Wednesday, May 13, 2015
English French German Spanish
E-mail Print PDF

The Centre of Things: Political Fiction in Britain from Disraeli to the Present

This is the first full length study of the political theme in literature and entertainment in Britain for over 60 years, since the American scholar Morris Speare's "The Political Novel" of 1924. Christopher Harvie attempts to combine the approaches of political scientist, historian and literary critic, in arguing that a corpus of some 600 odd works represents an important element of the conventions on which the British "unwritten constitution" has depended since parliament took on a representative function over 150 years ago.

It has done this, Harvie argues, because political fiction (the breadth of the definition is important) has managed since Disraeli's day to combine didactics with historical awareness and a strong sense of parliamentary politics as popular theatre. It has recruited the literary and publishing organizations of the metropolis to sustain the political centre, and either co-opted or marginalized radical critiques emanating from the provinces and the other nationalities of Britain. A genre which includes Trollope, Meredith, Wells, Buchan and Joyce Cary is a formidable one and the failure so far to engage with it leaves large lacunae both in literary history and in the study of politics.

If, as the events of the last couple of decades - the growth of confrontational politics and of centralization, the break-up of homogenous voting - seem to indicate, a fundamental crisis in the British political system is now imminent, it is important to reassess the way this system was imagined and presented.

Home > Books > The Centre of Things (1991)