English Literature in the 20-30Тs of the XX c.
The century is characterized by great diversity of artistic values &
methods. This age had a great impact on the literary process. Variety of
social, ethic & aesthetic attitudes. New achievements in science have their
impact on literature. Literature absorbs & transforms the material of their
V The First World War
V Russian Revolution
V FreudТs psychoanalysis
V BergsonТs philosophy of subjective idealism
V EinsteinТs theory of relativity
V Existentialists thought
V Economic crises 1919-1921 & consequent upheaval of social movement
V Marxist ideology
V Strike 1926
All these factors lead to literature of social problematics. There
existed three trends: critical realism, beginning of social realism,
modernism. The writers revolutionized, changed literary form, as well as
continued the traditional forms. This interЕ is a distinctive feature of
the XX c. English literature reflected BritainТs new position in the world
affairs. By the end of the XIX Victorian tradition began to deteriorate.
The desire to liberate art & literature from the contents of the Victorian
society. Thus, criticism is the dominant mood in the beginning of the XX c.
Criticism took different forms. Some of them Ц modernist, others Ц
spiritual exploiters. ArtistТs duty was to reflect truly thoughts of
people. Realists in the beginning of the XX Ц Hardy, Galsworthy, Shaw,
Wells, Conrad, Mansfield, Bennett, etc.
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
He introduced intellectual play in the English theatre. He was much
influenced by Ibsen. УIn 1889 British stage came into collision with
Norwegian giant Ibsen. He passed as a tornado & left nothing but ruin.Ф
Everybody wanted to create something like Ibsen. Shaw also experienced
MarxТs influence especially УDas KapitalФ. The society was in crisis. The
article УThe Quintessence of IbsentismФ. Here he underlines his belief that
the real slavery of today is the slavery to ideas of goodness. Ibsen was
accused of being immoral. But it implies the conduct that doesnТt conform
to current ideals. The spirit of is constantly outgrowing his moral ideals
& that is why conformity to those ideals produces results not less tragic
than thoughtless violation of them. The main effect of IbsenТs plays on
public is that his plays stress the importance of being always prepared to
act immorally. He insists that living will, humanistic choice are more
important than abstract law, abstract moral norms. Ibsen: УThe DollТs
HouseФ let everybody refuse to sacrifice. There is no formula how to
English drama of the passed years was centered on some imaginary event.
Ibsen did not write about accidents, he wrote about Уslice of lifeФ(life
experience). He introduced open play Ц a play that has no end (if you show
a slice of life you obviously have open play). Shaw objected Уart for artТs
sakeФ. It means only moneyТs sake. Every great artist has a message to
communicate. His role is to interpret life, to create mind. All art is
didactic. УHeartbreak HouseФ reflects the state of Europe before the war.
George Herbert Wells (1866-1946)
A novel was also developing. In the beginning Ц a time of crisis for
English novel. The XIX model was not acceptable any more. The novel of the
past years developed to describe a social hierarchy. In the beginning of
the century the dominant belief was that the Victorian society fell apart.
Wells was attempting to escape the traditional novel forms. The novel was
seen as a means to create future.
His lecture Ц УThe Contemporary NovelФ.
Wells was a very prolific writer. He wrote more than 100 books, he is
best known for his science fiction. He had a very definite aim Ц political
& social. He was trying to combine critical analysis of present
civilization to the picture what it might be in future. He believed in
science. But he understood that it can be dangerous because the power for
destruction is huge.
УThe War of the WorldsФ. He was considered utopiographer. To build
utopic they needed to destroy the relics of the past Ц class distinction
(unenlightenment). He analyzed the feelings of the present in the life of
УAnn Veronica: A Modern Love StoryФ depicts the problem of emancipation.
The novel was written as a reaction to eugenics movement. He affirmed the
need of gifted individuals to find the appropriate patterns & the choice
must not be constrained by any social restrictions.
УTono-BungayФ is a novel about the life of gentry in the rural England.
It combines science fiction & realistic novel. Bladesover Ц a place, where
George Pondervo (the main character) grew up. It becomes a symbol of
dominant influence of the past models of life. The novel is episodic in
form, doesnТt have classical structure. Wells was the first person who
ushered in English literature the theme of lost generation.
УMr. Britling Sees It ThroughФ(1916) was called by him Уthe history of
his own concernФ. The responsibility of everyone for the war. It is
autobiographical. Tried to write about the evolution of consciousness of
his contemporaries. Concentrates on the inner life of his heroes. Fantasy &
reality mingles here. As to the reasons of the war Ц he brings his heroes
to the conclusion that wars are inherited in human nature. He started as an
optimistic liberalist but as he lived on he was very much disappointed.
УYou FoolsФ is his last word to humanity.
* * *
There are many novels & poetry about war. These writers are known as
Уlost generationФ writers. The term was introduced by Gertrude Stein. She
uses it metaphorically: old values & beliefs were lost in the war but
unfortunately new moral values were not formed yet. Majority of these
writers went through the war themselves.
This was a certain tendency in poetry Ц Trench poetry. They wrote about
war. Young people who served as soldiers expressed their outcry: Wilfred
Owen ФDulce et decorum est pro patria moriФ, Siegfried Sassoon, Isaac
Rosenberg. Many of the poems have pacifist character. They were among the
first to create the true picture of trench life. They gave rather
naturalistic pictures, the imagery was very vivid & appalling, scenes of
massacre, they wrote about the smell of the corpses, heavy job, gas
attacks, deaths of young & promising people. They created the image of war
as very ugly & senseless deed. Other writers responded to that huge
The classical example of novel about lost generation is УThe Death of a
HeroФ by R. Aldington.
Richard Aldington (1892-1962)
He started as a poet close to decadence, aestheticism, he belonged to
imagist poets (formalism). He published УOld & New ImagesФ- his first
collection of poems. He propagated the doctrine escapism Ц movement to
escape in to the world of beauty (in Ellinism) from the ugliness of the
world. This ideal world was shattered by the WWI. He came from it another
man, he broke with imagists & continued to work in realistic trend.
In 1929 УThe Death of a HeroФ was published. The novel was started after
the war but had not been completed until 15 years later. ItТs a social
novel disclosing tragic consequence & reasons of war. He made readers see
that the war was inevitable. But the protagonist tries to find the answer
for the question Ц who is responsible for that? Everybody was! Everybody is
guilty for the rivers of spilt human blood. This book is a cry for
redemption for the writer.
It is a novel of big generalization. There are many autobiographical
touches in the book. He starts farther in the war to unmask the hypocrisy
of the English society, respected English families. Aldington wants to show
that this is a pack of lies that the war is a noble deed, a salvation. He
tries to show that lies started much earlier. His ideals are truth &
beauty. Aldington says that this generation was lost before the war
started. War was not the source of the tragedy but rather result of it.
The life story of George Winterborne is given in a reverse order. We see
Winterborne family in which all relations are based on deceit & lies. Later
we see George at school where he is supposed to develop into a strong &
aggressive individual, the defender of imperialism. He tries to escape from
the influence of society & turns to art in search of his place under the
sun. He moves to London but among УintellectualФ people he found only
hypocrisy. He is inherently lonely, his ideas of truth & beauty are
frustrated by snobs, who pretended to be leaders of artistic movement. He
sees all their cynicism. In that period of his London life he still shows
his early tendency to resist to circumstances. He expresses his
disillusionment in angry talks but he cannot achieve peace. He remains
Much is said about his love because love was the only harbour for other
Уlost generationФ heroes. It is not so for G.Winterborne. These relations
are coloured with cynicism (realization of FreudТs ideas of free love
between GeorgeТs wife & her lover). When he tried to put these ideas into
practice, he faced with constant quarrels & was eventually turned down by
both his women. Then the war starts. He volunteers to the front. War
becomes a period of his maturity. He finds himself side by side with common
soldiers & this confrontation with simple people makes him aware of real
human values Ц those of courage, friendship, support. Nothing can be more
precious than pure trust in man. Life in the trenches makes him think about
life in general & he started to ask questions. How does it happen that
government finds huge amount of money to kill Germans in the war but cannot
find it to fight poverty in London. He becomes aware of social
contradiction & antagonism. He thought that social hostility broke through
in the outburst of hatred. He still feels very much lonely & isolated. He
feels that he differs from others, he is very much of an individual soul.
He doesnТt belong to the soldiers, their roughness makes him feel very
uncomfortable. He is completely lost. With all these problems he doesnТt
see any way out but to terminate his life by his own free will (he commits
a suicide). By all the narration Aldington makes us see that this way is
the logical ending for the person who was lost before the war started.
It is a sarcastic book. Aldington was eager to tell the truth about the
society openly. But it was impossible to overcome individualism, the author
is not objective, he shows the whole range of feelings. ThatТs why the end
of the book is so bitter & hopeless. The title itself is very sarcastic.
His death is also a symbol how senseless the war is, itТs just a torture.
His satire has many shades, but also a definite target & purpose. Sometimes
it reminds SwiftТs УGulliverТs TravelsФ because of the social character of
satire. УDeath of a HeroФ is an absolutely disillusioned novel. Aldington
called this book Уa jazz novelФ. This jazz effect is achieved by
kaleidoscopic change of contrasted images. The novel is characterized by
multitude of emotional states. The style is rather nervous. He is easily
overcome by despair & negation, carried to the very extreme. These feelings
are the features of the lost generation people. УThe Death of a HeroФ is
the first big & most successful of all his works. His other novels are:
УAll Men Are EnemiesФ
All are about those people who came back from the war alive but still
couldnТt find their place in life. The main characters are akin to George
Winterborne. The critics say that Aldington predominantly is the writer of
one theme & one hero, & that he just treats this topic in different
He also wrote some critical works on D. H. Lawrence, & other writings.
He died in 1962.
The word УmodernФ means Уup-to-dateФ. Critics & historians used it to
denote roughly the first half of the XX century. The representatives of
this movement were anxious to set themselves apart from the previous
generations. They totally rejected their predecessors. The term was
suggested by the authors themselves. The difference between past & present
tradition is qualitative. Modernist writers clearly defined the borderline
between Victorian age & modernism: in 1910 Ц the death of king Edward & the
first post-impressionist exhibition in London (Virginia Woolf), in 1915 Ц
the first year of World War I (D. H. Lawrence). They had a deep conviction
that modern experience is a unique one. They tried to point the change in
modernism. This change was Ц massive disillusionment, destruction of faith
in a number of basic social & moral principles, which laid the foundation
of Western civilization. This change was to some degree intellectual as the
result of late XIX theories & discoveries.
Karl Marx УDas KapitalФ. He shaped the imperialistic ideology, he showed
it was not the pattern of progress. He believed that the world would not be
dominated by enlightened bourgeoisie. The struggle is inevitable.
Charles Darwin УOn Origin of SpeciesФ(1859) & УThe Descent of
ManФ(1871). A human being was placed in the animal world. The forces that
determine human behaviour are not of intellect & reason but is determined
by the need of physical survival.
James FrazerТs УThe Golden BoughФ(1890-1915) showed similarities between
primitive & civilized cultures. The primitive tribes appeared to be not so
savage as they seemed to be. They were just like the civilized ones.
NietzscheТs УBirth of TragedyФ. In this book he exposes dark sides of
human psyche, glorified the belief in ancient heroic philosophers.
Max PlanckТs УQuantum Theory of Atomic & Subatomic ParticlesФ. This
model of discreet beats of energy behaving in apparently unpredictable ways
seize the imagination of people so much that they extrapolated it beyond
the limits of physics. They believed that human behaviour was also chaotic,
disorderly & unpredictable.
FreudТs УInterpretation of DreamФ. This work created a new model of
human personality itself as a complex, multilayed & governed by irrational
& unconscious survival of fantasies.
These theories were in fact not very new they were known in the XIX but
in XIX they never destroyed the general principles & ideas.
Modern writers after the WWI found themselves in so-called Уempty
worldФ. Their world was deprived of its stability. Nothing can be taken for
granted. They didnТt believe that life they were living. Being
disillusioned & contemplating the society & cosmos most of them looked
within themselves for the principles of order. They turned to eternal
things. For that matter we see modern literature being pre-occupied with
its own self, process of perception, nature of consciousness. In its
extreme subjectivity modern literature went parallelly with other modern
arts (e.g. painting).
The main feature Ц subjectivity & self-interest. Modernist aesthetics
was formed under the influence of French symbolist poets :
Their aim was to capture the most perishable of personal experience in
open-ended & essentially private symbols, to express the inexpressible, to
express the slightest movements of the soul, or at least evoke it subtly if
not express, create the atmosphere of the soul. The symbolist concentration
upon single moments of individual perception. Life in their reproduction
was reduced to small fragments of experience. This fragmentation influenced
not only composition of the work but also the character. The character was
disassembled in fragmentary pieces & these pieces of human character were
not held together by any theory of human type, like a collagй,
juxtaposition Ц all transitions are removed. You just put the fragments
together. The widely used technique Уstream of consciousnessФ takes the
form from a fluid associations, often illogical moment to moment sequence
of ideas, feelings & impressions of a single mind. Traditional literary
forms & genres merged & overlapped. The introduction of poetry into prose
became possible, imagery characteristic of poetry Ц into prosaic text. The
forms of the past were also employed but to produce the satirical effect.
An equally important principle Ц Уthe stream of unconsciousnessФ Ц the
use of irrational logic of dreams & fantasies, denies ordinary logic
(Уexhausted rationalityФ). They employed the shadowy structure of dream.
The idea Уtime & spaceФ didnТt exist & the imagination was only slightly
grounded in reality but generally it created new patterns by combining
previous experiences, etc.
The authors employed myth very much as a kind of collective dream.
ModernistТs myth was stripped of its religious & magical associations.
JoyceТs УUlyssesФ is based on the ground of HomerТs ФOdysseyФ. Eliot said:
УIn using the myth, in manipulating the contentious parallel between
contemporaniety & antiquity Mr. Joyce is pursuing the method which others
must persue after him. It is simply a way of controlling, of ordering, of
giving a shape & significance to an immense panorama of futility & anarchy
which is contemporary historyФ. Myth is the way of organizing history. The
writersТ quest for order lead to their preoccupation with the artist
himself & with the artistic process. The imaginary character stood for the
Marsel Proust УRemembrance of the Things PastФ
Lawrence УSons & LoversФ
Joyce УThe Portrait of the Artist as a Young ManФ
We canТt say that the artist became modernistsТ hero. Not all writers of
that period were modernists. There was the co-existence of different
James Joyce (1882 Ц 1941)
He was born in Ireland (Dublin). Although he spent many years not in
Ireland he is considered one of Irish writers. Primarily he wrote about
himself, transforming his experiences in his books, & relatives & friends Ц
into symbols. His works are said to be Уexpansive & inclusiveФ. Expansive Ц
because he gave a very wide panorama of Dublin life at the turn of the
century, inclusive Ц because his works seemed to include all the human
history. These novels still are the stories & novels about life in general.
He started to attend an expensive private boarding school but his father
became bankrupt & he continued his education at home. Then he attended
УUniversity CollegeФ in Dublin. He read very much & began to write
seriously. He produced critical articles, essays but also poems & notebooks
of epiphanies (theological term Ц an intense moment in a human life when
the truth of a person or some thing is being revealed). He studied in
Paris, then returned to Ireland & in 1904 left it. He lived in different
places in Europe. First, he earned money by giving English lessons. In 1905
he submitted to the publisher his first version of the collection of
stories УDublinersФ. But it was repeatedly rejected & even after acceptance
it was subjected to severe censorship for sexual frankness & use of
obscenities & use of real names & places. This collection consists of 15
stories devoted to childhood, mature life & public life. All are unified by
the theme of personТs loneliness & hopelessness. Joyce describes life with
all naturalistic details. Everything suggests that life is dead. All the
stories explore the paralysis of Irish life. The most famous stories are
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