Brave New Causes: Women in British Postwar Fictions

Leicester University Press
Publication year

See in particular

Chapter 4: Half-crown houses: the crisis of the country house in the postwar romance

Chapter 6: Bachelor girls: the glamour of work in the postwar romance

Chapter 7: Starched caps: nurse-heroines

Chapter 8: 'White-coated girls': doctor-heroines


Chapter 4 discusses a

specific sub-genre within the field of romance fiction, which can be termed 'the country house romance'. In these novels written by and for women, it is the country house and the tradition it represents that is as much an object of desire for the heroine as the hero [...] the house [...] stands as an emblem of 'Englishness', of a British tradition that must be secured and maintained.

Such novels articulate an anxiety about the possibility of sustaining the traditions embodied in the country house, which was widely perceived to be threatened by the onslaughts of the war and of taxation, bureaucracy and death duties imposed by an unsympathetic postwar Labour government. (42)


This sense of the 'duty' of stewardship recurs in romance narratives centred around a 'great house'. The desire to keep the house in the family is expressed not as a wish to hold on to the privileges of inherited wealth, but more as a service to the nation, an obligation which only those born and raised to it can properly undertake. As one heroine remarks, ownership of the house is understood as an inherited and genetic obligation: 'House of the Pines was in our blood. It wasn't so much that it belonged to us. It was more that we belonged to it.' (43)

That's a quote from Jan Tempest's House of the Pines, published by Mills & Boon in 1946.

These novels can be read as 'state of the nation' novels, addressed to a female readership, in which the country house, be it farm, stately home, mansion or simply a large house that has remained in one family for generations, stands as a fictional metaphor for tradition and class privilege. It is a woman, in the figure of the heroine, who becomes the means of saving the house (in the sense of both an actual house and a family); it is femininity and romance that are here shown to manage the negotiation of a new historical conjuncture and to reprieve English heritage in the postwar Welfare State. The generic devices of the romance form are redeployed in these novels as a reassurance that the values impacted in the fictional country house can be sustained. (46)

From Chapter 6, which discusses the compatibility of work and marriage and how work affects choice of marriage partner:

The experience of war and of work that women had come to share with men impacted upon the way in which men and women related to one another in romantic fiction. The terms of the fictional marriage contract also had to shift in a new ideal of marital bliss. Marriage is now conceived as a partnership; the endearments have become 'my mate!', 'my partner!', rather than the "little darling!' that the heroine now often rejects as old-fashioned. (86-87)

From Chapter 7:

If the black nurse is significant by her absence in novels set in a British context, the white British-trained nurse is frequently transported to the former colonies. The travelling nurse is another popular sub-genre of the romance novel. The nurse here becomes a missionary figure who can take the benefits of the Welfare State not only into the British community, but to the world. In her reconciliation of traditional and modern virtues the fictional nurse functions as an effective icon who can facilitate a transition from empire to Commonwealth. (112)

From Chapter 8:

The 1950s spate of medical romances do not centre only on women nurses with male doctors as heroes; there is also a substantial sub-genre of hospital novels in which the heroine is a woman doctor. The doctor-heroine is a figure who comes to represent a new generation of medical practice, and who offers a means of negotiating the new structures and opportunities of the National Health Service.

Like the fictional nurse, the woman doctor offers a mythical resolution to the opposing claims of traditional versions of femininity and the modernity of a new social order; but she also represents more of a challenge to the male-dominated bastion of an ancient profession. (117)


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