Threshold Anxieties : (In)hospitality, the English Novel and the Second World War

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)481-490
Journal / PublicationLiterature Compass
Issue number7
Online published4 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2016
Externally publishedYes


Scholarly attention to the concept of hospitality has flourished in the past decade, largely prompted by the turn‐of‐the‐century reflections of Jacques Derrida who was, in turn, following the philological and philosophical leads of Émile Benveniste, Kant, Heidegger and Levinas. Derrida's intervention was partly a response to the new spaces of hospitality opened up by technological innovations. The cross‐disciplinary surge of interest in hospitality since Derrida undoubtedly owes part of its urgency to the development of a radically altered landscape of interpersonal and political exchange in a post 9/11 digital age, in line with increasingly ubiquitous references to issues of trust, sincerity, privacy and security. This essay will give a contextual overview of the emergence of hospitality as a keyword within the humanities while honing in, more specifically, on its growing importance to literary critical scholars as part of a wider return to ethical questions in literary criticism. In particular, it will make a case for the resounding significance of hospitality as a paradigm in late modernist and post‐war English fiction, revolving around the global catastrophe of the Second World War. The trope of hospitality – more often than not, a fraught hospitality – proved an effective means of working through redefinitions of Englishness in the context of widespread refugee movements, post‐colonial immigration and the emergence of a welfare state. Troubled representations of host–guest exchanges in the fiction of this period register anxiety about national change but also, more broadly, questions of human responsibility and rights.