Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

Confirming the New Orthodoxy?": Martin Amis's Money and Thatcherism

Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

Confirming the New Orthodoxy?": Martin Amis's Money and Thatcherism

Article excerpt

The Conservative election victory of 1979 that elevated Margaret Thatcher to Prime Minister had a profound effect on British culture and society. While it implies a host of attitudes and beliefs, from bellicose patriotism to the reaffirmation of so-called "Victorian values," Dennis Kavanagh defines Thatcher's ideology, at its core, as neoliberalisms emphases on individualism and laissez-faire economics combined with neoconservatism's demands for robust government and social authoritarianism (107). "Thatcherism" has also since come to indicate a governing style and a cultural shift as much as a political program. Kenneth Morgan stresses the "belligerence and confrontation" (440) that characterized Thatcher's implementation of her political goals, to the degree that Thatcherism transcended politics and "penetrated the very substratum of national culture" (438).Thatcher's ascension was thus "taken as marking a decisive shift in the national mood, politically, intellectually, and culturally" (437).

Unsurprisingly, Thatcherism's seismic impact is felt in the fiction of the day. Malcolm Bradbury maintains that novelist Martin Amis, above others, "caught the note of [Thatcher's] era, with its apocalyptic anxieties, sense of moral loss, its cynicism, greed and underlying alarm" (449), and none of Amis's novels capture the Zeitgeist more fully than Money (1984), a frenzied account of greed and degeneracy narrated by John Self, a crude television commercial director. Revolving around Self's attempt to direct his first Hollywood feature, alternately titled Good Money and Bad Money, the narrative climaxes when Self learns that his producer, an American named Fielding Goodney, has all along been underhandedly charging the funding for their movie to Self's account, leaving him destitute at novel's end. Amis suggests that Money, published in 1984, "could have been set any time" ("Domestic" 61) and that its setting in 1981 is by and large arbitrary, but nevertheless it is widely accepted as a satire of Thatcher's England, a time that lives in the public imagination as one of self-absorbed materialism and cultural vacuity.

The view that Money is a refutation of Thatcherism has long had considerable critical purchase, as for example in work by James J. Miracky, Laura Doan, and Dominic Head. Taking issue with this general view, Richard Bradford argues that

   Unlike the majority of his contemporaries Amis was not perplexed
   or horrified by political developments, post-1979. He had
   always treated the mindset and behaviour they were accused of
   engendering as, in truth, propensities that most people shared
   and practically all people denied. (36)

Rather than an embodiment of Thatcherism, Bradford sees Self as "an extension of the characteristics close to the core of Amis's previous novels, all but one published before 1979. "Though Money certainly shares much with Amiss pre-Thatcher novels, much of the sizable body of criticism relating Money to Thatcherism is persuasive, and within a few years of publishing his novel Amis wrote an article for Elle explicitly condemning Thatchers "acquisitive individualism" (War 23). At the same time, challenging certain assumptions about British fiction's response to Thatcherism, Bradford does quite usefully call attention to "the fascinating issue of the relationship between actuality and invention in post-1979 fiction" (37). Similarly, Alan Sinfield remarks that Thatcherism, "like all powerful stories ... partly creates the reality that it expounds" (338). In this light, we can see the tendency to read Money as an anti-Thatcher novel is itself symptomatic of a culture Thatcherism has itself engineered. Indeed, I want to focus on how Money, ostensibly a critique of Thatcherite values, helps instate Thatcherism's transformative politico-cultural ideology. Navigating between the commonplace that Money is a satire of Thatcherism and Bradford's claim that it is "not so much caricaturing as disclosing" (36), my reading contends that Money can be read as a critique of Thatcherism only because it cedes so much ground to Thatcherism's premises, thereby codifying as common sense the ideology that it is widely taken to oppose. …

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