26 July 2013

Lionel Britton Recognised as a Working-Class Writer

After all the (almost studied) exclusion of Lionel Britton from books dealing with or mentioning working-class literature, it's very refreshing to find him included somewhere for once. Rather belatedly, I've just discovered The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction (2011) by editors Brian W. Shaffer and Patrick O'Donnell et al, and the first volume of it – Twentieth-Century British and Irish Fiction – includes a section titled 'Working-Class Fiction', which is by Aaron Kelly and includes a sizeable paragraph on Lionel Britton (p. 407). This is most welcome, although there are a few minor errors: Britton didn't go to Russia in the 1920s, and he didn't go there to seek Soviet citizenship: he made his application some time before 1920 (but was rejected), but he didn't in fact visit Russia until 1935 (at the expense of the International Union of Revolutionary Writers). Also, it is not certain that the protagonist Arthur Phelps dies in Britton's novel Hunger and Love (1931) because the narrator leaves it open.

Kelly also mentions John Sommerfield as a working-class writer, although recently Nick Hubble (via a biographical essay by Andy Croft) pointed out the error of including him in this category: Sommerfield's father was a self-educated journalist, and John Sommerfield went to University College School, Hampstead with such students as Stephen Spender and Maurice Cornforth.* This reminded me of the assumption that the obscure J. C. Grant – author of the slightly bizarre mining novel The Back-to-Backs (1930) – was of working-class origin, whereas I discovered that his father was a (probably relatively comfortable) journalist.

*Nick Hubble, 'John Sommerfield and Mass-Observation', The Space Between: Literature and Culture, 1914–1945, Vol. 8:1 2012: 31–52 (p. 31).

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