BRITAIN IN OUR CENTURY: Images and Controversies by Arthur Marwick

BRITAIN IN OUR CENTURY: Images and Controversies

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Outwardly, this is a popular, illustrated social history of 20th-century Britain; but it is both colored and shaped by the historian-author's particular preoccupations--especially with establishing the positive changes wrought by two World Wars and disputing historians who say otherwise. Marwick (Deluge: British Society and the First World War; British Society Since 1945) has the better of this argument: he can plausibly maintain, for example, that though women's employment fell to prewar levels after WW I, women had meanwhile achieved ""new levels of consciousness."" Nonetheless the space given to these issues, and the jabs at individual scholars, limit the book for the lay American reader. Marwick also argues with named ""Marxist writers"" who feel ""there ought to have been a revolution"" in the strife-torn 1920s or the depressed '30s. More fruitfully, he speaks up for the persistence of native British culture, despite the popularity of American movies and movie stars; he points to evidence of class distinctions, as against the supposed homogenizing influence of Marks & Spencer, and such; he even pronounces Britain's vaunted documentary films ""patronizing and tedious,"" while ""many of the commercial films. . . can now be seen to have had genuinely life-enhancing qualities."" A second, corresponding emphasis is on photographic evidence as such. Early photos are labeled ""record photo"" or ""news photo,"" and discussed in terms of symbolism or spontaneity; three emblematic photos are analyzed apropos of J.B. Priestley's 1933 description of the ""three Englands""; a set of ""standard"" images and contrasting, candid shots is adduced apropos of morale under WW II bombardment. Marwick is a particularly acute commentator on intersections of media-and-society in the post-WW II period--on the differences, for instance, between the novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and the film. There is not nearly like detail, however, in other regards. So it's a book for a certain, intellectually sophisticated audience, notwithstanding the pictorial format.

Pub Date: Feb. 25th, 1985
Publisher: Thames & Hudson--dist. by Norton