The fifties was a period in which writers for
the first time voiced the clash between middle class and working class
values that had started with the industrial and hence economic fluctuations
which structured the new hierarchical order of the communities. Due to
their dependence on the work opportunities afforded by the ruling layer
of society, it was the working class who suffered. Their complaints were
largely directed against the unjust treatment they received from the middle
class which was bound to traditionally arranged social and political establishments.
In this social turbulence, men1 both young and adult, had a more privileged position than did the women who also had to go through a process of socio-economic change. The effect of this socio-economic change was stronger on the working class men because they had always more chance to be employed than the women and; had already started to adopt new attitudes both in the workplace and in the domestic environment as early as World War I.
As Stanley Atherton points out, "... For centuries, Englishmen have been particularly aware of hierarchical patterns in their society". (1979 : 58) The world wars and their effects on the social status increased this awareness. Certain values relating to gender roles, youth education, marriage and sex together with social and individual approaches to these values, took new shapes. As it was the labouring class which had suffered most from the economic inequality, the projection of those values especially on the younger generation of the proletariat was more obvious than it had been among the middle class. Thus, "the economic deprivation of working classes" (Lockwood 1966: 9) was evaluated as an unavoidable social reality. This reality, in general, constructed their way of looking at life. It brought a perspective radically different from that of the middle class. It included many aspects from tightly knit family-life to their conventionality, from their non-political solidarity to their ambitious attitude to education, from their dull fatalism to their attitudes towards drinking, gambling, and sex, from their views on politics and religion to their mildly hedonistic outlook. (Ibid. 1966:10)
This set of working class attitudes originated from the fact that the middle class and the aristocracy, whom Richard Hoggart classifies as "them" in The Uses of Literacy, had held certain social positions as bosses, politicians, policemen, teachers and civil servants. In opposition to the word "them" Hoggart uses the term "us", referring to the working classes themselves, and their power. Because of the economic changes that the working class was subjected to, particularly during the interwar period, the working class nourished a feeling of angry mistrust against "them". Actually, it was this mistrust and alienation which led to the basic values of "us". The economic and industrial situation after the Second World War years brought new job opportunities and this increased the demand for labour. Owing to this sudden demand, the working class was relatively better paid and more comfortable than it had been after the First World War. Still, what was essential was that the middle class was closer to the career and promotion opportunities, whereas life had no vertical acceleration for working class families. Hence, social stratification was quite fixed for the working class man. Life was slow moving and based on physical pleasures like drinking, eating, sex and sports. When the world out of their own enclosed sphere needed them, they were theoretically ready to serve "them". Undoubtedly there was a clash between "them" and "us" but from the middle class and capitalist perspective, it was an undeniable fact that these two opposing classes which radically divide, indeed classify, the social structure into two, as capital and labour, had needed each other for many years.
Although there are certain significant attitudes which determine and express working class identity, it is still rather difficult to find strict stereotypes for working class culture since the social consciousness belonging to both the middle and the working class has a fluidity. Also identity is made up of a variety of factors of which class is just one. This fluid tendency can even move from "deferential" to "proletarian traditionalism" or vice versa, that is, there might be a fluidity from middle class values, which are mostly obedient to the ruling layer of society, towards the rebellious working class values or the other way round. John Goldthorpe and David Lockwood deal with these slippery characteristics of the different layers of society by referring to the possibility of the reversal of what one might expect from middle and working class culture characteristics. As an example, they refer to and cite middle class movements towards collective means of self-advancement in the sixties, particularly in the form of trade-union organisation, whereas the working class focused on life at home. (Goldthorpe, Lockwood 1968:195) E.P. Thompson too emphasises this idea of fluidity and regards it as an unavoidable social reality which renders the determination of two distinct classes almost impossible. Class happens when men start to share the same interests as a result of common experiences which differ from those of the other men with different experiences, (Thompson 1980: 10) but this does not mean that there are strict divisions between these interest groups in terms of value judgements. For Thompson it is history which shapes the formation of the class concept through progress. Class can therefore only appear through shared experiences and established social institutions; but, in addition to this the working class was able to preserve its traditionalism and its values through different periods of time. For the working class, the inter-war and post-war years were affluent years; for this reason, they were not unwilling to adopt the new technical developments and luxuries. That is to say, although working class people were cautious enough to keep their norms alive, they enjoyed the penetration of the capitalist enlightenment into their detached lives. But the social institutions and experiences continued to exist to remind the public of the class they basically belonged to.
The sharing of a set of values, beyond the pleasure-seeking carpe diem attitude of the working class, reinforced a sense of community and class solidarity among this group. But as Richard Hoggart emphasises, "[this] is not a very self conscious sense of community" (1967: 69), if it were, it would bring about political alignment and action. However, it arose mainly from the habit of living close together and being members of the same group for a whole lifetime. In addition to the quite general reasons, another contributing factor is the feeling of security and stability. The sense of belonging to a certain group or community, which does not change radically, offers a sense of reassurance for an individual. Raymond Williams and Richard Hoggart, as can be understood from their dialogue published as "Working Class Attitudes" in New Left Review, agree upon many aspects related to working class tradition. They both insist that it must be preserved; Hoggart suggests that ".. prosperity, (due to the post-war industrial revival among the working classes) does seem likely to weaken that sense of solidarity which had its origin in a feeling of common need and could be reinforced by living together in a large industrial district." (Williams, Hoggart 1960: 29) If one thinks about youth culture it may be easier to see that new forces are more influential and dominant among the young people, despite the fact that old attitudes still remain in circulation. This phenomenon can be thought of as relevant to Raymond Williams' model of the classification of the cultural elements as "dominant", "emergent" and "residual" (Willlams 1977: 123). Within this scheme, residual elements of a culture are different from the dominant ones. Both are related to the past and always active in the cultural process as an "effective element of the present". Certain experiences which cannot he lived in the sphere of the dominant culture are practised on "the basis of the residue". Dominant culture includes the values, practices and experiences which belong to the essence of community and are shared by the majority. Williams gives "organised religion" and "the idea of rural community" as examples of "predominantly residual" concepts. On the other hand, the emergent elements are those which are created continually as new relationships, values and meanings. If one looks to youth and also to working class culture, one can see that the post-war prosperity did not spread new experiences and values homogeneously through young working class culture, rather some old values were shared with the "parent culture" (Clarke 1976:15) or, the culture as a whole, of which the youth culture was a part. Youth cultures are regarded as belonging to the emergent sub-cultural category. They are most of the time analysed in terms of their relation to the dominant culture. Working class youth might have conflicts with the dominant values of the parent culture, but nevertheless for both, class was seen "as being gradually, but inexorably, eroded as society's major structuring and dynamic factor" (Clarke 1976: 21). For both, the concept of class does not and can not bring any compromise to the middle and working class values, although it has gradually wasted away as a concept. Where the young and adult in the working class culture come to an agreement is in the recognition that such a concept structures society and functions as a dynamic element in this structure.
In this dynamism gender plays an important role, and if one considers gender, what is really striking is the fact that, although more women went out to work during and after the Second World War, this did not bring about a change in working class values which have always been represented as much closer to masculinity and brought to mind the position of man as wage earner or bread-winner, earning a living to feed his family or contribute to the salary of his parents. The developments in labour in terms of gender paralleled the developments in youth culture. There was an affinity, moreover, between 'masculinity' and 'youth culture', because the young boys were liable to be more reactive and expressive than the young girls against the oppressive treatment of the ruling class. For this reason, from the culture and gender based perspectives, it is not possible to exclude the masculine youth culture, which has always been open to new social influences and tended to be affected by social discomfort; further, the exponents of this culture have always been ready to react against the rules of "them".
The togetherness of the "young" and "the masculine"
conveys a carefree attitude. Related to this attitude, living in an industrial
area in a small town seems to produce a closer unity among workers than
living in a large city.
Thus commentators have opined that men in such circumstances have an air of great self-respect. (Clarke 1976: 67) This is one of the most obvious characteristics of working class masculinity in the fifties and the sixties. It is important to distinguish between the identities of the working class during the inter-war and the post war period. In the former, the average British industrial worker was not well paid, and often out of work; this financial deprivation created a lot of troubles which upset the individual and kept going the attitude of mistrust and hostility towards "them". Even in the post-war period the strong memory of pre-war days conditioned the outlook of many of the workers. The relatively well off worker of the fifties and the sixties still remained suspicious of, and biased against, the middle class and its values. Unlike his immediate predecessors in the past, he was not particularly anxious about losing his job and 'he [could) no longer say honestly that he [was) a member of an unprivileged class". (Hurrell 1961-1962:10)
The impact of new developments and utilities in the quality of labour was minored in social change, particularly the change in working class culture due to the economic forces which had already begun in the inter-war period. The Second World War and the post-war situation intensified changes that had begun to appear before the Second World War. What was unsettled in terms of working class unity was the concept of a "working class family within a defensive class culture. What was disturbed was a concrete set of relations, a network of knowledge, things, experiences ..." (Clarke 1987: 13) This is actually the internal side of the situation, that is, the changes happening in society caused the archetypal family to become more isolated, and the relationship among the family members took on a different dimension. It can be said that this situation indicated the shrinkage from extended to nuclear family life. Nonetheless, the working class family did not lose its identity but preserved it in constantly altering social circumstances. Most especially the hopelessness, the frustration and the irresponsibility which became apparent after the Second World War, mostly in working class male behaviour, affected the way they lived and the relationships they built. Alan Sillitoe's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, makes one feel that the integrity of the family is there, it still exists, but the monotony and the issues appearing within this monotony. as formerly mentioned above, namely hopelessness, frustration and irresponsibility add new perspectives to their appreciation of tire and the family concept during the post-war period.
Alan Sillitoe is a writer who depicts this social reality in his novels and short stories. The protagonists in his early novels in particular, fall into the category of dissent. Alan Sillitoe himself followed the pattern of working class life. He left school when he was fourteen and started to work in a factory. He was aware of the discrepancy between the two classes when he was very young. After he was promoted and became the operator of a stand-up drill, he quarrelled with the foreman about the rate he was paid for his work. He left and was able to persuade some of his mates, to leave their jobs with him. (Atherton, 1979:13) This rebellious spirit helped him to portray familiar spirits in his works, which quite emphatically reveal to what extent literature can mirror the social experience Actually, Alan Sillitoe owes his reputation to those realistic stories in which he also sheds light on the ethical perspectives, attitudes and overall characteristics of working class life. His novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is the one that projects these characteristics most particularly.
In Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Arthur Seaton,
who works in a bicycle factory as a capstan lathe operator reflects upon
the difference between the pre-war and post-war situation of his family:
"The difference between before the war and after the war didn't bear thinking
about. War was a marvellous thing in some ways, when you. thought about
how happy it had. made so many people in England ...' (Sillitoe 1964: 25)
But towards the end of the novel this sort of reference serves only to
point out that present material benefits are not satisfactory at all: "They
think that we are settled our hashes with their insurance cards and television
sets, but I'll be one or them to turn round on 'em and let them see how
wrong they art." (Ibid.: 128) In post-war society the dominance of the
ruling class which is able to give a certain direction to the flow of the
social order indicates the existence of the hegemonic structure. However,
in the thirties, the economic crisis and unemployment had forced the working
class into a subordinate position, but they did not leave their values
and traditions aside. The working class which later started to become affluent
during the post-war period still preserved some of the prevailing old values,
and this made the potential class conflict and hegemonic struggle more
obvious. Working class families became richer by virtue of the industrial
system which needed their labour. This newly acquired affluence also changed
the concept of authority and young people's perception of it.
If one considers the description of, and interrelation between, class and subculture in Dick Hebdige's Subculture, one can get a detailed idea about the "fundamental tension between those in power and those condemned to subordinate positions and second class lives." (Hebdige 1973: 32) Different modes of expression can be observed in working class youth. In the social formation of working class communities the essential elements such as family, neighbourhood, education, gender roles, sex, political inclinations and leisure are negotiated in such a way that they seem to begin from an adversarial position, a rebellious mood against the ruling dominance. This subordinate class experience is a problematic issue; once there are some problems in society, like unemployment, education disadvantages, low pay or any threat of losing jobs, monotony or alteration from one's own society, the remedy is most of the time searched for in the ruling class sphere, because they are thought to have the power in their hands and hence responsible for all these. This tie between "them" and "us" is ambiguous, since they both complain about, and realise the necessity of each other's existence in the social hierarchy. This makes the co-existence and the clash of 'them" and "us" unavoidable.
Among the working class the family has always been a tight-knit institution, a place where the gender roles have their fixed place, but in the post-war period when women started to work, the role of the woman as housewife seemed to exist alongside her role as a worker. Yet still the socially expected gender performances were to be fulfilled at home, even if glimpses of rebellion on the women's part threatened the conventionally allocated roles of men and women in the private sphere. Neighbourhood was another sphere which was almost as important as family in working class culture at this time. The people living next door or on the same street shared many common aspects being members of the same environment. People knew each other's day to day lives in detail, and privacy was hard to attain. Neighbours often worked in the same factory, their children would be friends, they would shop in the same place and all these factors increased the intimacy of the relationship among neighbours. Everyone knew everyone else's business. To discuss one's neighbour, one's child and one's financial position was perfectly natural in that microcosm. Neighbours could influence each other and young people especially shared a way of life, just as they had common education and leisure pursuits. If one attitude is encouraged in a family, the same attitude will most probably be encouraged in the neighbour's family. This was the sort of neighbourhood that Arthur Seaton has grown up in. When the novel opens it is in just such a community that Arthur is living and his family is representative of it. The attitude of the neighbours encourages his natural hostility against "them" despite. all the efforts of "them" to rehabilitate him. Thus, although Alan Sillitoe claims that his stories are not concerned "with class conflicts, but just "individual psychotic, psychological or whatever conflicts", (Hall 1970: 8) the clash occurs between the representative figures of "them" and "us". This may be due to the collective attitude of "us" for rebellion, and the persistent attitude of "them" for the rehabilitation of the rebel. The attitude of the neighbours is actually close to a communal influence resulting from class solidarity. For a working class man, life starts at home and extends outwards in response to the common needs and expectations of a "densely packed neighbourhood". (Hoggart 1967: 59) The ties or the bonds of affinity formed by the working class were extremely local.
In the novel Sillitoe shows us working class men of all ages, going to the local pub for a drink and also to play darts, billiards, cards or dominoes. On Sundays, the families, that is the husbands and wives together, come to the pub. Actually the activity can be regarded as a social issue. This offers people an escape from the harsh aspects of working class life and a reinforced sense of belonging to a particular social group. The club clientele in the novel are most of the time family men . They are regular pub-goers; it is a place where they can leave their responsibilities aside for awhile, after family life becomes settled and the couples face the difficulties or married life.
In Saturday Night and Sunday Morning Arthur finds his work in a Nottingham bicycle factory quite pleasant. Also he can keep his money for his own pleasures including drinking, gambling and women, he does not care about education at all. In his work, he escapes from the monotony of the daily routine to another monotony; where he finds space to daydream and forget any troubles he may have. This is another way of contrasting working class people who are involved in manual work, with the middle class in bureaucratic work, in. terms of psychological state. Actually manual work was highly paid but boring, and a family man most of the time agreed to accept that kind 6f job to have a better standard of living. This can be seen as the juxtaposition of antipathy and mutual dependence. As long as one of these exists, the other one has to exist. It is a mutual accordance influencing all age groups in working class society, but especially the young male members of the working class.
Alan Sillitoe, coming from a working class background himself, is able to elucidate many points about working class attitudes and realistically exhibit certain types of behaviour and interests, which can be regarded as belonging to a certain group of people in this class. He gives voice to his own perception of reality and that of the working class when he asserts that (some] people think realism is synonymous with 'working class' whereas realism means showing people as individuals as well as the values they live by... Realism is necessary all the way, because it is only out of realism myths grow ... (Sillitoe 1961: 212)
While presenting working class characters, Alan Sillitoe mostly chooses male representatives who are strongly influenced by physical pressures, by the monotony of their work and the problems of economic fluctuations. He does not quite create types but, nonetheless the male figures, especially, do seem to typify certain working class attitudes towards life and ways of enjoying it. This can be seen in his Nottingham fiction and particularly in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Actually this link between working class and masculinity sometimes becomes slippery under sustained consideration.
For instance, Joanna Bourke, in Working Class Cultures in Britain, regards the issue realistically but from a different perspective. In a consideration of the inter-war years, she points out that the relation between waged labour and masculinity had become an unstable basis for masculinity, because there was the risk of either unemployment or insufficient salary. (Bourke 44) The stress of joblessness and economic deprivation were, in fact, a threat to the values of masculinity in terms of labour.
Both in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and in real life, the young generation should be seen, not as outcasts but as agents of the influence of middle class oppression on the working clan. In the novel, Arthur Seaton is rebellious both politically and morally. He seems to be a 'teddy boy' figure who is after any kind of pleasure no matter what the consequences, and spends his money hedonistically. He is a manual worker, which affirms the young male working class masculinity with the idea of potency and heroism. Manual work can be related to physical power. It is where the masculine strength can find a way to demonstrate itself and be productive. The irony is that this same manual work, that stands for potency and heroism, itself turns out to be very boring after some time. Thus, the concept of masculinity itself which is related to manual work loses by this association with the monotonous.
In Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, the central
characters are credibly portrayed as those who oppose the established ideas
and values of an oppressive social system which was the major problem of
the working class. The tradition wherein the working class character operates
is frequently characterised by two basic attitudes: one is the strong sense
of solidarity, the other one is hostility towards the unjust treatment
of working class men.
Alan Sillitoe exhibits Arthur's personality as a whole, including his pride at being a man sharing the working class youth notion of hedonism. John Clarke and Stuart Hall define this notion as "a guilt-free commitment to pleasure and immediate satisfaction." (1976:13) Arthur's appreciation of the social status to which he belongs is quite care-free and expresses the notion of hedonism clearly:
Leaving everything aside, pleasure apart, is the basis of the masculine hedonistic attitude which is dearly selfish. Arthur can even justify his affairs with two married sisters. His, is another reaction against the moral values of the whole society including both the working and the middle class. In the novel, the men and women whom Alan Sillitoe focuses on, ignore the old and conventional standards of sexual morality. The idea of maximising pleasure pervades the whole tone of the novel and significantly characterises the novel as an outstanding working class work. One of the most important reasons for this attitude derives from the economic deprivations of the post-war period. Above all, there is an escapist tendency behind hedonism. Working class men found it hard to face the difficulties. Among men, Arthur's mood made the need to escape imperative; they had to take the advantages offered by all sons of pleasure and thus forget the other hardships in life. As mentioned before, when "class" is talked about, one cannot avoid considering the common traits which render the group unit. These traits can be the level of education, the accent, similarity of occupation and common values. Having a carefree idea of sexual morality and irresponsibility is not specifically related to class, but it is an outcome or the escapist mood of the working class. For instance, when Brenda, the married woman whom Arthur sleeps with, gets pregnant, the decision to get rid of the baby is hers, but Arthur is present during the gin and hot-bath abortion, but casual about it, "like watching the telly with no part in what be was seeing." (1964:85) He does not seem to care much about the pain Brenda suffers. On that night, when the woman he sleeps with regularly is not available, he takes the advantage of meeting Winnie, Brenda's sister, and sleeps with her without thinking of Brenda. This can be taken as a negligent attitude of Arthur's, but it can also be evaluated as an extreme form of defying moral values. He seems to be challenging his bad 'luck' through insisting on his own values though he knows them to be unacceptable to society. The ending of the story suggests some important prospects about Arthur's future. Towards the end, he meets another girl, Doreen, who is single. This time he is serious about his relationship with her, but his inner conflicts while fishing on the canal bank show that he has not yet solved his blurred anarchic thoughts: "There's bound to be trouble in store for me everyday of my life, because trouble it's always been and always will be. Born drunk and married blind, misbegotten into a strange and crazy world ..." (1964:213) These protests distinguish Arthur from his own environment and make him an individual coming to self-realisation and maturity at the end of the story.
For the male members of the working class, the
reckless attitude towards sex, gambling, and drinking does not bruise "the
myths of muscularity" as Atherton quotes from Michael Young's The Rise
of the Meritocracy 1870-1933. Accordingly, this "mythos" refers to a sort
of understanding and presumption that the rest of society needs the labour
that the working class produces and this induction brings the feeling of
pride in physical labour (Atherton 95), and hence in masculinity. When
one considers Arthur's situation, it is clear that his motive is not positive,
on the contrary he is motivated by the fact that he is a working class
man who is in conflict with the dominating power of the middle class and
believes that he is persisting in masculine values when he reacts against
the hegemonic dominance of the middle class. The words and the slang he
chooses have masculine connotations as when he shows his reaction against
the political situation of the late fifties:
Arthur does not trust anybody or any authority,
as he does not feel secure enough to be dependent on any higher power.
His primary conflict is between his own values and the repressive social
order which does not satisfy him at all. This is like a vicious circle
because he is not content with his status and does not think that a new
system will succeed in reforming the social deficiencies. Interestingly
enough, he earns fourteen pounds a week and for the conditions of those
years this amount would be seen as "a comfortable wage".(30) After he gives
three pounds to his mother, he has plenty of money left to spend on women
and drink. He protested against inflation by refusing to save any of his
wages for a long period of time: "It was no use saving your money year
after year. A mug's game, since the value of it got less and less." (26)
The reluctance to save money is a sign of negligence about making future
plans, and characterises the hedonistic psychology of working class men.
He gives voice to his discontent also by saying,
Just after this, he relates the fitness of the world to the strength, which makes one stand on one's own feet, thinking that, "It's a fine world sometimes, if you don't weaken, or if you don't give the bastards a chance to get cracking with that carborundum." He is haunted by the overwhelming image of people having more advantages than he has due to their social positions. For that sort of mentality, social order, even if it has novelties and improvements for working class conditions; cannot offer many hopes. Since Arthur has no chance of revealing his reaction directly, he fulfils his masculine values and ambitions by going out with married women without thinking about results. Bernard Lockwood calls Arthur's wanderings from adulterous bed to pub and back again "picaresque". (Lockwood 36) He releases the tension of the week spent in monotonous factory work by drinking, and going out with women.
Arthur is a working class man, but with all the complexities and ups and downs in his life, It would not be right to label him as a mere working class character. As a matter of fact, Alan Sillitoe rejects this labelling and gives the reason of the misinterpretation of the character, Arthur, as a working class man as " ... people's getting pleasure from seeing working class being represented as irresponsible, anarchic and idle"'.(Vaverka 1978: 34) For the writer, this can be the assumed attitude of the middle class against the working class.
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning provides an excellent opportunity for the reader not only to savour the vividness with which working class fiction represents the contemporary conditions of working class life, and its expression of masculine values and style, but also to grasp the conflict between the values of labouring men and middle class systems of belief.
Sillitoe, in an interview in The Guardian, 24
March 1970, says of his work: "... my stories are not class conflicts;
they are just individual, psychotic, psychological or whatever conflicts".
Still, Sillitoe is clearly intent on depicting social realism and writes
from an oven political stance. His. heroes or anti-heroes individually,
physically and psychologically have contradictions, doubts and failings
that the characters in ordinary propaganda work do not exhibit. Nonetheless,
they do articulate in a pleasingly complex way the socio-cultural conditions
which helped form them.
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Bourke, Joanna, Working Class Cultures in Britain 1893-1960, (Routledge, 1994)
Clarke, John et. al. "Subcultures, Cultures and Class", in Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson (eds.), Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain, (Hutchinson, 1976)
Hall, John, "What the hell's class?", The Guardian 24 March 1970.
Hebdige, Dick, Subculture, (Methuen, 1973)
Hoggart, Richard, The Uses of Literacy, (Penguin Books, 1967)
Hurrell, John Dennis, "Alan Sillitoe and the Serious Novel", Critique 4 (1961-2): 3:16.
Lockwood, Bernard, "Four Contemporary British Working Class Novelists: A thematic and critical approach to the fiction of Raymond Williams, John Braine, David Storey and Alan Sillitoe", Unpub. Ph.D. thesis, University of Wisconsin, 1966.
Sillitoe, Alan, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, (W.H.Allen, 1963)
Sillitoe, Alan, "Novel or Play", Twentieth Century, February 1963: 207-12.
Thompson, E.P., The Making of the English Working Class, (Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1980)
Vaverka, Roland Dee, "Commitment as Art: A Marxist Critique of a selection of Alan Sillitoe's Fiction", Unpub. Ph.D. thesis, University of Uppsala, 1978.
Williams, Raymond, Marxism and Literature, (Oxford University Press, 1977)
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