Hidden Spaces of Care in Post-War British Fiction by Muriel Spark and B. S. Johnson

Hidden Spaces of Care in Post-War British Fiction by Muriel Spark and B. S. Johnson

Ms Jade FrenchZoom

The British ‘care home’, as it is understood today, is a relatively modern concept rooted in specific shifts in mid-century policy. Post-1945, the welfare state offered new spaces to care for the elderly, moving from workhouses towards local authority care homes and Public Assistance Institutions (PAI’s). However, lingering fears around medically administered care remained. This paper will draw on Peter Townsend’s sociological research outlined in 'The Last Refuge' (1964), which revealed UK care homes to be places where isolated residents had been hidden away – a decade after the founding of the welfare state. I will compare Townsend’s analysis to two post-war novels that can be read as bringing to light these invisible issues of care and ageing: Muriel Spark’s 'Momento Mori' (1959) and B. S. Johnson’s 'House Mother Normal' (1971). This paper suggests that through narrative techniques, dark comedy and an exploration of power dynamics, these authors were alert to the medicalisation of ageing and changes occurring in geriatric care practices. Indeed, I read these novels as ‘medical’ examinations of old age and dementia, where the hospital, carers and cognitive abilities of the characters are treated with verisimilitude even when other elements of the novels take an experimental detour.

Queen Mary, University of London, UK
Thu 09:30 - 11:00
Ageing, Narrative
Standard paper