I am not a particularly nostalgic person. When I finish something, I think of it as finished. I’m not one of those people who mourns her childhood home, or looks back on high school with fondness, or cherishes old photographs or memorabilia. I like to make room for the new.
But one of the things that fascinates me about the writing in England after the Second World War is its overwhelming sense of nostalgia, and with it what seems to be a deep-rooted anxiety. I think these feelings go hand in hand. People look back on the past and feel nostalgia, while simultaneously looking
towards a future that seems to be uncertain and even grim. This is the emotional push and pull of postwar British fiction.
I got to thinking about this course after watching the recent version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I loved it and started to think of the John Le Carre novel as a centerpiece for my reading list (with screening, of course). The desiccation of ideals in a world where nothing is clear, the failure of nobility in a shrunken world: this is the imaginative landscape of postwar Britain.
At the same, there is a looking backward not towards a time of ideals, but with the recognition that what seemed to be idyllic was far from so. Much postwar fiction, such as Ian McEwan’s Atonement and Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day looks back to the 1930s–which was itself a time of upheaval and disillusionment. These novels re-envision and retell the grand narratives of Great Britain through a late-century lens. They speak to our own anxieties by imaginatively depicting times of worry, fear, and change.
Well. Maybe I haven’t learned to stop worrying after all. Perhaps we will also watch A Hard Day’s Night. After all that austerity, people were ready for a good time.