Believing in the Thirties
More than many literary periods, the thirties in Britain is a decade defined by its conclusion: the meaning of the thirties was of course at issue in that very conclusion, and in the quick construction of literary history by which the period was given a parabolic function. Samuel Hynes's important study, The Auden Generation (1976) was the first major critical work to attempt an assessment of the 'Myth' of the thirties, but the myth-making began during the decade itself, and entailed at every stage a self-historicising habit of interpretation and presentation. As the thirties ended, the many statements of conclusion and retrospect which came from writers tended to suggest that work of the period had a worth and distinctiveness which made its interpretation significant; specifically, this significance was presented in temis of the relation between the writer and society, the individual and history, art and commitment. It will be one purpose of this essay to suggest ways in which such constructions of parable significance were successful, in so fu as they projected into the future a paradigm still invoked and played up to in contemporary literature and criticism. A secondary purpose will be to question such a paradigm, by looking into the ways in which its foundational assumptions are both touched by and dependent on certain issues more often considered separately by critics of literary modernism.