Dominion by CJ Sansom
published 2012 chapter 2 set in the early 1950s
observations: CJ Sansom’s Shardlake series is one of the delights of historical fiction. From the first look at Dissolution - cold bones and an aura of fog in a failing Tudor monastery – readers have been waiting impatiently for the next episode as the sad, misshapen lawyer busies himself around Henry VIII's England, in on everything and investigating everything. One year we got Winter in Madrid instead - had it been languishing in a drawer, and got published on the back of the huge success of Dissolution? Never mind, it was still good stuff, set in the Spanish Civil War and very much redolent of Auden’s ‘low dishonest decade.’
So - Dominion. It has pleased many readers but, sadly, not around here. It’s a counter-factual: assuming a world in which Great Britain made an appeasement peace with the Germans in 1940. David, Jewish but has to pretend he isn’t, is being recruited to join a secret Resistance movement. The book will follow, at great length, a very involved (and not very convincing) plot concerning mad scientists, nuclear secrets, romantically attractive East Europeans, and sudden horrible scenes of violence. There is a long afterword from Sansom in which he gives his thoughts on the book, on WW2, and, strangely and at length, on the possibility of Scottish devolution. He is committed, political, a wonderful historian, and admirably left-wing. We feel guilty for saying we'd much rather have had another Shardlake book.
The picture is of researchers from the London School of Economics, away for a weekend in 1948. Old photos of people off-duty are always more intriguing and informative than serious ones, especially to the student of clothes. Nowadays the women would be in trousers, and none of the men would be in ties… In the extract, you have to wonder if the women's dresses should have been wide-skirted rather than white-skirted?
Links up with: A number of books from the early 1950s featured on the blog earlier this year, and the entry on this 1954 book looks at the list. The photo is very much the milieu of this book and its summer school.