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Gwybodaeth Lyfryddol
Twentieth-Century Writing and the British Working Class
John Kirk
ISBN: 9780708318133 (0708318134)Dyddiad Cyhoeddi Hydref 2003
Cyhoeddwr: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru / University of Wales Press, Caerdydd
Fformat: Clawr Caled, 143x224 mm, 232 tudalen Iaith: Saesneg Archebir yn l y galw Pris Llawn: £24.99 
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Astudiaeth o'r modd y portreadir dosbarth gweithiol Prydeinig yn llenyddiaeth yr ugeinfed ganrif, gan archwilio sut mae bywyd a phrofiadau wedi newid dros y ganrif ddiwethaf, a sut mae'r newidiadau hyn wedi cael eu portreadu a'u hymchwilio mewn llenyddiaeth ffeithiol ac mewn ffuglen.

A study of the representation of the British working class in twentieth century literature, examining how lives and experiences have changed over the past century, and how these changes have been depicted and explored in a range of fictional and non-fictional texts.
John Kirk lectures in Cultural Studies at the University of Huddersfield. His monograph examines representations of working-class life during three formative periods of twentieth-century British history: the Hungry Thirties; the Age of Affluence (1950s and 1960s); and the Thatcherite Eighties. It is the most recent period and its aftermath, depicted here as a sustained assault on working-class values, to which most of the book is devoted. Kirk makes particular use of Raymond Williams' concept of ‘structures of feeling’ as he proceeds to analyse a wide variety of works - novels, plays, TV dramas, films and autobiographies - that portray working-class life in these periods. All the writing analysed has the working class as its subject although it is not necessarily always authored by its representatives. Kirk is also an admirer of Richard Hoggart's Uses of Literacy on whose pioneering studies of post-War working-class culture he seeks to build.

Admirably published by the University of Wales Press, the work makes occasional references to Welsh working-class life, although largely grounded in the experiences of the north of England and of London's ethnic communities. He admires the novels of Lewis Jones in the section on the Hungry Thirties and of Christopher Meredith in that on the Thatcherite Eighties. Otherwise, a Welsh reviewer is left thirsting for a similar treatment of comparable Welsh situations. The transformation of London's Isle of Dogs into Docklands, for example, described in Patrick Wright's Journey Through the Ruins, is closely paralleled is the similar transformation of Cardiff's Tiger Bay into Butetown. (The BBC Wales soap opera of the late 1990s, Tiger Bay, superimposed Valleys accents onto Afro-urban speech patterns in apparent ignorance of the social realities of this distinctive Welsh community). Meera Syal's Anita and Me, set within the conurbation of Wolverhampton, explores the rites-of-passage of a girl of Indian descent who feels by turns attracted to and alienated by her adoptive culture in ways reminiscent of Charlotte Williams' Sugar and Slate. This reviewer would argue that such discourse would illuminate our understanding of the nature of late twentieth-century Welsh-language writing. The University of Wales Press is to be complimented on publishing a work from which provides so many insights for the field of Welsh cultural studies.

The work has five chapters. In the first, the author compares representations of working-class life in a period of poverty - the Hungry Thirties - with the Age of Affluence of the 50s and 60s. Kirk uses the conceptual framework of Hoggart and Williams to contest and confirm the discourse of affluence in relation to the writing of such authors as Colin MacInnes, John Braine and Alan Sillitoe, with conclusions that inform the subsequent sections of the book. The second chapter concentrates admiringly on Alan Bleasdale's popular TV drama, Boys of the Blackstuff, emphasising its treatment of a widespread sense of loss and fragmentation in the face of the Thatcherite agenda for socio-economic change. The third chapter treats of spatial displacement through urban redevelopment and de-industrialisation with a critique of such authors as James Kelman, Christopher Meredith and Irvine Welsh, although this reviewer remains doubtful whether peppering one's work with obscenities is really necessary for ‘releasing the demotic voice’. In each case, a working class with its own, increasingly smothered, voice remains intact. Chapters 4 and 5 deal with gender and race respectively. The author admires the work of Pat Barker, defending her The Century's Daughter from accusations of nostalgia and positing the concept of an ‘enabling nostalgia’ with positive connotations. The final chapter looks at the emergence of a number of talented black and Asian film-makers in Thatcher's Britain, who provide a subtle class critique through such films as My Beautiful Laundrette. Finally, his consideration of work emerging from writers' cooperatives and community publishers, such as Alfred Williams' memoir To Live It is to Know It, convincingly demonstrates that it is premature to talk of the Un-Making of the English Working Class.

David Barnes

It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgement should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.

Gellir defnyddio’r adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatad Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.
Gwybodaeth Bellach:
Twentieth-Century Writing and the British Working Class
John Kirk
pp viii224 216x138mm October 2003 hardback
ISBN 0-7083-1813-4
Although many writers have insisted on the death of class, and in particular the demise of the working class, Twentieth-Century Writing and the British Working Class draws extensively on the theoretical insights of Raymond Williams and the British cultural studies tradition to challenge suggestions that class is no longer relevant for literary analysis. It examines how the lives and experiences of working-class people have changed over the past century, and how these changes have been depicted and explored in a range of fictional and non-fictional texts.
John Kirk discusses representations of the British working class in a range of writing, from Alan Bleasdale and James Kelman, to Pat Barker and Jeanette Winterson. He also offers a comparative study of two other key periods when the question of class loomed large: the 1930s and the post-war ‘age of affluence’, as well as looking at how working-class experiences and identities are filtered through ideas of race, national belonging and gender.

Twentieth-Century Writing and the British Working Class aims to re-explore and re-engage with sites of working-class experience that have been neglected over recent years. It contests many of the assumptions of contemporary cultural theory and will be essential reading for anyone interested in current debates about identity and class.
John Kirk lectures in Cultural Studies at the University of Huddersfield, and is a tutor in adult education. He has published widely on representations of the working class in twentieth-century literature.
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