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New Left Review I/139, May-June 1983

Ken Worpole

The American Connection: The Masculine Style in Popular Fiction

In recent years the growth of oral history projects in many countries testifies to the importance now given to popular experience, memory and activity recoverable through personal interviews. [*] Thanks to Philip Corrigan and Rebecca O’Rourke for their help. Many of these projects have concentrated on experiences of working life, family life, women’s work and political activity, the struggle against Fascism and the experience of war, trade-union and socialist politics, childhood recollections, and other kinds of direct, lived experience. Less attention has been paid to people’s popular cultural experiences: the books they read, the films they saw, the music they listened to, the paintings and posters they remember, and the way in which these cultural–aesthetic experiences affected their lives. One’s intuition has been that in earlier periods of working-class political activity, reading played an important part in widening people’s understanding of the world, and poetry and fiction were often used as a form of moral confirmation that the world-view implied by socialist internationalism was one shared by many writers. In an earlier nlr essay I examined the work of some British working-class writers in the 1930s who looked to aesthetic traditions—like expressionism—which were not to hand in British literary culture at the time. [1] ‘Expressionism and Working-Class Fiction’, NLR 130 (November–December 1981). In this essay I want to look at the way, in much the same period, that many working-class people in Britain, particularly those active on the left, looked to writers in other countries for forms of literature which addressed themselves more directly to the emotional and political experiences which their class position had brought to bear upon their lives.

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