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Literature of the 1940s: War, Postwar and "Peace"Volume 5$
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Gill Plain

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780748627448

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2014

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748627448.001.0001

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(p.74) Chapter Three Desiring
Literature of the 1940s: War, Postwar and "Peace"

Gill Plain

Edinburgh University Press

In this chapter attention turns to the constructions of gender and desire integral to literary production in the period. It examines the influence of popular psychoanalytic ideas and the anxieties that circulated around women’s bodies during the war. Exploring the cultural limits of expression in the decade, the chapter argues that superficial changes in women’s public roles co-existed with a pervasive misogyny. Women were simultaneously figured as symbols of the home to be defended, and as potential sites of sexual and national betrayal, their loyalties questioned on the basis of age-old stereotypes of libidinous femininity. The chapter considers texts that reproduce these stereotypes before moving on to explore novels that more boldly negotiate the erotic charge of war. For writers such as Elizabeth Bowen and Henry Green, desire in wartime is figured as a paradoxical force distorting conventional structures of heterosexuality. Convention is equally disrupted in comedies of desire, and the chapter considers the queer possibilities exposed by the social dislocations of war in the theatre of Terence Rattigan and the fiction of Mary Renault. Other writers considered in the chapter include Nigel Balchin, Joyce Cary, Patrick Hamilton and Somerset Maugham.

Keywords:   Gender, Women, Femininity, Masculinity, Desire, Psychoanalysis, Misogyny, Homosexuality, Citizenship, Betrayal

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