Parties and the comic novel in interwar Britain

E Murphy
Parties feature centrally in British interwar novels. Frequent references to and accounts of parties are used by writers in these works to express concerns about the self and its relationship with society in the early twentieth century. Shifting social and economic relations, combined with the aftermath of the First World War and the growth of leisure, gave rise to a body of literature that examined parties in detail. In particular, this thesis argues, the comic mode's inherent concern with the
more » ... social—through its observation and policing of human behaviour through laughter—made it an ideal vehicle for interwar writers to consider the party.While Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of carnival is the most influential theory used in scholarly examinations of festivity in literature, this thesis contends that Bakhtin's account cannot fully characterise the divergent representations of the party between the wars. The thesis instead offers a study of the modern party that identifies and examines its people, places, and things. By analysing the elements that constitute parties and their interrelation—such as hosts and guests, clothing and appearance, food and drink, location and décor—this thesis yields new knowledge about how writers perceived the evolution of sociability during a period of increased mobility and change.In order to situate the deployment and representation of parties, the thesis reads exemplary fictional texts in tandem with a collection of interwar nonfiction texts, including fashion periodicals, newspapers, cookbooks, and etiquette guides. This approach, grounded in cultural history, explores the socially and culturally loaded meanings of the structuring components of interwar festivity, locating the novels within the contexts in which they were first written, published, and read.The thesis examines a selection of novels by four British writers of comedy: Evelyn Waugh, Stella Gibbons, Nancy Mitford, and E. F. Benson. It offers close readings of how each writer responded to the party in their work. In Waugh's n [...]
doi:10.25959/100.00035144 fatcat:h55qsniqnjbjlf2l526xdpgemy