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(12) New Trends and Genres within Realism of the Turn of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century.

(T. Hardy, J. Galsworthy, H. G. Wells, and G. K. Chesterton).


T h e  T w e n t i e t h  C e n t u r y

[see "Background for Topics 12-27..."]


T h o m a s  H a r d y  ( 1 8 4 0 – 1 9 2 8 )

[see also: H. under ‘11 Late Victorian Poetry’]


- called himself ‘churchy’ x but: little real evidence of this in his novels beyond his early Under the Greenwood Tree (1872)

- appreciated church architecture aesthetically (an architect by training) x but: consid. the historic relig. practised in churches redundant

> Far From the Madding Crowd (1874): contrasts the medieval barn in which the sheep-shearing takes place x a church and a castle in that ‘the purpose which had dictated its original erection was the same to which it was still applied’

- his fictional world lacks the comfortable shapes and contours of the old theology, the Church of En. still firmly rooted in a rural society x but: incapable of interpreting a grand, but essentially discomforting, idea of the universe

> Jude the Obscure (1895): the Christian relig. and ‘Christian’ morality irrelevant to the complexities of modern experience, relig. serves to complicate and further frustrate the destinies of the central characters

- the novel’s climax: 2 clergymen overheard discussing where they should stand liturgically at the altar, at the time when a more immediate sacrifice has been offered in the form of Jude’s children: ‘Good God’, the traumatised Jude exclaims, ‘the eastward position, and all creation groaning’ (= reverses St Paul’s image of creation groaning in its birth pangs)


- claimed to have been amongst the 1st readers of Charles Darwin’s (1809 – 82 [= Br. naturalist, explained the evolution by the means of natural and sexual election]) The Origin of Species (1859)

- D. re-articulated in him an older, peasant fatalism, inherited from his Dorset forebears: the fatalism with which he later endowed Tess Durbeyfield of his Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891)

- D. displaced humankind from its assumption of superiority, challenged the idea of a benevolent Creator and the comforting belief in Providence

=> the immense process of evolution advances regardless of human bane and human blessing: to Tess Durbeyfield, ‘as to not a few million of others’, remarks twd the end of the novel there was a ‘ghastly satire’ in W. Wordsworth’s confident lines: ‘Not in utter nakedness / But trailing clouds of glory do we come’


- fascinated by the slow and painful progress of human history

- history, geology, geography, and astronomy = macrocosmic ramifications of the human microcosm

- the impassive infl. of the relics of pre-Christian civilisations:

(a) > Tess of the D’Urbervilles: T. arrested at Stonehenge at dawn

(b) > Jude the Obscure: the visionary Christminster, the ‘city of light’ = a human artefact older than the historic uni for which J. vainly yearns; J. excluded from the city’s colleges as much by their architecture as by their narrow admissions policy x but: the ‘Fourways’, the ancient central crossroads = an alternative life ‘of human groups, who hat met there for tragedy, comedy, farce’

F i c t i o n :

The Trumpet Major (1880):

= his most obviously ‘historical’ novel, one of the most carefully located of all his novels

- set in the Napoleonic period

- a delicate study of characters choosing and making the wrong choices

Two on a Tower (1882): observation of the courses of the stars coupled with an evocation of prehistory

The Return of the Native (1878): the looming presence of Egdon Heath = a disturbing shaper of consciousness

The Well-Beloved (1892, 1897): the physical peculiarity of the setting in the Isle of Slingers = the odd twists of the plot

The Woodlanders (1887): Hintock Wood = expressive of the ‘Unfulfilled Intention which makes life what it is’

Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) and Jude the Obscure (1895):

- shifts from the straightforward expositions of ‘tragedy, comedy, farce’ to the complex stratification of his later work

- remains within the disciplined lines of Gr. tragedy x but: his prose aspires to the freer conditions of poetry

- interfuses dense lit. and biblical citation, scientific reference and allusion, philos. speculation, superstitious hints, dark suggestions of genetic conditioning and even animism

- conc. with characters wrenched from their roots and from the communities which might have sustained, or at least tolerated, their distinctiveness

- his complex view of woman culminates in the emergence of the ‘New Woman’ = educated and individualistic x but: still unfulfilled because of her continued subservience to men

- his F characters more determined and more truly sophisticated than his M characters:

(a) Tess Durbyfield of Tess: much of a passive instinctive fatalist x but: her strength of will defies M domination and bourgeois condemnation

(b) Arabella Donn of Jude: crude and exploitative x but: a practical survival against the odds

(c) Sue Bridehead of Jude: divided btw freethinking x obsessive religiosity = the deep ambiguity of her characterisation echoes the ambiguity of the novel itself

(d) => received much critical attention, incl. D(avid) H(erbert) Lawrence’s: this sort of women only seems ‘to exist to be betrayed by their men’

=> it is not only ‘the letter that killeth’ (= the quotation of St Paul in Jude’s subtitle) x but: a general human inability to grasp the implications of the modern spirit offering a more clear-sighted, though painful, freedom

D r a m a :

The Dynasts (1904 – 8):

= a poetic drama

- set in the Napoleonic period

- the petty delusions and ambitions of humankind watched over by the choric forces undercutting any assumption of heroic action

=> concl.: Napoleon achieves nothing despite his illusion of his own greatness


J o h n  G a l s w o r t h y  ( 1 8 6 7 – 1 9 3 3 )

L i f e :

- b. into an establ. and wealthy family; st. Oxford (a barrister, though never practised law)

- travelled extensively to look after the family’s shipping business interests

- met and befriended J. Conrad on a South Sea voyage

- married the ex-wife of one of his cousins, with whom he had lived for 10 y. in secret

- tried to enlist in WW I x but: rejected due to his short-sightedness, worked for the Red Cross

W o r k :

- his lifetime: pop. and well establ. x now: consid. the last major story-teller of the Victorian era / or one of the 1st writers of the Edwardian era because of his challenging some of the ideals of the Victorian society

- author of a number of highly readable realist or ‘materialist’ (Virginia Woolf) novels, dealing with social questions and giving a precise account of the upper class’s opinions and attitudes

- the novel = an instrument of social debate, the artist’s duty = to examine a problem x but: not to offer a solution

- preocc.: class-consciousness and class conflict

- campaigned for a variety of causes in his writing: prison reform, women’s rights, animal welfare, censorship, etc. x but: of a limited appeal outside the era of their orig., also less convincing when dealing with lower classes

=> a Nobel Prize winner (1932)

F i c t i o n :

- began writing under a pseudonym, only after his father’s death under his real name

The Island Pharisees (1904): his 1st work publ. under his own name, consid. his 1st important work

The Forsyte Saga (1906 – 22):

= a trilogy: The Man of Property (1906), In Chancery (1920), and To Let (1921)

- did not immediately continue after the publ. of the 1st novel x but: resumed it after a 15 y.-break

- a vast account of the fortunes of the 3 generations of the wealthy upper middle class Victorian family:

(1) Soames marries the beautiful and rebellious Irene, rapes her, and she leaves him

(2) Irene and Soames divorce, she marries Soames’s cousin Jolyon and bears the son Jon; Soames has the daughter Fleur with his 2nd wife

(3) Fleur and Jon fall in love witch each other x but: Jon refuses to marry her

- his recurring theme = a woman in an unhappy marriage: the character of Irene modelled on his wife’s previous marriage, though not so miserable as Irene’s

- generally sympathetic to his characters x but: highlights their snobbish attitudes and suffocating moral codes

- orig. satirical and harshly critical of the upper middle classes x then nearly admiring, came more and more to identify himself with the world of his novels with his growing age: evident in his changing attitude to Soames Forsyte = ‘the man of property’ of the 1st vol.

> inspired Romain Rolland (1866 – 1944 [= Fr. writer, received the Nobel Prize for Lit. [1915]) to coin the term ‘roman-fleuve’ = a series of novels which can be read separately x but: form a coherent narrative

> won him the Nobel Prize; filmed several times

A Modern Comedy (1924 – 28) and End of the Chapter (1931 – 33): both trilogies, loose sequels of The Forsyte Saga

The Patrician

D r a m a :

- in his time appreciated mainly as a playwright

- stark, one-word titles expressive of their once urgent social themes

- propagandist: the bourgeois theatre should confront bourgeois audiences with the need to examine their social consciences

- sympathetic to the victims of an uncaring society x but: sentimental and politically impartial => now awkward

The Silver Box (1906):

- on the double standards of justice applied to the upper x lower classes

- the mutual alienation of a rich x a poor family complicated by the theft of the box of the title

Strife (1909):

- on the confrontation of capital x labour in a mining strike

Justice (1910):

- portrays human suffering

=> moved Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965 [= Br. politician, MP during WW II, and writer, received the Nobel Prize for Lit. (1953)] then Home Secretary, to abolish solitary confinement in prisons

The Skin Game (1920):

- on the enmity of the two families

> filmed by Alfred Hitchcock (1899 – 1980 [= Br. film director and producer])

Loyalties (1922):

- on anti-Semitism

Escape (1926):

- the protagonist = a law-abiding, man meets a prostitute, accidentally kills a police in defending her; escapes from prison, and meets different people before giving himself up

> filmed

Also wrote: short stories, poetry, essays, letters, and many sketches and miscellanies


H ( e r b e r t )  G ( e o r g e )  W e l l s  ( 1 8 6 6 – 1 9 4 6 )

- evident political edge

- contrasts the advantages of a socialistically and scientifically planned future x the anti-humanist aspects of scientific progress

S c i e n c e - f i c t i o n :

The Time Machine (1895)

The Island of Dr Moreau (1896):

- an alarmist prophecy in a fable of genetic engineering

- M. = a post-Darwinian Frankenstein and a tyrannical exile on a Pacific island tortures and metamorphoses animals in his ‘House of Pain’

- concl.: M. destroyed

The War of the Worlds (1898)

The Shape of Things to Come (1936): a scary prognostication of apocalyptic war

S o c i a l  F i c t i o n :

Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul (1905):

- criticises the capital

- employs sympathetic socialist characters x but: also a vision of the nation and the society ruled by Stupidity which no ideals can pierce

Tono Bungay (1909):

- contrasts the defunct world of the country house x the narrow perspective of the draper’s shop x the world of market capitalism and invention

- a small-town apothecary uncle makes a fortune out of a spurious wonder-tonic x his nephew re-establ. the lost family fortune by building battleships

- employs a questioning socialism: not persuaded by the E socialism, remains individualistic x George Bernard Shaw, his sometime friend and Fabian socialist colleague

Ann Veronica (1909):

- on marriage and women’s rights

- advocates the ‘free and fearless’ participation of women ‘in the collective purpose of mankind’

The History of Mr Polly (1910):

- avoids the muddling nature of E society by a fantasy escape into a rural idyll

The New Machiavelli (1911):

- portrays the parliamentary life in the early y. of 20th c. from the POV of a pragmatic Member of Parliament

> his last major novel before he retreated into writing pop. histories / digests of science


G ( i l b e r t )  K ( e i t h )  C h e s t e r t o n  ( 1 8 7 4 – 1 9 3 6 )

L i f e :

- a keen debater: engaged in friendly public debates broadcast as radio lectures with G. B. Shaw, H. G. Wells, Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970 [= Br. philos., logician, and mathematician, received the Nobel Prize for Lit. (1950)]), & oth.

- a convinced Christian: received in the Rom. Cath. church (1922) > Christian themes and symbolism in much of his writing

- an advocate of ‘distributism’ = private property should be divided into smallest possible freeholds and then distributed throughout society

- a critic of both socialism / capitalism

W o r k :

- a novelist, poet, playwright, lit. and social critic, nwsp columnist, historian, Cath. Christian theologian, debater, and mystery writer

- also an ed. of his own paper G. K.’s Weekly (1925 – 36) and a contributor to Encyclopaedia Britannica (since 1768 [= the most important general encyclopaedia in the E language])

- one of the most prolific writers of all time: author of fiction / non-fiction, poetry, short stories, essays, and a stage play

- a down-to-E-earth writer with social prejudices based on a nostalgic vision of a lost, happy, Cath. En.: evident in his jolly later verse and often presumptuous essays

- of mid-Victorian En. lit. tastes [see his study of C. Dickens]

F i c t i o n :

= fantasies of narrative playfulness lacking from the often glum political fiction of the period

- Father Brown = his best known character, the priest-detective of his short-story series

The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904):

= his 1st novel, a political fantasy set in the future

< shaped by his anti-centralist, anti-authoritarian, and anti-theoretical prejudices

- an utopian romance of an independent London ruled from an undistinguished inner suburb

The Man Who was Thursday: A Nightmare (1908):

= his best known novel, a paradoxical fable set in an anarchic present

< a fin-de-siècle decadence > a story of London artists and London anarchists made up of layers of deception and artifice

- the protagonist = a poet turned an employee of Scotland Yard, reveals a vast conspiracy against civilisation

- concl.: the Christian God coalesces with rampant human individualism

< the title = the members of that secret anarchist gang named for the days of the week

> draws on tradition x but: moves twd the fragmentation of Modernists

N o n - f i c t i o n :

- displays wit, a sense of humour, and paradox

- the style contrasts with the serious comments on the world, government, politics, economics, philos., theology, etc. <=> C. Dickens, O. Wilde, G. B. Shaw, & oth.

- the ‘prince of paradox’ = author of whimsical prose filled with startling formulations (‘Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it.’)

Robert Browning (1903), Charles Dickens (1906), and R. L. Stevenson (1907): lit. biographies

St Francis of Assisi and St Thomas Aquinas: relig. biographies

P o e t r y :

- little known x but: well reflecting his beliefs and opinions

“Lepanto”: perhaps his best poem

“The Rolling English Road”: his most familiar poem

“The Secret People”: his most quoted poem: ‘we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet’


Abrams, Meyer Howard, ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.

Barnard, Robert. Stručné dějiny anglické literatury. Praha: Brána, 1997.

Sanders, Andrew. The Short Oxford History of English Literature. New York: Clarendon Press, 1994.

Other Sources

Jelínková, Ema. Semináře: Britská literatura 1. ZS 2004/05.


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