Hammond A (2011) The twilight of utopia: British dystopian fiction and the Cold War. Modern Language Review, vol. 106, no. 3, pp. 662–681
This essay analyses British dystopian fiction of the 1945–89 period. Drawing on critical studies by Fredric Jameson, Mark Hillegas Erika Gottlieb and others, Hammond examines some 30 novels in order to locate the major political trends in modern speculative writing. The fiction under study ranges from key texts by George Orwell, Ian McEwan, J.G. Ballard, Anthony Burgess and Angela Carter, to rarely studied work by Adrian Mitchell, Constantine FitzGibbon and John Wyndham, discovering a sustained focus on such key Cold War themes as authoritarianism, propaganda, technology, imperial decline, nuclear anxiety, anti-Americanism and anti-communism.
The genre of dystopian fiction is used to demonstrate the essay’s wider argument: that East-West hostilities had a profound impact on modern British fiction in general. Working from the ‘British hypothesis’ in historiography, which contends that the nation’s international role after 1945 was greater than typically acknowledged, Hammond calls for a re-examination of British literary production in the context of Cold War geopolitics. While such contextualisation has been pursued for several decades in US criticism, no similar criticism exists on British literature of the 1945–89 period. By highlighting the effects of social forces, historical events and competing ideologies on dystopian fiction, Hammond argues that Cold War literary practice demands not only new readings of British texts but also a comparative scholarship that – combining Marxist, postcolonial and nuclear criticism – can begin to situate these works within the wider themes of global literature.
The essay is informed by his earlier edited collections of essays (Cold War Fiction, 2006; and Global Cold War Literature, 2012) and emerged from a conference on postcommunism held at the University of Warwick (2002).