Mid-20th Century Realism

I was going to be cruel and entitle this blog plodding melodrama but that implies a lack of affection. I find the language of serious, realistic books on the dull side – but the world they conjure up is the only one I truly feel at home in.

It goes like this:

Pre-history. Ancients: Greek, Roman, Pagan, Biblical.

Dark Ages. Renaissance. Reformation. Elizabethans. Jacobeans.

Enlightenment.

Gothicks. Romantics. Regency. Georgians. Victorians. Edwardians.

Ist World War.

Roaring 20s. Depression 30s.

2nd World War.

50s Austerity. Rock ‘n’ Roll. Mrs Thatcher. Brit Pop. Reality T.V. Social Media.

These are the great European landmarks I think by and in a quiet, and methodical way they were set in stone by the realist novels of the mid-20th Century… Three of my favourite examples being: Winston Graham, Howard Spring and R.F. Delderfield.

Graham (1908 – 2003) is famous for the Poldark saga set in Cornwall in the late 18th Century. The plots centre on love triangles, banking, mining, politics, and business rivalries. He also wrote suspense novels that explore sex and crime, and seem more old-fashioned than his historical works.

Spring (1889 – 1965) was a Welsh journalist who wrote about idealistic young socialists bumping up against establishment forces. He’s most famous for Fame Is The Spur, Shabby Tiger and My Son! My Son! (filmed as O Absalom).

Delderfield (1912 – 1972) also centred the rise of socialism in his works. His sprawling tales of school masters (To Serve Them All My Days), journalists turned spies (Diana), and nouveau local squires (A Horseman Riding By) typically take decades to unfold, most often starting before the 1st world war and ending after the 2nd.

There were angrier writers like Alan Sillitoe, more satirical writers like Kingsley Amis, darker writers like Patrick Hamilton, and deeper writers like Graham Greene, whose work will last longer… but the sheer humane normality of these three writers as they pieced together epic historical events with small lives lived as best they can creates our social history even as their books slip from our collective memory.

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