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The art of the possiblePolitics and governance in modern British history, 18851997: Essays in memory of Duncan Tanner$
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Chris Williams and Andrew Edwards

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780719090714

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719090714.001.0001

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Novels for ‘thinking people’

Novels for ‘thinking people’

Fiction and the inter-war broad left

(p.98) 5 Novels for ‘thinking people’
The art of the possible

Steven Fielding

Manchester University Press

This essay examines how the inter-war left was depicted in contemporary novels. Some used Labour politics as their backdrop or even central subject. In such works written in the early 1920s, the party was often depicted as representing hope for the future. However, by the later 1930s it had become a by-word for principled failure or cynical betrayal. To some extent these depictions broadly reflected the party’s own political trajectory during this period. Many of these novels were written by those active in the party or by others sympathetic to it like. They can be read as reflections on the limits and possibilities of Parliamentary socialism, from within and outside the party, albeit for a disproportionately middle class readership. From these novels we can therefore reconstruct a certain picture of the party, one possibly more revealing than that which emerges from the public words of its leading figures, tackling as they do themes such as the party’s relationship with the working class, women, capitalism and Parliament. They express concerns about the limited agency of the people, the need for leadership but also fears about the temptations that the party’s leaders might become subject to – and the possibility of betrayal.

Keywords:   Novels, Representation, Labour Party, Left-wing politics, Idealism

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