- Heroes and Happy Endings: Class, Gender, and Nation in Popular Film and Fiction in Interwar Britain by Christine Grandy
The First World War cast a long shadow over Europe (and indeed many other parts of the world), and in Heroes and Happy Endings: Class, Gender, and Nation in Popular Film and Fiction in Interwar Britain Christine Grandy explores how the war impacted on the ways in which popular culture was consumed in Britain in the years following the conflict. To do this Grandy chooses to evaluate two of the most popular leisure activities of the interwar period: cinema-going and reading. This period witnessed a significant boom for these leisure pursuits. The cinema-going habit flourished as the film medium matured and a large number of purpose-built "picture palaces" sprung up across the country to supplement the many thousands of cinema halls that already operated, while the market for popular fiction grew significantly as the publishing industry transformed its working practices, public libraries became more accessible, and low-cost circulating libraries—particularly twopenny libraries—opened up in convenient locations in both towns and rural areas. It is within this thriving cultural milieu that Grandy sets out to evaluate the most popular films and novels that the British chose to consume in the interwar period and assess their reasons for choosing them. Attempting to chart these is of course extremely difficult due to the rarity of extant archival material. However, by casting the net widely and drawing on a vast range of source material, from exhibitors' catalogues, reviews in popular newspapers, periodicals, and trade magazines, to the records drawn up by leading scholars in the field, such as Clive Bloom, Joseph McAleer, Billie Melman, and Maria Bracco (for novels), and Christine Gledhill, Sue Harper, Annette Kuhn, and John Sedgwick (for films), Grandy convincingly identifies a body of works from which she can begin to conduct her analysis.
In the introduction Grandy states that the aim of the book is to set the films and books consumed against the social, economic, political, and gender developments (or "crises" as the author refers to them) of the interwar years. It is refreshing to see Grandy calling for these forms of entertainment to be viewed as more than escape routes for people feeling the effects of these "crises." Instead she demonstrates how consumers used these popular cultural [End Page 1439] forms as a way of engaging with their concerns about the economy, gender, and nation after the First World War had ended. Consumers had to see something recognizable in the films they watched and novels they read, Grandy notes; they had to be relevant to them. As she states, "The film or novel may provide an escape bubble, but that bubble was entirely formed by and surrounded by its historical and social environment and the dominant moral framework of the day" (11). The role of the State was crucial in shaping that dominant moral framework, Grandy contends, and Chapter 4 discusses in fascinating detail how government intervention in the production of popular culture, through bodies such as the Home Office and the British Board of Film Censors, ensured close control of the material available for the public to consume. As Grandy argues, censorship ensured that the "troubles of the real world were not to have a significant place in film or fiction" (178). Anything that followed the ideological wishes of the government was rarely commented upon, while those outputs that did not follow them were simply not allowed to be produced.
Grandy, then, considers these popular cultural forms within a larger ideological framework, and the first three chapters reveal in fascinating detail how the films and novels consumed in the interwar period addressed the most pressing issues of the time. Chapter 1 considers the role of the "hero" and demonstrates how heroic characters embodied the attributes that British society valued, and thus "worked to recuperate conventional pre-war notions of work, nation, and masculinity" (41...