Reading the Ruins: Modernism, Bombsites and British Culture by Leo Mellor

By Leo Mellor

From fires to ghosts, and from vegetation to surrealist apparitions, the bombsites of London have been either unsettling and encouraging terrains. but through the years sooner than the second one global warfare, British tradition was once already choked with ruins and fragments. They seemed as content material, with visions of tottering towers and scraps of paper; and in addition as shape, within the shapes of damaged poetics. yet from the outbreak of the second one international battle what have been a cultured mode started to resemble a proleptic template. in the course of that clash many modernist writers - akin to Graham Greene, Louis MacNeice, David Jones, J. F. Hendry, Elizabeth Bowen, T. S. Eliot and Rose Macaulay - engaged with devastated cityscapes and the altered lives of a country at warfare. to appreciate the efficiency of the bombsites, either within the moment global conflict and after, analyzing the Ruins brings jointly poetry, novels and brief tales, in addition to movie and visible paintings.

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Example text

Imagining destruction 31 1939 a n d a l l t h at This chapter has so far analysed fears about the vulnerability of the city to attack from the air, and the literary representations of such fears, over the decades leading up to the Second World War. These were mutually interlocking relationships between war as practised and literature as written, with air vice marshals taking ideas from novels, and science fiction writers scaling up biplanes into omnipotent rocket-ships. It was a literature of both reportage and imaginative excursions, of political warnings and lurid extrapolation.

It was a literature of both reportage and imaginative excursions, of political warnings and lurid extrapolation. But texts written on the very periphery of war, especially those of 1939 itself, bring a qualitatively different form of fear to the page. Premonitions of what the bomber would bring€– and might mean€– for Londoners in particular became the subject, whether overt or coded, for a number of major writers. Yet simply to write of ‘the literature of 1939’ is both useful and disingenuous; for to attempt to unify some disparate texts through the device that they are ‘about’ or ‘preoccupied by’ 1939 is to ignore the fact that the most interesting works were composed at various points between 1938 and late 1940.

As a ‘dead mood’ falls upon him, Bone is in a taxi with Netta, and he is reminded of having previously indicated a desire: ‘She was saying “Well aren’t you getting out”’, but this phrase contains a meaning out of context, one lost by his sudden ‘clicked’ state€– ‘What did this mean? ” Getting out of what? The taxi? Or some business or concern in which he was the partner with her? What was she talking about? … “I don’t know” he said’ (HS 84). It is a novel rooted in a circuit of repeated and designated arenas for the humiliation of Bone€ – pub, Brighton hotel, Netta’s bedroom€ – and yet there are also dominantly restless and homeless qualities in the continual aimless wanderings.

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