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Reading the Ruins
Modernism, Bombsites and British Culture


  • Author: Leo Mellor, Murray Edwards College, Cambridge
  • Date Published: September 2011
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107009295

£ 67.00

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About the Authors
  • From fires to ghosts, and from flowers to surrealist apparitions, the bombsites of London were both unsettling and inspiring terrains. Yet throughout the years prior to the Second World War, British culture was already filled with ruins and fragments. They appeared as content, with visions of tottering towers and scraps of paper; and also as form, in the shapes of broken poetics. But from the outbreak of the Second World War what had been an aesthetic mode began to resemble a proleptic template. During that conflict many modernist writers – such as Graham Greene, Louis MacNeice, David Jones, J. F. Hendry, Elizabeth Bowen, T. S. Eliot and Rose Macaulay – engaged with devastated cityscapes and the altered lives of a nation at war. To understand the potency of the bombsites, both in the Second World War and after, Reading the Ruins brings together poetry, novels and short stories, as well as film and visual art.

    • Proposes an innovative view of the Second World War and British culture
    • Links together post and pre-war texts with those written during the conflict
    • Demonstrates the complexity of artistic responses to war-ruins within cities and places them within a longer history of interest in 'the ruin'
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'An original, illuminating, and beautifully written treatment of Britain's Second World War civilian literature, Reading the Ruins is also an unrivalled account of modernism's late efflorescence in 1940s London, forcefully demonstrating how the experiments of earlier decades came to supply the imaginative and psychological resources for capturing the hallucinatory unreality of the bombed city.' Marina MacKay, Washington University, St Louis

    'With a gift for making the stones speak, Mellor's wide-ranging and imaginative study uncovers the archaeology of British wartime literary and visual culture with verve and authority. This is an important contribution to the fast-growing field of mid-century literary studies.' Lyndsey Stonebridge, University of East Anglia

    'This outstanding work ranges widely across fiction, poetry, painting, photography and film in its exploration of the ways in which the bomb and blitz experiences of WW2 shaped the literary and cultural field. Leo Mellor opens up, in this subtle and illuminating study, the complex, surprising interplay between destruction and recreation in the mid-twentieth century. He places familiar artists and writers in a new light, and gives back to us some forgotten ones. A wonderful book.' Laura Marcus, New College, Oxford

    'Meticulous and revealing … Mellor has produced an original study that will do much to put a neglected period and a distorted literary judgement back into debate.' The Times Higher Education Supplement

    'An elegant and tightly argued book.' The Times Literary Supplement

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    Product details

    • Date Published: September 2011
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107009295
    • length: 256 pages
    • dimensions: 235 x 160 x 16 mm
    • weight: 0.54kg
    • contains: 9 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Imagining destruction
    2. A metropolis aflame
    3. Surrealism and the bombsites
    4. The haunted city
    5. The new London jungle

  • Author

    Leo Mellor, Murray Edwards College, Cambridge
    Leo Mellor is the Roma Gill Fellow in English and a Newton Trust Lecturer at Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge.

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