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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.111) Chapter Four Killing
Literature of the 1940s: War, Postwar and "Peace"

Gill Plain

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter focuses on the male body at war and on constructions of masculinity, arguing that the Second World War produced a literature of fascinated engagement, in which young men attempted to reconcile critical detachment with a desire to be part of a war seen as the defining event of a generation. Comparing the poetry, fiction and autobiography of Alexander Baron, Roald Dahl, Keith Douglas, C. S. Forester and Richard Hillary, the chapter explores tropes of chivalry and performance, constructions of heroism, the persistent use of understatement and banter, the fascination with technology, and the formation of the homosocial group. It also examines the persistence of class distinctions and understandings of patriotism and national belonging. The chapter moves on to consider the satirical fictions of Rex Warner and Eric Linklater, and to explore the remarkable popularity of crime fiction in wartime. Discussing the genre as a fantasy of agency, and exploring contemporary debates about war’s impact on representations of violence, the chapter ends with an examination of the ethics of murder in Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham and Graham Greene.

Keywords:   Masculinity, Combat, Homosocial bonds, Technology, Wounds, Heroism, Satire, Murder, Crime fiction

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