Class act or class dismissed?: The 1930s and working-class culture & identity
This thesis responds to the question of what it means in practice to bring the terms class, culture, and identity together; and is, in effect, a rejoinder that asks: ‘Should we bring them together?’ In short, the answer it asserts is ‘No’ – it rebuts the idea that class should be considered in terms of a ‘cultural identity’ at all. It draws on the works of a handful of now largely ignored working-class writers from the 1930s (to varying extents): Jim Phelan, John Sommerfield, George Garrett, Ellen Wilkinson, and Lionel Britton. The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, given their obscurity, it is a reclamation project: all deserve renewed attention. Secondly, they all engage with the concept of class in different ways, and will be shown to address issues surrounding the working class that remain pertinent today. The thesis lays claim to an approach inspired by F. R. Leavis, one that is necessarily syncretic and subjective. This is intended as its own oblique response to the issues addressed in the first chapter, in which the creation and maintenance of working-class identity is assessed utilising three interlocking frames of reference: namely, three disciplines beloved of the academic left which have traditionally shown very specific concern with thinking about (and on behalf of) the working class: Marxism, sociology, and pedagogy. In chapter two, the works – and identities – of Jim Phelan and John Sommerfield will serve to draw out a number of issues crucial to the understanding of the term ‘working-class literature’ in general, and the rubrics, assumptions, and limitations entailed by it. In chapter three, the writings of George Garrett will illuminate the impact of material reality on working-class authorship. Chapter four will explore how Ellen Wilkinson dramatises the porous nature of the class divide. In the fifth chapter, an immersion in Lionel Britton’s Hunger and Love will draw out issues relating to form and genre, towards ultimately combining and distilling the work of the thesis at large towards a conclusion. In addition, the thesis is underpinned by certain key insights of Jacques Rancière, chief among these being the formulation: ‘Equality is not given, nor is it claimed; it is practiced, it is verified’. This thesis ultimately argues that an equality practiced and verified requires a form of emancipation that necessarily transcends the crude circumscriptions of bogus ‘cultural identities’.