His old friend continued to rustle the leaves of the grammar. A beetle ticked somewhere behind the wainscot. No other sound. Teatime is perhaps the most stereotypical way in which the British household maintains an ordered temporal rhythm. It is precisely what is appealed to so desperately at the end of the paragraph from Caught.
What makes this particular room anachronistic, deliberately so, is its impermeability — its ability to shut everything out that does not belong there. For much of the war, the threat of invasion was not limited to the dread of seeing German troops on British soil, but touched off various kinds of alarm over the increasing frequency with which people and objects were transposed from familiar to unfamiliar surroundings, often with a sense of being uprooted, out of place, and sometimes made to feel, or look, unwelcome or intrusive in their new setting.
The protagonist is an 32 British fiction of the war English-born eighteen-year-old girl named Henrietta Castle.
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Louis is in a direct line of inheritance that stretches back to the time of the eleventh-century Duke Robert, predating even the Norman conquest of England. The English widow, Aunt Barbe, is resented by her tenants as intensely as the eleventh-century Saxon inhabitants of England would have resented the arrival of William the Conqueror; she has the character almost of an occupying power.
However, this national antagonism is defused in some degree by stress on the friction between Norman and French culture, which means that the degree of identification with place that is of immense significance for the protagonist Henrietta must be disengaged from a territorial brand of nationalism and focused on the attachment formed by personal history alone.
Individual attachment, however, is complicated by questions of property and inheritance. The owners of the chateau control the use of the land all round the neighboring village, and many of the villagers are their tenants.
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Moreover, those at the chateau are in a position to buy up the land of smallholders when these are forced to sell it after bad harvests. An atmosphere of oppression gathers around the concept of ownership in the text, to an extent that makes it seem the equivalent of expropriation. Differences of nationality, therefore, only accentuate the hostility generated by other factors.
The second half of the novel shifts onto other ground by introducing a fundamental challenge to the idea of property and possession in the arrival of a gypsy family in the field below the chateau. The presence of the gypsy in such a setting is only ever temporary, yet recursive. Gypsy nomadism is fundamentally opposed to concepts of settlement and land ownership; it mounts a challenge that relativizes the rival territorial claims of different nation states that in the s and s were often associated with the idea of a homeland. Gypsies together with Jews were the only groups routinely and systematically interned in wartime concentration camps on the basis of ethnicity rather than politics or sexuality.
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The main difference between them was that Jews retained the cultural memory of a homeland to which they aimed to return, while gypsies were and are more 33 rod mengham radically itinerant, definitively unsettled. Theirs is a culture not of belonging to a particular place but a culture based on traditional practices, on customs held in common. A crisis is reached when Henrietta and Aunt Barbe discover the gypsy in the act of taking two birds from the estate dovecot.
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Under the curve of his hat, his eyes moved quickly and his ear-rings glittered as he breathed. Let go! Barbe and Henrietta then cooperate in an act that is strangely more furtive than the behavior of the gypsy had been; Barbe asks Henrietta to take the two birds and throw them over the headland into the sea: When she took the doves they were still warm and their bodies were heavy and soft and limp; she held them bundled on the peak of her saddle and rode quickly up through the orchard and along the road, avoiding the field and the short cut through the waste ground; the wind blew cold on her hands and parted the white feathers into dark patches between her fingers.
She had to dismount to throw the doves over the cliff, and with a rush of fear that she could not explain, she hurtled back into the saddle and turning Bellairs almost on his hocks, she sent him back to the road at a gallop; the sounds of his hooves clattering on the road made her ashamed and she pulled him up and rode quietly down to the house; but she could not rid herself of the thought of those warm soft bodies, turning over and over through the air till they hit the cold sea with a splash that was lost in the sound of the waves.
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It is striking that the most vehement opposition to the idea that gypsy culture can be justified in any way is that of the Church. Their lives cannot be administered by a Church that relies on the geography of settlement, on the division of the population into parishes, in order to exert its influence.
There is a potentially tragic irony in the circumstance that the character most sympathetic to the gypsy perspective is the least well placed to accommodate its values in any practical way. Gypsy culture remains at the end of the text the most important means of exposing the venality and avidity for power of European society at the beginning of the Second World War, while also remaining totally unassimilable.
The baby of the title is supposed to be dead and left unburied in a gravel pit for three days, but the denouement of the story reveals it to be wholly imaginary, the product of the imagination of the most alienated and impoverished child in the village where the story is set. The scenario she imagines is one in which the unfathomable gypsies can ride away from the death of a child unmoved, emotionally untouched, but is also one in which the shame attached to her own condition as guilty survivor can be transferred to a social group even more despised than her own family in the scapegoat culture of an ordinary English village.
The N and M of the title are the male and female organizers of a Fifth Column whose infiltration of the British Establishment is phenomenally successful. Their converts include rear-admirals, air vice-marshals, cabinet ministers, police chiefs, and members of the intelligence service: precisely those whose situations will enable them to direct all the relevant command structures after an enemy invasion. If the extent of the conspiracy seems fantastic from a twentyfirst-century perspective, it is important to remember the intensity with which the cultural imagination projected its fear of betrayal during the first few years of the war.
In the first of these two films and in N or M? The female agent M betrays herself through the indifference she shows to the potential suffering of the child she has cynically adopted to provide her with cover. This confrontation is a clear echo of the Judgment of Solomon, in which the authentic mother shrinks from an act that would risk harming her child, while the impostor has no such qualms.
The death of the mother who allows her child to be taken by strangers speaks to the guilt and anxiety of British parents who accede to the government policy of evacuation. The extent of enemy infiltration into branches of government suggests the depth 36 British fiction of the war of distrust the British have in their own culture and institutions. However, this intimation of the possibility that the real enemy is to be found within is superseded by the generically conservative ending of the detective story, with its defusing of all ambiguities. In an almost Dickensian gesture of reparation, the orphaned child is adopted at the end of the novel by the middle-aged amateur sleuths who manage to break the spy-ring.
The child is passed from one character to another without the reader being given any sense of the impact on her of this emotional relay-system. In the wartime stories of Anna Kavan, there is hardly any sentence that does not bear the weight of anxiety over the anticipation or the effects of betrayal.
The protagonist narrator of her two volumes I Am Lazarus and Asylum Piece is betrayed by her lover, the person she trusts most, to whom she is most attached, and whose loss means more than anything else. In fact, his loss means a general loss of meaning for the protagonist, who enters a world of paranoid alertness to the possibility of betrayal at every turn, and by everyone she encounters: Whenever I speak to anyone I catch myself scrutinizing him with secret attention, searching for some sign that would betray the traitor who is determined to ruin me.
What act of mine can possibly have given rise to such a relentless persecution?
I go over and over my past life without finding any clue. Her entry into a mental asylum represents the ultimate cost of the kind of psychological struggle endured by several fictional characters during wartime, in their failed attempts to find clues in their past lives that will account for their present condition and provide connection and continuity with it.
They might even court-martial me as a Fifth Columnist. The textuality of the resulting notes and drawings bears a remarkable resemblance to the documentary criteria for wartime writing endorsed so consistently by Penguin New Writing itself.
I took notes on everything I seen. Bits in the paper too I copied out.
But would they believe that? Not a word. No, they was dead set on me being a spy. The decision not to narrate wartime events, not to subject them to authorial arrangement, but simply to record their occurrence, runs the risk of fostering a passive attitude to history. Maclaren-Ross himself practices a very different aesthetic, in the tradition of the well-made story, strongly anecdotal and conventionally plotted. His character Sandy is acquitted of treachery, of writing as an act of deception, and yet the final section of the story reopens the possibility that he has been guilty all along.
I only hope we meet again so I can tell you. The narrator is 38 British fiction of the war careful to note that the intriguing letter has been passed by the censor, a reminder of the passive condition of all writing during the war, its exposure to radical reinterpretation, its paradoxical liability to being authored by others. Censorship affected particularly the literary productions of servicemen. It was felt to be too much of a threat to morale while the outcome of the fighting was still in the balance.
The subject matter of the book was virtually identical to that of the popular Powell and Pressburger film, One of Our Aircraft is Missing , but its narrative development was almost contrary to that of the determinedly optimistic screenplay. Both concern the shooting down of a British bomber and the subsequent attempts of the aircrew to escape capture while making their way across enemy-occupied territory.
In the film, the British servicemen are looked after by an efficiently organized Resistance cell, in a Dutch community that is almost entirely united against the Germans.
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The crew are spirited away to freedom with a renewed faith in their allies. But more lethal forms of censorship were experienced with regard to the operations of the unconscious, especially in the case of returning servicemen for whom the suspension of life on the Home Front meant the freezing of memories of a way of life, and of personal relationships, that were sometimes violently dislocated from the reality of the postwar world.
Demobilization could wreck lives. Summers has returned not just from active service overseas, but from several years in a prisoner-of-war camp, which increases dramatically the pitch of his alienation. History, that pushed us about the map, hid its face from us. The notorious inactivity of service life for much of the time is in fact the pretext for its most important form of activity: reverie.
This is a war that requires a significant concentration on daydreaming. If the emphasis on the Home Front is one of the defining differences between the cultures of the two world wars, the remoteness from home of many combatants is equally significant. Distance sponsors fiction as an everyday habit of mind. After the destruction of the Blitz, with the ensuing housing shortage, the crowding of available domestic space, the necessity to share that space with strangers, the suspicion and distrust of the stranger in the house, and the dispersal of families through mobilization and evacuation, it is unsurprising 40 British fiction of the war that the house is made synecdochic of British culture and society in general.
But there is equally a series of texts in which the same tropes become the focus of a de-sanitizing project. Their surname, Tennant, implies the spuriousness of their hold over a cultural legacy whose lease is running out. The protagonist, Julia Davenant, is more at home in the settings of English literature than in the house she lives in, which is owned by the absent Mrs.
The spatial imagination of this text is motivated by the experience of temporal displacement. In the fiction of the Second World War, the house itself is the principal object of attention, architecturally and socially, in a period of disorientation between parents and children, hosts and guests; between what is routine and what is unpredictable, what is revealed and what is hidden, what is brought inside and what is kept out; and the House of Fiction itself is variously rebuilt, or discovered to have rooms that were previously unseen, rooms with secrets; or it might just be blown to bits.
Pritchett, New Statesman, May 23, Henry Green, Caught London: Hogarth, , p. Green, Caught, p.