, by Orwell, is
coupled with Priestley’s preservationist theme, familiar from his 1930s
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
preoccupation with the improvement of living conditions. The ‘real
England’, however, is now ‘this democratic industrial England’, which
will put an end to ‘the stupid and dangerous notion that this England,
which does the work, is only a sort of dirty annexe to some other and
much more important England’ (32). The ‘real enduring England’ of
the English Journey must wait, because modern war, the ‘People’s war’,
is a war of machines, and they ‘do not manufacture fifteen-inch guns
or Spitfires down at the old family place in Devon’ (32).
There are three major threats to democracy, the first being the decay
of religious belief, because it makes ‘the individual man or woman
seem less significant’ (50) and causes a loss of spirituality, ‘as if one
part of their minds were to let’ (53). The other two threats are the
recent organization of authority and large-scale industry, the latter
because of the above-mentioned dangers of mass-production, and
the former, at least partly, because of the possibility of influencing
public opinion through the media, especially under wartime conditions of censorship. The BBC is ‘under the control of the Ministry
of Information, which in its turn is controlled by the War Cabinet,
with the result that the air is filled with explanations and defences
of the Governments’s policies and is rarely used for criticism of those
policies’ (55). Clearly, Priestley’s responsible citizen needs an inclusive
and diverse public sphere in order to preserve the circumstantial community created in wartime through resistance to a common enemy.
Priestley glances back to the interwar period in disgust, summarizing
the observations already voiced in the English Journey:
Surely one reason why the twenty years between wars now seem a
tragic farce, even here at home, is that during this period we did not
change our values but merely cheapened them. It will be remembered as the era of nightclub-haunting princes and gossip-writing
peers. The masquerade still went on, though now the costumes
were tattered and the masks rotting. It was neither aristocratic
nor democratic, but the period of an uneasy posturing plutocracy.
[…] Meanwhile the last traces were vanishing of that older Britain
whose hazy loveliness was recorded by Turner and Constable,
Girtin and Cotman, whose wealth of character enriched the pages
of Fielding and Sterne, Scott and Dickens, whose love and pain
and ecstasy were made immortal by her lyric poets. […] This older
Britain had to go, but what took its place had no like value, no new
salt and savour to equal the old[.] […] How much was there here
worth preserving? (105–6)
Addressing the People
A rhetorical question to some extent, but the war effort has restored
Priestley’s faith that the people will prevail; his optimism is stronger
than ever, because British people ‘are still seen as people and not as
animated types and functions’ (70). It is notable that Priestley moves
freely between England and Britain in his pamphlet. The terms are used
metonymically rather than as synonyms, however, because Priestley
associates Englishness with character, tradition, aesthetics and cultural
values while Britain is a political formation; English characters make
British citizens, with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as absent
presences. The values which are seen to sustain this citizenship are
English values, and interestingly, Priestley sees them as quasi-religious
from a psychological point of view. He quotes the moral philosopher
John Macmurray’s assessment that it is ‘the religious character of the
English values which explains the failure of Communist theory to make
much impression upon the British working classes. They tend to judge
religiously, that is to say, in terms of direct relation between man and
man’ (71).
For Priestley, the importance of the ‘personal or rather interpersonal
values for the English’ cannot be overestimated, which he sees epitomized in ‘typically English discussions as to who is and who is not
“a Gentleman”’ (71), an assessment which is more based on behaviour
than on financial background and which suggests, to Priestley, that the
‘heartening mystery of the human soul still exists’ (71) for the English.
This argument shows Priestley’s awareness that national mythmaking
tends towards the quasi-religious – what I call the ‘mythical present’
of Englishness is based on an emotional and spiritual investment in
the nation which, as Priestley suggests, compensates for other losses
of faith. Incidentally, George Orwell, grimly tongue in cheek, also
assumes a religious background for what he describes as the English
‘cult of Northernness’ in The Road to Wigan Pier: ‘When nationalism
first became a religion, the English looked at the map, and, noticing
that their island lay very high in the Northern Hemisphere, evolved
the pleasing theory that the further north you live the more virtuous
you become.’5 Churchill, Priestley and Orwell led others to ‘believe in
England’6 during their ‘finest hour’, and for Anglo-Britain, in spite of
postcolonial interventions and devolution, there has as yet been no
final twilight of the gods.
Although it sometimes appears that Priestley’s British people are
implicitly male – they have ‘fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sweethearts, wives, and children’ (17) for example – and although he occasionally praises the ‘virile’ quality of old English life, Priestley’s vision
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
of real democracy includes the emancipation of women. In 1943 he
published an illustrated propaganda piece entitled British Women Go to
War, which was apparently written with the double purpose of minimizing aversion to general conscription in wartime and advocating a
New Britain in peacetime. Although it is generally assumed now that
the conscription of women became necessary because of the insufficient
number of volunteers, Priestley explains it as an organizational measure
necessary in order to deal with the mobilization of a great number of
women, because ‘[e]ven when they can be moved about, they cannot be
moved about in the casual fashion that will do for the male.’7 Priestley
emphasizes the interesting range of occupations available to women
now and notes that officers are ‘encouraged to explain the news of
the day to their girls and to interest them in public affairs. Lectures
are as frequent as films and other shows, and the girls have a chance
to improve their minds, which a narrow environment in civil life has
often left rusting and almost unused’ (26). The tone Priestley adopts
in this book, very different from his political pamphlet, is friendly and
charming, courteous and slightly patronizing, cosy, humorous and
reassuring, as in sentences such as ‘now the right compromise between
feminine anarchy and a burlesque of the Prussian Guard has been discovered’ (30). Women are praised for succeeding at the hardest jobs, like
some young women skilled at twisting steel wire into grommets, and
‘when these two fine-looking girls marry’, Priestley chuckles, ‘they will
have to exercise the most powerful self-restraint when they descend to
washing-up or making pastry, in which the grommet touch might be
fatal’ (36). This attitude of chatty ease is somewhat deceptive, however,
because if Priestley is about the business of sugar-coating grim wartime
conditions, he is also sugar-coating a comparatively radical position
with regard to women’s place in postwar society.
Priestley believes that women have ‘moved further from their pre-war
outlook than the men’ (30), and although a woman might like to
think ‘of the war as a kind of brief interruption rather than a revolution in their lives’, she ‘will discover that what satisfied her before
this adventure will no longer content her afterwards. The years in
uniform will have changed her’ (27). Moreover, Priestley argues that
women have a ‘legitimate grievance’, hitherto unaired, which consists
in the scarcity of women in leading positions. Always the gentleman, he asserts that if ‘they would prefer a man to air it for them,
I shall be happy to oblige’ (32). There are ‘innumerable responsible
jobs’ that women could do, and if ‘the right kind of women cannot
be found in Parliament, then the Government should look outside
Addressing the People
Parliament, which is far from having any monopoly of ability, especially
feminine ability’. In case it should be thought too late to make these
wartime appointments, ‘let us insist that in the reorganization of the
country for peace, a reasonable proportion of women are brought in
to direct our affairs’ (33). In an argument echoing Virginia Woolf’s
Three Guineas (1938), Priestley asserts that ‘the world has long been
suffering from an overdose of the masculine values and a lack of
the feminine principle, with its realistic outlook and its care for the
individual human being’ (33). This opinion is no doubt informed by
Priestley’s reliance on the thinking of C. G. Jung with respect to the
concept of anima and animus and the complementarity of the sexes.
It is also significant in the present context that such stereotypically
English concepts as realism and common sense, stoicism and successful amateurism are attributed to women in particular, making their
contribution essential for a New Britain. The book carries attractive
colour photographs of women doing wartime jobs, and Priestley fills
them with life, providing each woman with a name and a personal
story, sometimes also detecting a symbolic message. For example, two
pretty engine cleaners might ‘serve as a glimpse of modern humanity undaunted by its own grim machine age, hopeful and humorous
among the giant wheels. There is, you will notice, blue sky behind
them. Let us hope that is symbolic, too’ (39). Priestley also takes care to
emphasize the Englishness of the scenes depicted: describing a hospital
worker as ‘the lady with the scarlet hospital blanket’ (53) he alludes
to Florence Nightingale, and a pillar box, emptied by a respectablelooking postwoman, puts him in mind of ‘a city alderman’, ‘stuffed
with correspondence of the highest importance, large cheques from
insurance companies, grave messages from private bankers, leases from
old-established forms of solicitors, and the like’ (49). Jam-making takes
place in a schoolroom in front of a blackboard with ‘the infant saga
of pretty kitty and Rover and the ball’, and ‘above the upper range of
jams, symbolic of all our wartime endeavours, is the globe itself, with a
hopeful glitter on both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans’ (48). Discussing
childcare in healthy, rural surroundings, Priestley asserts: ‘Those of us
who sometimes talk confidently of a New Britain are accused of being
woolly-minded Utopians, but here is a photograph of this New Britain.
These children live in a country mansion, formerly occupied by one
elderly lady and her servants’ (52). Incidentally, Priestley’s wife Jane,
devotedly engaged in war work, was running just such a home for
children. The old England may have been ‘virile’, but the New British
citizen is as likely as not to be female.
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
Priestley’s solution to the necessary redistribution of work in the New
Britain is part-time work, so that women can lead a ‘fuller and happier life. They have those personal relationships without which most
women feel insecure and forlorn. They look after their machines better
just because they know they have something else to do besides looking
after machines’ (58). Thus, to a certain extent Priestley sees women as
the guardians of a desirable English way of life which has been jeopardized by the ‘perpetual dog-fight’ (33) of a ‘more destructive sex’ (59).
Priestley’s opinions may appear problematic in the light of recent
gender theories, but in the context of the contemporary spectrum of
ideas, which ranged from the sexist and reactionary to the patronizingly benevolent, they are rather enlightened, and needless to say,
postwar reality fell far short of what he had envisioned. In the present
context, it is important to note that, although there are themes and
beliefs which tend to reappear in Priestley’s writing, genuine concerns
that he felt strongly about, he carefully adapts his lines of argument,
his imagery and his tone to the task in hand, to his immediate aims,
to the medium and the target audience. It would therefore be unwise
in a critical analysis to be taken in by Priestley’s easy style and assume
that he is artlessly speaking his mind, since this is precisely the effect
he wishes to produce.
This is borne out by a brief look at Britain at War, another propaganda
piece with many photographs published in 1942 and addressed to
American readers who would know Priestley probably through his novels, perhaps his lecture tours and plays, and almost certainly through
his overseas broadcasts. The book bears the epithet ‘Wake not the sleeping lion’ (Old Proverb), and Priestley takes this up, stating grandly that
‘[t]he old lion roared its defiance, the wolves and jackals hesitated and
the world’s freedom was saved.’8 He refutes enemy propaganda that the
British are letting Commonwealth soldiers do their fighting for them,
attributing this impression to English courtesy and reticence, deplorable, perhaps, in wartime: ‘Our authorities have a habit, honourable but
misleading, of giving special attention in their reports of any campaign
to the part played in it by troops from the Dominions or India’ (34).
Priestley also talks in a much more cavalier way about women than
he would do in British Women Go to War: the ‘Women’s Land Army,
whose members work on farms, wear a nice green uniform, and are apt
to look, while they are still dainty in the recruit stage, like the chorus
in a rustic musical show’ (49). Priestley goes on to defend and explain
conscription and reassures Americans, who had newly entered the war,
about the resilience of the British people – rationing may be a nuisance,
Addressing the People
but people are more healthy than they used to be thanks to a balanced
diet arranged by experts, and women ‘appear to have more fun mysteriously transforming old clothes – including some miraculous tricks with
their husbands’ dress suits – than they ever did buying new clothes’ (91).
So things are rather jolly, although people are making great sacrifices.
‘This is fundamentally a People’s War’ (115), a people led by competent
leaders determined to destroy Nazism. Priestley repeats his familiar
message here, this time directed to ‘some people overseas’ who imagine
Britain to be ‘merely a picturesque land of castles and thatched cottages, populated almost entirely by hunting squires and hat-touching
villagers. […] We are essentially a nation of ship-builders, iron-founders,
engineers and mechanics’ (69). The book finishes on a heroic note: ‘The
Britain of 1942 is a far better country than the Britain of 1939. It is ready
now to play a great part in the creation of a truly civilised world of fully
co-operating free men and women. When the vultures have gone, the
lion will still be awake’ (117). Priestley’s tone in this book is much more
boisterous than in other publications and there is less irony; he emphasizes a commitment to democracy and global civilization and he clearly
does not expect his readers to have an intimate knowledge about Britain
and its culture. As in all his non-fiction, Priestley’s writing has a carefully crafted conversational and oral quality, but in this case, he talks
rather like an ambassador reporting from his country, and more loudly,
so as to be heard across the ocean, as it were, and there is no hint of the
intimate address he reserves for his countrymen in domestic contexts.
If he is playing the same tune, he is certainly playing it in a different
key. A comparison of his domestic broadcasts, the Postscripts, with his
broadcasts to America in the Britain Speaks series9 offers some intriguing
insights as to how Priestley suits his words to his audiences.
7.2 The broadcaster
The broadcasts to America fulfilled an extremely important political
role, because the USA was still neutral, and up until the attack on Pearl
Harbor and the German declaration of war and even beyond, British
propaganda can be seen to woo the USA for much-needed support. In
the Britain Speaks series, Priestley adopts his ‘American tone’, driving
home the message that the war must be a global affair and Britain is
a worthy ally. Unafraid of cliché, he assures Americans that the ‘temper of the ordinary easy-going English folk is rising’ (BS, 5–6), adding
a week later: ‘You know how it is with a bulldog – he’ll let you tease
him and maul him about perhaps for an hour or two, but go an inch
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
too far and he’ll sink his teeth into you and never let go. Well, that’s
the real English, the ordinary quiet folk’ (BS, 11). The Postscripts were
also extremely important for morale during the Battle of Britain and
the Blitz. When Priestley published those talks in book form, he was
reluctant to do so because they were ‘meant to be spoken and heard
over the air and not to be read in cold print. They are wireless talks
and not essays.’ The pressure on him was such, however, that he agreed
eventually, asking readers not to blame him ‘if you should change your
mind about them now, for they have already done the work they were
intended to do’ (PS, v).
Priestley insists that this is no posturing, which is rendered a trifle
doubtful by the fact that many talks had already appeared in ‘cold print’.10
In any case, what he says in the preface testifies to his acute awareness
of medium and purpose, and he includes some interesting observations
about the power of broadcasting (in the days of monopoly):
I have been hard at it getting through to the public mind, in one
way or another, for about twenty years, but as a medium of communication this broadcasting makes everything else seem like the
method of a secret society. So long as you don’t go on too long
and the listeners are not tired of you, a mere whisper over the air
seems to start an avalanche. Mention a couple of ducks, and they
are photographed as if they were film stars. Refer to a pie in a shop
window, and instantly there are pilgrimages to it. (PS, vi)
In terms of style, broadcasting must be ‘a genuine sharing of feelings and
views on the part of the broadcaster. He must talk as if he were among
serious friends, and not as if he had suddenly been appointed head of an
infants’ school.’ Connected with this, the propaganda methods of World
War One are unsuitable for the present one. A ‘simple, almost idiotic
nationalism will not do’, and ‘either we are fighting to bring a better
world into existence or we are merely assisting at the destruction of such
civilisation as we possess’ (PS, vii). In order to underline this, ‘far removed
from the proper time and place and method’ (PS, viii), Priestley presents
his talks in print as a tribute to his discerning listeners. This preface is
typical of Priestley’s kind of self-fashioning, because all available evidence
suggests that, unlike H. V. Morton for example, he tends to mean what
he says in public, but at the same time he made his living by this kind of
work, and republishing old material certainly did him no harm.
Probably the most famous talk is a preliminary one, dated Wednesday,
5 June 1940, before the Postscripts started. Talking about the evacuation
Addressing the People
of Dunkirk, Priestley gives birth to an English myth. ‘Nothing, I feel,
could be more English than this Battle of Dunkirk, both in its beginning
and its end, its folly and its grandeur’ (PS, 1). Dunkirk is an ‘English
epic’, because what began as a ‘miserable blunder’ was turned into ‘an
epic of gallantry’ (PS, 2).
[W]hat was most characteristically English about it – so typical of
us, so absurd and yet so grand and gallant that you hardly know
whether to laugh or to cry when you read about them – was the
part played in the difficult and dangerous embarkation – not by
the warships, magnificent though they were – but by the little
pleasure-steamers. We’ve known them and laughed at them, these
fussy little steamers, all our lives. We have called them ‘the shilling
sicks.’ […] They liked to call themselves ‘Queens’ and ‘Belles’; and
even if they were new, there was always something old-fashioned,
a Dickens touch, a mid-Victorian air, about them. They seemed to
belong to the same ridiculous holiday world as pierrots and piers,
sand castles, ham-and-egg teas, palmists, automatic machines, and
crowded sweating promenades. […] Yes, these ‘Brighton Belles’ and
‘Brighton Queens’ left that innocent foolish world of theirs – to sail
into the inferno, to defy bombs, shells, magnetic mines, torpedoes,
machine-gun fire – to rescue our soldiers. (PS, 2–3)
The ‘Gracie Fields’, well-known to Priestley from the ferry service to
the Isle of Wight, was sunk and will now ‘go sailing proudly down
the years in the epic of Dunkirk’ (PS, 4). The little pleasure steamers,
lovingly evoked in an English scene, stand metonymically for the
English who rise to the occasion and take on a terrible enemy. When
Priestley talks about Dunkirk on the Overseas Service, he just says that
‘we have the gift of rapid and effective improvisation, as we have just
seen in the magnificent embarkation at Dunkirk’ (BS, 9). There is no
mention of pleasure steamers, but Priestley refers to a talk with ‘our
boys just back from Dunkirk’, which put him in mind of ‘the famous
saying of Henry the Fourth of France, when he met the friend of his
who had missed the great battle. He said: “Go hang yourself, brave
Crillon. We fought at Arques, and you were not there.” But now all of
us here are fighting at Arques’ (BS, 14). Lest anybody miss this message
to neutral America, Priestley relates how American friends offered to
care for his children as long as the danger lasted, but how everybody
would rather stay in England where the action is. While the American
friends can only look on in horror, ‘we […] are now so completely
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engrossed in action that there comes to us, as a compensation for all
our effort, a certain feeling of expansion, a heightening of the spirit, a
sense that somewhere in this struggle of free men against drilled and
doped slaves there is a moral grandeur’ (BS, 13–14). Incidentally, the
same idea is expressed in the ‘Postscript’ of Sunday, 8 September 1940
with reference to civilians in World War One. Thus, for his American
listeners, Priestley expands the scale of his epic, because he obviously
thought that the quaintness and smallness emphasized in the domestic context, an aspect considered particularly English, would not have
appealed to them.
Priestley’s loving description of the English spring in the first ‘Postscript’
on Sunday, 9 June 1940 is another case in point:
I’ve gone out and stared at the red japonica or the cherry and almond
blossom, so clear and exquisite against the moss-stained old wall – and
have hardly been able to believe my eyes; I’ve just gaped and gaped like
a bumpkin at a fair through all these weeks of spring. Never have I seen
(at least, not since I grew up) such a golden white of buttercups and daisies in the meadows. I’ll swear the very birds have sung this year as they
never did before. Just outside my study, there are a couple of blackbirds
who think they’re still in the Garden of Eden. (PS, 5)
Priestley quotes Tennyson and goes on to express his feeling that the
English landscape is speaking to him: ‘“Look at me, as I am now in my
beauty and fullness of joy, and do not forget.” And when I feel this,
I feel too a sudden and very sharp anger; for I remember then how this
island is threatened and menaced’ (PS, 6–7). Here is what we are fighting for, the rural beauties of Albion. The broadcast to America on 5 June
1940 is entitled ‘Never Have We Seen or Enjoyed So Lovely a Spring’,
but Priestley does not elaborate on the springtime beauties; the jubilant
detail is reserved for domestic consumption. English landscape worship
of this kind is offered on the Empire and Dominion Service, as we shall
see, but not to Americans. Priestley does recycle his material, as he had
to do, given the number of his broadcasts, but he carefully adapts it to
the circumstances.
In the ‘Postscript’ on 16 June 1940, Priestley talks about a night watch
with the Local Defence Volunteers, creating a pastoral scene for his
The men I met up there the other night represented a good crosssection of English rural life; we had a parson, a bailiff, a builder,
Addressing the People
farmers and farm labourers. Even the rarer and fast disappearing
rural trades were represented – for we had a hurdle-maker there;
and his presence, together with that of a woodman and a shepherd,
made me feel sometimes that I’d wandered into one of those rich
chapters of Thomas Hardy’s fiction in which his rustics meet in
the gathering darkness on some Wessex hillside. And indeed there
was something in the preliminary talk, before the sentries were
posted for the night, that gave this whole horrible business of air
raids and threatened invasion a rustic, homely, almost comfortable
atmosphere[.] (PS, 9)
Priestley praises the sensible approach of the countryman who sees this
war as just one of the tribulations of life, unlike the ‘intellectual’, who
is ‘apt to see these things as the lunatic end of everything, as part of a
crazy Doomsday Eve, and so he goes about moaning, or runs away to
America’ (PS, 10) – clearly a tilt at W. H. Auden and friends. There are
homely images of women-folk knitting and listening to the news and
‘the glow-worms, poor ignorant little creatures’, who ‘don’t know there’s
a war on and so continue lighting themselves up’ (PS, 11). Priestley feels
a ‘powerful and rewarding sense of community’ and continuity, with
the ‘ploughman and parson, shepherd and clerk, turning out at night,
as our forefathers had often done before us, to keep watch and ward
over the sleeping English hills and fields and homesteads’ (PS, 12), and
he closes his talk on a pensive note with Thomas Hardy’s song ‘In Time
of the Breaking of Nations’.
Two days before, on 14 June 1940, he had talked to America about
his night duty with the ‘Parashots’. ‘They were being quite serious and
sincere about it all, but their sound rustic habit of relating everything
intimately to their own familiar background […] did somehow put
all this raiding and invading in their proper places’ (BS, 24). There is
no mention of intellectuals running away to America, and Priestley
does not go for pastoralism but shapes his account like an adventure
tale in the Wild West spirit. Apparently there was a guy in the group,
‘Bill by name and gawky by nature’, particularly alert because he ‘has
spent many and many a night poaching – creeping about the woods
with his gun when the rest of us were asleep’ (BS, 26). Priestley adds
that ‘chaps like Bill, who know every inch of the local countryside,
who have eyes like hawks, who can keep still under cover, who are
very good shots, may prove awkward opponents for these young men
who drop on us from the skies’ (BS, 26). Bill the poacher lay so low
that he is absent from the English account, as Thomas Hardy is from
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
the American, and Priestley closes with some rousing lines by Walt
Whitman. Since Priestley carefully, and successfully, shaped his talks so
they would resonate with his respective audiences, it is possible to get
a good sense here of the contents of the English and American collective and cultural memories and the ways they could be tapped in order
to create a sense of national identity and common purpose. It should
also be remembered how Priestley always roots his talks in alleged
personal feelings, thoughts and experiences to create an impression of
immediacy, sincerity and authenticity. His great advantage was that he
could also deliver them in such a way, certainly helped in this by his
theatre background and his musical talent which made him susceptible
to intonation.
Time and again, Priestley conjures up images of community for his
American listeners – the international ‘fighting forces of freedom’ (BS,
95) including ‘husky suntanned Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders’
(BS, 94) as well as the correspondents in the BBC, ‘a large group of men
and women who belong to many different nations and may have come
from the ends of the earth to work within these high white walls, but
who are all united by a sense of common purpose’ (BS, 116–17), and
British factory workers engaged in community singing. ‘I said, “Let the
people sing.” And they did, rolling their choruses above the band, singing “Bring me my bow of burning gold, / Bring me my arrows of desire, /
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold, / Bring me my chariot of fire”’
(BS, 126). Every listener should be itching to join the forces of freedom
and leap into the fray. Some individuals are excluded, however, like for
example the English actors, writers, film producers and directors who
have stayed in Hollywood and who must be regarded with a mixture of
‘wonder and pity’, especially since ‘these artists can never feel part of
our community again’ (BS, 184–5).
Priestley never criticizes Britain abroad; there is no mention of fifthcolumnists, and he defends wartime censorship, also insisting that
his talks are not propaganda because he is free to say what he likes as
long as he does not give away vital information to the enemy (BS, 113,
232–3). Since he expressed criticism at home quite frequently, the selectivity of his approach is thrown into relief by a comparison of his talks
on different wavelengths. At home, he implores his listeners to be critical, to use their minds and to ‘sometimes get clean away in mind and
spirit from the whole thing, but then, when you return to it, don’t be a
mere cork bobbing about on a stream of information and rumour and
dejected wonder, but cut through to the causes, the ideas’ (PS, 58). This
is said in open defiance of those who believe that independent thinking
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poses a ‘danger to national unity’ (PS, 57). In the ‘Postscript’ of Sunday,
25 August 1940, Priestley tells his audience that the thoughts which led
to his exhortations were prompted by a little time-out he took in Wales,
an opportunity for reflection he also recommends to his fellow citizens.
When he mentioned his trip to Wales in the Britain Speaks series on
22 August, he merely related how easy the travels had been, how punctual the trains and how the Spitfires were roaming the sky, protecting
the people in their little island fortress (BS, 168–9). Finally, in his last
‘Postscript’ of 1940, on 20 October, Priestley repeats the outline of his
political vision and expresses the fear that, ‘as this high mood passes,
apathy will return to some sections of the community and selfishness
and stupidity to some other sections’, and ‘then the great opportunity
will pass us by, and soon the light will be going out again’ (PS, 99–100).
To sum up, Priestley always differentiates clearly between a domestic
political agenda, where he is not afraid of controversy, and a representation of the national interest abroad. While he often uses and recycles
the same images and narratives, they acquire a political edge in the
domestic context due to the assumption that the audience shares his
experiences and individual listeners occupy their own positions in the
British cultural field and therefore stand in some kind of relation to
Priestley, which expresses the nation as a knowable community.
It remains now to look at an example of what was broadcast to those
belonging to, but physically outside the British community, and I will
finish my analysis of broadcasting with a discussion of an interesting
collection of talks published in 1942 and originally broadcast in the
Empire Service of the BBC, entitled The English Spirit. In his ‘Postscript’
of Sunday, 8 September 1940, for the benefit of his domestic audience
Priestley conjures up an image of these listeners in the Dominions
which is worth quoting at the outset:
I do a great deal of broadcasting in the small hours to the Dominions
and the United States, and these talks which go out on short wave,
are picked up by little groups of our own folk all over the world, at the
very ends of the earth – as I know from messages – from the heart of
Africa to the far Straits of Magellan. These talks bring me many cables
and letters from those distant listening folk, to whom I describe as
best I can how all you people at home are facing each new ordeal,
how nobly you’ve responded to every call, how when the whole
waiting world was afraid, your spirits rose and rose to a magnificent
defiance. Well, I wish you could read these letters I receive, from the
Dominions, from all over the United States, and, most moving of
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
all, from tiny groups, often just a man and wife, of British folk far,
far away, perhaps high in the Andes or on some tropical island. And
I wish you could understand with what deep anxiety, and now with
what renewed hope, with what pride and joy, what smiles and tears,
they listen to our accounts of you and of this glorious new chapter in
our island history.11
In this address, the British Empire appears intact, but seems curiously
inverted. London, still the centre, is embattled and in peril, watched anxiously by little groups of ‘British folk’ from remote corners of the world.
So the outposts of Empire had become places of refuge when the centre
almost did not hold, but the structure is held together by the sense of
a community spread out over the globe whose sensations are evoked in
an almost Wordsworthian diction. The editor of a collection of overseas
broadcasts entitled The English Spirit, Anthony Weymouth, asserts that
‘[n]o effort was made to select topics which would illustrate the English
Spirit, and yet when I looked through the Talks I was struck by the light
they threw on various aspects of the English character.’12 As he listened,
during the Blitz, ‘to the calm voices describing some typically English
scene – such, for instance, as the garden with the fat yellow primroses
which J. B. Priestley describes – I felt sure that Talks such as these must
inspire confidence in our Dominions and Colonies’ (7). Weymouth also
has his eye on posterity and the construction of a collective memory of
the nation when he expresses the hope that these published talks will
serve ‘to prove to those who come after us that the English Spirit was
very much alive in British Broadcasting during England’s greatest hour
of danger’ (18).
The English Spirit may therefore be taken as a deeply ideological text,
and Weymouth has some interesting things to say about broadcasting
and the level at which he believes the medium to address its audiences.
The radio talk acts on the emotions; it must be intimate and conversational, directed at an individual listener. Psychologically speaking,
‘a convincing broadcaster projects his personality into the microphone’
(13, italics in original) so that there is always an unconscious element
in the communication. The address must also be simple and familiar,
which makes English ideas of style particularly suitable to the radio. ‘The
man who can construct a script which is really suitable for broadcasting
is the lineal descendant of the essay writer’ (12). All this makes the
radio an ideal apparatus for the construction of a community bound
by a collective memory: ‘[T]hanks to the miracle of radio the outlying
parts of the British Commonwealth have kept in almost as close touch
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as if they were in the continent of Europe instead of being separated by
thousands of miles of sea’ (18).
Priestley’s talk, the second in the book after a birthday address to
Winston Churchill, is called ‘This Land of Ours’, and here he adopts
what might tentatively be called his ‘Dominion tone’, much like a kind
uncle telling a fairy tale:
I have a house down in the Isle of Wight, which is a sort of miniature Southern England, and what I’ve seen round that house lately
has taken my breath away. To begin with, it’s all greener than ever
this year. Everywhere an incredible variety, lushness and tenderness
of green. And we’ve had all the blossom out – apple, cherry and
peach – perfectly set against the weather-stained old walls; a blaze
of tulips; and along the little stream by the tennis court the fattest
and yellowest primroses I ever remember seeing. Then behind the
twinkling new leaves of the old elms you could see the misty green
curves and slopes of the Downs, almost melting into the blue. […]
There’s been a kind of magical spell over our country, as if we saw it
at last, now that we must give up everything to defend its liberty, its
traditions, its very life, in its full enchantment. (25)
Once this note of ruralism, magic and enchantment is struck, one further
step leads to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to which Priestley
refers in a passage where he seems determined to use the word ‘English’
as frequently as possible:
It’s a kind of lovely mad picture of the English scene, of the English
tradition, of the English mind and spirit. The whole odd mixture of
the thing is so English. What do you get in it? Well, in the foreground a
lot of rather cosy domestic stuff, lovers quarrelling and comic characters like Bottom and Weaver and Quince and Snug and Starveling
all enjoying themselves, all homely and comfortable, nothing grandiose. Now, all that in the foreground is very English, and may be
said to represent one half of the English tradition, mind and spirit –
cosy and comic and domestic – the England of the novelists, of the
music-halls, of the cricket and football crowds. But the background
of the Midsummer Night’s Dream is different – the broken moonlight
in the enchanted wood; the voices of fairy people; a vague loveliness,
mystery, magic – occasionally suggested by lines that make your hair
stand on end, they have such evocative beauty; lines like: ‘Following
darkness like a dream. …’ And this, to my mind, is the other half
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
of England, of the English tradition and spirit. It is the England of
the lyric poets and of the old water-colour painters and of such odd
mystical figures as William Blake. All this is just as much part of us
as the cosy domestic comedy in the foreground. (26)
Now the clichés come thick and fast, and on this occasion, Priestley
does talk – in contradiction to what he said in his introduction to the
Postscripts quoted above – as if he had just been appointed head of
an infants’ school. He states, with a patronizing undertone, that as a
nation, ‘the English’ are ‘instinctive and intuitive people’ (26) who dislike logic and dialectics and have a propensity for irrational behaviour:
What happens is that we fall under the spell of that strange hazy
background, the broken moonlight in the enchanted wood, and we
try obscurely to relate everything to something deep inside us, something that is half-moral, half-mystical, hoping that at last a decision
and a plan will grow naturally out of this deep soil, not popping up
like a telegraph-pole, but growing naturally and strongly, adapting
itself to all weathers, like a tree. The strength of English life, political, social and intellectual, is that it has been allowed to grow like
a tree. Compared with a telegraph-pole – and the Totalitarian States
are like telegraph-poles – of course, it all looks queer, twisted, ramshackled, and probably ready to come down at any moment. But the
tree is that shape because it has adapted itself with infinite, patient
adjustment to meet every possible stress of wind and weather, and
it is alive and fruitful and after centuries of growth can still put out
fresh green leaves. (27)
In Out of the People, it will be recalled, Priestley had chosen a very
modern metaphor, combining neuro-biology and communication
technology to describe the British people as a community interconnected by nerve-ends like wireless receivers with an enlarged range
of reception; elsewhere he saw them as a family, or, more politically
minded, as an enfranchised community of responsible citizens. Now,
he introduces the organicist and to some degree essentialist metaphor
of the tree, twisted but resilient and alive, in contrast to the dead technology and rootlessness of totalitarianism. He appears happy to use
the same imagery as J. R. R. Tolkien in his then still unpublished Lord
of the Rings, although in domestic politics he would never have seen
himself in the same camp as that gentleman. ‘This Land of Ours’ suggests the daffodil-England sometimes remembered with bewilderment
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by postcolonial writers, conjured up for them in some mission school
during their impressionable childhoods, an England that would have
been many years out of date if it had ever existed in the first place.
Priestley deliberately recreated the expatriates’ image of home – like
H. V. Morton’s vision in Palestine a combination of memory, imagination and desire. ‘English folk’, above all, are characterized by their
‘deep natural goodwill’, their goodness, as emphasized also by a ‘clever
foreigner’ of Priestley’s acquaintance, and by their ‘instinctive trust in
the moral order of the universe’ (29). The English tree has been allowed
to grow as it did out of a passion for liberty, and if it ‘vanished from the
wood of the world, there would be such a terrible emptiness there, such
a desolation where there had once been such sweetness and strength,
that the world could never be the same again and would have a tale to
break men’s hearts’ (29). One can almost hear English listeners ‘high
in the Andes or on some tropical islands’ sobbing beside their radios.
Comparing ‘This Land of Ours’ with Priestley’s description of spring in
the ‘Postscript’ of 9 June 1940, it might be concluded that the ideological basis is the same, although the tone is suited to a different audience. Still, an important difference lies in the uncertainty and distrust
of appearances, completely banned from the Overseas addresses, that
Priestley expresses at home:
Sometimes I’ve felt that I was really staring at a beautifully painted
silk curtain; and that at any moment it might be torn apart – its
flowers, trees and green hills vanishing like smoke, to reveal the old
Flanders Front, trenches and bomb craters, ruined towns, a scarred
countryside, a sky belching death, and the faces of murdered children. I had to remind myself that the peaceful and lovely scene
before me was the real truth[.]13
Or was it? Placed in this context, Priestley’s rural lyricism sounds like
whistling in the dark wood of the world. Sir Hugh Walpole continues
the praise of English miniature paradises in ‘Love of the Arts and of
England’, where he waxes lyrical about his home in the Lake District
which he loves ‘more than any other spot on God’s earth. It is half-way
up a little mountain, has a lake at its feet, has a lawn on which the fattest and tamest of thrushes strut like archbishops, has a rose garden, a
rock garden, bees, and a library with fifteen thousand books. All in one
acre’ (30). H. E. Bates, in ‘The English Countryside’, lovingly describes
the morning dew, ‘one of those sopping, drenching dews that you so
often get in the middle of summer in England. […] It covered the trees
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
and the hedgerows and the honeysuckle and the spiders’ webs and
the corn in the fields like millions of glass beads’ (35). Addressing the
expatriates, he says that ‘if any of you were to come home and see the
English countryside now, in time of war, that […] would be the thing
that would strike you most – how the green fields have been ploughed
up and sacrificed to the necessity of war’ (36–7). Talking about the
threat of invasion, Bates finishes his talk with an astonishingly heavyhanded parable: he tried to get to a little island in a pond in search of
duck’s eggs – Britain in miniature again – and, discovering ‘something
of what it feels like to be the invader of an island’ (39), he is attacked by
a swarm of wasps. ‘And all the time I perched on that ladder, under fire
so to speak, the ducks, for some reason or other, persisted in cackling
loudly’ (39).
Priestley never writes anything quite so clumsy, and he also draws
the line at the more drastic expressions of jingoism and imperialism
which appeared acceptable, or even desirable, on the Empire Service.
For example, William Somerset Maugham, in ‘Twenty Days in a Ship’,
talked about Englishmen living in France. He sees this as connected
to the English love of freedom and adventure and the fact that ‘we
British are not stay-at-home folk’. The British have ‘wandered about
the world, urged by our desire for the new and the strange, and settled
ourselves wherever we could find a foothold. […] This is why great
parts of the world’s surface are now populated by English-speaking
nations.’ In an entirely unselfconscious celebration of imperialism,
Somerset Maugham concludes that ‘the Dominions and the Colonies
are there to fight the good fight with us in defence of liberty, honour,
truth and straight dealing’ (41). Another jingoistic piece, ‘Drake’s
Drum’ by ‘The Rt. Hon. Isaac Foot’, relates the myth of Sir Francis
Drake’s drum which can be heard in times of peril. The drum will
sound through the halls of British collective memory, as it were,
and call an army including Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh, Queen
Elizabeth, William Wallace, Robert Bruce, Owen Glendower, William
Tyndale, Oliver Cromwell, John Milton, Marlborough, John Wesley,
Burke, Tom Paine, Charles James Fox, Wordsworth, Burns, Shelley,
Scott, Cobbett, David Livingstone, Florence Nightingale, Nelson and
others, as if the residents of Madame Tussaud’s had been galvanized
into action, and Hitler will have to take on all of them.
The English Spirit also provides some comic relief. E. V. Knox talks
about the history of Punch magazine and the cover drawings of animals.
Snakes and dragons are helpful animals because ‘they can have long
words like totalitarian written in capital letters along them’, while this
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cannot be done with the British lion. ‘You can’t write totalitarianism
on a lion, even if you want to, which you don’t. Except for moments
of laziness and apathy, this British lion is always noble, always good’
(66–7). On a more serious note, Clemence Dane talks about ‘Our Bible’,
not omitting to mention in passing that ‘England is all buttercups this
week’ and as she drove through Kent, ‘the deer were still grazing in
the park […] and the little paths on to the common trekked round the
same heavy-laden pink and white may trees’ (74) as forty years ago.
The candidates Dane lines up for the central symbol of Britain – and it
is Britain for once – are Westminster Abbey, York, Canterbury, London,
Edinburgh, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Burns, the Cotswolds, Snowden, the
rose, thistle and leek – only to conclude that the Bible, with its various
translations and its massive influence on language and thought should
be given that honour. Evidence for this is provided by the letter her gardener, now in the forces, wrote to his wife, which ends with the biblical
injunction to ‘Be of good cheer, my dear ones!’ (79). Martin Armstrong
sees the village pub as ‘the unit of organisation of the British Empire’
(96), and Lord Elton, in ‘British Education and British Character’, praises
the public schools and the old universities. In the ‘clusters of grey old
palaces by Isis or Cam you have something which has grown unplanned
through the centuries, from experiment to experiment, until it became
as charming and as illogical as England herself’ (89). Now the war
will help, Lord Elton assures his audience, to make education less of a
privilege than it used to be.
The English Spirit reads like an inventory of an upper-middle-class,
Tory, Anglican, south-eastern version of English collective memory,
which is a significant and dominant part of the wider cultural
memory of Britain. It is a highly selective and controversial image of
Englishness with a reduced but firm power base in British institutions
and landed interest that continues to be disseminated throughout
the world. The presence of Priestley’s voice in this particular concert
is only mildly surprising, however, on the one hand because his
radicalism was qualified, and on the other hand because he was a
professional determined to help the war effort in every possible way.
Broadcasting to the Dominions in line with what was expected there
was just one of these ways, and Priestley delivered. He saw the radio
as the best medium for immediate, large-scale intervention, and the
need for this was greatest in 1940 and 1941. After the USA entered
the war, Priestley broadcast less frequently on the Overseas Service
and after the end of 1943, when victory was on the horizon, he was
seldom heard.
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
To sum up, in the first half of the twentieth century, Priestley was
a major voice in the expression of the symbolic form of Englishness.
The aspect he emphasized most was the political myth of a knowable
English community, which Priestley tried to establish firmly in the cultural imaginary by rooting it in the ‘mythical present’ of Englishness
whose most enduring expression is the rural metaphor. The symbolic
form of Englishness comprises the collective and cultural memory and
as such contributes to the creation and negotiation of national identity. Importantly, however, while it is related to the phenomenological
notion of gestalt, the symbolic form must not be seen as monolithic
but rather as intrinsically dialogic. In the course of this case study,
I have explored facets of the symbolic form of Englishness as they
appear in fiction, travel literature and propaganda of the 1930s and
1940s. It emerges that with any of these facets – landscape, art and
literature, folklore, political, economic and military history, figures of
national importance, lifestyle – it is always crucial to look at the contexts in which they appear, and the uses to which they are put. So for
example Priestley uses references to Dickens in a domestic context to
celebrate English character, while in an American context, he uses the
same author to denote the stuffy and old-fashioned. Landscape may be
evoked in a romantic, aesthetic discourse of psychological reactions to
the sublime, the beautiful and picturesque, but it may play a different
role in organicist and preservationist arguments, and yet a different one
as a symbol of embattled Little England. Reactionary conservatives
and left-wing ecologists may thus conjure up the same picture, but its
cultural meaning will be fundamentally different. The complex web of
all these constructions of meaning, changing with time, produces mentalities that are quite distinctive and yet hard to pin down. So wartime
propaganda proves a good context for a study of these mentalities,
because the discourse of national identity is amplified and there is a
certain amount of reflection as to which kinds of address will resonate
with people. Some leitmotifs thus emerge from the general noise which
allow for a quite accurate assessment of national identity at the given
time, particularly if adequate attention is paid to the faultlines and
subtleties of this discourse.
7.3 The storyteller
In addition to the many essays, newspaper articles, pamphlets, illustrated books and radio talks, Priestley also used fiction to disseminate
his ideas about national identity. I will close this chapter with a look at
Addressing the People
his wartime novels. The first of these, Let the People Sing, commissioned
by the BBC in early 1939, was to be an upbeat comic novel to raise
people’s spirits, read in instalments by Priestley before publication. By
a strange coincidence, the first instalment appeared on 3 September
1939, the day on which Britain found itself at war with Germany. The
novel was published late in the year to generally favourable reviews and
sold very well. Foyle’s Book Club chose it for its Christmas offer in 1940
and it was also warmly received in the USA. The plot sees a small group
of people – including such stock characters of Priestley’s as an ageing
comedian and a darkly beautiful and spirited young woman, recalling Jimmy Nunn and Susie Dean from The Good Companions – thrown
together by circumstances who manage to defend the traditional right
of the people of Dunbury to use their old market hall as a communal
space for band rehearsals and musical entertainments. Representatives
of the old establishment wish to turn the hall into a museum, while
the American firm ‘United Plastics’ wants it as a showroom. In short,
the best of England is threatened with extinction, crushed between an
obsolete squirearchy and Americanized modernity. Through communal
action in the music hall spirit, the people prevail, as they had in The
Good Companions and in the film Sing As We Go and would do again in
Festival at Farbridge (1951).
The narrative is straightforward, realist, plot-driven and focused on
character, like much of Priestley’s work, because he believed that this
guaranteed the broadest appeal. The initial impulse in Priestley’s fiction
is often extra-fictional and didactic – the ideas come first, then the story
illustrates them. Priestley’s propaganda fiction can be even more determinedly allegorical and moral, recalling the traditions of the parable
and exemplum, the morality play as well as such prose works as Bunyan’s
Pilgrim’s Progress and the nineteenth-century condition-of-England novel.
Thus, in Priestley’s otherwise realist propaganda fiction, characters are
frequently seen to shuffle to the centre of the stage, as it were, there to
deliver a speech that punches a hole in the fictional world. Audiences and
readers must have been sensible to Priestley’s intentions, and it appears
that the populist image of England was acceptable to a great number of
people at the time. Let the People Sing presents Priestley’s political message
in a different mode, but without complicating it or adding anything substantial to what he has said before or repeated through various channels
of wartime propaganda.
The same applies to Daylight on Saturday (1943), although to a differing
degree. The novel dramatizes the daily joys and sorrows of the wartime
workers in an aircraft factory who see daylight only on Saturday because
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they have to work long shifts in a blacked-out and camouflaged building.
While Priestley’s characters represent the larger community, albeit, as his
initial disclaimer insists, in a fictional mode, he emphasizes the fact that
the ‘workforce’ consists of individual people. Fittingly, the novel ends
with a list of names:
Yet out they came into the daylight, tasting the air and letting the
sunlight enter each private world: Percy Proscot, Edith Shipton,
Miss Barrows, Muriel Lloyd, Sister Filey, Mrs. Holt and Bertha
Sewell, Gwen Ockley, Arthur Bolton, Nelly Ditton, Mona Fox,
Elsie, Jack Brimber, […] Mrs. Wakes and Miss Truman, Mary Grew,
Mrs. Rooley, Randolph Perkins: to name only those we have met, and
ignoring the thousands we do not know although we share their
life and time.14
All these people ‘do their bit’, but complications are introduced through
the fact that the feelings, disasters and personal tragedies of the characters tend to disrupt the smooth procedures required for the war effort.
Priestley amplifies the human factor in the factory, so that the novel
works rather like a soap opera, airing the grievances and problems of
a mixed bag of people in a highly problematic and stressful environment. However, Priestley does not make the most of fiction’s potential
to explore the more complex aspects of such a situation, since the melodrama of relationships is frequently punctured by discussions about
class and industrial relations, often sounding stilted. In a fairly typical
exchange, ‘Old School Tie’ Blandford tells the left-wing Angleby:
When I decided to take up engineering, I gave my family, which up
to then had only dealt in country-house idlers, diplomats, soldiers,
politicians and a few senior civil servants, a very severe shock. But
I notice they’re not shocked now. […] Now my class, Angleby, may
be stupid about some things – their taste in literature, for example,
is appalling – but they are wonderfully quick at allying themselves
with any new power. (58–9)
Angleby retorts angrily that his father was a shop steward in
Wolverhampton who sacrificed a great deal to give his son an education, and so on. Most characters are personifications of the various
class positions Priestley wishes to describe, and the novel is heavy on
dialogue. In Margin Released, Priestley relates the pains he took with this
novel: ‘[w]hatever its value as fiction, I hope it will not be altogether
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forgotten, for I should like to think that some English readers, during
the next fifty years, might learn from it how people lived and worked
in World War Two.’15 This comment is revealing, since the novel fits
into the context of the ‘wartime wedding’ of documentary and feature
film,16 and, in many ways, resembles films such as Launder and Gilliat’s
Millions Like Us, which appeared in the same year and also dramatizes
life in an aircraft factory. It is quite possible that Daylight on Saturday
captured the moment, in the vein of a documentary feature, but it is
also very much of its moment – a fictionalized, realist account of ‘the
People’s War’ which is less fascinating than it might be, and also less
fascinating than some of the documentary material, because there is
too little description to enable readers with a different background
to visualize the story. It might be worth exploring the strengths of
this text by doing a cut version as a radio play, which could highlight
connections with popular radio programmes like ITMA.17 As it is, the
characters’ conversations are curiously lacking in context and the novel
is paradoxically less interesting to read than Priestley’s pamphlet Out of
the People, which offers a discursive treatment of the same issues. Still,
seen as a textual version of a documentary feature, Daylight on Saturday
is a very British product, and in this context, Priestley’s vision of the
transformation of class relations in the ‘People’s War’ is even more optimistic than that advanced in the relatively ‘democratic’ Millions Like Us,
because the novel ends with the promise of a cross-class marriage which
is dismissed as premature in the film.
Blackout in Gretley, subtitled ‘a story of, and for wartime’ and published
by Heinemann in 1942 in what Elizabeth Bowen calls the ‘lightless
middle of the tunnel’,18 is a classic thriller representing a rather different take on propaganda fiction. The narrator and protagonist,
Humphrey Neyland, was born in England but grew up in Canada and
worked in South America as a civil engineer. After losing his family in
a car crash and turning generally ‘sour’, he has come to England and
is now, that is, in January 1942, working for the counter-espionage
department. His present assignment is to go to ‘Gretley’, an industrial
town in the north Midlands and probably another fictional version
of Bradford, where Nazi spies are thought to be active. In Gretley,
Neyland encounters not only the usual spivs and black-marketeers,
including the hapless good-time girl Sheila Castleside, the fine lady
Mrs Jesmond and slick Mr Perigo, but also two mysterious women,
the icy blonde Diana Axton, who keeps a strange ‘artsy craftsy’ shop,
and the sad-looking, widowed doctor, Margaret Bauernstern. Neyland
discovers that the cockney foreman Olney, who works at Charters
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Electrical Company, is an undercover agent, but Olney is dead before
he can pass on to Neyland the vital information he has collected.
With the help of the massive Superindendent Hamp and Mr Perigo –
who turns out to be a fellow spy-catcher – Neyland succeeds in
destroying the circle of Nazi spies and fifth-columnists consisting of
the Nazi Felix Rodel, living undercover at the house of the influential
Colonel Tarlington, the Colonel himself, icy blonde Diana Axton
and the variety acrobat Madame Fifine. Otto Bauernstern, in hiding
at his sister-in-law Margaret’s house while looking for Felix Rodel,
saves Neyland’s life by killing the Nazi but is shot dead in the final
showdown. The novel ends with Margaret and Neyland declaring
their love.
The novel belongs to the genre of popular spy novels and thrillers written around the time of World War One by such authors as
John Buchan, with The Thirty-Nine Steps as an obvious intertext. The
narrator’s name recalls the character, Nayland Smith, of Sax Rohmer’s Fu
Manchu series and Neyland appears to be modelled partly on Buchan’s
hero, Richard Hannay. As in Buchan’s novel, the dirty spying business can be traced to the variety stage where the number of ‘Madame
Fifine’s twists and turns’ conveys the message, recalling Buchan’s
setup in which the vital information the baddies are after is stored in
the head of the Memory Man. Priestley adds a touch of the American
hardboiled, and his plotting and style appear to be influenced by the
1930s film thrillers, for example, by Alfred Hitchcock, as well as the
American noir. Priestley uses the spy novel and thriller format for popular appeal and as a vehicle for themes specifically pertaining to the
historical moment when the novel was published during World War
Two. As in his broadcasts and essays, he is concerned with the state
of British society, acknowledging that the future he envisages for this
society involves a renegotiation of British identity with a focus on the
people. Again, in this social-democratic strand woven into the thriller
plot, the ‘People’s War’ is not an end in itself, but a necessary step on
the way to a New Britain.
In Blackout in Gretley, Priestley’s social vision is embedded in what he
apparently hopes will be a comfortable reading experience. The contours of Gretley never really become very clear, due to the constant bad
weather – rain, sleet, snow – and the perpetual darkness, enhanced by
the blackout. So, even if people read this thriller in an air raid shelter,
which was not all that likely in 1942, they could feel comparatively
snug. There are also a great number of references to eating and drinking –
both tea and all sorts of alcohol – which serve to provide at least
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imaginary sustenance in a time of rationing. Neyland is a depressed
character with nothing to lose, frequently expressing the disaffection
many Britons must have felt early in 1942 in passages such as:
We don’t face this war all the time. In fact, most of the time we
really dodge the stupendous terrifying reality of it, and merely try to
come to terms with its various inconveniences and restrictions. But
now and again, when we’re tired and dispirited, the whole weight of
it suddenly comes down on us. Then it’s as if you woke up to find
yourself walking at the bottom of the sea. I had one of the worst of
those moments on my way to the hotel in Gretley that night.19
In fact, Priestley anticipates the tunnel metaphor often associated with
Bowen when he has Neyland observe that if ‘you thought of the war
as a kind of tunnelling from one sunlit valley to another, then this was
about the middle of the tunnel, where you smoked your last cigarette
but one in the damp raw gloom and wondered if you ever had sat about
laughing with your friends’ (146). Many of Neyland’s observations take
the form of Priestley’s familiar reflections on the ‘condition of England’
and the quality of life for ordinary people. Thus, Gretley needs to disappear from the face of the earth after victory and be replaced by a city
worthy of the ‘patient people’ (146) who have to live in it. Annoyingly,
in Neyland’s opinion, people are kept quiet with ‘dreams and dope’ –
shops selling miraculous cures and hair dye, cinemas showing American
films and ‘twopenny libraries, bright with book jackets showing South
Sea maidens and shop-girls marrying dukes, pure opium without a
hangover at about a farthing an hour’ (19). There are little women who
only ‘want to do what is right’ (86) and guffawing Majors who keep up
a genteel tradition ‘which was hanging round our necks like the heavy
rotting carcase of the albatross. They were all pretending to themselves
that it was still about 1904, and then wondering why no good seemed
to come of it’ (62).
Appropriately in terms of genre conventions, the novel’s action starts
on the train to Gretley, where Neyland happens to be sitting next to
two of the people who later turn out to be black-marketeers. They are
Mrs Jesmond, ‘a handsome woman with a long neck, who wore
expensive fur-lined boots and gloves and had enough rugs for a trip to
Labrador’ (3) and Mr Timon, ‘a swarthy fat man, sporting most of his
jewellery and reeking of luxurious hair-dressing. He might have been
in a foreign government or making British films’ (4). This last remark
appears to be a tilt at the impresario Alexander Korda who was busy
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selling ‘opium without a hangover’ to the British public. While Buchan
did not approve of ‘petticoats’ in a good story, Hitchcock had introduced
female characters into his 1935 version of The 39 Steps, and women also
play a major role in Priestley’s story, both on the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’
sides. Indeed, women not only provide glamour and some admittedly
very mild erotic frisson, they also serve, in a time-honoured fashion, as
allegories for various alternative attitudes to one’s society and country.
Needless to say, the devoted doctor wins the day as the luxurious profiteer’s
and the Aryan-looking fifth-columnist’s fortunes begin to wane.
Mrs Jesmond runs the Queen of Clubs, a restaurant and bar apparently
untouched by wartime austerity; her flat is hung with valuable works
of art, and she spends most of her time celebrating and indulging in
her marked taste for young members of the Forces. Neyland relates that
there ‘was something fascinating about those peachy downy cheeks of
hers. She was probably in the Black Market for blood transfusions too’
(46), and he sees her as ‘just a handsome, luxurious, lecherous rat’ (134).
This misogynist imagery of vermin and vampirism feeds into a vision of
social change: ‘I’ve seen too many other women, each worth a hundred
Mrs Jesmonds, kicked along the gutter by everything she represents.
From now on, let the Mrs Jesmonds work or starve’ (134). The cold,
blonde, blue-eyed Diana Axton’s connections reach far into the British
establishment, since she is the niece of ‘Vice-Admiral Sir Johnson
Frind-Tapley’ (94). Neyland eventually discovers that she is a fanatical,
unthinking Nazi supporter. ‘At a guess I’d say that such heart as she
has is in the possession of some monocled top-booted specimen of the
Reichswehr, who’s filled her up with hock, told her she’s Brunhilde, and
then treated her good and rough’ (156). Appropriately, in terms of the
novel’s symbolism, Diana Axton and Mrs Jesmond turn out to be sisters.
Diana Axton is connected to another fifth-columnist and representative of the establishment, Colonel Tarlington, a magistrate, friend of
the Chief Constable, ‘on the board of Charters Company’ and ‘a great
gun in the local Conservative Party’ who ‘carries a pike or banner in
the local Home Guard’ (12). Thus, on the surface, Priestley repeats the
contemporary clichés about fifth-columnists, integrating them into
his anti-establishment stance, so that the political message of Blackout
in Gretley rehearses what he had said before and was to repeat time
and again.
In Blackout in Gretley, however, the thriller format threatens to subvert
that message, because the abject elements of the story are much more
interesting than the social-democratic vision, in the same way that
Harry Lime is the most interesting character in Graham Greene and
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Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949). Neyland is on the job, of course,
when he patronizes the Queen of Clubs and joins the profiteers in their
dance parties, excess eating and hard drinking. Still, the novel lingers
over such scenarios in a way which suggests that deviances and forbidden desires of a more general nature are displaced onto the profiteers
and fifth-columnists. There is a telling scene when Perigo and Neyland
visit Mrs Jesmond to inform her that she has to close her restaurant and
leave management, ‘“[a]nd out of the Black Market too,” I said, loading
my fork with more chicken. “No, no, that’s not my line of business –
looking for Black Marketeers – but if I heard you were still carrying on,
I’d have to report you”’ (165). Neyland regularly presses the bar staff for
extra bottles of brandy and wine; he goes out with Diana Axton, visits
her at home and kisses her before he delivers her to the authorities.
Clearly, he enjoys his job in a way that is at least morally unsound, so
that he emerges as a problematic character and an unreliable narrator.
On page 1, the reader learns that he killed his wife and child through
reckless driving. When he lost consciousness after the accident, he left
his old world and ‘didn’t expect much in this second world, where the
murdering fool lives on while the woman and the child are smashed to
pulp’ (138). He also informs the reader in his bad-tempered way that
‘if you think I spent most of my evenings in these places [London,
Liverpool and Glasgow] in luxurious flats, double-crossing girls who
looked like Marlene Dietrich, and Hedy Lamarr, take it from me that
you’re reading the wrong yarn’ (2). This is, of course, almost exactly
what will happen.
Moreover, Neyland displays a marked tendency to eroticize violence.
Referring to Mrs Jesmond, he remarks: ‘The woman was still leaning forward and smiling, with her eyes fixed on mine, but now she had put on
a special look of wide innocence, which I could have cheerfully smacked
off her face’ (5–6). Later, he notices that she ‘looked even more downy,
peachlike and corrupting than before. I had a great desire to take hold
of that long neck and do something with it, but whether it was to stroke
it or wring it, I’m not sure’ (111). These violent tendencies also surface
when he is confronted with the English widow of an eminent Jewish
physician, Margaret Bauernstern, with whom he falls in love. Neyland
is involved in a dynamics of deceit, self-indulgence, violence and eroticism which may be seen as a condition of wartime, the dark underside
of the propagandistic image of the war effort, explored to great effect in
Elizabeth Bowen’s The Heat of the Day. Priestley acknowledges this dark
underside in Blackout in Gretley, but his vision is not ultimately bleak;
Neyland and Bauernstern manage a somewhat rough happy ending,
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and when he exhorts her in the final line to ‘take care of yourself in
that black-out’ (182), he is warning the reader to take care in the darkness, both real and metaphorical. Nevertheless, his conduct, record and
personality hardly make Neyland an ideal mouthpiece for a political
vision of fairness and justice.
Ultimately, Blackout in Gretley faces up to the fact that the individual
qualities required for a successful communal war effort – selflessness
and self-sufficiency, endurance, courage, devotion and modesty, the
whole idea of ‘taking it’ and ‘making do’ – are directly opposed to the
qualities people need in order to fight for a better deal for themselves.
The very fact that wartime propaganda defined all those virtues as
English in opposition to foreign indulgence, luxury, glamour and deviance produced a community likely either to perpetuate its politically
subdued status, or to be torn apart by its conflicting and unacknowledged desires. Suggesting this in his novel, Priestley comes very near to
deconstructing a powerful myth of Englishness he himself had helped
create – England, metonymically extended to Britain, as a knowable
community. When the ‘People’s War’ was finally drawing to a close,
Priestley scrutinized this myth again.
Three Men in New Suits (1945) addresses the issue of demobilization
and the difficult transition to peacetime conditions. Priestley had often
expressed strong criticism of the treatment of homecoming soldiers
after World War One. In a country that was supposed to be ‘fit for
heroes to live in’, as the slogan went, too many had found that there
was no room for them, and Priestley was worried about a possible repetition of this scenario. The three male protagonists of the story have
been in the army together and have now come home to Lambury in
their demobilization suits. They are Alan Strete from Swansford Manor,
Herbert Kenford, a farmer, and Eddie Mold, a labourer. All three of them
find it impossible to readjust to their old social backgrounds.
The sight of the old house split Alan into two men. One, who had
been born there, recognised with affection every window pane and
worn brick, and simply came home. The other, who had been away
for years and had fought his way from the African desert into the
middle of Europe, stared at this rambling old building, huddled deep
into its green island hillside, and began to wonder what this remote
place meant to him. […] Sergeant Strete of the Banfordshires had
come from his Army Group. And young Alan Strete, younger son
of Lady Strete and the late Sir William, of Swansford Manor, had
come home. This split, this sudden double vision, was more than
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confusing. He felt a deep distress. This was really a case of pulling
yourself together.20
Alan is shocked by the hypocrisy and queerness of his relatives who all
seem to have gone quietly mad, and he resents the planned course of
reinserting himself into privilege by going to dinner parties and securing a nice job through the family connections. Herbert Kenford, the
farmer, finds that his family has done very well out of the war. Now
his father is planning to buy a new farm for Herbert’s brother, leaving
the old farm to him and his mother has already found him a suitable
girl to marry.
Herbert stared at them, cold as stone. To say nothing of the living,
who had put on their new suits with him, there were at least fifty
dead, buried in the desert, in France, in Germany, to whom he felt
closer now than he did to these people. Voices came back: ‘I tell you,
chum, after the war it’ll be all different.’ ‘Don’t kid yerself. It’ll be
just the bloody same.’ ‘How about it, Corp?’ How about it? Feet on
the ground! What ground? The odd grave by the jeep trail, where
the earth might suddenly move and out of it come a pointing skeleton finger and glaring eye-sockets. ‘What’s the matter, Herbert?’ his
mother asked. ‘You all right?’ ‘No – I feel – ’ and he got up hastily.
‘I think I’d better go out for a bit.’ ‘Eaten too much, boy,’ Arthur
called. ‘Haven’t the stomach for it perhaps, not yet, eh?’ ‘No, not the
stomach for it yet.’ (47)
Eddie Mold comes home to his cottage to find it deserted; his child is
dead and there is gossip about his wife. He is reluctant to go back to
work in the quarry, and in the pub, he gets into a fight. When his wife
comes back shortly after, he throws her out.
He went out to the back and there he was sick, all the night’s beer
returning in a stinking flood. Down his new suit too, some of it. The
terrible indignity of life, which the soldier knows better than most
men, which he thought he had done with for a time, had him in its
grasp again. He shivered above his vomit, then went slowly back into
the cottage, his anger gone. […] It was as if there were two Nellies:
that one, young and fresh and laughing, sweet as the grass, her redbrown eyes sparkling and dancing, her pouting lips telling him he
was too strong and fierce and ought to try and behave; and then
this sodden, pudding-faced tart, old before her time, snivelling one
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minute and screaming the next, with her pick-ups at the Sun and her
bottles. (61)
Priestley is at his best in this novel when describing the predicaments
of his protagonists and their alienation and despair. Incidentally, both
in earlier novels, such as The Good Companions and Faraway and in
later ones, like Bright Day, Priestley’s explorations of masculinity are
subtle and intriguing and deserve much more attention than they
have received so far. Alan’s Uncle Rodney has completely succumbed
to nostalgia for bygone days, a condition that Priestley calls ‘losthome-sickness’ (31). As far as Uncle Rodney is concerned, the younger
generation had only a last glimpse of a world worth living in, that is
now vanished, and after playing the parts of ‘distinguished diplomat’
and ‘country gentleman who collect[s] things’ (28), he now sits in his
room smoking, drinking whisky, listening to Mahler, Delius and Elgar
and eloquently evoking, if anybody will listen to him, the ugly face of
modernity, with ‘[m]ass production and mass meetings! Leadership talking over the wireless! Nice little houses for nice little people! Strength
Through Joy!’ (29), with endless drudgery and ‘brats, who’ll have been
vaccinated against everything but stupidity and dreariness’ (28). To
Alan, as he winds up the gramophone and sees his ranting uncle sitting
among his books and pictures, it seems as if ‘the scene itself was turning into a picture, painted no doubt about 1903, exhibited originally
at the New English, now perhaps hanging in the Tate Gallery’ (30). His
experience is so alienating that he sees himself as a character in one ‘of
those bright successful novels of the between-wars period, one of those
clever charming chaps, sensitive but heavily armoured by their lack of
responsibility, who wandered from party to party, affair to affair, like
visitors from another planet’ (129).
As I have argued above, representations of the countryside as an
expression of the ‘mythical present’ of Englishness have been among
the most enduring ingredients of the symbolic form of Englishness. In
Three Men in New Suits landscape is also used to mirror the feelings of the
returning soldiers. As Alan is driven to Swansford Manor, he watches
‘the well-remembered countryside flow past, now with the tender bloom
of Spring on it. The ancient magic was working’ (14). Blackthorn and
birdsong greet him in a golden afternoon, and ‘[l]ike the title of an old
film shakily focused on the screen, there came again, somewhere at the
back of Alan’s mind, the vague first stirring of that Arcadian dream which
for ever haunts the imagination of the English’ (14). The reference to a
shaky old film suggests that maybe the magic is not working quite as it
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used to. The same might be said of Herbert Kenford’s experience, who
sees ‘all things well-remembered and yet magical; and beneath the level
of his uneasiness and irritation, they stirred in him vague longings and
desires without a name; and to this uneasiness and irritation was added
a strange sense of loss’ (38). The landscape mirrors the spreading feeling
of alienation, and when Alan takes a walk, his mood is echoed by his
environment: ‘It was like sauntering in and out of a good 1912 Academy
landscape – hills, fields, barns, hedges, all nicely indicated – good tone;
sound values; bright English Impressionism; no nonsense anywhere –
sold at the first week for three hundred and fifty guineas’ (126). At an
even more desperate moment, when Eddie and Herbert are on their
way to Alan to consult ‘Sarge’ about Eddie’s problems, the beauty of
the countryside even appears to mock their despair: ‘It was an evening
of clear gold. The lane went winding here beneath festoons of lilac and
laburnum. The hills seemed to have been cut out of gold-dusted green
velvet. […] Ironically it spread its beauty above their disenchantment’ (129). The mocking landscape epitomizes the extent to which the
three men are out of tune with their country, their environment and
their community. All three are, in a way, victims of propaganda, because
they believed that they fought for a new and better world, only to discover that most people at home cannot wait to return to business as
usual, to privacy, private property and class prejudice. In the final scene
of the novel, they settle down in the summer house on the grounds of
Swansford Manor to talk about their experiences. At first, this seems like
a very promising setting:
They looked through a little gap at the stream and the bright watermeadows, at the sedges and rushes, the thick old thorns and the
delicate willows; and everything there seemed to be illuminated and
yet partly hidden by the gold gauze of the evening. It was all old and
familiar and yet had at this moment the radiance and enchantment
of some promised land. They were deeply aware of it all the time they
were talking. (138)
All three men believe that their individual frustrations, temptations and
mistakes are somehow bound up with the development of the community, or more precisely the lack of it, and they deplore the fact that the
‘spirit of Dunkirk’ could not be perpetuated and that selfishness and
greed are keeping people apart. Alan believes that his class must relinquish privilege, as Herbert’s farming community must collaborate, in a
kind of ‘agricultural co-operative’ or even ‘on a collective farm, Russian
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style’ (142). Just how they should bring about this better state of affairs,
nobody knows, although they agree that they must ‘fight’. Alan eventually rouses himself to deliver a blatant propaganda speech – ‘erect,
towering, almost transfigured, […] he stared into the dusk as if it held
a vast invisible audience.’ He announces that individual achievement
and the production of ‘colossal monuments of art or learning’ should
be things of the past and that ‘“[m]odern man is essentially co-operative
and communal man.” […] “This is the choice”’, he concludes, ‘“[e]ither
the earth must soon be the miserable grave of our species or it must be
at last our home, where men can live at peace and can work for other
men’s happiness”’ (151–2).
Nobody has much to say after this outburst; they all feel like having
tea and sandwiches and so Alan ‘led the way across the darkening garden towards the open door of the house and its welcome glow’ (152).
It would be easy here to accuse Priestley of the ‘priestliness’ some fellow
writers and intellectuals so strongly resented, but there is a distinctly
false note about the end of this novel, especially when considering
the symbolism of landscape. All the while, as they are sitting in the
summer house, getting carried away and building castles in the air,
darkness is falling around them, and when it gets chilly, they retire
to the (privileged) manor house for sandwiches and tea, like children
after a fanciful game. At the end of the day, nobody knows what action
to take, or what might happen, but there is a precarious feeling. One
thing is clear, however, and this is that there can be no future without memory of a specific kind – shared memories of World War Two;
memories of the time before World War One communicated by Alan’s
Uncle Rodney; memories of the interwar years. The focus of this communicative memory is not the past, but the present, and the future is
its trajectory. The negotiation of identity, which involves the creation,
transformation and deconstruction of myths, always takes place in this
culturally resonant space of communicative memory whose backdrop
is a more comprehensive cultural memory. Alan, Herbert and Eddie are
trying to envision a future in terms of their memories of comradeship
and community, and all will depend on their ability to translate this
wartime memory into peacetime practice.
In Three Men in New Suits, Priestley appears to suspend his disbelief, as
it were, and in Bright Day, published in 1946 after a period of exhaustion
and depression partly due to overwork, he finally attempts a thorough
exploration of the relationship between memory, identity and myth,
integrating these elements into a ‘memodrama’ of Englishness. The
novel is written in the first person, and the narrator is Gregory Dawson,
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a middle-aged and disgruntled scriptwriter who withdraws to the Royal
Ocean Hotel in Tralorna, Cornwall, to steamwrite the script of The Lady
Hits Back, a comedy starring his friend of long standing, the English
actress Elizabeth Earl, who is now a major Hollywood star. Dawson has
an ‘enormous bedroom that wandered off into a turret, where I worked,
high above the glittering sea, like a man in a lighthouse’.21 Among the
affluent people ‘just waiting for death’ (1) in the Royal Ocean, Dawson
encounters Lord and Lady Harndean who seem vaguely familiar to him,
and as he hears Schubert’s B flat major trio played, the veil is suddenly
drawn and he recognizes them as Malcolm and Eleanor Nixey who
played a decisive role in his life when he was a youth in Bruddersford
thirty years previously. This encounter triggers a sort of identity crisis
and Dawson, who has reached a dead end in his life, determines that in
order to face the future, he must go back into the past. ‘The thin ribbon
of sound pulled back curtain after curtain. People and places that I had
thought had dwindled and faded to the dimmest shades of memory […]
came flashing back, burningly alive, as the music went winding through
my heart like a slow procession of fire-raisers’ (8). Quite deliberately,
Dawson sets the scene for his excursions into the past.
Up in my room, which was so big that you could sit in it almost
without noticing that it was a bedroom, I turned on the electric fire,
made myself comfortable in pyjamas, dressing-gown and slippers,
sank into an arm-chair, lit a cigar, listened for a moment or two to
the wind screaming at the turret and to the dragging and rolling of
the tide below, and then flew back through the night and the years to
Bruddersford. (14)
He remembers how, after the death of his parents, he came to live with
his uncle and aunt in Bruddersford, and how he entered the wool trade,
all the time meaning to become a writer eventually – just as Priestley
himself had done – such that he hastens to add a note to the reader that
the novel is indeed a work of fiction. Pace Priestley, it is tempting to identify the autobiographical resonances and to suggest that the hack work
in the film industry which Dawson is finding so tedious refers obliquely
to Priestley’s propaganda work during World War Two. Dawson fondly
remembers a Bruddersford before the Great War where, ‘Merrie England,
with more good cricket and W. W. Jacobs and Exchange Mixture and
roast pork and bilberry-pie and June mornings in Wensleydale for everybody, still seemed just round the corner’ (21). It was a time when ‘people
never dreamt of living that boxed-up lonely life which left so many
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
suburban housewives on edge during the Nineteen Thirties’ (22). As in
other evocations of factual and fictional Bradford, Priestley emphasizes
the impact of the countryside: ‘No Bruddersford man could be exiled
from the uplands and blue air; he always had one foot on the heather’
which was just a tram ride away and where he could ‘climb for half an
hour to hear the larks and curlews, to feel the old rocks warming in the
sun, to see the harebells trembling in the shade’ and remember lines of
verse that ‘used to go buzzing in my mind like fat golden bees’ (23).
This still intact symbolic form of Englishness is embodied by the
Alingtons, a charmed family circle that young Gregory is keen to enter.
The family consists of Mr Alington, Gregory’s boss, the handsome and
quiet Mrs Alington, the older son Oliver, now at Cambridge, bright
little David, darkly mysterious Joan, the golden ‘Corn Queen’ Eva, ‘the
golden smiling girl, the sleepy princess of the enchanted trams’ (70),
and the green-eyed, fierce violinist Bridget. All Alingtons are musical,
artistic, vaguely bohemian and they often converse with each other in a
kind of private language. Between them, they stand for the enchantment
of prewar England as Gregory remembers it. Searching for the causes of
his present unhappiness, Dawson is deeply disturbed by this memory of
the Alingtons and his desire for the lifestyle they represented, because it
makes him question previous assumptions.
I had thought that the war – the first World War, in which I fought –
had been responsible for all my subsequent restlessness. But now
I wondered if the root cause were not to be found in what happened before, buried in the Alington business; and as I climbed
into bed I decided that here was yet another reason, and perhaps
the most important reason, why I should return and explore the
past as thoroughly as my memory would allow me to go. (71)
Indeed, ‘Merrie England’ had always already disappeared round the
corner. At the same time, Dawson is certain that beyond individual circumstance, the war was a watershed, and that ‘these people lived in a
world, in an atmosphere, that I have never discovered again since 1914,
when the guns began to roar and the corpses piled up’ (86). The ‘late
summer of Nineteen-Thirteen [was] the last late summer of a whole age’
(160–1). Much of this atmosphere is captured in the music played by the
Alingtons: ‘So they played the César Franck sonata, and I could see and
hear them still, two World Wars away, as I closed my eyes to the Cornish
sunlight and shut out of my mind the whole fretting and half-ruined
planet of this later year’ (98).
Addressing the People
As Dawson reflects on his need for enchantment, he remembers
that his friend Jock warned him against reading too much into the
Alingtons, encouraging him to become aware of his own part in producing the enchantment: ‘“Switch off the magic, which comes from you
and not from them. Don’t cast a spell over yourself and imagine that
they’re doing it”’ (112). This train of thought effectively leads Dawson
to a constructivist viewpoint as he becomes aware that meaning, both
in contemporary interaction and in memory, is not ‘found’, but actively
produced. Art is a way of controlling this process of meaning production, and he remembers the work of the watercolourist Stanley Mervin:
There on the rough thick paper, reduced to their simplest possible
terms, were the stream, glinting and dimpling, the stone arch of the
bridge flushed in morning sunlight, the moor and the hills. It was
the morning caught for ever. It was the time, the place, and a sensitive man’s feeling about that time and that place, stated once and for
all: it was art and a little miracle. I cried out my admiration[.] (115)
In his expedition into the past, Dawson is trying to reduce the wealth of
incident to the ‘simplest possible terms’, giving it a meaning by way of
this shaping process that was not previously there, but at the same time
remaining true to what happened. This is far from easy, and there are gaps
in the memory, where ‘[p]erhaps the artist buried in my unconscious,
plumping for the boldest Impressionism, decided to offer my conscious
mind nothing but a blur of sunlight and green leaves and […] happy
nonsense in a lost Arcadia’ (122). Interestingly, this kind of remembering
is also identified as a particularly English pastime. When George Adony,
the film director, asks Dawson what he is doing at the moment, he says
that he is thinking about his past. ‘It’s a weakness of most Englishmen’,
Adony replies, ‘Their inner faces – the real ones – are turned to the past.
Their life is over at twenty-one’ (242). Painting is a powerful metaphor
for the process of remembering in Bright Day, but elsewhere, Dawson
likens it to theatre, as he waits ‘for the lights to go on in the theatre of
memory’ (149) or sees figures ‘dominating the flickering little inner stage
of memory’ (179). It is due to such references that I have introduced the
term ‘memodrama’, which throws into relief the vivid theatrical quality
of memory in a context of identity formation.
As the economic situation deteriorates before World War One and
the wool trade becomes more competitive, gentle Mr Alington finds it
difficult to cope and Malcolm Nixey barges in with ruthless efficiency,
taking over the business while his beautiful and stylish wife Eleanor
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
entices Eva’s lover Ben Kerry away from her. The Alington family is
heading towards disaster, and the catastrophe happens in the countryside of all places, at Pikeley Scar, on a ‘dazzling June day’ in 1914
when ‘the fields were thick with daisies and blazing with buttercups
and dandelions’ (269). The Alington girls are sitting there in their
pastel dresses, ‘Joan in blue, Eva in pink, Bridget in yellow’ amidst
the picnic things. The scene has ‘the smiling domesticity, the lost
leisure and ease, one felt, of the ’Sixties, and one of the girls ought to
have been reading from a new volume of Tennyson’ (276). It all seems
perfect, but ‘then the day shivered and cracked’ (279). Eva Alington,
who had been distraught about Ben Kerry, has fallen off the cliff and
is dead. ‘So death arrived, but not just her death. Soon I was thinking
about the death of a time, of a little world, of some part of myself’
(258). Thus, Dawson spells out the allegorical quality of his tale.
Mr Alington falls ill and dies, the family is dispersed, Oliver is killed
in the war, and Gregory also becomes a soldier. When he returns, he
has a brief encounter with Joan who appears desperate, lonely and
slightly unhinged. They go to a seedy night club where people are
frantically trying to amuse themselves. ‘Comsumptive waiters from
the slums of Naples and Salonica brought in champagne to young
tarts who had arrived with sozzled escorts, and then retired to yawn
and sneer at us all. The war was over, democracy saved, and here was
Merrie England’ (301). Joan tries to convince Gregory that Eva had
killed herself back in 1914, but it transpires later that Joan actually
pushed her off the cliff out of jealousy. So all was not well with the
Alingtons, and England, even then. It further transpires that Eleanor
Nixey had not just played with Ben Kerry, who was also killed in the war,
but had loved him deeply, and she confuses Gregory’s loyalties when
she bitterly informs him that ‘“you’re not the only person here with a
memory”’ (320).
Gregory tells his actress friend Elizabeth about his memories and his
‘Bruddersfording’ (313), and she gets the Hollywood-fuelled, romantic
idea into her head that his misery must be due to an unacknowledged
love for Bridget Alington. Back in London, she traces Bridget and organizes an encounter with what turns out to be a hard and bitter ‘shabby
little middle-aged woman’ (335), a widow trying to bring up her three
children on her own. She tells Gregory that she believes he never
understood her family at all, that he was ‘a lonely boy and rather sentimental and romantic’ who ‘enjoyed making things up’ and ‘never saw
us as we really were’ (340), thus confirming his earlier suspicions about
mythmaking and the past. Bridget herself refuses to remember and thus
Addressing the People
remains imprisoned in her miserable existence, while Gregory is ready
at last to look at the present.
London looked horrible, like the shabbier side of some third-rate
American city. What were once decent shops were now bogus wine
stores, fun fairs, and places selling shoddy knick-knacks and pornographic drivel. Half the women looked like cheap tarts and the men
like Black Market touts. There was neither dignity nor genuine high
spirits. The atmosphere wasn’t English, wasn’t Continental, wasn’t
honestly American: it was a dreadful rancid stew, the combined
swill of war factories, Yank camps, stuffy little flats, bad-tempered or
bewildered suburban homes: it was a hellish huddle of nasty trading, of tired pleasure-seeking, of entertainment without art, of sex
without passion and joy, of life buzzing and swarming without hope
and vision. London could take it. But how much more of this could
it take? And how much more could I take? […] I realised that I felt
finished and done for, hands and feet touching the wall at the dead
end. (344–5)
Gregory Dawson, like the century, is suffering from a midlife crisis. Then
Lord Harndean, of all people, puts Dawson in touch with Mrs Childs,
the representative of an initiative for a new film group. Dawson is
initially reluctant – ‘I could see these youngsters – baby wizards of the
documentaries, assistant camera men and cutters, and an untidy script
girl or two – all sitting on the floor and telling one another how to
make a smashing Left Wing film for fourpence’ (351) – but he goes to the
meeting and is impressed. Tuning into the spirit of enterprise, he gives
his advice as a ‘cynical old motion picture hack’ (351), proceeding to
formulate what amounts to a left-wing middlebrow aesthetics:
Hollywood values – all right, get rid of ’em. But Hollywood technique –
with entertainment if possible all the way, smooth continuity, no
suggestion of theatre about the small character parts, a glossy finish
on the job, and visuals and sound that’ll stand up to poor projectors in small town theatres probably using worn prints – don’t try to
throw any of that away, get as much of it as you can, until you’ve
found something better. (355)
When the eager young people have left, Dawson remains behind to
talk to Mrs Childs, telling her of his ‘Bruddersfording’ and what he perceives to be its negative effects, because ‘these midnight returns to the
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
past took the colour and flavour out of my present’ (360). Dawson then
has the surprise of his life, because Mrs Childs turns out to be young
Laura Bradshaw who was a member of the walking party on the fatal
June day in 1914 and who actually saw Joan push Eva over the edge.
With Dawson, she can talk about her own trauma as a witness to this
scene, and because she was there, she also holds the key to Gregory’s
psychological prison cell. She shows him a picture,
[a]nd then I stared through a little window at another world, at a
bright morning lost for ever, until tears blurred my eyes. For this was
the very water-colour sketch that Stanley Mervin showed Jock and
me in the pub at Bulsden, on the morning of that Sunday when the
Nixeys first arrived: here was the glinting stream, the stone arch of
the bridge in morning sunlight, the moor and the hills. (361)
Laura tells him that ‘“it’s the same world”’ and that even ‘“the little
bridge is still there. I saw it last summer. But you must stop going back
like that – it’s the wrong way”’ (361). Gregory begins to see that the
‘great black wall’ he found himself up against and which he ‘spent years
secretly building […], just quietly walling myself in’ (365) is a necessary
obstacle on his way. In the act of remembering, he ‘began running round
in the dark and became aware of that wall. And then, this evening, just
when I’d decided there wasn’t even a peephole in the wall, Harndean
popped up [and] said “you wanted to talk to me”’ (366).
In psychoanalytical terms, the novel represents a talking cure:
Dawson becomes aware that he is traumatized and that he needs to
exorcize the ghosts of the past before he can continue a meaningful life.
Much the same is true for the whole country, and it is the function of
memodama as Priestley employs it to mobilize traumatic structures in
the collective unconscious as a prerequisite for change. The appropriate
time frame for this process is the communicative memory, since it is
that part of the cultural memory which is also saturated with personal
and individual affects and experiences. It transpires that this particular
nexus of memory and identity needed for self-awareness and change
carries an iconoclast impulse, and that mythmaking in the sense of
Roland Barthes is inimical to it. Thus, Dawson finds a way out of his
misery, experiencing a ‘solemn tenderness for life’ and seeing ‘that
theatre of creation’ where ‘ideas paraded and excitedly capered’ (368).
Yet this escape involves a move to the fringe, which amounts to an
acknowledgement of the fact that the myth of England as a knowable
community is a thing of the past.
Addressing the People
In connection with the novel’s preoccupation with the individual and
collective unconscious, Priestley’s take on the mainstream film industry
is significant. Instead of releasing the energy of the unconscious, Dawson
sees himself as ‘administering the anaesthetics’ (325), and he appears to
share George Adony’s views about the film industry:
We are mythologists. We are the only licensed necromancers and
wizards, shamens and medicine men. It is not the conscious mind,
which we merely tickle, but the deep unconscious that is our territory. You imagine, Gregory my friend, that Miss Earl is simply a
good actress, with a beautiful face and figure, easy to photograph. It
is not so. She is now a magical image in the world’s dream life. That
is why even the hands of the English ladies and gentlemen here are
shaking – and in many countries we would have to call the police to
protect her – because into this dining-room there has come a figure,
exquisite, smiling but demoniac, from the mythical and magical
darkness. Movies! Box office entertainment! The film industry! Bah!
The scientists experiment with the atom, and they are regarded with
terror and awe – eh? But we experiment with the world’s unconscious, we play tricks with its psyche, we produce shining symbolic
images in the living darkness, we move into the vacant hells and
empty paradises. (144)
Priestley’s memodrama of Englishness suggests that the universal and
universalizing cinematic mythology must be deconstructed in order
to preserve the symbolic form of Englishness. It is significant in this
respect that the setting is Cornwall, the Celtic fringe with its cultural
connotations of authenticity and ancient wisdom – a place where the
‘mythical present’ of Englishness is still alive. In The Good Companions,
Priestley evoked three archetypal English landscapes – the Pennines, the
Cotswolds and the Fenlands. He now introduces a fourth:
Between the hotel and the next cove was a winding path along the
high cliff, and I found a little hollow just off this path, and there
I settled down with a couple of pipes. The strong sunlight seemed to
crush fragrance out of the gorse and the grass; I could hear the seabirds screaming in the blue air and the tide sucking at the pebbles
far below; and at no time was I oblivious of the huge gold procession
of the afternoon; and yet within a few minutes of lighting my first
pipe I was back in Bruddersford again, back in the sleet and dark of
that far-off December. I was a middle-aged man lolling on a sunlit
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
Cornish cliff; I was also a youth in a West Riding town in 1912 once
again; and I had a feeling too that I was neither of them, that both
were character parts in their appropriate sets, and that both adventures – to continue the jargon of my trade – were sequences in a film
to be shown God-knows-where. (73–4)
Cornwall, part of and yet not part of England, represents the ideal place
for time travel because it seems easier here to escape history and plunge
straight into myth – not myth as commodity or political propaganda,
but myth as a spiritual disposition to transcend time and space in search
of a distant point from which to have a full view of the first half of the
century. Here, as elsewhere, Priestley supplements the theoretical framework of psychoanalysis with the serial time theory he had long been
preoccupied with. This also surfaces in a conversation with Elizabeth
where Dawson explains that it is a mistake to assume ‘“that we are just
ourselves as we are now, whereas that’s only the thin top slice of us.
And whatever has happened to us in the past is still there, perhaps still
working away at us.”’ When Elizabeth asks solemnly ‘“That’s psychoanalysis, isn’t it?”’, Dawson replies ‘“Not quite. […] But let’s leave it at
that”’, commenting patronizingly that ‘[o]utside her work Elizabeth has
an innocent Book-of-the-Month mind’ (215). Apparently, the door to
that other dimension where the past is not vanished lies in Cornwall.
Dawson does not understand yet what happened to him as he prepares
to leave his theatre of memory:
Looking about me for the last time, I was troubled by a sense of
regret, mysterious and incommunicable, originating below the level
of words or even definite images. It was, I felt, as if this Tralorna,
bright and burnished to see me go, had offered me something, and
that I would leave, never to return, without even knowing what it
was I had missed. (326)
As it turns out, he has been given back his life, and within the symbolic
form of Englishness it is Cornwall’s role at this time to suggest the possibility of a healing experience. It is also the place where Daphne du
Maurier found her voice as a writer.
Part III
Daphne du Maurier:
(De-)Familiarizing the Nation
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Dreamtime in Cornwall
8.1 The Loving Spirit (1931)
Unlike J. B. Priestley, Daphne du Maurier was a ‘born novelist’. She
came from a famous and well-connected family of artists, actors and
writers, but finding London society uncongenial, fled to Cornwall in
her early twenties where she was inspired to write. Her first novel, The
Loving Spirit (1931), proved successful and with Rebecca, published in
1938, she became one of the most famous best-selling authors of the
day.1 Even though her work continues to sell, its cultural significance is
often overlooked, partly because as an author of middlebrow fiction for
women, she is not taken seriously, and possibly even more so because
of the strong focus in most discussions of du Maurier – or ‘Daphne’ as
her fans are wont to speak of her – on the author’s biography. Certainly
du Maurier herself set up some of the more ‘romantic’ autobiographical details like a smoke screen to satisfy her readers while protecting
her privacy. Some accounts, such as when she discovered Menabilly, or
when handsome ‘Boy’ Browning, her future husband, came sailing into
Fowey Harbour, are repeated with fetishistic glee and, yes, the gate and
drive described in Rebecca are exactly as she saw them when in search
of Rashleigh’s elusive mansion. This mimetic furore has all but obscured
any wider cultural concerns.2 Alison Light’s Forever England, published
in 1991, is the only study to discuss in detail du Maurier’s work in the
context of interwar discourses of Englishness. Light argues that the
image of the nation after World War One became more domesticated,
private and feminized, and that this process can be studied in the popular writings of conservative women. She further contends that while
du Maurier is often seen as a writer of romance fiction for women, her
romance is really ‘with the past’, not in the vein of ‘romantic Toryism’3
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
but as a constant reassessment of women’s roles and scope for action
in a patriarchal society. Thus, du Maurier spoke particularly to middleclass women who were positioning themselves between tradition and
modernity in 1920s and 1930s Britain.
In this chapter I will explore Daphne du Maurier’s narrative construction of Englishness. Whereas Priestley emphasizes the aspect of
community and ‘the People’, du Maurier’s most prominent model
for the nation is the family. This trope of genealogy could be seen as
more conservative than Priestley’s democratic vision of the people,
and perhaps dismissed as conventional. However, du Maurier uses
genealogy in a specific form relevant for the depiction of Englishness
as a symbolic form in the 1930s and 1940s. Her work expresses the
same move from wholeness to disintegration that can be observed in
Priestley. In her novels, she starts out with a romantic and mystical
fantasy of wholeness as represented in The Loving Spirit (1931) moving
via the gothic in Jamaica Inn (1936) and Rebecca (1938) to the regional
and historical, in Hungry Hill (1943) and The King’s General (1946). Du
Maurier’s move from myth to history is a long dialogue with and final
goodbye to romanticism. During this time, du Maurier’s fictions always
explore family romance manqué with a focus on conflict that refuses a
harmonious picture of the family and, by extension, the nation. Thus,
she subverts the conventions of pastoral writing as Simon Grimble
describes them:
[O]ne of the features of pastoral writing and its referring back to a
previous and better age is a consistent attempt to present that better
past as one in which people are securely placed in a benevolent family structure, a past that is opposed to a present of atomised individualism. Representing that pastoral world as Britain makes it harder to
repress the fact that this familial past often took on forms of conflict
either within or between its constituent families, leading to the wars
between England and Scotland, and, indeed, to Civil War, in which
case to be shut out from that past is not the obviously bad thing that
it could be presented as in the pastoral view.4
Du Maurier’s focus on conflict is strengthened by setting the family
romance manqué in a Cornish landscape. This landscape gives form
to the ‘mythical present’, if anything even more strongly than the
English archetypal landscapes, perhaps since the shaping forces of
nature are more visible near the wild coast. There is also a feeling
of timelessness, or an acknowledgement of temporal rhythms much
Dreamtime in Cornwall 151
longer than the span of an individual life. As du Maurier says in her
memoir, Enchanted Cornwall:
In Cornwall I discovered especially a sense of timelessness barely
glimpsed before. A sense of continuity with ancient times, and more
than this, a present which resonated with past and future – a sense
indeed that past, present and future are not isolated milestones in
time, to be feared, longed for, and finally met, but that they are one,
each part of a whole, existing side-by-side. Likewise, in our beginning
is our end. I who writes this, lives and dies, but something of myself
goes into the children born of my body, and to their children, and
those children’s children. Life, whatever shape or form it takes, goes
on, is truly eternal.5
Having rooted herself in Cornwall, du Maurier writes from the Celtic
fringe to the centre, not evoking the ‘village street at dusk’, the powerful
symbol of Englishness conjured up by H. V. Morton, but the coastline
defining the borders of the imaginary island of England. Du Maurier’s
novels negotiate the relationship between genealogy and the spirit
which permeates the land, and the sea – a relationship increasingly
fateful and tortured.
In terms of class, du Maurier’s narrative of the nation is politically
more conservative than J. B. Priestley’s. Regarding gender, this is less
clear because even in a patriarchal society, women are extremely important in a dynastic context. Her focus on families allows du Maurier, who
was no feminist, to include strong women in the process of nationbuilding.6 In line with this, Priestley prefers picaresque narratives and
quest motifs in his fiction, while du Maurier leans towards the saga.
Diametrically opposed to each other in many ways, between them
these two authors cover a wide spectrum of possible positions within
Englishness. As we have seen, Priestley was a Yorkshireman with a
non-conformist and strongly communitarian lower-middle-class background who had worked his way up from an insignificant job in the
wool trade in Bradford to a position of wealth and high authority in
the public sphere. Daphne du Maurier grew up in genteel and artistic
London, between Hampstead and Covent Garden, and although she
was not much inclined to be a socialite, she lived the life of a spoilt
daughter of a famous, wealthy, well-connected family of artists with
a dash of French ‘exoticism’ from her father’s side, the glamorous
actor-manager Gerald du Maurier. She received no formal education
to speak of, but her debut as an author was facilitated by her father’s
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
powerful friends in publishing, and her marriage to ‘Boy’ Browning,
who, after a distinguished military career, first became Comptroller
of the Royal Household and then Treasurer to the Duke of Edinburgh.
This, combined with her growing fame as an author, lifted du Maurier
even further up the social ladder. Waited on by servants and from 1943
installed in a Cornish manor house, she tended to take her privileged
position for granted; it would have been unthinkable for Dame Daphne,
Lady Browning, to refuse royal favours as Priestley had done. Even in
the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1950s they would have
been opponents, because while Priestley and his wife Jacquetta Hawkes
Priestley were important figures in support of this movement, Tommy
Browning faced off against the campaigners in his capacity as Deputy
Lieutenant of Cornwall.7
Priestley and du Maurier have been selected for this study both
for the nature of their differences, as pointed out above, and for
their similarities, which are all the more significant in what they
reveal about contemporary mindsets. Both writers were middlebrow
and widely read, and the contents and tone of their works reflect
the time in which they were written. Both authors were deeply influenced by C. G. Jung’s analytic psychology. They believed in the
collective unconscious, in the gender duality of animus and anima,
in the Shadow as an element within the psyche that had to be confronted in the process of ‘individuation’, and in the need to balance
the unconscious with the conscious, both on an individual and a
collective level. Daphne du Maurier in particular saw her writing
as a way of achieving this balance, and of coming to terms with
her complex sexuality and her ‘boy in the box’.8 A further strong
influence on both writers was contemporary thinking about time.
Priestley explicitly discussed the serial time theory developed by
J. W. Dunne, and based plays such as I Have Been Here Before and Time
and the Conways on it. Dunne argued in his book, An Experiment With
Time (1927, with further editions in 1929 and 1934) that each individual was a series of observers moving through a series of times, and that
the conscious person lived in a three-dimensional world with ordinary
linear time as the fourth dimension. Beyond this, human beings could
see occasional glimpses of other dimensions. As Priestley explains: ‘We
experience those “high moments of emotion” when we seem to feel
the timelessness, the eternal Now of the fifth dimension, and imaginatively we may have some sense of the sixth dimension, that actualisation of other possibilities.’9 Dunne extrapolated his Serialism from
various dreams which enabled him to make predictions about the
Dreamtime in Cornwall 153
future. He insisted that this was not clairvoyance or any other form
of mysticism or occultism, but a result of the nature of time, and the
simultaneity of events of which observers could occasionally become
conscious. Dunne’s theory, which promised to ‘recast physics and psychology’ so as to ‘reckon with our present discontinuities and set out
upon a new and sounder pathway to knowledge’,10 was also extremely
gratifying to potential disciples because it promised immortality.
Serialism discloses the existence of a reasonable kind of ‘soul’ – an
individual soul which has a definite beginning in absolute Time –
a soul whose immortality, being in other dimensions of Time, does not
clash with the obvious ending of the individual in the physiologist’s Time
dimension, and a soul whose existence does not nullify the physiologist’s discovery that brain activity provides the formal foundation
of all mundane experience and of all associative thinking.11
It also offers a satisfactory answer ‘to the “why” of evolution, of birth,
of pain, of sleep, and of death’, ‘discloses the existence of a superlative
general observer’, it proves ‘the unity of all flesh in the Superbody and
of all minds in the Master-mind’, which supplies ‘the logical foundation
needed by every theory of ethics’, it accounts for dreams, prophecy, selfconsciousness and free will and explains ‘telepathic communication’.
Well might Dunne claim that ‘[a] theory which can achieve all this is
not lightly to be set aside.’12
There is no evidence outside her fiction that du Maurier engaged with
contemporary scientific, or pseudo-scientific, debates about time, but
she must have been aware of Dunne’s work. Her plots include many
instances where ordinary linear time is transcended, as, for example, in
The Loving Spirit, where Janet Coombe has a vision of her as yet unborn
son as an adult whom she visits after her own death, or in the short
story, ‘Don’t Look Now’, where John sees his own funeral in Venice.
This preoccupation with time must of course be placed in the context
of the complex contemporary metaphysics and mythologies outlined in
the introduction. Although most people were not in a position to really
grasp the innovations in thinking about time and matter introduced by
modern physics, many were intrigued by the idea that these categories
were more flexible than hitherto acknowledged. Du Maurier with her
interest in dreams and time-travel was certainly no exception here,
and, moreover, she found precedents for a supernatural treatment of
time in various family undertakings. George du Maurier introduced the
technique of transcending time and reliving the past by ‘dreaming true’
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in his novel Peter Ibbetson (1891), and Gerald du Maurier ‘touched
greatness’, in Judith Cook’s words, when he played Will Dearth in
Barrie’s play Dear Brutus whose ‘plot has a theme which was to be taken
up later by J. B. Priestley in a whole series of plays, which revolves round
time and whether we would live our lives differently if we had them all
over again’.13
This understanding of time makes evocations of the ‘mythical present’
of Englishness as defined in this study more significant and more specifically expressive of the cultural moment with which I am concerned,
since ‘present’ does not have to be restricted to a status quo resulting
from tradition or evolution and subject to historical and archaeological
study, but also accommodates a fantasy of simultaneous existence akin
to mythical time enabling Englishmen to inhabit and embody their past.
Families have characteristic ways of remembering, and there is a strong
focus in du Maurier’s work on the past in the form of genealogies, family
trees and issues of heredity negotiated within communicative memory.14
As Jan and Aleida Assmann explain, communicative memory unfolds
in a time window of about eighty to a hundred years in which past
events can be experienced as relatively immediate, not quite ‘history’,
before they drop below the horizon of the ‘present’. The reason for this
relative immediacy of events is that they are communicated in dialogue
by people who experienced them personally or at least listened to
accounts of people who had. For Daphne du Maurier, this time window
opens around the year 1831 when Louis-Mathurin Busson du Maurier,
descendant of a dynasty of master glass-blowers in France, married
Ellen, the daughter of the infamous Mary Anne Clarke, who had been
the Duke of York’s mistress for some years. One of their sons was George
du Maurier (‘Kicky’), Daphne du Maurier’s famous grandfather; an
artist, cartoonist for Punch and best-selling author, whose shadow loomed
large over the family. Daphne du Maurier’s The Du Mauriers, published
by Gollancz in 1937, is a fictionalized account of this early family
history.15 All her family chronicles, The Du Mauriers, Hungry Hill and The
Loving Spirit, observe this time frame of communicative memory, starting
in the early nineteenth century, about a hundred years before the time
of writing. The latter two works do not recount du Maurier’s own family
history but were inspired by personal communications – Hungry Hill
presenting a fictionalized version of the family history of Christopher
Puxley, du Maurier’s lover during the war, and The Loving Spirit telling
the story of the Adams family, shipbuilders in Polruan near Fowey, who
built a boat for du Maurier while she was researching the life of their
ancestor Jane Slade.16
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Both for the individual and the collective – be it the family or the
nation – the present has no meaning without a vital connection to the
past, and for du Maurier, fiction is of essential importance in this mythopoeic process of bringing the past to life. The narrator of The Du Mauriers
reflects on this process in an oblique dialogue with J. W. Dunne:
Whether immortality is true, or is a theory invented by man as a sop
to his natural fear, none of us will ever know; but it is consoling and
rather tender to imagine that when we die we leave something of
ourselves, like the wake of a vessel, as a reminder that once we passed
this way. There are footprints in the sand, and the mark of a hand
upon a wall. There are flowers pressed between the pages of a book,
colourless and flat, to which a dim fragrance clings. There are letters,
crumpled and yellow with age, but the message they bring stares up
at the reader with vital, living force, as though they were penned
yesterday. Ghosts there are in plenty – not phantoms with pale faces
trailing their chains into eternity, not headless horrors creaking upon
the boards of lonely houses, but the happy shadow-ghosts of what
has been, no more fearful than the blurred photographs in the family
album. Whoever has loved much, felt deeply, trodden a certain path
in happiness or pain, leaves an imprint of himself for evermore. […]
When the turmoil of the present day becomes like thunder in the
ears, and the strain of modern life a burden too heavy to be borne, it
is pleasant to shut out sound and sight and lose oneself in that silent
shadow-world that marches a hand’s breadth from our own.17
Ultimately, it seems, the traces of the past, like pressed flowers, letters,
fragrances, preserve their ‘vital, living force’, because the people they
represent are still there, in the parallel ‘shadow-world’. Sensitive and
imaginative people, like true dreamers and writers, can tune in to ‘echoes’
and ‘visions’ – not so much of times gone by, but of things taking place
in another dimension. This is an expression of the ‘mythical present’
very much in the vein of J. W. Dunne. Clearly, there is more than a hint
of nostalgia in the yearning to escape ‘the turmoil of the present day’,
which marks the take-off point for fiction: ‘There is a light rumble of
painted wheels, and a carriage bowls past along the broad white road to
Richmond. Mary Anne leans in her corner, her parasol protects her from
the sun […].’18 This nostalgic fictional intertwining of past and present
is characteristically English and, it should be noted in passing, far from
intrinsically conservative. The end of The Du Mauriers provides a clue
to the overwhelming importance of the sea in Daphne du Maurier’s life
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and fiction, as in the English cultural imaginary. Allegedly timeless and
unchanging, the sea is culture’s ‘other’.
Houses and gardens can be destroyed, and cities become rearing
things of horror compared with what they were, but the sea at least is
unchanging, and the ghosts may wander upon it as they will. Kicky,
and Kicky’s descendants, hover in their characteristics between
England and France, as do all hybrids who possess the blood of two
countries in their veins[.]19
As a sanctuary for those ‘who possess the blood of two countries in
their veins’, or not ‘rooted in one soil’, to use another organicist metaphor prominent in this discourse, the sea becomes a symbolic space
of freedom and movement beyond essentialism and the constrictions
and rules of the community. The sea remains a constant challenge to
the English, protecting their island fortress but also eating away at it,
serving as a bulwark against, but also as a contact zone for encounters
with the ‘other’.
In my reading of Priestley’s Faraway, I considered a dialectic of
Heimweh and Fernweh as part of the symbolic form of Englishness.
While Priestley had located this ambivalence in the psyche of his male
protagonist, Daphne du Maurier opens her first novel, The Loving Spirit,
with a scene describing that same ambivalence in a woman’s mind:
Janet Coombe stood on the hill above Plyn, looking down upon
the harbour. Although the sun was already high in the heavens, the
little town was still wrapped in an early morning mist. It clung to
Plyn like a thin pale blanket, lending to the place a faint whisper of
unreality as if the whole had been blessed by the touch of ghostly
fingers. [...] It seemed to Janet that this hillside was her own world,
a small planet of strange clarity and understanding; where all troublous thoughts and queer wonderings of the heart became soothed
and at rest. [...] Janet still stood on the hilltop and watched the sea,
and it seemed that there were two sides of her; one that wanted to
be the wife of a man, and to care for him and love him tenderly, and
one that asked only to be part of a ship, part of the seas and the sky
above, with the glad free ways of a gull.20
The Cornish scene evokes the ‘mythical present’ of Englishness, where
rootedness in place and the call of the sea are in constant conflict. Du
Maurier takes her cue for the novel’s title from a poem by Emily Brontë,
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as signalled by the epigraph on the title page – ‘Alas – the countless links
are strong / That bind us to our clay, / The loving spirit lingers long,
/ And would not pass away / E. Brontë’ – and all four parts are prefaced
with poems by that author, forging an intertextual link with the early
nineteenth century where the first part of the novel is set. Quotations
from canonized literature occur frequently in middlebrow writing of
the interwar period, perhaps as a strategy to enhance the value of the
product and appropriate some of the cultural capital of the classic. This
particular intertextual connection introduces both a literary genealogy,
casting du Maurier as the Brontës’ heir, and a leitmotif of spirituality. The
strongest source of this romantic spirit is the sea, and the family saga
traces how each generation is in turn affected by this spirit. Book One
focuses on Janet Coombe (1830–1863) in whom the ‘loving spirit’ is first
embodied. First encountered on her wedding day, she will become the
mother of a whole dynasty of shipbuilders and sailors, and the novel
opens with Janet surveying her world from a point at once elevated and
remote. One Christmas Eve, a supernatural vision affords her a glimpse
into the future, where she sees her as yet unborn son Joseph as an adult,
at a point of crisis. For Janet, this meeting is proof that ordinary time
can be transcended by the spirit. ‘“Fifty years or a thousand years, it’s all
the same.” […] A second maybe had passed since she had stood there,
but no more. Yet she had travelled half a century, out of the world into
space, into another time’ (38).
Joseph develops into an unruly and anti-social Heathcliff-figure,
whose only tie is with his mother – a tie so symbiotic that it would be a
polite understatement to call it Oedipal. He dreams that he will once be
Master of a ship, called ‘Janet Coombe’, with his mother’s likeness as
a figurehead, and he makes her promise to sail with him. When Joseph
does go to sea, Janet tries to soothe the pain of separation by travelling
with her son in spirit, outside of ordinary time. ‘Perhaps there was no
end to a living moment, and even now her young self slept secure in
the arms of [her husband] Thomas, on some other plane of time, like
the undying ripple on the surface of still water’ (87). The Coombes
decide to build a family ship, ‘made from the very trees in Truan
woods’ (88), ‘whose branches had swayed in the wind before Janet’s
father opened his eyes upon the world’ (86). Captained by Joseph, it
is expected ‘to bring them wealth and glory from foreign parts’ (89).
As a surprise to Janet, who has developed a heart condition, they
commission a figurehead in the likeness of Janet as a young woman.
A mythical fusion of substance and spirit takes place at the launch,
and ‘a shudder passed through Janet’s body and she opened her arms.
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Her eyes were filled with a great beauty, like the light of a star, and her
soul passed away into the breathing, living ship. Janet Coombe was
dead’ (100). Du Maurier conjures up a Pre-Raphaelite image by reaching back, via romantic spirituality, to the female tradition of Christian
mysticism, which forms the basis of a quasi-messianic myth of the
English as a seafaring nation.21 As Janet explains to her husband, the
spiritual urge is sometimes overwhelming: ‘Like in olden days when a
woman felt the call upon her from God, […] the like of it comes to me,
to wander forth from Plyn an’ you an’ our childrun, an’ to sail away
in the heart of a ship, with only the wind an’ the sea and my dreams
for company’ (44). Amalgamated with modernist notions of time and
the unconscious, this creates a specifically modern vision of collective identity – a vision that is also strongly gendered, since women
appear to be able to embody the spirit while men are affected by it in
unpredictable ways. From the moment of his mother’s death, Joseph
Coombe (1863–1900) is a lost soul. His story recalls the legend of the
Flying Dutchman, known to du Maurier in some of the many versions
circulated since the Romantic period, probably including Captain
Frederick Marryat’s popular novel, The Phantom Ship (1839) and of
course Coleridge’s ‘Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’. Under Joseph’s control, the ‘Janet Coombe’ is the best and fastest ship, and the cargoes of
china clay, coal, fish and fruit bring handsome profits to the Coombe
family, but the Captain knows no peace of mind. Scouring the seven
seas and conversing with the figurehead of his ship, Joseph longs for
home. When rescued by his daughter Katherine after years in an
asylum, he voices the credo of the Englishman:
I’ve travelled far, an’ I’ve travelled wide, I’ve seen the riotous coast
of Africa with her glittering surf an’ her tossin’ palm trees; I’ve lain
becalmed in the lazy waters o’ the tropics; I’ve known the cold of
Arctic nights an’ the rare white light that leaves a man dumb with
wonder; I’ve gazed at the snow-capped mountains of the north; vast,
Kate, lonely an’ mysterious. But ’tis a queer thing, an’ a true thing,
that wherever I’ve been, an’ whatever I’ve seen, there’s nothin’ like
the sweet beauty o’ Plyn harbour when the sun be setting, and the
shadows fall, an’ the white gulls fill the air with their joyous clamour.
It’s home, Kate, that’s all I reckon. (192–3)
Even so, just when Joseph’s son Christopher is due to visit after years
of estrangement, he hears the call of the sea again and goes out on a
stormy night in a small boat. ‘Joseph threw back his head and laughed,
Dreamtime in Cornwall 159
as the planks were torn and tossed into the sky. Then he spread out his
hands, and the waters covered him’ (195).
Christopher Coombe (1888–1912) and Jennifer Coombe (1912–30), the
protagonists of the last two books, re-enact the family tragedy. After many
wanderings and tribulations, they gravitate back to their Cornish home.
When Jennifer returns from London, one of her first visits takes her to the
graveyard where her ancestors are buried, where she puts some flowers
on her father’s grave. Her journey back implies a trip down memory
lane, but more importantly it is a return to a place where ancestry is very
present. The material link is provided by the land in a manner recalling
H. V. Morton’s notion of racial continuity as described in his preface to
In Search of England. Continuity of place enables the transcendence of time.
One by one Jennifer conjured up the scenes of the past, she saw
the men and women whose name she bore live out their little
lives, knowing sorrow, joy, suffering, and despair, loving and hating
one another, and so pass away out of the scheme of things, realities
no more, nothing but the grey tombstones in Lanoc Churchyard.
Janet – Joseph – Christopher – Jennifer, all bound together in some
strange and thwarted love for one another, handing down this strain
of restlessness and suffering, this intolerable longing for beauty
and freedom; all searching for the nameless things, the untrodden
ways, but finding peace only in Plyn and in each other; each one
torn apart from his beloved by the physical separation of death, yet
remaining part of them for ever, bound by countless links that none
could break, uniting in one another the living presence of a wise and
loving spirit. (309)
This account of one family mirrors the ancestral body of the nation. In
du Maurier’s fiction, the idea of incompatibility within the family is a
common theme. Almost as if mourning the incest taboo, du Maurier
consistently subverts confident assertions about heredity by highlighting the double-sided genealogy of the individual. So ironically, even if a
kind of genetic automatism did appear desirable, its consequences would
be quite unpredictable. Time and again, du Maurier reminds her readers
that the ‘family tree’ is a metaphor. In fact, this emphasis on heredity
and the family romance manqué facilitates the analogy between family
and nation, introducing an element of unpredictability and chance, or
even freakishness, into the ancestral body.
At the end of the saga, the shipbuilding yard formerly owned by the
Coombes belongs to John Stephens, a cousin of Jennifer’s, who revived
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the family business by building modern yachts – a course suggested to
him by the figurehead of the ‘Janet Coombe’ whose wreck John used to
visit as a boy. John and Jennifer meet on the wreck and finally get married.
When Jennifer takes her stand in Janet’s old place on the cliff, he joins her
in memory of the ‘[p]eople of our blood, who belong to us’ (350). As they
return to their baby and a thoroughly domestic scene, the sound of workmen breaking up the wreck of the ‘Janet Coombe’ in Polmear Creek can
be heard. While the magic ship is gone, the figurehead has been put on a
beam outside the house. ‘She leans beyond them all, a little white figure
with her hands at her breast, her chin in the air, her eyes gazing towards
the sea. High above the clustered houses and the grey harbour waters of
Plyn, the loving spirit smiles and is free’ (351). This is a neat happy ending
of the sort du Maurier would not attempt again, achieved by deflecting
the mystical energy of the story. Romantic spirituality and its discontents
appear to be overcome by a Jungian process of ‘individuation’:
On the sloping fo’c’sle head of the wrecked ‘Janet Coombe’ Jennifer
would lie, her cheek against the bulwark, her hand upon the bowsprit; and beneath her a white figurehead gazed seaward, not a
painted wooden carving with patched colouring chipped and old,
but someone who was part of Jennifer herself, someone who cried
and whispered in the depths of her being, someone who was loving
and infinitely wise. Someone who knew that restlessness came from a
rebellious mind, that fancied loneliness was the outcome of an awakening heart, that sleeplessness was due to the hunger of instinct, that
dreams were the prelude to fulfilment, that fear was the tremor of a
spirit craving completion – and that the cause of these things and
the sweet anguish and torment within Jennifer was the sight of John
climbing down to her from the hills above. (335)
Spirituality is resignified as hysterical ‘restlessness’, with true love, leading to domestic bliss, as the remedy. In Jungian terms, it is Jennifer’s
task to listen to the collective unconscious, the whispers from the
‘depth of her being’, to achieve a union of animus and anima and balance the unconscious with the conscious in order to lay the rebellious
spirit to rest. On the collective level, the English must settle down comfortably on their small island and stay at home with ‘their own’. This
is a clannish and sedentary vision of the small-scale community and
once more, it is the femininity which embodies the new ‘spirit’ that is
supposed to make Little Englandism palatable. The symbol of this is the
figurehead no longer roaming the world, but nailed to a beam in front
Dreamtime in Cornwall 161
of the nursery window. The narrative’s closure is similar to Priestley’s
vision at the end of The Good Companions, but even in this first and
most optimistic of her fictions, there is something uncanny about the
ending which suggests that du Maurier was hesitant about her celebration of racial primitivism. The scene of domestic bliss is overshadowed
by a totem-like symbol, superstitiously erected to banish the ghosts of
those one has killed.
8.2 Frenchman’s Creek (1941)
Frenchman’s Creek, first published in 1941, is usually seen as du Maurier’s
most ‘romantic’ novel22 and it is discussed here in conjunction with
The Loving Spirit in order to assess what happened to the romantic
theme in the course of a decade. During a bleak phase in the war, du
Maurier wrote this escapist tale, different from the other work she had
produced around that time. The novel begins with an expression of the
‘mythical present’ of Englishness – a yachtsman ‘dreaming true’:
The yachtsman dreams – and as the tide surges gently about his
ship and the moon shines on the quiet river, soft murmurs come
to him, and the past becomes the present. […] All the whispers and
echoes from a past that is gone teem into the sleeper’s brain, and he
is with them, and part of them; part of the sea, the ship, the walls
of Navron House, part of a carriage that rumbles and lurches in the
rough roads of Cornwall, part even of that lost forgotten London,
artificial, painted, where link-boys carried flares, and tipsy gallants
laughed at the corner of a cobbled mud-splashed street. […] And last
he sees La Mouette at anchor in a narrow twisting stream, he sees the
trees at the water’s edge, he hears the heron and the curlew cry, and
lying on his back asleep he breathes and lives the lovely folly of that
lost midsummer which first made the creek a refuge, and a symbol
of escape.23
‘Dreaming true’, being immersed in the spiritus loci, is immediately distinguished from – in ways reminiscent of H. V. Morton and the discourse
about tourism and travel – the deplorable activities of tourists and ‘the
day-tripper, his dull eye surfeited with undigested beauty’, who ‘ploughs
in and out amongst the shallows, a prawning net in hand’ (8). He drives
a ‘little puffing car’ and ‘takes his tea with his fellow-trippers in the
stone kitchen of the old farm building that once was Navron House’ (8).
Such passages, perhaps flattering the more snobbish of du Maurier’s
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
readers, express the disdain of the (would-be) higher class traveller for
the leisure activities of the lower classes. Frenchman’s Creek builds up an
exclusive atmosphere, because the trippers’ ‘ears are deaf to the echoes
of that other time, when someone whistled softly from the dark belt of
trees, his hands cupped to his mouth, […] while above them the casement opened, and Dona watched and listened, […] her ringlets falling
forward over her face’ (9). There are echoes of Shakespeare; the story is
cast as a midsummer night’s dream and, thus, intertextually related to a
locus communus of mythical Englishness.
The novel is set in the Restoration period, and the protagonist is
a spirited woman battling a sense of futility and boredom, the highhanded and impetuous, beautiful and spoilt Lady Dona St. Columb.
She had played too long a part unworthy of her. She had consented
to be the Dona her world had demanded – a superficial, lovely creature, who walked, and talked, and laughed, accepting praise and
admiration with a shrug of the shoulder as natural homage to her
beauty, careless, insolent, deliberately indifferent, and all the while
another Dona, a strange, phantom Dona, peered at her from a dark
mirror and was ashamed. This other self knew that life need not be
bitter, nor worthless, nor bounded by a narrow casement, but could
be limitless, infinite – that it meant suffering, and love, and danger,
and sweetness, and more than this even, much more. (15)
The theatrical theme is continued as du Maurier, perhaps a little heavyhanded here, attempts to recreate the atmosphere of the Restoration
stage. ‘And oh, heaven – the crowded playhouse, the stench of perfume
upon heated bodies, […] the party in the Royal box – the King himself
present – the impatient crowd in the cheap seats stamping and shouting for the play to begin while they threw orange peel on to the stage’
(16). Escaping from London in a jolting coach, Dona thinks back to her
adventures in London, her suppers in seedy establishments, the tavern
gossip, her boring and clumsy husband Harry, cross-dressed romps and
floods of wine. When she arrives with her two children and their nanny
at Navron House, her husband’s country seat in Cornwall, the place is
almost deserted, save for the enigmatic servant William, with whom she
has some rather ludicrous, pseudo-philosophical conversations full of
double entendre. It transpires that he serves a French pirate who is the
scourge of the local gentry. With a ship ‘like quicksilver’, he will ‘creep
into our harbours by night, land silently like the stealthy rat he is, seize
our goods, break open our stores and merchandise, and be away on the
Dreamtime in Cornwall 163
morning tide while our fellows are rubbing the sleep out of their eyes’
(34). The novel now swerves from the world of Wycherley and Aphra
Behn to the Stevensonian adventure tale, and sure enough, resting
on the cliff one day, Dona sees a ship approaching. ‘[T]he setting sun
caught the painted ship in a gleam of gold, and silently, stealthily, leaving a long dark ripple behind her, the ship stole in towards the land. And
a feeling came upon Dona, as though a hand touched her heart’ (38).
After seeing a figure groping towards the house at night, Dona goes
exploring in the woods towards the creek, wading deeper into romance.
‘[T]his creek was a source of enchantment, a new escape, better than
Navron itself, a place to drowse and sleep, a lotusland’ (43). Here, she
discovers ‘the ship she had seen the night before, the painted ship on
the horizon, red and golden in the setting sun’ (44). Dona determines
not to betray the foreign invader, which raised some eyebrows in
1941,24 before she is captured by the ‘Frenchman’s’ guards. Their master
is of course good-looking, charming and accomplished and approaches
piracy in the spirit of the English gentleman amateur. ‘It just happens
that the problems of piracy interest me, suit my particular bent of
thought. […] I hate disorder, or any slipshod method of attack. The
whole thing is very much like a geometrical problem, it is food for the
brain’ (52). Throughout, du Maurier preserves the dream atmosphere,
coupled with the familiar paradoxical treatment of time. Dona’s dream
is ‘a remembered dream that she had had once, a quiet, familiar thing, a
dream she recognized. “I have done this before”, she thought, “this is not
the first time”. Yet that was absurd, for of course it was the first time, and
he was a stranger to her’ (53). Dona ends up signing her name among
the ship’s ‘faithful’ and invites the ‘Frenchman’, Jean-Benoit Aubéry,
to dinner at the appropriate hour for pirates, who ‘come stealthily, by
night, knocking upon a window – and the lady of the manor, fearful for
her safety, gives him supper, by candlelight’ (56).
Dona and Aubéry talk about many things which could well be of
interest to women readers of the period, and which might assist them
‘with the business of living’, one of the functions of middlebrow literature described by Q. D. Leavis. Motherhood and home-making as
opposed to the desire to roam, the difference between happiness and
contentment, the need for danger and excitement, the joys of artistic
creation and achievement, the reasons for marrying someone. When
Aubéry draws Dona’s portrait, she sees an unflattering reflection, one
she can sometimes detect in her own mirror: ‘Here was someone with
illusions lost, someone who looked out upon the world from a too
narrow casement, finding it other than she had hoped, bitter, and
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a little worthless’ (68). When Dona is annoyed with Aubéry that he
has captured this mood, he tells her to ‘discard the mood altogether,
as being unworthy, and a waste of time’ (69) while tearing the drawing into little pieces. They agree that he could see her like this because
he shares her feelings of internal disfigurement (69). His next portrait
catches her ‘in a laughing mood, leaning over the rail of the ship and
watching the comic Pierre Blanc sing one of his outrageous songs’ (83).
Such therapeutic action suggests that Frenchman’s Creek can be read as
a bildungsroman for the English middle-class wife and mother.
The ‘foreign’ element is employed in fairly stereotypical ways. As
regards the Captain himself, the only ‘real man’, it adds excitement and
erotic frisson to the story, while all the other Frenchmen are ‘comic’ and
‘little’. In fact, an encounter with ‘the foreign’ is not really the focus of
the story, since du Maurier forges a link between Aubéry’s France and
Cornwall in line with her family history and Celtic allegiance. ‘Cornish
men and Bretons are very much alike. Both are Celts’ (67) and, therefore, evidently ‘romantic’. The local gentry, in contrast, is somehow not
Cornish but unimaginatively and lethargically English. ‘I am aware that
no harm can come to me’, Dona tells Lord Godolphin and his fellow
pirate-catchers with heavy irony, ‘You are all three so reliable, so stalwart,
so very – if I may say so – English, in your ways’ (75). Dona’s dim view
of the gentlemen is endorsed by the fact that they take her words as a
compliment. The transformation triggered by Dona’s French connection is signalled by her dress; she first exchanges her silk gowns for ‘old
muslin’ (81), looking ‘no better than a travelling gypsy woman, with
all a gypsy’s primitive feelings too, and a traitor to her country into
the bargain’ (88). At this point, the novel draws on a familiar nexus
between ethnicity, class, gender and sexuality which allows the respectable woman to indulge her fantasies by displacing desire onto an inferior ‘other’, at the same time of course admitting that ‘other’ into the
self. Dona’s outings with Aubéry are fundamentally boy-scout fantasies –
fishing, cooking in the open, cleaning knives on breeches, crouching
beside the fire on a midsummer night, drinking good wine cooled in the
creek. During the next stage of her initiation, Dona sails with Aubéry for
a few days, where she realizes that she loves him; ‘she was part of his
body and part of his mind, they belonged to each other, both wanderers,
both fugitives, cast in the same mould’ (101).
Dona and Aubéry then discuss the national characteristics of lovemaking. Apparently, the members of Aubéry’s crew are much in demand
by the country-women who ‘find their husbands very dull’, because,
as Dona thinks, ‘[t]he English yokel is not at his best when he makes
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love’ (104) – and ‘[h]ow can a woman instruct her husband in the
things she does not know herself?’ (104). She assumes that there may
be ‘something in our English climate that is chilling to the imagination’, but Aubéry assures her that ‘[c]limate has nothing to do with
it, nor racial differences. A man, or a woman for that matter, is either
born with a natural understanding of these things or he is not’ (105).
A successful marriage is a matter of compatibility. Lady St. Columb chose
unwisely, and Dona becomes Aubéry’s ‘cabin-boy’ in compensation and
is allowed to sail his ship. The novel now takes on the complexion of
a swashbuckling tale of derring-do, and the next step in Dona’s transformation is cross-dressing. She has to dress up as the ‘cabin-boy’ for a
stealthy excursion to Fowey, where Aubéry’s mission is to capture a ship
and steal Lord Godolphin’s wig. As in Shakespeare’s comedies, crossdressing dramatizes the blurring and transgression of gender boundaries
and signals a process of initiation, a step on the way to adult sexuality
(conceived as heterosexuality) and fulfilment in love. ‘This day is forever a day to be held and cherished, because in it we shall have lived,
and loved, and nothing else matters but that, in this world of our own
making to which we have escaped’ (139). ‘Frenchman’s Creek’ and
the pirate ship thus represent the ‘green world’ where the rigours and
rules of social life are relaxed or momentarily suspended. After Aubéry’s
capture, Dona reluctantly takes leave of her Cornish garden where the
‘mythical present’ can be felt so strongly:
Part of her would linger there for ever: a footstep running tip-toe to
the creek, the touch of her hand on a tree, the imprint of her body in
the long grass. And perhaps one day, in after years, someone would
wander there and listen to the silence, as she had done, and catch
the whisper of the dreams that she had dreamt there, in midsummer,
under the hot sun and the white sky. (209)
Dona, on her last cross-dressed mission, organizes Aubéry’s escape, and
they spend the night by a lake near the coast, waiting for the tide which
will bring his ship and bear him – or both of them – away. They agree that
they will have to part. Dona sees herself becoming ‘a gracious matron’
who ‘will have grandchildren about her knee, and will tell them the
story of a pirate who escaped.’ The cabin-boy ‘will vigil sometimes in the
night, and tear his nails, and beat his pillow, and then he will fall asleep
perhaps, and dream again’ (236). In this vision, the boundaries of reality
become more porous than ever, because it is less and less clear whether
Dona dreams as the cabin-boy, or the cabin-boy dreams as Dona.
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
Aubéry sees himself going back to his house in Brittany, near Finistère,
meaning ‘the land’s end’ as he explains, and plastering the walls with
portraits of his cabin-boy. He tells her of ‘la Pointe du Raz’, a bare rock
eternally swept by the west wind. ‘And out in the sea, beyond the point,
two tides meet, and surge together, and all the time forever there is a
roughness and a boiling of surf and foam, and the spray rises fifty feet
into the air’ (237). This place in the sea where two tides meet symbolizes the only place where Aubéry and Dona can be together, hovering
above the sea between England and France like the ‘hybrids’ they are,
to quote The Du Mauriers again. In this highly romantic vision, the ultimate impediment to their union is not Dona’s previous marriage, but
the more general conviction that settling down is anathema to love.
Dona conjures up a dystopian scene of iron-age suburbia: ‘“Perhaps
there was a woman”’, she says to Aubéry, ‘“and the woman told her
man to build a house of reeds, and after that a house of wood, and after
that a house of stone, and there came other men and other women,
and soon there were no more hills and no more lakes, nothing but
little round stone houses all alike”’ (238). ‘“And you and I”’, he answers,
‘“we have our lake and our hills, for this night only”.’ Morning comes,
the ship appears, Aubéry climbs into the boat waiting to take him to his
ship, and the novel ends with Dona watching the scene:
[I]t seemed to Dona that this moment was part of another moment,
long ago, when she had stood upon a headland and looked out across
the sea. The ship drifted on the horizon like a symbol of escape,
and there was something strange about her in the morning light, as
though she had no part in the breaking of the day, but belonged to
another age and to another world. She seemed a painted ship upon
the still white sea, and Dona shivered suddenly, for the shingle felt
cold and chill on her bare feet, while a little wave splashed upon
them, and sighed, and was no more. Then out of the sea, like a ball
of fire, the sun came hard and red. (238)
The way that du Maurier punches the simple, single syllable words into
the page in this last sentence creates a feeling of finality. Du Maurier
decided not to close the narrative frame she had introduced at the
beginning of the novel with the yachtsman ‘dreaming true’ while
condescending to the day-trippers, but ends with Dona’s perspective.
Not only has ‘the yachtsman’ indulged in the dangerous pastime of
‘dreaming true’, but Dona and the reader have too. Was Dona supposed to be ‘really’ experiencing things within the fictional world, or
Dreamtime in Cornwall 167
‘dreaming true’, or just dreaming; and if the latter, how do dreams
relate to ‘reality’? At the end it seems as if Dona were looking at the
painting of a ship existent in another dimension, and the sudden shift
from vision, projection or fantasy to the haptic – Dona’s shiver and
chill in the early morning – also effects a sudden reorientation for the
reader, firmly rooting sensation in the present moment and in a body
shrinking from contact with the outside world. Dona thus becomes
the reader’s contemporary, cut off from her own romance located in
the past, as the English are cut off from their tradition as a seafaring
nation. There is no access to another world, or another time, and thus
no escape. This deadened feeling is entirely different from the vitalist atmosphere of The Loving Spirit, where spirituality may cause torment but is not in doubt. The sunrise, an image of hope in traditional
iconography, is singularly devoid of comfort; there will be another
day, but it is without promise. Du Maurier thus creates a feeling of
isolation often associated with the life of the middle-class suburban
housewife as it developed in the 1930s – a life of relative material
prosperity which conceals a spiritual void.
The Loving Spirit placed the heroine firmly in a domestic context,
having exorcized spiritualism at least on the plot level and asserted
genealogical continuity in a parochial context as a basis for the life of
the nation. In Frenchman’s Creek, however, domesticity has no positive
connotations; fulfilment and recognition lie outside and must necessarily reside outside the family. The novel ends with a moment of
almost metaphysical hesitation, because Dona’s loyalty is not to her
own people but to the enemy. As the ‘mythical present’ recedes to the
troubled waters of la Pointe du Raz, Dona retreats into a kind of inner
emigration. This effectively subverts the idea of a microcosmic family
mirroring and sustaining a macrocosmic nation. Moreover, the spiritual
continuity formerly invested in femininity has somehow been ruptured, and there is a clear sense that older assumptions about women’s
role in the social fabric have been discarded without replacing them
with a viable alternative. In Frenchman’s Creek, but also in Rebecca, the
trajectory of du Maurier’s narrative is no longer marriage, as it had
been in most earlier fiction by and for women who were faced with the
unattractive alternative of spinsterhood and dependence on ungracious
relatives or unpleasant employers. Marriage here has become a potential
prison. Compatibility in marriage had for a long time been an issue in
the Protestant, bourgeois discourse about companionate marriage, seen
as the basis for social stability. Many novels and other writings were
dealing with how to make the right choice, but now du Maurier seems
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
to imply that from the woman’s perspective there is no right choice.
This reflects the disenchantment noticeable in fictional representations
of the middle classes in the 1930s. Priestley expresses the same for his
male protagonist in Faraway as shown above, as does George Orwell in
Coming Up For Air (1939). Many factors contribute to this sense of crisis,
but changing gender relations play a prominent part. Segregation of the
sexes, which had been a social institution materialized in clubs, pubs,
drawing rooms and in the workplace, gradually disappears from the
surface with the new lifestyle, only to be internalized to the extent that
husband and wife might sit in their armchairs every evening in their
suburban home, left and right of the fireplace, never knowing each
other’s heretic thoughts.
Popular films also addressed this issue, most famously David Lean’s
Brief Enconter (1945), based on Noël Coward’s play Still Life (1936).
Incidentally, Celia Johnson, a 1940s icon of middle-class womanhood
who played the female lead in Brief Encounter, also played Maxim de
Winter’s young wife in the stage version of Rebecca. Du Maurier writes
the kinds of books that the discontented suburban housewife Laura
takes out of the library before she has the ‘brief encounter’ with her
handsome doctor. Brief Encounter was very ‘English middle class’ in its
reticence, and both working-class and foreign audiences are reported
to have laughed at the anguish of the two lovers.25 Gainsborough
melodrama, with films such as Madonna of the Seven Moons (1944) or
The Wicked Lady (1945), was less inhibited, and the plot of The Wicked
Lady is fairly similar to Frenchman’s Creek, although the films are much
more conventional morally, if only because of censorship. The ‘wicked
lady’ must be punished for her sins. Still, the films were very popular
with female audiences, and the important thing, quite apart from an
enjoyment of temporary transgression, appears to have been the expression and dramatization of women’s grievances and needs. Gratifying
endings may have been less important than the fiction’s capacity to
articulate such grievances and needs in an acceptable manner and to
suggest that they were shared by many. Other types of middlebrow
fiction, for example, E. M. Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady, appear
to have served the same purpose. Looking at the issue in this way, the
conversations between Aubéry and Dona about sexual incompatibility,
or otherwise, and gendered life choices might be of crucial importance,
respectably and harmlessly packaged as they were in swashbuckling and
period décor and not resembling pragmatic advice about sex and family
planning along the lines of Marie Stopes’ Married Love (1918).26
Dreamtime in Cornwall 169
If du Maurier sees the family as a model for the nation, as I have
argued, what do her depictions of family crises imply about collective
identity and the nation? It might be argued that the idea of the family
as a model for the nation is an intrinsically aristocratic idea, modelled
on the monarchy’s representation of the ancestral body. The aristocratic
bias could then be seen to conflict with middle-class values of democratic participation and individual fulfilment which became increasingly
prominent in the years leading up to World War Two. As I will show,
however, du Maurier’s portraits of the gentry and the aristocracy are
equally flawed, because family ties consistently fail to guarantee stability
and continuity. Thus, while family is du Maurier’s trope of the nation,
family romance manqué becomes the model for collective identity
on all levels and thus part of the symbolic form of Englishness in the
1930s and 1940s. After all, even the King deserted his realm to marry a
divorced American commoner. Moments of redemption only happen in
conjunction with the ‘mythical present’, residual in the Cornish landand seascapes. After 1940, these are threatened by war, and wartime is a
bad time for dreams.
From Gothic to Memodrama
9.1 Jamaica Inn (1936)
Jamaica Inn is a shipwreck narrative, set at the beginning of the nineteenth
century. The shipwreck narrative is a popular and culturally significant
genre which addresses moments of crisis when social rules and morals
come under pressure. As Margarette Lincoln argues, these are moments
‘in which assumptions about divine Providence, about national character, about gender roles, about civilised behaviour, are placed at risk
or thrown into unusually sharp definition’.1 Since early modern times
and well into the nineteenth century, thousands of mariners each year
were shipwrecked and drowned around the dangerous coasts of Britain.
The dangers were enhanced by wrecking activities as the coastal population plundered the cargo or even ‘assisted’ the ship in running aground
with false lights on the cliffs. This historical fact goes some way towards
explaining why wrecking has become such a powerful trope in the English
cultural memory. Beyond this, wrecking captured the romantic imagination, and if anything, its appeal grew as it gradually ceased to be a social
reality. Shipwreck narratives cater to a reading public’s taste for sensationalist entertainment, but they also open up the wide spaces of myth. In
his book on the ‘discovery of the seaside’, Alain Corbin notes that ‘[n]ear
the strand, that indeterminate place of biological transitions, the links
connecting mankind with the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms
can be seen with exceptional clarity. […] By the sea, the animal nature
hidden in man erupts with particular ferocity.’2 The wrecker represents
the ‘animal nature’ while the rescuer embodies the divinely heroic human
capacity for self-sacrifice. These two images of the human coexist, one
the shadow of the other, in a precarious and uncanny equilibrium in the
cultural memory of the English as an ‘island’ people. Daphne du Maurier
From Gothic to Memodrama 171
was an avid reader of tales of adventure, and given her special attachment
to Cornwall, it would seem almost inevitable for her to turn her attention
to the shipwreck narrative one day.3 She always drew on popular formulas
and motifs for her middlebrow novels, and in Jamaica Inn she transforms
the gothic adventure tale into a female bildungsroman, exploring the
wrecking myth as part of the English cultural memory.
After the death of her mother, young Mary Yellan leaves her home in
Helford to travel to her aunt, whose husband is the landlord of Jamaica
Inn, a haunted public house on the high road between Bodmin and
Launceston. Mary’s aunt, remembered by her family in south Cornwall
as a smiling young girl, has turned into a frightened creature terrorized
by a brutal husband, and Mary soon discovers that her uncle is not
only a smuggler, but also a member of a large organization of wreckers
who muffle the bell buoys and place false lights on the cliffs on stormy
nights to lure ships to destruction. Once the ship has crashed onto the
rocks, the wreckers kill everyone who swims to land and dispose of
substantial cargoes under cover of darkness.4 Once hallucinating in his
drink, her uncle reveals his secret to Mary:
I’ve killed men with my own hands, trampled them underwater,
beaten them with rocks and stones; [...] [W]hen I’m drunk I see them
in my dreams; I see their white-green faces staring at me, with their
eyes eaten by fish; and some of them are torn, with the flesh hanging on their bones in ribbons, and some of them have seaweed in
their hair [...] There was a woman once, Mary; she was clinging to a
raft, and she had a child in her arms; her hair was streaming down
her back. The ship was close in on the rocks, you see, and the sea
was as flat as your hand; they were all coming in alive, the whole
bunch of ’em. Why, the water in places didn’t come above your
waist. She cried out to me to help her, Mary, and I smashed her face
in with a stone[.] [...] His face was close to Mary, his red-flecked eyes
staring into hers, and his breath on her cheek. ‘Did you never hear
of wreckers before?’ he whispered. (116–17)
Within the value system of the novel, small-scale horse thieving is a petty
crime, almost a misdemeanour, while smuggling is bad but pardonable.
Wrecking, in contrast, represents the ultimate horror. The reason for this
particular quality of horror is not the element of slaughter alone, but
its mythical dimension and the premeditated and sinful evil it implies.
Mariners, often from local villages, who have braved the elements and
risked a sea-voyage, symbolic of the voyage of life, come back to find
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
that the land and their fellow beings have turned hostile to them. In du
Maurier’s novel, the loss of the land’s security symbolizes the loss of all
certainties about fellow humans. Mary frequently walks the treacherous
moors around Jamaica Inn, wading through burbling brooks and trying
to avoid the tufts of grass that promise comfort but would not hold her
weight. One of her uncle’s brothers, she knows, was drowned in the
marshes. The moors in winter are reminiscent of the sea, sudden fogs
rise out of nowhere, and the frozen ground sounds like shingle under
Mary’s feet. Once, Mary is surprised by the darkness and loses herself
in the moors, overwhelmed by despondency. She is ‘rescued’ by Francis
Davey, the Vicar of Altarnun, who promises comfort and help but is
later revealed as the mastermind behind the wrecking business. Most
unscrupulous and deadly of all, he is far from the benevolent and often
pompous country parson who preached to the coastal population.
Authority does not look particularly good in Jamaica Inn: the Church is
infiltrated by a rather Satan-like figure while the local squire has a modest intellect and needs the help of a horse thief to clear up the crime.
This horse thief, Joss Merlyn’s younger brother Jem, is the other man
apart from Francis Davey with whom Mary forms a relationship, and
both are associated with the moors, the existential testing ground. Jem,
of questionable character, lives low down in the marshes close to the
brook, but he proves a ‘gem’, a true Merlin, while Davey with his mesmerizing ways, always up high on a horse, in a trap or carriage, whisks
Mary away into ever deeper trouble. Morality is, Jamaica Inn appears to
suggest, like a walk in the moors: try to keep to the high ground and
remember that things are often not what they seem.
Connected with this is another element of subversion: the hero of
du Maurier’s tale of adventure is again a heroine, hardy, independent,
courageous and unsentimental. In order to focus on Mary and her family, du Maurier sacrifices socio-historical for psychological realism. She
all but depopulates Cornwall; there is hardly any mention of a poor
working population, and the huge crowds eager for coastal plunder
are nowhere to be seen. Mary is alone, and the novel concentrates on
her perspective as well as her reflections on existence and her fellow
beings, moving beyond the adventure tale formula to the middlebrow
novel. The moors figure the ‘mythical present’, and Mary responds to
the vitalist energy suffusing the landscape, which predestines her for
her part in the wreckers’ game.
The air was strong and sweet-smelling, cold as mountain air, and
strangely pure. It was a revelation to Mary, […] there was a challenge
From Gothic to Memodrama 173
in the air that spurred [her] to adventure. […] Strange winds blew
from nowhere; they crept along the surface of the grass, and the grass
shivered; they breathed upon the little pools of rain in the hollowed
stones, and the pools rippled. Sometimes the wind shouted and cried,
and the cry echoed in the crevices, and moaned, and was lost again.
There was a silence on the tors that belonged to another age; […] And
there was a stillness in the air, and a stranger, older peace, that was
not the peace of God.5
The coast as a liminal space reflects the erosion of self-evident moral
standards in its blurred boundaries. In Enchanted Cornwall, Daphne
du Maurier says that Jamaica Inn speaks ‘of the primaeval spirit of
Cornwall’, shaped by its exposure to the sea. ‘Naturally the sea itself
has helped form the Cornish character. […] As represented in mythology, the sea is a symbol of the uncertainties of fate.’6 In Jamaica Inn,
this liminality extends to the moors, and moving in this space, Mary
finds that she has to relinquish all certainties and conventions, which
is both a threatening and a liberating process. Mary is shocked by her
uncle’s revelations, and she suspects his brother Jem of having a hand
in the wrecking business, although this does not prevent her from being
attracted to him. Mary’s moral ambivalence, her courage, her taste for
adventure and her anti-romantic stance make her a shrewd observer of
herself and her environment. The story is set in the early nineteenth
century with England on the threshold of more modern times when
crimes like wrecking will be suppressed. As Francis Davey tells her, the
government is planning to take measures against wrecking by placing
watchers on the cliffs. ‘“There will be a chain across England, Mary, that
will be very hard to break.”’ In this more ordered age, Joss Merlyn might
‘“turn Wesleyan and preach to travellers on the high road”’ (152). Mary
reflects on this brave new world:
The day of the wrecker was over; he would be broken by the new law,
he and his kind; they would be blotted out and razed from the countryside like the pirates had been twenty, thirty years ago; and there
would be no memory of them any more, no record left to poison the
minds of those who should come after. […] It was the dawn of a new
age, when men and women would travel without fear, and the land
would belong to them. Here, on this stretch of moor, farmers would
till their plot of soil and stack the sods of turf to dry under the sun
as they did today, but the shadow that had been upon them would
have vanished. (153)
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
Yet this day has not quite come, and Mary’s uncle collects his men for
a last desperate wildcat mission, unauthorized by his shadowy master:
‘“Tonight we shall ride in glory, every man of us, maybe for the last
time; and you shall come with us, Mary; to the coast…”’ (157). The
law-abiding reader can identify with Mary’s sense of outrage as she
is abandoned close to the shore in a locked coach, while simultaneously participating in the sexualized element of exhilaration, conveyed
in rhythmic prose, which makes Joss Merlyn’s improvised wrecking
expedition the climax of the novel.
There could be no stillness where the sea broke upon a rock-bound
shore. She heard it again now, and continually; a murmur and a sigh
as the spent water gave itself to the strand and withdrew reluctantly,
and then a pause as the sea gathered itself for a renewal of effort – a
momentary fragment in time – and then once more the thunder
and the crash of fulfilment, the roar of surf upon shingle and the
screaming scatter of stones as they followed the drag of the sea.
Mary shuddered; somewhere in the darkness below, her uncle and
his companions waited for the tide. (160)
Mary escapes from the coach, fights the guard placed on the path to the
sea and witnesses the horrible scenario of a ship lured to the coast by a
false light and crashing into the rocks. Since it is already becoming light,
Joss Merlyn has to abandon the ship, and escapes to Jamaica Inn with
Mary. He shuts himself up in the dark, gothic house, mortally afraid of an
insidious visitor who will come to punish him for his folly. And indeed,
while Mary escapes from her room and raises the alarm, her uncle and
aunt are murdered. True to the conventions of the gothic, Jamaica Inn
itself is a player in the horrible scheme: Mary ‘felt now that this was what
Jamaica Inn had always waited for and feared. The damp walls, the creaking
boards, the whispers in the air, and the footsteps that had no name: these
were the warnings of a house that had felt itself long threatened’ (217).
She is afraid, knowing that ‘the quality of this silence had origin in far-off
buried and forgotten things’ (217–18).
Having taken refuge at the Vicar’s house, Mary discovers strange
paintings of church interiors and the moors and a caricature in which
the satanic Davey has drawn himself as a wolf preaching in his church
to a congregation of sheep. ‘I live in the past’, he tells her when she
has learnt the truth about him, ‘when men were not so humble as
they are today. Oh, not your heroes of history in doublet and hose
and narrow-pointed shoes – they were never my friends – but long
From Gothic to Memodrama 175
ago in the beginning of time, when the rivers and the sea were one, and
the old gods walked the hills’ (243). Realizing he is discovered, Davey
forces Mary to escape with him because there is ‘a dash of fire’ about
her that ‘the women of old possessed’ (245). He wants her to live with
him as men and women have not lived for thousands of years. ‘“We
go by the moors and the hills, and tread granite and heather as the
Druids did before us”’ (247). Davey appears like a ghost from another
age, a revenant, and his presence opens a channel for the energies of
pagan times ‘when the hill where Jamaica stood today was bare but
for heather and stone’ (248). For all her horror and revulsion, Mary is
susceptible to Davey’s vision. ‘There was an old magic in these moors
that made them inaccessible, spacing them to eternity. Francis Davey
knew their secret, and cut through the darkness like a blind man in
his home’ (249). Davey seems to guess Mary’s every thought, and
her fear of him is claustrophobic, because he represents a primaeval,
oceanic oneness and an elementary, inhuman power that threatens
the boundaries of the self.
[O]ut of the silence came the whisper of the wind again. It rose and
fell, making a moan upon the stones. This was a new wind, with
a sob and a cry behind it, a wind that came from nowhere, bound
from no shore. It rose from the stones themselves, and from the earth
beneath the stones; it sang in the hollow caves and in the crevices
of rock, at first a sigh and then a lamentation. It played upon the
air like a chorus from the dead. […] In her fancy she could hear the
whisper of a thousand voices and the tramping of a thousand feet,
and she could see the stones turning to men beside her. Their faces
were inhuman, older than time, carved and rugged like the granite;
and they spoke in a tongue she could not understand, and their
hands and feet were curved like the claws of a bird. They turned their
stone eyes upon her, and looked through her and beyond, heeding
her not, and she knew she was like a leaf in the wind, tossed hither
and thither to no ultimate purpose, while they lived and endured,
monsters of antiquity. (253–4)
Davey is planning to make his escape via the sea, but his new plus
ultra does not happen since he is thwarted by the fog and trapped on
a granite rock, hunted down and wrecked before he reaches the coast.
The showdown takes place in the moors in the early morning. Pursued
by Jem Merlyn with the help of the local squire’s bloodhounds, Mary
and Davey have to abandon their horses and scramble up the rocks,
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
shots ringing in the air. Finally, Davey falls to his death: ‘He stood for
a moment poised like a statue, his hair blowing in the wind; and then
he flung out his arms as a bird throws his wings for flight, and drooped
suddenly and fell; down from his granite peak to the wet dank heather
and the little crumbling stones’ (258). The vitalist connection with a
pagan past through landscape and the ‘mythical present’ appears like
the grandiose dream of a brutal and pathetic Nietzschean overreacher.
In the space of one sentence, his hubris is expressed and deflated:
Francis Davey, who believes he can fly, meets his end amidst ‘dank
heather’ and ‘little crumbling stones’.
Mary negotiates the rules of her world and learns to tell wreckers from
rescuers. In her gothic bildungsroman, du Maurier subverts the traditional gendering of the wrecking tale; as a scratched and bleeding Mary
squeezes through the window of the locked coach in which she is held
captive, this symbolic rebirth marks her entrance into a traditionally
masculine world of action and enables her finally to risk accepting Jem
Merlyn’s offer of a precarious relationship. ‘He laughed then, and took
her hand, and gave her the reins; and she did not look back over her
shoulder again, but set her face towards the Tamar’ (267). This almost
sober understanding between Jem and Mary is a far cry from the traditional happy ending prescribed by the genre conventions of romance.
Mary is a peasant with little time for sentimentality; the dream she gives
up in order to travel with Jem is to return to Helford and work on her
farm. The suggestion is that she will not repeat the fate of her weak and
passive Aunt Patience, whose romance with a gothic villain turned into
a horror story, yet the model for the new Englishwoman is still lacking.
The spirituality associated with women in The Loving Spirit is embodied
by the murderous Francis Davey in Jamaica Inn, and Mary’s experience
of the ‘mythical present’ through his mediation has a distinctly gothic
flavour. The ‘mythical present’ appears inhuman and is not associated
with life, but rather with death and destruction, and in view of Davey’s
self-portrayal as a ghost from another time, it is also a thing of the past.
‘The moors were bleak and still, and the hills were friendless, but their
old malevolence had vanished and [Mary] could walk upon them with
indifference’ (259). The new England with its coast guards, unthreatening hills and wreckers turned Wesleyan preachers appears much
more sober, circumscribed, contracted and dull – an anti-charismatic
vision that can be projected onto 1930s England. The symbolic form of
Englishness as Daphne du Maurier envisages it in Jamaica Inn presents
the ‘mythical present’ in the gothic mode, as ‘other’ and as a threat
to the self. At the end of the novel, Jem and Mary are about to leave
From Gothic to Memodrama 177
Cornwall’s coasts behind and begin a new life in the Midlands, but their
baggage contains regret for a time when the faces of the English were
turned towards the sea. Jamaica Inn places this protean element firmly
in the cultural memory of the English, and while it appears inevitable
to leave it behind, there is a lingering feeling that something vital has
left the world with Joss Merlyn and Francis Davey and that an attractive
wildness has been traded for sobriety. This unresolved tension and the
uncertainty about the condition of England are expressed in the gothic
mode of the narrative.
9.2 Rebecca (1938)
If Jamaica Inn rewrites the wrecking tale, Rebecca, the best known and
most popular of du Maurier’s novels, draws on the genre of gothic
romance with Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre as an obvious intertext.7 Its
first-person narrator is a young timid woman who marries the rich,
older aristocrat Maximilian de Winter, only to find that she has to
face the dark secret of his past. The narrator becomes intensely jealous of Maxim’s glamorous first wife, Rebecca, until she discovers, in
dramatic circumstances, that Maxim murdered her. The narrative has
an analeptic structure with the story told from a later point after the
destruction of the stately home Manderley, when the de Winters have
already been in exile abroad for some time. The novel begins and ends
with a dream of Manderley, believed to be in the ‘family’s possession since the Conquest’.8 Although no title is mentioned, the family
appears to belong to the old aristocracy, and Manderley is depicted as
a miniature England, echoing John of Gaunt’s description of England
as the ‘precious stone set in the silver sea’ in Shakespeare’s Richard II:
‘Time could not wreck the perfect symmetry of those walls, nor the site
itself, a jewel in the hollow of a hand. The terrace sloped to the lawns,
and the lawns stretched to the sea, and turning I could see the sheet of
silver placid under the moon’ (6). John of Gaunt had painted the picture of a precious England already reduced in glory, and this reference
places Rebecca in a nostalgic discourse of the nation whose golden age
is always already a thing of the past. Once again, nostalgia emerges as
an important ingredient of the symbolic form of Englishness. The Big
House stands metonymically both for the ‘island’ of England and the
ancestral body.
Having established this nostalgic mood, the narrator goes out of
her way to pile up stereotypical images of an Englishness lost along
with the destruction of Manderley: Manderley’s library with a bowl of
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
autumn roses on the table and a copy of The Times, the log fire, the
dog, the rose-garden in summer (7), tea under the chestnut tree (8), Test
matches and dog racing (10), hunting and the pigeons in the woods,
right down to the ‘soggy moss spattered white in places by a heron’s
droppings’ (10). The exiled de Winters have ‘had enough melodrama in
this life’ (9) and are now in the grip of melancholy, ‘memory spanning
the years like a bridge’ (13). They feed on English news like vampires
on fresh blood, unable to escape the traumatic repetitiveness of their
engagement with the past. It soon emerges, however, that the past
was not as sweet as it should have been, and the narrator resolves to
‘remember’ Manderley ‘as it might have been, could I have lived there
without fear’ (7). The narrator’s relationship with Manderley clearly is,
and has always been, phantasmagoric. Fittingly, she had first encountered Manderley as a tourist, on a picture postcard that appealed to
her when on holiday in the West Country as a child (26). Her next
experience of it is Maxim de Winter’s account in the south of France,
in which he paints a picture of his family seat reminiscent of the
Wordsworths’ romantic responses to nature:
[H]e told me how the sun set there, on a spring afternoon, leaving
a glow upon the headland. […] The daffodils were in bloom, stirring in the evening breeze, golden heads cupped upon lean stalks,
and however many you might pick there would be no thinning of
the ranks, they were massed like an army, shoulder to shoulder. On
a bank below the lawns, crocuses were planted, golden, pink, and
mauve, but by this time they would be past their best, dropping
and fading, like pallid snowdrops. The primrose was more vulgar, a
homely pleasant creature who appeared in every cranny like a weed.
Too early yet for bluebells, their heads were still hidden beneath last
year’s leaves, but when they came, dwarfing the more humble violet,
they choked the very bracken in the woods, and with their colour
made a challenge to the sky. (33–4)
Falling in love with Maxim in the south of France, the narrator betrays
her naïve notion of memory by wishing that she could bottle experiences up like a scent that did not fade, ‘and when one wanted it, the
bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment
all over again’ (40). The superficial glamour of Monte Carlo provides
the backdrop for this encounter, and Maxim’s proposal of marriage
significantly only becomes real to the narrator once she thinks of
Manderley, suddenly believing that she bought the picture postcard
From Gothic to Memodrama 179
out of a premonition. As her imagination runs riot, she pictures herself
as the Lady of the Manor in stereotypical scenes: ‘Going down to the
lodge with a basket on my arm, grapes and peaches for the old lady
who was sick. Her hands stretched out to me, “The Lord bless you,
Madam, for being so good”’ (59). Her vision of the future is thus
clearly marked as shaped by stereotypes of an English heritage she
does not possess. The novel is a memodrama since it retraces for the
reader the narrator’s gradual investment in and exploration of upperclass Englishness. The reader has exclusive access to the narrator’s
experiences and feelings, and hindsight adds an element of reflection
and self-referentiality. The narrator’s memories have an ominous quality, and the extent to which this is due to hindsight is impossible to
determine. Charting the progress from enchantment to castastrophe,
the memodrama throws into relief the fact that memory is as constructed as (national) identity. Alison Light has argued that Rebecca
offers a narrow and conservative middle-class version of Englishness.9
I suggest in contrast that the memodrama recreates the myth in order
to explore, and finally to explode it.
When Maxim de Winter and his young wife first approach the house,
the description of the drive is curiously reminiscent of the dream journey made many years later: ‘[T]his drive that was no drive twisted and
turned like an enchanted ribbon through the dark and silent woods,
penetrating even deeper to the very heart surely of the forest itself[.] […]
The lodge gates were a memory, and the high-road something belonging
to another time, another world’ (69–70; see also 138). When she finally
sees her picture-postcard Manderley, it never loses this fairy-tale quality
of existing in another dimension. Once Rebecca is read as a rewriting
of Brontë’s Jane Eyre, du Maurier’s peculiar treatment of memory is
thrown into relief. Brontë’s fictional autobiography is less ambiguous
than Rebecca since Jane’s progress is presented as a success story where
all related events are resolutely focalized through the heroine. Only
towards the end does the reader learn that the story is told by a Jane
Rochester who would have us believe that she has been happy for the
last ten years in the woody seclusion of Ferndean Manor.10 Daphne du
Maurier stands the story on its head, as it were, starting with the ruin of
Thornfield Hall, or Manderley here, and focusing on the psychological
vicissitudes of the path towards that ruin. Yet what if the second Mrs de
Winter’s memodrama was not the traumatic reiteration it first appears
to be but, like Jane Eyre, enlists memory as justification of the status
quo? The strong link between the second Mrs de Winter and Rebecca
suggests an uncanny investment in the ruin of beloved Manderley, as if
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
a romance with Englishness in the twentieth century were only possible
in the nostalgic mode of exile, from a distance, where the real thing
does not interfere with one’s fantasies.
Faced with everyday life at Manderley, the narrator is aware of the fundamental incongruity of her presence there. The butler shows her around
like a visitor, talking about the old days and stressing the antiquity of
the place (76). The description of the magnificent breakfast at Manderley
evokes the long list of beautifully presented dishes in a classic country
house poem, such as Ben Jonson’s To Penshurst, with the important addition of a middle-class revulsion against excess, expressed in the narrator’s
hesitant, stumbling tone, as if she were telling a confidante what she had
witnessed behind the walls of the Big House:
How impressed I was, I remember well; impressed and a little overawed
by the magnificence of the breakfast offered to us. There was tea, in a
great silver urn, and coffee too, and on the heater, piping hot, dishes of
scrambled eggs, of bacon, and another of fish. There was a little clutch
of boiled eggs as well, in their own special heater, and porridge, in a
silver porringer. On another sideboard was a ham, and a great piece of
cold bacon. There were scones too, on the table, and toast, and various
pots of jam, marmalade, and honey, while dessert dishes, piled high
with fruit, stood at either end. It seemed strange to me that Maxim,
who in Italy and France had eaten a croissant and fruit only, and drunk
a cup of coffee, should sit down to this breakfast at home, enough for
a dozen people, day after day probably, year after year, seeing nothing
ridiculous about it, nothing wasteful. (84–5)
Stock characters all duly make their appearance – the ceremonious
butler, the somewhat sheepish footman, the stern but efficient housekeeper, the tweedy commonsensical sister with her unimaginative
husband fond of field and country sports – and there is a great show of
the reticence, ceremonial stiffness and hypocritical politeness reputed
to characterize the English upper classes. In the midst of the trappings
of Englishness, the narrator is forever in search of authenticity – first the
drive, then the house, then parts of its interior and its inhabitants, then
the ‘Happy Valley’ – but in place of this she encounters a mystery, represented by Rebecca who is metonymically present both in her things
and in others’ memories of her. At Manderley, the narrator’s integration
is hampered by a preoccupation with the recent past, inaccessible to
her because all the channels of communicative memory are blocked
by the spectre of Rebecca. Furthermore, because there is no ‘road into
From Gothic to Memodrama 181
the past’ (127), she cannot find her identity as the wife of an English
aristocrat, her taciturn Bluebeard husband. Consequently, she feels like a
performer in a play (154), deploring the youth which makes her so short
on memories of her own. In keeping with this lack of authenticity, the
happiness and companionship that the reader is told of but never sees
is only possible abroad where Maxim and his wife are not part of the
social fabric and are free of English routine, ritual, convention and tradition. Worried by the lack of authenticity the narrator takes recourse to
I wondered if [the drive] had altered much since Maxim’s grandmother had driven down it in her carriage. She had ridden here as
a young woman, she had smiled at the woman at the lodge as I did
now. And in her day the lodge-keeper’s wife had curtseyed, sweeping
the path with her full wide skirt. This woman nodded to me briefly,
and then called to her little boy, who was grubbing with some kittens
at the back. […] The drive had been wider then, and smoother too, better kept. The woods did not encroach upon it. […] I saw her when she
was young, and when Manderley was her home. I saw her wandering
in the gardens with a small boy, Maxim’s father, clattering behind
her on his hobby horse. […] Picnics to the cove would be an expedition, a treat that was not indulged in very often. There would be a
photograph somewhere, in an old album – all the family sitting very
straight and rigid round a tablecloth set upon the beach, the servants
in the background beside a huge lunch-basket. (197)
In place of the conversations pertaining to communicative memory, held
over an album of photographs, readers are presented with a vignette of
Englishness created in the narrator’s imagination. Surely there must have
been a time when things were what they seemed, and when that drive
was as wide as, by rights, it should have been? As usual, in her flights
of fancy, the heroine encounters the imagined memory of Rebecca. As
she identifies with her more and more, she ‘goes back in thought and
in person to the days that were gone’ (209). As with other du Maurier
protagonists, the narrator begins to indulge in the dangerous pastime of
‘dreaming true’.
This continues until an actual moment of mimicry when she
is induced by Mrs Danvers to dress up for the fancy dress ball at
Manderley as one of Maxim’s ancestors, Caroline de Winter – the
same costume that Rebecca had chosen. Planning her appearance, she
looks at the portrait in the gallery: ‘It was a Raeburn, and the portrait
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
was of Caroline de Winter, a sister of Maxim’s great-great grandfather.
She married a great Whig politician and was a famous London beauty
for many years, but the portrait was painted before that, when she
was still unmarried’ (212). The narrator attempts to inscribe herself
in her husband’s family history and to dive into the past, as if travelling in a time machine. The continuity of place is of the essence here,
since the house itself is supposed to provide an entrance to the past:
It was as if the house remembered other days, long, long ago, when
the hall was a banqueting hall indeed, with weapons and tapestry
hanging upon the walls, and men sat at a long narrow table in the
centre laughing louder than we laughed now, calling for wine, for
song, throwing great pieces of meat upon the flags to the slumbering
dogs. Later, in other years, it would still be gay, but with a certain
grace and dignity, and Caroline de Winter, whom I should represent
tonight, would walk down the wide stone stairs in her white dress
to dance the minuet. I wished we could sweep away the years and
see her. I wished we did not have to degrade the house with our
modern jig-tunes, so out-of-place and unromantic. (219–20)
In the event, the narrator’s attempt at time travel proves disastrous, and
her imaginings about the past and the future invariably explode in her
face, a fact which gradually begins to reflect on history itself. The narrator, the seemingly happy young wife of the seemingly grand Maxim de
Winter, tries to impersonate a great lady from a seemingly more secure
past, and Rebecca, who was not what she seemed, appeared as that same
lady. In this setup, duplicity is projected onto the past. Who knows
what Caroline de Winter was ‘really’ like? The fancy dress ball is like
a crazy charade of Englishness, with the county’s boring polite society
dressed as Tudor ladies, Cromwell, Nell Gwynne, Arabian Sheiks and
Chinese mandarins. At the end of the evening, with the usual assertion
of community, they all join hands to sing Auld Lang Syne, followed by
the national anthem.
The hilarious gaiety changed swiftly at the closing bars, and the
drummer rattled his sticks in the inevitable prelude to God Save the
King. The smiles left our faces as though wiped clean by a sponge.
The Mandarin sprang to attention, his hands stiff to his sides.
I remember wondering vaguely if he was in the Army. […] I caught
the salmon lady’s eye. God Save the King had taken her unawares,
she was still holding a plate heaped with chicken in aspic. (238)
From Gothic to Memodrama 183
Even Maxim de Winter, the centre of gravity, Lord of the Manor and the
person to guarantee the phallogocentric order of the whole system, as
it were, is not at one with himself. While the coast guard believes that
he ‘would give the coat off his back for any of his own people’, wishing
there ‘was more like him in the county’ (266), de Winter is imprisoned by
convention and hates his social duties: ‘It’s always been the same[.] […]
The locals look upon Manderley as if it was a pavilion on the end of a
pier, and expect us to put up a turn for their benefit’ (203). Finally, his
wife appears to be less in love with him than with her romanticized
picture of him. ‘He belonged to a walled city of the fifteenth century,
a city of narrow, cobbled streets, and thin spires, where the inhabitants
wore pointed shoes and worsted hose’ (18). Maxim de Winter does not
confidently inhabit English tradition. Rather than embodying it, he
desires it with a passion strangely bordering on blasphemy. ‘Christ said
nothing about stones, and bricks, and walls, the love that a man can
bear for his plot of earth, his soil, his little kingdom. It does not come
into the Christian creed’ (286). De Winter’s tragic passion precipitates
his ruin and exile.
With Maxim de Winter as the darkly attractive villain who ‘owns a
gloomy mansion’, and his young wife as the heroine ‘who can’t quite
figure out the mansion’s floor plan’,11 Daphne du Maurier places her story
squarely in the gothic tradition, doing so, however, in a self-reflexive,
mocking manner more radical than earlier revisions of the genre, such
as Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Du Maurier’s belle dame sans merci, the
unseen eponymous character, is an overdetermined sign at the centre of
the novel’s psychological and narrative economy.12 Regarding the nexus
of memory and myth central to the symbolic form of Englishness, Rebecca
is the central figure, standing there like a sentinel, blocking the way to the
past and redirecting the narrator’s imagination towards myth. Maxim de
Winter married her expecting that she would perfect the family seat and
provide dynastic continuity.
Her blasted taste made Manderley the thing it is today. The gardens,
the shrubs, even the azaleas in the Happy Valley; do you think they
existed when my father was alive? God, the place was a wilderness;
lovely, yes, wild and lonely with a beauty of its own, yes, but crying
out for skill and care and the money that he would never give to it,
that I would not have thought of giving to it – but for Rebecca. Half
the stuff you see here in the rooms was never here originally. The
drawing-room as it is today, the morning-room – that’s all Rebecca.
Those chairs that Frith points out so proudly to the visitors on the
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
public day, and that panel of tapestry – Rebecca again. Oh, some of
the things were here admittedly, stored away in back rooms – my
father knew nothing about furniture or pictures – but the majority was
bought by Rebecca. The beauty of Manderley that you see today, the
Manderley that people talk about and photograph and paint, it’s all
due to her, to Rebecca. (287)
The revelation of how Rebecca shaped the character of Manderley is the
key moment of the narrative. With her death, the myth of Englishness,
as in Roland Barthes’ definition, is unravelled in a Macbeth-like scene,
with Maxim firing at Rebecca’s heart and ‘so much blood’ (293)
gushing out which he frantically tries to wash away with sea water.
The narrator believes that her exhilaration and relief are due to the
revelation that Maxim never loved Rebecca. However, this is also the
moment where she comes to understand her investment in the past
as a source of a touristic heritage imagery: ‘I had built up false pictures
in my mind and sat before them’ (289).13 The second Mrs de Winter’s
romance with Englishness implies a romance, queer in more than
one way, with her predecessor Rebecca, who is fantasy personified,
the supreme mythmaker, bequeathing to the narrator the power of
creation. Acknowledging the family romance manqué and the ‘halfcreated’ nature of its setting as an intrinsic part of the symbolic form of
Englishness, Rebecca shifts attention from a celebration of commodified
myth to the deeper psychological investment in mythmaking.
Appropriately, Rebecca is surrounded by a whirl of mythical and literary resonances. Her boat, a French boat originally, is called Je Reviens,
and she is as good as her word. Her lifestyle and the manner of her death
link her with sea lore. Readers might think of the Flying Dutchman, of
the magical storm and supposed shipwreck of Shakespeare’s Tempest, of
bones lying in the deep and suffering a ‘sea-change’ as related in Ariel’s
song, and of Maxim de Winter as a latter-day Odysseus adrift in the
Mediterranean, or as Coleridge’s ancient mariner, confessing his crime
and making his listening wife a ‘sadder and a wiser’ woman. Horner
and Zlosnik also point to the legend of Tristan and Iseult, since Daphne
du Maurier associates the ‘Happy Valley’ with the ‘paradise for lovers’
where Tristan and Iseult fell asleep, adding that the heroine perceives
the Happy Valley as ‘the core of Manderley’.14 The legend of Tristan
and Iseult expresses a Celtic connection between Ireland, Cornwall
and Brittany that was important to du Maurier, and it is directly linked
to this ‘spirit of Cornwall’ that the author saw herself as expressing in
her ‘Cornish novels’. ‘These, more than any other of my novels, are
From Gothic to Memodrama 185
about the mythic history, the mystery, the primaeval enchantment that
make this land and its people what they are.’15 Talking about Sir Arthur
Quiller-Couch’s novel, Castle Dor (1962), a rewriting of the legend of
Tristan and Iseult which Daphne du Maurier completed after ‘Q’s’
death, she states:
Q had begun to write Castle Dor in the 1920s, a time when other
writers invoked legend and mythology in their work – T. S. Eliot in
The Waste Land, James Joyce in Ulysses. But whereas these writers used
myths and legends – including that of Tristan – as a creative device
to stimulate the imagination and to try to make sense of the modern
world, Q maintained no such ironic distance. He was a Cornishman
through and through; for the Cornishman his legends are part of
the reality of being Cornish, they are his inheritance. While I felt his
novel worth preserving for its description of the Fowey countryside
alone, it was his belief – that a soil once having brought to birth such
a story of Tristan and Iseult would ‘be unable to forget or desist from
the effort to throw up secondary shoots’ – that convinced me.16
In terms of the two positions towards myth which Daphne du Maurier
describes, in Rebecca she occupies the middle ground. While her texts
have a mythic and mystical dimension, she is also capable of the ‘ironic
distance’, and of using myth as an imaginary device to ‘make sense of
the modern world’. Thus, she offers her readers an English ‘mythical
present’ they can inhabit with body and mind. The landscape, saturated
with meaning, is still there to wander through, and readers may indulge
in the creation of imaginary memory. Du Maurier describes Castle Dor
as a ‘re-enactment of the Tristan legend by Amyot and Linnet’.17 This
suggests that the characters effect a performance of cultural memory
in which readers can share. There is an uncanny element in this, however, because such forms of cultural ‘re-enactment’ may not be entirely
voluntary. ‘Imbued with the primaeval spirit of the site he [Carfax]
breathes into Linnet his sense of its haunting tragedy, thereby dooming
her to unwilling repetition of a life that is not hers.’18 Daphne du
Maurier’s mythic stories negotiate between the liberating possibilities
of (imaginative) re-enactment and traumatic repetition. This latter
aspect goes some way towards explaining why the ‘mythical present’
is uncanny and potentially destructive in du Maurier’s universe. The
forces of nature are not necessarily benign.
The legend of Tristan and Iseult as an intertext supplies an opening
to the transgressive subtext of Rebecca. The narrator marries the man
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
she loves, so the position of Iseult, the beautiful, resourceful adulterous
woman, would seem to be reserved for Rebecca, while her husband
is ‘Max’/Mark of Cornwall. Jack Favell is in the position of Tristan,
although he is an unsatisfactory candidate as a true lover – a position
which appears to be vacant in this sordidly modern age of London
flats and moonlight picnics in the boat-house. If the narrator is cast as
Iseult, she has an illicit affair with Rebecca. When she goes to the Happy
Valley for the first time, she is enchanted by it and sensually affected
by the smell of azaleas, a fragrance Rebecca uses as a perfume. Wearing
Rebecca’s raincoat, as she later discovers, she braves Maxim’s anger and
enters Rebecca’s boat-house as if irresistibly drawn to the scene of the
murder. After this, relations with her husband deteriorate and she develops
an obsession with Rebecca, talking about her, going to the Happy Valley
on her own, entering the boat-house again, visiting the West Wing.
When Maxim has to go away, she guiltily enjoys her freedom:
I felt very well and curiously happy. […] It must be because Maxim
had gone to London. I was rather shocked at myself. I could not
understand it at all. I had not wanted him to go. And now this
lightness of heart, this spring in my step, this childish feeling that
I wanted to run across the lawn, and roll down the bank. I wiped the
biscuit crumbs from my mouth and called to Jasper. Perhaps I was
just feeling like this because it was a lovely day. […] We went through
the Happy Valley to the little cove. […] I lay down in the long grass
beside the bluebells with my hands behind my head, and Jasper at
my side. […] I did not want anyone with me. Not even Maxim. […]
I scrambled up the rocks after [Jasper], pretending to myself I did not
want to go to the other beach. (158–9)
After this half-conscious act of disloyalty, the narrator runs into Jack
Favell who is paying a furtive visit to the house in Maxim’s absence.
This incident provides a direct link with the costume disaster and the
mimicry of Rebecca, since Mrs Danvers devises this plot as a punishment for the narrator’s supposed betrayal of Jack Favell. So if Manderley
stands for England, as I have argued, the Happy Valley is its ‘core’, and
the family romance manqué, the Cornish legend of guilty love which
will ‘throw up secondary shoots’, is its text.19
In du Maurier’s work, the negotiation of collective memory is clearly
seen as gendered. Focalizing discourses of cultural identity through
female characters, she emphasizes the important role of women in shaping the social fabric. In view of this political dimension, it is significant
From Gothic to Memodrama 187
that the wealth of mythical allusions in Rebecca is balanced by the realist
mode of the narrative. The reappearance of the boat and the body are
dealt with in a characteristically English manner, down-to-earth and
commonsensical, from the coroner’s painstaking and methodical inquiry
at the inquest to Colonel Julyan’s intervention as the magistrate. ‘Give
me England every time, when it comes to settling down. You know
where you are over here’ (307), the Colonel opines. He knows what he
is talking about, being familiar with ‘the Far East [.] […] I was in China
for five years. Then Singapore’ (309). Blimpish Colonel Julyan exhibits
the almost schizophrenic mindset of imperial Britain. Having served the
British Empire and lived abroad for years, he still manages to remain
completely parochial, embodying an Englishness of custom and character that makes him a guardian of the stability of provincial English
society. Du Maurier’s critique of this is audible: Jack Favell believes that
Maxim killed Rebecca and that the county’s worthies would conspire to
hush it up, and even though the narrator finds him repulsive and thoroughly unacceptable, the fact remains that he is right. He sees Maxim as
‘playing Othello’ (341), as responding in a histrionic, high-handed and
outdated manner to a challenge to his values. Favell antagonizes Colonel
Julyan: ‘You won’t let him down because you’ve dined with him, and he’s
dined with you. He’s a big name down here. He’s the owner of Manderley.
You poor bloody little snob’ (347). Maxim’s sister Beatrice seems to share
his convictions:
‘Surely Colonel Julyan can do something?’ she said. ‘He’s a magistrate. What are magistrates for? Old Horridge from Lanyon must
have been off his head. […] Someone ought to get hold of Tabb.
How can he tell whether those holes in the boat were made deliberately or not? […] Giles and I think it much more likely that if
those holes weren’t done by the rocks they were done deliberately,
by some tramp or other. A Communist perhaps. There are heaps of
them about. Just the sort of thing a Communist would do. […] Is it
any good my tackling Dick Godolphin? […] He’s your M.P. I know
him very well, much better than Maxim does. He was at Oxford with
Giles. (369–70)
In the time-honoured manner of the English upper classes, Beatrice
automatically assumes that the old boys’ network will function, and
it does – the vicar conducts a quiet burial for the ‘suicidal’ wife in the
family crypt, the Colonel discreetly gathers evidence from the doctor
which is interpreted in Maxim’s favour, and nobody asks too many
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
unpleasant questions. At least two people, more likely three or more,
connive in Maxim’s murder of Rebecca and offer to silence the gossip.
Jack Favell and Rebecca, most probably middle class, represent a raffish and energetic modernity set against the old system of aristocratic
privilege. Again, Favell’s account of ‘Robert on the razzle’ (336) is the
only inkling the reader gets that the multitude of live-in servants
might have private lives and agendas of their own beyond carrying
tea tables, spreading snowy cloths, providing refreshments and running errands at all hours. Yet this was an issue in the interwar period,
and young working-class people left domestic service if they could.
The novel is ambiguous here, since the narrator constantly registers
the servants’ presence and their work without openly questioning the
scheme of things. The same is true of the English institution of
primogeniture. All potential for conflict is kept out of the narrative –
Maxim’s father is dead, he does not have a younger brother, his only
sister is comfortably married at some distance, there do not seem to be
any money worries – but at the same time the machinery of the house
with its interminable gigantic meals appears ludicrously exaggerated.
The narrator repeatedly worries about the waste, and she also registers the fact that there does not seem to be room in this huge house
for Maxim’s grandmother. ‘She had to live in this bright, red gabled
house with the nurse until it was time for her to die. […] I wished that
I could lay my hands upon her face and take the years away’ (191,
192). In spite of her open loyalty to her husband, there is a subtext of
female loyalty and a middle-class reluctance to accept the aristocracy’s
continued claim to embody the nation.
After the inquest, the narrator has a premonition of the sepulchre
that Manderley will become – and already is to a certain extent. The
ever-threatening drive is walled in by hydrangeas. ‘For all their beauty
there was something sombre about them, funereal; they were like the
wreaths, stiff and artificial, that you see beneath glass cases in a foreign churchyard’ (328). Afraid of a death sentence for her husband,
she muses about the procedure of hanging. But the funereal mood is
more appropriately related to Rebecca, whose funeral is actually taking
place. ‘It seemed to me that Rebecca had no reality any more. She had
crumbled away when they had found her on the cabin floor. It was
not Rebecca who was lying in the crypt, it was dust. Only dust’ (334).
The narrator reassures herself that she has nothing to fear from her
rival any more, but the tone of the passage suggests a sense of loss, and of
denial – ‘it was not Rebecca’. She still tries to dissociate her emotional
investment with mythical Englishness from the figure of Rebecca,
From Gothic to Memodrama 189
holding on to the stability of place and resignifying the Big House as a
part of eternal nature.
The peace of Manderley. The quietude and the grace. Whoever lived
within its walls, whatever trouble there was and strife, however
much uneasiness and pain, no matter what tears were shed, what
sorrows borne, the peace of Manderley could not be broken or the
loveliness destroyed. […] There would be lilac, and honeysuckle still,
and the white magnolia buds unfolding slow and tight beneath the
dining-room window. No one would ever hurt Manderley. It would
lie always in a hollow like an enchanted thing, guarded by the
woods, safe, secure, while the sea broke and ran and came again in
the little shingle bays below. (372–3)
Since readers are already aware that Manderley was in fact hurt, this seems
to be a delusion, still possible before the trip to London where Rebecca’s
secret is at last revealed. The doctor’s evidence not only shows Rebecca
afflicted by a cancerous growth in the region of her reproductive organs,
but also mentions her infertility, that is, her inability to make good on
her threat to plant a bastard in the de Winter family. This suggests a psychoanalytic reading along the lines of Horner and Zlosnik’s argument,
focusing on Rebecca’s sexuality and relating it to the heroine’s struggle
to be accepted as an adult woman. Du Maurier herself saw her writing
as a means to work through her own rather complex sexual identity and
sexual relations. Margaret Forster gives a fascinating account of the writer’s
struggle to come to terms with her own bisexuality, the ‘boy-in-the-box’,
quoting a letter from du Maurier to Maureen Baker-Munton:
What is past is also future. I wrote as the second Mrs de W. twentyone years ago, with Rebecca a symbol of Jan. It could also be that
the Sixpence in Fowey is the second Mrs de W. and I – in Moper’s
dark mind – can be the symbol of Rebecca. The cottage on the beach
could be my hut. Rebecca’s lovers could be my books. Mrs Danvers,
devoted, could be Tod, the old devotee. And Moper, in a blind rage,
shoot me as Maxim shot Rebecca, and put my body in Yggie, and take
Yggie out to sea, and then the old tragedy be re-enacted, and when
he married, as he would in time, some younger Sixpence, be haunted
by my ghost. Or, the present Sixpence, a symbol of Jan, be taken out
to sea and killed, because what has happened is that some old ghost
of Jan is resurrected that had been buried, just as Rebecca’s body was
discovered in the boat and brought to the surface.20
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
Here, her books become representations of a kind of psychodrama or
psychomachia with changing constellations, characters swapping places
and events repeating themselves. At other times, Daphne du Maurier
identified her beloved Ellen Doubleday, wife of her American publisher,
with Rebecca. Contemplating her feelings for Ellen Doubleday in the
late 1940s, she wrote: ‘[W]hat fun the psycho boys would have with
me’, adding ‘to hell with psychoanalysis’.21 The idea of Rebecca as psychodrama is intriguing and can be related to the concept of memodrama,
throwing into relief both the performative quality of memodrama and
its intense emotionality. The central element in the present context is
Rebecca’s and the narrator’s (and du Maurier’s?) joint investment in
fantasy. In her ‘last supreme bluff’ (390), Rebecca resignifies her fatal
illness as pregnancy, exits with a flourish and comes back as promised to
take Manderley with her. When the narrator finally realizes the extent
of their shared talent, both for imaginative creation and satirical deconstruction, her identification with Rebecca is no longer a matter of mimicry, as in the Caroline de Winter incident or in the unconscious attempt
at impersonation (209). Then she becomes Rebecca in her dream, writing
like her and blending with her mirror image. She watches Maxim put
the rope of hair around his neck and foresees the ruin of Manderley.
When she asks ‘for some more bread in French for no reason’ (390) and
wakes up crying ‘We must go to Switzerland’ (396), these are proleptic
visions of exile. In her dreams on the way back to Manderley, she sees
several series of disconnected images leading to dead azalea leaves,
to Mrs Danvers’ face, nettles in the garden of Manderley, and finally
to her fusion with Rebecca, the woman who is both mythmaker and
iconoclast. This she will also become by telling her story, actively and
consciously interrogating her identity as an Englishwoman.
It takes a considerable leap of faith to see this unflattering portrait of
England in the early twentieth century as ‘romantic’. Yet although the
love story is rather bleak, readers were right, I suggest, to detect a romantic
quality. As noted above, Alison Light sees this as Daphne du Maurier’s
politically conservative ‘romance with the past’, but I would argue that
this is just one aspect of a deeper romance with the imaginary memory of
Rebecca and, through Manderley, with the symbolic form of Englishness.
Daphne du Maurier hands her readers a sheaf of pictures of old England
together with a box of matches. They may choose to sit in front of
those (hyperreal) pictures, those simulacra, or hold a match to them.
But the trajectory of this process of destruction is not annihilation, or
the unmasking of cultural prejudice, but an understanding of the role of
imagination in shaping identity. If it is understood that new images will
From Gothic to Memodrama 191
replace the old, the discourse of the nation need no longer be melancholy.
Rebecca represents a quest, not yet completed, for a modernity that recognizes the English cultural memory as an archive of imaginary memories,
and perhaps the novel’s most radical move is to present such a quest as
female memodrama. The aristocratic family inhabiting a Big House has
long been a powerful image within the symbolic form of Englishness, but
in du Maurier’s vision, it becomes a family romance manqué where the
ancestral body can only appear whole as long as Rebecca’s skeleton stays
in its cupboard at the bottom of the sea.22
The Skeleton in the Cupboard
10.1 The public and private faces of war
At the beginning of World War Two, Daphne du Maurier was called
upon, like many other influential authors, to ‘do her bit’ for propaganda, and she responded by writing some edifying stories for various
newspapers. A collection of these stories was published in 1940 by
Heinemann under the title, Come Wind, Come Weather.1 This is du
Maurier’s attempt at celebrating ‘the People’s War’, but it is difficult to
reconcile the painful optimism of Come Wind, Come Weather with her
critical play The Years Between and the wartime novels Hungry Hill and
The King’s General which eschew celebratory narratives of Englishness.
Come Wind, Come Weather is blatant propaganda, and du Maurier goes
out of her way to emphasize the authenticity of the stories, thanking
the members of the ‘Moral Re-Armament’ group ‘among whom are the
living characters in these stories’.2 She assures her readers that the work
these people ‘are doing up and down the country in helping men and
women to solve their problems and prepare for the great struggle that
lies ahead will prove to be of national importance in the stormy days
to come’. In line with ‘Moral Re-Armament’ philosophy, the main argument is that selfishness and fear must be overcome, and that people
should ‘listen to God’. Conflating spirituality and national identity, this
course is then characterized as particularly English:
It is difficult to imagine Drake and Raleigh and Sir Philip Sidney talking about ‘Safety First.’ The Pilgrim Fathers, starting across the stormy
Atlantic from Plymouth Sound, know no such war cry, and Oliver
Cromwell, to the best of my belief, gave a very different order to his
Ironsides. I do not for a moment suggest that these men were better
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than the men of our present century. They were often cruel, coarse,
and had unpleasant personal habits; but there was a certain selfless
gallantry about them that makes our own caution a poor thing in
comparison. Life to them was an Adventure and a Hazard, not a
business of stocks and shares and going one better than the Joneses
who live next door. They lived and loved and fought and died, they
had faith in the destiny of their country, and they had faith in God.
[…] I believe that the old English spirit is not dead. It still lurks in
the hearts and minds of every man and woman in this island, but
centuries of soft living and thinking only in the first person singular
have made the spirit a shadow of its former self, and the door which
hides it is not always easy to unlock. The present danger has come
upon us as a challenge. (7–8)
The stories are parables, and du Maurier emphasizes their truth and wide
application as lessons. In her introduction, she refers back to the key
moments and figures of Protestant nation-building and expansion, promising that ‘in our hearts and on our lips will ring the old battle hymn of
John Bunyan, who three hundred years ago saw this England torn and
divided in a bloody civil war. “Who would true valour see / Let him come
hither, / One here will constant be, / Come wind, come weather”’ (10).
Faced with a new threat to the nation, the people will, ‘like the Puritans
of old’, link hands to ‘form a chain of steel around this island that no
enemy from without can ever break’ (10). This logic is slightly muddled, because du Maurier connects the consolidation of the English
monarchy and colonial expansion under Elizabeth I with the results of
later religious intolerance, leading to a Civil War where the English were
divided against themselves, but this does not seem to matter a great deal.
Du Maurier browses through the collective memory of the nation and
picks up some heroic names of a conveniently distant past in order to
provide a contrast with prosaic Little Englandism and promote the idea
that ordinary people can distinguish themselves through self-sacrifice.
Perhaps du Maurier may even be seen to introduce some irony as she
connects her reluctant celebration of ‘the People’s War’ with the Puritan
cause which was not very dear to her heart, judging from her civil war
novel The King’s General.
The story ‘The Admiralty Regrets …’ discusses how women overcome
the fear of losing their loved ones. ‘George and Jimmy’ addresses problems of evacuation and the conflicts likely to arise in the new temporary
homes. In du Maurier’s example, a woman in a north Yorkshire village,
the wife of a mill manager, takes in two difficult boys from Tyneside
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and makes a success of it by taking them seriously and trusting them.
In ‘Over the Ration Books’, Tom the grocer who owns a corner shop in
East London solves problems by cooperation with other shopkeepers.
The change for the better is brought about by a note he has read in the
newspaper about ‘Moral Re-Armament’. ‘A Miner’s Tale’ discusses difficult industrial relations, celebrating the reformed miner George who
negotiates successfully with the manager of the mine. ‘Spitfire Megan’
is about an aggressive Welshwoman Megan Williams, who took a militant line during the coal strike in 1926. Now she forces her family into
evacuation and causes difficulties which are only resolved once she
apologizes for her bossiness. ‘“You know”’, says the reformed Megan
to a friend, ‘“I wonder what would have happened in the old days of
the strikes if I’d apologised to the bosses and the bosses had apologised
to me.” “Yes”, said the friend, “I wonder”’ (39). In ‘Mrs. Hill and the
Soldiers’, the wife of a retired army Colonel overcomes class prejudice
and opens her home to soldiers stationed nearby. ‘Mrs. Hill was no
angel, she was an ordinary woman. […] But because she had the courage to break down the barriers of class, of shyness, of fear and ridicule, she
had enriched the lives of all these men she had welcomed to the house,
and her own life as well’ (47–8). ‘In a London Air-raid Shelter’ tells
the story of Mrs Bromley, a charwoman living near the Elephant and
Castle. Disillusioned and overworked, she finds new courage through
talking with a young typist in the West End office she cleans. This
young woman shows her how to ‘listen to God’, and so Mrs Bromley is
able to cheer up people in an air-raid shelter during the Blitz. While the
bombs are raining down on London, Mrs Bromley is seen ‘with a pail
of soapy water and a gigantic scrubbing brush’, attacking a long flight
of stairs. ‘Those steps were going to be cleaned and cleaned as they had
never been cleaned before. She began to hum “There’ll always be an
England…”’ (55).
The conservative attitude behind all these stories is very palpable. The
reader learns, for example, that Mrs Bromley the charwoman had to
bring up three children after her husband’s early death from injuries in
World War One, ‘with no relatives to help, and no pension, and three
children to bring up in a callous, “every-man-for-himself” post-war
world’ (50). After working her fingers to the bone for years, ‘[i]t was
little wonder that she became thin and pale and that the fight for her
children’s existence should make her possessive, jealous, even resentful at times, as they grew older and therefore less dependent upon her
love and care’ (50). The moral of the story emphasizes the need for
Mrs Bromley to change her attitude, rather than asking what needs to
The Skeleton in the Cupboard
happen in a society in order to avoid fates such as that of Mrs Bromley,
a line J. B. Priestley would have taken. As shown above, Priestley had clear
ideas about the New Britain he wanted to help bring about to replace
the old society of privilege and class prejudice. Du Maurier also advises
a rejection of ‘the old way of living’, but to her this is ‘the complacent
go-as-you-please attitude to our neighbours, the what-do-I-get-out-of-it
outlook upon work and play, trade and profession’ (59) that can only
be overcome by selflessness. In this propaganda book, du Maurier does
argue along the lines of Priestley, that the nation is the people:
A nation is not a tangible thing, not a building of bricks and mortar
that will crash to ruins at the first strong blow. It is an echo of the
past, and a whisper from the future, the whole bound together with
the lives, the hopes and the endeavours of many millions of men
and women. The strength of the nation is the morale of the people,
and it is only when their hearts fail them and they permit the Fifth
Column of Doubt, Suspicion, Personal Safety, and most insidious
spy of all – Indifference – to invade the citadel that the nation will
crumble. (56)
It does not follow, however, that society needs to become more democratic and that the people should demand a better deal. The people du
Maurier envisages, in line with the Moral Re-Armament philosophy
she was flirting with, should be more like subjects, trusting in God and
authority, dutiful, modest, humble and prepared for self-sacrifice. For
those who seek guidelines, du Maurier has a message: ‘I suggest that
they read “Innocent Men” and see what Peter Howard says about it.
In this most exciting book he tells how he made a discovery and how
he found the first real prospect that, after all the blood and tears of this
war are ended, a world different and better can be built.’ This message
is signed by du Maurier, with a photograph on the back cover, showing
‘Daphne du Maurier, with Peter Howard, political journalist and former
England Rugby Captain, and Tom, the grocer from “Over the Ration
Books” in “Come Wind, Come Weather”, broadcasting recently to
Canada from a London air-raid shelter.’ Every attempt is thus made to
emphasize the sincerity of the project and to enlist Daphne du Maurier’s
great popularity for the cause. The blurb says that ‘in this unusual book,
the author of “Rebecca” turns from fiction to write the true stories of
some of these ordinary people who, while following the common round
of day-by-day, have given their best to England, and done deeds of gallantry in their respective spheres.’ The book relies on ‘Miss du Maurier’s
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inimitable style’ to express ‘the secret of steadiness and inner strength
on which the morale of Britain depends’. While Priestley came into
his own when producing propaganda, du Maurier’s ‘turn from fiction’,
albeit extremely successful in terms of sales and letters of appreciation
from many satisifed readers, is rather trite. Her attempt at a discursive
treatment of social issues sounds reactionary and insincere, lacking
the complexity and suggestiveness of her fiction. She herself became
unhappy with the collection and felt that she was far from practising
what she preached, and although pressed to do more propaganda work
along the same lines, she declined.3
Instead, she wrote Hungry Hill, which will be discussed below, and a
play entitled The Years Between, which casts a rather cold eye on the state
of marital relations in wartime. The play was first produced at the Opera
House Manchester on 20 November 1944, directed by Irene Hentschel,
and published with a dedication to her father Gerald du Maurier by
Victor Gollancz in 1945. It is set in the library of the ‘Old Manor’, North
Arlsea, situated somewhere in the Home Counties, and the action takes
place first in the winter of 1942, and then in April and May 1945.4 The
protagonist Diana Wentworth lives in the Manor with her ten-year-old
son Robin and his nanny. Her husband Michael, a pilot, is missing,
believed dead. Richard Llewellyn, a friend of the family who owns the
neighbouring farm, comes to the house frequently to offer his help, not
least because he is in love with Diana. Michael had been the MP for
North Arlsea (most certainly Tory), and Diana decides to stand for North
Arlsea in her husband’s place. Coming to enjoy her new activities, she
relates how she realized in London that her life now belonged to her.
‘And oh, Richard, that sudden sense of freedom – almost as though
the years had rolled away and I was young again’ (17). When Richard
challenges her, that she must have been happy with her husband, she
retorts: ‘Happy? (She thinks a little, puzzled.) I don’t know. I’ve never
thought. There wasn’t time. What I was feeling, what I was thinking,
never seemed to matter. It was just Michael, Michael. His needs, his
comforts. (She smiles a little.)’ (18).
After a gap of three years, we see them again: Diana now a successful
MP and Richard and Diana engaged to be married. There is an afternoon
party after a speech Diana has given, when the telephone rings and
the message comes through that Michael is alive and coming home.
Michael, strange and tense, arrives with his personal servant Venning
and complains immediately about changes to the room. He does not
take Diana’s political work seriously and reacts very badly to any sort
of change, in his home as well as in society at large. The estrangement
The Skeleton in the Cupboard
of the couple is complete, because Michael is weary and exhausted and
in need of stability and the old ways, while the world at home has moved
on; society has become more democratic and dynamic and women are
taking a more active role. To Michael, any meeting including women is
just a ‘lot of women yattering about nothing at all’ (45). When Diana
tells him that ‘[w]e shall build a saner, stronger Britain, where slackness
and inefficiency will not be tolerated; where everyone will work for the
community, and our children shall be brought up to service, duty, and
obedience to the State’, he is incredulous:
Do you mean to tell me that a fastidious fellow like old Gresham,
and our old friend Ernest Foster, and the rest of the bunch, talk that
language too? […] Before I left this country I remember making a
speech in the House of Commons about freedom. The right for every
man to think for himself, to choose for himself, to do as he bloody
well pleased. I understood that was what we fellows were fighting
for. […] Well, what about your duty to your husband, and cleaning
some of the mildew off his books? […] Seeing that you are so great on
service and efficiency in the country, it’s a pity you don’t exercise it
a bit more in your own home. […] You say I’ve changed. What about
you? Three years ago you were quiet and gentle, you had a quality of
stillness that was the thing I loved about you most. Out there – where
I lived like a hunted rat month after month – I would think of that
stillness, and long for it. […] I came home to find you had grown
another personality. One of those managing, restless women, always
writing letters, going to meetings, arguing about ridiculous questions, having interminable conversations on the telephone, and it’s
no use pretending that patriotism has driven you to it. It’s become
your life. You are that sort of woman. (47–8)
Diana has grown close to Richard while Michael was away, and she
particularly loves the way he behaves as a companionate modern
middle-class husband tuned in to her needs. When he announces his
decision to withdraw and move to Wales, Diana is greatly distressed:
‘It’s the little things that I’ve missed so much. You going through my
speeches with me – correcting the bad grammar; doing my income tax;
mending the wireless; our funny suppers on a tray’ (60). Since Diana
cannot bear to break up her family, they sacrifice their love and part.
Michael, who suspects that something has been going on, talks to his
son Robin and realizes the truth about Richard and Diana. He makes a
sudden decision to go to the Continent after all, which he had at first
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refused to do, and he tells his valet to pack, since he means to join Sir
Ernest Foster in London that very evening to arrange things. Sir Ernest
tells Diana about Michael’s important, secret war work and she says to
him: ‘I want to love him as I loved him once. I want so much to believe
in him’ (70). Michael suggests to Diana that he is aware of and appreciates her sacrifice and that he will make one too, in continuing to do his
duty. ‘[I]f we are to make any future for Robin – for ourselves – I’ve got
to help the people over in Europe just as you’re going to help the people
here at home. There must be no sitting back yet awhile. Not for our generation’ (73). Diana promises that she will be different when Michael
comes home again, but he does not confide in her about his past and
future missions. In fact, his earlier disappearance had been planned in
order for him to operate in secret, and when Diana expresses doubts
about his motivation for this course of action, he says, smiling:
I didn’t think of anyone. Do you remember the irish [sic] airman?
I used to quote him to my Sergeant Pilot before we crashed-dived off
the coast of Greece. ‘Nor law, nor duty, bade me fight, / Nor public
men, nor cheering crowds, / A lonely impulse of delight, / Drove to
this tumult in the clouds.’ Good night, darling. (He lays two fingers on
her cheek, and exits.) (73)
To a certain extent, this makes him a soldier of fortune and one of those
old-style English warriors whose ‘gallantry’ Daphne du Maurier praised
in the introduction to her propaganda stories. In the case of Michael,
however, this attitude is shown as selfish – to disappear, leading his
wife and child to believe he was dead, and then to return suddenly,
expecting everything to be just as he had left it. After Michael’s departure, Diana calls up her secretary and changes the last sentence of her
message to the ‘Girls’ Training Corps’ to, ‘We hope to build a wiser,
happier Britain, where our children and ourselves shall grow in courage,
faith and understanding’ (75). The play ends with the 9 o’clock news
as the King is about to address the people with the message of victory
in Europe.
Despite the clear suggestion about what will happen, the play’s closure
remains precarious. Diana is torn between the dashing, idealistic, selfish and enigmatic Michael who stands for the Old Britain of patriarchy,
paternalism and upper-class privilege, and a companionate relationship
with the modest, kind Richard who favours a humbler middle-class
life in Little England and who is prepared to take women seriously.
Certainly, Diana’s communitarian outlook must be qualified, because
The Skeleton in the Cupboard
she remains upper class and ‘Nanny’s’ devotion to the household is
taken entirely for granted, but she has clearly taken on board some
aspects of the concept of ‘the People’s War’ which forces even the most
conservative circles to adjust their attitudes – if only temporarily.5 The
reuniting of Michael and Diana is postponed and the atmosphere at the
end of the play is uncertain, anxious and strained. To a certain extent,
the play is autobiographical because du Maurier had a wartime affair
with Christopher Puxley in the absence of her husband, a crucial figure
in Britain’s war effort, and although they patched up their marriage,
they never managed entirely to overcome the estrangement that the
war had brought. Far beyond personal experience, du Maurier describes
in The Years Between the difficulties and personal tragedies many Britons
faced, which no propagandist fanfare could blast away. Even allowing
for the fact that Come Wind, Come Weather was written at an early stage
in the war, when many concerns of later times had not yet surfaced, it
is a hypocritical text. A much more incisive analysis of the social and
psychological consequences of war is offered in a dramatic mode in The
Years Between. Fiction is not a vehicle for du Maurier to voice political opinions, as it was in some ways for Priestley, but rather a highly
symbolic mode of expression and exploration. Du Maurier’s gothic tales
of the 1930s express a deep scepticism about heredity, the family and
its positioning in terms of class and gender, but it seems that there is
no alternative to the family as an organizational unit and a trope of the
nation. Thus, du Maurier’s picture is conservative as well as fatalist. The
psycho-pathology of the family resurfaces on the national scale, just as
social strife and war rebound on the family, and the pressures that war
puts on the family have to be endured and dealt with on an individual
basis – in du Maurier’s case obliquely in fiction. As shown above, du
Maurier’s scepticism extends to the ‘mythical present’ of Englishness,
the spirituality of the land. Presented in the gothic mode, it is as likely
to destroy as to heal and thus a fitting context for the family romance
10.2 Hungry Hill (1943)
The inspiration for du Maurier’s Irish novel Hungry Hill came from her
wartime involvement with Christopher Puxley, whose family history is
fictionalized in the novel. As in The Loving Spirit, the novel is a family saga
divided into several books focusing on individual family members who
are representative of their generations.6 Book One begins with ‘Copper
John’ (1820–1828), the patriarch of the Anglo-Irish Brodrick family who
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has just made a deal to exploit the copper reservoir under ‘Hungry Hill’,
the mountain near his estate. Resistance to this plan comes from the
local population including Simon Flower, a disreputable Anglo-Irishman
who has ‘gone native’ and does not endorse John Brodrick’s Protestant
work ethic. Brodrick believes ‘in progress, and giving employment to all
the poor devils who find living next to impossible in this country, and
making money to provide for my children, and my children’s children,
when I die’.7 In his view, self-interest and prosperity for the region are
compatible, and considerations outside the practical and commercial do
not enter the picture, which places him in the same camp as industrialists
of the Gradgrind type immortalized by Charles Dickens.
Now the hidden wealth of Hungry Hill would be revealed at last, her
strength harnessed, her treasure given to the world, and her silence
disturbed in the name of progress. The forces of Nature, thought
John Brodrick, must be made to work for Man, and one day, this
country, so poor and so long neglected, will take her rightful place
amongst the rich nations of the world. (12)
In contrast, Simon Flower thinks of ‘people sweating, and the poor
old hill broken into with explosives’ (10). Brodrick’s major opponent
is Morty Donovan, a poor Catholic whose family owned all the land
around Hungry Hill before it was given to the Brodricks. This history
is still audible in the name of the nearby village Doonhaven. Morty
Donovan, resentful that ‘me and mine grow poorer on the bit of land
left to us’, thinks that John Brodrick should have ‘asked permission of
the hill first’ (13) and utters a sinister prophesy:
‘Ah, you can laugh’, he said, ‘you, with your Trinity education and
your reading and your grand progressive ways, and your sons and
your daughters that walk through Doonhaven as though the place
was built for their convenience, but I tell you your mine will be in
ruins, and your house destroyed, and your children forgotten and
fallen maybe into disgrace, but this hill will be standing still to
confound you. (13)
Thus the scene is set for a quintessentially Irish tale of antagonism
between the old Celtic Catholics and the wealthy Protestant Anglo-Irish
families who consider Ireland their home but are seen as colonizers by
the Catholic population. Du Maurier foregrounds the problematic effect
of a collective memory which creates a collective identity based on
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antagonism. ‘My sons have never worked for a master’, says Morty
Donovan, and ‘[d]oesn’t all the land here belong to them by rights, yes,
and the copper too, and couldn’t we take it all, if we had the mind?’
(14). The Donovans are defined, and confined, by a remembrance of
how they were wronged, while John Brodrick as the victorious party
would like to forget about the past: ‘My dear Donovan’, said Brodrick
impatiently, ‘you live in the past of two hundred years ago, and talk like
an imbecile. […] I’m afraid I have no time to discuss those ancient quarrels, Donovan, which are better forgotten’ (14). At the same time, he
proudly dwells on his own dynastic identity as he approaches his house,
driving ‘past the belt of trees that his grandfather had planted, [...] and
down on to the smooth gravel ride beside the creek and the sunk garden, through the archway of stone, and so back to where the sweep on
the ride ended before the grey walls of Clonmere Castle’ (15). Once
inside his house, he contemplates the portrait of his grandfather, John
Brodrick, who ‘had built Clonmere, and had been shot in the back in
1754 on his way to church, because he had tried to put down the smuggling along the coast’ (17). In fact, the conflict goes back to the time of
the Civil War, when in 1641, the King took the land from the Donovans
and gave it to the Brodricks for their loyalty. As John Brodrick junior
puts it: ‘The Donovans shot my great-grandfather because the land here
was theirs, before it was his, because the old Donovan chiefs possessed
Clonmere, and Doonhaven, and Doon Island when the Brodricks were
copying-house clerks in Slane, and they could not forget it’ (21).
The Donovans now live in a run-down farm while the ‘careless
go-as-you-please’ (16) Simon Flower resides in the decrepit Andriff
Castle. In each generation, the Donovans and Brodricks are destined
to be each other’s nemesis. In Book Two, ‘Greyhound John’ (covering
1828–1837) marries the beautiful Fanny-Rosa Flower and dies of diphtheria, given to him by Denny Donovan. Book Three is concerned
with their son ‘Wild Johnnie’ (1837–1858) who joins the army and
succumbs to alcohol. Wild Johnnie’s time marks the high point of
social and historical oblivion, because the great tragedy of the more
recent Irish history which looms large in the Irish collective memory,
the Famine, is not even mentioned, although there is a hint that
the Donovans have emigrated to America. Johnnie’s brother Henry
Brodrick (1858–1874) tries unsuccessfully to become a politician,
runs over Jack Donovan, who has returned from America, marries an
English wife and leaves Ireland for London. There is no Home Rule
for Ireland just yet. Henry’s son Hal (1874–1895) ruins his health
in Canada and comes back to Ireland to be killed by Jim Donovan.
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His son John-Henry learns the Irish credo: ‘It’s a mistake […] to
walk back into the past. Look forward always, if you can’ (392). The
Epilogue, ‘The Inheritance, 1920’, focuses on John-Henry who comes
back to Ireland after World War One, during the Troubles, to settle
down in Clonmere. As he tells his aunt,
Do you know, all the time I was in the Navy, and the war was going
on, it was the only thing that was real to me? The Mediterranean,
the Dardanelles, none of it seemed to sink in. I kept thinking, ‘This
over-grown sub who sweats his guts out in an engine-room and then
goes ashore at Malta and overstays his leave, isn’t John-Henry at all.
The real John-Henry is standing in front of Clonmere, looking across
the creek to Hungry Hill. And that’s where I belong. That’s where my
roots are, that’s where I was born and bred.’ (400)
To his aunt’s annoyance, he says that he can see some sense in the
motto, ‘Ourselves Alone’. ‘“I don’t care a damn for one side or the other.
It just happens that I have the misfortune to see both sides of a question”’ (399). Although John-Henry feels at home in Ireland, he is out of
touch with current affairs and makes the mistake of drinking with some
Black and Tans in the bar of his hotel. On the road to Doonhaven, he is
ambushed, his car taken away, and he is held captive in an abandoned
cabin. The inherent absurdity of the situation is reflected most clearly
in the fact that John-Henry’s guard, who is instructed to shoot him in
the event of his resistance, is affable enough and even plays whist with
him. ‘And this, thought John-Henry, is surely the madness of all time,
that my captor and I pledge one another in illicit spirit[.] [...] Tomorrow
he shoots me in the back, and maybe, as the sentry said in Slane, he will
weep with pity and bring flowers to my funeral’ (409). John-Henry is
confined for three days, learning afterwards that his house in Clonmere
has been burnt down in reprisal for his conduct. He understands slowly
that he is ‘someone who must take his chance in a country […] torn in
civil war’ (411).
Inspecting the ruins of his house, he meets Eugene Donovan, the
son of Jim Donovan who went to South Africa when the mines were
closed. They talk, and it transpires that it was probably Eugene’s
brother Michael who joined the IRA and alerted his friends to JohnHenry’s fraternizing escapade. John-Henry gives Eugene Donovan
permission to graze his cows on the estate and use the stables, also
giving him his last three pounds to put the buildings in order. Michael
The Skeleton in the Cupboard
would have gone from the hotel to his friends outside the city,
and told them that John-Henry Brodrick of Clonmere gave drinks
to the enemies of his country, and was a traitor to his home and
to his land. And so they came by night and burnt his house. […]
John-Henry knew this, and Eugene Donovan the cowman knew it
too, but they did not speak of these things. Justice had been done.
There was no more to be said. […] The rain was falling gently now
from a grey wisp of cloud that had come across the sun. [ JohnHenry] turned up the collar of his coat, and thrust his hands into his
pockets. Eugene Donovan pulled his cap over his eyes, and whistled
to the mongrel dog that followed him. Through a rift in the clouds
there came, for a brief instant, a white shaft of sunlight on the face
of Hungry Hill. (413, 415)
Du Maurier presents the psychological make-up of the Anglo-Irish
as schizophrenic due to their tortured and self-conscious sense of belonging and exclusion. There is a suggestion that the English and Scottish
settlers introduced to Ireland a capitalist spirit of enterprise that allowed
them to gain a precarious hold over the country. However, their
mastery could only be temporal, not only because they had disinherited the previous owners of the land, but also because the mindset of
the colonizers clashed with the ‘spirit’ of the country itself. In this
respect, Hungry Hill is a regional novel with a preservationist, and
also a strongly ecological theme and a focus on the devastation of the
countryside resulting from the mining business. Brodrick’s mining
projects mirror the process of industrialization in England, but Ireland
being ‘wilder’ and somehow more ‘archaic’ than the north of England,
Hungry Hill swallows those who try to rip out its bowels. There is a
sense that the country will only ever be home to those who do not try
to possess it, and it therefore brings suffering both to the Donovans,
representatives of the older, Celtic and Catholic population, and to
the Brodricks, the Anglo-Irish ruling class. In addition, since ownership and mastery are presented as strongly patriarchal, men in Hungry
Hill have a much harder time in coming to terms with their longing
for and alienation from home. In the case of the Brodricks, this is
enhanced by their Eton and Oxford education which prepare them to
take their place in an English ruling class, taking little account of the
fact that they are Irishmen.
In England, preservationists such as J. B. Priestley saw it as a problem
that captains of industry transformed themselves into country gentlemen, leaving devastated areas behind. In Ireland the difficulties are
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
further aggravated as the gentlemen are likely to be absentees, returning
for the occasional summer holiday to the country for which they should
take responsibility according to the paternalist ideology of the Big
House. The silence that surrounds the Famine in Hungry Hill exemplifies this problem. At the time of the potato blight, Britain left Ireland –
England’s first overseas colony – to starve, and the Anglo-Irish ruling
class did not intervene. Hungry Hill is a novel of decolonization, reminding the English about the early days of their colonial endeavours at a
time when the British Empire was falling apart. British rule in the world
is replaced by a process of globalization which puts the domestic copper and tin mines out of business, hastening the process of contraction
and decentring that has been a leitmotif of this study. More than ever,
the love and desire for the land and its spirituality appear unrequited.
In du Maurier’s vision, the symbolic form of Englishness includes the
Anglo-Irish family romance manqué – the family cupboard occupied by
a Donovan.
10.3 The King’s General (1946)
In her historical novel, The King’s General, du Maurier goes further back
in time, beyond the time frame of communicative memory observed in
her family sagas and yet her initial inspiration for the story was personal.
Large parts of the novel are set at Menabilly, the Rashleigh family’s manor
house, and it deals with that family’s crucial involvement in the Civil
War on the Royalist side. Since du Maurier had moved into Menabilly
about two years before writing the novel, her narrative could be read
as a symbolic attempt at writing herself into the house, the Rashleigh
family and the Cornish aristocracy. One item in the history of the house
intrigued du Maurier in particular, and she includes a ‘Postscript’ in the
novel explaining the context:
In the year 1824, Mr William Rashleigh, of Menabilly, in the parish of
Tywardreath in Cornwall, had certain alterations made to his house,
in the course of which the outer courtyard was removed, and blocked
in to form kitchens and a larder. The architect, summoned to do the
work, noticed that the buttress against the north-west corner of the
house served no useful purpose, and he told the masons to demolish it.
This they proceeded to do, and on knocking away several of the
stones they came upon a stair, leading to a small room, or cell, at
the base of the buttress. Here they found the skeleton of a young
man, seated on a stool, a trencher at his feet, and the skeleton was
The Skeleton in the Cupboard
dressed in the clothes of a Cavalier, as worn during the period of the
Civil War. Mr William Rashleigh, when he was told of the discovery,
gave orders for the remains to be buried with great reverence in the
churchyard at Tywardreath. And because he and his family were
greatly shocked at the discovery, he ordered the masons to brick up
the secret room that no one in the household should come upon it
in future. (349)
The novel is fairly accurate as regards the main events of the Civil
War and the historical personalities mentioned, but their characters
and relationships are fictional. For instance, the historical Honor
Harris was not crippled as was du Maurier’s heroine, and there is no
evidence that the remains found in the buttress room were those
of Sir Richard Grenvile’s son, as the novel suggests.8 The Civil War
figures in the English collective memory as an interlude, for those on
the left-wing as early republicanism, for conservatives as a deviation
from true Englishness. The King’s General tells a Royalist tale which
revisits English history in the unheroic vein. In du Maurier’s novel,
there is no room for triumphalism, because the Royalist cause is foregrounded, but the story is not pursued as far as the ‘happy ending’ of
the Restoration in 1660, ending instead in 1653 at the bleakest point
for the Royalists, the year of the historical Honor Harris’ death. The
novel also deals obliquely with preoccupations current during World
War Two, such as fifth-columnism, war weariness and the fear of invasion. Du Maurier suggests this connection herself with her dedication,
‘To my husband / Also a general, but, I trust, a more discreet one’, and
while du Maurier wrote her novel, her husband was busy organizing
the Allied landings.
The King’s General tells the story of Honor Harris of Lanrest and her
love for Sir Richard Grenvile, the ‘King’s General in the West’. In 1653,
shortly before her death, Honor Harris looks back to her happy childhood on the small family estate long before the war, and to the time
of her first contact with the eminent Grenvile family, when Gartred
Grenvile condescended to marry Honor’s brother Kit. From the start,
there is antagonism between the two women, and Gartred is portrayed
as beautiful but mercenary, cruel and immoral. She begins an affair with
her husband’s brother, and when her husband dies, she piles up her
possessions and leaves the house. Some years later, Honor Harris meets
Gartred’s good-looking and impudent brother Richard at a banquet
and disgraces herself by drinking too much wine and letting him flirt
with her. Against her family’s will, Sir Richard begins to woo Honor.
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
Head over heels in love with him, she explains his quick temper with
a kind of climate theory:
We have, I think, a more happy disposition here in south-east
Cornwall, for the very softness of the air, come rain or sun, and
the gentle contour of the land, make for a lazy feeling of content.
Whereas in the Grenvile country, bare of hedgerow, bereft of tree,
exposed to all four winds of heaven – winds laden, as it were, with
surf and spray – the mind develops with a quick perception, with
more fire to it, more anger, and life itself is hazardous and cruel. Here
we have few tragedies at sea, but there the coast is strewn with the
bleached bones of vessels wrecked without hope of haven, and about
the torn, unburied bodies of the drowned the seals play and the
falcons hover. It holds us more than we ever reckon, the few square
miles of territory where we are born and bred, and I can understand
what devils of unrest surged in the blood of Richard Grenvile.9
Shortly before Honor’s planned wedding, Gartred comes to visit and
they all go hawking. Brother and sister watch each other ‘like duellists
about to strike’ while Honor has a ‘shadow of misgiving that the day
would turn in some way to disaster’ (52). She is proved right, and as
brother and sister gallop along behind their birds of prey, Honor falls
into a chasm and is crippled for life. Clearly, Gartred could have warned
her and did not. The Grenviles are predators, and those who love them
become their prey. Honor, now paralysed from the waist downward,
determines never to see Richard again and he marries a rich widow.
Honor is punished symbolically for her upward mobility, and the inclusion of her procreative faculty into the ancestral body is blocked by the
aristocratic female. Instead of bearing Sir Richard’s child, Honor studies
Greek and Latin, bound to a wheelchair designed by her brother and
looked after by her maid Matty. ‘Time heals all wounds, say the complacent, but I think it is not so much time that does it as determination of
the spirit. And the spirit can often turn to devil in the darkness’ (60).
When the trouble starts between the King and Parliament in the
early 1640s, Cornwall becomes divided in loyalty and Honor takes
refuge along with other families at the Rashleigh’s home Menabilly,
where she is installed in a room in the gatehouse, relatively immobile
and removed from the ordinary course of events, but ideally placed
as an observer. A gothic element is introduced when it transpires
that the room next to Honor’s is a mysterious chamber that Jonathan
Rashleigh keeps locked at all times. One night, Honor hears footsteps
The Skeleton in the Cupboard
and feels a current of air. Plagued by the perennial curiosity of the
gothic heroine, she gets into her chair and peers through a chink
in the wall, where she can see a person moving about the room and
writing something. Next, Honor discovers a hidden flagstone in the
summer house of the estate which appears to cover the entrance to a
tunnel. During a secret expedition to the forbidden chamber, she sees
Jonathan Rashleigh step out from behind an arras and learns thus that
there is a hidden entrance to the house which he uses in execution
of ‘the King’s business’ (115). He explains to her that previously the
tunnel had been used to hide and confine a mentally deranged family
member who could also be taken outside through the tunnel unseen,
in an effort, as it were, to sanitize the aristocratic body. The noble family
must not be seen as blemished in any way.
As one of the commanders committed to the Royalist cause,
Sir Richard Grenvile comes to Menabilly and meets Honor again for the
first time in fifteen years. They find that their love is as strong as ever,
and as they resume their (platonic) relationship, Sir Richard discusses
his campaigns with Honor in detail, frequently expressing his frustration at the ineptness of the Royalists in military matters compared
with the forces of Parliament, and she loves him in spite of his pride,
arrogance and cruelty. ‘I knew that we were bound together for all
time, and I could not send him from me. His faults were my faults, his
arrogance my burden, and he stood there, Richard Grenvile, what my
tragedy had made him’ (104). As regards the narrative, this is ingenious,
since Sir Richard brings the Civil War into the chamber of the paralysed
Honor, where it unfolds as her memodrama. Honor also has to take care
of Richard’s despised and weak young son Dick, and when Parliament
troops take Menabilly for the first time, she makes use of her knowledge
of the secret passage, hiding Dick in the small dark cell in the house’s
buttress. Gartred has come to Menabilly too, and while all others are
held captive, she dines with the commander Lord Robartes in his room.
Gartred always appears at points of crisis, and there is a strange sense of
exhilaration in the encounters between her and Honor – characteristic
of du Maurier’s representation of, and fascination with, strong women.
Apart from Gartred, who is an adroit political player, nobody is spared.
The inhabitants of the ruined house suffer from hunger in their
confinement, which leads Honor to contemplate the horrors of war:
The country was laid waste, for one thing and that was the fault of
the enemy. The corn was ruined, the orchards devastated, the houses
smoking. And in return for this the Cornish people had taken toll
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
upon the rebel prisoners. There were many of them still lying in the
ditches, with the dust and flies upon them. Some without hands
and feet, some hanging downwards from the trees. And there were
stragglers who had died upon the road, in the last retreat, too faint
to march from Cornwall – and these had been set upon and stripped
off their clothing and left for the hungry dogs to lick. I knew then,
as I peered forth from the curtains of my litter, that war can make
beasts of every one of us, and that the men and women of my own
breed could act even worse in warfare than the men and women of
the eastern counties. We had, each one of us, because of the civil war,
streaked back two centuries in time, and were become like those half
savages of the fourteen hundreds who, during the Wars of the Roses,
slit each other’s throats without compunction. (185)
The orders to hang the rebel prisoners were given by General Sir Richard
Grenvile, feared by his own men and hated by the enemy. During a
series of attacks and counter-attacks Grenvile is wounded and Honor
travels to Exeter to join him. ‘I had no home, and one roof was as good
to me now as another. If I lacked humility, I also had no pride. I was
nothing more nor less, by this time, than a camp-follower. A pursuivant of the drum’ (223). There is a certain grim satisfaction in Honor’s
attitude, and her paralysis elevates her morally above Gartred’s attempts
to improve her situation through shifting alliances and profiteering.
Gartred’s political opportunism is self-serving, while Honor is loyal to
the cause and gives all the help she can. Still, her influence is very limited and through her unconditional love, she becomes an accomplice
to Richard Grenvile’s ruthless acts, some of which qualify as war crimes.
The question remains as to what a woman’s options are in times of war,
and there is a sense of disenchantment with military masculinity. With
regard to women, the public and private are completely intertwined,
and a sexual threat can figure a political threat, or vice versa.
As the situation becomes more desperate for the Royalists, Honor
is obliged to go back to Menabilly while the command is taken away
from Richard Grenvile. He is imprisoned in Launceston Castle for disobeying orders, escaping thence to France. ‘The one glory of that most
dismal year of ’46 was the gallant, though alas! so useless, holding of
Pendennis Castle for the King through five long months of siege’ (269).
The Royalist cause is defeated, and Jonathan Rashleigh of Menabilly is
ruined like many other Royalist supporters. In 1648, Richard Grenvile
comes back from France in secret and gathers some people at Menabilly
The Skeleton in the Cupboard
to plan an uprising, to be assisted by troops shipped from France. Gartred
is also there, because she has designs on one of the wealthy gentlemen
present, at the same time flirting with Honor’s brother Robin who has
long been in love with her. This setup leads to a melodramatic nightly
skirmish during the course of which Gartred receives a sword cut to
her face, spoiling her famous beauty for ever. ‘Richard and Gartred. […]
Robin and I. […] Which sister had the most to forgive, the most to pay
for? God knows I had no answer’ (312). In that same disastrous night
it transpires that the plans for the uprising have been betrayed and a
number of conspirators have already been arrested. Richard suspects
that his son Dick committed the act of treason in order to spite the
father he loathes and fears, and he makes a poignant speech about his
family’s long involvement with the country’s affairs, their gallantry,
courage and their loyalty to the King. The Grenviles as a family embody
the nation and have shaped its history, and this history is the genealogy
of the family. The Grenviles will be able to
‘tell their sons, in the years to come, “We Grenviles fought to bring
about the restoration of our King” and their names will rank in that
great book at Stowe my father read to us, beside that of my grandfather Richard, who fought in the Revenge.’ He paused a moment,
then spoke lower still. ‘I care not’, he said, ‘if my name be written
in that book in smaller characters. “He was a soldier”, they may say.
“The King’s general in the west.” Let that be my epitaph. But there
will be no other Richard in that book at Stowe. For the King’s general
died without a son.’ (318)
The troopers are expected soon and since Richard Grenvile is the most
wanted person in Cornwall and it is high treason to harbour him, he
makes his escape from Menabilly via the secret passage. Dick deliberately breaks the rope attached to the stone blocking the passage so
that once closed, it cannot be opened again. His father makes his exit
through the summer house, sets fire to it to cover his traces and escapes
to Holland, where he dies in exile in 1659, of which fact the reader is
informed in the attached explanatory note. Dick remains behind in
atonement for his treachery, and it is his skeleton, so the novel suggests, that was found almost two hundred years later in the buttress
cell. The King’s General finally presents an actual skeleton in the family
cupboard as a reminder of the fact that heredity is unreliable and that
the proud Grenvile family which embodies England, also bred a traitor.
Myth, Memory and the Middlebrow
The recollection of this is preserved in Honor Harris’ memodrama of
When the water drains from the marshes, and little by little the
yellow sands appear, rippling and hard and firm, it seems to my
foolish fancy, as I lie here, that I too go seaward with the tide, and
all my old hidden dreams that I thought buried for all time are bare
and naked to the day, just as the shells and the stones are on the
sands. It is a strange, joyous feeling, this streak back to the past.
Nothing is regretted, and I am happy and proud. The mist and
cloud have gone, and the sun, high now and full of warmth, holds
revel with my ebb-tide. […] It was then that the idea came first to
me, that, by writing down the events of those few years, I would
rid myself of a burden. The war, and how it changed our lives; how
we were all caught up in it, and broken by it, and our lives hopelessly intermingled one with another. Gartred and Robin, Richard
and I, the whole Rashleigh family, pent up together in that house
of secrets – small wonder that we came to be defeated. (9, 14–15)
The literal paralysis of a heroine placed in the liminal space between land
and sea figures the process of contraction and decentring that characterizes the postwar era, a process registered both by Priestley with his focus
on community and by du Maurier with her focus on the family romance
manqué. While Priestley’s portrait of the symbolic form of Englishness is
generally more wholesome and optimistic than du Maurier’s, it is recognizably the same, explored most incisively in the form of memodrama.
Finally, for Priestley’s Gregory Dawson in Bright Day as well as for many of
du Maurier’s characters, the ‘mythical present’ of Englishness is felt most
strongly at the coast, the blurred boundary between land and sea, past
and present, where England takes shape as an island of the mind.
1. Identity: Englishness and the Reconfiguration
of the Nation
1. Kevin Davey, English Imaginaries: Six Studies in Anglo-British Modernity
(London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1999), 6–26; 20.
2. Robert Colls and Philip Dodd (eds), Englishness: Politics and Culture 1880–1920
(London: Croom Helm, 1986), Preface, n.p.
3. Jeremy Paxman, The English: a Portrait of a People [1998] (Harmondsworth:
Penguin, 1999), 23.
4. Ibid., viii.
5. Colls and Dodd (eds), Englishness (1986), Preface, n.p.
6. Stephen Yeo, ‘Socialism, the State, and Some Oppositional Englishness’,
in: Colls and Dodd (eds), Englishness (1986), 308–69; 310.
7. Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation 1707–1837 [1992] (New Haven and
London: Yale University Press, 2005), 6.
8. Davey, English Imaginaries (1999), 6. Davey explicitly contradicts Colley
and endorses Adrian Hastings, The Construction of Nationhood: Ethnicity,
Religion and Nationalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997)
and E. J. Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism Since 1780 (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1990).
9. Raphael Samuel (ed.), Patriotism; the Making and Unmaking of British National
Identity, Vol. I: History and Politics (London and New York: Routledge, 1989),
Preface, x.
10. Raphael Samuel, ‘Introduction: Exciting to be English’, in: Patriotism (1989),
Vol. I, xviii–lxvii; lvii. Other somewhat partisan accounts include Tom Nairn,
The Break-up of Britain (London: Verso, 1977), Patrick Wright, On Living in
an Old Country: the National Past in Contemporary Britain (London: Verso,
1985) and Stephen Haseler, The English Tribe: Identity, Nation and Europe
(Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996) on the progressive side and Clive Aslet,
Anyone for England? A Search for British Identity (London: Little, Brown, 1997)
and Roger Scruton, England: an Elegy (London: Chatto & Windus, 2000) on
the conservative side.
11. Davey, English Imaginaries (1999), 16–17.
12. Ibid., 9.
13. On the distinction between political nation (Staatsnation) and cultural nation
(Kulturnation) see Christian Geulen, ‘Identity as Progress: the Longevity
of Nationalism’, in: Heidrun Friese (ed.), Identities: Time, Difference, and
Boundaries (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2002), 222–40. On
the typology of nationalisms, Geulen quotes Rainer Lepsius, ‘Nation und
Nationalismus in Deutschland’, in: Michael Jeismann and Henning Ritter
(eds), Grenzfälle: Über neuen und alten Nationalismus (Leipzig: Reclam, 1993),
193–215. For the concept of the nation as an ‘imagined community’ see
Benedict Anderson’s classic study Imagined Communities: Reflections on the
Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983).
14. See for example Martin Wiener, English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial
Spirit, 1850–1980 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981); Eric
Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (eds), The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1983); Colls and Dodd (eds), Englishness (1986);
Samuel (ed.), Patriotism, Vol. I: History and Politics, Vol. II: Minorities and
Outsiders, Vol. III: National Fictions (1989); Hans-Jürgen Diller, Stephan
Kohl et al. (eds), Englishness, Anglistik und Englischunterricht, Vol. 46–7
(Heidelberg: Winter, 1992); Roy Porter (ed.), Myths of the English (Cambridge:
Polity, 1992); Robert Hewison, Culture and Consensus: England, Art and
Politics Since 1940 (London: 1995); Christoph Bode and Ulrich Broich (eds),
Die Zwanziger Jahre in Großbritannien: Literatur und Gesellschaft einer spannungsreichen Dekade (Tübingen: Gunter Narr, 1998); Ross McKibbin, Classes
and Cultures: England 1918–1951 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998);
Anthony Easthope, Englishness and National Culture (London and New York:
Routledge, 1999); Nick Hayes and Jeff Hill, ‘“Millions Like Us”?: British Culture
in the Second World War (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999); Kate
Fox, Watching the English: the Hidden Rules of English Behaviour (London:
Hodder & Stoughton, 2004).
15. See for example Alan MacFarlane, The Origins of English Individualism: the
Family, Property, and Social Transition (Oxford: Blackwell, 1978); Ernest
Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1983); Hobsbawm,
Nations and Nationalism Since 1780 (1990); Perry Anderson, English Questions
(London: Verso, 1992); Colley, Britons (1992); Adrian Hastings, The
Construction of Nationhood (1997); Nick Tiratsoo (ed.), From Blitz to Blair: a
New History of Britain Since 1939 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1997);
Lucy Gordon and Elaine McClure (eds), Cool Britannia? What Britishness
Means to Me (Lurgan: Ulster Society Publications Ltd., 1999). For an emphasis on regional and cultural variety see for example Susan Bassnett, Studying
British Cultures: an Introduction (London, New York: Routledge, 1997) and
Mike Storry and Peter Childs (eds), British Cultural Identities (London and
New York: Routledge, 1997).
16. See for example Colin Watson, Snobbery With Violence: English Crime Stories
and Their Audience (London: Eyre Methuen, 1979); Brian Doyle, English and
Englishness (London: Routledge, 1989); Ronald P. Draper (ed.), The Literature
of Region and Nation (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1989); John Lucas, England
and Englishness: Ideas of Nationhood in English Poetry 1688–1900 (London:
Hogarth, 1990); Alison Light, Forever England: Femininity, Literature and
Conservatism Between the Wars (London: Routledge, 1991); Menno Spiering,
Englishness: Foreigners and Images of National Identity in Postwar Literature
(Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1992); David Gervais, Literary Englands: Versions of
‘Englishness’ in Modern Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1993); Malcolm Kelsall, The Great Good Place: the Country House and English
Literature (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester, 1993); Judy Giles and Tim Middleton
(eds), Writing Englishness 1900–1950: an Introductory Sourcebook on National
Identity (London and New York: Routledge, 1995); Ian A. Bell (ed.), Peripheral
Visions: Images of Nationhood in Contemporary Fiction (Cardiff: University of
Wales Press, 1995); Menno Spiering (ed.), Nation Building and Writing Literary
History, Yearbook of European Studies 12 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1999); Toni
Wein, British Identities, Heroic Nationalisms, and the Gothic Novel, 1764–1824
(Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002); Silvia Mergenthal, A Fast-Forward
Version of England: Constructions of Englishness in Contemporary Fiction
(Heidelberg: Winter, 2003); Jennifer Shacker, National Dreams: the Remaking
of Fairy-Tales in Nineteenth-Century England (Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press, 2003); Simon Grimble, Landscape Writing and ‘The
Condition of England’, 1878–1917: Ruskin to Modernism (Lewiston, Lampeter:
Edwin Mellen Press, 2004); Roger Ebbatson, An Imaginary England: Nation,
Landscape and Literature, 1840–1920 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005).
17. W. G. Hoskins, The Making of the English Landscape (London: Hodder &
Stoughton, 1955); Philip Dodd (ed.), The Art of Travel: Essays on Travel Writing
(London: Frank Cass, 1982); Ian Jeffrey, The British Landscape 1920–1950
(London: Thames and Hudson, 1984); Dennis Cosgrove and Stephen Daniels
(eds), The Iconography of Landscape: Essays on the Symbolic Representation,
Design and Use of Past Environments (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1988); Ian Ousby, The Englishman’s England: Taste, Travel, and the
Rise of Tourism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Stephen
Daniels, Fields of Vision: Landscape Imagery and National Identity in England
and the United States (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1993); John Taylor, A Dream
of England: Landscape, Photography and the Tourist’s Imagination (Manchester
and New York: Manchester University Press, 1994); Michael Hunter (ed.),
Preserving the Past: the Rise of Heritage in Modern Britain (Stroud: Sutton, 1996);
Elizabeth Helsinger, Rural Scenes and National Representation (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1997); Erica Carter, James Donald and Judith
Squires (eds), Space and Place: Theories of Identity and Location (London:
Lawrence and Wishart, 1998); David Matless, Landscape and Englishness
(London: Reaktion, 1998); Steve Humphries and Beverley Hopwood, Green
and Pleasant Land [1999] (London: Channel 4 Books, 2000); David Peters
Corbett, Ysanne Holt and Fiona Russell (eds), The Geographies of Englishness:
Landscape and the National Past 1880–1940 (New Haven and London: Yale
University Press, 2002).
18. John Darwin, Britain and Decolonisation: the Retreat from Empire in the
Postwar World (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988); Salman Rushdie, Imaginary
Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981–1991 (London: Granta, 1991);
Robert A. Lee (ed.), Other Britain, Other British: Contemporary Multicultural
Fiction (London and East Haven: Pluto Press, 1995); Simon Gikandi, Maps
of Englishness: Writing Identity in the Culture of Colonialism (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1996); C. C. Barfoot (ed.), Beyond Pug’s Tour:
National and Ethnic Stereotyping in Theory and Literary Practice, Studies in
Literature 20 (Amsterdam, Atlanta: Rodopi, 1997); Ian A. Baucom (ed.),
Out of Place: Englishness, Empire, and the Locations of Identity (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1999); Peter Childs (ed.), Post-Colonial Theory
and Englishness Literature: a Reader (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press,
1999); Neil Lazarus, Nationalism and Cultural Practice in the Postcolonial
World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Jed Esty, A Shrinking
Island: Modernism and National Culture in England (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 2004); Wendy Webster, Englishness and Empire 1939–1965
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).
19. Angus Calder, The People’s War: Britain 1939–1945 [1969] (London: Pimlico,
2003), 17.
20. For theories of collective identity see Friese (ed.), Time, Difference, and
Boundaries (2002).
21. For a philosophical discussion of the connection between collective identity
and various types of mythmaking see Barbara Henry, ‘Identities of the West:
Reason, Myths, Limits of Tolerance’, in: Friese (ed.), Time, Difference, and
Boundaries (2002), 77–106.
2. Myth: Ideology, Symbolic Forms
and the ‘Mythical Present’
1. Incidentally, this notion of myth best known through Barthes is far from
anachronistic; in fact it had already been developed by William Empson in
his influential study Some Versions of Pastoral (1935). Thinking about depictions of ‘the Worker’ in the 1930s in the context of ‘plebeian literature’, he
sees him as a ‘mythical cult-figure’, not only in ‘proletarian propaganda’,
but also in a conservative discourse. Empson analyses the government’s use
of an image of a Cockney type worker as a political symbol which creates
an ‘obscure magical feeling’. See William Empson, Some Versions of Pastoral
[1935] (London: Hogarth, 1986), 15–16.
2. Robert Graves and Alan Hodge, The Long Week-End: a Social History of Great
Britain 1918–1939 (London: Faber, 1940), 198.
3. Ivan Strenski, Four Theories of Myth in Twentieth-Century History: Cassirer,
Eliade, Lévi-Strauss and Malinowski (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1987), 1.
4. Robert Ackerman, The Myth and Ritual School: J. G. Frazer and the Cambridge
Ritualists (New York and London: Routledge, 2002), 45. Ackerman refers to
Edward Burnett Tylor, whose Primitive Culture appeared in 1871 and William
Robertson Smith who studied Semitic antiquity.
5. See Jane Ellen Harrison, Themis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1912), with Murray’s ‘Excursus on the Ritual Forms Preserved in Greek
Tragedy’, Ancient Art and Ritual (London: Williams & Norgate, 1914);
Gilbert Murray, Four Stages of Greek Religion (New York: Columbia University
Press, 1912), Euripides and His Age (London: Thornton Butterworth, 1913),
‘Hamlet and Orestes’ (New York: Oxford University Press, 1914), Francis
Macdonald Cornford, From Religion to Philosophy (London: Arnold, 1912),
The Origin of Attic Comedy (London: Arnold, 1914); Arthur Bernard Cook,
Zeus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1914). Jessie Weston’s From
Ritual to Romance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1920) represents
the first application of the method to more recent material, namely the Grail
legend. For an introduction to the topic see Ackerman, The Myth and Ritual
School (2002).
6. Ackerman, The Myth and Ritual School (2002), 101.
7. Steven F. Walker, Jung and the Jungians on Myth (New York and London:
Garland Publishing, 1995), 4. See also Robert H. Hopcke, A Guided Tour of
the Collected Works of C.G. Jung (Boston: Shambhala, 1989) and Polly YoungEisendrath and Terence Dawson (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Jung
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). Important archetypal images
are Ego, Shadow, Persona, Anima/Animus, Self, Mother, Father, Puer/Divine
child (puer aeternus), Kore/Maiden, Hero, Wise Old Man, Trickster.
Walker, Jung and the Jungians on Myth (1995), 19.
Michael Vannoy Adams, ‘The Archetypal School’, in: Young-Eisendrath and
Dawson (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Jung 101–18; 111. Adams quotes
James Hillman, Revisioning Psychology (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), xi.
Right up until World War Two, at least in intellectual circles, there had been
regular and lively exchange between European thinkers and artists. As Aleida
Assmann notes, T. S. Eliot thought back in 1947 to the Criterion-years and
the subsequent breakup of European exchange. ‘The blight fell first upon
our friends in Italy. And after 1933 contributions from Germany became
more and more difficult to find. Some of our friends died; some disappeared;
some merely became silent. Some went abroad, cut off from their own cultural roots. […] And, from much of the German writing that I saw in the
30’s, by authors previously unknown to me, I formed the opinion that the
newer German writers had less and less to say to Europe[.]’ T. S. Eliot, Notes
Towards the Definition of Culture (London: Faber, 1948), Appendix: The Unity
of European Culture, 116f., quoted from Aleida Assmann, Arbeit am nationalen Gedächtnis: Eine kurze Geschichte der deutschen Bildungsidee (Frankfurt:
Campus, 1993), 96. This European dialogue has been taken up again and
should be continued.
Ackerman, The Myth and Ritual School (2002), 18.
Ibid., 19.
Ibid., 32–3.
Jennifer Shacker, National Dreams: the Remaking of Fairy-Tales in NineteenthCentury England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), 2–3.
Ibid., 4.
Ibid., 12.
Strenski, Four Theories of Myth in Twentieth-Century History (1987), 51–2.
Petteri Pietikäinen, C. G. Jung and the Psychology of Symbolic Forms (Helsinki:
Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 1999), 166–7.
Alex Potts, ‘“Constable Country” between the Wars’, in: Samuel (ed.),
Patriotism (1989), Vol. III: 160–86; 173. Potts quotes Christopher Hussey, The
Fairy Land of England (London: Country Life, 1924), 80.
H. V. Morton, In Search of England [1927] ed. and introd. by Simon Jenkins and
with illustrations by Peter Bailey (London: The Folio Society, 2002), 299.
Ebbatson, An Imaginary England (2005), 1. Ebbatson quotes Eleanor Farjeon,
Edward Thomas: the Last Four Years (Stroud: Sutton, 1997), 154.
Matless, Landscape and Englishness (1998), 105.
On the philosophy and life of Ernst Cassirer see Raymond Klibansky and
H. J. Paton (eds), Philosophy and History: Essays presented to Ernst Cassirer
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1936); Susanne K. Langer, Philosophy in a
New Key: a Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art (Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 1942); Paul Arthur Schilpp (ed.), The Philosophy
of Ernst Cassirer (Evanston: The Library of Living Philosophers, 1949); Toni
Cassirer, Mein Leben mit Ernst Cassirer (Hildesheim: Gerstenberg, 1981);
Michael John Krois, Cassirer – Symbolic Forms and History (New Haven and
London: Yale University Press, 1987); Strenski, Four Theories of Myth in
Twentieth-Century History; H.-J. Braun, H. Holzhey and E. W. Orth (eds),
Über Ernst Cassirers Philosophie der symbolischen Formen (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp,
1988); Silvia Ferretti, Cassirer, Panofsky, and Warburg: Symbol, Art, and History
(New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1989); Heinz Paetzold, Die
Realität der Symbolischen Formen. Die Kulturphilosophie Ernst Cassirers im Kontext
(Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1994); Heinz Paetzold,
Ernst Cassirer – von Marburg nach New York: eine philosophische Biographie
(Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1995); William Schultz,
Cassirer and Langer on Myth (New York and London: Garland, 2000).
Ernst Cassirer was born in Breslau in 1874 into a wealthy and sophisticated
Jewish-German family. He studied philosophy in Berlin and in Marburg
with the famous neo-Kantian Hermann Cohen. Cassirer taught at Hamburg
University until he left Germany in 1933 when the Nazis seized power. He
was professor of philosophy at Oxford from 1933 to 1935, and after this he
taught in Göteborg, Sweden for some years, until he was obliged to flee to
the United States in 1941, where he taught at Yale University. During his stay
in New York as a Visiting Professor to Columbia University, he died suddenly
of a heart attack in 1945, very shortly before Victory in Europe.
‘The Concept of the Symbol: Metaphysics of the Symbolic c. 1921–1927’, in:
Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. Volume 4: The Metaphysics
of Symbolic Forms with an Essay on Basis Phenomena, ed. John Michael Krois
and Donald Phillip Verene, trans. John Michael Krois (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1996), 223–34; 223.
Ernst Cassirer, ‘Der Begriff der symbolischen Form im Aufbau der
Geisteswissenschaften’, in: Vorträge der Bibliothek Warburg, ed. Fritz Saxl,
Vorträge 1921–22, I (Leipzig: Teubner, 1923), 11–39; 15, my translation. See
also Cassirer, Philosophy of Symbolic Forms [subsequently PSF], Vol. I: Language,
trans. Ralph Manheim (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953), 107; original
Cassirer, Philosophie der Symbolischen Formen [subsequently Philosophie], Vol. I,
Die Sprache [1923] (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1956),
43. For a later summary of the philosophy of symbolic forms, see Cassirer, An
Essay on Man: an Introduction to a Philosophy of Human Culture (New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1944).
For a helpful account of Warburg’s work see Philippe-Alain Michaud, Aby
Warburg and the Image in Motion, trans. Sophie Hawkes (New York: Zone
Books, 2004).
Cassirer, PSF, Vol II, Mythical Thought (1955), 64.
Ibid., 68.
Ibid., 69.
Ernst Cassirer, The Myth of the State (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1946),
3. For a critique of Cassirer’s concept of myth as expounded in this book, see
Hans Blumenberg, Work on Myth, trans. with an introduction by Robert M.
Wallace (Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press, 1985). Original: Arbeit am
Mythos (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1979).
Potts, ‘“Constable Country”’, 180. Potts quotes Herbert Read (ed.), Unit I: the
Modern Movement in English Painting, Architecture and Sculpture (1934). See also
Sam Smiles, ‘Equivalents for the Megaliths: Prehistory and English Culture,
1920–50’, in: Corbett, Holt and Russell (eds), The Geographies of Englishness
(2002), 199–223.
Potts, ‘“Constable Country”’, 180.
34. Grimble, Landscape, Writing and the ‘Condition of England’ (2004), 13.
35. Ibid., 7.
36. Stephen Daniels and Denis Cosgrove, ‘Introduction: Iconography and
Landscape’, in: Cosgrove and Daniels (eds), The Iconography of Landscape
(1988), 1–10; 1. In the same volume, Brian Osborne quotes a classic study
by Donald Meinig, who states that ‘[e]very mature nation has its symbolic
landscapes. They are part of the iconography of nationhood, part of the
shared ideas and memories and feelings which bind a people together.’
See D. W. Meinig, ‘Symbolic Landscapes: Some Idealizations of American
Communities’, in: Donald William Meinig (ed.), The Interpretation of Ordinary
Landscapes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 164, quoted from Brian
S. Osborne, ‘The Iconography of Nationhood in Canadian Art’, in: Cosgrove
and Daniels (eds), The Iconography of Landscape (1988), 162–78; 162.
37. Sir Ernest Barker (ed.), The Character of England (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1947), v. The volume treats ‘Land and People’, ‘The Individual and the
Community’, ‘Religion’, ‘Government’, ‘Law’, ‘The Organization of Industry’,
‘The Human Side of Industry’, ‘Commerce and Finance’, ‘Childhood and
Education’, ‘Universities and Scholarship’, ‘Science’, ‘The English Language’,
‘Literature’, ‘Thought’, ‘Humour’, ‘The Press’, ‘The Visual Arts’, ‘The Making
of Books’, ‘Music’ ‘Outdoor Life’, ‘Town Life’, ‘Recreation and Games’,
‘Homes and Habits’, ‘The Englishman Abroad’, ‘England and the Sea’, ‘The
English at War’ and ‘An Attempt at Perspective’.
38. Jacquetta and Christopher Hawkes, ‘Land and People’, in: Barker (ed.), The
Character of England (1947), 1–28; 3.
39. Sir Ernest Barker, ‘An Attempt at Perspective’, in: Barker (ed.), The Character
of England (1947), 550–75; 553. Subsequent page numbers will be given in
the main text.
40. The symbolic form of Englishness was also the centrepiece of the ‘Projection
of Britain’ to postwar Germany. On British cultural politics in Germany
after the war see Gabriele Clemens’ important study Britische Kulturpolitik in
Deutschland 1945–1949 (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1997).
41. Jacquetta Hawkes was an archaeologist and poet, a member of the Council
for the Preservation of Rural England, a campaigner for nuclear disarmament
and J. B. Priestley’s third wife.
42. Jacquetta Hawkes, A Land (London: The Cresset Press, 1951), 1. Further page
numbers will be given in the main text.
43. For this combination of ‘man and nature’ as described by Hawkes, the
German language provides the helpful term, Kulturlandschaft (culture
landscape). For a more detailed analysis of Hawkes’ A Land see my essay
‘England an Island: Englishness as a Symbolic Form in Jacquetta Hawkes’s
A Land (1951)’, in: Insular Mentalities. Mental Maps of Britain, ed. Jürgen
Kamm and Gerold Sedlmayr (Passau: Karl Stutz Verlag, 2007), 89–102.
44. William Wordsworth, ‘Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey’
[1798], in: William Wordsworth, The Oxford Authors, ed. Stephen Gill
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), 131–5, l. 82; 106–10. Hawkes quotes
line 81. For an analysis of the specific relation between perception, memory
and creation in Wordsworth’s work, see Aleida Assmann, ‘Wordsworth
und die Wunde der Zeit’, in: A. Assmann, Erinnerungsräume: Formen und
Wandlungen des kulturellen Gedächtnisses (München: Beck, 1999), 89–113.
45. See Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations: the Circulation of Social
Energy in Renaissance England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988).
46. T. S. Eliot, ‘The Waste Land’ [1922], in: Selected Poems (London: Faber &
Faber, 1988), 49–74; 64.
47. E. M. Forster, Howard’s End [1910] (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975), 165.
48. See Taylor, A Dream of England (1994), for a discussion of tourism and the
development of photography.
3. Memory: Shaping the Present out of the Past
1. Jan and Aleida Assmann, together with other colleagues at the University
of Konstanz and elsewhere, have worked on memory for over thirty years,
and their many publications are widely known in the German academy and
beyond. For the purposes of the present introduction, I will draw on two more
recent works. Aleida Assmann, Erinnerungsräume: Formen und Wandlungen des
kulturellen Gedächtnisses (München: Beck, 1999); Jan Assmann, Religion and
Cultural Memory, trans. Rodney Livingstone (Stanford: Stanford University
Press, 2006). Original: Jan Assmann, Das kulturelle Gedächtnis: Schrift,
Erinnerung und politische Identität in frühen Hochkulturen [1997] (München:
Beck, 2000). Jan Assmann’s book, which contains a concise explanation of
their theory, is now available in English, which will surely help disseminate
this important theory in the English-speaking world.
2. Assmann, Religion and Cultural Memory (2006), 3. See Maurice Halbwachs,
Les Cadres sociaux de la mémoire (1925) and La Mémoire collective (published
posthumously by J. Alexandre, Paris, 1985).
3. See A. Assmann, Erinnerungsräume (1999), particularly VI. ‘Funktionsgedächtnis
und Speichergedächtnis – Zwei Modi der Erinnerung’, 130–45.
4. Assmann, Religion and Cultural Memory (2006), 27.
5. Forces Romance (Imperial War Museum, River Records, 2001), CD sleeve text.
6. William K. Ferrell, Literature and Film as Modern Mythology (Westport, CT and
London: Praeger, 2000), 12.
4. Media: Challenging Modernism – the ‘Middlebrow’
and Memodrama
1. For challenges to the traditional accounts of modernism see, for example, Nicola Beauman, A Very Great Profession: the Woman’s Novel 1914–39
(London: Virago, 1983); Andy Croft, Red Letter Days: British Fiction in the
1930s (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1990); John Carey, The Intellectuals
and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice Among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880–1939
(London: Faber, 1992); John Baxendale and Chris Pawling (eds), Narrating the
Thirties. A Decade in the Making: 1930 to the Present (Basingstoke: Macmillan,
1996); Maria Dibattista and Lucy McDiarmid (eds), High and Low Moderns:
Literature and Culture, 1889–1939 (New York and Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1996); Janet Montefiore, Men and Women Writers of the 1930s: the
Dangerous Flood of History (London and New York: Routledge, 1996); Gill
Plain, Women’s Fiction of the Second World War (New York: St. Martin’s Press,
1996); Patrick Quinn, Recharting the Thirties (Selinsgrove: Susquehanna
University Press, 1996); Jenny Hartley, Millions Like Us: British Women’s Fiction
of the Second World War (London: Virago, 1997); Karen Schneider, Loving
Arms: British Women Writing the Second World War (Lexington: University
Press of Kentucky, 1997); Keith Williams and Steven Matthews, Rewriting
the Thirties: Modernism and After (London: Longman, 1997); Patrick Deane,
History in Our Hands: a Critical Anthology of Writings on Literature, Culture and
Politics From the 1930s (New York: Leicester University Press, 1998); Heather
Ingman, Women’s Fiction Between the Wars: Mothers, Daughters and Writing
(New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998); Phyllis Lassner, British Women Writers
of World War II: Battlegrounds of Their Own (New York: St. Martin’s Press,
1998); Maroula Joannou, Women Writers of the 1930s: Gender, Politics, and
History (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999); Tyrus Miller, Late
Modernism: Politics, Fiction, and the Arts Between the Wars (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1999); Michael North, Reading 1922: a Return to the Scene
of the Modern (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); Lynn
Hapgood and Nancy Paxton, Outside Modernism: In Pursuit of the English
Novel 1900–30 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000); Elizabeth Maslen,
Political and Social Issues in British Women’s Fiction (Basingstoke: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2001); Stella Deen (ed.), Challenging Modernism: New Readings
in Literature and Culture, 1914–1945 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002); Patrick LeeBrowne, The Modernist Period 1900–1945: English Literature in its Historical,
Cultural and Social Contexts (New York: Facts on File, 2003); Kristin Bluemel,
George Orwell and the Radical Eccentrics: Intermodernism in Literary London
(Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004); Ina Habermann, ‘Modifikationen
des Modernismus – Medialität, Identität, Populärkultur’, in: Vera Nünning
(ed.), Eine Kulturgeschichte der englischen Literatur: Von der Renaissance bis zur
Gegenwart (Tübingen and Basel: UTB/Francke, 2005), 251–64.
For a pioneering and now classic study of mass media, see Stuart Hall,
‘Culture, the Media and the “Ideological Effect”’, in: James Curran, Michael
Gurevitch and Janet Woollacott (eds), Mass Communication and Society
(London: Arnold, 1977), 315–48. See also Clive Bloom (ed.), Literature
and Culture in Modern Britain, Vol. I: 1900–1929 (London and New York:
Longman, 1993); Keith Williams, British Writers and the Media 1930–45
(Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996); and Nick Hayes and Jeff Hill (eds), ‘Millions
Like Us’? British Culture in the Second World War (Liverpool: Liverpool
University Press 1999).
Sandra Kemp, Charlotte Mitchell and David Trotter, Edwardian Fiction:
an Oxford Companion (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press,
1997), 328.
Ibid., xxiii.
For some criticism on the middlebrow see Rosa Maria Bracco, British
Middlebrow Writers and the First World War, 1919–39 (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1989); R. M. Bracco, Betwixt and Between: Middlebrow
Fiction and English Society in the Twenties and Thirties (Parkville: University
of Melbourne Press, 1990); Joan Shelley Rubin, The Making of Middlebrow
Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992); Teresa
Mangum, Married, Middlebrow, and Militant: Sarah Grand and the New Woman
Novel (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998); Mary Grover,
The Authenticity of the Middlebrow: Warwick Deeping and Cultural Legitimacy,
1903–1940 (Sheffield: Sheffield Hallam University, 2002); Lisa Botshon and
Meredith Goldsmith (eds), Middlebrow Moderns: Popular American Women
Writers of the 1920s (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2003); Christina
Klein, Cold War Orientalism: Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination 1945–1961
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).
Baxendale and Pawling, Narrating the Thirties (1996), 49.
Punch, 23 December 1925, 673. Quoted from Melba Cuddy-Keane, Virginia
Woolf, the Intellectual, and the Public Sphere (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2003), 18–19; 200. On the role of the BBC in wartime see Siân Nicholas,
‘The People’s Radio: the BBC and its Audience, 1939–1945’, in: Hayes and
Hill (eds), ‘Millions Like Us’? (1999), 62–92 as well as the classic study by Asa
Briggs, The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, Vol. I The Birth of
Broadcasting [1961], Vol. II: The Golden Age of Wireless [1965], Vol. III: The
War of Words [1970] (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).
Arnold Bennett, ‘Queen of the High-Brows’, Evening Standard, 28 November
1929; reprinted in Virginia Woolf: the Critical Heritage, 258, 259. Quoted from
Cuddy-Keane, Virginia Woolf (2003), 17; 200. The Diaries of Virginia Woolf,
Vol. 3, entry of 8 September 1930.
J. B. Priestley, ‘High, Low, Broad’, Saturday Review, 20 February 1926, 222,
reprinted in Open House: a Book of Essays (London: Heinemann, 1929), 162,
165. Quoted in Cuddy-Keane, Virginia Woolf (2003), 27; 201.
Virginia Woolf, ‘Middlebrow’, in: Virginia Woolf, The Death of the Moth and
Other Essays (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1942), 176–86; 176.
See Part II, chapter 4 in Q. D. Leavis, Fiction and the Reading Public [1932]
(London: Pimlico, 2000).
J. B. Priestley, ‘Too Simple?’, in: Delight (London: Heinemann, 1949; New
York: Harper, 1949), quoted in The Priestley Companion: Extracts From the
Writings of J. B. Priestley Selected by Himself (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1951),
Nicola Humble, The Feminine Middlebrow Novel 1920s to 1950s: Class,
Domesticity, and Bohemianism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 3.
Winifred Holtby, South Riding [1936] (London: Virago, 2003), 49.
Light, Forever England (1991).
Woolf, ‘Middlebrow’, 177.
William Temple, ‘The Resources and Influence of English Literature’,
The First Annual Lecture of the National Book Council, delivered by His
Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr William Temple, at Caxton Hall,
Westminster on 21 May 1943, 16, copy at the British Library.
5. Steak-and-Kidney Pie in the Land of Cockaigne
1. Vincent Brome, J. B. Priestley (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1988), 432,
quoting The Times, 14 September 1964. For biographical information
and criticism on Priestley see Ivor Brown, J. B. Priestley (London: Longman,
1957); David Hughes, J. B. Priestley: an Informal Study of his Work (London:
Hart-Davis, 1958); Kenneth Young, J. B. Priestley (London: Longman, 1977);
John Braine, J. B. Priestley (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1978); John
Atkins, J. B. Priestley: the Last of the Sages (London: John Calder, 1981);
Holger Klein, J. B. Priestley’s Plays (London: Macmillan, 1988); Diana
Collins, Time and the Priestleys: the Story of a Friendship (Stroud: Sutton,
1994); Supriya Sengupta, J. B. Priestley: a Study of his Major Novels & Plays
(Jaipur: Printwell, 1996, originally written in 1955); Judith Cook, Priestley
(London: Bloomsbury, 1997); Dulcie Gray, J. B. Priestley (Stroud: Sutton,
2000); Holger Klein, J. B. Priestley’s Fiction (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2002);
John Baxendale, Priestley’s England (Manchester: Manchester University
Press, 2007).
Brome, J. B. Priestley (1988), 432.
Ibid., 480.
See for example Priestley’s account of this in Midnight on the Desert: a Chapter
of Autobiography [1937] (Geneva: Heron Books, n.d.), 247–84 and my brief
discussion of Dunne’s theory in the introduction.
See Priestley, Margin Released (London: Heinemann, 1962), 215.
Priestley, Midnight on the Desert (1937), 16.
Ibid., 14.
Priestley, Margin Released 180.
J. B. Priestley, Literature and Western Man (London: Heinemann, 1960), 416.
Priestley also makes this point in Margin Released (1962), 178–9.
Sengupta, J. B. Priestley, 185.
Priestley, Margin Released (1962), 177. Priestley’s approach in fact recalls
that of earlier socially committed novelists. For example, George Eliot
believes that aesthetic teaching makes ideas ‘thoroughly incarnate’, but
that it must not lapse ‘from the picture to the diagram’. The George Eliot
Letters, ed. Gordon S. Haight, vol. IV (London: Oxford University Press,
1956), 300–1.
Priestley, Margin Released (1962), 192.
In Margin Released, Priestley notes the effect of the dissemination of his work:
‘If you are as prolific as I have been, you find something you have written
turning up in the oddest places, travellers often obligingly reporting the
discovery of a book of yours in the mysterious reaches of the Amazon or in
some engineer’s cabin among the icebergs. You toss a tale or some chapters
of autobiography into the pool and the ripples go out and out, on and on.’
Priestley, Margin Released (1962), 182.
J. B. Priestley, The Good Companions [1929] (St Albans: Granada, 1981), 11–12.
For an account of the cultural significance of the music hall and its relation
to other media, see Andy Medhurst, ‘Music Hall and British Cinema’, in:
Charles Barr (ed.), All Our Yesterdays: 90 Years of British Cinema (London: BFI
Publishing, 1986), 168–88.
J. B. Priestley, They Walk in the City [1936] (Leipzig: Tauchnitz, 1937), 7.
Hussey, The Fairy Land of England, 4. Hussey discusses Highways, Ways and
Hedgerows, Castles, Manor Houses, Country Houses, Gardens, Abbeys and
Churches, Villages, County Towns, and Inns.
Ibid., 3.
J. B. Priestley, Faraway (London: Heinemann, 1933), 412–14.
Ebbatson, An Imaginary England, 109.
Diana Loxley, Problematic Shores (London: Macmillan, 1990), 117, quoted in
Ebbatson, An Imaginary England (2005), 121.
6. English Journeys
1. Paul Fussell, Abroad: British Literary Travelling Between the Wars (New York and
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980).
2. There was a noticeable interest in early travel accounts in the interwar
period. Defoe’s A Tour Through England and Wales was republished by
Everyman (London: Dent, 1928), Arthur Young’s Tours in England and Wales
were published in 1932 as No. 5 in the Scarce Tracts in Economics Series
by the London School of Economics from Selections From the Annals of
Agriculture and Other Useful Arts, 1784–1798, and Cobbett’s Rural Rides
were widely available. For the nineteenth-century discourse of social exploration see Peter Keating, Into Unknown England 1866–1913: Selections From the
Social Explorers [1976] (Glasgow: Fontana/Collins, 1978).
3. Baxendale and Pawling, Narrating the Thirties (1996), 15.
4. Michael Bartholomew, In Search of H. V. Morton (London: Methuen, 2004).
My brief account of Morton’s background relies on Bartholomew’s pioneering work.
5. Matless, Landscape and Englishness, 64.
6. Jonathan Culler, ‘The Semiotics of Tourism’, in: Jonathan Culler, Framing
the Sign: Criticism and Its Institutions (Oxford: Blackwell, 1988), 153–67;
157. For the distinction between tourist and traveller in the context of ‘the
nineteenth century’s ambivalent confrontation with a democratizing and
institutionalizing tourism’ (5) see James Buzard, The Beaten Track: European
Tourism, Literature, and the Ways to Culture, 1800–1918 (Oxford: Clarendon
Press 1993). ‘The master-trope for my investigation is named in my title.
If there is one dominant and recurrent image in the annals of the modern
tour, it is surely that of the beaten track, which succinctly designates the
space of the “touristic” as a region in which all experience is predictable and
repetitive, all cultures and objects mere “touristy” self-parodies’ (4). See also
the classic study by Dean MacCannell, The Tourist: a New Theory of the Leisure
Class [1976] (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).
7. Taylor, A Dream of England, 7; 14.
8. Matless, Landscape and Englishness (1998), 67.
9. Morton, In Search of England [1927], (2002), xviii–xix. The editor, Simon
Jenkins, sees Morton as a ‘determined nostalgic’ (vii) and concludes that
the people ‘need the country as much as ever. To that extent, Morton was
right’ (xiii).
10. Bartholomew also emphasizes the fact that Morton developed a persona
for his travel writings and that, although ‘the success of the book depends
entirely on the reader’s being convinced that the events narrated really
happened’, the account has the shape of a novel and ‘the narrator is a
literary persona, a version of himself or herself, invented by the author.’
Bartholomew, In Search of H. V. Morton (2004), xvii.
11. Morton, In Search of England (2002), 3–5.
12. H. V. Morton was personally interested in spiritualism and repeatedly tried
to contact his deceased and beloved mother in séances.
13. Hugh Trevor-Roper, ‘The Invention of Tradition: the Highland Tradition
of Scotland’, in: Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (eds), The Invention of
Tradition [1983] (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 15–41.
14. Bartholomew, In Search of H. V. Morton (2004), 124–5.
15. Ibid., 112. He sought to redress the balance somewhat unsuccessfully with
his next book The Call for England (1928).
16. Matless, Landscape and Englishness (1998), 63.
17. Ibid., 84–6.
18. The Beauty of Britain: a Pictorial Survey, The Pilgrims’ Library, ed. Charles
Bradley Ford, introd. J. B. Priestley (London: Batsford, 1935), vii.
19. Ibid., 10. For influential contributions to the discourse of preservationism
and the dangers of ribbon development see Clough Williams Ellis, England
and the Octopus (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1928) and Britain and the Beast
(London: Dent, 1938) by the same author. Ellis was one of the founders of
the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, which came into existence in 1926 and has been an active charity ever since, from 1969 under
the name Council for the Protection of Rural England, and since 2003
under the name Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, always
abbreviated as CPRE. The National Trust was founded in 1895.
20. Thomas Burke, The Beauty of England (London, Bombay & Sydney: George
G. Harrap, 1933), 32.
21. Ibid., 30–1.
22. Ibid., 16.
23. Ibid., 11, 13.
24. Taylor, A Dream of England (1994), 19.
25. Ibid., 20.
26. Ibid., 135.
27. Ibid., 138, 139, 142.
28. In fact, this impulse to participate has been an ingredient of depictions of
landscape from an early point. As Simon Grimble argues, landscape ‘speaks
of a space that has no centre, yet which invites the observer to locate
himself within it: a viewer looks at a seventeenth-century Dutch interior
painting and realises there is no place for him inside, whilst a Constable
does tender that invitation’. Grimble, Landscape, Writing and the ‘Condition
of England’ (2004), 26. See also Pierre Bourdieu, Photography: a Middle-brow
Art (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1996). For a photographic expression of
Englishness as a symbolic form, see Bill Brandt, The English at Home (London:
Batsford, 1936). Brandt was born in Hamburg in 1904 as Hermann Wilhelm
Brandt and came to London in 1931.
29. H. V. Morton, I Saw Two Englands, revisited and photographed 50 years on
by Tommy Candler (London: Methuen, 1989), 42.
30. J. B. Priestley, English Journey. Being a Rambling but Truthful Account of What
One Man Saw and Heard and Felt and Thought During a Journey Through
England During the Autumn of the Year 1933 [1934] (London: Heinemann,
1968), 233.
31. Keating, Into Unknown England (1978).
32. Andrew Higson, Waving the Flag: Constructing a National Cinema in Britain
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), 181.
33. Ibid., 190, 194.
34. Ibid., 186.
35. Marsha Bryant, ‘Auden and the Homoerotics of the 1930s Documentary’,
in: Mosaic 30:2 (1997), 69–92; 71, 90.
36. George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier [1937] (Harmondsworth: Penguin,
2001), 156.
37. Martin J. Wiener, English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit,
1850–1980 [1981] (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
38. Matless, Landscape and Englishness (1998), 35. See also Chris Stephens, ‘Ben
Nicholson: Modernism, Craft and the English Vernacular’, in: Corbett, Holt
and Russell (eds), The Geographies of Englishness (2002), 225–47. As Stephens
notes, ‘one can argue that in the two decades between the wars the recovery
of specifically English vernacular traditions gave craft and, by association, the
handmade surface, a nationalistic dimension’ (245). This is part of a process
characterized by ‘the feminisation of British culture and the positing of the
private and domestic as key components of a modern consciousness’ (245).
39. For the persistence of these traditions in the interwar period, see Fiona Russell,
‘John Ruskin, Herbert Read and the Englishness of British Modernism’, in:
Corbett, Holt and Russell (eds), The Geographies of Englishness (2002), 303–21.
Russell states that ‘[b]oth [Herbert] Read and [Paul] Nash were anxious to
root the Modern Movement in Britain’s “solid traditions”. To this end, both
created a series of purpose-built lingeages: for Nash, Regency furniture was
the best example of modern British design; for Read, pottery was the quintessential modern English art form. But it is striking that these lineages were
largely made up of objects and styles, rather than ideas. […] The presence of
Ruskin in Read’s work, however, points to a potentially rich British resource
of ideas, a resource which raised insistent and pertinent questions about
the circumstances – political and social – under which art was and could
be made’ (306). See also Grimble, Landscape, Writing and ‘The Condition of
England’ (2004). For a more bourgeois discourse of moral and social improvement, see Diana Maltz, British Aestheticism and the Urban Working Classes,
1870–1900: Beauty For the People (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).
40. On the Frankfurt School, see Jean Seaton, ‘The Sociology of the Mass Media’,
in: James Curran and Jean Seaton, Power Without Responsibility: the Press and
Broadcasting in Britain [1981] (London: Routledge, 1991), 249–76; 249–56.
41. In his short discussion of Priestley’s English Journey, Philip Dodd hastily conflates
the ‘real enduring England’, which he also mentions in passing, with Priestley’s
Old England ‘of ministers and manors and inns, of Parson and Squire’. There
is no warrant for this, and while Dodd’s judgement that ‘Priestley, the traveller, could observe only division and conflict in England in 1934 [sic], but that
Priestley, the citizen, wished to see unity’ may be valid, his analysis remains
very much on the surface. Philip Dodd, ‘The Views of Travellers: Travel Writing
in the 1930s’, in: Prose Studies 5:1 (1982), 127–38; 129.
42. Brome, J. B. Priestley (1988), 326.
43. Ibid., 146.
44. See Matless, Landscape and Englishness (1998), 279.
45. Collins, Time and the Priestleys (1994), 192; 204.
46. Brome, J. B. Priestley (1988), 412.
47. Susan Cooper, J. B. Priestley: Portrait of an Author (London: Heinemann,
1970), 157.
48. J.B. Priestley, Rain Upon Godshill (London: Heinemann, 1941), 214.
49. Ibid., 212.
50. Priestley, English Journey (1968), 409.
51. Ibid., 404.
52. For a different opinion on The Road to Wigan Pier see Taylor, A Dream of
England (1994) in chapter 5, ‘Documentary Raids and Rebuffs’, 166–71.
Taylor sees Wigan Pier as a problematic text because Orwell did not produce
the documentary-style work that the Left Book Club had wished for. Thus,
Gollancz included an explanatory preface and photographs of distressed
areas. ‘While Orwell talked of Lancashire and Yorkshire, the photographs
reproduced views of Wales and London; while Orwell attacked the Left, it
distanced itself from Orwell through the foreword and the photographs.
The Left interrupted the authorial voice, and disturbed the credibility of its
witness’ (168). For a more ‘appropriate’ left-wing documentation, Taylor
points to Wal Hannington, The Problem of the Distressed Areas (London:
Victor Gollancz, 1937). Nowadays, the offending passages contribute largely
to the continued interest of Wigan Pier. For a recent discussion of Orwell’s
politics see Philip Bounds, Orwell and Marxism: the Political and Cultural
Thinking of George Orwell (London: I. B. Tauris, 2009).
53. George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia [1938] (London: Secker & Warburg,
1959), 248.
54. Priestley, Rain Upon Godshill (1941), 211.
55. George Orwell, ‘The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius’
[1941], in: The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, ed. Sonia
Orwell and Ian Angus, vol. II (London: Secker & Warburg, 1968), 56–109; 57.
56. Ibid., 68.
57. Ibid., 78, 96.
58. Ibid., 109.
59. George Orwell, ‘The English People’ [1943/47], in: The Collected Essays,
Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, 1–38; 6.
60. Ibid., 19.
61. George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four [1949] (London: Secker & Warburg,
1959), 34.
62. Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (London: Chatto & Windus,
1973), 10.
63. For a political account of this preoccupation with the past, see Patrick
Wright, On Living in an Old Country: the National Past in Contemporary Britain
(London and New York: Verso, 1985).
64. Michael Bunce, The Countryside Ideal: Anglo-American Images of Landscape
(London and New York: Routledge, 1994), 8.
65. Ibid., 206.
66. Ibid., 208.
67. Bartholomew, H. V. Morton (2004), xi.
7. Addressing the People
1. For a recent helpful overview of Priestley’s broadcasting career, see Peter
Buitenhuis, ‘J. B. Priestley: the BBC’s Star Propagandist in World War II’, in:
English Studies in Canada 26 (2000), 445–72.
2. See, for example, Tom Henthorne, ‘Priestley’s War: Social Change and the
British Novel, 1939–1945’, in: The Midwest Quarterly 45:2 (2004), 155–67.
Henthorne argues that Priestley continued his political struggle in novels
which were less susceptible to censorship and government control.
Jean Seaton, ‘Broadcasting History’, in: Curran and Seaton, Power Without
Responsibility (1991), 129–233; 166.
J. B. Priestley, Out of the People (London: Collins, in association with
Heinemann, 1941), 18.
Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), 103.
Orwell, ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’ (1941), 109.
J. B. Priestley, British Women Go to War (London: Collins, 1943), 19.
J. B. Priestley, Britain at War (New York and London: Harper & Brothers,
1942), 20.
I am relying here on the collection Britain Speaks (New York and London:
Harper & Brothers, 1940), which carries a somewhat confusing notice on
the flyleaf: ‘This story is published in England under the title of Postscripts.’
This is actually not true, because the Postscripts published in London by
Heinemann in 1940, with a second edition in 1941, are Priestley’s domestic talks, which were published later in the USA under the title All England
Listened, the Wartime Broadcasts of J. B. Priestley, ed. & introd. by E. Sevared
(New York: Chilmark, 1967), with an additional preface by Priestley. Peter
Buitenhuis is one of the few people to discuss the Britain Speaks series, but
he adds to the confusion by asserting that they were never published. See
Buitenhuis, ‘J. B. Priestley’ (2000), 449, 469.
Postscripts published according to Jeffrey Butcher’s bibliography: ‘Excursion
to Hell’, Listener, 13 June 1940; ‘The Hour of Greatness’, Answers, 20 July
1940; ‘Out with the Parashots’, Answers, 27 July 1940; ‘Dark Face of
Germany’, Answers, 3 August 1940; ‘Two-Ton Annie’, Answers, 10 August
1940; ‘That’s the stuff to give ’em’, Answers, 17 August 1940; ‘A Trip to
Margate’, Answers, 27 August 1940; ‘There Must Be No Going Back’, Answers,
31 August 1940; ‘Happy Landings for Heroes’, Answers, 7 September 1940;
‘Long, Long Trail from August 1914’, Answers, 14 September 1940; ‘Hard
Work and High Jinks’, Answers, 21 September 1940; ‘Don’t Let the War
Get You Down’, Answers, 28 September 1940; ‘War Anniversary’, Answers,
5 October 1940; ‘The Bright Face of Danger’, Answers, 12 October 1940;
‘London Can Take It’, Answers, 19 October 1940; ‘The Triumph of the
Women’, Answers, 26 October 1940; ‘The Pie They Couldn’t Bomb’, Answers,
2 November 1940; ‘I’m Not Blaming Anybody, But’, Answers, 9 November
1940; ‘Ribbentrop Should Have Met “Ma”’, Answers, 16 November 1940;
‘My Last Postscript’, Answers, 23 November 1940; ‘Dunkirk – Excursion
to Hell’, Answers, 30 November 1940. ‘Excursion to Hell’ was also published as a contribution to Home From Dunkirk (London: Murray, 1940).
Talks from the Britain Speaks series published: Britain Speaks, Listener,
27 June 1940; ‘Britain Speaks, the Sign of the Double Cross and a Word
to Intellectuals’, Listener, 4 July 1940; ‘The Three Faces of Nazism and
American Criticism’, Listener, 11 July 1940; ‘Camp and Kitchen and Nazi
Tales’, Listener, 18 July 1940; ‘As the Broadcaster Sees It and The Parent’s
Dilemma’, Listener, 25 July 1940; ‘Pott and Kettle Dynics’, London Calling,
22 August 1940; ‘Britain’s Ordinary Folk’, London Calling, 29 August 1940;
‘This Air-Raid Life of Ours’, London Calling, 12 September 1940; ‘The Spirit
of London’, London Calling, 26 September 1940. At the same time, Priestley
also published in the New Statesman, the Sunday Express, Horizon, The
Spectator, Daily Telegraph, Picture Post, News Chronicle, and Reynold’s News.
Jeffrey R. Butcher, The Works of J. B. Priestley: Classified and Chronological
Lists (Leyland: J. R. Butcher, 1993). See also Alan Edwin Day, J. B. Priestley:
an Annotated Bibliography (Stroud: Ian Hodgkins, 2001).
Priestley, Postscripts (1940), 69–70.
Anthony Weymouth (ed.), The English Spirit: J. B. Priestley – Sir Philip
Gibbs – Philip Guedalla – Somerset Maugham – Sir Hugh Walpole and others
(London: Allen & Unwin, 1942), 7.
Priestley, Postscripts (1940), 6.
J. B. Priestley, Daylight on Saturday: a Novel About an Aircraft Factory (London:
Heinemann, 1943), 306.
Priestley, Margin Released (1962), 193.
This famous phrase was coined by John Shearman in the Documentary
News Letter with respect to the Crown Film Unit’s film Western Approaches
(1944). See John Shearman, ‘Wartime Wedding’, Documentary News Letter
6/54, Nov.–Dec. 1946, 53, quoted from James Chapman, The British at War:
Cinema, State and Propaganda, 1939–1945 (London: I. B. Tauris 1998), 137.
ITMA (‘It’s that man again’), developed by Tommy Handley with the
scriptwriter Ted Kavanagh, was a comedy series which ‘sparkled through
the life of the nation like bubbles through soda water’. Calder, The People’s
War, 362.
Elizabeth Bowen, The Heat of the Day [1948] (London: Vintage, 1998), 93.
J. B. Priestley, Blackout in Gretley, A Story of, and For Wartime (London:
Heinemann, 1942) republished in a ‘Classic Thrillers’ series (London: Dent,
1987), 8.
J. B. Priestley, Three Men in New Suits [1945] (London: Allison and Busby,
1984), 16.
J. B. Priestley, Bright Day [1946] (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 1.
8. Dreamtime in Cornwall
1. For biographies and monographs on Daphne du Maurier, see Judith Cook,
Daphne: a Portrait of Daphne du Maurier (London: Bantam, 1991); Alison
Light, Forever England (1991); Margaret Forster, Daphne du Maurier [1993]
(London: Arrow, 1994); Flavia Leng, Daphne du Maurier: a Daughter’s Memoir
(Edinburgh and London: Mainstream Publishing, 1994); Avril Horner and
Sue Zlosnik, Daphne du Maurier: Writing, Identity and the Gothic Imagination
(Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998); Nina Auerbach, Daphne du Maurier: Haunted
Heiress (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000).
2. See for example Daphne du Maurier, Enchanted Cornwall: Her Pictorial Memoir
(London: Penguin and Pilot, 1989), ed. Piers Dudgeon with photographs by
Nick Wright. This memoir interweaves episodes of du Maurier’s life with
her novels and picturesque photographs of Cornish scenes, explaining the
inspiration for each novel and giving a rather sanitized account of both life
and work.
3. Light, ‘Daphne du Maurier’s Romance with the Past’, in: Forever England (1991),
156–207; 156. For an earlier version of the chapter see Light, ‘“Returning to
Manderley”: Romance Fiction, Female Sexuality and Class’, in: Feminist Review
16 (1984), 7–25.
Grimble, Landscape Writing and ‘The Condition of England’, 13. For a send-up
of the trope of family as nation and history as genealogy see the Blackadder
series starring Rowan Atkinson where the ‘filthy genes’ of ‘Blackadder’ surface
again and again at crucial stages in the country’s history.
Du Maurier, Enchanted Cornwall (1989), Foreword.
Among the few critical analyses of du Maurier’s work, one focus has been
on class. In Forever England (1991) Alison Light sees du Maurier in the
interwar period as catering to a snug, private middle class in need of escapist fantasies as supplied by the author’s ‘romance with the past’. Malcolm
Kelsall, in ‘Manderley Revisited: Rebecca and the English Country House’,
in: Proceedings of the British Academy, 82 (1993), 303–15, sees her as an
‘upwardly mobile writer’ afraid of the ‘proletariat’ (310). Other studies
have emphasized gender and psychology. See, for example, Tania Modleski,
‘“Never to be Thirty-six Years Old”: Rebecca as Female Oedipal Drama’, in:
Wide Angle 5:1 (1982), 34–41; Mary Ann Doane, ‘Caught and Rebecca: the
Inscription of Femininity as Absence’, in: Constance Penley (ed.), Feminism
and Film Theory (New York and London: Routledge and BFI Publishing,
1988), 186–215; Auerbach, Daphne du Maurier (2000). Horner and Zlosnik,
in Daphne du Maurier (1998), have made the most persistent attempt to
place du Maurier in the tradition of gothic literature.
Cook, Daphne (1991), 230.
For extended discussions of these issues see Forster, Daphne du Maurier
(1994), Zlosnik and Horner, Daphne du Maurier (1998) and Auerbach, Daphne
du Maurier (2000).
Quoted in Brome, J. B. Priestley (1988), 178.
J. W. Dunne, An Experiment With Time [1927/1929/1934] (Basingstoke:
Papermac, 1981), Note on the Second Edition, 8.
Ibid., 236–7.
Ibid., 237–8. In The Serial Universe (London: Faber & Faber, 1934), J. W. Dunne
places his Serialism in the context of these findings of modern physics. This
book, replete with diagrams, figures and formulas, has a less popular appeal
than An Experiment With Time with its accounts of dreams and premonitions.
In contrast, Dunne tries to restate the theory of Serialism in a way acceptable
to scientists.
Cook, Daphne (1991), 40. As she is usually classed as a writer of women’s
romance fiction, the strong supernatural element in du Maurier’s writing
often goes unacknowledged. Neil Wilson’s Shadows in the Attic: a Guide to
British Supernatural Fiction 1820–1950 (Boston Spa and London: The British
Library, 2000) offers a substantial bibliography of supernatural writing
which includes neither George nor Daphne du Maurier, although by rights
it should, according to its definition of the supernatural. Highbrow artists
and writers tend to explore new techniques of painting and narrative while
middlebrow writers like Priestley and du Maurier engage with the new ideas
on the plot level, as do writers of science fiction.
Alison Light also points to this: ‘In this imagination every family becomes
a kind of lineage and it is not an ancestral home which is threatened with
loss but family itself which must be protected as the central way in which
individuals make sense of themselves and social changes. Families become
the true histories, a connective sense of the past which makes it organic like
a “family tree”, with “roots” and “branches”, where we can place ourselves.’
Light, Forever England (1991), 194.
The dedication runs: ‘In the belief that there are thirty-one descendants of
Louis-Mathurin Busson du Maurier and his wife Ellen Jocelyn Clarke alive
to-day, this story of the past is dedicated to all of them, with affection.’ In
terms of family history, the account is in fact rather iconoclastic, because
Daphne du Maurier emphasizes the important role of the disreputable Mary
Anne Clarke and explodes the family myth that ‘du Maurier’ was an aristocratic name. In fact, the Bussons had taken the name from a farm estate
where they lived, called ‘le Maurier’. Du Maurier edited her grandfather’s
letters in 1951, revisited family history with the novels Mary Anne (1954),
The Glass Blowers (1963) and, somewhat obliquely, The Parasites (1949). She
also published Gerald: a Portrait (1934), a rather outspoken biography of
her father written shortly after his death. Family history and biography was
also a favourite subject for her non-fiction; she wrote a biography of Patrick
Branwell Brontë, The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë (1960) and studies
of the Bacon family – Golden Lads: Anthony Bacon, Francis and their Friends
(1976) and The Winding Stair: Francis Bacon, his Rise and Fall (1976), all published by Gollancz. When Daphne du Maurier died in 1989, her children
reacted in the family spirit. Her beloved son Christopher (‘Kits’), who had
contributed photographs to his mother’s writings on Cornwall, went to live
with his family in Ferryside, the du Maurier’s first house in Cornwall, and
her younger daughter Flavia wrote a biography of her mother, or rather an
account of their family life. It is an intriguing and often moving account,
candid, laconic, unflinching and sometimes critical, but also generous and
humorous. In characteristic du Maurier style, the account begins: ‘I dream
often that my mother is still alive. I suppose the unconscious mind is not yet
reconciled to the fact that she is dead.’ The book ends with a kind of apotheosis: ‘I feel I have no “roots” left, that they were blown away when Tessa, Kits
and I scattered Bing’s ashes over her chosen spot, above the Cornish cliffs,
the fitful April sun shining bright upon the calm and distant sea. A lone
gull mewed a final farewell overhead, and as we three stood there we did
not mourn, for we knew that our beloved Bing was free at last to go to that
“never never land”, where she had always believed that “Daddy” would be
waiting in his boat for her and together they would sail into infinity.’ Leng,
Daphne du Maurier, 11; 206.
See Cook, Daphne (1991), 68–9.
Daphne du Maurier, The Du Mauriers (London: Gollancz, 1937), 330–1.
Ibid., 331.
Ibid., 334. For the importance of the English Channel/la Manche in literature and cultural history, see Dominic Rainsford, Literature, Identity and the
English Channel: Narrow Seas Expanded (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan,
2002). Rainsford notes that a number of authors, among them William
Wordsworth, experienced ‘the Channel as the physical correlative of
a fractured family life’ (29). Rainsford does not mention du Maurier, but his
statement is certainly true of her. As Rainsford concludes, the Channel ‘lets
fresh air and water into a particular part of the world, but it symbolises the
monitory and invigorating effects that might be associated with borders
everywhere: geographical moments where identities are interrupted or
exchanged, but, for a while, not taken for granted, and open to supplementation and renewal’ (159).
Daphne du Maurier, The Loving Spirit [1931] (London: Arrow Books, 1994),
11, 16.
For the Victorian connection of femininity with spiritualism, see Alex Owen,
The Darkened Room: Women, Power and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England
(London: Virago, 1989).
See Forster, Daphne du Maurier (1994), 158ff. Frenchman’s Creek is singled
out as ‘the only one of my novels that I am prepared to admit is romantic’.
Du Maurier, Enchanted Cornwall (1989), 89. Du Maurier often said that she
tried to lift the wartime gloom by revisiting her enchanting honeymoon
on Tommy’s boat Ygdrasil in Frenchman’s Creek. Of course, the fact that
she was also working through her attraction to Christopher Puxley was
not meant to become public. The novel is dedicated to Puxley and his wife
Daphne du Maurier, Frenchman’s Creek [1941] (London: Arrow Books, 1992),
11–12. Subsequent page numbers will be given in the main text.
See Light, Forever England (1991), 180.
See Jeffrey Richards, Films and British National Identity from Dickens to Dad’s
Army (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1997), 125.
On the issue of marital relations, see Carol Smart, ‘Good Wives and Moral
Lives: Marriage and Divorce 1937–51’, in: Christine Gledhill and Gillian
Swanson (eds), Nationalising Femininity: Culture, Sexuality and British
Cinema in the Second World War (Manchester: Manchester University Press,
1996), 91–105. Smart also discusses Brief Encounter. For an interesting
empirical study (based on questionnaires) of attitudes about love, sex,
marriage, children, law, religion and morality in the years after World War
Two, see Geoffrey Gorer, Exploring English Character (London: The Cresset
Press, 1955).
9. From Gothic to Memodrama
1. See Margarette Lincoln, ‘Shipwreck Narratives of the Eighteenth and Early
Nineteenth Century’, in: British Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 20
(1997), 155–72; 155. Lincoln identifies the ‘earliest collection of narratives of
shipwrecks’ as ‘Mr James Janeway’s legacy to his friends, containing twenty-seven
famous instances of God’s Providence in and about sea-dangers and deliverances
(London 1675)’ (159).
2. Alain Corbin, The Lure of the Sea: the Discovery of the Seaside in the Western
World 1750–1840, trans. Jocelyn Phelps (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1994), 223, 225.
3. For a more detailed analysis of the wrecking tale and du Maurier’s contribution to the tradition, see my essay ‘Death by Water: the Theory and Practice
of Shipwrecking’, in: B. Klein (ed.), Fictions of the Sea: Critical Perspectives
on the Ocean in British Literature and Culture (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002),
4. Incidentally, the name of the house, Jamaica Inn, suggests that these cargoes
are mostly the fruits of a prior injustice, namely the colonial trade. However,
du Maurier did not invent the name, and the implications of colonial trade
are not explored in the novel. During an excursion with her friend Foy
Quiller-Couch, she visited the real ‘Jamaica Inn’ where she was inspired,
having also read Stevenson’s Treasure Island. It is tempting but, I think,
unwarranted to argue for more than a small element of ‘exotic’ excitement
in this context. Du Maurier prefaces her book with the customary disclaimer
about the fictional nature of her descriptions. Daphne du Maurier, Jamaica
Inn [1936] (London: Pan Books, 1976).
5. Ibid., 32, 38.
6. Du Maurier, Enchanted Cornwall (1989), 101, 52.
7. See Patsy Stoneman, Brontë Transformations: the Cultural Dissemination of Jane
Eyre and Wuthering Heights (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1996).
For criticism on the gothic, see Ann Williams, Art of Darkness: a Poetics of
Gothic (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1995); Richard
Davenport-Hines, Gothic: 400 Years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin (London:
Fourth Estate, 1998); M. Mulvey-Roberts, The Handbook to Gothic Literature
(Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998); David Punter, Gothic Pathologies: the Text, the
Body and the Law (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998); R. Mighall, A Geography of
Gothic Fiction: Mapping History’s Nightmares (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1999); David Punter (ed.), A Companion to the Gothic (Oxford: Blackwell,
2000); Markman Ellis, The History of Gothic Fiction (Edinburgh: Edinburgh
University Press, 2000); Avril Horner (ed.), European Gothic: a Spirited
Exchange 1760–1960 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002); Toni
Wein, British Identities, Heroic Nationalisms, and the Gothic Novel, 1764–1824
(Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002).
8. Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca [1938] (London: Arrow Books, 1992), 19.
9. Light, Forever England (1991).
10. Of course there are clues which suggest a reading of Jane Eyre as a rebellious
text. For contemporary reviews stressing this rebelliousness, see Charlotte
Brontë, Jane Eyre [1847], ed. Richard Dunn, Norton Critical Edition (New
York and London: Norton, 2001); for influential feminist readings see for
example, Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (London: The Hogarth Press,
1928), and Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: the
Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (New Haven
and London: Yale University Press, 1979).
11. Gilbert and Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic, 337.
12. In their study of Daphne du Maurier, Avril Horner and Sue Zlosnik focus
on the author’s negotiation of the gothic tradition, arguing that Rebecca
is the narrator’s dark double with connotations of the femme fatale, of
Jewishness, of polymorphous sexuality and of the vampire. They stress the
role of Rebecca and Mrs Danvers in enabling the heroine’s development in
the direction of both adult sexuality and writing skills. Horner and Zloznik,
Daphne du Maurier (1998), 119–20.
13. The canonization of Rebecca is developing apace, and the novel has been
included as a set text in the third-level Open University Course A300
Twentieth-Century Literature: Texts and Debates. One of the aspects that the
course book emphasizes is tourism. See Nicola J. Watson, ‘Daphne du Maurier,
Rebecca’, in: David Johnson (ed.), The Popular & the Canonical: Debating
Twentieth-Century Literature 1940–2000 (London and New York: Routledge,
2005), 13–56. ‘Indeed, Rebecca’s protagonist is in some sense herself merely
a tourist in Manderley, as the poignant moment when she remembers her
childhood trip to the local shop and the purchase of the postcard of the house
should remind us from the very earliest pages of the novel. As the narrator
traverses house, garden and shoreline, picking up the traces of Rebecca in her
domestic landscape, she begins to construct for us as readers a similar itinerary
of desire and investigation. […] Like the typical tourist, she is a middle-class
interloper in an aristocratic social system, obsessed with a lost, invisible and
enigmatic past embodied in an infinitely desirable and ultimately unattainable piece of property. Alert with febrile attentiveness to every clue and trace
in the present-day landscape of what once was, condemned to (and desiring
to) repeat the past, determined actually to insert her body into the imaginary
past […], the narrator efficiently and inevitably both prefigures and constructs
the present-day literary tourist’ (52).
Horner and Zlosnik, Daphne du Maurier (1998), 101. Daphne du Maurier’s
reference occurs in Enchanted Cornwall (1989), 106.
Du Maurier, Enchanted Cornwall (1989), 101.
Ibid., 101–2.
Ibid., 113.
Yet another set of mythical resonances can be added by relating Rebecca
with Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and via this Shakespearean romance
with classical myth. Janet S. Wolf makes a convincing case for the presence in The Winter’s Tale of the ancient earth goddess depicted in classical
antiquity in her three aspects of maiden, mother and crone, as represented
by Persephone (Perdita), Demeter (Hermione) and Hecate (Paulina).
Moreover, these three aspects are often blurred and the three figures have
a tendency to change places or be regarded as three aspects of one goddess.
In ‘de Winter’s tale’, these three aspects of the goddess are represented by
the young orphaned narrator, Rebecca and Mrs Danvers. Janet S. Wolf,
‘“Like an old tale still”: Paulina, “triple Hecate”, and the Persephone Myth
in The Winter’s Tale’, in: Elizabeth T. Hayes (ed.), Images of Persephone:
Feminist Readings in Western Literature (Gainesville: University Press of
Florida, 1994), 32–44. Daphne du Maurier’s repeated comments that
Rebecca was not a romance but a study in jealousy would strengthen the
thematic link with The Winter’s Tale.
The letter, written on 4 July 1957, is quoted from Forster, Daphne du Maurier
(1994), 424. ‘Jan’ is Jan Ricardo, Tommy Browning’s glamorous fiancée of
whom Daphne du Maurier was intensely jealous, ‘Sixpence’ is supposed to
be a young woman in Fowey that Browning had an affair with, ‘Tod’ is a
friend living and working in the household, ‘Moper’ is Tommy Browning,
du Maurier’s husband, and ‘Yggie’ is ‘Ygdrasil’, Tommy Browning’s boat.
Ibid., 227.
For a related argument, see Gina Wisker, ‘Dangerous Borders: Daphne du
Maurier’s Rebecca: Shaking the Foundations of the Romance of Privilege,
Partying and Place’, in: Journal of Gender Studies 12:2 (2003), 83–97.
‘As the basis for the romance is destabilised, so too are the values of the
country house and Englishness and the aristocracy. The union of Maxim
and Rebecca is childless, as is that of the second Mrs de Winter – there will
be no inheritance of wealth and the maintenance of family strengths and
values. Far worse probably, the actual edifice of English stability and the
nostalgic, comfortable conservatism of the romantic fiction are entirely
destroyed when the grand house goes up in flames. Du Maurier, in Rebecca,
undermines the conservative traditions which she seems to be upholding
and rewarding both in terms of upper middle class values as embodied in the
house, Manderley, and in the forms of romantic fiction which themselves
seek to continually play out a version of achieved desire which can only
render the sexually active transgressive, lively minded woman as demon,
and exorcised demon at that’ (94–5). For a different reading emphasizing
containment and the reformation of the aristocratic ruling class through
bourgeois femininity, see Roger Bromley, ‘The Gentry, Bourgeois Hegemony
and Popular Fiction: Rebecca and Rogue Male’, in: P. Humm, P. Stigant and
P. Widdowson (eds), Popular Fictions: Essays in Literature and History (London:
Methuen, 1986), 166–83.
10. The Skeleton in the Cupboard
1. Daphne du Maurier, Come Wind, Come Weather (London: Heinemann,
1940). The first edition came out in August 1940 and a new and revised
edition in November 1940. This was reprinted in July 1941, November
1941 and March 1942 and also published in Canada, Australia, India, the
USA, the Dutch East Indies and Switzerland. It sold for sixpence and was
produced in compliance with the ‘Book Production War Economy Standard’
with a very simple white and red cover. At the back are two pages of advertisements for ‘Moral Re-Armament Books’, among them Peter Howard’s
Innocent Men. Royalties went to the ‘Soldiers’, Sailors’ and Airmen’s Families
2. The ‘Oxford Group’, later known as the Moral Re-Armament Movement
(MRA), was founded by the American anti-communist Frank Buchman who
believed that a reformation of society could be brought about by initiating
change in individuals. His right-wing sympathies became obvious when he
praised the Nazi regime after a visit to Germany in 1936. Daphne du Maurier
became very interested in this philosophy for a while and went to an MRA
conference in Eastbourne in 1939 with her friend Bunny Austin, a tennis
champion. See Cook, Daphne (1991), 149–60 and Forster, Daphne du Maurier
(1994), 144.
3. Forster, Daphne du Maurier (1994), 167. One indication of how different this
propaganda effort was from her usual work is the fact that she offered it to
Heinemann rather than her usual publisher Victor Gollancz, much to his
dismay. See ibid., 151.
4. Judith Cook remarks that the idea for the play ‘was sparked off by a true
story’. They knew John Rathbone, the Conservative MP for Bodmin and his
American wife. John, an RAF pilot, was reported missing and when his death
was confirmed, his wife married a friend of the family. Daphne du Maurier
kept wondering what would have happened if he had come back.
5. The reception of the play was generally lukewarm and it was considered
old-fashioned. James Agate opined that ‘a heroine wearing three rows of
whacking great pearls cares threepence whether working-class houses are
provided with baths or not’. See Cook, Daphne (1991), 196.
6. Clearly, the format of Hungry Hill recalls Thomas Mann’s Die Buddenbrooks
(1901), telling the tale of the decline of a powerful family, and the novel
is also intertextually related to Maria Edgeworth’s Big House novels Castle
Rackrent (1800) and The Absentee (1812) which anatomize the Anglo-Irish
ruling class, as well as to Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September (1929).
7. Daphne du Maurier, Hungry Hill [1943] (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976), 10.
8. See Cook, Daphne (1991), 177–84.
9. Daphne du Maurier, The King’s General [1946] (London: Pan, 1974), 43–4.
Ackerman, Robert 11, 12, 13,
214, 215
adventure tale 59, 60, 117, 158, 163,
170, 171–3
Anderson, Benedict 75, 212
Anderson, Perry 212
animatism 12
archetypal images 12, 15, 38, 48, 49,
50, 51, 54, 64, 75, 90, 145, 150,
214, 215
Armstrong, Martin 125
Arts and Crafts Movement 87
Aslet, Clive 211
Assmann, Aleida 26–8, 32, 154, 215,
217, 218
Assmann, Jan 26–9, 154, 218
Auden, Wystan Hugh 117, 223
Auerbach, Nina 227
Austen, Jane, Northanger Abbey
Authors’ National Committee 95
Authors’ Planning Committee 95
Bachofen, Johann Jakob 13
Bacon, Francis 229
Barker, Sir Ernest 21, 22, 217
The Character of England 21–2, 217
Barr, Charles 221
Barrie, Sir James Matthew, Dear
Brutus 154
Barthes, Roland, Mythologies 9–10,
63, 144, 184, 214
Bartholomew, Michael 69, 70, 104,
222, 223, 225
Bates, Herbert Ernest 123–4
Battle of Britain 29, 36, 114
Battle of the Brows 32–4, 45, 220
Baucom, Ian A. 213
Baxendale, John 32, 61, 218, 220,
221, 222
BBC 29, 32, 33, 36, 63, 77–8, 105,
113–26, 220, 225
Beauman, Nicola 218
Beaverbrook, Lord (William Maxwell
Aitken) 62
Bennett, Arnold 33, 220
Benson, Sir Frank 68, 70
Betjeman, John 63
Blake, William 118, 122
Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna 10
Blitz, the 7, 36, 100, 114, 120, 194
Book Club 47, 127
Book Society 46
Booth, Charles 82
Bounds, Philip 225
Bourdieu, Pierre 223
Bowen, Elizabeth 129, 131, 133,
227, 234
Heat of the Day, The 133, 227
Last September, The 234
Bracco, Rosa Maria 219
Braine, John 220
Brandt, Bill 223
Braveheart 68
Briggs, Asa 220
British Drama League 95
British Empire 6, 49, 52, 53, 56, 57,
59, 60, 69, 78, 107, 112,
116–25, 187, 204
Britishness 3–7, 23, 109, 125, 212;
see also Englishness
Britten, Benjamin 46
broadcasting, see radio
Brome, Vincent 220, 221, 224, 228
Brontë, Charlotte, Jane Eyre 177,
179, 231
Brontë, Emily 156
Brontë, Patrick Branwell 229
Brooke, Rupert 15, 73
Browning, Robert 94
Browning, Thomas ‘Boy’ 149, 152,
199, 205
Bryant, Marsha 83, 223
Buchan, John, The Thirty-Nine
Steps 130, 132
Buitenhuis, Peter 225, 226
Bunce, Michael, The Countryside
Ideal 103, 225
Bunyan, John 127, 193
Pilgrim’s Progress 127
Burke, Thomas, The Beauty of
England 74, 223
Burns, Robert 124, 125
Butcher, Jeffrey 226, 227
Buzard, James 222
Bystander 99
Calder, Angus 7, 214, 227
Cambridge Ritualists 11, 214
Campaign for Nuclear
Disarmament 94, 95, 152, 217
Carey, John 218
Carlyle, Thomas 13, 21, 87
Cassirer, Ernst 16–20, 48, 214,
215, 216
Myth of the State, The 19, 20
Philosophy of Symbolic Forms,
The 17–19, 216
censorship 78, 108, 118, 168, 226
Chapman, James 227
Chaucer, Geoffrey 125
Churchill, Sir Winston Leonard
Spencer 109, 121
cinema 46, 52, 57, 58, 76, 82, 83,
88, 106, 118, 129, 130, 131–3,
139, 142, 143, 145, 168, 223,
227, 230
class 6, 7, 25, 36–9, 40, 49, 52, 53,
62, 64, 70, 72, 74, 75, 81–5, 88,
92, 95–101, 104, 107–9, 125,
128, 129, 137, 150, 151, 161,
164, 167–9, 179, 180, 187, 188,
194–9, 203, 206, 212, 220, 224,
228, 233, 234
Clemens, Gabriele 217
Cobbett, William 61, 124, 222
Cohen, Hermann 16, 216
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor 13, 158, 184
collective unconscious 12, 13, 15,
24, 64, 144, 145, 152, 160
Colley, Linda 4, 211
Collins, Diana 94, 221, 224, 224
Colls, Robert 3, 211
community 8, 11, 16, 28, 36, 40,
47–9, 53, 56, 57, 60, 75, 84,
95, 106, 107, 108, 117–28, 134,
137, 138, 144, 150, 156, 160,
182, 197, 210, 211, 217
condition of England 21, 35, 47, 51,
53, 61, 80, 81, 85–7, 127, 131,
177, 213, 217, 223, 224, 228
Constable, John 22, 90, 108, 215,
216, 223
Cook, Judith 154, 221, 227, 228,
229, 233, 234
Cooper, Susan 94, 224
Corbett, David Peters 213, 216, 224
Corbin, Alain 170, 230
Cosgrove, Dennis 21, 213, 217
Cotman, John Sell 108
Council for the Preservation of Rural
England 72, 74, 94, 217, 223
Country Life 55, 74, 79, 215
countryside 7, 15, 54, 55, 63, 65, 70,
76, 88–94, 98, 101–4, 117, 123,
124, 136, 137, 140, 142, 173,
203, 225; see also landscape,
Coward, Noël, Still Life 168
Creuzer, Georg Friedrich 13
Cromwell, Oliver 99, 124, 182, 192
Cuddy-Keane, Melba 220
Culler, Jonathan 63, 222
Curran, James 224, 226
Dane, Clemence 125
Daniels, Stephen 21, 213, 217
Davey, Kevin 3–5, 211
Dean, Basil 46
Deep England 49, 61, 64, 68, 77, 92,
98, 102, 104, 122
Defoe, Daniel 222
Delafield, E. M. (Edmée Elizabeth
Monica Dashwood), Diary of a
Provincial Lady; The Provincial
Lady Goes Further 37, 168
Dell, Ethel M(ary), The Way of
an Eagle 32
Dickens, Charles 35, 45, 126, 200
Dilthey, Wilhelm 14
discovery of England 47, 61, 81, 82,
96, 222
documentary 82, 83, 127–9, 143,
223, 225, 227
Dodd, Philip 3, 211, 224
Doubleday, Ellen 190
Drake, Sir Francis 124, 192
Dunkirk 115, 137
Dunne, J(ohn) W(illiam) 10, 46,
152, 153, 155, 221, 228
An Experiment With Time 152, 228
Durkheim, Emile 12
Easthope, Anthony 212
Ebbatson, Roger 16, 59, 213,
215, 221
ecology, see industrialism, organicism,
Edgeworth, Maria, Castle Rackrent;
The Absentee 234
Elias, Norbert 16
Eliot, George 35, 221
Eliot, Thomas Stearns 25, 81, 185,
215, 218
Ellis, Clough Williams 223
Ellis, Markman 231
Elton, Godfrey, 1st Baron 125
Empson, William 214
Englishness 3–8, 42, 51, 55, 60, 62,
78, 87–90, 94, 96, 100, 109,
151, 155, 158, 162, 211–14
myth of 63, 64, 89, 105, 111, 115,
121–5, 134, 144, 164, 177–8,
180, 184, 212, 225–7
mythical present of 22–5, 38, 48,
53, 54, 64, 71, 73, 90, 91, 101,
104, 108, 121, 126, 136, 145,
154, 156, 161, 169, 176, 199,
210, 216–18
as a symbolic form 8, 20–5, 29–30,
41, 42, 47, 48, 52, 56, 61, 65,
75–80, 81, 90, 92, 97, 99, 101,
104, 106, 126, 136, 140, 145,
146, 150, 156, 169, 176, 177,
183, 184, 190–1, 204, 210, 214,
216–18, 223
English Spirit, The 119–25, 227
Excalibur 68
family 42, 99, 107, 122, 150, 154,
155, 159, 167, 169, 177, 182,
189, 191, 199, 204, 207, 209,
228, 229, 234
family romance manqué 150, 159,
169, 184, 186, 191, 199, 204,
210, 212
family saga 37, 73, 156–61, 199–204
Ferrell, William K. 218
Fielding, Henry 108
Flying Dutchman 158, 184
folklore 14, 71, 126
Ford, Charles Bradley (ed.), The Beauty
of Britain 73, 74, 223
Forster, E(dward) M(organ) 25, 34,
Forster, Margaret 189, 227, 232, 233
Frankfurt School 88, 106, 224
Frazer, Sir James, The Golden
Bough 10, 11, 15, 68
Freud, Sigmund 10, 12, 60; see also
Friese, Heidrun 211, 214
Fussell, Paul 61, 222
Gainsborough Melodrama 168;
see also cinema
Gardiner, Rolf 16
Gaskell, Elizabeth 35
Geertz, Clifford 99
Gellner, Ernest 212
gender 6, 36–8, 40, 49, 52, 59, 72,
83, 85, 109–12, 132, 133, 136,
151, 152, 158, 160, 161, 163–8,
172, 176, 183, 186, 188, 189,
199, 203, 208, 218–19, 228,
genealogy 100, 150, 151, 154, 157,
159, 209, 228
Georgian poetry 102
Gervais, David 212
Gikandi, Simon 213
Gilbert, Sandra 231
Giles, Judy 212
Girtin, Thomas 108
Glyn, Elinor, Three Weeks 31
Gollancz, Victor 61, 95, 154, 196,
225, 229, 233
gothic 38, 54, 55, 92, 150, 170–91,
199, 206, 207, 213, 227, 228,
Graves, Robert 10, 214
Gray, Dulcie 221
Greenblatt, Stephen 25, 218
Greene, Graham 36, 132
Greenwood, James 82
Grimble, Simon 21, 150, 213, 217,
223, 224
Grimm, Jakob and Wilhelm 14
Gubar, Susan 231
Haggard, Rider 59, 82
Halbwachs, Maurice 26, 218
Hall, Stuart 219
Hardy, Thomas 41, 117
Tess of the d’Urbervilles 41
Hartley, Jenny 219
Haseler, Stephen 211
Hastings, Adrian 211
Hawkes, Jacquetta 22–5, 152, 217
A Land 22–5, 217
Hayes, Nick 212, 219, 220
Hazlitt, William 90
Hentschel, Irene 196
Herder, Johann Gottfried 13
Higgs, Mary 82
highbrow 31, 32, 33, 34, 37, 39, 40,
45, 46, 50, 81, 218, 220, 228
Higson, Andrew 82, 83, 223
Hill, Jeff 212, 219, 220
Hillman, James 13
Hitchcock, Alfred 130, 132
Hobsbawm, Eric John Ernest 211,
212, 222
Hodge, Alan 10, 214
Holt, Ysanne 213, 216, 224
Holtby, Winifred, South Riding 36,
38, 220
Home Guard 116, 132
Hope, Anthony, The Prisoner
of Zenda 31
Horner, Avril 184, 227, 228, 231, 232
Howard, Peter, Innocent Men 195
Hull, E(dith) M(aude), The Sheik 32
Humble, Nicola 36, 37, 220
Hussey, Christopher, The Fairy Land
of England 15, 55, 56, 74, 221
Huxley, Aldous 33
Brave New World 103
Idealism 13, 14
Symbolic 17, 18
identity 3–8, 60, 101, 126, 138, 141,
144, 155, 179, 211–14
collective 3–8, 13, 15, 16, 20,
26–30, 45, 47, 105–26, 155,
158, 160, 169, 182, 192, 200,
211–14, 225–7
cultural 3–8, 26–30, 40, 41, 55,
126, 186, 190, 211–14
national 3–8, 9–10, 14, 15, 27–30,
40, 47, 48, 60, 62, 63, 71,
73, 75, 90, 101, 105–26, 159,
169, 177, 179, 192, 193, 199,
211–14, 217
see also Britishness, Englishness
Imperial War Museum 29
imperialism, see British Empire
industrialism 48, 49, 51, 70, 71, 77,
79, 81–9, 90, 93, 96, 98, 102,
107, 108, 200, 203, 212, 214
Into Unknown England, see discovery
of England and Keating, Peter
Ireland 199–204, 234
It’s That Man Again (ITMA) 129, 227
Joannou, Maroula 219
John of Gaunt 177
Johnson, Celia 168
Jonson, Ben, To Penshurst 180
Joyce, James 32, 46, 185
Jung, C(arl) G(ustav) 10, 12, 15,
111, 152, 160, 214; see also
Keating, Peter, Into Unknown
England 82, 222, 223
Korda, Alexander 131
Lang, Andrew 59
Langer, Susanne K. 215
landscape 5, 6, 15, 20–5, 41, 42,
48–54, 63, 66, 71, 73–7, 86,
89–91, 96–8, 101, 102, 104,
116, 121, 126, 136–8, 145, 150,
172, 176, 178, 185, 213, 217,
222–5, 232
Lawrence, D(avid) H(erbert) 10, 15,
32, 37
Lean, David, Brief Encounter 168
Leavis, F(rank) R(aymond) 32, 34, 45
Leavis, Q(ueenie) D(orothy) 33, 34,
38–40, 45, 163, 220
Fiction and the Reading Public 34,
Lebensphilosophie 14
Lee, Robert A. 213
Left Book Club 225
leisure industry 7, 31, 38, 62, 63, 78,
162, 222
Lévy-Bruhl, Lucien 12
Lewis, Wyndham 31
Light, Alison, Forever England 38,
149, 179, 190, 212, 220, 227,
228, 229, 230
Lincoln, Margarette 170, 230
literary value 31–42, 45–7,
149; see also Battle of the
Brows, highbrow, lowbrow,
Local Defence Volunteers, see Home
London, Jack, The People of the
Abyss 96
lowbrow 31–4, 40, 218, 220
Loxley, Diane 59, 60, 221
Lucas, David 22
MacCannell, Dean 222
MacCarthy, Desmond 33
MacFarlane, Alan 212
Madonna of the Seven Moons 168
Malinowski, Bronislaw 11, 14, 15
Malory, Sir Thomas 77
Mansfield, Katherine 40
Marett, R(obert) R(anulph) 12
Marryat, Captain Frederick, The
Phantom Ship 158
Maslen, Elizabeth 219
mass culture 6, 31, 32, 35, 36, 40,
51, 53, 55, 82, 88, 106, 108,
131, 136, 218, 219, 224
Mass Observation 80, 82
Massingham, H(arold) J(ohn) 16
Masterman, C(harles) F(rederick)
G(urney) 82
Matless, David 16, 62–4, 71, 72, 87,
213, 215, 222, 223, 224
du Maurier, Daphne 13, 38, 42, 146,
149–210, 227–34
Come Wind, Come Weather 192,
195, 233
‘Don’t Look Now’ 153
Du Mauriers, The 154, 155,
166, 229
Enchanted Cornwall 151, 173, 227,
230, 231, 232
Frenchman’s Creek 161–9, 230
Hungry Hill 150, 154, 192, 196,
199–204, 234
Jamaica Inn 150, 170–7, 230–1
King’s General, The 42, 150, 192,
193, 204–10, 234
Loving Spirit, The 149, 150, 153,
154, 156–61, 167, 176, 199
Rebecca 42, 149, 150, 167, 177–91,
195, 231–3
Years Between, The 192, 196,
231, 233
du Maurier, George 153, 154, 228
Peter Ibbetson 154
du Maurier, Gerald 151, 154,
196, 229
memodrama 31, 41–2, 138–46, 170,
177–91, 204–10, 218, 227,
memory 67, 139, 141, 178, 183,
191, 218
collective 6–8, 26–9, 47, 64, 71,
101, 118–26, 186, 193, 200,
201, 205, 218
communicative 26–9, 41, 52, 101,
138, 144, 154, 180, 181, 204,
218, 230
cultural 6–8, 25, 27–9, 47, 64, 68,
69, 71, 89, 90, 101, 118, 125,
126, 138, 144, 170, 171, 177,
185, 191, 218
middlebrow 31–42, 45, 46, 71, 81,
143, 149, 152, 157, 163, 168,
171, 172, 218, 219, 220, 228
Middleton, Tim 212
Millions Like Us 129
Mills & Boon 31
Ministry of Information 105, 108
modernism 20, 31, 34, 46, 104, 213,
218, 219, 224
Moral Re-Armament 192, 194,
195, 233
More, Thomas 103
Morris, William 87
Morton, H(enry) V(ollam) 16, 61–80,
81, 92, 93, 95, 104, 107, 114,
123, 151, 159, 161, 215, 222,
223, 225
Call for England, The 223
Heart of London, The 62
I Saw Two Englands 75–80, 223
In Search of England 16, 61–80, 81,
159, 222
In Search of Ireland 62
In Search of Scotland 62, 69
In Search of Wales 62
Nights of London, The 62
Spell of London, The 62
What I Saw in the Slums 62
motoring pastoral 62, 63, 80
Müller, Max 13
music hall 36, 46, 50, 51, 52, 121,
127, 221
myth 3, 7, 8, 9–25, 26, 59, 63, 65,
67, 71, 103, 105, 108, 115, 124,
134, 138, 142, 144, 146, 153,
170, 183, 184, 214–16
myth-and-ritual school 11, 214
mythical present 9, 22–5, 66, 150,
155, 165, 167, 169, 172, 176,
185, 214; see also Englishness
mythology, solar 13
Nairn, Tom 211
Nash, Paul 20, 224
National Book Council 40
National Geographic 62
nationalism 3, 4, 97, 109, 114,
211–13, 231; see also identity,
Nazism 113, 116, 122, 129–32, 233
Nelson, Lord Admiral 99, 124
Nicolson, Harold 45
Nightingale, Florence 111, 124
nostalgia 64, 103, 104, 136, 155,
177, 180, 191, 222
Open Road, the 62; see also tourism
oral history 29
organicism 15, 16, 55, 56, 64, 66,
72, 73, 122, 126, 156
Orwell, George 36, 61, 95–102, 106,
107, 109, 168, 219, 224
Coming Up for Air 36, 168
Down and Out in Paris and
London 96
‘English People, The’ 100, 225
Homage to Catalonia 98, 225
‘Lion and the Unicorn, The’ 99,
225, 226
Nineteen Eighty-Four 101–2,
103, 225
Road to Wigan Pier, The 83, 95–9,
109, 224, 225
Ouspensky, Peter D. 10
Oxford Group 10; see also Moral
pastoralism, see ruralism
Pawling, Chris 32, 61, 218, 220
Paxman, Jeremy 3, 211
People’s War, the 7, 42, 100, 108,
113, 129, 130, 134, 192, 193,
195, 199, 214
photography 63, 73, 74, 75, 82, 111,
112, 181, 218, 223
Plain, Gill 218
Potts, Alex 15, 20, 215, 216
Pound, Ezra 31, 34
popular writing 31, 34–7, 39, 59,
81, 129, 131, 136, 149, 151,
158, 170, 219, 228; see also
adventure tale, romance
preservationism 16, 56, 72, 85–7, 90,
92, 93, 94, 96, 100, 107, 108,
126, 203, 223
Preuss, Konrad Theodor 12
Priestley, Jane 111
Priestley, John Boynton 13, 33–6,
40, 41, 42, 45–60, 61, 74,
80–95, 98, 99, 105–46, 152,
156, 161, 168, 195, 199, 203,
210, 217, 220–7, 228
An Inspector Calls 46
Angel Pavement 55, 56
Blackout in Gretley 129–34, 227
Bright Day 42, 136, 138–46,
210, 227
Britain at War 112, 226
Britain Speaks 113, 226
British Women Go To War 110, 226
Daylight on Saturday 127–9, 227
English Journey 47, 61, 80–95,
106–8, 223, 224
Faraway 56–60, 136, 156, 168, 221
Festival at Farbridge 127
Good Companions, The 36, 40, 41,
47–53, 54, 55, 127, 136, 145,
161, 221
‘High, Low, Broad’ 33
I Have Been Here Before 152
Johnson Over Jordan 46
Let the People Sing 127
Literature and Western Man 46, 221
Margin Released 46, 128, 221, 227
Midnight on the Desert 221
Out of the People 106–9, 122,
129, 226
Postscripts 36, 105, 106, 113–19,
122, 226, 227
Rain Upon Godshill 94, 98,
224, 225
They Walk in the City 53–6, 221
‘This Land of Ours’ 121–3
Three Men in New Suits 134–8, 227
Time and the Conways 45, 152
‘To a High-Brow’ 33
‘Too Simple?’ 35
Projection of Britain, the 217
propaganda 52, 75, 77, 78, 99, 104,
105, 108, 110, 112, 118, 126,
127, 129, 134, 137–9, 146,
192–6, 214, 225–7, 233
psychoanalysis 141, 145–6, 152,
157, 158, 159, 160, 189, 190
Punch 124, 154, 220
Punter, David 231
Puxley, Christopher 154, 199, 230
Quiller-Couch, Sir Arthur 34, 59, 185
Castle Dor 185
Poison Island 59
radio 32, 70, 82, 88, 99, 105,
113–26, 129, 225
Raleigh, Sir Walter 124, 192
Ranger, Terence 212, 222
Read, Herbert 224
Reed, Carol, The Third Man 133
Richards, Jeffrey 230
Richardson, Ralph 46
Rohmer, Sax 130
romance 31, 32, 35, 37, 38, 59, 60, 67,
69, 71, 149, 150, 161, 163, 166,
167, 170, 176, 177, 180, 184,
190, 214, 227, 228, 230, 232
Romanticism 13, 21, 24, 69, 91, 126,
150, 158, 160
Rubin, Joan Shelley 219
ruralism 5, 7, 15, 16, 22, 49, 54, 62,
64, 66, 72, 89, 95, 102–4, 116,
121, 126, 150, 178, 212, 213,
215, 216, 217, 223, 224
Rushdie, Salman 213
Ruskin, John 87, 224
Russell, Fiona 213, 216, 224
Samuel, Raphael 4, 211
Sayers, Dorothy, Gaudy Night 35
Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm
Joseph 13
Scott, Sir Walter 69, 108, 124
Scruton, Roger 211
Seaton, Jean 105, 224, 226
Sengupta, Supriya 46, 221
Shacker, Jennifer 14, 213, 215
Shakespeare, William 41, 49, 58, 68,
89, 90, 97, 102, 121, 124, 162,
165, 177, 184, 187, 232
A Midsummer Night’s Dream 68,
121, 162
Richard II 177
Tempest, The 184
Winter’s Tale, The 232
Shell Guides 63
Shelley, Percy Bysshe 91, 124
shipwrecking 170–7, 230
Sidney, Sir Philip 192
Sing As We Go 83, 127
soil, cult of the 15, 16, 20, 56, 64,
72, 122, 185, 214, 215, 222
Somerset Maugham, William 36,
124, 227
spirituality 10, 16, 20, 22, 24, 54, 56,
64, 66, 72, 76, 90, 92, 108, 109,
146, 157, 158, 160, 167, 172,
175, 176, 185, 192, 194, 203,
204, 222, 230
Steiner, Rudolf 16
stereotypes 7, 9, 11, 22, 47, 64, 87,
89, 97, 98, 111, 121, 124–6,
164, 177, 179, 180, 182, 211–14
Sterne, Laurence 108
Stevenson, Robert Louis 59, 163, 231
Stopes, Marie, Married Love 168
Stratford Festival 71
Strenski, Ivan 11, 14, 214, 215
symbolic form 8, 17–18, 20, 21, 24,
25, 27, 28, 56, 92, 97, 126, 214,
215, 216; see also Englishness
Taylor, Edgar 14
Taylor, John 63, 75, 213, 218, 222,
223, 225
Temple, William, Archbishop of
Canterbury 41, 220
Tennyson, Lord Alfred 116, 142
Thomas, Edward 16, 102, 215
time, serial theory of 10, 46, 146,
152–4, 158, 221, 228
Time and Tide 37
Times Literary Supplement 41
Tolkien, J(ohn) R(onald) R(euel), Lord
of the Rings 122
tourism 61, 63–80, 92, 161, 178,
184, 213, 218, 222, 231, 232
travel writing 16, 31, 47, 59, 61–104,
126, 161, 162, 213, 222–5
Trevor-Roper, Hugh 69, 222
Tristan and Iseult 184, 185
Turner, William 108
Tylor, Edward Burnett 214
Walker, Stephen 12, 214
Walpole, Sir Hugh 34, 123, 227
Walton, Izaak, The Compleat
Angler 77
Warburg, Aby 16, 18, 216
Warburg Institute 18
Waugh, Evelyn 36, 64
Brideshead Revisited 36
Wells, H(erbert) G(eorge) 103
Weston, Jessie 214
Weymouth, Anthony (ed.), The English
Spirit, see English Spirit, The
Whitman, Walt 118
Wicked Lady, The 168
Wiener, Martin, English Culture
and Decline of the Industrial
Spirit 84, 212, 224
Williams, Keith 219
Williams, Raymond, The Country and
the City 102–3, 225
Women’s Institute 37
Women’s Land Army 112
Woolf, Leonard 33
Woolf, Virginia 32, 33, 34, 45, 111,
220, 231
Three Guineas 111
Wordsworth, William 91, 120, 124,
178, 217, 229
World War One 6, 11, 16, 32, 36,
45, 52, 62, 70, 71, 82, 114, 116,
123, 130, 134, 138, 140, 141,
149, 194, 202
World War Two 7, 29, 40, 42, 77,
104, 105–39, 169, 192–9, 205,
215, 225, 230
Wright, Patrick 211, 225
Yeo, Stephen 3, 211
Young, Arthur 61, 222
Zimmer-Bradley, Marion, The Mists
of Avalon 68
Zlosnik, Sue 184, 227, 228, 231, 232