Now recognized as a journalistic catchphrase rather than the name of a full-fledged literary movement, the term “angry young men” was commonly applied to a number of writers of the mid-1950’s, including Kingsley Amis, John Braine, Alan Sillitoe, John Osborne, and John Wain. Their individuality and diversity have often been overlooked as certain similarities in their writings have been emphasized—particularly their portrayal of working-class protagonists who ardently voiced their social discontent, as well as their forthright inclusion of formerly “unmentionable” subject matter, “vulgar” language, and raucous comedy. From the outset, however, Wain was particularly uncomfortable with the label, and Sprightly Running is in part an explicit declaration of literary independence:Speaking for myself, I reject the label, and will always continue to reject it, because (i) it is the creation of journalists who know nothing, and care less than nothing, for the art to which my life is dedicated, (ii) it is a hindrance to anyone who holds serious opinions and is able to be genuinely serious about them, and (iii) because I refuse to be institutionalized, whatever may be the immediate advantages in terms of hard cash.
Wain’s autobiography is also a valuable guide to an understanding of the pessimism that becomes increasingly prominent in his later fiction, which lacks the comic verve of his earlier work. Appropriately, his favorite author is...
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