British women writers and the public sphere between the Wars : Winifred Holtby, Storm Jameson, Naomi Mitchison, and Rebecca West
This thesis examines how Winifred Holtby, Storm Jameson, Naomi Mitchison and Rebecca West appropriated the political ideas of the interwar period into their fiction and sought to transform abstract ideals into values with which to judge and improve social life. For all four writers, this pursuit takes the form of showing the complex relations between theory and practice as experienced by particular individuals. My premise here is the idea that political ideals are based upon the moral principles used by persons to guide their conduct in the pursuit of individual and collective happiness. Chapter One discusses the socialist concepts of loyalty, equality and fraternity as the values upon which the good society should be constructed and the self-appointed role of writers as public intellectuals whose task was to counteract political apathy and encourage the practice of active citizenship. Chapter Two examines Holtby's Eutychus or the Future of the Pulpit, Jameson's No Time Like the Present and Rebecca West's "The Strange Necessity" to demonstrate how literature was intended as a tool in the defence against the atomisation effected by the impact of modern life on culture, and a bulwark against the concomitant subjectivism which resulted from the extensive retreat into private life. Chapters Three and Four examine the practice of politics itself, with particular emphasis on the social bonds proposed to replace the instrumentality of interpersonal relationships in capitalist societies. The texts examined are Mitchison's We Have Been Warned, Holtby's South Riding, Jameson's In the Second Year and Mirror in Darkness, as well as West's Harriet Hume. Chapter Five focuses on Jameson's That Was Yesterday and West's The Thinking Reed and discusses the difficulties faced by women unable to negotiate the boundaries between the domestic and the public sphere of sociability as a result of the irreconciliability of self-determination and social demands.