Perhaps the last of the well-known novelists of the twentieth century is John Fowles (1917-1993), who made a mark with his first novel, The Collector (1963), which is a sort of post-Freudian fantasy. The narrator, protagonist is a rather repressed, butterfly collecting clerk, an anti-hero. His kidnapping an art-student expresses his repression, making the release of sexual energy as a form of liberation. A similar theme of psychic and sexual liberation is also dealt with in his next novel, Mantissa (1982).
The Magus (1966, revised in 1977) is also on the same theme. His most popular novel, and most admired, has been The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969), where again juxtaposition of repression and release is set up. The pair of central characters defy all taboos and conventions of social morality. We can see reflected in his work the influence of Lacanian psychology, which is post-Freudian.
Fraser And Farrell
There are some novelists whose work is of special interest to the Indian readers, because it relates the Indian situation during the British Raj. George Macdonald Fraser (b. 1925) and James Gordon Farrell (1935-1979) are among these writers. The Victorian India has been of great interest to many of these English novelists who had the opportunity to experience life on the Indian sub-continent. Fraser has to his credit ten volumes of the so-called “Flashman Paper,” dealing with the imagined career of the ex-villain of Tom Brown’s Schooldays. These volumes appeared between 1969 and 1994. The various themes in these volumes concern the Afgan war of 1842, the British acquisition of Punjab, and the Indian Mutiny of 1857. Less provocative than Fraser’s work is Farrell’s The Siege of Krishnapur (1973), which deals with the Indian Mutiny or Sepoy Rebellion, as the British named it from their side. On our side, the event is called the first War of Independence. The perspective brought upon the events is, of course, that of the colonial outfit. If does, however raise questions about the British imperial mission in the colonies. Fraser and Farrell do not compare, in terms of art, with E.M. Forster, whose novel on India is not impaired by any narrow outlook. Here, there is lack of depth of understanding of characters as well as the situation. FarreU’s unfinished novel about Shimla, The Hill Station (1981), is the poorest of his work.
Of all the British novelists who wrote about India, Paul Scott’s “Raj Quartet” offers the most comprehensive treatment of the subject. Paul Scott (1920-1978) wrote his quartet (a sequence of four novels) between 1966 and 1975. Collectively called the Raj Quartet, the sequence consists of The Jewel in the Crown (1966), A Day of the Scorpion (1968), The Towers of Silence (1971), and A Division of the Spoils (1975). The period the quartet covers relates to World War II years and the subsequent phase leading to India’s Independence. Scott’s last novel, Staying On (1977), also deals with India, covering the post-Independence period. It shows how those who chose to stay on found themselves misfits in the changed scenario. Scott may not be as great as Forster, but he is decidedly superior to Fraser and Farrell. As a consequence of the Postcolonial critical theory, the work of these novelists, along with the work of similar writers, such as Forster and Kipling, has now been interpreted from the Postmodernist perspective.
Between the Auden group of poets of the 1930’s and the Movement poets of the 1950’s, there are some poets of the forties who do not constitute any group or movement. One thing common between them is that they do not continue with the experimental poetry of the 1920’s, nor the Poetry of Commitment of the 1930’s, the decade of Depression. In the later years of 1930’s there emerged the movement of Surrealism in Europe,—including England. Primarily related to painting, Surrealism influenced the art of poetry also. One way of defining Surrealism is to see it in relation to Romanticism. One can say that Romanticism intensified becomes Surrealism. Another way to define it is to relate it to Realism. In that case Surrealism is seen as Super-Realism. For, after all, dreams, nightmares, daydreams, emotionalism, irrationalism are also a part of “real” life that we live, and it is these very aspects of life that constitute the stuff of Surrealism. In England, it was introduced in poetry by David Gascoyne (b. 1916), who also wrote A Short Survey of Surrealism (1935).
A prominent poet associated with Surrealism was the Anglo-Welsh Dylan Thoman (1914-1953), although some decline to do that. Andrew Sanders is one such critic. His contention is: “As his ambitious and uneven first volume, Poems (1934), suggests, Thoma had begun to mould an extravagant and pulsatingly rhetorical style before he became aware of the imported innovations of international Surrealist writing. He was, however, decidedly a poet who thought in images. If there is a kinship evident in Thomas’s verse it is with the ‘difficulty,’ the emotionalism, the lyric intensity, and the metaphysical speculation (though not the intellectual vigour) of the school of Donne.” One of the popularly known poems of Thomas is “The Force that through the Green Fuse drives the Flower,” considered an example of his pantheism and mysticism; also an example of Blakean symbolism, such as the following:
And I am dumb to tell the lover’s tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.
Another well-known poem of his is “Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines,” which is typical of his “obscurity” because his symbolism tends to be personal and private, such as the following:
Light breakes on secret lots,
On time of thought where thoughts smell in the rain;
When logics die,
The secret of the soil grows through the eye,
And blood jumps in the sun;
Above the waste allotments the dawn halts.
Thomas and other poets of the forties are called neo-romantics, having greater affinity with Blake, Yeats, Lawrence, etc., than with Eliot or Auden. Some other poems of Thomas to remember are “The Hunchback in the Park,” “After the Funeral,” “Over Sir John’s Hill,” “Fern Hill,” and “Do not go gentle into that good night.”
As Karl Shapiro has said, “Thomas is in somewhat the same relation to modern poetry that Hopkins was to Tennyson and the Victorians; this is a relation of anti-magnetism. Thomas resisted the literary traditionalism of the Eliot school; he wanted no part of it. Poetry to him was not a civilizing manoeuvre, a replanting of the gardens; it was a holocaust, a sowing of the wind.” Thomas is also known for his catchy, parodic, title Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog (1940), his book of autobiographical short stories. Unfortunately, he had died of drinking, just as Marlowe died in a drunken brawl. His best known volume of poems remains Deaths and Entrances (1946). In its Surrealistic revolt against all restraints on free creativity, including logical reason, standard morality, social norms, Thomas’s work reflects one facet of Postmodernism which finds more mature expression later in the literature of the 1960’s.
The Movement Poets
A parallel crusade in poetry to the effort of Angry Young Men in fiction during the decade of the 1950’s was that of the Movement Poets. This, too, was conscious and deliberate just as its counterpart movement was in fiction. In 1955, a number of verse manifestoes found publication from the members of the group known as the Movement. These manifestoes were published in D.J. Enright’s anthology, Poets of the 1950’s, which included Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin, Robert Conquest, etc. Amis made the following announcement:
Nobody wants any more poems about philosophers or paintings or novelists or art galleries or mythology or foreign cities or other poems. At least I hope nobody wants them. Larkin’s reaction to “Modernism” is no less violent: I have no belief in “tradition” or a common myth-kitty or casual allusions in poems to other poems or poets…. To me the whole of the ancient world, the whole of classical and biblical mythology meant very little, and I think that using them today not only fills poems full of dead spots but dodges the writer’s duty to be original.
As Robert Conquest contended, the Movement was “empirical in its attitude to all the cosmos.” On the one hand, it was a reaction against the mythical new classicism of the 1920’s, on the other, it was opposed to the neo-romanticism of the 1940’s. It was, one could surmise, a sort of realism, which aimed at consciously narrow concerns of here and now, addressing the world of everyday engagements, closing all windows on the outside world both in time and space. The Movement poets shut their eyes to whatever lurked beyond the tangible present and the mundane multitude. The very dull and drab, morbid and monotonous life of the uneventful men and matters were chosen as the subject-matter of poetry. After the War, which was between the European nations primarily, the reaction to Continentalism of the Modernists sounded perhaps unpatriotic. So, there is, for sure, this nationalist aspect also to the Movement philosophy of new aesthetics. As Calvin Bedient puts it, “The English poetic ‘Movement’ of the Fifties (the very name suggesting an excess of dull plainness) did much to fix the image of contemporary British poetry as deliberately deficient, moderate with a will. This image is gradually frayed and will probably give way altogether, for the truth is that, however deliberate — and after a faltering start — postwar poetry in Britain and Ireland has proved increasingly robust, varied, responsive to the times, felicitous, enjoyable.” Thus, the anti-modernism of Larkin and his fellow poets reflected the Postmodernist spirit of problematising Modernism. Their postmodernism involves a going beyond modernism.
The poet chosen by common consent as the most significant of the Movement poets is Philip Larkin (1922-1985). He still remains the best known of the group. His poetic works include The North Ship (1945), The Less Deceived (1955), The Whitsun Weddings (1964), and High Windows (1974). It has been rightly remarked that “English poetry has never been so persistently out of the cold as it is with Philip Larkin.” The following extract from his “Wild Oats” will illustrate the remark at once:
About twenty years ago
Two girls came in where I worked –
A bosomy English rose
And her friend in specs I could talk to.
Faces in those days sparked
The whole shooting-match off, and 1 doubt
If ever one had like her:
But it was the friend I took out,
This shows a good deal of Larkin—plain and bare as wood, matter-of-fact, not entirely a mind of winter, with a slight sense of homour. Larkin represents the post-War mood of depression. As he says in his novel Jill (1946), “events cut us ruthlessly down to size.” His other novel is A Girl in Winter (1947).
Larkin has something of both Frost and Hardy in him, writing small poems on small affairs of life, sharing their scepticism, even nihilism at times, but always reassuring in his love for the very ordinary things of life. Note, for instance, the following:
‘This was Mr. Bleaney’s room. He stayed
The whole time he was at the Bodies, till
They moved him.’ Flowered curtains, thin and frayed,
Fall to within five inches of the sill,
Such small things, studded with care on the small canvas, came out with a certain care for the small and the underdog. His lyricism and lucidity are never lost in the dense detail of his little descriptions. These two qualities always come out:
I was sleeping, and you woke me
To walk on the chilled shore
Of a night with no memory
Till your voice forsook my ear
Till your two hands withdrew
And I was empty of tears,
On the edge of a bricked and streeted sea
And a cold bill of stars.
Thus, Larkin served his generation of the post-War with the soothing balm of little concerns, focusing on the immediate so that the disturbing outside world could be kept subsided at the back of one’s mind. His poetry, no wonder, became the truly representative of the post-War outlook on life and cosmos. Larkin’s tirade against the metanarratives of modernism is one form of Postmodernism that emerged in the 1950’s.
Another “Movement” poet, Donald Davie (b. 1922), came out with his own brand of “commonality” (if realism has historically an old ring), quite different from Larkin’s. He lays a good deal of emphasis on “unbanity,” which Larkin rather repudiated. Davie wants reality to appear in his work, not “in some new form,” but in its most familiar form, its morally guaranteed form—in fact, as “moral commonplace.” However, as Calvin Bendient has observed, “But the truth is that reality does not appear in his work at all. Seen from ‘the center,’ reality falls into the blind spot in the middle of the eye. No longer Appearance, it becomes a storehouse of signs, of which the meanings are moral abstractions.” Davie has a very pronounced, as well as announced, polemical “urbane” poetic programme, very much like (his most admired) the Augustans. As he argues, linguistic urbanity lies in “the perfection of a common language.” Using Arnold’s phrase, Davie insists, that the object of urbanity is to voice “the tone and spirit of the center.” No wonder that he wrote his critical book Purity of Diction in English Verse (1952).
Davie’s attempt, therefore, is to have a style as transparent as water, but also as pure. Decidedly, to achieve that goal a lot of “ore” of reality will have to be removed from the pure metal, and so Davie does. Note, for instance, the following, from “Tunstall Forest”:
Stillness did not come,
The deer did not, although they fed
Perhaps nearby that day,
The liquid eye and elegant head
No more than a mile away.
Some other notable poems of Davie include “The Cypress Avenue,” “After an Accident.” A critical book, Articulate Energy, pleads for a “story sense” in poetry, which again is an Arnoldian emphasis. An interesting poem of Davie (recalling Joyce and Thomas) is “Portrait of the Artist as a Farmyard Fowl,” where the monologue proceeds on such a pace as the following:
A conscious carriage must become a strut;
Fastidiousness can only stalk
And seem at last not even tasteful but
A ruffled hen too apt to squawk.
Davie’s notable works include Six Epistles to Eva Hesse (1970), The Forests of Lithuania (1959), A Winter Talent (1957) and Events and Wisdoms (1964): while some more notable poems include “Creon Mouse,” “North Dublin,” “Cherry Ripe,” “A Meeting of Cultures,” “New York in August,” “In California,” “The Prolific Spell,” “Viper Man,” etc. His attempt always remained to sing and to keep his song lean, devoid of all history and mythology because that was the “character” of the post-War era. But there is, for sure, an integrity in his leanness which, the more one reads his poetry, the more one learns to admire. His work finally, slowly and steadily, that is, has become broader, but without sacrificing its innate purity.
Robert Conquest and D.J. Enright
Still another of the group of poets covered under the term “Movement” is Robert Conquest (b. 1917), whose poetry is largely devoted to the depiction of landscape; of course, with man, as in Wordsworth, as an integral part of nature. The subject-matter, in the true spirit of the “Movement,” remains reality, that is, the commonplace, but his approach is rather intellectual. Some of his notable verse appears in his volumes entitled Poems (1955), Between Mars and Venus (1962), and Arias for a Love Opera (1969). One more of the core group, so to say, of the “Movement,” is J.D. Enright (b. 1920), who is known, not so much by his own poems as by his edited work, Poets of the 50‘s (1955). His own poems are included in his Language Hyena (1953), Some Men are Brothers (1960), and The Old Adam (1965). His poetry has for its subject the individual man, just as in Larkin, in all his conditions, treating his suffering with sympathy, also with indignation. But he always upholds individual dignity, reiterates strong faith in it. His language, also like Larkin’s, is derived from colloquial speech, stripped of all elaborations. His is a style marked by ironical disgust of hypocrisy and cruelty.
A notable poet of the post-War period, perhaps the most considerable British poet, is Charles Tomlinson (b. 1927). Like the other poets of the period he, too, is committed to some sort of realism, the world of empirical realities. However, each of these poets have their individual versions of reality. In Tomlinson’s case, he can be called a poet of exteriority and its human correspondences. His outwardness, however, need not be confused with superficiality. His principal theme, in his own words, is “the fineness of relationships.” One can see something of Wordsworth in him, his wise passivity, his reflections within the bounds of reality. The power of message and healing of his poetry remains central in most of his compositions. Note, for instance, the following from “The Gossamers”:
Autumn. A haze is gold
By definition. This one lit
The thread of gossamers
That webbed across it
Out of shadow and again
Through rocking spaces which the sun
Claimed in the leafage. Now
I saw for what they were
These glitterings in grass, on air,
Of certainties that ride and plot
The currents in their tenuous stride
And, as they flow, must touch
Each blade and, touching, know
Its green resistance. Undefined
The haze of autumn in the mind
Is gold, is glaze.
Clearly, mind is light, and like the light it is a wealth, but also like the wealth, it makes wealth of objects that it reflects upon. His poetry consists of several volumes that came out at different dates, namely, Relations and Contraries (1951), The Necklace (1955), Seeing is Believing (1958), A Peopled Landscape (1962), American Scenes (1966), The Way of the World (1969), Written on Water (1972), The Way In and Other Poems (1974), The Flood (1981), The Return (1987), The Door m the Wall (1992) and Jubilation (1995). In Tomlinson’s case, contemplation seems to be the fulfilment of being, just as it does in the case of Wallace Stevens. Like the other poets of the Movement Group, he, too, recalls us to the life of the moment conceived as an end in itself. Here, the Movement gains the meaning of flux, reality that is marked by movement, by change.
A notable Welsh poet after Dylan Thomas is Ronald Stuart Thomas (b. 1913), although not as well-known and established as his senior compatriot. His poetry is both sensual as well as sensitive, which quickly engages both eye and emotion equally intensely. Note, for instance, the following from “Ninetieth Birthday”:
And there at the top that old woman,
Born almost a century back
In that stone farm, awaits your coming;
Waits for the news of the lost village.
She thinks she knows, a place that exists
In her memory only.
One feels tempted to cite Calvin Bendient’s comment on the poem, which has a charm of its own: “How direct, naked, human, and sociable this is. Has Thomas not heard of ‘modern’ poetry and its difficulty? Has he no embarrassment before the primary emotions? Never mind; nothing vital is missing from such a poem. Reading Thomas one learns to endure the glare of emotion; one learns again a kind of innocence.” Thomas, evidently, shares with the poets of the 1950’s their key emphases on simple, clean, and clear diction; direct and straight syntax; no use of mythology or tradition; no reliance on ambiguity or paradox.
Thomas has to his credit several volumes of poems, including The Stones of the Field (1946), Not That He Brought Flowers (1969), Song at the Year’s Turning (1955), The Bread of Truth, and Pieta (1966), Laboratories of the Spirit (1975), The Echoes Return Show (1988), Counterpoint (1990) and Mass for Hard Times (1992). His poetry is strongly marked as much by moral quality as by aesthetic. The theme may be love or anger, his poem is invariably directed at an entire people. There is, in that sense, something of Whitman in Thomas, without, of course, the former’s bombastic optimism. He is rather hardened and narrowed Whitman, although not without broad sympathy, especially for the peasants. Note, for instance, the following:
I am the farmer, stripped of love
And thought and grace by the land’s hardness;
But what I am saying over the fields’
Desolate acres, rough with dew,
Is, Listen, listen, I am a man like you…
Some of the memorable poems of Thomas include “Green Categories,” “The Gap in the Hedge,” “A Peasant,” “The Airy Tomb,” “Death of a Peasant,” “Portrait,” “Absolution,” and “Walter Llywarch.” Writing about the repressed and marginalized (peasants have been one such class) is in keeping with the philosophy of Postmodernism.