9 February 2009

The Work of Lionel Britton: Chapter 5: Alienation and Escape

In my ‘Lionel Britton’s Place in Working-Class Fiction’ chapter I identified Britton with that particular sub-genre and in the following ‘Outsider Modernism’ chapter I detailed a more specific dimension of working-class fiction in the works of several authors. In this chapter I extend the outsider writing category already analysed to include other political minorities whose work essentially concerns alienation. It is important to note from the beginning, though, that the outsider is a relatively common character in mainstream writing of this period, or indeed other periods, and not just limited to minorities. Gertrude Stein, for instance, popularized the expression ‘The Lost Generation’ which she applied to a group of North American writers and artists voluntarily exiled in Paris after World War I; Carole Angier talks of a wider geographical area, of a ‘shared obsession of thousands of newly uprooted people’, and says that ‘pessimism and nihilism’ were ‘everywhere in the postwar world’, and specifically mentions Conrad, Kafka, Canetti and Céline.1

In this chapter, I analyse aspects of alienation in writers who have generally received less critical attention, those who have not usually been included in what might, very tentatively, be classed as the traditional outsider literature canon. As well as déclassé writers such as Lionel Britton and John Hampson, also belonging to this group are Jean Rhys and her deracinated women, Winifred Holtby and her spinsters, the homosexuals Rhys Davies and John Hampson again, and Mulk Raj Anand and his depiction of downtrodden workers in India, the country of his birth. The work of all of these writers shed light on the alienation shown in Hunger and Love.

The word ‘alienation’ perhaps almost automatically suggests Marx to many people, and although he fits comfortably into the context of Hunger and Love, Marx’s ideas are not the most logical for a theoretical basis of this chapter because he is essentially concerned with alienation in the working classes, notably in the work place: Marx’s work does not readily tie in with the larger group of outsiders I am analysing in this chapter. Sartre and Beauvoir’s use of alienation, on the other hand, can be used to embrace all political minority groups. I have therefore chosen their ideas as more appropriate for analysis and analogy in the work of this wider group.

Probably the most concise definition of alienation is given in Raymond Williams’s Keywords (1976), in which he makes use of Melvin Seeman’s influential definition in his article ‘On the Meaning of Alienation’ in American Sociological Review (1959). Williams sums up Seeman’s interpretation of alienation in the following way:

'(a) powerlessness — an inability or a feeling of inability to influence the society in which we live; (b) meaninglessness — a feeling of lack of guides for conduct and belief, with (c) normlessness — a feeling that illegitimate means are required to meet approved goals; (d) isolation — estrangement from given norms and goals; (e) self-estrangement — an inability to find genuinely satisfying activities'.2

The relevance of this definition to the writers I mention, and its relevance to the atheistic existential theories of Sartre and Beauvoir, are crucial to an understanding of this chapter. Williams’s first category can be expanded to include a feeling of dispossession, either literal because of the lack of property or a physical homeland, or a deeper, although more vague, ontological disenfranchisement; in addition, meaninglessness is very often accompanied by feelings of the absurdity of life, perhaps along with feelings of reification, or being (used as) a mere object. My argument will not only include an analysis of the manifestations of alienation in particular literary works, but also its causes and any possibility of escape from that state.

It might be argued — with some justification ­— that Dadaism or surrealism, with their anarchistic sentiments, and their contempt for institutions and social niceties, would be a more appropriate perspective through which to view Hunger and Love in particular; and it could also be argued that these movements are more in keeping with the time Hunger and Love was written. However, Sartrean existentialism also has strong links with anarchism and also holds institutions and social conventions in contempt; and although existentialism did not come to widespread public attention until the 1940s and beyond, it is evident that Sartre had constructed the essential foundations of his philosophy as early as 1926: Annie Cohen–Solal notes that in this year, in a work published in the magazine Les Nouvelles littéraires (and which Beauvoir also quotes in some detail to make the same point), ‘one can detect the future themes of both Nausea and Being and Nothingness’: in other words, Sartre and Britton began working on their projects at around the same time.3 Also of note is that Russell, in a letter to Britton in 1948, gives Sartre as the only person who could be of any help to Britton, as he too ‘combines philosophy with works of imagination’; the nature of Britton’s work is not mentioned.4 Perhaps more importantly, both Sartre and Beauvoir were sympathetic to the plight of political minorities, and Beauvoir, for instance, had joined ‘Équipes Sociales’ [‘Social Teams’] — an organization founded by her literature teacher Robert Garric with a view to bringing culture to the working classes — in 1926, when she was eighteen.5 I shall make references to Sartre’s key existential work, L’Être et le néant (1943), and also to L’Existentialisme est un humanisme (1946), a paper that briefly defines existentialism, and which Sartre originally read to the Club Maintenant in 1945.6 In addition, I refer to Sartre’s first novel, La Nausée (1938), in order to illustrate some of my points: it is an excellent example of his early philosophy as summarized in his fiction.7 The inclusion of Beauvoir is necessary because she brought a vital feminization to existentialism, and as Margaret Simons says: ‘the simplistic view reducing Beauvoir to Sartre is inadequate for a full comprehension of her work’.8 And although Beauvoir retained the basic tenets of Sartrean existentialism, Simons also indicates a few areas of Beauvoir’s work which suggest a (publicly unacknowledged) influence on Sartre, notably her early work on the Other, particularly in relation to ‘the look’ mentioned below. Simons believes that Beauvoir anticipated Sartre in L’Invitée (1943), and more famously in Le Deuxième sexe (1949) where she used the concept of the Other to apply to political minorities, whereas Sartre did not use the expression in this more specific sense — not even in Réflexions sur la question juive (1946) — until he wrote Saint Genet (1952).9 Nevertheless, when Simons interviewed Beauvoir in 1979, Beauvoir claimed that she was ‘completely influenced by Sartre, on whose philosophical perspective she could have no influence at all since she was not herself a philosopher’.10 For Beauvoir, a ‘philosopher’ is someone like Spinoza, Hegel, or Sartre, someone who ‘builds a grand system’. The point she is making is clear, although Beauvoir’s self-deprecating claim appears to be merely reinforcing her own ideas about the difficulty for women to project themselves into the future.

It would be largely irrelevant, and certainly far beyond the scope of this chapter, to even summarize atheistic existentialism, so I limit myself to a few existentialist concepts that can profitably be applied to the kind of literature of alienation I am dealing with here. Broadly speaking, the three categories are nothingness, mauvaise foi, and transcendence, although I often unavoidably combine two or all of these because they are closely interlinked.11

Sartrean existentialism begins by stating that God does not exist. Existence therefore precedes essence (or (self-)definition), meaning that we are existentially abandoned. From birth, we are contingent in a valueless world where there is no determinism nor (therefore) any human nature.12 In such a world without any initial meaning, any direct relationship between interior and exterior is non-existent, and absurdity is therefore the norm; this feeling of nothingness or meaninglessness is vividly expressed in La Nausée. One of Sartre’s most noted expressions from L’Étre et le néant is that ‘we are what we are not, and we are not what we are’.13 This means that, unlike man-made objects, we have no essence to begin with, and must constantly project ourselves forwards into the future and away from what we were: ‘by transcendence [or projecting myself forwards into the future as a subject], I escape from everything that I am’.14 There is no exact correspondence between past and future, as the present continuously disappears into the past. By transcending ourselves, which is in effect another way of saying by freely engaging with the outside world, we are constantly renewing our definition of ourselves. We are the total product of all our actions, meaning our past. (Self-)definition, then, is our essence for Sartre, although this is of course an understanding of essence not as the fixed state that one might perhaps imagine, but as something which is perpetually changing. We are in constant anguish, which is in part caused by the feeling of nothingness, and we must keep defining ourselves within this freedom. In our transcendence, though, we are responsible not only for ourselves but also for others, as Sartre believes that in choosing our own freedom it is incoherent of us not to choose the freedom of others too (which is also a major cause of anguish). Sartre says ‘[Man] realizes that he cannot be anything […] unless others recognize him as such. To discover any truth at all about myself I have to do so via others. Others are indispensable to my existence’.15 This, then, is how we discover both others and our true selves: different consciousnesses surging into the future. Sartre’s expression for this is ‘inter-subjectivity’. But encountering others introduces another problem for our transcendence, because Sartre sees life as conflict, and the ‘look’ of others is a strategy of alienation which transforms a person into an object, the only solution to which is to ‘look’ at the other person in return, and in so doing alienate him or her. Interior and exterior thus become one through mutual transcendence, or inter-subjectivity. The process of self-definition is only finalized on our death. It is relevant to note here that Beauvoir believes that because of the dominance of society by men, it is more difficult for women — and married women in particular — to become transcendent. Although Beauvoir acknowledges that there have been positive changes in society regarding its attitude towards women, she remains conscious of the great burden that a woman carries: ‘today still, although her position is evolving, woman is severely handicapped’.16 Nevertheless, Beauvoir believes that ‘In reality, all human existence is transcendence and immanence at the same time’.17 She looks towards a different world with some hope: ‘The future can only lead to an increasingly stronger assimilation of woman into the masculine world of the recent past’.18

But the pathway leading out of nothingness and into transcendence, for man or woman, is troubled by mauvaise foi, a very intricate and paradoxical psychological mechanism which needs to be explained in a little detail. Terry Keefe has drawn attention to some rather vague examples of Beauvoir’s (and of Sartre’s too): they sometimes very loosely use the expression ‘mauvaise foi’ to mean ordinary lying, and even include straightforward errors, which is plainly inconsistent with existentialist philosophy as defined by Sartre himself.19 Sartre makes it quite clear that mauvaise foi cannot arise from a simple error or from ignorance, and that it exists in a paradoxical realm in which we are aware of one thing but convince ourselves of something very different. Mauvaise foi is a specific kind of lie: ‘We will readily accept that mauvaise foi is a lie to oneself, if lying to oneself is at the same time distinguished from ordinary lying’.20 Mauvaise foi involves ‘concealing an unpleasant truth or presenting a pleasant error as a truth’, and ‘any man who hides behind the excuse of his passions, any man who invents a determinism is a man of mauvaise foi’.21 Mauvaise foi therefore exists in a determined world in which human nature is — in error according to Sartre, of course — often thought to exist, and which is also the most important barrier to our freedom. Mauvaise foi is, in fact, an escape from freedom, indeed a form of alienation in itself, although many people choose it because of the comfort it affords: it objectifies them, and therefore invests them with an often static, artificial essence. Mauvaise foi is ‘inauthentic’, and as such is a means of escaping from freedom and retreating into reification, and therefore any possibilities of self-definition (or essence): it seeks to deny our ability to overcome the absurdity, or the ‘original contingency’ into which we are born, and prevents us from behaving ‘authentically’, by which Sartre means in bonne foi.22 Sartre divides those people in mauvaise foi into two categories — the ‘cowards’ who hide behind their serious airs and deterministic excuses, and the (usually bourgeois) ‘scum’ who believe their existence is necessary.23 (Some analogies between mauvaise foi and ‘false consciousness’ — a ‘Marxist’ expression originally coined by Engels but never in fact used by Marx — are evident, although it would be a digression to pursue the issue here).24

Jean Rhys’s books are filled with men who are very similar to Sartre’s ‘scum’. And Rhys is also relevant to Britton in several respects: as a doctor’s daughter and a white Creole woman from Dominica who moved to England and began working as a chorus girl, she was a kind of déclassé figure; in some ways her female characters are similar to Arthur Phelps: both live at the mercy of dominant males, and both are have an inferior social status. Rhys’s protagonists are outsiders in an absurd world, and in fact the absurd for Jean Rhys’s characters is very much an everyday reality, as it of course is for Sartre and Phelps. Her women’s lives are financially commanded by men who treat women as their toys, or dolls to be more specific. In Good Morning, Midnight (1939) Sasha watches the shop ‘dolls’, ‘thinking what a success they would have made of their lives if they had been women. Satin skin, silk hair, velvet eyes, sawdust heart — all complete.’25 This is a frequent image of Rhys’s, and in her much later Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), the unnamed Rochester character speaks of Antoinette as both a ‘doll’ and a ‘marionette’.26

In After Leaving Mr Mackenzie (1930), Julia Martin’s existential torment is plainly depicted; on the day of her mother’s funeral, a kind of nausea grips her: ‘all the time she stood, knelt, and listened she was tortured because her brain was making a huge effort to grapple with nothingness’.27 Unable to project herself into the future, she is locked into the absurdity of existence. On another occasion, Julia speaks to Uncle Griffiths about having left her husband, and then an argument follows between them in which ‘She felt as though her real self had taken cover, as though she had retired somewhere far off and was crouching warily, like an animal, watching her body in the armchair arguing with Uncle Griffiths about the man she had loved’.28 Frequently, there are splits of this nature between the mind and the body of Jean Rhys’s female characters which seem to verge on the pathological; Rhys herself once told an unnamed Frenchman that she could ‘abstract [herself] from [her] body’.29 The Frenchman was shocked, although Sartre would of course see this as a normal part of existence.

Other people pose a problem for Rhys’s protagonists. Julia reveals a kind of inversion of existentialism in which she states that we have a form of essence as children, but lose it when we mature and others intrude upon our existence:

'When you are a child you are yourself and you know and see everything prophetically. And then suddenly something happens and you stop being yourself; you become what others force you to be. You lose your wisdom and your soul'.30

This is in fact a common occurrence in Rhys’s female characters, particularly in times of crisis, and one of the strategies used by them — perhaps in an attempt to preserve their sanity, although nonetheless in mauvaise foi — is a mental return to this paradisiacal state of childhood. In Voyage in the Dark (1934) Walter terminates his relationship with Anna, who later puts her head in the bath and listens to the tap water running, which reminds her of her childhood in the Caribbean: ‘I would pretend it was a waterfall, like the one that falls into the pool where we bathed at Morgan’s Rest’.31 And in Quartet (originally published as Postures, 1928), after Marya has begun her extra-marital affair with Heidler, ‘A horrible nostalgia, an ache for the past seized her’, and she immediately thinks of two lines of a children’s song in French, which relate to permanent loss.32

Rhys’s female protagonists seem to be essentialists, then, inventing a determinism for themselves, being thrust out of their childhood Garden of Eden by others, who for Rhys are of course overwhelmingly male. This is evidently quite distinct from Sartre’s ‘original contingency’, but rather adulthood seen as the Fall, where we lose our essence and the absurdity begins. Other people, then, bring about the absurdity for Rhys’s female characters, as they initially and frequently also do for Sartre, and as the possessing classes do for Arthur Phelps by preventing him from attaining ‘the human’. For Rhys, though, it is specifically men who freeze women into an object. One is reminded here of Beauvoir’s concept of the Other, which is how men see women. Another illustration of this is the quotation below, where Sasha sees men as the flaw to women’s mindless oneness:

'As soon as you have reached this heaven of indifference, you are pulled out of it. From your heaven you have to go back to hell. When you are dead to the world, the world often rescues you, if only to make a figure of fun out of you'.33

The word ‘rescues’ is ironic, of course, as Sasha does not want to be ‘rescued’ by others — she finds it unfortunate that the world should intrude upon her mental anaesthesia. The hell of the existence of (male) others reflects an inability on the part of Rhys’s women to transcend their situation: others turn them into objects, which Beauvoir would of course agree with.

There is a very different example of the objectification process — and of mauvaise foi at the same time — in a conversation between two characters in the café Camille in La Nausée, when Docteur Rogé (an example of one of Sartre’s self-important scum) greets one of the customers, the pathetic Monsieur Achille, as an ‘old nutter’.34 Achille’s healer has arrived, and, thus classified by the doctor, he feels invulnerable, as his name — the French for Achilles, of course — almost suggests; he has only to act out his ascribed role in order to free himself from absurdity and, the reader imagines, the horrors of the Nausea. Monsieur Achille believes he has found his essence, and the narrator comments: ‘And there we have it: the other smiles with humility. An old nutter: he relaxes, he feels protected from himself: nothing will happen to him today.’ The self-deceived cure the self-deceived. ‘Inauthentic’ self-definition here inevitably depends on others, and this is an excellent example of alienation, although the object of attention evidently does not experience it as alienation: for a brief time, it is experienced as freedom from anguish. Rhys’s women, on the other hand, are incapable of this kind of mauvaise foi.

Rhys was not just an outsider because she was a woman, and moreover a woman from a foreign country. It is impossible to judge to what extent either of these two distancing factors influenced a third source of alienation, but Rhys suffered from another form of colonization: an incapacitating shyness in which the self feels invaded by others. (And it is significant that Arthur Phelps, who also suffers from a milder form of shyness, nevertheless experiences similar sensations of being invaded.) Angier notes the two occasions when Rosamond Lehmann saw Rhys; the first time was when Rhys visited Lehmann, her sister, and Lehmann’s friend Violet Hammersley for tea, although such was Rhys’s shyness that the three women had great difficulty communicating with her; on the second occasion, Lehmann was invited to Rhys’s house, although Rhys was so drunk that she did not recognize her.35

In Good Morning, Midnight in particular, Rhys gives a vivid account of the problem. It is only possible for Sasha to speak fluent French, for instance, when she has had a drink or when she knows and likes a person. In one episode, just as Sasha is being dismissed from employment by Mr Blank, the language used and the mood shown very closely resemble one of Britton’s silent howls. These are thoughts in retrospect:

'So you have the right to pay me four hundred francs a month, to lodge me in a small, dark room, to clothe me shabbily, to harass me with worry and monotony and unsatisfied longings till you get me to the point when I blush at a look, cry at a word. […] Let’s say that you have this mystical right to cut my legs off. But the right to ridicule me afterwards because I am a cripple — no, that I think you haven’t got. And that’s the right you hold most dearly, isn’t it? You must be able to despise the people you exploit. […] Did I say all this? Of course I didn’t. I didn’t even think it'.36

But Sasha felt the absurdity, which is similar to that which Arthur Phelps experiences, where he is given starvation wages and is then criticized for looking like a scarecrow. Both Phelps and Sasha are mentally crippled in several ways.

Unlike Roquentin, the protagonist in La Nausée who at the end of the novel appears at least to be moving a little towards ‘authentic’ self-definition, there is no escape route for Sasha. For Rhys’s female characters, the mauvaise foi of the nostalgic feelings of childhood or the deadening sensations of alcohol can provide a temporary reprieve from the horrors of the existence of others, but there is nevertheless very little place for even ‘inauthentic’ self-definition in the world of Rhys’s women.

Sartre gives a well-known example of mauvaise foi which is of relevance to Rhys’s characters. It concerns a young woman who has just met a man who is attracted to her. After some deliberation, she decides to allow him to take her hand, although she divorces her mind from her body: ‘the hand lies motionless in her partner’s warm hands: neither consenting nor resisting — a thing’; she has retreated into her mind, looking at her body ‘from on high as though it were a passive object to which things can happen, but which can neither cause nor avoid them, because everything is external to it.37 Rhys’s protagonists — and Anna Morgan in Voyage in the Dark in particular — behave very much like this, objectifying their bodies, believing against all evidence that the man loves them. In Le Deuxième sexe, Beauvoir says that husbands give their wives ‘no direct grip on the future or the world’ because the husband is the social mediator.38 Such is the case with Rhys’s kept women, who only accomplish their fleeting freedom through men, and even that is difficult to obtain, as Anna discovers: ‘I was so nervous about how I looked that three-quarters of me was in a prison, wandering round and round in a circle. If he had said that I looked all right or that I was pretty, it would have set me free’.39

Nevertheless, Rhys’s alienated women certainly make gestures of protest against their position, and attempt to transcend the moment by becoming subjects defining themselves, notably when Anna stabs a lighted cigarette into Walter’s hand, or when Julia contemptuously brushes a glove across Mr Mackenzie’s cheek. But these isolated incidents, because relatively rare, serve to reinforce the strangeness of them. There is little room for transcendence in Rhys’s fiction, which substantiates Beauvoir’s belief that transcendence is very difficult for women, although by no means impossible. Rather, though, Rhys’s female characters run away from life, such as Sasha above, or Julia Martin, whom Mr Mackenzie sees as ‘Afraid of life. Had to screw herself up to it all the time’.40 In the end, the flight is into the self. On the first page of Good Morning, Midnight, Sasha describes the street where she lives as ending in a flight of steps: ‘What they call an impasse’.41 Sasha, like Rhys herself, has arrived at an impasse. With Rhys’s female characters, there is a hiatus between the interior and the exterior worlds. Her novels are full of the meaningless of existence, reaching a kind of zenith of absurdity with Good Morning, Midnight, and it was almost three decades before she would publish another book.

Feelings of absurdity and mauvaise foi pervade the literature of alienation, although the release of transcendence is present towards the end of Winifred Holtby’s The Crowded Street (1924), one of several of her spinster novels. Here, the problem is not so much men — nor, perhaps, even the lack of them after the war had killed so many — but the stranglehold of the family, specifically Muriel’s mother, who keeps her in a psychological and physical prison.42 Holtby’s protagonists inhabit a very different world from Rhys’s, and Muriel oozes mauvaise foi, constantly having to invent obligations in order to prevent her from expressing her freedom. In her Introduction to The Crowded Street, Claire Hardisty says that after World War I, ‘There was an assumption that an unmarried daughter should stay at home and help her mother’.43 Jean E. Kennard sums up that kind of life, which is Muriel’s situation for most of the novel: ‘Muriel spends her time waiting, waiting to be asked to play tennis, to go for a walk at a picnic, to dance, to get married. Life is a party to which she must wait to be invited; she takes no initiative’.44 The narrator is evidently in agreement, and speaks, for instance, of ‘A queer self-possesion [sic] alien to her nature’, and Muriel herself realizes long before the end of the book that she has ‘sacrificed her intellect to her mother’s need’.45 Nevertheless, up to the end of the book Muriel lives her life through others, is unable to move without others moving before her. She is self-effacing to the point of absurdity. Devoted to the exotic Clare Duquesne as an adolescent, she tells herself, ‘Oh, I would die for her […] Oh God, if you’ve planned anything awful to happen to Clare, let it happen to me instead’.46 Some time later, Muriel says of herself and many others in her predicament: ‘suddenly we find ourselves left alone in a dull crowded street with no one caring and our lives unneeded, and all the fine things that we meant to do, like toys that a child has laid aside’.47 (There is a vague echo of Rhys’s ontology in this.)

Holtby’s image of the crowded street reminds us of Roquentin’s sensations of being de trop, abandoned in a contingent world devoid of meaning, absurd. (And an echo of this feeling is given below when the narrator of Hunger and Love attacks the business world in the longest sentence in the novel.) Like Monsieur Achille, Muriel waits for another to come along and create a semblance of the essence that she is incapable of authentically creating herself. In places, her friend Delia (modelled to some extent on Vera Brittain) acts not so much as Muriel’s alter ego but as the only ego they have. She has a greater insight into Muriel’s alienation than Muriel herself, a perfect understanding of her mauvaise foi, and of her need for transcendence. Delia has resolved to go to Cambridge University, and believes that if Muriel wants to go to college too she should ‘go and do it’: ‘Asking permission is a coward’s way of shifting responsibility on to some one else. […] It’s only a sort of disguise for the futility of life here’; Muriel’s lame but revealing reply is that ‘some of us can’t choose. We have to take life as it comes’.48 Delia’s word ‘responsibility’ is straight out of Sartre’s vocabulary, although perhaps some years before he actually used it in print, and it is significant that she also speaks of ‘futility’ and uses Sartre’s word ‘coward’ in the same context of mauvaise foi. Sartre’s work also concerns such choices that Muriel fails to recognise as her own because she sees her life as determined by others.

Towards the end of the book, Delia again confronts Muriel with her situation and her mauvaise foi. And again, the words have a strong Sartrean resonance:

'Your life is your own, Muriel, nobody can take it from you. You may choose to look after your mother; you may choose to pursue a so-called career, or you may choose to marry. You may choose right and you may choose wrong. But the thing that matters is to take your life into your own hands and live it, accepting responsibility for failure or success'.49

Choice, of course, involves apprehending consciousness and transcending ourselves. Revealingly, Sartre speaks about a choice a student of his had asked him about, concerning staying with his mother or joining the Forces Françaises Libres: the parallel is interesting as Sartre and Holtby are again using very similar ideas about freedom. Delia obviously does not use the word ‘transcendence’, but this is what she is talking about, and this is eventually what she decides upon. Unlike Rhys’s female characters, enmeshed in absurdity with no hope of escape from their alienated worlds, Muriel at last projects herself into the world towards a future Britton would understand, and it is significant that Holtby wrote favourably of his work in Time and Tide, as noted in Chapter 1.

The Crowded Street is divided into five sections, the final one of which is entitled ‘Muriel’ because she has finally overcome her mauvaise foi and has begun to live an authentic existence. She lives in a flat with Delia, and she turns down an offer of marriage to Godfrey, with whom she has been silently in love for many years. She tells him, ‘The thing that matters is to take your life into your hands and live it, following the highest vision as you see it. If I married you, I’d simply be following the expedient promptings of my mother and my upbringing.’50 Vital to this thinking, of course, is the fact that Muriel is moving into transcendence: there are no longer any deterministic excuses in her words. She is learning to be her own person. Kennard says that Brittain’s The Dark Tide (1923), like The Crowded Street, ‘traces the progress of its female protagonist towards self-definition and empowerment’.51 This appears to be an excellent example of essence. Muriel has at last overcome the absurdity of contingency, and above all the enticements of mauvaise foi that a married life offers, in favour of self-creation.

I have explained how Rhys’s work is concerned with men dominating women and Holtby’s is often about the spinster’s problems with self-definition. And I have also briefly mentioned Le Deuxième sexe in relation to the Other; this book very much concerns woman as man’s Other, although by extension, from the beginning of the book Beauvoir is eager to express similarities between the situation of women and blacks in particular, with whom she sees ‘profound analogies’.52 She believes that women belong to a separate ‘caste’, and there are similar ideas in Anand’s work.

Anand came from the privileged warrior caste, although his work shows great sympathy with disadvantaged members of Indian society. Krishna Nandan Sinha says in his short study of Anand that his earliest books ‘not only present a mirror reflection of the actual life lived by the less fortunate, the lowly, and the disinherited, but move us also to the catharsis of pity’.53 Of particular note, and of specific interest here because they were all written during the inter-war period, are Anand’s first three novels: Untouchable (1935), The Coolie (1936) and Two Leaves and a Bud (1937).54

There are certainly parallels between Anand’s characters and Arthur Phelps. In Untouchable, Anand’s protagonist, Bakha, is a latrine and street cleaner and an outsider par excellence. In a country already colonized by the British, he is forced to suffer an extra layer of colonization, although the second is inflicted on him by his own people. As Gandhi (a representation of the Indian leader) says in the novel: ‘while we are asking for freedom from the grip of a foreign nation, we have ourselves, for centuries, trampled underfoot millions of human beings without feeling the slightest remorse for our iniquity’.55 The subject of Bakha’s work was almost untouchable as the theme of this very angry novel, and it met with similar anger to that of Hunger and Love. In his Introduction to the book, E. M. Forster states that ‘No European, however sympathetic, could have created the character of Bakha, because he would not have known enough about his troubles’.56 By a similar argument, of course, it could be said that no member of the middle classes could have written Hunger and Love because it comes from someone with an insider’s knowledge of the bottom rungs of working-class life. Not only is the filth of Arthur’s world in some ways similar, but the absurdity of Bakha’s world is similar too — both are incapable of changing their situation, although Bakha’s is evidently much worse, and the narrator of Untouchable speaks of ‘the sub-human status to which [Bakha] was condemned from birth’.57 He is an excellent example of a victim of Sartre’s ‘look’: because of the misfortune of his lowly birth, he is turned into an object wherever he goes. Being an untouchable, he is not allowed to draw water directly from the well, he must announce his presence as he passes people in the street so that those of a higher caste can escape ‘contamination’ by being touched by him, and shopkeepers ‘purify’ the money he leaves on a special area of the counter by sprinkling it with water. The narrator speaks of Bakha as ‘lifted from the gutter, through the barriers of space, to partake of a life which was his, and yet not his’.58 Interestingly, the word ‘alienate’ is specifically used, and in a political context, towards the end of the novel, when Anand’s character Gandhi gives a speech against the horrors of untouchability and says ‘the government tried to alienate [the untouchables] from Hinduism by giving them a separate legal and political status’.59

Bakha fantasizes about explaining to Gandhi about being beaten for touching someone of ‘superiority’. And then the narrator’s voice changes, moving from an objective position to a subjective one: the voice, in sympathy with Bakha, shifts from the expected ‘he’ to ‘me’ as he imagines an egalitarian world:

'He imagined himself rising on the platform, when all was still and the meeting had begun, and telling the Mahatma that a man from the city, where he had come to remove untouchability, had abused him for accidentally touching him and had also beaten him. Then the Mahatma would chastise that man perhaps, or, at least, he would chide the citizens here, and they won’t treat me again as they did this morning’.60

The use of ‘me’ avoids any possible confusion about the person being referred to, in this case Bakha as opposed to Gandhi, although it could of course easily have been avoided simply by using ‘Bakha’. Clearly, though, the shift in tense from ‘would’ to ‘won’t’ is also intended to represent something more: by changing from the hypothetical conditional tense to the more definite future tense, the narrator is sympathizing with Bakha, merging Bakha’s voice of hope with his own, and in so doing is intensifying the text’s criticism of the established order. The technique is very similar to that used by Britton in the incident quoted in the previous chapter — and which I shall again quote further on in this chapter — where the narrator’s voice merges with Miss Whyman’s when they look into each others’ eyes. The significance of this to atheistic existentialism is evident: whereas the ‘he’ represents the distanced, objectified Bakha whom all the insiders within the caste system treat as a thing, the ‘me’ represents a fantasy world in which Bakha and others in his situation can become authentic individuals, where they are subjects. In other words, as with Sartre’s intention with existentialism, it would join the mind to the body, and so make them one.

But Anand’s next two novels do not share the optimism of Untouchable. Coolie, like Two Leaves and a Bud, is much more pessimistic than Untouchable, and the many absurdities in the novel are again based on the work situation of the poor. Fifteen-year-old Munoo slaves in a pickle factory, and is then forced to eke out a living on the streets. In the end, he dies from tuberculosis, a victim of a rapacious and destructive society. I mention more about class and mauvaise foi below when speaking of Britton, but it is significant that the liars — to others and to themselves — are less prominent in Anand’s first two books. Rather, they exist in force in Two Leaves and a Bud. In this, ‘the most bitter’ of his novels according to Anand himself, the silent outsider howl is similar to that of Arthur Phelps, such as when Gangu restrains himself from telling Kanoo Mal that business is ‘theft and robbery’.61 For the first time in a novel by Anand, the reader sees life more from the point of view of the middle class, as the book alternates between scenes of tea workers who are virtual slaves, and scenes with middle-class individuals, mainly their bosses. And the bosses, Sartre’s ‘important’ ones, are overwhelmingly in mauvaise foi. Of the manager of the tea plantation, the mocking narrator says: ‘Of course, Croft–Cooke, like many of his mark, rather exaggerated the difficulties of his position, [...] mixing reality with romance so as to become almost a legend to his hearers’, and ‘It would appear that he was almost the pivot of the universe around whom all the constellations revolved.’62 John de la Havre, the doctor at the plantation, is the only member of the middle class who has any sympathy with the workers, and Margaret, who is the daughter of Croft–Cooke and his lover, is deaf to his words of anger at the plight of the tea workers. Croft–Cooke’s wife Barbara is also in mauvaise foi, preferring to retreat into self-justifying thoughts, as in: ‘It was no good to spoil your whole life worrying about the injustice of other people’s lot, and to make oneself miserable all the time.’63 While these are certainly examples of mauvaise foi, they are nevertheless of a very different order to each other: such is the self-importance of Croft–Cooke that he appears to believe that he is invested with god-like qualities, but Margaret’s mauvaise foi, although still driven by hedonism, takes the form of blinding herself to the appalling health conditions, rape, and other brutalities that the workers suffer on the plantation at the hands of their masters. Perhaps, following Sartre’s model, we could call Croft–Cooke ‘scum’ and his wife a ‘coward’.

All of Anand’s working-class characters in his first three novels seem to be imprisoned in the circumstances of their birth. But another minority group to feature prominently, although covertly, in inter-war fiction, was trapped in its own sexuality. Homosexuals were a less obvious minority group than others, partly because of the illegality of the practice and the consequent clandestineness of their sexual identity. And partly for this reason, homosexual writers are interesting as a study in mauvaise foi due to the strategies they use both to express and to conceal their characters’ sexual identity. John Hampson’s novels all concern homosexuality as a central theme, although the real nature of this theme is only expressed obliquely. In Strip Jack Naked (1934), for instance, homosexuality is expressed as difference.4 Of two brothers, the younger Ted is a ‘proper little mother, aren’t you, ducky?’ according to the elder Alf, who also says of him: ‘As for girls! The very mention of them upsets him’.65 (Of course, these signifiers seem much more obvious today than then.) On the death of his brother, though, Ted offers to marry his brother’s pregnant lover, and the resulting marriage proves to be a sound — if not a resounding — success. Hampson was not the only writer playing similar gender games around this time, because the homosexual Rhys Davies also played with sexual difference. And because he did so in greater depth, I examine two of his novels below in considerably more detail.

In his essay on Davies, ‘The Memory of Lost Countries’, Tony Brown makes an important point when he says:

'[N]ot only has Wales been for centuries distant from the centres of political and cultural power, but the Welsh writer in English is of course doubly marginalized in that s/he, though not English, is at the same time, if not Welsh-speaking, shut out from the rich cultural heritage in the Welsh language'.66

(The expression ‘shut out’ is also the expression that Arthur Phelps uses for his feelings of alienation.) Davies, on the other hand, was not only ‘doubly marginalized’, but his sexuality also makes him an outsider. Born in a coal-mining village in South Wales, he left the strong macho environment almost as soon as he could. In London he could show his difference with impunity, for example, by wearing spats and a malacca stick, after which he named one of the chapters in Print of a Hare’s Foot. Like Davies’s own persona, his main characters too escape from direct representations of homosexuality by assuming identities which express an ambiguous Otherness. The novels I deal with here are Davies’s first two, The Withered Root (1927) and Rings on her Fingers (1930).67

In The Withered Root, Reuben Daniels’s difference is expressed in part by his ‘feminine’ qualities, as when his father Hugh says, ‘different to most boys he is. Delicate seems his mind’.68 Furthermore, he lacks the ability to join with others of his age in the usual adolescent, heterosexual pursuits:

'[S]ome odd streak in his nature prevented him being intimate with the other youths of the district; the few times he had accompanied the boys of the street in their horse-play or amorous expeditions he had been a silent and brooding witness always apart. […] He knew there was something wrong with him, that he was not as they.69

Again, this has a vague hint of Arthur Phelps looking on as an outsider allowing life to pass him by, although Reuben’s sexual reactions are very different. Certainly, he is both attracted and repulsed by the beautiful and sexually rapacious Eirwen, and the language used during their early unconsummated relationship is vivid: ‘Her arms tightened like snakes about his body; he was held in the tentacles of her physical vigour as a drowning man in the supple arms of an octopus. He began to squirm for breath’.70

The very physical Eirwen is strongly contrasted to the spiritual Reuben, who spends much of the book with the religious revivalists, the Corinthians. Much like the early twentieth-century preacher Evan Roberts on whom he is modelled, Reuben becomes a celebrity throughout Wales.

This behaviour is an escape, of course, which Sartre would have seen as mauvaise foi because Reuben is indulging in, and indeed actively encouraging, a ritual which is in effect displaced sexual energy, as the narrator suggests several times. When Reuben takes the hand of a convert, ‘Her eyes were closed, her mouth worked foamingly and still her body writhed as though she were in an orgasm of pleasure’, and Catherine Pritchards, who later tries to seduce Reuben, takes his hand — ostensibly in spiritual congress with him, although what she experiences is ‘a further orgasm of emotion’.71 Much later, Reuben remembers the words of Philip — a character to some extent modelled on D. H. Lawrence — talking about religious energy in Freudian terms: ‘The desire to yield oneself to the ecstatic power of God is but a sublimation of the desire of the flesh to achieve consummation in the flesh of another who stirs our worship’.72

Reuben slowly realizes first of all that his converts are in mauvaise foi. Relatively early in the book, he tells Morgans the Bakehouse that ‘[The converts] want to be comforted […] That’s what they want — comfort, and assurance that they will sit in Heaven’.73 And his own mauvaise foi is not continuous, as Reuben is intermittently plagued by an intense sexual frustration that appears to validate Philip’s words: ‘He remembered how sometimes in his most exalted visions a certain flame of desire leapt with searing and blinding force within him, and he would see within stretches of dark night the naked white bodies of women’.74 And sometimes, Reuben is thrust back into the absurdity of existence. One is reminded of Sartre’s vision of the nothingness of contingency and the look of objectifying others analysed in L’Être et le néant; and along with the Sartrean imagery, there is a Daliesque suggestion in the language here: ‘sometimes a black wave of nausea surged up through that consciousness, and the faces seemed to congeal into one solid mass of greasy white flesh, flesh animated by a thousand watching eyes’.75 It is when a child is trampled to death before the beginning of a Corinthian meeting that an anguished Reuben finally acknowledges his own mauvaise foi: ‘It seemed to him that sheaths of worn and stale deceits were falling from his soul, dank and decrepit cerements falling from the awakening consciousness of his soul’.76 Reuben has already seen the Corinthians as a ‘circus’, and he promptly leaves the group.

It is significant that after Reuben’s eventual relationship with Eirwen ends, his consequent flight following her rejection of him leads to a series of events which culminates in his death: their relationship drives much of the narrative both directly and indirectly, and it would be difficult to see the novel proceeding further without its existence. It might also be suggested that Eirwen and Reuben represent two facets of the same person, and that Davies is (here unsuccessfully) trying to unite them. The two main characters in Rings on her Fingers both share some characteristics with Eirwen and Reuben, and J. Lawrence Mitchell introduces a similar idea about Davies uniting two opposites when he says that the novel is ‘a way to reconcile two very different aspects of his own complex androgynous psyche’77 The two main characters, Edith and Edgar Roberts, can in fact neither live with nor without each other; but from a Sartrean point of view, there is a very tenuous suggestion in Rings on her Fingers of a resolution of psychological conflict. By the end of the novel, the two characters have at least begun to move a little way towards an authentic existence.

In the novel, Edgar inherits a flourishing draper’s business from his father. To many people, though, he is more a figure of ridicule than respect in the small town: he has ‘a certain delicacy, verging on the feminine’, dresses — like Davies himself — in spats and carries a malacca stick, and introduces powder puff and scents into the store, where he is seldom in the flannel department; it is even jokingly suggested, when he is taking part in an amateur production of Romeo and Juliet, that the nurse would be a suitable role for him.78 Modelled in part on Emma Bovary, Edith adopts a dominant position from the beginning of their relationship by making Edgar wait a relatively long time before accepting his marriage proposal; technically, the marriage in the beginning is a disaster for her, and she feels frustrated and yearns for adventure, preferably far from Wales. Edith’s central problem is that her marriage has freed her economically but not existentially, although her Lawrentian friend Raglan is wrong when he tells her before the wedding that she is deceiving herself.

Edith is not in mauvaise foi: on the contrary, she strives for transcendence although her life is filled with a vague absurdity: ‘she was aware of something ominous in that hollow of her being, a gloom, a profundity, an abyss — of what? Hate?’, and considers conventional contemporary marriage ‘sticky’ and ‘unreal’.79 From an existential point of view, the words ‘sticky’ and ‘unreal’ are revealing because stickiness is one of the key elements of Roquentin’s sensations of the Nausea, and Edith’s life is unreal because she is not living it authentically, merely through her husband. She feels no space for transcendence, and is trapped in a meaningless charade, ‘the wife […] bottled up in the husband’s existence’, as she calls it.80 This of course is exactly what Beauvoir is talking about when she speaks about the problems the married woman has. Ironically, it is more the making point than the breaking point of the marriage when Edith confesses to her husband that she has just had sexual relations with a complete stranger. It is time for Edgar to learn the truth about his wife and learn to dispense with his mauvaise foi, the main attribute she hates about her husband being his unwavering devotion to and worship of her. Traditional marriage is impossible for Edith: ‘Such a bliss is possible, I admit, but to me it would be a burial’.81 Now that Edgar is no longer blinkered by mauvaise foi, Edith believes that they will be able to move into a more authentic future:

'I am nearer to you now than ever I’ve been. I’m nearer to you because at last I’ve shattered your ridiculous romantic worship of me. Last night and to-day we’ve met for the first time in reality. It has not been pleasant and we’re both raw from the encounter'.82

There are a few other things to note about Rings on her Fingers, mainly about the nature of modern life, although in general they are more relevant to my next chapter.

Also relevant to both the present chapter and the next one is Rhys Davies’s My Wales (1937), and in particular an incident, also mentioned by Tony Brown, that took place when Rhys was making a train journey through Wales, which also shows the influence of Lawrence on him. The story seems a little contrived, almost fictional, as though Davies were constructing an ideal in order to meld, for instance, the ultimately irreconcilable problems in Rings on her Fingers. Opposite Davies in the carriage at the beginning of the anecdote is an American, who initially appears to be acutely alert to his surroundings. But when another passenger gets on at Brecon and sits next to him, the American is seen from another perspective. Davies calls the newcomer a ‘Silurian’, someone with atavistic or residual pre-Celtic traits. The American now appears to be ‘living outside himself’, ‘using his mind and storing information away in it, like a card-index’, and Davies becomes ‘aware only of a tirelessly eager voice emerging from a collection of grey cells’.83 The Silurian, however, represents a very different kind of person:

'Odd how the Silurian, who, it appeared later, knew little of his country’s history, looked of the two the richer in knowledge. Perhaps because he was those mountain heights, those strong fought-over castles, those antique churches, even the cromlechs. He had no need of mental details about them.'

The American may be very alert, using his intelligence to thrust himself into the world, but his problem is that he is all transcendence, his mind never fully in tune with his body, incapable of unity. The Silurian, however, has a much deeper understanding than intelligence can bring: he has an innate knowledge, both mental and physical, of his environment, giving him an inner peace that incorporates the past, even back to the prehistoric era of the cromlechs. Sartre, of course, would call this mauvaise foi on the part of Davies, and say that he is constructing a genetic or cultural determinism for the Silurians. But it would not be an exaggeration to say that Davies’s construction of the Silurian is a perfect synthesis of transcendence and immanence, the very qualities represented respectively in the tortured Edith and Edgar. But, again, the implications of this episode too belong to the next chapter.

I have already analysed atheistic existentialism in relation to works of Rhys, Holtby, Anand and Davies. I now conclude this chapter by analysing Britton’s construction of alienation. In the previous chapter, I illustrated various ways in which different literary outsiders appropriated modernist techniques in their writing. The chapter almost exclusively concerned working-class fiction, in which the characters are frequently alienated by their work, particularly when at work. But I mentioned that some aspects of outsider modernism as manifested in working-class literature — some of James Barke’s and John Sommerfield’s works, for instance — are actually a celebration of the working classes. The working classes may be alienated from the rest of society, perhaps almost by definition, but this alienation is not necessarily a permanent state: they often find a sense of community in political, familial or general social situations. Much working-class fiction shows communities working together, often in political solidarity, although there is very little suggestion of common ground in Hunger and Love. In this respect, Britton has much more in common with James Hanley’s characters, about whom Ian Haywood notes:

'In Hanley’s fiction the male hero is essentially emasculated by his class position. The consciousness of this disenfranchisement finds expression in existential yearnings, psychic agonies, and frequent eruptions of violent emotions and actions. There is no solace in either the stability of a close-knit community or the liberating potential of collective action. The social character of the working class is fatally invaded by fragmentation and alienation'.84

In Hunger and Love, the narrator’s comments frequently reveal Arthur’s alienation: ‘you have a distinct sense of being shut out. Your job is to earn his living, but not to know. Not to know anything at all’ (p. 295). Phelps, then, does not work to earn his own living, but that of his boss: evidently, Tressell would have recognized a philanthropist. A very important function of the ruling class, according to the narrator of Hunger and Love, is to ensure that the working classes do not receive enough education to understand this. The essential difference between the plight of Muriel Hammond and Arthur Phelps as outsiders is that the main obstructions to Phelps’s intellectual maturity are his employers and society in general as opposed to the family. Arthur Phelps feels socially and sexually alienated. He lives in an absurd world created by the ruling class, and throughout the book there are many comments on his resentment of this absurdity: ‘The rich men’s sons — they are the lucky ones: they, with their chance in life’ (p. 27). Arthur is socially excluded, and there are frequently expressed remarks about his being shut out:

'See that fine house there? The door is locked. See those lovely grounds? — aren’t they beautifully kept? The gate is locked. Here’s King’s College, in the Strand, learning — there’s a commissionaire at the entrance; you can’t go in. Books in the shop-window, learning: got any money, Arthur? Look out, my boy, there’s a copper coming!' (p. 30).

The above quotation sums up Arthur’s problems, which are those of the working-class outsider. His class excludes him from the bourgeois world of material possessions and higher education, his poor wages exclude him from the self-education he would ideally like, and the police are always present.

In working-class literature, the absurd is often viewed as a function of the class structure. Much of Britton’s alienation derives from politics and his position vis-à-vis society. In 1925 he wrote a letter to the Times protesting that voting in the municipal elections was too difficult for ‘the unleisured man’ both because of the intricacies of registration and because of his difficulty in finding time to go to the polling station. He warns the readers:

'[T]hose who are sufficiently active-minded to submit to this inconvenience tend more and more to become Socialist in spirit as the feeling grows that obstacles are purposely placed in their way by the parties who have hitherto been solely responsible for the conditions and extent of their political freedom'.85

Arthur feels as though everyone is watching him, which relates to Sartre’s ‘look’. Adrift in an insane world, forced to do meaningless work throughout the book, he has no real friends, and his contact with others — with his fellow workers, bosses, prostitutes and the like — is almost entirely on a perfunctory level. The image his employers have of him is essentially as an object. There is an obvious link here between the way men treat Rhys’s characters as objects, and the way Holtby’s Muriel turns herself into an object. Phelps’s employers have a constant eye on him to ensure that he is being a dutiful wage-slave, and the police watch him for possible criminal intentions. He transcends the absurdity by taking a book outside on his Sundays off: ‘Out all day in the sun, free from the spying meanness of authority’ (p. 47).

But there is an important difference between Arthur and most of the main characters created by the other writers above: in Sartrean fashion, Arthur not only refuses to accept the objectification, but turns it on the others: he objectifies those in authority — particularly his objects of ridicule — Baldwin with his pipe, and Chamberlain with his eye-glass, for example. Even ‘natural’ (that is to say, left-wing) allies he simply calls ‘the anarchist’ and ‘rabbit-nose’. This is his response to the alienation caused when an individual’s freedom is ‘taken over and controlled by the Other'.86

As Britton elaborated the TS he made frequent changes to the names of his characters, one of whom was Mr Boulter. He became Mr Skillick, the new name containing the words ‘kill’ and ‘sick’, as well, almost, as both ‘skill’ and ‘lick’. ‘Kill’ and ‘sick’ obviously refer to a callous, violent society Britton believed the world of business represented, and ‘lick’ to the amount of kowtowing to one’s superiors needed to become a shop manager. Clearly, Britton the outsider is polishing his anger by reinforcing his outsider status. After the disaster of being discovered by Skillick in the toilet with Miss Wyman in the ‘Love in the Lavatory’ chapter, Phelps’s mind is in turmoil. The narrator, however, sees his reaction as entirely natural, and turns the sexual morality of the 1930s on its head: Phelps is not dirty-minded for having sexual thoughts about Miss Wyman, it is Skillick who is dirty-minded to think that a natural feeling is dirty. After this incident, the narrator says, ‘But nothing happened. The structure of society was solidly set. Trade went on. You shoved sack on back and went out to fill it with book units consisting of so many aggregations of profit’ (p. 124). But if the outside world continues as normal, what Arthur feels inside is far from normal, and the narrator conveys his anger in a startling manner. In two hundred and thirty-nine words, the narrator unleashes the longest sentence in the book, which certainly needs to be quoted in full because it is an impressive, and highly idiosyncratic, expression of the rage of the outsider:

'Profit for publishers, profit for printers, profit for paper-makers, bookbinders, ink manufacturers, machinery manufacturers, thread manufacturers, ‘cloth’ manufacturers, cotton planters who supplied raw material for thread and ‘linen,’ landowners who owned land on which it grew, shippers merchants railway companies who carried and distributed it, size makers quarry owners clay for paper, colliery proprietors coal merchants coal to run the machinery, more planters oil in the ink, more machinery manufacturers crushing machinery for squeezing out oil, more land-owners for planters to pay rent to, more railway companies merchants shippers transport oil to ink manufacturers, more landowners owned land grew wood for shops furniture buildings, merchants who supplied it, carpenters cabinet-makers builders tailors butchers shoemakers grocers built buildings supplied clothes food for workmen managers directors shareholders of all these firms, landowners landlords who owned land buildings on which in which all these people lived, doctors tended them, chemists supplied medicines doctors ordered, bottle glass manufacturers something put medicines in, their landlords landowners, lawyers drew up title deeds prove rights of landowners, farmers who grew food for workmen doctors landowners lawyers, railway companies carters who carried it to shopkeepers, royalties to landowner from quarry colliery proprietor, royalties for authors, commission for their agents, rent to their landlords, taxation from whole lot provide jobs pensions show, to make whole thing seem natural, and money for police soldiers guns to bash and murder anybody who couldn’t manage see just how natural it is '(pp. 124–25).

There are forty-nine more words in the TS than in the FC; the content is almost the same, but Britton later systematically excised almost every definite article, producing a fragmented list and a much more effective passage. The FC is more repetitive, too, as the narrator attempts to echo the monotony of Arthur’s working life and the world of trade in general. The book was developing more as an expression of alienation as it went through its various proof states, and this passage is a good reflection of it. This is obviously a period of heightened emotion for Arthur, and the lack of punctuation highlights the high speed of the thoughts, a stream of anger expressed about a stream of profit that has arrested the development of the natural world. But the commercial world, underpinned by the repressive state machinery, makes concerted and complex attempts to prove that a capitalist economy is entirely natural, and has declared war on all dissenters.

In a sense, an analogy can again be drawn between this scene and the scene in the park in La Nausée in which the Nausea grips Roquentin and he feels de trop, although in the above sentence the narrator uses the politics of the capitalist economy to turn his horror into contempt. He is showing the absurdity of the abundance of capitalist society. It is the law of nature to fight for survival, but the picture that the narrator paints is far from ‘natural’, as he ironically points out. The level of the contempt is evident from the nature of the language, which is full of images of the business world: ‘book units’, ‘aggregations of profit’, and the repetition of the word ‘profit’ is a drone of hatred. Phelps’s sexual progress has been arrested, but trade goes on. Arthur plays on the fact that he owns nothing, that his employers are trying to take his mind, and this passage is clearly an expression of dispossession.

Arthur Phelps lives in a world of dispossession and its attendant alienation, and ‘Getting a mind’ is his escape from it. He almost sees it as though it is obtaining a piece of property, and the wherewithal to do this is through books: if he can own nothing else, he can at least be the proprietor of his thoughts. This Sartre understands, because he believes that whatever our position in the world, even if we are slaves, mentally we are still free. Significantly, many of the words in the long sentence are ‘land’ or a compound noun including it, such as ‘landlord’ and ‘landowner’. The narrator begins with an enumeration of the profiteers divided by commas, later becoming apparently angrier as the lack of punctuation merges the profiteers into specific and then more general collective groups: ‘carpenters cabinet-makers builders tailors butchers shoemakers grocers’, ‘workmen managers directors shareholders’. The ‘head-line abbreviation’ Bertrand Russell had spoken about in the Introduction to Hunger and Love is emphasized and often manifested by a missing article: ‘taxation from whole lot’ and ‘to make whole thing seem natural’. The word ‘more’ is used five times in three lines in the sentence, giving out a clear message about the abundance of goods or the superfluity of owners, which is reinforced by the number of occasions ‘manufacturer’ or ‘maker’ is used. Division of labour is the issue, and underlying this is of course the desire for nationalization. The operation the narrator describes is at a material level, but the material seeps through to the ontological: the sentence represents a long howl of outsider rage.

It would not be inaccurate to say, then, that the main character in Hunger and Love is the outsider. Paradoxically, Arthur’s main escape from alienation, his mental escape, is also the means by which he alienates himself all the more: not only from his own class, but also from his middle-class employers because he is not conforming to the conventional role of unthinking wage slave. He throws Robert Blatchford’s Merrie England back at the socialist who lends it to him, for instance, because he finds it too patronizing; any attempt to socialize with Doreen’s father is thwarted by his inability to find playing whist anything more than a waste of time; and his bosses view his attempts to ‘get a mind’ very suspiciously. Phelps is incapable of wholeheartedly joining in with anything because of his inability to communicate or associate with others on even the most basic level.

The ‘Contact’ chapter is a good example of how Phelps colludes with his own alienation, and his reading takes him further away from others (with the exception of dead authors). On his only day off from work, Arthur goes to Wimbledon Common and does what he is very good at: looking at others as an outsider: ‘the males are walking with the females […] Exchanging their minds, what they have of one’ (p. 224). This is the cold, almost scientific view of the outsider — as though of a researcher watching animals at a zoo, or one of the Mass Observation experiments later in the decade. But there is a major conflict in Arthur: the desire for intellectual stimulation as opposed to the desire for sexual gratification. Arthur is bored with a girl’s conversation, and the girl, equally bored with Arthur, invents excuses and leaves him to join others with whom she can communicate more successfully. Here, the narrator reveals the strained relationship Arthur has with the outside world: ‘Thank the lord you’ve got rid of her; cuddlesome young thing too; she looks nice under that bush’ (p. 229). This is the point where sex and class clash, and where the working- and the middle-class lifestyles lead Arthur into further alienation. The use of the second person here is interesting, as it has a double distancing affect: Arthur is watching the girl, but the narrator is also watching Arthur watching her. After the first semi-colon, it is impossible to tell if the remarks are Arthur’s thoughts, or those of the narrator revealing Arthur’s thoughts.

Often, the absurdity of working-class existence is replaced by mauvaise foi, although it occurs only to a limited extent in Arthur. A repetition of the passage with Miss Wyman quoted in the previous chapter is enlightening when held under a different lens:

'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).

This is a clear example of the interior merging with the exterior, or the mind with the body. The application of a Sartrean understanding of this passage gives it a fresh perspective. Sartre would of course refute the statement ‘your will is no longer under your control’ on the ground that it assumes a psychological determinism: Arthur tells himself that his will is outside his control because he is in mauvaise foi, lying to himself to destroy the anguish of his freedom. The vagueness of the boundaries of Arthur’s existence is interesting too. He knows that Miss Wyman is playing games with him, but his mauvaise foi causes him to suspend this knowledge in order to adopt a paradoxical viewpoint: he believes he is choosing freedom, making himself a subject, but remains equally aware that Miss Wyman — who is not in mauvaise foi because she is merely deceiving Arthur rather than herself too — is choosing him as an object. And no matter how negative Miss Whyman’s actions may appear, Sartre would still have seen them in terms of transcendence.

Although this is not an isolated moment of Arthur’s mauvaise foi, such occurrences are fleeting or equivocal, such as the incident when he receives a rise in pay and pretends (or jokes, it is not entirely clear) that he is middle class, or imagines himself married in a comfortable house. It is perhaps likely that it is the bourgeoisie who are being satirized here by their futile attempts to ensnare Arthur, to lead him into a false belief in his own importance: they want him to be what Sartre considers to be ‘scum’. Arthur has thought about his possibilities, but most of them lead to the bourgeois mauvaise foi snares that their employees and society at large want him to adopt. But the bourgeoisie are far more in mauvaise foi than Arthur. The Marxist writer Philip Henderson wrote a few significant lines about Hunger and Love in his article in The Eleventh Hour mentioned above in Chapter 3:

'Its appearance outraged every bourgeois decency, whose existence depends on pretending that the state of affairs that Britton reveals as a running sore in the social body is non-existent. It is indeed inconvenient for high-minded, cultured people to be reminded so forcibly of the tortured, stunted lives of others in which they so complacently acquiesce, for it is easy enough to be high-minded and cultured on a substantial bank balance'.87

We have already seen some examples of this outrage against Hunger and Love in Chapter 1, but it is perhaps the word ‘pretending’ which is of particular interest here. Henderson accepts that the comfortable class is aware of the conditions of great poverty in which the poor live, but says that that class perpetuates the belief that the situation does not exist. If they apprehended it, they would of course be living in a state of anguish, but they prefer to live in mauvaise foi, lying to themselves as well as others about the non-existence of the poverty. The people Henderson speaks about consider themselves to be ‘important’, and are quite clearly evading matters such as transcendence and responsibility by taking refuge in mauvaise foi.

It is important to distinguish Arthur’s mauvaise foi from that of the bourgeoisie, as they are not of the same order or depth, and Arthur is more than likely an occasional ‘coward’ than occasional ‘scum’. Sartre himself saw the significance of mauvaise foi and class, as Terry Keefe notes:

'Clearly, Roquentin [who is very much modelled on Sartre] believes that self-deception is most characteristic of the middle-classes, and perhaps especially of the élite that governs them, but the focal point of his disapproval is the self-deception rather than the class itself'.88

Britton’s disapproval certainly has a distinct class bias. His enemies in mauvaise foi are members of the middle class or the ruling class who define themselves as bishops, prime ministers, judges or businessmen, objectifying themselves, denying themselves the possibility of transcendence. Gladstone’s collar, Chamberlain’s eyeglass and Baldwin’s pipe are all objectifying characteristics. They are mainly used by newspaper cartoonists, of course, but they are nevertheless features that aid the mauvaise foi, and so mask the truth. The central issue is how important people consider themselves to be. Britton often mocks this seriousness, as in his comment ‘Capitalist in the Capitalist system (vide Sir Alfred Mond)’, as though quoting from a scholarly text (p. 571). ‘See’ would not have had the same effect at all: the laconic, pretentious use of the Latin sums up a whole world of bourgeois mauvaise foi.

The mauvaise foi that Britton sees in the working classes exists in the police and the army, or in any members of the working-class public who are deceived by the dominant ideology, which is evidently at the same time a manifestation of ‘false consciousness’. The main difference between this and mauvaise foi, though, is that ‘false consciousness’ covers a much larger number of people: for anyone to be in mauvaise foi, there has to be at least a suggestion that the subject is involved in lying to himself or herself, whereas such a criterion is not necessarily present in the concept of ‘false consciousness’. For Britton, any kind of falsehood, even if unconscious, is pretence. It is clear to a reader of the chapter inserted into Hunger and Love at a late stage, ‘Romance and Reality’, that Britton sees romanticism as a snare set by the bourgeoisie to lead people into mauvaise foi (pp. 427–63). While she was in London, the then unpublished Nottinghamshire novelist Mollie Morris lent Britton the manuscript of her first novel, about which he had many comments to make, as she reveals in her unpublished autobiography: ‘“You don’t mean that”, he would say. “But that is how I saw it, Mr Britton!” “Think again! — Yes, I know it sounds very nice, but it’s not true.”’89 Britton obviously believed that Morris had fallen into such a trap set by the bourgeoisie. For him, ‘the truth’ is our essence — unattainable, but towards which we should always be moving.

Roquentin spends time staring at portraits of former town dignitaries, commenting on their mauvaise foi, (although not mentioning it by name, even though Sartre and Beauvoir were discussing the concept several years earlier). For Arthur Phelps and others, the mauvaise foi of the ruling and the middle classes has held them back in a period that belongs in the distant past. Through constantly transcending ourselves, we are making an authentic movement into the future. Everything else Britton sees as bourgeois lies: ‘State the truth, and don’t care a damn. That is the only way we shall be able to get together to build a new world’.90

Britton’s new world would clearly dispense with the bourgeoisie, as he makes clear in the ‘Romance and Reality’ chapter:

'[The right to prevent] is their only reason for existence. It is what makes them bourgeois. It is what distinguishes them from the human. The human co-operates and strives forward along the line of human evolution; the bourgeois isolates, and works against evolution, and works to turn it back. The bourgeois is a substitute; his class purpose in life is to promote the condition of mind which shall be willing to accept substitutes for reality, in order that the bourgeois class quality itself may be accepted as a substitute for human nature, as human nature itself' (p. 440).

Britton’s stress on co-operation is of major importance. It should be remembered, though, that this is not a feature of L’Être et le néant, which emphasizes that conflict is necessary for transcendence. Furthermore, it seems that Britton is using ‘the human’ as a synonym of ‘soul’ — another favourite word of his — that is, as a kind of ideal. It seems very difficult to distinguish between these two concepts and ‘the truth’ for him.

But approached in ‘authenticity’ as opposed to the ‘inauthenticity’ of mauvaise foi, the transcendence towards ‘the human’ also appears to be very similar to Sartre’s idea of essence. Arthur has chosen to create his own future, and that future is also one he wishes for everyone else: a notably Sartrean idea. In the letter to Winifred Holtby briefly quoted above in the ‘Outsider Modernism’ chapter, Britton says that ‘as I am trying to get ahead of the race and bring it one step forward I mustn’t expect them all to see the new ground before they’ve reached it’, and then continues to talk about building a future.91 This may sound rather ambitious as a statement of intention, but it is at least clear. The real message of Hunger and Love is one of the mutual participation of everyone towards a common end — the betterment of humanity.

In the inter-war years, voices that had frequently been suppressed — those of women, spinsters in particular, blacks, homosexuals (if somewhat obliquely), and the working classes — were struggling to be heard. Those voices, implicitly or explicitly, called for change. They saw particular injustices done to political minorities and sought assimilation to the broader outside world on their own terms. There is no ‘authentic’ resolution of these opposites in Jean Rhys, although Holtby shows a resolution in The Crowded Street; there is no resolution in Anand, even though his first novel is optimistic at the end, and there is of course only a hesitant resolution in Davies. Britton was trying to achieve politically what Sartre believed he had achieved philosophically — a marriage of the internal with the external. For Britton, this represented utopia.

1Carole Angier, Jean Rhys: Life and Work (London: Deutsch, 1990), p. 218.

2Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (London: Fontana, 1976; rev. and expanded Flamingo, 1983; repr. Fontana Press, 1988), p. 36.

3Annie Cohen–Solal, Sartre: A Life (London: Heinemann, 1987; repr. Minerva, 1991), p. 68; Simone de Beauvoir, Mémoires d’une jeune fille rangée (Paris: Gallimard, 1958; repr. 1976), pp. 478–79.

4Bertrand Russell, letter to Lionel Britton, 3 December 1948, HB.

5Terry Keefe, Simone de Beauvoir: A Study of her Writings (London: Harrap, 1983), p. 11.

6Jean –Paul Sartre, L’Être et le néant: essai d’ontologie phénoménologique [Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology] (Paris: Gallimard, 1943; repr. 1976); Jean–Paul Sartre, L’Existentialisme est un humanisme [lit. ‘Existentialism Is a Humanism’] (Paris: Nagel, 1946; trans. by Philip Mairet as Existentialism and Humanism (London: Methuen, 1948; repr. 1982)). (All translations from French texts are my own unless otherwise indicated.)

7Jean–Paul Sartre, La Nausée (Paris: Gallimard, 1938; repr. 1972; trans. by Robert Baldick as Nausea (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965)). Baldick accurately translates the expression ‘la Nausée’ as ‘the Nausea’ throughout the book: by including the definite article and capitalizing the noun, he is indicating that Sartre is describing a state of consciousness which is very familiar to the protagonist, which is in some respects very similar to an affliction, and virtually the personification of absurdity. Logically, then, ‘The Nausea’ would be a more appropriate title, but presumably the expediencies of the publishing world dictated otherwise.

8I do not use the surname ‘de Beauvoir’ because, although some English critics and biographers use the expression, the majority use ‘Beauvoir’, which is also invariably the form used in her native country; Margaret A. Simons, ‘Beauvoir and Sartre: The Philosophical Relationship’, Yale French Studies, 72 (1986), 165–79 (pp. 167, 169).

9Simone de Beauvoir, L’Invitée [lit. ‘The (Female) Guest’, trans. as She Came to Stay] (Paris: Gallimard, 1943; repr. 1977); Simone de Beauvoir, Le Deuxième sexe, 2 vols (Paris: Gallimard, 1949; repr. 1975); Jean–Paul Sartre, Réflexions sur la question juive [lit. ‘Reflections on the Jewish Question’, trans. as Anti-Semite and Jew] (Paris: Morihien, 1946; repr. Gallimard, 1954); Jean–Paul Sartre, Saint Genet: comédien et martyr (Paris: Gallimard, 1952; repr. 2004).

10‘Beauvoir and Sartre’, p. 168.

11Mauvaise foi’ is a concept central to understanding atheistic existentialism, although it is very difficult to find a suitable English translation for it. The literal ‘bad faith’ is clearly not a conventional English expression, except perhaps in a religious context. In a footnote in the Introduction to his translation of L’Existentialisme est un humanisme, Philip Mairet points out ‘I have nearly always translated [mauvaise foi] as “self-deception”’ (p. 16 n.). He does not expand on this, although it is in the word ‘nearly’ that the problem lies. ‘Self-deception’ is an adequate translation in many instances, although there are other occasions when Sartre — and Beauvoir — speak of various kinds of ‘inauthenticity’ (an expression used more or less synonymously with mauvaise foi, with its opposite being the transcendent ‘authenticity’) such as particular lies or hypocrisies, where ‘self-deception’ would be inaccurate or in other ways inadequate. Another complication with mauvaise foi and lying is that they often take bastardized forms, representing what Sartre calls ‘intermediary states’ between lying and mauvaise foi. For these reasons I have retained the original French expression mauvaise foi — with qualifications where necessary — throughout this chapter.

12In L’Être et le néant, Sartre uses the expression ‘original contingency’, which seems perhaps too close to ‘original sin’ to be a coincidence. In Sartre’s existentialism, though, because there is no God, the problems exist from the beginning, and there is therefore no equivalent of the Fall.

13L’Être et le néant, passim.

14L’Être et le néant, p. 92.

15L’Existentialisme est un humanisme, pp. 66–67.

16Le Deuxième sexe, I, 22.

17Le Deuxième sexe, II, 15.

18Le Deuxième sexe, I, 170.

19Terry Keefe, ‘Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre on Mauvaise Foi’, French Studies, 34 (1980), 300–14.

20L’Être et le néant, p. 82.

21L’Être et le néant, p. 83; L’Existentialisme est un humanisme, pp. 80–81.

22The translation of ‘bonne foi’ (an expression used infrequently by Sartre but nevertheless significant) creates a similar problem to mauvaise foi, although in a different way. The Sartrean bonne foi is an antonym of mauvaise foi, and as such is more positive than the English ‘good faith’; unlike ‘bad faith’, ‘good faith’ is certainly an expression in common English usage, and although it indicates an act performed with good intentions, it is usually used retrospectively as an explanation or an excuse for an action that has negative consequences. ‘Good faith’ is in fact a more exact translation of the French ‘bonne conscience’ [lit. ‘good consciousness’ or ‘good conscience’]. I therefore again retain the original French expression.

23L’Existentialisme est un humanisme, pp. 84–85.

24Terry Eagleton, Ideology: An Introduction (London: Verso, 1991), p. 89.

25Jean Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight (London: Constable, 1939; repr. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969), p. 16.

26Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea, (London: Deutsch, 1966; repr. Penguin, 2000), passim.

27Jean Rhys, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie (London: Cape, 1930; repr. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971), p. 94.

28After Leaving Mr Mackenzie , p. 59.

29Jean Rhys, Smile Please: An Unfinished Autobiography (London: Deutsch, 1979), p. 118.

30After Leaving Mr Mackenzie , p. 115.

31Jean Rhys, Voyage in the Dark (London: Constable, 1934; repr. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969), p. 77.

32Jean Rhys, Quartet (as Postures, London: Chatto & Windus, 1928; repr. as Quartet, Deutsch, 1969; repr. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973), p. 70.

33Good Morning, Midnight, p. 76.

34La Nausée, p. 99.

35Jean Rhys, p. 336–38.

36Good Morning, Midnight, pp. 25–26.

37L’Être et le néant, pp. 90, 91.

38Le Deuxième sexe, II, 16.

39Voyage in the Dark, p. 66.

40After Leaving Mr Mackenzie, p. 19.

41Good Morning, Midnight, p. 9.

42Winifred Holtby, The Crowded Street (London: John Lane at the Bodley Head, 1924; repr. Virago Press, 1981).

43Claire Hardisty, Introduction, The Crowded Street, p. xi.

44Jean E. Kennard, Vera Britain & Winifred Holtby (Hanover: The University Press of New England, c. 1989), p. 63.

45The Crowded Street, pp. 116, 141.

46The Crowded Street, p. 34.

47The Crowded Street, p. 232.

48The Crowded Street, pp. 86–8.

49The Crowded Street, p. 232.

50The Crowded Street, p. 270.

51Vera Britain & Winifred Holtby, p. 58.

52Le Deuxième sexe, I, 27.

53Krishna Nandan Sinha, Mulk Raj Anand, Twayne’s World Authors Series, 232 (New York: Twayne, 1972), p. 27.

54Mulk Raj Anand, Untouchable (London: Wishart, 1935; repr. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1940); Mulk Raj Anand, The Coolie (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1936; repr. as Coolie, May Fair Books, 1962); Mulk Raj Anand, Two Leaves and a Bud (Lawrence & Wishart, 1937; repr. New York: Liberty Press, 1954).

55Untouchable, p. 146.

56Untouchable, p. vi.

57Untouchable, p. 20.

58Untouchable, pp. 137–38.

59Untouchable, p. 146.

60Untouchable, p. 142.

61Mulk Raj Anand, p. 36; Two Leaves and a Bud, p. 70.

62Two Leaves and a Bud, p. 82.

63Two Leaves and a Bud, p. 90.

64John Hampson, Strip Jack Naked (London: Heinemann, 1934).

65Strip Jack Naked, pp. 38, 43.

66Tony Brown, ‘“The Memory of Lost Countries”: Rhys Davies’s Wales’, in Rhys Davies: Decoding the Hare: Critical Essays to Mark the Centenary of the Writer’s Birth, ed. by Meic Stephens (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2001), pp. 71–86 (pp. 71–72).

67Rhys Davies, The Withered Root (London: Holden, 1927); Rhys Davies, Rings on her Fingers (London: Shaylor, 1930).

68The Withered Root, p. 23.

69The Withered Root, p. 26.

70The Withered Root, p. 79.

71The Withered Root, pp. 148–49, 157.

72The Withered Root, p. 213.

73The Withered Root, p. 179.

74The Withered Root, p. 190.

75L’Être et le néant, pp. 292–341; The Withered Root, p. 202.

76The Withered Root, p. 234.

77J. Lawrence Mitchell, ‘“I Wish I Had a Trumpet”: Rhys Davies and the Creative Impulse’, in Rhys Davies: Decoding the Hare, pp. 147–61 (p. 153).

78
Rings on her Fingers, pp. 93, 70.

79Rings on her Fingers, pp. 125, 221.

80Rings on her Fingers, p. 208.

81Rings on her Fingers, p. 221.

82 Rings on her Fingers, p. 222.

83Rhys Davies, My Wales (London: Jarrolds, 1937), pp. 21–22.

84Working-Class Fiction, p. 77.

85Lionel Britton, ‘Municipal Elections’, Times, 10 January 1925, p. 8.

86Kenneth and Margaret Thompson, Sartre: Life and Words (New York: Facts on File, c. 1984), p. 128.

87'The Crisis in Twentieth-Century Literature’, 12 June 1935, p. 92.

88Terry Keefe, French Existentialist Fiction: Changing Moral Perspectives (London: Croom Helm, c. 1986), p. 61.

89‘When All the Trees Were Green’, p. 40.

90Lionel Britton, ‘Workers’ Art in the Theatre’, New Clarion, 9 September 1933, p. 223, LBC, Box 7, Folder 1.

91Lionel Britton, letter to Winifred Holtby, 29 January 1933.

1 comment:

evision said...

www.sangambayard-c-m.com