Exploring the fate of the ideal of the English gentleman once the empire he was meant to embody declined, Praseeda Gopinath argues that the stylization of English masculinity became the central theme, focus, and conceit for many literary texts that represented the "condition of Britain" in the 1930s and the immediate postwar era. From the early writings of George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh to works by poets and novelists such as Philip Larkin, Ian Fleming, Barbara Pym, and A. S. Byatt, the author shows how Englishmen trafficking in the images of self-restraint, governance, decency, and detachment in the absence of a structuring imperial ethos became what the poet Larkin called "scarecrows of chivalry." Gopinath's study of this masculine ideal under duress reveals the ways in which issues of race, class, and sexuality constructed a gendered narrative of the nation.
This book offers extremely engaging readings of a wide range of texts, some very familiar and some more unexpected but, Professor Gopinath shows, no less interesting or historically symptomatic in their reflections on postwar English masculinity. A thought-provoking and insightful treatment of a surprisingly underexamined topic.
Praseeda Gopinath is Associate Professor of English at Binghamton University, State University of New York.