10 February 2009

The Work of Lionel Britton: Chapter 4: Outsider Modernism

In this chapter I shall begin by briefly outlining what are generally considered to be the major features of literary modernism. I shall then attempt to give approximate dates to the phenomenon and to give some of the many contributory factors leading up to it. My aim is to relate the characteristics of ‘mainstream’ modernism to the use by internal working-class writers of what I term ‘outsider modernism’, an expression I define later. In so doing, I am linking two modes of writing which are frequently seen as antithetical: as working-class literature is conventionally associated with realism, modernism is often considered to be elitist or bourgeois, and I investigate these claims. Most of this chapter, though, is an examination of several examples of outsider modernism in working-class novels of the inter-war years, concluding with Britton’s Hunger and Love.

What are generally understood as the key features of literary modernism are briefly but effectively described in an essay by David Lodge in Bradbury and McFarlane’s Modernism 1890–1930 (1976).1 Here, Lodge mentions the formal ‘experimental or innovatory’ nature of modernist literature, its concern with consciousness and certain psychological states, leading to a reduction of perceived objectivity in narrative, and a consequent breakdown of the conventional structure of the novel, perhaps with no beginning or closure, and perhaps without chronological sequence. Clearly, there is a conscious movement towards the self, into individual psychology, and a corresponding movement away from the representation of a common external reality. Self-referentiality is a common feature of modernism and I later show it as particularly prominent in Britton’s work.

Essentially, modernism is a different kind of realism which attempts to represent a psychological as opposed to a physical reality. This is often expressed as a stream of consciousness with its attempt to construct a series of random thoughts and sensations, or as an interior monologue, an attempt to reconstruct a person’s direct thoughts. Language may also be fragmented, with multiple voices often used without conventional grammatical indicators that there is more than one voice. Ideologically, modernism can be seen as an attack on conventional nineteenth-century realist narrative, and by extension as an attack on many aspects of nineteenth-century life: as society loses its apparent cohesion, things fall apart.

The origins of modernism are more difficult to ascertain. It seems de rigueur, though, to quote Virginia Woolf’s essay ‘Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown’ (1924), in which she criticizes Arnold Bennett’s work in particular and claims that ‘in or about December, 1910, human character changed’ although other critics point to D. H. Lawrence’s wartime 1915 — when ‘the old world ended’ — as a better guideline, at least for the beginnings of ‘high’ modernism.2 But although the key works of high modernism in English — such as Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922), and Woolf’s The Waves (1931) — were written within a relatively short space of one other after the war, there is a longer period of (pre-)modernist writing dating back to the nineteenth century. Raymond Williams, for instance, states quite bluntly that writers such as Dickens made possible the work of Joyce.3 In Modernist Fiction (1998), Randall Stevenson names Henry James and Joseph Conrad in particular as ‘transitional’ authors in what Malcolm Bradbury calls ‘[t]he “shake-up”, the change in consciousness’ which characterized modernism, and which Bradbury estimates was from about 1880 to about 1930, dates with which most critics would probably more or less agree.4

By the early 1930s, then, high modernism was disappearing, although its heritage continued. My principal aim in this chapter is to highlight its continuation in the work of several internal working-class writers, with particular reference of course to Lionel Britton’s Hunger and Love.The intellectual, social and historical background leading up to modernism is complex and varied. Bradbury lists some of the thinkers who had an important influence: ‘Significantly the change coincides with the emergence of William James and Bergson in philosophy, Freud and Jung in psychology, and Pareto and Durkheim in sociology, as influential forces in thought’.5 Einstein too played a major part, and Darwin and Marx were no less influential, although their important works were written a little earlier. And it is evident that the push towards sexual equality is an essential element to add to the list of contributory factors to the modernist phenomenon. Bradbury also gives the growth of population — and the attendant urbanization of the country — along with industrialization, massification and democratization, as all assisting in the shake-up. It would also be difficult not to consider World War I, as Lawrence had done, as a major transitional phase because it perhaps represents the sudden and in many respects definitive death of the continuing Victorian ethos at the same time as it also in many ways signals the beginning of a new epoch.Modernism is often associated with the deracinated individual, the outsider or the exile, a figure I deal with in the next chapter, and it is certainly not a coincidence that most of the central writers of modernist literature have their origins in another country or did not settle permanently in one place. Joyce was born in Ireland and at the end of Ulysses the words ‘Trieste–Zürich–Paris’ (representing the three places where he wrote the book) could easily symbolize the dynamic nature of the modernist narrative; Eliot and James were North Americans living in Britain, Conrad had his origins in Poland, Pound was a North American who lived in several countries, and Lawrence left England to travel restlessly around the world. Interestingly, Aldous Huxley describes Lawrence’s frequent travelling as ‘at once a flight and a search, a search for some society with which he could establish contact, […] and at the same time a flight from the miseries and evils of the society into which he had been born’.6 This quotation could be applied to a great number of writers using modernist techniques, and will later be shown to apply to Britton in particular, although his flight is into his own mind, and his version of Rananim (Lawrence’s ideal society) is in a far distant future, as I shall clarify in Chapter 6. Woolf’s voice, though, like that of other modernist women writers — for instance Gertrude Stein’s, Dorothy Richardson’s or May Sinclair’s — explores the world from a feminist perspective. In a possible allusion to Donne’s ‘On his Mistress Going to Bed’, Winifred Holtby states that:

'The women whom Mrs. Woolf knew were exploring the professional world, the political world, the world of business, discovering that they themselves had legs as well as wombs, brains as well as nerves, reason as well as sensibility; their Americas lay within themselves, and altered the map as profoundly as any added by Cabot or Columbus'.7

Holtby’s emphasis on psychology also evokes comparisons with Hunger and Love, particularly the ‘Columbus of the Mind’ pages (pp. 22–38).Perhaps one of the strongest critics of modernism at the time was Frank Swinnerton, a writer and critic Peter Keating considers to have been ‘actively committed to […] realistic fiction’, and who in A London Bookman (1928) claims that Woolf ‘lives in a very restricted circle of opinion and the whole content of her mind is in reality aesthetic. She is suffering from the applause of a little circle’, and this circle in turn ‘suffers from intellectual inbreeding, so […] has no relation whatever to the normal life of the community’.8 Jacques Mercanton remembers Joyce speaking of other critics of modernism: ‘It seems that […] some of those in the Auden–Spender circle […] had accused him of writing hermetic works “for the rich.” As though he didn’t write for everyone’.9 Cyril Connolly (although certainly not Stephen Spender) would probably have agreed with the criticism: in the February 1940 issue of Horizon, Connolly called Joyce, Proust and Woolf ‘Ivory Tower Dwellers’.10

And the years do not appear to have reduced charges that modernism is elitist. John Carey makes out a case for modernism as a plot to keep the barbarians from the gates of knowledge; he states: ‘The early twentieth century saw a determined effort, on the part of the European intelligentsia, to exclude the masses from culture. In England this movement has become known as modernism’.11 And Jonathan Rose backs up his general argument of modernism as an elitist plot:

'In the twentieth [century], autodidacts discovered that the cultural goalposts had been moved, that a new canon of deliberately difficult literature had been called into existence. The inaccessibility of modernism in effect rendered the common reader illiterate once again, and preserved a body of culture as the exclusive property of a coterie'.12

Carey also emphasizes the right wing nature of several modernist writers’ interests: for instance, Yeats and eugenics, Pound and Mussolini, and entitles a chapter ‘Wyndham Lewis and Hitler’.13 Other critics, however, have refuted arguments regarding modernists’ anti-democratic agenda. Although T. S. Eliot is noted for stating that ‘poets in our civilisation, as it exists at present, must be difficult’, Jewel Spears Brooker goes to some lengths to deny that T. S. Eliot is elitist, and claims that his use of the word ‘common’ has no derogatory meaning; she also emphasizes his love of Dante, ‘the most universal of poets’.14 She might have continued by mentioning Eliot’s role in the publication of former miner Idris Davies’s poems by Faber, but the argument would still be a little thin. More convincing as an indication that Eliot’s elitism is far from unproblematic is Danny Abse’s recollection of a meeting at the Institute of Comtemporary Arts in the early 1950s, where Eliot was present and the Jewish working-class anarchist Emanuel Litvinoff read his own poem, ‘To T. S. Eliot’; this was a rather fierce anti-elitist attack on Eliot from the viewpoint of an outsider and caused some alarm, but Abse, sitting behind Eliot, heard him mutter ‘it was a very good poem’.15 Equally convincingly, Robert Alter makes a strong argument for Ulysses being not only comprehensible to the ‘common reader’, but also enjoyable.16 And another strong argument, this time against Virginia Woolf as an elitist, is made by Melba Cuddy–Keane, whose central premise is that Woolf is a democratic intellectual.17 She quotes Woolf as wanting ‘a system that [does] not shut out’; to support this, Cuddy–Keane talks about the direct actions that Woolf performed for female suffrage, and of her work with the Women’s Co-operative Guild, although her main concern is to illustrate Woolf’s democratic principles as a writer, revealingly saying that this centred on ‘the social dynamics of a literate community and, in particular, on the empowerment of marginalized, repressed, or absent voices’.18

If the modernists represented an interior reality, it seems very odd to imagine how modernism can be considered to render the working class illiterate; everyone has access to this reality, and there is no reason why the working class should find this less comprehensible than any representations of ‘external reality’. As Cuddy–Keane also observes of Woolf :

'Having broadened the category of lowbrows to include both duchess and prostitute, Woolf then resituates the duchess and destabilizes any relation between brow and social position: ‘I myself have known duchesses who were highbrows,’ she continues, ‘also charwomen’ […]. Interests are one thing; economics, another. We are warned not to confuse them'.19

This is a very strong argument, and of particular interest in that the above words in quotation marks come from a supposed exemplar of elitism: it is evident that Woolf would in no way see, say, such an expression as ‘intellectual manual worker’ as an oxymoron: intellectuality knows no class or sex barriers. Along with Woolf, Gilbert and Gubar too are concerned with women as a political minority, colonized by patriarchy and shut out from society. The titles of their volumes of the trilogy No Man’s Land — The War of the Words, Sexchanges and Letters from the Front — indicate the oppositional nature of their subject: this is women on the warpath. Gilbert and Gubar say that ‘as much as the industrial revolution and the fall of God, the rise of the female imagination was a central problem for the twentieth-century male imagination’.20

The modernism that they write about seems to be a long way from elitism. Frequently, women writers employ modernist techniques as expressions of their frustration. For the outsider Jean Rhys and her female protagonists, for example, modernist techniques are a language to be used against the oppressor. And although the oppressor is of course male, he is also from another class, just as Phelps’s oppressors are. The antagonism between the sexes in their fight towards equality is in many respects mirrored in the struggle of the working class against the government and against their employers. In the modernist period, both women and working class groups were oppressed political minorities striving to make their voices heard in a changing world from which they had hitherto been excluded, but into which they were now seeking to be included.

As I stated in Chapter 3, the internal working-class novel began towards the middle of the nineteenth century, but it was perhaps not really until the 1930s, when mainstream modernism was beginning to decline, that working-class fiction, then by no means uncommon as a sub-genre, developed a more insistent voice. A limited but nonetheless significant number of working-class writers, among whom I certainly include Lionel Britton, were to adopt different aesthetic strategies. Mainstream modernism was a means of writing against the nineteenth-century realist grain: a new subject had to be expressed in new ways, instead of automatically following the well-trodden narrative path, although many did not hear the new voices of the dispossessed.

It was in the 1930s that a slightly different criticism was made by writers on the left that modernism was bourgeois, and ipso facto unsuited to the class struggle. The roots of this quarrel began in 1888, when Frederick Engels wrote a significant letter to Margaret Harkness after reading her first novel, A City Girl (1887).21 In it, Engels is enthusiastic about the book but claims that it is ‘not quite realistic enough’; he praises (Honoré de) Balzac and says that he ‘go[es] against his own class sympathies and political prejudices’. He claims that Balzac saw ‘the real men of the future’, and that La Comédie humaine (1842–48) is ‘one of the greatest triumphs of Realism’. This view of realism as the quintessential way to write about ‘real’ people in ‘real’ situations persisted into the heady Marxist days of the 1930s, with modernism seen as the bête noire of working-class literature. At the Soviet Writers’ Congress of 1934, Karl Radek — who of course had a political agenda rather than a literary one — maintains the praise for Balzac, and uses the word ‘bourgeois’ in relation to modernism three times in one sentence; he states that after Proust:

'The other hero of contemporary bourgeois literature, though he is not widely known even to bourgeois readers, is James Joyce, the mysterious author of Ulysses — a book which the bourgeois literary world, while reading it but little, has made the object of loud discussion'.22

Such attacks by the left were quite common. In an obvious criticism of modernism in Left Review by its publishers, the British section of the Writers’ International, it is stated that:

'The decadence of the past twenty years of English literature and the theatre cannot be understood apart from all that separates 1913 and 1934. It is the collapse of culture, accompanying the collapse of an economic system'.23

In a later issue of the magazine, Lewis Grassic Gibbon — a working-class writer by no means averse to using modernist techniques in his books — politely but bluntly dismissed this as ‘bolshevik blah’.24 David Margolies’s collection of articles from Left Review reveals a far from doctrinaire approach to leftist propaganda, with modernism certainly not automatically assumed as having the negative role that Radek had given it; Margolies highlights the Review’s doctrinal flexiblility in his Introduction, and included in the collection is Day Lewis’s praise for The Waste Land: ‘a very good poem and of value to the revolutionary’, as well as Spender’s generally favourable reviews of the work of D. H. Lawrence and Joyce.25 The Marxist literary critic Georg Lukács, generally considered as one of modernism’s principal opponents, also put forward nineteenth-century bourgeois realism in the novel as the literary model for writers in general to aspire to. But despite his criticism, Lukács did not slavishly toe the Soviet line vis-à-vis ‘socialist realism’. And no matter what Engels’s views may have been towards literary realism and his belief that the ‘truth’ would out through it, it seems rather ironic to continue to prescribe a middle-class literary antidote to working-class conditions inflicted by the middle classes themselves. Tony Pinkney suggests that Lukács’s model is in part a ‘rather desperate clutching for some stable literary model’, although Tony Davies believes that Lukács was under considerable pressure from the Stalinists to appear to be maintaining a socialist realist ethos, and calls the 1930s Balzac link an ‘absurdity’.26

If realism is generally associated with the nineteenth-century novel, and modernism with a reaction against it, the 1930s could hardly have seen a complete return to the realism of a former century. There was, in fact, an emergence of a different kind of realism, as opposed to Balzacian realism. As Pamela Fox says in Class Fictions

'In The Novel and the People (1937), [Ralph Fox] popularized what was essentially a Lukacsian [sic] position on realism. […] He critiqued modernism’s infatuation with individualism, marginalization, and decentredness (particularly its focus on the ‘mad’ and the ‘sick’) but not its potential for depicting the ‘fullness’ of human experience. The Novel and the People thus equally opposed the strain of naturalism popular in proletarian literature, proposing a new realism based in imagination, rather than observation'.27

Fox himself says that ‘Modern psychology has without doubt accumulated a mass of important material upon human character, in particular upon the deeper, subconscious elements in man, which the novelist must take into account’; and although he is very critical of Proust and Joyce, he says that ‘We shall no longer have the old naturalistic realism, no longer have the novel of endless analysis and intuition, but a new realism in which the two find their proper relationship to one another’.28 Obviously, this new realism is a little different from the Stalinist extension of Engels’s realism. The new realism could not reject modernism completely, but nor could it allow the novel to be suspended in a nineteenth-century bourgeois realist limbo. The world had changed considerably, and its literature had to move forward to reflect this fact. This meant, at least in part, an acceptance of modernist elements into the structure of the novel.

A revised view of the 1930s realist aesthetic is in evidence today. Valentine Cunningham argues against the conventional perception of the decade as ‘a sort of unfortunate historical blip or bypass on which writing got snagged and slowed down in the good long march of the twentieth century from modernism at the beginning to postmodernism at the end’, and says that some instances of James Barke’s writing ‘simply will not sustain any clean-cut opposition between Realism and modernism, socialists and modernists, Social Realism over against Joyceanism’.29 The Russian revolution had a great effect on a large number of people, although by no means all of its supporters or sympathisers were opposed to modernism. Modernist literary techniques may have deterred some, but along with Barke mentioned above, other working-class authors making use of them — although very infrequently and very sparingly by some of the following — were F. C. Boden, Walter Brierley, Joe Corrie, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Walter Greenwood, James Hanley, Gwyn Jones, Jack Jones and John Sommerfield. And Lionel Britton, of course. Barke’s Major Operation (1936), for instance, contains sections obviously inspired by James Joyce, and which Johnny Campbell, leader of the Communist Party of Great Britain, claimed to be ‘one of the greatest novels of working-class struggle yet written in any English-speaking country’; and Ethel Mannin was similarly effusive: ‘one of the most stimulating pieces of revolutionary writing I ever hope to read, or ever have read’.30

But Major Operation is not a thoroughgoing modernist novel: it simply contains strong Joyceian elements amongst the realism. Barke uses modernist techniques both to express working-class solidarity and as a kind of socialist/communist hymn in praise of working-class life. This is part of the definition of outsider modernism I give below, and is a literary phenomenon which was to some extent recognized in Tressell by Wim Neetens:

'Both [The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’s] form and its career stand witness to the possibility of a democratic modernism which hopefully negates the dictates of the literary market place by being intelligent and experimental without being academic or obscure, popular without being trivial, oppositional without being marginal, instructive without being patronising or dull'.31

The expression ‘democratic modernism’ is significant, and is evidently strongly linked to outsider modernism.Outsider modernism continues to manifest similar preoccupations with individual consciousness as mainstream modernism, although it has a different aesthetic. It is (with perhaps the only exceptions being Hunger and Love and John Sommerfield’s very experimental May Day mentioned above) not the full-blown modernism that exists, for instance, in such works as Ulysses (1922) or The Waves (1931), where modernist elements are continued throughout the length of the books; it is a hybrid form which manifests itself in the interstices of realism and is normally only occasionally used in a novel; this is probably because the conventions of the day tended to dictate a more ‘realistic’ approach to literature following what some saw as the excesses of modernism.32 Above all, outsider modernism is concerned with matters of class: political considerations are of primary importance to its aesthetics. In particular, outsider modernism reveals its distinct features at times of heightened emotion in the characters or in the narrator, especially in a psychological or physical crisis. This, of course, is the same function that mainstream modernism serves so frequently, but the emphasis in outsider modernism is on the political component, and naturally in working-class literature this must by definition be socialist of some nature: sometimes outsider modernism is an implicit or explicit cry for working-class solidarity or a celebration of the working classes themselves, sometimes it is a cry of fear, contempt, anger, or other emotions directed against the ruling class. And by extension, outsider modernist techniques are also used by other marginal groups which have incorporated them into their literary repertoire, to be used when the occasion demands: not a new toolkit, but a selection of very different and very useful supplementary tools.By way of a fuller illustration of the above, I now move to the work of several internal working-class authors who have incorporated modernist techniques into their writing, although at the same time I largely avoid works which have already been critically examined specifically for this purpose, such as A Scots Quair, Major Operation and May Day, although I briefly mention the last two because of the light that they shed on some of the authors’ earlier works treated here. In particular, I analyse passages from Barke’s The Wild Macraes (1934) and The World his Pillow (1933), Tilsley’s The Plebeian’s Progress, Gwyn Jones’s Times Like These (1936), Sommerfield’s They Die Young (1930), F. C. Boden’s Miner (1932), and James Hanley’s ‘The Last Voyage’ (1920s). Finally, I examine Hunger and Love in rather more detail.33

Cunningham notes of Barke’s Major Operation: ‘This novel gives us classic carnival on the Bakhtinian model; it celebrates the workers, the lower orders, uprisen for the day, powerful, en masse, at play’.34 A similar comment could be made about John Sommerfield’s most well-known novel May Day, and Klaus saw the influence of the cinema on the novel, where ‘the camera-eye [is] almost like a searchlight over the city’.35 Although Sommerfield’s first novel, They Die Young, does not in general concern the working classes, it is nevertheless interesting to compare it with May Day. In They Die Young, cinematic preoccupations are also very much in evidence. Sommerfield even uses a Hitchcockian device — later to become relatively common and more developed in post-modernist fiction — when the protagonist Christopher meets a man in a café who gives his name as ‘John Sommerfield’ along with what was presumably Sommerfield’s own address in London.36 Although the modernist techniques are less frequent, They Die Young shows a less restrained use of them than the later novel. The following passage, with its repetition, its line breaks, its unconventional spacing, and its alternating use of upper and lower case letters, perhaps owes as much to the influence of early examples of what is now known as concrete poetry as it does to cinematic techniques, but it shows that Sommerfield’s preoccupations are with the flickers or fluctuations of consciousness: it is attempting to represent psychological reality, or more precisely to conflate Christopher’s ‘bored and depressed’ feelings with the rhythm of the train he is travelling on:

'The window framed a series of horrid impressionist pictures, Title — to lower window pull strap towards you — to lower window — to LOWER window

To LoWeR wInDoW pULL sTrAp ToWaRdS yOu


lower window…

to lower


pull strap

to lower window pull strap toward [sic] You

To lower WINDOW pull STRAP towards


the phrase fled through channels of his mind in agonised obedience to a rhythm: a piercing steady rhythm that was woven from bright lengths of steel and the gaps between them.



The above passage represents the thoughts of Christopher, who lives an existence in which sex and alcohol numb the feelings of meaninglessness. According to Andy Croft, Sommerfield’s conversion to communism came ‘[n]ot long before’ the publication of They Die Young.1 The earlier novel perhaps shows no trace of communist influence, and stylistically the above techniques belong, Stuart Laing would probably argue, to mainstream modernism’s ‘many modern chroniclers of the city’ who are concerned with ‘making the readers share any sense of isolation or disconnection that the characters may feel’.39 By contrast, Laing says that ‘[May Day]’s task is to reveal the connections and relations’, depicting a ‘shared experience’ of political activity. Coming as it did in 1930, when mainstream modernism was drawing to a close, it could perhaps be suggested that They Die Young forms a bridge between mainstream modernism and outsider modernism. And while They Die Young manifests perhaps the most extreme examples of such typographical uses by an outsider modernist author, Sommerfield frequently uses line breaks in the later novel, but his modernist excesses had tempered somewhat by the time he wrote it: for instance, he uses conventional speech marks throughout May Day, whereas there are none in They Die Young.

James Barke’s books are certainly concerned with the ‘shared experience’ of the working class. Below I show two examples of Barke’s outsider modernist techniques from two earlier novels, and although they are very different examples, both The Wild Macraes and The World his Pillow praise the working-classes. The first is an incident in a pub in The Wild Macraes, where a very respected member of the working classes appears and has a sudden effect:

'Sleep vanished. The night turned day.

Splutter of eggs and bacon coming in momentary lulls of silence. Magnificent odour of boiling fat. Gurgle of golden spirit pouring generously into ready glasses. Laughter, excitement.

Slouch of hot coffee being gulped down from a saucer. Grinding of great molars in brown toast.

A terrible belch of alcoholic wind tearing up through the gullet and exploding outwardly.


Contentment: deep animal satisfaction. Rest. Night again'.40

The impressionistic language could be describing a banquet, although it is in fact a celebration of the simple pleasures of working-class life: laughter, excited talk, eating and drinking, and then the final luxury of relaxing; the images are sensual, frenzied, and animalistic. In Barke’s The World his Pillow, modernist techniques are put to different uses.

The following passage illustrates how the heightened excitement and atmosphere of the advent of the war affects the villagers of Glenaraig. Unlike Grassic Gibbon, who uses italics to represent speech throughout A Scots Quair — although in none of his other novels — there are no indicators of speech in the following passage: the narrator’s initial sentence becomes submerged in the polyphony, entangled in the confusion of ideologies:

'The village gasped and stammered. The Germans have been preparing for this for years. Some say the King himself is a bit of a German. Who? Old Geordie? What! I’d like to hear any man say that to me. Lord Roberts is the man. But what about Kitchener? Our Iain is thinking that he will maybe go if they want him. Och, it will not last. No, no: it couldn’t last. A fortnight will be seeing it all over. A lot of bloody Germans will not be doing much. Wait and see. You just wait and see. Willie Sutherland is in the Territorials. Aye; and Donald MacIntyre’s in the 7th A. and S. H. Och, yes, they’re all being called up. Ah! But the regular army will see them through. You mind yon spies and their folding-up canoe? They came up the More in June. Artists, they said they were. Bloody spies! Sure the government has been sleeping. This has been going on for forty years. When we built a battleship, Germany built two. Two? A dozen, man. Yes, yes, a dozen. Now didn’t I tell you this would happen? Did you see the price Finlayson is putting his sugar up to, at all? the imagination!'.41

The narrator’s voice is unmistakeable: the first sentence concerns the narrator’s statement about the confusion in the village. But the second— ‘The Germans have been preparing for this for years’ — begins the polyphony proper, and a number of voices are represented in the ensuing sentences: the passage is so effective because it leads the reader into the atmosphere of the confusion, and in so doing re-enforces its effect. It is impossible to tell how many voices are represented, and sometimes impossible to judge where one begins and the other ends. Barke’s intention is to convey the atmosphere when war is declared, and what the above passage reveals is a mixture of emotions — surprise, indignation, anger, affirmation, certainty, uncertainty, disbelief and resignation among them. It is an expression of outsider modernism, of what happens when the political leaders themselves are in disarray.

The two quotations below are taken from a single uninterrupted passage from Gwyn Jones’s Times Like These. They too are impressionistic, and indicate the turmoil felt by most people during the general strike of 1926, in which reports from newspapers and the radio vary greatly depending on which side of the political spectrum they fall. The style continues for almost two pages, of which these are two highlights:

'Uncertainty was the only certainty. Full main line services on railways — National Union of Railwaymen one hundred per cent. Drift back in Lancashire mills — Lancashire practically a hundred per cent. Nottinghamshire weakening — Notts miners a hundred per cent. Full tram services in Liverpool — Liverpool paralysed. Cardiff Docks in full swing (this by wireless on Sunday night) — complete standstill at Cardiff Docks (the message delivered by a filthy messenger on a filthy motor-cycle combination)'.42

The phrases contradict each other as in The World his Pillow, although towards the end of the passage the language is a little different:

'Then shattering news. Unions beaten! Unions beaten, lads. Don’t believe it! Unions beaten! Unions beaten! We’re licked. Unions beaten; strike in last stages; men drifting back to work; threats of victimisation; get back to work while you can; ultimatums from railway companies; ultimatums from transport boards; ultimatums to electricians, engineers, fitters; ultimatums, ultimatums, ultimatums; drift, drift, drift, drift. End of the strike in view; Trade Union leaders seek terms; Samuel intervenes; Samuel prepares terms; Samuel terms accepted by Unions; strike over. No — Miners’ Federation rejects terms. Quarrels in the T. U. C.; acceptance — rejection; quarrels among men’s leaders; strike over, except for miners, and they’re always on strike, anyway; all back to work to-morrow; look after your own skins, lads; address by the Prime Minister to-morrow'.43

The contradictory reports are still there, but this second passage is a mixture of reportage and emotion. It concerns the reaction of the workers as it is revealed that the discussions with Herbert Samuel and the T. U. C. have resulted in the general strike being abandoned. Resignation sets in, and then there is a general return to normal working conditions. The second passage brings in a more human element, a reaction to the situation, in which the polyphony of the workers is evident. The repetition and enumeration are also reminiscent of Britton, particularly of his very long sentence reproduced in the following chapter, and it is significant that he should have chosen to dramatize this novel in particular. In the above passage, and in spite of the turmoil and the conflicting atmosphere, there is still the use of words of companionship or at least of shared experience in terms such as ‘lads’ and ‘we’.

But there many instances in working-class literature in which the isolation and disconnection of which Stuart Laing speaks — although in relation to mainstream modernism — are more in evidence, when the language used expresses not togetherness or the shared experience of the turmoil of the outside world, but the isolation of the human mind. The difference, though, is that the expression of this isolation and disconnection is seen from the viewpoint of the working classes in opposition to the bourgeoisie or the ruling class.Consciousness is vital in the work of Tilsley, who was without doubt influenced by Britton. When Allen Barclay is almost at the end of his wedding vows at the register office mentioned in the previous chapter, his attention focuses on a shop, highlights an example of the fluctuations of Allen’s consciousness:

'The name of the shop was beheaded by the left-hand window-frame. HTON gleamed at Allen in big fat gold letters. He inclined slightly right, increasing the angle of vision. An S preceded the H. Must be Ashton. No, it could be Rushton — perhaps Rishton. He went over the vowels…The registrar was looking at him. ‘I will,’ said Allen'.44

As we have seen previously, the importance of the passage is not that Allen does not appreciate the significance of the occasion: quite the reverse, he feels intimidated by it, frightened by the sense of importance of it, because it ‘reek[s] of legal affairs’. He is partly afraid that he will be accused of something, and that the forbidding registrar will suddenly bring the proceedings to a close. His mind wanders because he needs to focus on something he can understand, something over which he has control. An inanimate object is necessary, and he logically applies his attention to the world outside the frightening register office. And the narrator follows the faltering path of his thoughts, moving from straightforward narrative statement very swiftly in an attempt to transcribe Allen’s conflicting thoughts, as in: ‘An S preceded the A. Must be Ashton. No, it could be Rushton – perhaps Rishton.’ But these are only Allen’s thoughts. There then follows an ellipsis, in which the bourgeois discourse takes over, and the registrar interrupts Allen’s reverie: his ‘I will’ seems more of a submission to authority than anything else. Allen’s class, youth and lack of self-confidence make him an easy prey to outsider angst, especially on official occasions, although the apparently trivial digression of interest to the shop fascia is also silently oppositional: Allen has already expressed his disliking for conventions when he has to wait for Anne at the register office, when the interior monologue has previously intruded on the social conventions of the time: ‘Why in hell couldn’t they have come together? Stupid superstitions’.45

A much more anguished use of interior monologue is in F. C. Boden’s first novel, Miner, where the young miner Danny has just experienced an explosion in which several miners die. As he walks home, the narrator appears to try to console him as Danny has fleeting hopes of the oblivion which his own death would bring when faced with such a miserable working life. They are not unlike the style the narrator uses to Arthur Phelps in Hunger and Love: ‘Here, Dan, come on now, that’s enough of that. Get on home and get a wash, and get out into the fresh air. Forget about it. It won’t do a bit of good brooding over it. Come on, Dan, lad, get on home’.46 Such is the empathy that it is impossible to tell if it is the narrator who is speaking, or whether Dan is telling himself to do the above things: the two voices have merged, as they often do in Britton’s novel. But such an incident cannot be forgotten, and as he goes for a walk that evening, Danny is haunted by the memories of finding, with his colleague Frank, the charred but still living body of one of working-class fiction’s many Arthurs. Questions of suicide again assail Danny as he remembers the horrors he has seen, and he contemplates a cycle of work at the mine alternating with longer periods of drawing money at the employment exchange, which, as the narrator ironically informs the reader, was once a place of entertainment (in obviously more prosperous times):

'A shift in the pit and two on the dole!

‘Is theer somebody on theer, Arthur?’ came Frank’s voice. He could see the thing trying to lift its hand and point along the level. A shift in the pit and two on the dole!

‘Daniel Handby — three days — eight and sixpence,’ the clerk in the skating-rink was crying faintly. A shift in the pit and three on the dole! Was it worth living for? Wouldn’t it be better to end it, get out of it and be done with the pit for ever?'.47

Among the most harrowing expressions of outsider angst is James Hanley’s short story ‘The Last Voyage’, in which John Reilly — tormented to distraction by the younger crew — is to be dismissed from work on a ship because of his age. His feelings of reification intensify as he nears his last voyage. The expressionistic language is similar to the description of a nightmare, although he is awake:

'He did not answer. Were now strange feelings in him. Heart was not there. Was an engine in its place. Ship’s engine. Huge pistons rose and fell. He was beneath these pistons. His body was being hammered by them. All his inside was gone now and was only wind there. Wind seemed to blow round and round all through his frame. Gusts of wind. Were smothering him. Many figures were tramping in him. Voices. All shouting. All talking together. He could hear them. They were walking through him. Third engineer was one.


All voices spoke as one now. He could not understand their words. And always this engine was moving, these pistons crushing him. Three o’clock in the morning and no sleep yet'.48

Reilly has not so much become a machine — far worse, he has the consciousness of being one: ‘Heart was not there’ excludes ‘His’ at the beginning, denoting a lack of possession of his own body. The fragmented language echoes the fragmented consciousness. His many aggressors (meaning his bosses and the crew who are in collusion with them) become one, and this is a force which is inside him, torturing him. At the end of the story, his only escape is to throw himself into the furnace where he works.

I conclude this chapter by analysing several passages in Britton’s Hunger and Love, beginning by giving a brief examination of the naturalism in the novel, and then continuing with several examples of outsider modernism, all of which describe a certain state of mind, but often very differently. Unlike the many working-class books which contain outsider modernist passages very occasionally, Hunger and Love has many strong examples of it. The narrator of Hunger and Love is not omniscient, although he of course has access to Arthur’s mind. Possibly more importantly, the narrator is a mediator between Arthur and the outside world. Much of the novel is written in a very realistic style and shows a catalogue of poverty, and in a way Britton can be seen as a documentarist of life at the bottom of the social spectrum in Britain in the late 1920s, when most of the book was written. The narrator describes the filthy conditions Phelps lives in, as in ‘the old woman’s closely guarded collection of w. c. stinks, stale human sweat stench, seeping in a garbage stink and unwashed dustbin from the yard’ (p. 355). Every rise in pay that Phelps receives and what he can or cannot buy with it, the price of things and what he will have left after spending on necessities, are recorded in detail, as are the hierarchical structures of the places he works in, and the nature of the work. As well as documenting poverty and its many (de)gradations, he also documents the book trade, about which he mentions such trade sources as the Clique and Book Auction Records, and the book sizes, bindings and conditions mentioned in the previous chapter. Throughout the novel there is an emphasis on science and evolution, usually told in huge didactic chunks by the narrator. Phelps’s, and obviously the narrator’s, interests clearly have a scientific bias: ‘Meiosis ceases and mitosis begins, and presently here’s you, a metabolic entity among phenomena’, or in this second example which gives a good example of Britton’s sense of humour, ‘Well, Faustus, get your rods and cones on the job’ (pp. 134, 344).

But although Britton is documenting the life of a worker at the bottom of the class system, he by no means uses exclusively realist techniques. Unlike many working-class works, Hunger and Love shows more than a few isolated examples of modernist techniques. Britton was very conscious that he was writing an experimental novel, which is certainly one of the reasons why he refused to allow publishers to interfere with his work: in response to Winifred Holtby’s generally favourable review of Spacetime Inn in Time and Tide, Britton wrote a letter to her saying: ‘I am trying to do new things with form, content and style’.49 These words are almost a repeat of the advertisement for Hunger and Love mentioned at the beginning of Chapter 3. Britton’s publisher, Constant Huntington, calls Hunger and Love ‘the starting-point of something new in literature, and perhaps the beginning of that new development to which the novel must finally come’.50 George Rees of the Egyptian Gazette also positively identifies Hunger and Love with modernism, as opposed to what modernists — and perhaps particularly Virginia Woolf — saw as old-fashioned in the realist novel of previous decades: ‘There is no suggestion here of the polished inevitability and geometrical balance that characterizes [sic] the books of [Bennett and Galsworthy] and the lesser fry of an age that is rapidly being supplanted’.51

The modernist techniques in Lionel Britton’s novel are used in a different way from Barke’s techniques, and far from being a celebration of the working classes, and even further from being the bourgeois tool that Radek claimed that Joyce was using, Britton seizes modernist techniques as anti-bourgeois weapons. In Hunger and Love, they are layers over the documented facts (or perhaps a dovetailing of the two), sometimes appearing in the cracks of naturalism, a way of allowing the protagonist Arthur Phelps (or the narrator) to express himself, and a more direct way of attacking his bosses and by extension of attacking society at large. It is also, of course, a great howl of contempt. His modernist techniques frequently attack both the status quo and allow the reader a greater insight into Phelps’s mind, especially when in turmoil, and are often used in times of crisis. The relatively new outsider modernism we see emerging here in Britton’s and other writers’ works is quite different from that of mainstream modernism, and it would perhaps not be an exaggeration to suggest that Britton frequently (although by no means always) sees modernism as the language of the oppressed. As previously stated, an early chapter of Hunger and Love is entitled ‘Mind-mining’, which like many chapters in the book is revealing in itself: this is quite distinct from the physical mining so often the subject of the working-class novel. One is reminded of what Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary in August 1923, when she was writing a novel she would later call Mrs Dalloway: ‘I should say a good deal about The Hours, & my discovery; how I dig out beautiful caves behind my characters’.52

In Hunger and Love the emphasis is on the cerebral: Arthur spends his time in thought, and the book is full of these thoughts, sometimes randomly scattered, often more logically exposed. The learning process is displayed to the reader by Arthur’s constant remarks about his own thoughts, as for instance in this: ‘A citizen of no mean city. Litotes’ (p. 371). The first sentence is a quotation from the Bible (Acts 21: 39), and is here obviously intended to be ironic. (It is incidentally also a sentence that Barke uses in one of his outsider modernist sections of Major Operation).53 Britton may well have been aware that the sentence was not an uncommon example of the use of litotes, but the juxtaposition is nevertheless significant. Arthur has mentioned this word before, along with various other tropes that he has learned: we are frequently informed of the fruits of his self-tuition. But if Britton seriously intended the above remark as a mere display of self-taught pyrotechnics on Phelps’s part, it would surely be a damp squib. Rather, Britton is aware that ‘litotes’ is a Greek word, coming from the original seat of democracy, that Phelps has a very lowly status in the city in which he lives, and that he does not think ‘his’ country is at all democratic. Britton is driving his political — and frequently anti-religious — points home, and a very effective way of doing this is to use society’s own platitudes.The voice of another person is often imagined, and without inverted commas, as in this example when Phelps receives a reply to a job application: ‘Right! Gutter-snipe, you’d like a better job! D’you think you’ll get it in those clothes?’ (p.175). This is an odd mixture of Arthur’s opinion of himself and of his idea of the interviewer’s future opinion of him: a kind of predictive ventriloquism. There are very few uses, for example, of ‘he said’ or ‘she replied’ because, on the occasions when the reader sees him in the ‘objective’ world outside, Britton intends his use of direct speech to have the maximum impact, a much more immediate effect.

In one passage — if it is removed from its context (and the first part of which was mentioned earlier in the thesis) — Britton uses a modernist technique with no apparent criticism of the bourgeois class. As Arthur is going homewards down Putney Hill one Sunday evening, the narrator makes the following comment, again using the second person:

'Down the hill you come. Circles of light under the lamps, stretches of darkness in between; circles of light, stretches of darkness; down the hill. Ether vibrations, ether deserts, light and darkness, coming towards you, going away from you; and into the light, into the darkness, coming towards you, going away from you, keeping ahead of you, falling behind you, passing by you, dainty feet, transparent stockings, neat shoes, pat-pat, pat-pat, with the swaying draperies above them, the hints of glorious flesh coming and going with the movements of the muscles under the muslin, under the cotton print, under the silk' (p. 217).

The passage is partly about sexual frustration, partly about evanescence, about how that which is within one’s grasp rapidly moves out of it within the passing of an instant, as the fluctuations of time transform reality. Yet there is continuation in the rhythm of the piece, light and darkness constantly alternating — ‘Circles of light under the lamps, stretches of darkness in between; circles of light, stretches of darkness’. There is a musicality to the passage, and the flickering movements of Arthur’s consciousness are intensely cinematic, relating to the world of film in which Britton was so interested. But this is not a display of how poetic Britton can be. In the sentence before this quotation the narrator says, ‘During the day there had been sunshine, and now the earth had whirled on and got in between you and the sun, and now there was darkness.’ The true meaning of the passage had already been explained. The ‘circles of light, stretches of darkness’ do not merely relate to the rhythm of the lights of the streetlamps and the darkness between them as they pass in and out of the consciousness of the walker. And the ‘coming towards you, going away from you’ does not merely relate to the young women as they shine in the light and disappear into the dark. The rhythm is the rhythm of the life of trade, with the sun of Sunday being the only light the working-classes are allowed before the darkness of the world of trade swallows them up for another week.

The following passage is the closest the novel moves towards a love scene, but even here trade intervenes. Arthur has deep feelings for Miss Wyman which transcend adolescent sexual frustration, and the following is an illustration of the conflict he feels on looking at the beauty that his penniless state renders unattainable:

'But the blood is going round inside the darkness of your body and your will is no longer under your control, and the outline and boundary of your existence have become vague: here in the shop, in the middle of low and base activities, at the ordering of mean and sordid minds, you have a sense of catching up with the meaning of the world. And you know your shirt is hanging out; and never has been properly clean. And I know you are making a game of me, but I wouldn’t care a damn what happened to the earth if only this could keep on forever' (p. 42).

The external world, the shape of Miss Wyman, is having a profound effect on the mind and body of Arthur, who, despite the distorting filter of the external world of trade, is beginning to understand the ‘meaning of the world’. In sympathy with this understanding, or perhaps as a mark of it, the narrative shifts voices. The first person singular appears outside quotation marks a number of times in the novel, including an occasion shortly before the above passage, although its use is occasionally ambiguous: usually the ‘I’ refers to the narrator, although sometimes there is a doubt if it is the narrator or Arthur. In the example above, there is no ambiguity at all. The narrator begins with the second person and ends by merging with the character to become ‘I’, as opposed to the ‘you’ that Miss Wyman has become: the narrator and Arthur, very briefly, have become one. With regard to Arthur’s awareness of the apparent ‘game’ Miss Wyman is playing with him, it would also appear, in spite of the ambivalence of Miss Wyman’s feelings towards him, that the moment is as near to Arthur’s idea of perfection as possible. Arthur/the narrator would have the moment last forever, although he/they realise(s) that it is impossible. This is an example of the narrator’s bringing together the inner and the outer world. It seems to be a means of making the outsider appear to be less of an outsider, and as such is probably an example of one of the aims of outsider modernism.

The following episode is an illustration of the division between inner and outer worlds, of the difference between the ontologized and the reified Arthur. Unsurprisingly, it is the bourgeois world which creates the problems. Sometimes, the narrator addresses Arthur as ‘he’ or ‘you’ with apparent lack of discrimination, or at other times to avoid confusion because there is another male person in the story. But often the ‘he’ represents a public, objectified Arthur whom the narrator sees as a wage slave, whereas the ‘you’ represents an independent, subjective Arthur with whom the narrator strongly identifies, and who is associated with ‘life’, which above all means the freedom to read. Consequently, I shall refer to these two often distinct types as ‘the he-Arthur’ and ‘the you-Arthur’, where the former indicates the depersonalization of the world of trade (and by extension possibly even the outside world in general), whereas the latter signals more of an ontological state. In an episode leading up to his dismissal, the grocery assistant Arthur follows a customer (whom he calls ‘Madame Importance’) to her flat, symbolically carrying a heavy basket of vegetables on his head: trade weighs heavily on his mind, impinging on his thoughts. To illustrate this, the language used to describe the delivery is typically telegrammatic (and rather similar to what Bertrand Russell refers to as Britton’s ‘head-line abbreviation’), indicative of Arthur’s perfunctory attitude to the job: ‘Top landing, door open, in kitchen, whup, off your head and on to the kitchen table’ (p. 18). Arthur imagines that his head, now relieved of its heavy burden of vegetables, will be free to ‘steal’ a little time from his employer in order to read Palgrave’s Golden Treasury in the sun: ‘What you want is culture. What you want is life’ (p. 18).

But the next two sentences very clearly illustrate the split between the public and the personal Arthurs. The paragraph begins: ‘“Just a minute!” a voice said behind him. And instantly the basket was seized out of your hand as you are turning away’ (p. 18). Seizing the basket, Madame Importance re-acquaints Arthur with the world of trade by taking from him a symbol of that world, and at the same time she reaffirms his existence in that world by her verbal and physical intervention in the subjective world into which he has just returned. For a few brief moments, Arthur thought that the world of trade was ‘behind him’ both physically and mentally, and that he could once more retreat into the world of self-education. But the terse command pulls him back to the world of commerce, where only the he-Arthur exists.

However, even in the first sentence, Madame Importance becomes an apparently disembodied voice: the narrator is raising his own voice, and by extension, of course, Arthur’s voice too — and against the business world — by objectifying her. In the second sentence there is a similar occurrence, and in the words ‘And instantly the basket was seized out of your hand’, the use of the passive voice without an agent distances Madame Importance further. And Arthur has perhaps not altogether de-ontologized. The restoration of the you-Arthur briefly returns him to the subjective universe, and ‘as you are turning away’ also has this effect, the use of the present continuous tense reinforcing the allegiance between the narrator and Arthur.

Madame Importance then loads the basket with loose cabbage leaves, and the he-Arthur puts the basket back on his head on his slightly circuitous route back to the shop. Unseen by his enemies defending the world of commerce, the you-Arthur snatches a moment’s respite: ‘Now you can laze back to the shop, workwards, trundle, back street, solitude, upturned bushel, sun energy tingling down the back of your neck, Milton’s Ode on the Nativity. Life’ (p. 19). Arthur is oblivious to the consternation he has caused by spilling the cabbage leaves on the stairs, but with his return to the shop and his subsequent dismissal from employment, the narrative returns the reader to the he-Arthur: he is an expendable commodity.

At one point in the novel, the narrator’s thoughts dwell on Wordsworth’s writing poetry as common speech: ‘it’s so simple one can hardly grasp that it has never been thought of before’ (p. 143). So saying, the narrator often attempts to go beyond this, to write from within Arthur as he actually thinks, using the modernist interior monologue technique. One example of this is in the ‘All Balls’ chapter, when Arthur is packing his possessions after having been discovered having a prostitute in his room, and is then forced to move out of his lodgings:

'Well, my lad, tie your belongings together. Useful invention, string. Must have been string of a sort that tied old Aesop’s faggots together. It was string, too, that tied the brick to the cat’s neck and the can to the dog’s tail. Knots; good stuff, knots. One piece of matter gets in the way of another piece of matter. Granny’s knot, true-lover’s knot, hangman’s knot. What God has joined let no man put asunder. There is something one day mankind will tie up tight, and NO man will put it asunder. Hanging, they do say, is too good for them. Judge not, that ye be not judged' (p. 371).

There is a Joycean ring to the passage, although there is no evidence that Britton had read Ulysses. And again, it is unclear if the ‘Well, my lad’ is the voice of Arthur mentally talking to himself, or the voice of the narrator speaking in a reassuring way towards him, although it is more likely to be Arthur encouraging himself. Certainly the other sentences in the paragraph seem to be a representation of Arthur’s thoughts. The language is moving by an association of ideas from one thing to the next, much more in line with Arthur’s thoughts than with his actions. Forced out of his home to certain virtually identical squalor elsewhere, Arthur’s only possible refuge is internal. As he ties up his meagre possessions, Arthur thinks of how useful the invention of string is. He then moves to thoughts of the substance that bound the faggots in Aesop’s ‘The Bundle of Sticks’, where a dying father tries to teach his sons that co-operation is the only way that progress will ever be achieved. The political associations are perhaps obvious here, and Britton is once more flying his political colours. This is of course Britton’s central idea in Hunger and Love, and also one that is central to his plays. It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that the health Britton associates with co-operation should immediately be followed by images of brutality, the opposite of mutual co-operation — tying a brick to a cat’s neck (presumably to drown it), and tying a can to a dog’s tail (presumably for a sadistic game). Typically with Britton, Arthur’s mind then moves to a more scientific way of looking at knots: ‘One piece of matter gets in the way of another piece of matter.’ From there, the thesaurus takes over with its knotty associations: ‘Granny’s knot, true-lover’s knot, hangman’s knot.’ And then Arthur’s mind picks up on the second phrase: ‘What God has joined let no man put asunder.’ This sentence not only links the words of the Christian marriage ceremony to the Bible (Matthew 19: 6), but is also an ironic allusion to the perceived unholy ‘marriage’ of Arthur to a prostitute the night before. It is also, of course, a criticism of the sexual mores of the time, and in the next sentence, which still continues the idea of the knot, the narrator (or Arthur) delivers his full fury: ‘There is something one day mankind will tie up tight, and NO man will put it asunder.’ For the exact meaning of this, the reader needs to continue: ‘Hanging, they do say, is too good for them. Judge not, that ye be not judged’. In the final sentence, and for the first time in the paragraph, there is no mention of the knot that provided the initial impetus for the movement of the paragraph, or the movement of Arthur’s thoughts. But there is still a link: hanging reminds Arthur of the judge who proclaims the death sentence, but also of the Bible he detested at school but enjoyed for the ‘dirty bits’. The paragraph as a whole, and in particular this closing sentence, shows how Britton uses the interior monologue to throw religion back in the face of the purveyors of it, and in so doing he turns the Bible on its head and exposes religious practitioners for the hypocrites that he believes them to be. At the same time, of course, it implicates the legal profession, and governments which draw up the laws. After this, it becomes more obvious that in the sentence about tying ‘them’ up, the ‘them’ relates to the whole Establishment, and that Britton looks forward to the destruction of the state. There is clearly nothing bourgeois or elitist in this paragraph, but everything to show that Britton is using modernist techniques to effective ends in his indictment of institutions.

Perhaps more than any other, the final chapter — ‘Towards Infinity’ — reveals the narrator’s full hatred of the status quo and his use of modernist devices to denounce it. As someone who had ‘suffered injury and hardship at the hands of hysterical mobs’ and received an eighteen-month prison sentence for refusing to fight for ‘his’ country, Britton unleashes his contempt for the warmongers in this section (pp. 663–705). A crescendo builds with various voices vying against Arthur in their support for the war. The language sometimes proceeds logically, but sometimes fragments as the narrator tries to convey the hysteria of the time. When war is declared, the narrative falls apart. Often, quotation marks are not used, and the narrative takes on different voices. It is not always possible to tell what is parody, irony, the voice of propaganda, or the propaganda suggesting things in Arthur’s mind, such is the polyphony: ‘’Ear that one, ’Erbert?’, ‘Lloyd George is a good man; telling phrases; stirs your blood’, and ‘Be a bit of a spree, of course. Journey to France’ (pp. 678, 679). The reader has access to his conflicting thoughts about the possibilities of going to France:

‘Might lose a couple of eyes. Or a jaw. — There are girls in France. Girls are freer there. Plenty of girls. — Coition. Is it worth it? Eye poked out, doodle shot off: what’s the use of girls to you, then?’ (p. 679).

Whatever the effect of the propaganda, any incentive to fight either for financial survival and the possible spin-offs from sexual gratification are automatically negated in Arthur’s mind. Above all, there is no patriotic feeling whatever. Here the ‘you’ is occasionally, perhaps, a synonym of the impersonal ‘one’, but more often than not it seems as though the now mature Arthur has merged with the narrator again: it is more of an ‘I’. The propagandistic sentence ‘Kitchener wants you’ is repeated twice, although urgency is denoted by the fact that the second time it is in small capitals, the third in large capitals. The outer voice merges with the inner to produce a dialogue: Kitchener wants you!
Let him damn well want! (p. 680).

Often, it is clear that the voice is speaking out against the propaganda: ‘Rally to your country. Our profits will go down. In the name of the Lord! Blood, blood, blood! Profits will go down. In the name of the Flag! Blood, blood, blood, blood!’ (p. 689). The final voice is filtered through the bishops, politicians and the bourgeoisie, and is without doubt Britton’s own. It is a good example of the polyvocality or heteroglossia of the language that Bakhtin writes about, and although this is not ‘concealed speech’ because Britton uses speech marks, it is quite evident that he is parodying the government and those in general whom he perceives to be warmongers.54

In the 1930s mainstream modernism had by no means dealt a deathblow to realism, but nor was realism firmly ensconced in its former secure position. The world had changed radically. Time, space and matter were no longer absolute, everything had fragmented, and there was no longer a common external reality with which to cement the self, or rather, reality was not only unknown but also unknowable. The unconscious mind had opened up untold horrors, and the working classes, women, and other political minorities were knocking on the door of reform or revolution. The nineteenth century finally seemed to be dying after the war. Far from the 1930s being a return to realist form, the years leading up to World War II reveal an appropriation of mainstream literary modernism by certain political minorities. These writers had evolved an outsider modernism through which to express their hopes and fears and into which, and to varying degrees, they incorporated their writings. Above all, and this is something which is particularly powerful in Britton’s Hunger and Love, outsider modernism is very often not just an expression of solidarity with its fellow ‘sufferers’ — it is also a scream of contempt for those who represented the status quo, those who perpetuated the exclusion of political minorities. In short, it is an expression of alienation.

1 David Lodge, ‘The Language of Modernist Fiction’, in Modernism 1890–1930, ed. by Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane, (Harmondsworth: Pelican, 1976; repr. London: Penguin, 1991) pp. 481–96 (p. 481).

2 Virginia Woolf, 'Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown' (London: L. and V. Woolf, 1924; repr. in Collected Essays, 4 vols, Hogarth, 1966), i , 320; D. H. Lawrence, Kangaroo (London: Martin Secker, 1923; repr. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1950), p. 240.

3 Raymond Williams, The Politics of Modernism: Against the New Conformism (London: Verso, 1989; repr. 1996), p. 32.

4 Randall Stevenson, Modernist Fiction (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1992; rev. ed. Prentice Hall, 1998), p. 21; Malcolm Bradbury, The Social Context of Modern English Literature (Oxford: Blackwell, 1971), pp. xxiii, xxxi.

5 The Social Context of Modern English Literature, p. xxx, n. 1.

6 The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, ed. by Aldous Huxley (London: Heinemann, 1932; rep. 1934), p. xxvi.

7 Winifred Holtby, Virginia Woolf (London: Wishart, 1932), p. 91.

8 Peter Keating, The Haunted Study: A Social History of the English Novel 1875–1914 (London: Secker & Warburg, 1989), p. 288; Frank Swinnerton, A London Bookman (London: Secker, 1928; repr. 1930), pp. 112, 116.

9 Jacques Mercanton, ‘The Hours of James Joyce’, trans. by Lloyd C. Parks, in Portraits of the Artist in Exile: Recollections of James Joyce by Europeans, ed. by Willard Potts (Portmarnock: Wolfhound Press, 1979), pp. 206–52(p. 234).

10 David Leeming, Stephen Spender: A Life in Modernism (New York: Henry Holt, 1999), p. 136.

11 John Carey, The Intellectuals and the Masses: Pride and Prejudice among the Literary Intelligentsia, 1880–1939 (London: Faber and Faber, 1992), pp. 16–17.

12 The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes, p. 394.

13 The Intellectuals and the Masses, pp. 182–208.

14 T. S. Eliot, ‘The Metaphysical Poets’, in Selected Essays (London: Faber and Faber, 1932; repr. 1951), pp. 281–91 (p. 289); Jewel Spears Brooker, Mastery and Escape: T. S. Eliot and the Dialectics of Modernism (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994), pp. 65–66.

15 Valentine Cunningham, ‘Litvinoff’s Room: East End Anarchism’, in ‘To Hell with Culture’, pp. 141–61.

16 Robert Alter, ‘Joyce’s Ulysses and the Common Reader’, Modernism/Modernity 5:3 (1998), 19–31.

17 Melba Cuddy–Keane, Virginia Woolf, the Intellectual, and the Public Sphere (London: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

18 Virginia Woolf, the Intellectual and the Public Sphere, pp. 33, 39.

19 Virginia Woolf, the Intellectual, and the Public Sphere, p. 25.

20 No Man’s Land, i: The War of the Words, 156.

21 Frederick Engels, Afterword, A Manchester Shirtmaker: A Realistic Story of To-day by Margaret Harkness (London: Authors’ Co-operative Publishing (as ‘John Law’), [1890]; repr. Brighouse: Northern Herald Books, (as ‘John Law (Margaret Harkness)’), 2002), pp. 83–85.

22 Maxim Gorky and others, Problems of Soviet Literature: Reports and Speeches at the First Soviet Writers' Congress, ed. and trans. by H. G. Scott (London: Lawrence, [1935]; repr. as Soviet Writers’ Congress 1934: The Debate on Socialist Realism and Modernism in the Soviet Union, Lawrence and Wishart, 1977), p. 152.

23 Left Review, ‘Writers’ International (British Section)’, December 1934, p. 75.

24 Left Review, ‘Writers’ International (British Section)’, February 1935, p. 179.

25 David Margolies, ed., Writing the Revolution: Cultural Criticism from Left Review (London: Pluto Press, 1998), pp. 1-22 (p. 14), p. 53 and pp. 174–77.

26 Tony Pinkney, ‘Raymond Williams and the “Two Faces of Modernism”’, in Raymond Williams: Critical Perspectives, ed. by Terry Eagleton (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989), pp. 12–33 (p. 24); Tony Davies, ‘Unfinished Business: Realism and Working-Class Writing', The British Working-Class Novel in the Twentieth Century, pp. 125–36 (p. 131).

27 Pamela Fox, Class Fictions: Shame and Resistance in the British Working-Class Novel, 1890–1945 (Durham, NC.: Duke University Press, 1994), pp. 55–56.

28 Ralph Fox, The Novel and the People (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1937), p. 103–05.

29 Valentine Cunningham, ‘The Age of Anxiety and Influence; or, Tradition and the Thirties Talents’, in Rewriting the Thirties: Modernism and After, ed. by Keith Williams and Steven Matthews (London: Longman, 1997), pp. 5–22 (pp. 5, 14).

30 James Barke, Major Operation: A Novel (London: Collins, 1936); H. Gustav Klaus, ‘James Barke: A Great-Hearted Writer, a Hater of Oppression, a True Scot’, in A Weapon in the Struggle: The Cultural History of the Communist Party in Britain, ed. by Andy Croft, (London: Pluto Press, 1998), pp. 7–27 (p. 9).

31 Wim Neetens, Writing and Democracy: Literature, Politics and Culture in Transition (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991), p. 154.

32 John Sommerfield, May Day (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1936; repr. 1986).

33 James Barke, The World his Pillow (London: Collins, 1933; repr. Bath: Chivers, [n.d.]); James Barke, The Wild Macraes (London: Collins, 1934; repr. Bath: Chivers, [n. d.]; Gwyn Jones, Times Like These (London: Gollancz, 1936; repr. 1979); John Sommerfield, They Die Young (London: Cape, 1930; repr. as The Death of Christopher, New York: Cape and Smith, 1930), p. 291; F. C. Boden, Miner (London: Dent, 1932); James Hanley, 'The Last Yoyage', (London: Jackson, 1931; repr. in Tramps, Workmates and Revolutionaries), pp. 58–84.

34 Rewriting the Thirties, p. 16.

35 The Literature of Labour, p. 161.

36 They Die Young, p. 291.

37 They Die Young, pp. 61–62.

38 Andy Croft, Introduction, May Day, p. xii.

39 Class, Culture and Social Change, p. 149.

40 The Wild Macraes, p. 111.

41 The World his Pillow, pp. 153–54.

42 Times Like These, p. 162.

43 Times Like These, p. 163.

44 The Plebeian’s Progress, p. 91.

45 The Plebeian’s Progress, p. 90.

46 Miner, p. 187.

47 Miner, p. 200.

48 Tramps, Workmates and Revolutionaries, p. 67.

49 Lionel Britton, letter to Winifred Holtby.

50 [Constant Huntington (?)], ‘Hunger and Love’, p. [1].

51 ‘An Epic of Hatred’, Egyptian Gazette.

52 The Diary of Virginia Woolf, ed. by Ann Olivier Bell, 5 vols (London: The Hogarth Press, 1977–84), ii: 1920–1924 (1978), 263.

53 Major Operation, p. 121.

54 Michael Holquist, ed., The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M. M. Bakhtin, trans. by Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist, University of Texas Press Slavic Series, 1 (Austin: University of Texas, c.1981; repr. 2004), pp. 301–31.

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