Studium anglistiky na KAA UPOL

(23) The Angry Young Men.

(K. Amis, J. Osborne, J. Braine, and J. Wain).


T h e  T w e n t i e t h  C e n t u r y

[see "Background for Topics 12-27..."]


‘ A n g r y  Y o u n g  M e n ’  ( 1 9 5 0 s – 6 0 s )

- the 1944 Education Act made uni education available for the working-class students and produced a new breed of articulate uni graduates

= a group of young radicals bitterly opposing the Br. Establishment and conservative elements of society in their time

- aimed to communicate rather than to experiment, and did so often in a comic mode

- shared their preocc. with the awkward self-consciousness of provincial, lower-middle class En., and the upward mobility of a grammar-school educated intelligentsia

=> neither a uni education nor a marriage to a wealthy girl allowed for the integration into the conservative genteel upper-class society

- incl. Kingsley Amis (1922 – 95), John Osborne (b. 1929), John Braine (1922 – 85), John Wain (b. 1925), Alan Sillitoe (b. 1928), & oth.

> often annoyed by The Angry Young Men label = sometimes referred to as The New University Wits

- all turned more serious after their initial work and the group fell apart


‘ C a m p u s  N o v e l ’  ( 1 9 7 0 s – 8 0 s )

- develops the line establ. in Br. fiction by Philip Larkin’s Jill (1946)

- shares the uni or college setting or the conc. with wayward academics in wider world

- the campus novel of the Angry Young Men

- the campus novel of their less radical contemporaries, incl. Tom Sharpe (b. 1928), Malcolm Bradbury (b. 1932), and David Lodge (b. 1935): reflects the academic ambitions and tensions of the rapidly expanding world of higher education in the period

- reforms of the late 1980s and 1990s had changed the once relatively leisurely culture of academe x but: the 1970s and 1980s academics / authors of the ‘campus fiction’ then had sufficient time to write and produce telling period pieces


K i n g s l e y  A m i s  ( 1 9 2 2 – 9 5 )

L i f e :

- received uni education and became a lecturer of E at Cambridge

- served in WW II

- youth: a radical member of the Communist Party x middle age: a conservative anti-Communist, disillusioned with the USSR

- father of Martin A.

- a lifelong friendship with P. Larkin

- knighted to Sir K. Amis (1990)

W o r k :

A n g r y  Y o u n g  M e n  F i c t i o n :

= a gifted comic and satirist

- preocc. with the upward mobility in uni environment

- got increasing vehement in One Fat Englishman +

- increasingly supplanted comic exuberance by gloomy farce in The Old Devils +

Lucky Jim (1954):

= his 1st novel, dedicated to P. Larkin

- a seminal work [= a work from which oth. works grow]: the 1st E novel to feature an ordinary man as anti-hero

- a comic account of a young would-be-radical lecturer’s resistance to the earnestly pretentious and complacent culture of a provincial uni

- the protagonist = Jim Dixon, a typical ‘angry young man’, himself of middle-class orig. x but: an estranged critic of the middle-class social and cultural pretentiousness

- to get well along with his repudiating professor attends his would-be-cultural party, pretends to be writing a scientific thesis, etc.

x but: the class distinctions prove unbreakable and he fails

- concl.: leaves with an attractive blonde for his new job in the capital city

> won him wider pop. recognition

That Uncertain Feeling (1955), I Like it Here (1958), Lucky Jim’s Politics (1968):

- resuscitated the comic character of Jim Dixon

Take a Girl Like You (1960)

One Fat Englishman (1963):

- an account of a Br. visitor’s experience in an Am. college

- the M protagonist = a typical example of an Englishman attempting to resist the Am. way of life

Ending Up (1974)

Jake’s Thing (1978)

The Old Devils (1986):

- an account of the life of a group of retired friends and their wives

> won him the Booker Prize

The Russian Girl (1992)

S c i e n c e - f i c t i o n :

- interested in sci-fi, esp. in dystopia, as a critic

> coined the term ‘comic inferno’ for humorous dystopia

The Green Man (1969):

= a supernatural horror-novel

> adapted by BBC for TV

The Alteration (1976):

= an alternate history novel [= a sub-genre of sci-fi set in a world in which history has diverged from history as it is generally known]

- set in a parallel contemp. Br. in which there has been no Reformation and the Papacy still wields supreme power

Russian Hide and Seek (1980):

= an alternate history novel

- set in a near-future Br. conquered by Rus. after WW II

Also wrote:

- poetry, associated with ‘The Movement’: author of Bright November (1947), A Frame of Mind (1953), A Case of Samples (1956), & oth.

- non-fiction: author of a critical study (1975) and a biography of R. Kipling (1956)

- detective fiction: author of a study of Ian Fleming’s (1908 – 64) spy James Bond and of a fictional Bond adventure novel


J o h n  O s b o r n e  ( 1 9 2 9 – 9 4 )

L i f e :

- expelled from public school after striking the headmaster

> outbursts of anger occurred throughout his whole life

- became an actor, a stage manager, and playwright

W o r k :

- freed the theatre of the formal constraints of the former generation

- shifted emphasis on the language, theatrical rhetoric, and emotional intensity

1 9 5 0 s  P e r i o d :

Look Back in Anger (1956):

< largely autobiog.: his living and rowing with the 1st of his 5 wives in their cramped accommodations while she was betraying him with another

= a new kind of drama challenging the middle-class virtues of ‘the well-made play’

- revolutionary not in form or politics x but: in its conc. with ‘the issues of the day’, its rancour, its language, and its setting

- no more the country drawing-rooms with its platitudes and its sherry x but: the provincial bed-sitters with its noisy abuse and its ironing-board

- no more the theatrical illusion of a neat, stratified, and deferential society x but: the dramatic repres. of untidy, antagonistic, and disenchanted characters grating on one another’s, and society’s, nerves

- the protagonist = Jimmy Porter, the only character of the Angry Young Men to embrace anger as his life philos.

- succeeds to marry a wealthy girl, ends up in an uneven marriage, and gives way to his anger in a tyranny of his wife

- the play polemic rather than realistic, puts emphasis on the language: verbal attacks on the uni graduates employed in second-rate jobs, their unfulfilled emotional life, the society, etc.

- produced by the E Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre (London)

> shocked its 1st audiences into responsive attention

> supplied the name for the ‘Angry Young Men’ movement

> won him the award for the most promising writer of the y., and turned him from an indistinctive playwright struggling for his living into a wealthy and famous ‘angry young man’

The Entertainer (1957):

< Brecht-inspired

- employs the metaphor of the dying music-hall tradition => the moribund state of the Br. Empire

> filmed

The World of Paul Slickey (1959):

= a musical

- satirises the tabloid press

1 9 6 0 s  P e r i o d :

- his reputation begins to decline x but: his successful plays still outnumber the failures

Luther (1961):

- conc.: the life of the archetypal rebel Martin Luther (1483 – 1546, leader of the Reformation)

- [Protestant Reformation = a 16th c. movement to reform the Cath. Church in western Eur.]

Inadmissible Evidence (1964):

- conc.: a frustrated solicitor at a law firm

- uses his characteristically soaring rhetoric venom to powerful effect

- endows the story with complexity, ambiguity, and richness x but: criticised for lacking the immediacy of his earlier plays

A Patriot for Me (1965):

- conc.: the turn-of-the-c. homosexuality

> won him the prize for the best play of the y.

The Hotel in Amsterdam (1968):

> won him the prize for the best play of the y.

1 9 7 0 s  P e r i o d :

- his social vision gets out of fashion, his plays decline in quality => ends up as a writer having lost both his way and his audience

Also wrote:

A Better Class of Person (1981) and Almost a Gentleman (1991):

= his 2-vol. autobiog.

- revives the familiar acidity of language to lay low all his enemies in the theatre, his family, or society at large


J o h n  B r a i n e  ( 1 9 2 2 – 8 6 )

L i f e :

- left grammar school without a School Certificate (obtained it later)

- employed in various odd jobs, became a librarian

- got involved with a local theatre

> inspired the themes of his Room at the Top & oth. novels

- suffered from TBC, treated in a sanatorium

> inspired his The Vodi

- determined to become a writer, left his librarian job, and contrib. to various periodicals x but: struggled for his living until his Room at the Top

> won him fame and fortune

W o r k :

- author of some 15 books of fiction and some non-fiction

x but: chiefly remembered for his 1st novel

1 9 5 0 s  P e r i o d :

Room at the Top (1957):

= his 1st novel

< the Faustian theme of a young man selling his soul for riches and paying a terrible price

- puts emphasis on writing from observation / experience: rejects exotic ‘literary’ environments in favour of a less glamorous setting and instead emphasises the psychology of the protagonist

- offers a sharp picture of Northern life in the period obsessed with wealth and social status

- set immediately in the post-WW II y. x but: narrated in retrospective

- the unscrupulous and opportunistic protagonist chooses to marry wealth and success rather his true love and has to come to terms with the disenchantment by the spiritual emptiness he finds in the ‘top’ society

- concl.: the death of both his true love and his ‘true and authentic self’

> won him immediate recognition

> successfully filmed (1959)

Life at the Top (1962):

= a sequel

1 9 6 0 s  P e r i o d :

- none of his subsequent work attracted comparable attention

The Vodi (1959): draws heavily on the time he spent in a tuberculosis sanatorium

The Jealous God (1964): also strongly autobiog.

The Crying Game (1968), First and Last Love (1981), The Two of Us (1984), & oth.


J o h n  W a i n  ( 1 9 2 5 – 9 4 )

L i f e :

- received Oxford education

- became a freelance journalist and author

- held the lectureship post of Professor of Poetry at Oxford (1973 – 78) & oth.

W o r k :

- a poet, novelist, playwright, and lit. critic:

(a) poetry: author of dry, cerebral, and witty poems associated with ‘The Movement’

(b) prose: novels and short stories

(c) drama: radio plays

(d) criticism: studies of Samuel Johnson (1709 – 84), Arnold Bennett (1867 – 1931), W. Shakespeare (1564 – 1616), & oth.

(e) also author of many nwsp and radio reviews

Hurry on Down (1953):

= his 1st and most famous novel

- an account of the picaresque career of an unsettled uni graduate’s deliberate flight down the social scale into increasingly unpropitious occupations (a window-cleaner)

= turns his life against conventional society

> together with K. Amis’s Lucky Jim and J. Braine’s Room at the Top a leading example of the fiction produced by the ‘Angry Young Men’

The Contenders (1958)

Strike the father dead (1962):

- the title: the lower-case letters indicate his non-conventional manner

- a jazzman rebels against his conventional father

A Winter in the Hills (1971):

= a rampageous comedy

- a linguist makes researches in North Wales

Young shoulders (1982):

= a sensitive study of juvenile bereavement

- a young boy faces the death of loved ones

Where the river meets (1988) and Comedies (1990):

= Bildungsromanen

< draws on his knowledge of Oxford


Abrams, Meyer Howard, ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.

Barnard, Robert. Stručné dějiny anglické literatury. Praha: Brána, 1997.

Sanders, Andrew. The Short Oxford History of English Literature. New York: Clarendon Press, 1994.

Other Sources

Práger, Libor. Semináře: Britská literatura 2. ZS 2004/05.



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