The Second World War in Contemporary British Fiction: Secret Histories

The Second World War in Contemporary British Fiction: Secret Histories

The Second World War in Contemporary British Fiction: Secret Histories

The Second World War in Contemporary British Fiction: Secret Histories

Synopsis

Focusing on the upsurge of interest in the Second World War in recent British novels, this monograph explores the ways in which secrecy and secret work - including code-breaking, espionage and special operations - have been approached in representations of the war. It considers established writers, including Muriel Spark, Sarah Waters and Kazuo Ishiguro, as well as newer voices, such as Liz Jensen and Peter Ho Davies. The examination of the after-effects of involvement in secret work, inter-generational secrets in a domestic context, political allegiance and sexuality shows how issues of loyalty, deception and betrayal are brought into focus in these novels. Key Features
• Breaks new ground in considering the Second World War in contemporary culture
• Contributes to debate on established novelists such as Muriel Spark
• Intervenes in ongoing debates about historical fiction

Excerpt

During the Second World War, the men and women based at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, where the Government Code and Cipher School (GC and CS) undertook the task of deciphering intercepted German military communications, were warned of the importance of keeping their activities secret from those outside the organisation. Even within Bletchley, individuals were not always allowed to know how their particular work fitted into the operation as a whole. a former member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service explained: ‘We were not allowed to discuss each other’s jobs so that no-one could build up a complete picture of all that went on.’ After the war ended, the secrecy surrounding the work of gc and cs continued. Joan Unwin, another wrns recruit, recalled how, during a weekend visit to a stately home in the 1970s, her husband mentioned that the magnolia trees in the garden reminded him of the place where he was stationed for part of the war. She had a similar memory and, after thirty years of marriage, the couple realised that they had both been based at Bletchley: ‘In all those years, we had kept the secret from one another!’ (Page, We Kept, p. 71). This story emphasises the seriousness with which injunctions not to speak were taken, as well as the ways in which wartime secrecy could spill over into the peace. a politically motivated demand for concealment leads to individuals editing out certain aspects of their life stories and only belatedly being able to reveal their role in the war effort.

A crucial aspect of Second World War military strategy, secrecy retained its importance during the ideological manoeuvrings of the post-war years, and this prevalence of secrecy at a political level inevitably had an impact on individual subjectivity which did not only affect those who had worked at Bletchley. the revelation of previously concealed information may be judged a socio-political good, helping to deepen our understanding of how historical events unfolded, but such revelations can shatter individuals’ carefully constructed life stories . . .

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