Nostalgic Rapture: Interpreting Moral Commitments in David Hare's Drama
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University of Toronto Press
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A deep, if problematic, nostalgia for the Great Britain of World War II suffuses the work of British playwright David Hare. Susan Traherne's exuberant cry at the end of Plenty, "There will be days and days and days like this," exemplifies Hare's troubled nostalgia: the promise of social equality and national renewal with the war's end presented as the final memory of a fragmenting psyche. Hare identifies himself both personally and artistically in terms of World War II: "I was born in 1947, and it makes me sad to think that mine may be the last generation to care about this extraordinary time in English history .... I must also, if I am honest, admit that the urge to write about it came ... from a romantic feeling for the period." Such a sentimental stance is interesting considering the importance Hare's work places on political engagement in the present. Hare's plays directly or indirectly examine how the post-war promise of "Plenty" did not materialize as the unity against Hitler during the war failed to translate into unity in reconstruction during peace. Characters in Hare's drama seek something to which they can commit themselves even as they desperately stave off fears that their institutions are no longer worth the commitment. Neither the contemporary political Right nor Left offers the sense of mission shared across class lines during the war. Within this context the nostalgic past offers a mode of interpreting the present, a source for the moral framework Hare's characters find so lacking in British society. This nostalgic framework demands faithfulness or constancy to a vision of the past against a contemporary world given to expediency. Individual moral action is determined through emulating role models of the longed for past. The crucial question. however, is to what extent can a nostalgic vision of a Britain that perhaps never was provide a moral structuring principle allowing the possibility of right action in the present; more pointedly, can a moral response prove an adequate solution to what Hare has cast as political problems?