• Victoria Stewart


This book considers the ways in which memory was represented in novels during the 1940s. Memory could feature as a structural device, with, for example, the loss of a protagonist’s memory causing narrative complications. Its workings were also, on occasion, discussed and analysed within the narrative. In fact, these two aspects of memory — its structural and thematic functions — are not cleanly separable from each other, and their interaction can assist us in understanding how memory was conceptualized during this period. In this introduction, I will describe some of the ideas about memory, and about the condition of the novel, which were current in the interwar years. I will also consider debates about what the role of the novel ought to be that appeared once the conflict had begun. Such debates, which mainly took place in the pages of literary journals, are important and interesting, but I will not be confining my discussion to the ‘highbrow’ or ‘literary’ end of the fiction spectrum. Critics including Nicola Humble have recently acknowledged that the divisions we now perceive between literary fiction, usually of a modernist kind, and popular fiction, usually closer to realism, were not as absolute in the interwar years as they might now appear. During the 1920s, for example, ‘middlebrow novelists were quick to adopt many of the themes and stylistic developments of the avant-garde, making meaningful distinctions very hard to draw’ (Humble 19).


Involuntary Memory Oedipus Complex Literary Fiction Narrative Technique Popular Fiction 
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  1. 1.
    Alfred Hitchcock’s question in response to criticism of his film Stage Fright (1950) is relevant here: ‘So why is it that we can’t tell a lie through a flashback?’ (Truffaut 158) The (apparently) material depiction of the past would appear to guarantee its factuality. As Thomas Sutcliffe notes, part of what is at stake here is the disruption a particular kind of pact between the audience and the film-maker (11).Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    In a discussion of 1980s television adaptations of texts from the 1930s including Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth (1933) Roger Bromley identifies a similar shift in relation to the status of realism: ‘At their moment of original publication many of these [works] were welcomed as radical cultural interventions in a political struggle over poverty, injustice and unemployment. They were hailed for their “realism”. The problem is that the “realism” of that period, in the costume drama of television adaptation, becomes the “romanticism” of ours’ (112).Google Scholar
  3. 11.
    The kinds of techniques recommended for improving the reader’s social or employment prospects could also be used for other purposes. The music-hall entertainer ‘Mr Memory’, in Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation of John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935), is based on an actual turn-of-the-century act who performed under the name ‘Datas’, and specialised in answering the audience’s questions about sporting events and famous trials, and who, like Mr Memory, had the catch-phrase, ‘Am I right, Sir?’ Datas’ autobiography is unrevealing about the techniques he used to enable him to remember this information but it seems unlikely that he suffered from the hypertrophied memory with synaesthesia that afflicted Sherashevsky,Google Scholar
  4. the subject of A. R. Luria’s study The Mind of a Mnemonist (1968). Sherashevsky, whose performances involved the reproduction of lists of random words or abstract symbols provided by the audience, found that the associations particular words and sounds had for him made it difficult for him to follow a conversation or read a sentence from beginning to end without ‘irrelevant’ memories intruding.Google Scholar
  5. 13.
    In Priestley’s novel Bright Day (1946), the process of memory is presented rather differently when Gregory Dawson, a screen-writer, sets out to deliberately recall a series of events from his past after an encounter with some former acquaintances. This act of recall is linear (although there are some gaps) and non-spontaneous, and Gregory stops and starts his memory as though it were a film: ‘At that point […] I deliberately stopped remembering. It was late, and I got up to prepare for bed’ (71).Google Scholar
  6. 14.
    As Keith Williams notes, Greene also appealed to Dunne’s theories about dreaming to describe the experience of seeing the film Son of the Sheik (1926) after the death of its star, Rudolph Valentino: ‘The man is moving on the screen and at the same time he is dead and magnificently and absurdly entombed’ (qtd. in Williams 112).Google Scholar
  7. 20.
    In the course of the series, Lehmann does single out for praise two writers who Henry Reed classed as ‘young novelists’ in his 1946 study, although both were over thirty when the war broke out: F. L. Green, best known for Odd Man Out (1945),Google Scholar
  8. and Nigel Balchin, author of Darkness Falls From the Air (1942) and The Small Back Room (1943). The 1946 film adaptation of Green’s novel, directed by Carol Reed and featuring James Mason is probably now better known than the original. Balchin has also fallen into critical neglect, but I discuss his novel Mine Own Executioner (1945) in Chapter 4 below.Google Scholar
  9. 22.
    For example, as I have noted, Elizabeth Bowen began The Heat of the Day (1949) in 1943 but did not finish it until after the war,Google Scholar
  10. and Philip Larkin’s A Girl in Winter, completed in August 1945, was not published until February 1947.Google Scholar
  11. In one of the letters exchanged with Graham Greene and V. S. Pritchett published in edited form in 1948 in the Partisan Review as ‘The Creative Life in Our Time: An Exchange of Letters’, Bowen also noted that in the immediate post-war period, established writers suffered from ‘the complete nonexistence of all our earlier written books. That is to say, they do not exist commercially: owing to the paper shortage they are out of print’ (Bowen, ’Why Do I Write?’ 226).Google Scholar
  12. 23.
    Manning’s novel was first published privately and anonymously as The Middle Parts of Fortune in 1929. The reviewer is here referring to an expurgated version that appeared the following year; Manning’s name was added to the title page in 1943. The original, unexpurgated version was republished in 1977. See Niall Ferguson’s introduction to The Middle Parts of Fortune vii–xviii.Google Scholar
  13. As early as 1933, ‘war books’ could be debunked in the opening of A. G. Macdonell’s England, Their England (1933): ‘From Chapter 2 to the end there will be no terrific descriptions of the effect of a chlorine gas cloud upon a party of nuns in a bombarded nunnery […] There will be no streams of consciousness, chapters long, in the best style of Bloomsbury, describing minutely the sensation of a man who has been caught in a heavy-howitzer barrage […] there are going to be no long passages in exquisite cadences […] about the quietness of life in billets in comparison with life during a trench mortar bombardment’ (7).Google Scholar

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© Victoria Stewart 2006

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