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London 1939-1951: Images of the City in Wartime and Peace

Cederwell, W; (2013) London 1939-1951: Images of the City in Wartime and Peace. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London).

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This thesis examines how representations of London in wartime and postwar literature challenge popular conceptions of the city as a national symbol of collective stoicism and resilience. It looks at writing by Nigel Balchin, Elizabeth Bowen, Henry Green, Rose Macaulay, Louis MacNeice and William Sansom, to name a few, exploring how the ‘London can take it’ attitude is qualified by literature’s ambiguous reworking of propagandistic city images, including St Paul’s, Tube station shelterers and war workers. The research encompasses prose, verse, film and diaries. The introduction sets the critical context, summing up existing interpretations of the period and showing how the thesis adds to this body of work. The first chapter focuses on the immediate prewar and Phoney War period, when a resistance to the looming crisis sees London depicted as a place of sleepy complacency. The following chapters consider how literature tests London’s reputation as a place of high-minded heroics and new-found egalitarian sentiment. The prevalence of vulnerable and unstable characters is also analyzed, as is the role London’s literary journals play in alleviating the mood of conformity and regimentation. The concluding chapter explains how post-war depictions of London defuse triumphalism by concentrating on lingering traces of war. The contention is not that home-front writing was a radical literature of opposition – rather that London was used to articulate the richness of individual, subjective experience in an otherwise uniformed and tin-hatted society. If war was sometimes felt to be an impersonal drama that threatened to eclipse the individual, then representations of London help to redress this imbalance in the 1940s city, providing an antidote to the vast, dehumanizing aspects of wartime life.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: London 1939-1951: Images of the City in Wartime and Peace
Language: English
Additional information: Permission for digitisation not received.
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1405912
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