Written by Patrick Hamilton, Edited, with an introduction and notes, by Peter Widdowson
ISBN 0 905 488 33 4
First published in 1939 and never reprinted until now, Impromptu in Moribundia remains at once a fascination relic of the 1930’s, an innovative piece of fiction-writing – especially typographically, and a novel which will strike a chord with contemporary readers. This re-publication allows readers access to one of Patrick Hamilton’s rarest texts, an absorbing example of his work, too little of which has surfaced through the mists of oblivion surrounding this now much neglected writer.
Hamilton is best known for his theatrical thrillers, Rope and Gaslight, and for his mordant novel, Hangover Square (1941). Unlike much of his other fiction, Impromptu, whilst still concerned to depict the raddled English Bourgeois ideology of the inter-war years, belongs to a non-realist mode of thirties novel-writing, contriving ‘parallel’ worlds through fable, allegory, satire and dystopia to excoriate contemporary social and political tendencies. Hamilton exploits the boldly simplified, cartoon-like methods of fabulation to make his fictive Moribundia a concrete realization of the stereotypes and myths of English middle-class culture and consciousness. The visitor from ‘Earth’ finds himself actually watching the cricket-match from Henry Newbolt’s Edwardian poem, Vitaï Lampada, while Moribundians think and talk only in the clichés of mass journalism and advertising. Hence the incidence of ‘ballooning’ – one of Hamilton’s finest comic inventions: in some conversations, a balloon appears out of the top of a Moribundian’s head on which are inscribed the words of an advertisement of the ‘Thinks’ variety. These are physically depicted in the text in graphic typographical form.
In a world now characterised as ‘postmodern’ – where political apathy and rampant consumerism driven by ubiquitous advertising and media-imaging seem to be its defining features, and where simulacra displace the reality they deceptively resemble – Hamilton’s vision of Moribundian ‘Unchange’, and of the consumerised reification represented by ‘ballooning’, may seem eerily familiar.
Peter Widdowson is Professor of Literature at Cheltenham and Gloucester College of HE.