Literature 1950–2000

Explore key literary works of the late 20th century.

birthday letters

An introduction to Birthday Letters

Article by:
Neil Roberts

Professor Neil Roberts explores the development of Birthday Letters, Ted Hughes’s 1998 poetry collection that was written over a period of 25 years and concerns Hughes’s relationship with the American poet Sylvia Plath.

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A close reading of 'The Thought-Fox'

'The Thought-Fox' by Ted Hughes: a close reading

Article by:
Neil Roberts

Published in Ted Hughes’s first collection, ‘The Thought Fox’ is a poem as much about poetic inspiration as it is a vivid impression of the animal. Here, Professor Neil Roberts explores the poem’s use of allusion, imagery and rhyme.

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Tales from Ovid

An introduction to Tales from Ovid

Article by:
Andy Armitage

Andy Armitage explores how Ted Hughes's beliefs about myths shaped his Tales from Ovid, and how his adaptation of a classical work can be read alongside his intensely personal last volume of poetry, Birthday Letters.

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Ted Hughes and war

Ted Hughes and war

Article by:
Helen Melody

Helen Melody investigates how the First and Second World Wars shaped Ted Hughes's life and work.

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Simon Armitage article

'The man from over the top of the hill': Simon Armitage on Ted Hughes

Article by:
Simon Armitage

Ted Hughes believed that poetry had the power to heal and transform, to change perceptions and to alter states. Like many of us, Simon Armitage first encountered Hughes’s poetry at school and was captivated by his ability to distill the complexity of human experience. Here he explores some of Hughes’s themes and interests and the impact he had on his own life and work.

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Ted Hughes and mythology

Ted Hughes and mythology

Article by:
Andy Armitage

Andy Armitage explains how Ted Hughes used mythology to think and write about vitality and death. In doing so, Hughes drew not only on ancient myths but also on the work of previous writers influenced by mythology, such as Robert Graves, W B Yeats and Carl Jung.

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Crop of the first editon book cover for Samuel Selvon's The Lonely Londoners, showing an illustration of two Caribbean men in suits and a woman in pearls

The Lonely Londoners: a new way of reading and writing the city

Article by:
Susheila Nasta

The Lonely Londoners is an iconic chronicle of post-war Caribbean migration to Britain. Susheila Nasta explores how Samuel Selvon created a new means of describing the city by giving voice to the early migrant experience and capturing the romance and disenchantment of London for its new citizens.

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To Sir With Love

An introduction to To Sir, With Love

Article by:
Caryl Phillips

Caryl Phillips introduces To Sir, With Love, E R Braithwaite's autobiographical novel about a Guyanese man who, shortly after the end of the Second World War, finds himself teaching in one of the worst schools in London's East End.

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Crop of a page from Beryl Gilroy's typescript draft of In Praise of Love and Children with her handwritten notes

In Praise of Love and Children: Beryl Gilroy’s arrival story

Article by:
Sandra Courtman

Written in 1959 but not published until 1996, In Praise of Love and Children is a rare account of a woman’s experience of migration from the Caribbean. Sandra Courtman examines the challenges that Gilroy faced as a writer, before focussing on how her novel engages with memory, family and the traumatic legacies of slavery as its heroine establishes a new life in London.

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Black and white photograph of Beryl Gilroy with her students in a classroom, overlayed with one of her typescript drafts for a novel

Woman version: Beryl Gilroy's Black Teacher

Article by:
Sandra Courtman

Beryl Gilroy was a pioneering teacher and writer. Tracing the critical reception of Gilroy's unconventional autobiography, Sandra Courtman argues for Black Teacher to be read as literature that is part of a tradition of black women's writing as a survival strategy.

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An introduction to The Bell Jar

An introduction to The Bell Jar

Article by:
Sarah Churchwell

Sarah Churchwell examines how The Bell Jar critiques the expectations and limitations placed on young women in the 1950s – and how these expectations and limitations have shaped the novel’s reception.

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Ariel

Foreword to Ariel: The Restored Edition

Article by:
Frieda Hughes

Frieda Hughes explores Ariel, the poetry collection by her mother, Sylvia Plath, and explains the differences between the original 1965 edition and the Restored Edition.

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A close reading of 'Daddy'

A close reading of 'Daddy'

Article by:
Elaine Feinstein

Elaine Feinstein discusses the possibilities and limits of reading Sylvia Plath’s 'Daddy' biographically.

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Ariel

A close reading of 'Ariel'

Article by:
Mark Ford

Mark Ford describes how physical and emotional experience interact in Sylvia Plath’s 'Ariel'.

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A close reading of Lady Lazarus

‘Lady Lazarus’ by Sylvia Plath: a close reading

Article by:
Mark Ford

Mark Ford explores the themes and allusions in Sylvia Plath’s 'Lady Lazarus'.

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An introduction to Wide Sargasso Sea

An introduction to Wide Sargasso Sea

Article by:
Bidisha

Wide Sargasso Sea is both a response and a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, set in the West Indies and imagining the lives of Bertha Mason and her family. Bidisha describes how Jean Rhys’s novel portrays the racial and sexual exploitation at the heart of western civilisation and literature.

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An introduction to Crash

An introduction to Crash

Article by:
Roger Luckhurst

The subject and style of Crash has shocked and disturbed readers since its publication. Roger Luckhurst describes the writing and reception of J G Ballard's controversial novel.

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crash

The opening of Crash in slow motion

Article by:
Chris Beckett

Chris Beckett provides a close reading of the manuscript draft of Crash by J G Ballard, focussing on the novel's opening pages.

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An introduction to High Rise

An introduction to High-Rise

Article by:
Roger Luckhurst

Roger Luckhurst introduces High-Rise, J G Ballard's novel about the disintegrating social fabric inside a luxury high-rise apartment block.

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Empire of the sun

Looking back at Empire: the background to Empire of the Sun

Article by:
J G Ballard

J G Ballard was born and raised in Shanghai, and spent the last two years of the Second World War interned in a civilian camp with his parents. He explains how these experiences inspired Empire of the Sun, and reflects on seeing his novel made into a film.

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Empire of the Sun

Review of Empire of the Sun

Article by:
Angela Carter

The writer Angela Carter reviewed Empire of the Sun for Time Out on its publication in 1984. Describing it as J G Ballard's 'breakthrough' novel, she nevertheless emphasised its connections to his previous work.

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An introduction to The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories

An introduction to The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories

Article by:
Chris Power

Chris Power examines how Angela Carter’s collection of reworked fairy tales is a unique, disruptive work that places gender politics centre-stage and refuses to be easily categorised.

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Bloody Chamber

Angela Carter, Gothic literature and The Bloody Chamber

Article by:
Greg Buzwell

The Bloody Chamber is a collection of modern fairy tales, many of which incorporate elements of Gothic literature. Greg Buzwell traces the Gothic influence on Carter's stories, from the Marquis de Sade to Edgar Allan Poe.

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What a joy it is to dance and sing

‘What a joy it is to dance and sing!’: Angela Carter and Wise Children

Article by:
Greg Buzwell

Legitimacy and illegitimacy, high and low culture, north versus south London, everything in Wise Children has duality at its heart. Greg Buzwell examines Angela Carter’s last novel, the story of Dora and Nora Chance, the Hazard acting dynasty, and a life lived in the public gaze.

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Shakespeare and Carnival in Angela Carters Wise Children

Shakespeare and carnival in Angela Carter’s Wise Children

Article by:
Kate Webb

Kate Webb introduces Angela Carter's Wise Children, which uses Shakespeare, carnival and Hollywood to challenge distinctions between high and low culture and explore the relationship between energy and disorder.

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Angela Carter: Fairy tales, cross-dressing and the mercurial slipperiness of identity

Angela Carter: fairy tales, cross-dressing and the mercurial slipperiness of identity

Article by:
Marina Warner

Marina Warner explores cross-dressing and the performance of identity in Angela Carter's fairy tale-inspired works.

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Fairy Tales

Bad-good girls, beasts, rogues and other creatures: Angela Carter and the influence of fairy tales

Article by:
Marina Warner

Marina Warner describes how Angela Carter collected, reimagined and borrowed from fairy tales and folklore.

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Wolf stories

Angela Carter’s wolf tales (‘The Werewolf’, ‘The Company of Wolves’ and ‘Wolf-Alice’)

Article by:
Bidisha

The last three stories in Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber all feature wolves. Bidisha considers how these tales use wolves to explore sexual and gender politics, social violence and the possibility of liberation.

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An introduction to Midnight’s Children

An introduction to Midnight’s Children

Article by:
Bidisha

The narrator of Midnight's Children is born at midnight on the day of India's independence from Britain. Bidisha investigates how Salman Rushdie uses the life of one man to explore Indian postcolonial experience.

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An introduction to My Beautiful Laundrette

An introduction to My Beautiful Laundrette

Article by:
Sukhdev Sandhu

Hanif Kureishi's 1985 film My Beautiful Laundrette portrays a young British Asian man who runs a laundrette with his white schoolfriend, and the romantic relationship between the two. Sukhdev Sandhu explains how the film marked a radical departure from previous representations of British Asians in mainstream culture.

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An introduction to the Buddha of Suburbia

An introduction to The Buddha of Suburbia

Article by:
Rachel Foss

Rachel Foss sees The Buddha of Suburbia as a coming-of-age novel with a distinctly late 20th-century spin. In this close reading of Kureishi’s work, she shows how he identifies new ways of being British, through his characters’ explorations of ethnic identity, class and sexuality in 1970s multicultural Britain.

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Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith on The Buddha of Suburbia

Article by:
Zadie Smith

When Zadie Smith encountered The Buddha of Suburbia as a teenager, she found in its description of multiracial South London suburbs an image of her own experience. Here she remembers her first reading of the novel and describes how, on rereading it as an adult, she continues to appreciate Hanif Kureishi's sense of mischief and his depictions of race and class.

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Cultural references in the Buddha of Suburbia

Cultural references in The Buddha of Suburbia

Article by:
John Mullan

John Mullan considers Hanif Kureishi's The Buddha of Suburbia as a historical novel, and tracks its references to high and low culture.

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Newness in the world: an introduction to The Black Album

Newness in the world: an introduction to The Black Album

Article by:
Hanif Kureishi

Hanif Kureishi explains how the rise of Islamic radicalism in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as well as Britain's growing awareness of itself as a multicultural society, inspired his novel The Black Album.

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Kureshi

Interview with Hanif Kureishi

Hanif Kureishi explores suburbia, pop-culture, race and the fluidity of identity in relation to some of his most famous literary works. Shot at his house in south London and at the British Library, the film offers rare glimpses into Kureishi’s archive, allowing viewers to examine manuscript drafts of My Beautiful Laundrette, The Buddha of Suburbia and The Black Album.

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Further themes

20th-century theatre

Find close readings, critical interpretations and personal responses to the works of key 20th-century playwrights and practitioners, including Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Shelagh Delaney and Timberlake Wertenbaker.

Art, music and popular culture

From riots at the ballet to punk rock fanzines, discover the music, art and popular culture that shook the world in the 20th century.

Capturing and creating the modern

Modernist writers broke new ground by experimenting with new forms and themes. From everyday life, perception and time to the kaleidoscopic and fractured nature of modern life, discover the ways in which these writers created and captured the modern.

European influence

From Paris to Moscow and from Berlin to Dublin, discover how European cities were crucibles for modernist experimentation.

Exploring identity

Examine how writers have explored identity – through the prisms of ethnicity, class, gender and sexuality – in the modern world.

Fantasy and fairy tale

From subversive fairy tales to gothic nightmares, explore how 20th-century writers used fantasy to analyse and question the real world around them.

Gender and sexuality

From Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, E M Forster’s Maurice and Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey to Sylvia Plath’s journals and Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, discover how literature explored, questioned and exploded traditional ideas of gender roles and sexuality.

Literature 1900–1950

From The Waste Land to Ulysses and from Mrs Dalloway to Nineteen Eighty-Four, discover the seminal literary works of the early 20th century.

Literature 1950–2000

From The Bell Jar and The Lonely Londoners to Birthday Letters and The Buddha of Suburbia, explore key literary works of the late 20th century.

Power and conflict

From First World War poetry to works inspired by the Blitz and from futuristic dystopias to depictions of religious radicalism, see how war and conflict shaped 20th-century literature.

Theatre practitioners and genres

From Stanislavski to Brecht and from Theatre of the Absurd to Theatre Workshop, explore some of the key influences and developments within 20th century theatre practice.

Visions of the future

From Orwell’s Ministry of Truth to Ballard’s crashed cars, see how 20th-century writers imagined the future, investigated the present and prepared for the unknown.