Midcentury Suspension: Literature and Feeling in the Wake of World War II

Claire Seiler (Author)


How did literary artists confront the middle of a century already defined by two global wars and newly faced with a nuclear future? Midcentury Suspension argues that a sense of suspension--a feeling of being between beginnings and endings, recent horrors and opaque horizons--shaped transatlantic literary forms and cultural expression in this singular moment.

Rooted in extensive archival research in literary, print, and public cultures of the Anglophone North Atlantic, Claire Seiler's account of midcentury suspension ranges across key works of the late 1940s and early 1950s by authors such as W. H. Auden, Samuel Beckett, Elizabeth Bishop, Elizabeth Bowen, Ralph Ellison, and Frank O'Hara. Seiler reveals how these writers cultivated modes of suspension that spoke to the felt texture of life at midcentury. Running counter to the tendency to frame midcentury literature in the terms of modernism or of our contemporary, Midcentury Suspension reorients twentieth-century literary study around the epoch's fraught middle.

Product Details

Columbia University Press
Publish Date
August 11, 2020
6.1 X 9.1 X 1.0 inches | 1.4 pounds

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About the Author

Claire Seiler is associate professor of English at Dickinson College.


It is impossible not to be impressed by the highly accomplished results on offer in Claire Seiler's reconfiguration of early postwar transatlantic literature in terms of the concept of the "midcentury" and the forms of temporal and theoretical suspension she identifies with it. I suspect that her revisionist efforts to construct the intellectual framework of the midcentury and its suspensions will significantly reshape our understanding of this period for years to come.--Deak Nabers, author of Victory of Law: The Fourteenth Amendment, the Civil War, and American Literature
In Midcentury Suspension, Claire Seiler offers the most scholarly study of the midcentury to date--the literary midcentury in all its irresolution, time-consciousness, anxiety, and nuclear expectancy. With a pitch-perfect sense of detail, Seiler draws upon unknown archival sources to explain what history felt like to anglophone writers in Britain and the United States. Written with great verve, this book is a lucid--and necessary--account of why the midcentury matters.--Allan Hepburn, author of A Grain of Faith: Religion in Mid-Century British Literature
This is a powerfully illuminating and eloquent reconstruction of a moment when transatlantic writers understood themselves as citizens not so much of particular places as of their own fraught and ambiguous historical period. Anyone thinking about early postwar literature will have to reckon with the implications of this absolutely compelling book.--Marina MacKay, author of Ian Watt: The Novel and the Wartime Critic