. English Literature

English Literature

English Literature in the 20-30s 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 Freuds psychoanalysis

V Bergsons philosophy of subjective idealism

V Einsteins 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 inter is a distinctive feature of

the XX c. English literature reflected Britains 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 modernist, others

spiritual exploiters. Artists duty was to reflect truly thoughts of

people. Realists in the beginning of the XX 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. In 1889 British stage came into collision with

Norwegian giant Ibsen. He passed as a tornado & left nothing but ruin.

Everybody wanted to create something like Ibsen. Shaw also experienced

Marxs influence especially Das Kapital. The society was in crisis. The

article The Quintessence of Ibsentism. 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 doesnt 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 Ibsens 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: The Dolls

House 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 slice of life(life

experience). He introduced open play a play that has no end (if you show

a slice of life you obviously have open play). Shaw objected art for arts

sake. It means only moneys sake. Every great artist has a message to

communicate. His role is to interpret life, to create mind. All art is

didactic. Heartbreak House reflects the state of Europe before the war.

George Herbert Wells (1866-1946)

A novel was also developing. In the beginning 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 The Contemporary Novel.

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 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.

The War of the Worlds. He was considered utopiographer. To build

utopic they needed to destroy the relics of the past class distinction

(unenlightenment). He analyzed the feelings of the present in the life of

nations future.

Ann Veronica: A Modern Love Story 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.

Tono-Bungay is a novel about the life of gentry in the rural England.

It combines science fiction & realistic novel. Bladesover 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, doesnt have classical structure. Wells was the first person who

ushered in English literature the theme of lost generation.

Mr. Britling Sees It Through(1916) was called by him the history of

his own concern. 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 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.

You Fools is his last word to humanity.

* * *

There are many novels & poetry about war. These writers are known as

lost generation 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 Trench poetry. They wrote about

war. Young people who served as soldiers expressed their outcry: Wilfred

Owen Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, 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 The Death of a

Hero by R. Aldington.

Richard Aldington (1892-1962)

He started as a poet close to decadence, aestheticism, he belonged to

imagist poets (formalism). He published Old & New Images- his first

collection of poems. He propagated the doctrine escapism 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 The Death of a Hero was published. The novel was started after

the war but had not been completed until 15 years later. Its 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 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 intellectual 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

lost generation heroes. It is not so for G.Winterborne. These relations

are coloured with cynicism (realization of Freuds ideas of free love

between Georges 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 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 doesnt belong to the soldiers, their roughness makes him feel very

uncomfortable. He is completely lost. With all these problems he doesnt

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. Thats 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, its just a torture.

His satire has many shades, but also a definite target & purpose. Sometimes

it reminds Swifts Gullivers Travels because of the social character of

satire. Death of a Hero is an absolutely disillusioned novel. Aldington

called this book a jazz novel. 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. The Death of a Hero is

the first big & most successful of all his works. His other novels are:

Colonels Daughter

All Men Are Enemies

Very Heaven

All are about those people who came back from the war alive but still

couldnt 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 modern means up-to-date. 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 the death of king Edward & the

first post-impressionist exhibition in London (Virginia Woolf), in 1915

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 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 Das Kapital. 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 On Origin of Species(1859) & The Descent of

Man(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 Frazers The Golden Bough(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.

Nietzsches Birth of Tragedy. In this book he exposes dark sides of

human psyche, glorified the belief in ancient heroic philosophers.

Max Plancks Quantum Theory of Atomic & Subatomic Particles. 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.

Freuds Interpretation of Dream. 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 empty

world. Their world was deprived of its stability. Nothing can be taken for

granted. They didnt 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 subjectivity & self-interest. Modernist aesthetics

was formed under the influence of French symbolist poets :

Charles Baudler

Arthur Rimbaut

Paul Verlaine

Stephan Mallarm

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 collag,

juxtaposition all transitions are removed. You just put the fragments

together. The widely used technique stream of consciousness 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 into prosaic text. The

forms of the past were also employed but to produce the satirical effect.

An equally important principle the stream of unconsciousness the

use of irrational logic of dreams & fantasies, denies ordinary logic

(exhausted rationality). They employed the shadowy structure of dream.

The idea time & space didnt 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.

Modernists myth was stripped of its religious & magical associations.

Joyces Ulysses is based on the ground of Homers Odyssey. Eliot said:

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