I completed my memoir World within World in 1950, when I was 41. Reading it now, 42 years later, it seems to me that much of it represents the situation of a generation of English writers during the Thirties, novelists and poets, coming from a background of the professional middle class, and most of them born between 1905 and 1910. The accident of the time, as well as of the social class into which they were born, accounts for many of their attitudes during a period that covered two world wars - or perhaps only one war, lasting from 1914 to 1945, with a truce under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles between 1918 and 1939. Such is the rapidity of historical change in the present century that generations seem to succeed one another at intervals of five or ten, rather than thirty, years. We think in decades. The Thirties generation to which my colleagues and I belonged was separated by what seemed an abyss from the one ten years older, so many of whom had taken part in the 1914-18 war. The fact that they had been in the war when we were children created a gulf between generations profounder than that of the few years' difference. Moreover, ten years after 1918, these former soldiers - as though summoned by the ghosts of their comrades in the trenches - started turning back to their war experiences, about which they wrote books which are today rightly regarded as classics.
LRB 9 April 1992 | PDF Download