Everything I disliked about Martin Amis’s Money is thankfully absent from Towers of Trebizond, I’m relieved to say. There are no drunkards, no porn-addicted slovenly men, no unfunny (to me) humor. Just goes to show you how much popular writing changed in the approximately 30 years separating the two books (1956 and 1984), not that there weren’t books like Money published earlier than Amis. I’m sure there were; I’m just blissfully unaware of them.
This got me wondering what had been published in 1956, what was going on in the world, etc., and how much more innocent a time (if at all) it had been.
Here’s a partial list of other books published in 1956:
The Last Battle (Narnia #7) by C.S. Lewis
Howl by Allen Ginsberg
The Fall by Albert Camus
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz
Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer
Selected Short Stories by William Faulkner
Scientology: The Fundamentals of Thought by L. Ron Hubbard
The Witchcraft of Salem Village by Shirley Jackson
The Naked Sun (Robot, #2) by Isaac Asimov
The Hundred and One Dalmations by Dodie Smith
The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke
Interesting to see science fiction so well represented in 1956. Also, a mix of children’s literature and works by heavyweights like Faulkner and Camus.
What sorts of things were going on in the world in this year?:
Fiction: Andersonville, MacKinlay Kantor
Music: Symphony No. 3, Ernst Toch
Drama: The Diary of Anne Frank, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett
Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of USSR Communist Party, denounces Stalin’s excesses (Feb. 24).
First aerial H-bomb tested over Namu islet Bikini Atoll > 10 million tons TNT equivalent (May 21).
Workers’ uprising against Communist rule in Poland, is crushed (June 28–30); rebellion inspires Hungarian students to stage a protest against Communism in Budapest (Oct. 23).
Egypt takes control of Suez Canal(July 26).
Hungarian rebellion forces Soviet troops to withdraw from Budapest (Oct.).
Israel launches attack on Egypt’s Sinai peninsula and drives toward Suez Canal (Oct. 29).
Imre Nagy announces Hungary’s withdrawal from Warsaw Pact (Nov. 1)
Soviet troops enter and reclaim Budapest (Nov. 4).
British and French invade Port Said on the Suez Canal (Nov. 5).
Cease-fire forced by U.S. pressure stops British, French, and Israeli advance (Nov. 6).
More very serious, violent and frightening events than I knew of, that’s one thing for sure. When I think of the 50s my mind goes to much more family-centric living, the illusion of good kids who were obedient to their parents, a lack of the drug atmosphere we know today. I get all my ideas from what I know of 50s sitcoms, come to think of it:
Howdy Doody, I Love Lucy, Ozzie and Harriet, Captain Kangaroo, The Mickey Mouse Club… All very innocuous programs.
The 1950s were apparently a period of great upheaval in the world, as well as the appearance of innocence and wholesome times in the average American home. What was the feel of the decade? It’s well before my time, so I don’t really know. I can only surmise the rise of the nuclear age was a huge worry, Elvis appearing on TV a warning to parents things were going to explode with their teens (!) and the economy was going pretty well.
Eisenhower was president of the United States:
Eisenhower was popular, but had health conditions that became a quiet issue. Stevenson remained popular with a core of liberal Democrats, but held no office and had no real base. He (and Eisenhower) largely ignored the subject of civil rights. Eisenhower had ended the Korean War and the nation was prosperous, so a landslide for the charismatic Eisenhower was never in doubt.
This was the last presidential election before the admissions of Alaska and Hawaii, which would participate for the first time as states in the 1960 presidential election. It was also the last election in which any of the major candidates was born in the 19th century, or were both renominated for a rematch of the previous presidential election.
It was also the first campaign in which television ads figured:
Stevenson campaigned hard against Eisenhower, with television ads for the first time being the dominant medium for both sides. Because Eisenhower’s 1952 election victory was due, in large part, to winning the female vote, there was a plethora of “housewife” focused ads. Some commentators at the time also argued that television’s new prominence was a major factor in Eisenhower’s decision to run for a second term at age 66, considering his weak health after the heart attack in 1955. Television allowed Eisenhower to reach people across the country without enduring the strain of repeated coast-to-coast travel, making a national campaign more feasible
The Eisenhower administration had also supported the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954; this ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court ended legal segregation in public schools. As a result, Eisenhower won the support of nearly 40% of black voters; he was the last Republican presidential candidate to receive such a level of support from black voters.
In Macaulay’s native UK:
In 1956, French Prime Minister Guy Mollet and British Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden discussed the possibility of France joining the Commonwealth. The proposal was never accepted and the following year France signed the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community, the precursor of the European Union. In November 1956, Britain and France invaded Egypt in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to capture the Sues Canal. Lord Mountbatten claimed the Queen was opposed to the invasion, though Eden denied it. Eden resigned two months later.
The Suez crisis and the choice of Eden’s successor led in 1957 to the first major personal criticism of the Queen. In a magazine, which he owned and edited Lord Altrincham accused her of being “out of touch”. Altrincham was denounced by public figures and physically attacked by a member of the public appalled at his comments.
In 1957, she made a state visit to the United States, where she addressed the United Nations General Assembly on behalf of the Commonwealth. On the same tour, she opened the 23rd Canadian parliament, becoming the first monarch of Canada to open a parliamentary session. In 1961, she toured Cyprus, India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Iran.
How much of the world situation figured in the influences on Rose Macaulay? I’ll try to be alert to that as I read, despite the fact the book’s setting is largely Middle Eastern. Some spillover of the rest of the world may still creep in, intentional or not.
I believe it helps to set a book in time, that it adds understanding to what went into the writing of the book, the mind-set. Now that I’m more familiar with 1956 I feel better equipped to understand any allusions to politics or the world in general.