Thursday, 7 November 2013

Sexual and Emotional Freedom in the Blitz


The spurious intimacy
of the underground bomb shelter
Last night I had the pleasure of  watching  the tousle haired James Runcie presenting on The Culture Show discussing the invigorating creative effect of the experience of the London Blitz during World War Two, on upper middle class writers who used the profound experience to inspire great novels.

Alongside Grahame Greene (The End of the Affair), writers Elizabeth Bowen (In the Heat of the Day), Henry Green - Real name Yorke - (Caught), Rose Macaulay (Towers of Trebizond) all used the insights offered by surviving in London under severe bombing while 'doing their bit' as fire wardens and fire fighters. During this time they actually lived and worked shoulder to shoulder with a class of people who had been invisible to them in the pre-war security of their upper class literary lives.

With wives and partners safely in the country,  life in the Blitz offered sexual and emotional freedom,  where there seemed no accountability other than writing, packing in as much life as possible in  today, and surviving until tomorrow

The terror, passion and immediacy of the Blitz, (which Rose Macaulay referred to as 'a sample of total war')  was compared by Henry Yorke (in the mind of one of his characters): 'War, she thought, was sex.'


I was interested to note that the programme leaned heavily on an excellent book by Lara Feigal  called The Love Charm of Bombs I really enjoyed reading   this well-researched 500 page book, (I had read it earlier this year; it had  been given to me as a Christmas present). So I was very pleased to see Feigal on the programme and also in the credits as consultant.

 I found the programme quite compelling. But if you want to empathise with the anarchic feelings and the literary and sexual acuity of those times I would recommend making some time to read the book.


On the back of her book Feigal aptly quotes Grahame Greene: The nightly routine of sirens, barrage, the probing raider, the unmistakeable engine ("Where are you? Where are you? Where are you?"), the bomb-bursts move nearer and then moving away, hold one like a love charm.'  

And now I have to declare an interest here, on two counts.
First, I have been told that I was conceived during the massive November blitz of the city of Coventry. Secondly I wrote a novel built around my parents' experience of that Blitz. Of course, being of the invisible class (see above), they were not acquainted in their provincial city with  upper-middle-class writers 'doing their bit' for their country while they enjoyed the anarchic freedom of 'total war'.

When you think  about it though,  my mother and father made love in the Blitz and at the same time made a writer for the next generation.

My own novel emerging from all this is
called Land of Your Possession. You can see it here on my sidebar...



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