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Decades in Literature (Part 1): The 1950s…

Friday, June 8th, 2012

What with the Diamond Jubilee last weekend, people seem to be pondering our Great British history more often lately. In particular I’ve noticed articles looking back over the six decades of the Queen’s reign and their most important moments. But what about their most important books? And so I’ve stumbled upon a rather handy topic for my blog entries – decades in literature.

This week, the 1950s – decade of the Queen’s coronation, and also of many classic books. In particular, the 1950s was the era of the epic fantasy novel. The Lord of the Rings (1954-55) and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950) seemed to tap into an urge for escapism in Britain; not surprising, given the relatively recent atrocities of World War II. Perhaps these classic stories let the reader forget for a moment about the haunting questions raised by the war, which had changed the world’s view of human nature forever. But at the same time they were incredibly relevant to the WWII experience: they were tales of battle, of the endurance of the human spirit, of good triumphant over evil.

So while the Americans were interrogating the darker side of human nature across the pond, publishing books such as Lord of the Flies (1954) and East of Eden (1951), we Brits arguably found a more comfortable route, taking what inspiration we could to create some of the most classic adventures in literature. Maybe it’s a sign of our stereotypical stiff upper lip that we turned such awful experiences into something uplifting, something that could make readers feel that yes, good does always prevail. Or was it perhaps a symptom of our inability to face what had happened? I leave you to decide…

Of course, a decade is difficult to sum up in not-too-many words – what do you think defined 1950s literature?

(To be continued…next week, the 1960s – decade of revolution, psychedelia and mini skirts!)

Sara Magness, Editorial Administrator

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    Lesley: on books for the long weekend. Please can someone schedule decent sunshine to read in too?

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    The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton
    Sophie: Yes, regular readers of the blog might remember that this one cropped up before, I'm still making my way through. At nearly 800 pages I think I’ll still be reading it at Christmas. But it’s so good I don’t think I care.

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