Scholarly attention to the concept of hospitality has flourished in the past decade, largely prompted by the turn-of-the-century reflections of Jacques Derrida who was, in turn, following the philological and philosophical leads of Émile Benveniste, Kant, Heidegger and Levinas. Derrida's intervention was partly a response to the new spaces of hospitality opened up by technological innovations. The cross-disciplinary surge of interest in hospitality since Derrida undoubtedly owes part of its urgency to the development of a radically altered landscape of interpersonal and political exchange in a post 9/11 digital age, in line with increasingly ubiquitous references to issues of trust, sincerity, privacy and security. This essay will give a contextual overview of the emergence of hospitality as a keyword within the humanities while honing in, more specifically, on its growing importance to literary critical scholars as part of a wider return to ethical questions in literary criticism. In particular, it will make a case for the resounding significance of hospitality as a paradigm in late modernist and post-war English fiction, revolving around the global catastrophe of the Second World War. The trope of hospitality – more often than not, a fraught hospitality – proved an effective means of working through redefinitions of Englishness in the context of widespread refugee movements, post-colonial immigration and the emergence of a welfare state. Troubled representations of host–guest exchanges in the fiction of this period register anxiety about national change but also, more broadly, questions of human responsibility and rights. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.