Novel, after World War II

The British Novel after World War II

After the Second World War British authors concentrated on content rather than developing new narrative techniques or experimental writing. They preferred to turn to contemporary subject matter. Accordingly, a selection of important post-war authors and novels can be grouped into the suggested categories:

At the time JOHN OSBORNE's drama Look Back in Anger (1956) broke with dramatic conventions. Novelists of OSBORNE's generation, the “Angry Young Men” produced neo-picaresque novels or plays that dealt with rebellion against middle-class values:

  • JOHN WAIN, Hurry on Down (1953);
  • KINGSLEY AMIS, Lucky Jim (1954);
  • JOHN BRAINE, Room at the Top (1957).

Working-class novelists expressed the class-consciousness that separated the working from the middle classes:

  • ALAN SILLITOE, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958), and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1959);
  • DAVID STOREY, This Sporting Life (1960);
  • STAN BARSTOW, Joby (1964).

Women writers: Investigating into how modern society offers independence and equality to women is one of the subjects of DORIS LESSING's (* 1919) novels about the character of Martha Quest (published between 1952 and 1969) and of the narration To Room Nineteen (1963).
Other women writers dealing with the dilemma facing modern women and social inequality are:

  • MARGARET DRABBLE, The Millstone (1965), The Needle's Eye (1972), The Waterfall (1969);
  • EDNA O'BRIEN, The Girls in their Married Bliss (1964), and Casualties of Peace (1966).


Apart form the novels mentioned above, DORIS LESSING's work falls into two categories:
Her novels and short stories of African life reflect her childhood and early adulthood (1924–49) and colonial life in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe):

  • The Grass is Singing (1950);
  • This was the Old Chief's Country (1951);
  • African Stories (1964).

The second group deals with the development or decline of social life in modern society:

  • The Four-Gated City (1969) extrapolates risks and tendencies of the present. It describes the possible survival of a small group of men after a nuclear catastrophe.
  • The Memoirs of a Survivor (1974) is a dystopian novel. It describes the dissolution of society from within: the breakdown of urban facilities and the decline of social relations; social norms are replaced by barbarism and anarchy. When evil and destructive forces prevail, the narrator is able to pass into an “inner room” of her house, a metaphor for her inner self, where scenes form the past are stored to be reenacted.
  • For the sequence of novels Canopus in Argos: Archives (1979–83) DORIS LESSING chose the medium of space fiction in order to explore the development of mankind. Her most recent novel is The Sweetest Dream (2001).

IRIS MURDOCH, who has written more than 20 novels, combines realism and the use of symbols in order to expose the development and depth of the human psyche:
Under the Net (1954), Flight from the Enchanter (1955), A Severed Head (1961), A Fairly Honourable Defeat (1970).

Well-known contemporary authors are:

  • JULIAN BARNES (* 1946): A History of the World in 101/2 Chapters (1989), Talking It Over (1992), Love, etc. (2002);
  • HANIF KUREISHI (* 1954): The Buddha of Suburbia (1990), Intimacy (1998), Gabriel's Gift (2001);
  • NICK HORNBY (* 1957): High Fidelity (1995), About a Boy (1998), How to Be Good (2001);
  • GRAHAM SWIFT (* 1949): Waterland (1983), Ever After (1992); short stories: Learning to Swim.

Stand: 2010
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