Rubble, walls and murals

The threshold between abstraction and materiality

in Mid-century gothic
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Modernism, with its enthusiasm for bricolage and fragment, might seem to have predicted the blitzed ruinscape of the 1940s; yet, arguably, it was modernism itself which was ruined by the cultural rupture, and this chapter traces the ways in which its aesthetic schemata collapsed under the sudden actualization of its metaphors.

The search for an aesthetic ratification of the suffering and destruction of the war is traced through six cultural responses. The Blitz stories of William Sansom (published between 1944 and 1948) are full of falling walls, fires and bombed buildings which become uncannily alive, haunted by a non-human agency. Joyce Cary’s novel The Horse’s Mouth (1944), meanwhile, is read as a troubling account of art’s destructive power. In Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (1945), a neurotic nostalgia erupts from the ruins of an English country house, and this is placed into dialogue with the oneiric bombsite odyssey of Rose Macaulay’s The World My Wilderness (1950).

The murals of the Festival of Britain on the South Bank, notably John Piper’s An Englishman’s Home (1951), are also considered, alongside Hugh Casson’s campaign to preserve and aestheticize the ruins of London’s bombed churches as monuments to the Blitz. A striking picture emerges of tumbling walls as an image of revolutionary remaking instigated by the uncanny power of art.

Mid-century gothic

The uncanny objects of modernity in British literature and culture after World War II

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