Much of the history of the twentieth century is seen through the eyes of the Matthews family in No Laughing Matter: the Great War, the Depression, the rise of European Fascism, the promise of Soviet Communism for leftists and their ultimate disillusionment because of the purges under Joseph Stalin, the Spanish Civil War, World War II, the Suez crisis, and the youth culture of the 1960’s. The lives of the three sons and three daughters of William and Clara Matthews are affected in differing ways by the political and social events of their times, but the major influence on them remains their selfish bohemian parents. William Matthews, called “Billy Pop,” is a failed London novelist, a hack who spends more time posing as a writer than working. Clara, known as “the Countess,” is as domineering as Billy Pop is weak, flaunting her innumerable affairs in front of her husband and children, all of whom hate both parents.
Quentin, the eldest, escapes what his siblings consider a hellish existence when he goes to live with his grandmother Matthews to spare his parents another mouth to feed. After being wounded while serving as a major in World War I, he teaches briefly at Oxford and then becomes a radical journalist. In the 1930’s, he is expelled first from Nazi Germany and then, after asking too many questions about his missing friends, from the Soviet Union. Quentin slowly evolves from optimistic idealist to embittered cynic, and, in the 1950’s, he finds the perfect refuge for his unsubtle disdain for the world when he becomes a famous television commentator.
Good-natured Gladys suffers the most of the six. As a child, she is the target of Billy Pop’s advances. As a young woman, she falls in love...
(The entire section is 710 words.)