This chapter surveys the context of the 1940s, examining the contrasting phases of the war years, the emergence of a ‘postwar’ sensibility, the ‘age of austerity’, and the political and imaginative reconstruction of the nation in the aftermath of conflict. It examines trends in the production of fiction and poetry, and considers the transformation of theatrical infrastructures. It surveys the state of criticism surrounding the literature of the Second World War and the 1940s, and debates the value of modernism as an interpretative category for the period. The chapter also introduces significant thematic preoccupations – such as, the difficulties of writing about war, the impact of conflict on constructions of gender and sexuality, homosocial bonding, the experience of combat, national identity, childhood, memory, violence – and notes the emergence of new discourses surrounding citizenship, empire and modernity. The chapter concludes by evoking Elizabeth Bowen to suggest that the decade is best understood as an age of ‘lucid abnormality’.
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