The Usurpers

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The Usurpers, Willa Muir's fourth novel, was written in the early 1950s and was based on the diaries she kept in Prague in the period 1945-1948, when her husband the poet Edwin Muir was the Director the British Institute in Prague, the lecturing and teaching arm of the British Council there. Under the guise of Utopians in Slavomania, The Usurpers offers acute, humorous and sometimes acerbic observations on relations among the British themselves in Prague (the city is never named) and between them and their Czech friends and those in the Czechoslovak establishment who were suspicious of the British presence, and depicts, largely through the actions and conversation of its characters, a deteriorating political environment in which the lives of many Slavomanians and even some of the Utopians are increasingly under threat in the lead-up to the Communist coup of February 1948. The Usupers was ready for publication in 1952 and was submitted to a number of major UK publishers under the pen-name Alexander Cory. The publishers were nervous. There was some concern about libel suits and perhaps also about the political sensitivity of the contents. Then, when she was publicly revealed to be the author, Willa Muir withdrew it. The typescript, from which this edition has been prepared, has long been in the care of the Library of the University of St Andrews and over the years a number of critics and Willa Muir enthusiasts have read it, among them Jim Potts, who brought it to the attention of Colenso Books and who has provided the Introduction. The non-publication of the The Usurpers in the 1950s may have been partly due to political pressure, at a time when the UK government’s grant-in-aid to the British Council was being called in question.

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Colenso Books
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