This essay reads Muriel Spark’s The Girls of Slender Means as critiquing the mythology of Britain’s Second World War, especially the romanticization of the postwar welfare state. Refusing to find meaning in the ruins of war, Girls repudiates the reparative logic of reconstruction, and its transformation of wartime injury into an occasion for redemption. The essay also situates Spark in a longer trajectory of wartime writing, revealing her innovative social form. Employing a comparative postwar approach, it uses the work of Virginia Woolf to expose Spark’s destruction of modernist narrative architecture, showing its brand of individual sympathy to be inaccessible in the postwar period. The essay then turns to Hilary Mantel’s An Experiment in Love, a direct rewriting of Girls, which re-enchants welfare’s social potential in the face of its Thatcherite demolition.


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pp. 1185-1209
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