Literature, Cinema and Politics 1930-1945: Reading Between the Frames
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This book tells the story of a generation of writers who were passionately engaged with politics and with cinema, exploring the rise and fall of a distinct tradition of cinematic literature. Dismayed by the rise of fascism in Europe and by the widening gulf separating the classes at home, these writers turned to cinema as a popular and hard-hitting art form. Lara Feigel crosses boundaries between high modernism and social realism and between 'high' and 'popular' culture, bringing together Virginia Woolf with W.H. Auden, Elizabeth Bowen with John Sommerfield, Sergei Eisenstein with Gracie Fields. The book ends in the Second World War, an era when the bombs and searchlights rendered everyday life cinematic.
Feigel interrogates the genres she maps, drawing on cultural theories from the 1920s onwards to investigate the nature of the cinematic and the literary. While it was not possible directly to transfer the techniques of the screen to the page any more than it was possible to 'go over' to the working classes, the attempts nonetheless reveal a fascinating intersection of the visual and the verbal, the political and the aesthetic. In reading between the frames of an unexplored literary tradition, this book redefines 1930s and wartime literature and politics.
is played by an unaged Deborah Kerr. After his wife’s death, Candy retains a shrine to his dead love(s), presided over by a painting of Kerr, in which she comes to stand for both the women he has lost. With the arrival of Theo, Candy’s former friend and rival, now also widowed, the painting comes to act as a macabre bond between the two men, enabling Candy to admit that he loved Edith at the same time as he describes his yearning for his own wife. The arrival of the third Deborah Kerr character
describes Wigan Pier as a satire on the documentary movement, suggesting that ‘the book is largely a passionate critique of the idealisation of the working class’, which Orwell sees as being ‘pervasive within the new documentary’.67 Certainly, in the second half of Wigan Pier Orwell dismisses the ‘scoutmasterish’ attempts of middle-class intellectuals to ‘pal up’ with the working class as ‘pernicious rubbish’ (p. 149). Nonetheless, here he seems to adopt an unironic, idealised gaze. ‘Noble’ and
Between, ran two sets of tram lines. They might have been a barbed wire entanglement.114 Here he combines montage with commentary, explaining the significance of the divide through the image of barbed wire. Both May Day and Major Operation assert their status as documentary works by including factual detail as a form of commentary throughout. Ian Haywood writes that ‘sections of May Day read like the voice-over for a documentary’, and certainly May Day incorporates the kind of statistics about
supper on the way home from the cinema and feel briefly that ‘the world was very beautiful and full of joy’ (p. 216). Anderson himself finds his fish supper unpalatable as a result of his weak stomach, which makes the upperclass constitution seem generally weaker and less made for simple pleasures. The hearty working-class appetite for stodge is matched by a wholesome appetite for sex. In May Day, the upper-class Peter and Pamela are presented as awkwardly unsure of themselves and each other, and
difficult to turn the masses into active spectators when camera consciousness is always in danger of inducing passivity. And the aestheticisation of experience became more marked in the Blitz, when the flash of the bombs rendered the world more cinematic than ever and the cinematic text imploded on itself. The ‘ultracinematographic’ The texts I analyse in this book tend to be most revealing (and politically potent) when read, in detail, on their own terms. What follows is therefore structured