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Popular Front Politics & The British Novel
Transcript of Popular Front Politics & The British Novel
2.2. John Sommerfield: May Day.
2.3. The Function of Tradition.
2.4. May Day’s Formal Commentary.
2.5. Arthur Calder-Marshall: Pie in the Sky
2.6. Refusing the Sublime.
2.7. The Proletarian Perspective.
2.8. ‘Authenticity’ and Political Action.
2.9. Overcoming Alienation.
Chapter Three: The Nation and the
3.1. A national turn in Communist politics?
3.2. Nationalism & Internationalism in Scotland:
James Barke, Neil Gunn, Grassic Gibbon & MacDiarmid.
3.3. The Scottish Communist novel: James Barke’s Major
Operation (1936) and Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Grey Granite
3.4. Major Operation’s Cultural-Historical Commentary.
3.5. Spain and the National Question: James Barke,
The Land of the Leal (1939) and Lewis Jones, We Live (1939).
Chapter Four: The Historical Novel of the
4.1 Jack Lindsay’s 1649 (1938).
4.2. Reimagining 1848: Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Summer Will Show (1936), Geoffrey Trease’s Comrades for the Charter (1934) and Lindsay’s Men of 48 (1938).
4.3. Christopher Isherwood as historical novelist: Mr Norris Changes Trains (1935) & Goodbye to Berlin (1939).
4.4. History & the Spanish War. Sylvia Townsend Warner, After the Death of Don Juan & Storm Jameson [‘James Hill’], No Victory for the Soldier.
Chapter Five: Writing History for a Popular Front
5.1. In Search of ‘the People’. Examines the recurring figure of ‘the people’ and ‘the popular’ in Communist rhetoric following the Seventh Congress of the Comintern.
5.2. Parables and Parallels: A.L. Morton’s A People’s History of England (1938) and H. Fagan’s Nine Days that Shook England (1938).
5.3. Populism & Culture: the critical writing of Jack Lindsay and Edgell Rickword.
5.4. Communism from England’s Soil: Jack Lindsay’s revolutionary Englishness.
Popular Front Politics
Michael Denning, The Cultural Front: The Labouring of American Culture (Verso, 1997)
"What would it mean to think of the Popular Front social movement as a historical bloc? Like many useful theoretical terms, Gramscis's notion of an historical bloc has two senses: it connotes both an alliance of social forces and a specific social formation. The connection between the two lies in the concept of hegemony: a moment of hegemony is when a historical bloc (in the sense of a particular alliance of class fractions and social forces) is able to lead society for a period of time, winning consent through a form of representation, and thereby establishing a historical bloc (in the sense of a cultural formation). In such moments, one often finds the historical period taking its name from the social alliance. The New Deal was such a historical bloc, at once a particular alliance of political actors and the ruling force in the society."
The popular front as a 'historical turn'
Cultural history and memory: literary preoccupations
Expanding the concept of 'culture'
The insistence on tradition.
'Going over' narratives
Narratives of political commitment
'London had its roots in her heart: she saw nothing in the dark countryside, she looked away from it to Mather's happy face. 'You don't understand,' she said, sheltering the ghost for a very short while longer, 'I did fail.' But she forgot it herself completely when the train drew in to London over a great viaduct under which the small bright shabby streets ran off like the rays of a star with their sweet shops, their Methodist chapels, their messages chalked on the paving stones [...] A mob of children went screaming down a street, she could tell they screamed because she was one of them, she couldn't hear their voices or see their mouths; a man was selling hot chestnuts at a corner, and it was on her face that his little fire glowed, the sweet shops were full of white gauze stockings crammed with cheap gifts. 'Oh,' she said with a sigh of unshadowed happiness, 'we're home.''
To-night we present a play about YOU [points to the audience], all of you, sitting there, watching and watching ... yourselves. No fiction.
The “roots of culture, law, art, and science have to be traced to their sources in human labour”, to the time “when the dance and song stimulated the seasonal tasks of agriculture which they accompanied”.
Edgell Rickword, 'Culture, Progress & English Tradition', p.93.
[Ralph] remembered how Overton had defended the songs of the poor ballad-writers. Yes, it was true. What educated poet, writing of his soul and God, or of his mistress's left nipple, turned out verses which so well expressed what was really in men's minds as the balladists did? The educated poet hid away from the actual ferment of thought and struggle; the balladist, lacking the advantages of the other, yet spoke from the heart of the age (348).
1649, London, Methuen, 1938,
‘We became the inheritors of the Peasants’ Revolt, of the left of the English revolution, of the pre-Chartist movement, of the women’s suffrage movement from the 1790s to today. It set us in the right framework, it linked us with the past and gave us a more correct course for the future.’
The popular front as cultural formation
Periodization: 1934 (Soviet Writers' Congress & Establishment of the Left Review)
to September 1939 (Outbreak of World War II)
"What would it mean to think of the Popular Front social movement as a historical bloc? Like many useful theoretical terms, Gramsci's notion of an historical bloc has two senses: it connotes both an alliance of social forces and a specific social formation. The connection between the two lies in the concept of hegemony: a moment of hegemony is when a historical bloc (in the sense of a particular alliance of class fractions and social forces) is able to lead society for a period of time, winning consent through a form of representation, and thereby establishing a historical bloc (in the sense of a cultural formation). In such moments, one often finds the historical period taking its name from the social alliance. The New Deal was such a historical bloc, at once a particular alliance of political actors and the ruling force in the society."
Michael Denning, The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century, p.6.
Minimum Man (1938)
Picture Post, October 1938
The popular front
“Locally lived history is seen in its genuine continuity with events on a global scale.”
Mick Wallis: 'Pageantry & The Popular Front: Ideological Production in the Thirties', p.132.
James Klugmann, 1979.
Chapter Two: Realism & Experiment in Two Popular
Conclusion: Graham Greene as popular front novelist
A Gun For Sale, London, Penguin, 1936; 1973, p.186.
Denning, Michael. The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century. London: Verso, 1997.
Greene, Graham. A Gun For Sale. London: Penguin, 1936; 1973.
Klugmann, James. ‘Introduction: The Crisis in the Thirties: A View from the Left’ in John Clark, ed., Culture and Crisis in Britain in the Thirties (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1979), p.22-36.
Lindsay, Jack. 1649. London: Methuen, 1938.
Rickword, Edgell. ‘Culture, Progress and English Tradition’. The Mind in Chains. In C. Day Lewis, ed., The Mind In Chains: Socialism and the Cultural Revolution. London: Folcroft Library Editions, 1972, p.92-110.
South Wales Miners Federation. The Pageant of South Wales, Official Programme, 1939. WCML May Day Collection, Box 2.
Wallis, Mick. ‘Pageantry and the Popular Front: Ideological Production in the ’Thirties.’ New Theatre Quarterly, Volume10, Issue 33, May 1994, pp 132-156.
Programme, The Pageant of South Wales, May 1st 1939.