Walter Benjamin's image of the backward-looking angel of history dates from 1944 but is also relevant to earlier parts of the twentieth century, especially after August 1914. Rebecca West's Return of the Soldier is paradigmatic in theme and form of a well-charted modernist inclination toward retrospection. Comparable forms of nostalgia for the Edwardian period persist in 1930s fiction and are explored in this essay, along with an inheritance of modernist narrative techniques, in novels including The Memorial, Eyeless in Gaza, A Scots Quair, and Coming Up for Air. The essay considers the persistence of similar forms and feelings in the 1940s and later, and speculates about their wider role within narrative generally, including in earlier historical periods, and about conclusions that may be drawn about the development of the novel in the twentieth century.

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