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Angry Young Men

  In the period following World War II, there was a feeling among younger people in many Western countries that the entire fabric of society was rotten. It was felt that their elders had failed them, and that the values of society should be certainly questioned and probably swept away. This is, perhaps, a common, even healthy, feeling among the young, but it was particularly vehement from the mid-1950s, and was one of the forces that led to the rise, at about the same time, of ‘teenage culture’.

In the UK it was given literary form by a group of writers nicknamed ‘the angry young men’. The group included Kingsley Amis, John Osborne, Alan Sillitoe, John Wain and others. Their works attacked the Establishment not merely in thought and utterance, but in a social way (by letting us hear the voice of what one critic disparagingly called ‘the bright working class’), and above all, by using techniques of popular culture (notably the routines of stand-up comedy) to subvert such hallowed Establishment forms as the ‘novel of ideas’ and the ‘well-made play’. This street-smart approach has been of lasting influence—more durable than the works of the Angry Young Men themselves, who, with the exception of Amis and Osborne, have proved to be literary men of straw. During the same period, many of the same writers, along with Philip Larkin, D.J. Enright and others, wrote flatly sardonic poems of a similar tone; they were nicknamed ‘The Movement’, though they were hardly cohesive or influential enough to justify the phrase. KMcL

Further reading Kenneth Allsop, The Angry Decade; , Blake Morrison, The Movement.



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