[Review of] London Writing of the 1930s, Anna Cottrell. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2017 pp 203

B1 Non-refereed journal articles

Internal Authors/Editors

Publication Details

List of Authors: Jason Finch
Publication year: 2018
Journal: George Orwell Studies
Volume number: 2
Issue number: 2


[First paragraph in lieu of an abstract]

This book could have gained a subtitle: ‘photographic
fictions’. Rather than trying to cover all of the literary writing concerned
with contemporary London that was produced during the 1930s, Cottrell examines
a single strand: a new sort of literary Naturalism, descended from Zola but
altered by technological innovations such as the cinema and the portable camera.
This new Naturalism, suited to the aims of a 1930s documentary fiction, is more
similar to Surrealism and even to abstract visual art than to
nineteenth-century Realism (6–9; 19–21). In it, female characters are presented
as being at once liberated from earlier restraints on where they could live and
who they could associate with, and also negatively associated with what
Cottrell calls ‘thoughtless perception’ (4). They – and many of the men they
associate with in this fiction – are typically presented as frightened, frozen,
threatened and isolated in city settings. The key writers are Storm Jameson,
Patrick Hamilton, Norah Hoult, Jean Rhys and, slightly less prominently, several
others including George Orwell. Alongside widely admired writers such as Rhys
and Orwell, Cottrell takes seriously a sort of writing often dismissed at the
time: that characterised by ‘skill in rendering subjectivities’ using
‘meticulously observed external detail’. Writing of the 1930s, not the
‘Thirties’, Cottrell’s project develops from the work of new modernism studies
expanding the canon of writers considered worth discussing among the multitude
who were active in that decade. Specifically this means a turn away from the
idea that if the 1920s was formally experimental, the 1930s was Realist and
political, an idea encapsulated in the earlier view of the decades as that of
the ‘Auden Generation’.

Last updated on 2019-20-11 at 03:52