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Alienation and intimate relationships in six contemporary British novels Tomlin, Wendy M.

Abstract

This study of six novels by three post-World War II British novelists deals with the philosophical and pragmatic aspects of intimate relationship. Raymond Williams, in The English Novel from Dickens to Lawrence, establishes that novelists were among the first to recognise the destruction of the old community by industrialism. Without an alternate conception of community, industrial capitalism imposes itself directly upon the individual, and thus sets harsh limits upon the relationships he or she can create. One result is the alienation that Karl Marx described as inherent in the marketplaceosociety underpinning Victorian culture; or, in another idiom, the possessive individualism perceived by C.B. MacPherson. The increasing commercialism of society—the propensity, as Adam Smith phrased it, to truck and barter—has encouraged possessiveness, and has debased and alienated the most intimate aspects of human existence, especially sex and love. Sex is a central expression of the essence of life, and hence sexual relationships are adversely affected when they are alienated from love and community. As in the commercial transaction, intimacy in these six novels is vulnerable to the manipulation and the exploitation of one person by another, because there is no willingness to become involved in a reciprocal relationship. This commentary on the novels of John Fowles, Doris Lessing, and David Storey suggests some tentative conclusions about intimacy in the latter part of the 20th century. The working class novels generally emphasise traditional relationships; and tell us that individuals who try to discard them (as with Clegg in The Collector, and Machin in This Sporting Life), will lose £or never win) those whom they love. The emphasis upon money alienates them from their basic community, and destroys their integrity. There is no intimacy divorced from the primary social relationship. Middle class protagonists move away from community as they become dominant in a marketplace society. Their success transforms- them into alienated and possessive individualists; and their belated attempt to restore a sense of intimacy is an effort—perhaps tragic—to become whole in a fragmented world. But the relationships occur in a vacuum. Either they fail, as in The Golden Notebook, or the individuals reject intimacy, and flee forward from community into a super-individualism as with Martha Quest in The Four-Gated City. These novels tell us nothing of a social movement that will give the individual a sense of purpose or meaning: hence the individuals remain isolated, and seem to lose substance. When Leonard Radcliffe, for example (Radcliffe), murders his community out of his need for an absolute, he precipitates his own death. Again, Charles Smithson and Sarah Woodruff in The French Lieutenant1s Woman lose their vitality and sexual commitment because Sarah is more concerned to preserve her individuality. These examples serve to show that temporary and partial relationships are lethal to the spirit. The loss of intimacy is the result, in the end, of the loss of the moral sense. The displacement of the religious impulse to wholeness (the "disappearance of God") leaves one with the hollow victories of possessive individualism in a fragmented society.

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