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*Postponed from its previous date in November 2022 due to train strikes*

John Connor, '"Love by my left hand / Hate by my right:" Sylvia Townsend Warner, Communism and The Corner That Held Them (1948)

As a Christmas present in 1968, Sylvia Townsend Warner sent William Maxwell, her long-time editor at the New Yorker, an old copy of The Corner That Held Them (1948). She instructed him to look for the sweet pea seeds she had smuggled into the spine and joked that, 'unless the customs have been there before you', he might also find 'some spores of anthrax, broomrape and Communism.'

As with all her dealings with the American magazine whose right of first refusal on short stories was Warner’s main source of income, this allusion to a politics is oblique and hedged about with humour. It allows us to laugh at the idea that a historical novel about nuns set in fourteenth-century Norfolk could be as invasive as chokeweed, as deadly as anthrax; only the paranoid would test for spores. But my paper takes Warner at her word, exploring this novel’s relationship to the Communist historical novel, a major genre at mid-century, to the Spanish Civil War and to her rural brand of Communism.  

John Connor is Lecturer in Literature and Politics at King’s College London. He is completing a manuscript titled Mid-Century Romance: Modernism, Socialism and the Historical Novel for Oxford’s Mid-Century Studies series.

Ben Harker, 'No story there: factory culture in World War II Britain'

Part of a project about the factory and culture in modern Britain, this paper recovers and analyses Britain's Second World War factory fiction, ten novels published between 1940 and 1945, seven of which have never been reprinted, five by women (Inez Holden, Monica Dickens, Diana Murray Hill) and five by men (Hyman Fagan, Mark Benney, Hubert Nicholson, Jack Lindsay, J. B. Priestley). It situates the texts within a wartime literary culture in which the number of novels published plunged while the market for fiction boomed. It analyses the texts’ navigation of a core contradiction. On one hand, these novels were compelled to reveal and affirm the work of munitions and aircraft manufacture integral to national survival. On the other, the factory in general and wartime factories in particular seemed inhospitable to narrative (There’s No Story There was the bemused title of Holden’s second factory novel). The factories were typically vast, makeshift, anonymous, remote, sometimes necessarily secret, their work repetitive, and the use value of their explosive products often unthinkable. 

The paper analyses how the novel as cultural form met the world of factory production at moment of national crisis. It asks not only what the novel did with the wartime factory, but what the wartime factory did with it. It concludes that, although artistically at best uneven, these novels comprise a lost chapter in twentieth-century cultural history. Analysis of them sheds wider light on the form of the realist novel from which they were typically cast. 

Ben Harker is Professor of Cultural Politics at the University of Manchester.  Chair of the Raymond Williams Society, he works mainly on twentieth-century British culture, and has published books including Class Act: The Cultural and Political Life of Ewan MacColl (2007) and The Chronology of Revolution: Communism, Culture, and Civil Society in Twentieth-century Britain (2021). His recent work includes two articles, 'Henry Green's Investments' and 'Anglophone Lukács, forthcoming in Modernism:modernity and ELH respectively. He is currently writing a book about the factory and culture in modern Britain, and is preparing an edition of Montagu Slater's poems for publication by Smokestack Books.

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