Thursday, March 26, 2015

Exploring the literary impact of 1926 General Strike - Book launch tomorrow Friday 27 March.

Exploring the literary impact of 1926 General Strike

Two Victoria University of Wellington academics are offering a new take on the General Strike of 1926 in the United Kingdom by exploring the diverse response writers have had to this event from the 1930s to the present.

In their book Writing the 1926 General Strike, Dr Charles Ferrall and Dr Dougal McNeill, both from Victoria’s English Programme, show how the Strike not only drew writers into political action but also inspired literature that served to shape twentieth-century British views of class, culture and politics.

The book shows how novels then in progress, such as Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse and D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, were affected by the Strike. “Woolf’s house was a centre of literary and political activity through the Strike, and she recorded her daily experiences in her diaries,” says Dr Ferrall. “Evidence suggests that the writing of crucial parts of To the Lighthouse was shaped by this context.”

Dr Ferrall and Dr McNeill also champion under-read and neglected works inspired by the Strike, including novels from the sailor-turned-writer James Hanley, the campaigning MP Ellen Wilkinson, and the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid.

In addition, their book examines the long-lasting effects of the Strike. “It had a profound impact on Welsh culture, and novelists and poets were remembering and narrating its story for generations to come,” says Dr McNeill. “From Upstairs Downstairs and Days of Hope in popular culture, to romances and thrillers in the twenty-first-century, to modernist Scottish poetry, the Strike appears in unexpected places across the writing of the nations of Britain.”

The ‘Nine Days’ in 1926, as the General Strike was called, involved millions of workers striking in support of coal miners in their dispute with the coal owners. It drew in all parts of British society, with students from Oxford and Cambridge ‘volunteering’ and acting as strike-breakers, writers and intellectuals feeling forced to choose sides, and the BBC establishing itself as a major player in political life. The consequences of the miners’ defeat would have long-lasting consequences in pit villages across the island, and stories of the General Strike were passed on as folklore in the British trade union movement through the twentieth century.

Writing the 1926 General Strike will be launched by Professor Harry Ricketts tomorrow, on the anniversary of unionist Ernie Abbott’s death at Trades Hall in Wellington.

About the authors
Dr Charles Ferrall is a senior lecturer in the English Programme at Victoria University of Wellington. Amongst the books he has published are Modernist Writing and Reactionary Politics and Juvenile Literature and British Society, 1850-1950, co-authored with Anna Jackson. Dr Dougal McNeill is a lecturer in the English Programme at Victoria University of Wellington. He is the author of Forecasts of the Past: Globalisation, History, Realism, Utopia and has edited special issues of the International Journal of Scottish Literature and the Journal of New Zealand Literature.

What: Launch of Writing the 1936 General Strike
When: Friday 27 March, 4.30-6pm
Where: Trades Hall, 126 Vivian Street, Wellington
To RVSP email

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