Michael LasseyA2 English Literature
‘Many post-World War II writers were concerned with making sense of a rapidly changing world’. Compare and contrast ways in which your chosen writers present a changing world.
Within the three texts, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, Look back in Anger by John Osborne and The Whitsun Weddings by Phillip Larkin, each writer explores the concept of a ‘changing world’. However, this presentation of post-war Britain is dramatically different in each work. With Waugh, almost exclusively focusing on the effect of the aristocracy and upper classes, he differs from Osbourne and Larkin in this respect, as their texts largely concern the affect on the ‘ordinary’ and the working classes. All three main narrative voices in each of the three texts, however, all share the same sense of disillusionment, albeit for different reasons, that was part of the zeitgeist of Britain at the time still in the grips of economic and cultural austerity from the war . This disillusionment with the new world is also met in the texts with a longing for the past and a sense of nostalgia, particularly seen with the characters of Jimmy in Look back in Anger and Charles Brideshead Revisited. The three texts, although different in form and genre, all explore through varying literary methods, how the social changes in post-war Britain created a new generation struggling to find its identity and purpose.
There is one major drawing line between the three texts. Waugh writing as the second world war was coming to end, shows the point of view of the aristocracy and the ‘old order’ , whilst Osborne and Larkin writing in the mid-to-late 50s can be seen as from the ‘new’. All three texts, however, share the same disdain for the ‘brave new-not-very-much-thank you’, as Jimmy puts it in Look back in Anger. This disdain can be seen most clearly in Brideshead Revisited through the character of Lieutenant Hooper. Waugh’s unsympathetic portrayal of Hooper as an ignorant and graceless army officer, lacking the sense of tradition present in the character of Charles, is representative of Waugh’s presentation of the working class in the novel and the changing world where they are becoming more prominent. Waugh’s description of Charles seeing Hooper as a ‘symbol’ of ‘Young England’ presents Charles’ and also Waugh’s view of a new generation whose pragmatism was at odds with the romanticism and splendour of the upper classes. Hooper had not learned of the ‘epitaph at Thermopylae’ or battles such as ‘Gallipoli’ and ‘Marathon’ like Charles but about the ‘humane legislation and recent industrial change’.Although a satirist of the upper classes, Waugh was still an adamant admirer of the world he inhabited as an outsider, much in the same way Charles does in Brideshead Revisited and this negative portrayal of the fading of the upper classes to make way for the lower would have been very hotly received at the time when it was first published in 1945. Many contemporary readers would have found it hard to stomach the blatant nostalgia for the golden age of landed aristocracy, and negative portrayal of the working-class, as the general mood in Britain was one of a complete break from old conventions. Through Waugh’s presentation of the character of Hooper and hence Charles’ reluctance to the changing world and society he inhabits, the reader can see Waugh’s negative presentation of post-war British society.
Whilst Waugh deals with the disillusionment of the changing world on the upper classes, Larkin and Osbourne in their respective works explore the different effects of the post-war culture on their middle and working-class characters and narrative voices. Written later in the 50s and 60s, post-war Britain had changed much from the days, only a decade previously, when Waugh wrote Brideshead Revisited. Rather than be a ‘changing world’ the writers are working in, it is, in a way, a changed world. Written ‘in and informed by a sense of bleakness and paranoia prevalent in the 1950s, embodied neatly in the phrase ‘Cold War’’ both Larkin and Osborne deal with this changed post-war Britain but in different ways. Osborne, part of the ‘Angry Young Men’ movement which he unwittingly instigated with Look back in Anger, explores as the title of the play suggests; anger at post-war society. This is explored almost exclusively through the character of the university-educated but creatively and financially stifled Jimmy, who was received by audiences of the time as a ‘mouthpiece of protest for a dissatisfied generation’. With him asserting that ‘there aren’t any good, brave causes left’ and Osborne’s extensive use of monologue, the audience of the time could see how Osborne uses his anti-hero Jimmy to present the underlying feeling of anger at the modern establishment in post-war Britain. Most of the criticism at the time shows how the audience responded to the play with T.C Worlsey in the New Statesman writing how through ‘[Jimmy’s] soliloquies you can hear the authentic new tone of the Nineteen-Fifties, desperate, savage, resentful’. Although as a dramatic piece, it did not garner much completely positive praise, critics understood the importance of the play and they were right, with it being a huge cultural turning point in British theatre and wider British society in the mid-1950s.