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

Maycroft, Neil (2009) Reading 'Hangover Square': ideology and inversion in the novels of Patrick Hamilton. In: Utopian Spaces of British Literature and Culture, 1890-1945, 18 September 2009, University of Oxford.

Reading 'Hangover Square': Ideology and Inversion in the Novels of Patrick Hamilton
This paper was accepted at the following conference: Utopian Spaces of British Literature and Culture, 1890-1945, University of Oxford, 18 September 2009
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
Item Status:Live Archive


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.

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.

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.

Keywords:Patrick Hamilton, Ideology, Inversion, Hangover Square, Impromptu in Moribundia, maycroft498, bmjanomaly
Subjects:Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q320 English Literature
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Architecture & Design > School of Architecture & Design (Design)
ID Code:2090
Deposited On:07 Dec 2009 12:24

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