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James Hanley and the Project of Modernity

John Fordham

Abstract

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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