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Avant-garde realism: James Hanley, Patrick Hamilton and the lost years of the 1940s

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posted on 2023-06-07, 16:19 authored by Michael Neil Hallam
This thesis examines the dynamic relationship between realism and experimentalism in the 1940s and mid-century fiction of James Hanley and Patrick Hamilton. It is argued that the work of both writers during this period, although it might utilise realist forms and techniques, is not characterised by reversion to a traditional and outmoded model of novel writing that predates modernism, but rather, is engaged in a productive and sometimes tense dialogue with the gestures, manners and experiments of the avant-garde. In so doing, Hanley and Hamilton are read as key exemplars of a varied and adventurous literary moment that has been frequently overlooked within the broad narrative of twentieth century British fiction. It is argued that these works complicate the vocabulary of literary realism by suggesting the novel as a hybrid form: an aesthetic which privileges fidelity to a contemporary ?real?, especially the conditions of wartime and post-war and the shifting configurations of social and economic relations, even as it simultaneously projects a deep estrangement or satirical detachment from a sense of unified reality. Whilst registering the manifest differences between the two writers, the thesis explores their fiction‘s varying reactions towards and absorption of avant-garde idioms, such as the surrealist and expressionist, and analyses the affective qualities of that ?heightening? of language in the construction of their realist narratives. All the novels discussed, in a series of close readings, possess a stylistic or tonal singularity that tangibly frames their narratives, a process of divergence that contests and reconceptualises the concept and aims of literary realism. In historicising this phase of literary change, the thesis draws on the work of various cultural theorists and historians and elaborates the interpretive framework in which the literary 40s and the fiction of Hanley and Hamilton can be recast.


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  • doctoral

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  • eng


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