Final Published Version
Literature & History
Frank Kermode’s autobiographical recollections of the Second World War disclose much about one of the most prominent literary critics of the twentieth century. They reveal in part the personal and affective origins of his existentialism, a philosophy that permeated his early literary criticism and contributed to a wider cultural discourse in mid-twentieth-century Britain. They also help explain his later preoccupation with the ‘fictions’ of communication. His naval experiences taught him how words could not begin to capture the traumas of lived experience, a lesson he later developed and refined. Finally, Kermode’s war experiences help explain the generational conflict that separated him from his younger colleagues and convinced him that individuals remain embedded within a historical moment they can neither choose nor escape.