Frank Kermode here returns to the literature of his youth to ask why we seem to have forgotten how urgent and powerful this literature was during a time of economic crisis and imminent world war. First examining bourgeois left-wing writing in England in the 1930s and, to a lesser extent, in the United States, Kermode explores the causes of literary neglect and the nature of the bond between a book and its historical context. He goes on to discuss left-wing novelists and their response to the crises and political myths of the decade and the "committed" work of left-wing bourgeois poets, including Auden, MacNeice, Spender, Upward, Wyndham Lewis, and the Welsh miner and author Lewis Jones. The second part of the book draws on Marxist and postmodernist criticism, and strategies of canon- and period-formation, to address the more general question of how literature dies or survives and how we go about deciding whether to attribute value to it.
'it is a bold and expert defence of the '30s writers, in which historical perspective and personal memory work to show how practical criticism and a sense of period can recuperate literature and clarify criticism ... an eloquence that is inseparable from the clarity of his argument and the gravity of his purpose.'
'readers never have the feeling here of being lectured at: rather, they are drawn into a witty, intelligent and civilised debate in which a great many topics are touched on and the continuing revolutionary movements of living history are viewed sympathetically and with understanding.'
'Where others find fault he is not embarrassed to praise. He hears in the political literature of the Thirties a lucid note of awe and wonder.'
London Review of Books
'so elegant, so intelligent a writer'
D. J. Enright, Times Literary Supplement
'Kermode's book is always lucid, often brilliantly insightful. Essential for scholars and students of the period.'
'a cogent defence of the now-unfashionable principle of evaluation ... a bold and expert defence of the '30s writers'
'At times Kermode's bare and unemphatic style issues into an eloquence that is inseparable from the clarity of his argument and the gravity of his purpose ... passionate and elegant book'
Peter Craven, Age
'Oxford University Press deserves many congratulations on their institution - and on the choice of Professor Kermode for their inauguration.'
Roma Gill, Notes and Queries
'he recovers some forgotten texts and introduces some new motifs that can only modify our reading of that decade'
Robert Sullivan, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Volume 91 No. 2 (April 1992)