Hollow Men and Homosexual Heroes: Exploring Masculinity in the 1950s

  • Diana Wallace


In Sylvia Townsend Warner’s The Flint Anchor (1954), the despotic patriarch John Barnard goes down into the wine cellar of the family home to check the port wine laid down by his father. He finds there the stacks of empty bottles which are the evidence of his wife’s chronic drinking habit. Anchor House, with its forbiddingly stony flint anchor motif, is surrounded by a high spike-topped wall to keep the lower classes and potential Jacobins out and Barnard’s children in. But, as the empty bottles metaphorically indicate, the foundations of that family home are undermined from within, and the legacy of the earlier generation spent. His wife’s indolent alcoholism and the various unsatisfactory behaviours of his unhappy children, who run off, make unsuitable marriages or simply die to escape his control, expose Barnard’s own moral rectitude as a hollow sham. The ‘devoted husband and father’, ‘deeply conscientious in the performance of every Christian and social duty’, as the inscription on Barnard’s tombstone puts it, is in fact, a ‘Tartuffe’ (1997, 214), a hypocrite and a domestic tyrant, but one who has became what he is because this is what the rigid ideologies of his society demand. Warner’s novel is an examination of nineteenth-century family structures but, in common with many novels of the 1950s, it looks back at the past not out of nostalgia, but to understand the present.


Woman Writer Female Author Empty Bottle Henry VIII Central Symbol 
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  1. 8.
    The influential work of the medieval historian Eileen Power, particularly Medieval English Nunneries (1922), made available a body of historical information which may have helped encourage women like Prescott and Warner to use nunneries as settings in their historical novels.Google Scholar

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© Diana Wallace 2005

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  • Diana Wallace

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