This study of the contribution of working-class fiction to the debate on class conflict in Britain is based on four novels written by two ex-miners between 1929 and 1939: The Gate of a Strange Field (1929) and Last Cage Down (1935), by Harold Heslop, and Cwmardy (1937) and We Live (1939), by Lewis Jones. These novels represent, in working-class fiction, a unique combination of an archetypal working-class occupation, mining, with central features of the 1930s cultural discourse, the role of political ideology in literature.
This study takes as its starting point the perception of these novels as having a specifically communicative function in the social and cultural context of the 1930s. It recognises their role in articulating the radical voice of the miner in the conflict of interests between capital and labour as exemplified by the coal industry. I also argue that the novels are influenced by the polarised discourse of British social and cultural life in this period. Cultural context is not seen simply as a reflection of 1930s attitudes and ideas, but also in relation to a tradition of working-class and miners' fiction that appropriates accepted literary forms for specific needs, in this case, the articulation of miners' grievances in the 1930s, seen in terms of class conflict. This conjuncture of historical and contemporary cultural discourses acts as the organising principle of the first part of this study.
The four novels are analysed in terms of a sub-genre classification of the realist novel: the roman à thèse. This approach facilitates an analysis focusing on the determining influence of ideology as a totalising concept affecting the structure, content and message of these novels. I argue that the prime purpose of these novels is to constrain interpretation to a desired outcome, as represented by the doctrine inherent in the text. Two types of roman à thèse are distinguished: the apprenticeship, which builds on the precepts of the Bildungsroman, and the confrontational, which is non-transformational, depicting scenes of class conflict. The apprenticeship model consists of two types of exemplary narrative: positive and negative. This study demonstrates that, by applying the analytical model of a positive apprenticeship to Cwmardy, the narrative structures of the novel limit the potential for interpretation to the doctrinal assumptions underlying the text. The reader is expected to identify with the class-conscious insights gained by the hero. The Gate of a Strange Field, in contrast, acts as a cautionary tale, illustrating the consequences of embracing a false doctrine. Both We Live and Last Cage Down are considered as novels of confrontation in which the primary conflict between capital and labour is modified by a secondary conflict within labour on the question of ways and means of achieving a socialist society.
The conclusion reached is that these novels can only be understood in relation to the polarised social and cultural attitudes of the 1930s, and in relation to their place in a history of miners' literature that appropriates literary forms to engage in a debate on the class nature of British society.
Umeå: Umeå universitet , 1995. , 193 p.