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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.177) Chapter Six Grieving
Literature of the 1940s: War, Postwar and "Peace"

Gill Plain

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter examines mourning and loss across a spectrum from individual bereavement to the disappearance of a paradoxically enabling wartime community. The absence of war, while long desired, was difficult to assimilate, and the process of mourning was constrained by the dominant cultural modes of British expression: understatement and euphemism. The writing of grief – like war itself – is shown to resist straightforward articulation. Beginning with an examination of women writers’ ambivalent return to ‘normality’, the chapter moves on to explore fictions of homecoming, breakdown and trauma. Examining fiction by writers as diverse as Nigel Balchin, Stevie Smith, Henry Green and Rose Macaulay, the chapter considers the narrative methods and thematic preoccupations of writers attempting to express the disorientation and fragmentation of postwar subjectivities. The psychological damage of war, while particularly intense for combat veterans, is shown to permeate culture, contaminating ideas of home and the possibilities of communication. The final sections consider poetry and the challenge of elegy, in particular in the work of Dylan Thomas and T. S. Eliot.

Keywords:   Mourning, Loss, Grief, Normality, Disorientation, Trauma, Homecoming, Veterans, Elegy, Understatement

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