10 British Novels from the 1940’s


Hello and welcome to my channel.
And welcome to a Sunday Morning Meet-Up in which I discuss 10 British Novels from the
1940’s. The 10 novels I have picked represent each
year from 1940 to 1949. Book number one was published in the year
1940: Verdict of Twelve is a novel by Raymond Postgate
first published in 1940 about a trial by jury seen through the eyes of each of the twelve
jurors as they listen to the evidence and try to reach a unanimous verdict of either
“Guilty” or “Not guilty”. Verdict of Twelve is set in England in the late 1930s (Hitler,
Nazism and in particular anti-Semitism are referred to several times).
This story reminds me of the 1957 film 12 Angry Men starring Henry Fonda and Lee J.
Cobb but it was not based on this novel. At least, it wasn’t credited by the screen
writer, Reginald Rose, to whom the story is credited as being from an original teleplay
written by him. So, rather than telling you anything about
the actual crime or story of Verdict of Twelve I am going to tell you about the ten men and
two women who have been picked randomly to do jury service, they are: an unmarried middle-aged journalist;
a young left-wing intellectual, newly married and happy;
a hard-working and honest publican; a travelling salesman unsuccessfully trying
to flog encyclopaedias; a young attractive widow of Jewish descent
whose husband was killed when he was attacked in the street by hooligans;
a young hairdresser sharing a house with three workmates;
an old, fat, homosexual university don specialising in the reconstruction of classical texts;
a young actor who has not quite found his personal style;
a restaurateur who successfully poses as an Englishman although he was born and raised
a pauper in Greece; a religious fanatic who believes he belongs
to the chosen few; a busy trade union official;
and, ironically, a murderess who has got away with her crime and who has been leading an
inconspicuous and solitary life ever since. Up to the final pages of the novel, till after
the trial is over, the reader does not know if the defendant—a middle-aged woman charged
with murder—is innocent or not. To find out you have to read the novel. I
was so curious about this novel that I have reserved it at my local library, so expect
a review later in the month. Other British Novels published in 1940 include:
The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene, Pigeon Pie by Nancy Mitford,
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe by Agatha Christie, And Fanny by Gaslight by Michael Sadleir. Book number two was published in 1941:
Up at the Villa is a novella by W. Somerset Maugham about a young widow caught among three
men: her suitor, her one-night stand, and her confidant. A fast-paced story, Up at the
Villa incorporates elements of the crime and suspense novel.
The action takes place in the late 1930s. 30-year-old Mary Panton, whose extraordinary
beauty has always been one of her greatest assets, has been a widow for one year. Her
late husband Matthew, whom she married at 21 because she loved him, turned out to be
an alcoholic, a gambler, a womaniser, and a wife-beater. Mary endures all the hardship
and pain inflicted on her by her husband (including his having sex with her while drunk). When
he drinks and drives, he has a car accident. A few hours later, he dies in Mary’s arms.
This, she concludes, is a blessing for both of them.
Thus, the action begins and to find out what happens next you will need to read the story. Other British Novels published in 1941 include:
Random Harvest by James Hilton, The Screwtape Letters is a Christian apologetic
novel by C. S. Lewis, Between the Acts is the final novel by Virginia
Woolf. It was published shortly after her death in 1941.
And Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie. Book number three was published in 1942:
Put Out More Flags was the sixth novel by Evelyn Waugh.
The title of the novel comes from the saying of an anonymous Chinese sage, quoted and translated
by Lin Yutang in The Importance of Living. Put Out More Flags is dedicated to Randolph
Churchill, the son of the more famous Winston, who found a service commission for Waugh during
the Second World War. The novel is set during the first year of
the war and follows the wartime activities of characters introduced in Waugh’s earlier
satirical novels Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies and Black Mischief. The dormant conflict of the Phoney War is
reflected in the activity of the novel’s main characters. Earnest would-be soldier Alistair
Trumpington finds himself engaged in incomprehensible manoeuvres instead of real combat, while Waugh’s
recurring ne’er-do-well Basil Seal, first encountered as the Emperor Seth’s advisor
in Black Mischief, finds ample opportunity for amusing himself in the name of the war
effort. Other British Novels published in 1942 include:
Frenchman’s Creek which is a historical novel by Daphne du Maurier,
Pied Piper by Nevil Shute, author of the more famous On the Beach and A Town Like Alice. Book number four was published in 1943:
They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple, The main theme of They Were Sisters is that
three sisters’ choice of husband dictates whether they have homes, and whether, in their
homes, they will be allowed to flourish, be tamed or repressed. We see three different
choices and three different husbands: the best-friend, soul-mate husband of the one
sister, who brings her great joy; the would-be companionable husband of another, who over-indulges
and finally bores her; and the bullying husband who turns a high-spirited, naive young girl
into a deeply unhappy woman. It is the last husband, Geoffrey, who is the most horrifying
character in They Were Sisters. Man’s cruelty to women is a frequent theme
in Dorothy Whipple’s novels, but nowhere was there more scope for man to be cruel to his
wife than in Britain before the reform of the divorce laws. Middle-class women of this
time had almost no chance of freeing herself from a bad husband due to their financial
dependence. Even after the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1937 a divorced woman suffered grave
social disadvantages. What has not changed is that some men are
bullies and some women are married to them. Described as a woman who loves too much decades
before those words became the title of a book about women drawn to dysfunctional partners,
Charlotte marries Geoffrey, a boorish, hard-drinking salesman who swiftly evolves into a domestic
dictator. Yet his blood-curdling sadism towards his wife and children is evoked without any
physical violence or the use of a word stronger than “damn”.’ They Were Sisters is a compulsively
readable but often harrowing novel. Other British Novels published in 1943 include:
The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene, The Last of Summer by Kate O’Brien,
The Small Back Room by Nigel Balchin, And Perelandra (also titled Voyage to Venus
in a later edition published by Pan Books) and it is the second book in the Space Trilogy
by C. S. Lewis. Book number five was published in 1944:
The Razor’s Edge is a novel by W. Somerset Maugham. It tells the story of Larry Darrell,
an American pilot traumatized by his experiences in World War I, who sets off in search of
some transcendent meaning in his life. The story begins through the eyes of Larry’s friends
and acquaintances as they witness his personality change after the War. His rejection of conventional
life and search for meaningful experience allows him to thrive while the more materialistic
characters suffer reversals of fortune. The book was twice adapted into film, first in
1946 starring Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney, and Herbert Marshall as Maugham and Anne Baxter
as Sophie, and then a 1984 adaptation starring Bill Murray.
The novel’s title comes from a translation of a verse in the Katha Upanishad, paraphrased
in the book’s epigraph as: “The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus,
the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.” Other British Novels published in 1944 include:
Fair Stood the Wind for France by H. E. Bates, who is better known for The Darling Buds of
May the first novel in his five-book series called The Pop Larkin Chronicles,
The Horse’s Mouth by Anglo-Irish writer Joyce Cary,
The Green Years by A. J. Cronin, And The Shrimp and the Anemone by L. P. Hartley,
who is better known for The Go-Between. Book number six was published in 1945:
Loving by Henry Green. One of his most admired works, Loving describes life above and below
stairs in an Irish country house during the Second World War.
In the absence of their employers, the Tennants, the servants enact their own battles and conflict
amid rumours about the war in Europe; invading one another’s provinces of authority to create
an anarchic environment of self-seeking behaviour, pilfering, gossip and love. In a 1958 interview in The Paris Review, Terry
Southern asked Green about his inspiration for Loving. Green replied, “I got the idea
of Loving from a manservant in the Fire Service during the war. He was serving with me in
the ranks, and he told me he had once asked the elderly butler who was over him what the
old boy most liked in the world. The reply was: ‘Lying in bed on a summer morning, with
the window open, listening to the church bells, eating buttered toast.’ I saw the book in
a flash.” Other British Novels published in 1945 include:
Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie, The Commodore by Horatio Hornblower a novel
by C. S. Forester, The Commodore is a Horatio Hornblower novel by C. S. Forester, is what
I meant to say! The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford,
And Animal Farm an allegorical novella by George Orwell.
Book number seven was published in 1946: The Moving Toyshop is a work of detective
fiction by Edmund Crispin, featuring his recurrent sleuth, Gervase Fen, an Oxford professor of
English Language and Literature. Famous poet Richard Cadogan takes an impromptu
holiday to Oxford, where he studies at the university, after growing bored with the literary
life in the suburbs. After finding himself in a high street, in the middle of the night
and with no place to stay, he stumbles across a shop with its awning still up. Closer inspection
reveals it to be a toyshop, and on finding the door unlocked, curiosity leads Cadogan
inside, then up a flight of stairs to a flat where he finds the murdered body of an elderly
woman, before being knocked unconscious. He wakes up the next morning in a supply closet,
but after escaping and bringing back the police, the toyshop is no longer there, replaced,
it seems, with a grocers shop. Bewildered, Cadogan turns to an old friend
at Oxford University, eccentric professor and amateur sleuth Gervase Fen, to help him
solve the mystery of the moving toyshop. To find out what the mystery is, you will
have to read the story. Other British Novels published in 1946 include:
The Hollow by Agatha Christie, Then and Now is a historical novel by W. Somerset
Maugham, Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake,
Jill is a novel by English Poet Philip Larkin which he wrote when he was twenty-one years
old and an undergraduate at St John’s College, Oxford.
Book number eight was published in 1947: Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry. The novel
tells the story of Geoffrey Firmin, an alcoholic British consul in a small Mexican town, on
the Day of the Dead, 2 November 1938. The book takes its name from the two volcanoes
that overshadow the town. The book consists of twelve chapters, the
first of which introduces the narrative proper and which is set exactly a year after the
events. The following eleven chapters happen in a single day and follow the Consul chronologically,
starting early in the morning of the Day of the Dead with the return of his wife, Yvonne,
who left him the year before, to his violent death at the end of the day. Each chapter
is seen through the mind of one central figure, no two sequential chapters employing the same
character’s consciousness. The number of chapters was important numerologically,
as Lowry explained in a letter to Johnathan Cape: there are twelve hours in a day (and
most of the novel happens in a single day), twelve months in a year (one year elapses
between chapter 1 and the end of chapter 12). Besides, the number 12 is of symbolic importance
which, according to Lowry, represents “man’s spiritual aspirations”. So, there you are,
now you know. Other British Novels published in 1947 include:
Forlorn Sunset by Michael Sadleir, And Tea with Mrs Goodman by Philip Toynbee. Book number nine was published in 1948:
Love Lies Bleeding is a detective novel by Edmund Crispin, first published in 1948. Set
in the post-war period in and around a public school in the vicinity of Stratford-upon-Avon,
it is about the accidental discovery of old manuscripts which contain Shakespeare’s long-lost
play, Love’s Labour’s Won, and the subsequent hunt for those manuscripts, in the course
of which several people are murdered. Collaborating with the local police, Oxford don Gervase
Fen, a Professor of English who happens to be the guest of honour at the school’s Speech
Day, can solve the case at the same weekend. Other British Novels published in 1948 include:
The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen, The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene,
Catalina by W. Somerset Maugham, And I Capture the Castle which is the first
novel by Dodie Smith, Book number ten was published in 1949:
Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford. In Love in a Cold Climate, the narrator Fanny,
tells the story of Polly, to whom Fanny is distantly related through her father’s family.
Lady Leopoldina [Polly] Hampton, is the only child of the supremely aristocratic and very
rich Earl of Montdore and his wife, Sonia. Lady Montdore, Polly’s mother, is depicted
by Fanny, as an avaricious, greedy snob, but not without charm. Her thrusting personality,
allied to her husband’s impeccable social standing, riches and political influence makes
her a formidable woman. Fanny receives an invitation to visit the
Montdores. She has great affection for Polly, but Polly reveals little of herself. Polly
has “come out” as a beautiful and socially important debutante and is expected to have
a very successful season in London. However, Polly consistently demonstrates a total lack
of interest in the London season and all of the men she meets. She is hoping that “in
a cold climate”, society will be less interested in love affairs.
Lady Montdore is exasperated by her daughter’s apparent indifference to love and marriage.
“Important” potential suitors acknowledge that Polly is very beautiful, but find her
cold and aloof. But Polly has a secret love, to find out who
it is, you will have to read the novel. Other British Novels published in 1949 include:
, Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell,
And The Third Man, by Graham Greene. In part six of this series I will discuss
books by British authors published in the decade from 1950 to 1959. So, that’s all folks. But I’ll be back soon with another BookTube
video.

8 thoughts on “10 British Novels from the 1940’s

  1. I have heard of a few of these. But not near enough! 😕😦 I need to broaden my reading out more! Thanks for sharing Alan.

  2. Of the novels you discussed, I’ve read the four Graham Greene novels. I also read The Razor’s Edge by Maugham however, I don’t really recall much about it. I believe the topic was supposed to be quite a revolutionary topic for it’s time (long before the Beatles sought spiritual guidance from gurus in India). 1984 was an assigned reading for school. The Third Man, Random Harvest and The Pied Piper were old films I saw on late night television years ago.
    Alan, have you read all the books you have been discussing over the course of this series? It’s great that you have brought so many titles to our attention with these videos.

  3. Surprisingly I have a few of these books and was surprised at some of the publishing dates. I've only read one, to my recollection, but have added quite a few to my TBR. Thank you. Great video!

  4. Congrats on starting your channel! Great video and a BIG LIKE from me! Blessings to you! 🙂

  5. Hello from Canada🇨🇦! I am so glad I found your channel. Your book recommendations by decade will really broaden my reading. I’m taking notes!😀

  6. Hi Alan, doing catch up on your blacklist of videos. Really like the decade series. I was hoping to see C. P. Snow in this one. Have you read his "Strangers and Brothers" series started in 1940? Often compared to Powell's "Dance to the Music of Time".

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