In the land of the 1950s you were meant to be socially mobile, but personally conformist; self-made, but in one of the moulds made ready. You mustn’t miss the boat, but you mustn’t rock it either.” (Lorna Sage, Bad Blood, pp. 138-9) With reference to this quotation, discuss how Lorna Sage writes about postwar Britain in Bad Blood?
The post world war II scenario in Britain, like other parts of the Europe and the world was not at all good and it was bad to such an extent that the year 1945 was marked as the “Year Zero”. The World War I was devastating, but during the First World War, the military suffered more than the civilians did. The situation was different during the Second World War and after the Second World War; it was found that the civilians too had faced a lot of damage like the military people (Bankston, 2009). Therefore, the very common themes of the 20th century British literature were isolation, alienation and obviously fragmentation. Lorna Sage’s novel “Bad Blood”, is a memoir of author’s own life but apart from being a memoir of author’s own it is also regarded as the “post-war dialogue”, at least by some critics. According to these critics and scholar the post-war dialogue that is there in this novel is written from feminist point of view, therefore, it should also be regarded as feminist memoir as well. Although, many scholars and critics consider Lorna Sage as a “lipstick feminist” because she never gave up her feminine attributes, such as being a woman she was always careful and conscious about her “make up”. Although, the criticisms are there against her one cannot deny the fact that her story or rather her memoir is interesting and a treasure to the English literary tradition, especially a treasure of the English literary tradition headed by the women (David, 2012).
Lorna Sage’s book covered the year between 1940 and 1950, when the Second World War was still on the go and during the time when the World War has just ended but the reminiscence of the World War is still there. One of the most important problems that most of the people especially the children and the women faced are the problem of being uprooted and the most important problem that the children faced, is that they are often left as orphans because the war take the price of the life along with the family. The children here, in this novel too are orphan but not by the death of their parents, rather they are alienated from their parents who live in their own worlds. Lorna Sage’s mother or rather, the mother of the narrator in the story is being shown as a woman who tried to escape the unhappy marriage of her parents and thus she took refuge to a “magical world”, where she denies all her duties as a mother and a wife. On the other hand, the war has such a big impact on the family that the father has an importance and an identity only during the time of the war and therefore, when the war was not there and he was at home, he spend time only with her wife, who has all the “girlish fantasies”. Therefore, the children are orphan at a very tender age, because the other two most important characters in the novel, grandmother and the grandpa too could not provide support to or the comfort of the parents to the children, although the grandpa influenced the author a lot. It was her grandpa, who being a womanizer, influenced her granddaughter (Sage, 2014). The “bad blood” that she inherited from her grandpa encouraged her to enter into a profession, which a woman during that time will dare to enter. The grandfather is a character who in his lifetime could not influence anyone in his family except the granddaughter. Although the impact that he had on his granddaughter is referred as the “mystique” influence, because according to the granddaughter he vanished in the “mystique intact” and thus the narrator says:
“He died when I was only nine, but that strengthened his hold on my imagination. He did not let me down as he had all the others, starting with my grandmother and my mother, their daughter. Instead he vanished into the dark with his mystique intact”
The theme of fragmentation is one of the most important themes in the post war British literature. The fragmented family of the author also reflected on the same theme of fragmentation where, the grandmother blackmails the grandfather and the scar that the grandfather has on its cheek also resembles the violent act performed by the grandmother to get rid of the pissed off grandfather. One of the interesting things that the character of the grandmother portrays is the fact that she is a woman who could earn in her own terms. During the time of the war, when most of the men were in the battlefield and the women had little to do for the family because of the lack of money they had, the women took up various professions like providing training to the people (Hammond, 2012). The maternal grandmother too, is a character, who was in charge of the house, where the mother lives in her world of “magic” and the father is out there in the war front and the grandfather is a bookish womanizer, who is engaged in various adulterous relationship. The fact that the grandfather is engaged in various adulterous relationships, being a Vicar, gave the grandmother a chance to earn, during a time when money was the most important thing for the British population. The money that the grandmother earned by blackmailing the grandpa of the narrator helped her to manage her family. It was actually beneficial to all the domestic arrangements that were there in the family.
The married women in England are always barred from doing many things and during the wartime, things have not changed a lot. During the Second World War, when the labor market suffer from lack of labor and the family suffered from a great depressing economic condition, then also the married women were not allowed to carry on with their work and therefore, the married women had to took up other alternative ways of managing the domesticity of the family, or housekeeping (Tanielian & Jaycox, 2008). In the same way, the grandmother too took the alternative way of housekeeping and earning by blackmailing her own husband; may be this is one of the main reasons, why she resented the institute of marriage. She never liked her husband because her husband exposed her to what can be called ‘vileness’ of sexuality, or rather sex, which shows that the grandmother belong to a time when the women are constructed in such a way that they used to treat themselves as someone who is more than a human being of flesh and blood. Therefore, being exposed to the vileness of sexuality is something that is resentful for the grandmother. Although the grandmother of the narrator also had, a hatred for the church as well, that again reflects the impositions that were there on the women in Britain during that because of the church.
The Second World War was a devastating experience for the British people, not only because it shattered everything, along with towns and cities, but also at the same time after the Second World War Britain shrank into a very small country (Horlacher, et. Al. 2013). Even after the First World War, the position of Britain was better than what was the position of the country after the Second World War. After the Second World War, the great colonial super power shrank into a small and an insignificant country. The insignificance gave rise to the “Angry Young Man” in the British literature but at the same time, it also gave rise to the people like the grandfather in the story who remain as a “nobody” in the story. The character of the little significance in the life of his family and the character have a little significance in the society as well. Therefore, like the once super power, this particular man too has lost its significance and such as the country has remained in the pages of history, in the same way the grandfather has remained in the pages of his journal. Therefore, while commenting on the situation and on the life of his grandfather the granddaughter in the story has commented:
“He has learned to live with hopelessness, that's the worst of it. . . . The sinner I was expecting was guilty of pride, lust and spiritual despair, not merely of sloth and ineptitude. This was the diary of a nobody. . . . But in truth this is what we should be exposed to -- the awful knowledge that when they're not breaking the commandments, the antiheroes are mending their tobacco pipes and listening to the wireless.''
The post war British literature has the influence of the Victorian literature in many ways, there is the “social justice” of the Victorian literature and then there is the “Gothicism” of Victorian literature in the post war British literature. Therefore, when the character of the narrator is compared with Heathcliff of Emily Bronte, then there is no matter of surprise or astonishment that is there in it rather, it is something that is an accepted fact. Some critics and scholars, too refer the novel of Lorna Sage, as Brontesque as well. There are lines in the novel “Bad Blood”, which shows the influence of the Bronte sisters on the authors and it is especially be found when the author started describing her own family and her own school. Therefore, the readers could easily find lines such as the one mentioned below, in the novel.
''When I think back to that time, it's not such heady, forbidden games that really represent its feel, but other much more routine memories -- like lining up with the others outside on raw winter days . . . rubbing our chilblains while we waited to be marched over to the parish hall for our regulation school dinner of whale-meat stew”
The themes of frustration, anger and despair were the most common themes of the post war British novels because these were the most common experience the post war British population was facing at that time, which gave rise to the “Angry Young Man” (Bongyoul, 2011). It was during this time when the story was situated and therefore, the themes are not very different in this particular story. The story starts with the image of the playground but then the playground has lost its innocence because it has been referred as the “Hell”, and when the readers starts reading the novel they are shocked by these lines but then they also face the reality that it won’t be a very happy and a romantic kind of a novel. The depressing tone of the novel is there in the beginning with the image of the school, and the family and along with the image of the slum or the Hanmer. The depression and despair deepens with the description of the family that is being given by the author. Most of the post war novels are dominated by the theme of violence; it portrays characters that are amoral and questions the conventional morality and the conventional moral behavior that was previously shown in the literary fiction. The post war modern novels are often treated as novels that show the true condition or the situation of the British people where there are anger, violence, depression, lack of politeness and gentility (Cohen & Mates, 2013). The novel by Lorna Sage is also not an exception and here in this novel from the beginning, the reader encounters the theme of violence and anger and it could very easily be understood when the author tries to explain the relationship between her grandmother and her grandpa and thus named the chapter “The Old Devil and his Wife”. The relationship between the narrator’s grand parents is often violent and filled with anger and this could be easily understood when the narrator says:
“He had a scar down his hollow check too, which Grandma had done with the carving knife one of the many times he came home pissed and incapable."
The post war writer always wanted to present the reality as it is because the Second World War has broke all the sham that was there (Balaa, 2014). Therefore, most often, the post war novels and the literary fictions are written in colloquial or regional language to show the unique identity of the protagonist and to present the reality as it is. The “Bad Blood”, too is not an exception in this case because this narrative too, is written in the colloquial language, which establishes the author’s unique identity and at the same time it becomes a memoir, or rather a historical fiction, where reality is presented as it is. Therefore, when Sage meets Victor she could easily be his friend because, like a miracle Victor too speaks Sage’s language.
The post war writers often represent protagonists who are amoral in nature as mentioned above; thus going quite against the conventional literary tradition of the British culture (Alexander, 2007). The book by Lorna Sage, with its title “Bad Blood”, confirms the fact that this book is a story of such a person who inherits the “bad blood” of her grandfather. The character of the grandfather is not a very moral character, he being the men of letters, remained and worked as a Vicar in the church. He remains as the powerless father and a husband in the house and thus tried to find solace through adulterous relationship and therefore, according to many critics the grandfather has the obsession for sex. The narrator or the author in the novel not only inherited the grandfather’s habit of reading book and finding consolation and solace by escaping in the world of books but at the same time the narrator too has an openness towards sex. She learns about sex, although very vaguely from the headmistress of the schools, and with her former girlhood enemy she experienced more than a stumbling experience of friendship and then she experienced something with Victor again, and soon she found herself pregnant at the age of sixteen. She was also someone who was found in the pubs and the bars, which allows the children under some laws and regulation, with her grandfather. Although, after the information reached her grandmother everything stopped for her at that moment. Everyone, along with her own mother, abhors her for inheriting the “bad blood” of her grandfather. Although, to the narrator, in a tumultuous time, in a violent and fragmented family the grandfather and the blood she inherited from her grandfather was actually a way of expressing her freedom.
Like all the other post war novels, this particular novel too talks about a place, which is populated with the working class population. The working class population suffers from alienation and loneliness and the family especially the grandfather of the narrator suffers from the displacement (Khader, 2011). During the two World Wars, the cities and towns of Britain were not only devastated psychologically and economically but at the same time, the people were uprooted from their place as well. Therefore, there was a sense of displacement in the British community and which, used to hover over the British population even after the end of the world wars. The same kind of displacement and up rootedness could also be seen in this novel, when the author or the narrator comments:
“Everything is suddenly on the move, unfixed, the old landmarks of his depression left behind in the Rhondda - along with his wife and son and [my mother] Valma, too, for the moment ... All at once he's alone in this new place ("a lovely spot") where people don't know him from Adam. Mobility. Freedom of a kind. He must take up his duties immediately, now that the old Canon, long ailing, has finally admitted defeat and been persuaded to go.”
The above lines are the record of those things that are being found in the diary of the grandfather, which the grandmother used to blackmail her husband to get money from him, to run the house and which his daughter preserved for some unknown reasons.
The post war period is filled with negativity and is often termed as a period of frustration but in this period of frustration one of the significant movements took place and that is the authors and the scholars and also the philosopher started working for freedom and demanded equality. “Bad Blood”, too, with the character of Lorna questions for the equality of the women. She is here represented as a girl who is women of letters, and had the knowledge of Latin, but in spite of having all the knowledge she, like Eve was punished for eating the fruit of knowledge. Therefore, in spite of having all the knowledge she was placed in the old grammar school of the Hanmer and from there her visit to the Durham University for studying literature, is solely a decision that is based on her own thoughts. Her decision of having a child and her decision of getting married with Victor and pursuing studies at the Durham University shows her expression of freedom. Through her expression of freedom she also enters the world of professions, which was previously barred from her and there she experienced equal rights, or in short equality. Pursuing higher education is a great step from her part not only because she was a woman but also because she was someone who belong to the working class or the middle class. Pursuing higher education for a working or for a middle class is equal to forgetting the roots and the background, from where she belongs. A simple girl, from the village near Welsh had no return to the background or to her roots, which she will leave for pursuing higher education. Although, she inherited the blood of her grandfather therefore, being uprooted was something that was there in her blood, which gave her power to won the scholarship in Durham University and gave her the power to be a professor of Literature in the University of East Algeria. Equality is here in terms of not only gender but also equality is here in this novel in terms of class as well.
The theme of being the “outsider” is also something that was an important theme in the post war British novel and in those novels, the protagonist along with their author, remains outside the social structure of family and society. They find themselves misfit both in their family as well as in their society. According to some critics, such as Schwarz (2015), Sage too, used to find herself in the moors like Heathcliff of Emilie Bronte but she used to consider herself the black sheep of her family. She used to take refuge in the books because she was an “outsider”, in the family and therefore she had said:
“More and more I lived in books, they were my comfort, refuge, addiction, compensation for the humiliations that attended contact with the world outside.”
The post world war saw the rise of the women or the feminist writers who trace back their identities and their tradition. Lorna Sage, through this particular novel not only talks about the problem she had faced as a women or rather she not only talk about the women tradition, rather she talk about a changing time as well. It was a time when, the war has ended and things are rapidly changing in the lives of the British people, especially in the lives of the working class. Some people are taking refuge in their own make belief world such as Lorna’s parents and some are seeking refuge through lots of “secrets and lies”, like Lorna’s grandfather.
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