Silence, Exile and Cunning: Culture and Politics in the 1930s

As Europe polarised between Right and Left in the 1930s, many artists and authors nailed their reputations to either extreme. Others, says Nigel Jones, took refuge in the ‘inner emigration’ of silence. Even in stable Britain, writers felt compelled to take a stand – often in the service of the secret state.

As Europe plunged into the Second War on September 1st, 1939, the poet W.H. Auden was a newly arrived Englishman in New York. Sitting 'in one of the dives on 52nd Street/ Uncertain and afraid' he looked back over the 'low, dishonest decade' of the 1930s, as its 'clever hopes expired'. His lost continent had descended into dictatorship, moral madness - and war. It was a moment of personal disillusion as shattering as Foreign Secretary Edward Grey's observation on the opening of another world war a quarter of a century before that 'The lamps are going out all over Europe; we will not see them lit again in our lifetime.'

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