James Hanley and the Project of Modernity

in Critical Survey
John Fordham University of Middlesex

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The writing of this paper was prompted by the recent publication by Harvill Press of The Last Voyage and Other Stories, an anthology which brings together Hanley’s earliest published shorter fiction from the 1930s. Two of these two stories – ‘The German Prisoner’ and ‘A Passion Before Death’ – were privately printed owing to the prevailing prohibitions on representations of sexuality. Hanley was originally an ‘ordinary seaman’ who subsequently built a reputation as a writer on his stories and novels of the sea-going working class. However, such an identity masks a diversity evident in his work from its inception and which developed over some fifty years, beginning with the publication of his first novel, Drift (1930) a narrative of unemployment and Catholic anguish in contemporary Liverpool. The five stories in The Last Voyage, of which three are directly concerned with maritime life, are a reflection of Hanley’s range, yet they all bear the traces of his preoccupations and tendency – compulsion even – to focus on the extremes of contemporary working-class experience.

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