There’s bad nostalgia, such as Donald Trump’s delusional belief that the United States was once great (perhaps for a good number of affluent white males but often not for other demographics). And there’s more positive nostalgia, which will be the subject of today’s blog post. More positive nostalgia in literature, that is.
One prime example is Goodbye, Mr. Chips, in which James Hilton tells the story of English schoolteacher Mr. Chipping. The novel, like many books with a nostalgic bent, is not without bad times and tragedy — but the overall feeling is warm, especially in the description of how Mr. Chips’ brief marriage helped make him a more tolerant and less conventional person and educator.
Fannie Flagg’s World War II-themed The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion (see image above) has various nostalgic elements — including the story being told from a vantage point decades after the 1940s and the remembrance of how women briefly had more prominent work roles during WWII — including operating a gas station without men and flying important missions as WASPs (Women Airfare Service Pilots). Also, as the title indicates, some of the novel’s aged characters meet one final time.
Ray Bradbury’s semi-autobiographical 1957 novel Dandelion Wine looks at a boy’s small-town Illinois childhood through the lens of a 1928 summer. That childhood is in some ways idyllic, but there are enough painful and mysterious things going on to keep the book from getting too sentimental.
Given how many people live in suburbs and cities these days, novels set in small towns or on farms or in the wilderness can almost seem automatically nostalgic — even if the books are not anywhere close to 100% happy. Examples include L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, George Eliot’s Adam Bede, and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford, among many others.
Novels that time-travel into the past can also provide plenty of nostalgia. The past is far from perfect, but things at least were or seemed slower-paced/less frantic/more technologically “analog.” Jack Finney’s Time and Again and Daphne du Maurier’s The House on the Strand would be two examples.
Prequel novels also can be at least partly nostalgic by their very nature. For instance, at different points after his first Jack Reacher book was published, Lee Child wrote three Reacher novels set when Jack is younger than in that first book. Due to the usual Reacher-realm violence, The Enemy and The Affair and Night School are not very wistful, but they feel partly nostalgic because we’re seeing Jack in his earlier years — during which time he had his first romantic encounter and so on. (First love can be quite nostalgic.)
Last but not least, In Search of Lost Time is steeped in nostalgia — often of a melancholy nature. The very title of Marcel Proust’s opus, which I’ve only read part of, conveys a longing for the past.
Novels you consider very or somewhat nostalgic?
My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.
In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — about a controversial schools superintendent resigning — is here.