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Reading 'Hangover Square': ideology and inversion in the novels of Patrick Hamilton

By Neil Maycroft


The novelist Patrick Hamilton (1904-1962) is routinely portrayed as an author of bleak but comic tales of thwarted love and unfulfilled desire. His ear for the banalities of everyday pub talk and his ability to articulate the internal contortions of the self-deluded are much remarked upon. However, his Marxism, which was crucially important to Hamilton, especially during the period coinciding with the appearance of his most masterful work, is routinely dismissed, sidelined or simply ignored. This is a curious omission given the contemporary proclivity for reading things into, rather than 'out of', texts.\ud \ud His one explicitly Marxist novel, 1939's Dystopian fable, 'Impromptu in Moribundia' is used as a convenient target to attack the literary manifestation of an apparently naive, ill-informed and jejune Marxism. In it Hamilton uses a technique of 'inversion' (linguistic, ideological, scientific and social) to produce a far reaching critique of English society and bourgeois culture set in an explicitly public, Dystopian space. After this critically and commercially unsuccessful novel, Hamilton produced 'Hangover Square' (1941) his most internal, sombre and pessimistic book. For many commentators it is his finest novel but one which is unconnected to its gauche predecessor.\ud \ud This paper argues that 'Hangover Square' uses the same technique of 'ideological inversion' (via the often criticised device of its chief character, George Harvey Bone, being prey to 'dead' moods during which the world is recast as unfamiliar) as found in 'Impromptu in Moribundia'. However, the result in 'Hangover Square' is the exploration of a private, Dystopian space dialectically linked to a description of a society heading towards the inevitable outbreak of war. Focusing predominantly on 'Hangover Square', it is argued that the novel represents an accomplished application of dialectical analysis, Dystopian pessimism, and the explosive resolution of objective contradictions

Topics: Q320 English Literature
Year: 2009
OAI identifier:

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