Fictions of a New Imperial Order: WWII Nostalgia in Contemporary British Literature
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In this dissertation, I focus on a number of British novels written since 1995 that engage with the events of the Second World War. I analyze the extent to which these literary representations of WWII enable and/or subvert the consolidation and justification of current imperialist ideology and practice, through the reproduction and/or deconstruction of WWII nostalgia. I argue that nostalgia for the “just war” depends upon the repression of the colonial past and, thus, I also explore evidence in this literature of the return of the repressed: colonialism haunts these narratives. However, alongside the racialism of colonialism, my readings of these texts expose traditional gender norms and capitalist triumphalism as the other major ideological currents that sustain both WWII nostalgia and contemporary forms of imperialism. The novels I deal with are from a range of literary categories, from those characterized as “low” or “middle-brow,” to those canonized within the pantheon of “high-brow” literature, as well as those characterized as “multicultural” or “postcolonial.” I examine the ways in which the literary “classes” or categories, within which these various texts are circumscribed, condition and frame their reception. Ultimately, I seek to to reveal the ways in which various accounts of the past, and specifically the Second World War, enable different understandings of the present.