Studium anglistiky na KAA UPOL

(22) Colonial Experience in the Works of the Twentieth Century British Authors.

(J. Conrad, , R. Kipling, E. M. Forster, D. Lessing, G. Orwell, and G. Greene).


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..."]


J o s e p h  C o n r a d

[see C. under ‘13 Neo-Romanticism’]


R u d y a r d  K i p l i n g

[see K. under ’13 Neo-Romanticism’]


E ( d w a r d )  M ( o r g a n )  F o r s t e r

[see F. under ’18 The Birth of Modernism’]


D o r i s  L e s s i n g  ( b . 1 9 1 9 )

E a r l y  P e r i o d :

- conc.: the growth of political awareness amongst native blacks and white settlers in colonial East Af.

Children of Violence (1952 – 69):

= a 5-vol. novel sequence

- conc.: the developing political commitment and the later disillusion of the F protagonist Martha Quest

- M. carefully placed as: ‘adolescent, and therefore bound to be unhappy; Br., and therefore uneasy and defensive; in the fourth decade of the twentieth century, and therefore inescapably beset with problems of race and class; F, and obliged to repudiate the shackled women of the past’

- M. learns her radicalism in colonial Af. x but: also unlearns the Stalinist assumption about world rev.

> The Four-Gated City (1969):

= the last and the most experimental vol. in the sequence

- opening: amid the fragmented political aspirations of Br. anti-nuclear campaigners

- concl.: in the y. 1995 and 2000 after a devastating atomic war

=> M. discovers a hope for the future on a remote Scott. island settled by a group of mutant children with its mental powers enhanced and its social vision reintegrated by the effects of radiation

M a t u r e  P e r i o d :

- conc.: the rejection of conventional realism in favour of what she called ‘inner space fiction’

The Golden Notebook (1962):

- relates the concept of mental fragmentation to the disintegration of fictional form

- attempts to come to terms with an intelligent woman’s sense of private and public diffusion

- shapes the narrative around a series of notebooks, the Black, Red, Yellow, and Blue, kept by a woman writer Anna Wulf to analyse different aspects of her life and order her life accord. to neat categories, both private and public

- A.’s evolving perceptions of herself produce an inevitable and welcome formlessness:

(a) finds herself incapable of writing the only kind of novel which interests her = ‘a book powered with an intellectual or moral passion strong enough to create order, to create a new way of looking at life’

(b) finds the private and public diffusion symptomatic not of social, mental, or ideological disease x but: of personal liberation

=> concl.:

(a) gives up the struggle against the ‘banal commonplace’ that ‘women’s emotions are all still fitted for a kind of society that no longer exists’

(b) finds her bid for freedom fulfilled in the new, if still insecure, value of a woman’s creativity


G e o r g e  O r w e l l  ( 1 9 0 3 – 5 0 )

L i f e :

- b. Eric Blair, in Ind.

- sent to En. for education, won a scholarship to the foremost private boarding school

> 1st became aware of the difference btw his own background x the wealthy background of his schoolmates

- joined the Imperial Police in Burma

> 1st gained a sense of guilt about Br. colonialism and a feeling he must make some kind of personal expiation for it:

(a) accepted a pseudonym as a way of escaping from the class position in which his birth and education had placed him

(b) underwent an extremely difficult experience as a teacher in Pairs and a tramp in En. x did not have to suffer the dire poverty, had influential friends to help him x but: did so because ‘part of my guilt would drop from me’

- retained his characteristic independence of mind on political and social questions: scorned ideologies, never joined a political party x but: regarded himself a man of the uncommitted and independent left

- disillusioned with the Soviet Communism: Stalin betrayed the human ideal for him

- saw a social change necessary and desirable for the capitalist countries of the west x but: the ‘socialism’ in Rus. = a perversion of socialism and a wicked tyranny

W o r k :

- due his independence consid. politically misfit x but: a brilliantly orig. writer

F i c t i o n :

- began with fictional analyses of the narrowness and idiocies of the Br. at home and abroad

- saw the Br. as smug imperialists and even smugger domestic tyrants

Down and Out in Paris and London (1933):

< his own experience of a dire life in ill-paid jobs and common lodging-houses

x but: manages to find delight in the comfortable and familiar En. of “bathrooms, armchairs, mint sauce, new potatoes properly cooked, brown bread, marmalade, [and] beer made with hops”

Burmese Days (1934):

< his own experience of Burma

= a fiercely anti-colonialist novel

A Clergyman’s Daughter (1935)

Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936)

The Road to Wigan Pier (1937):

< his own experience of the unemployed in the north of En.

- set in a singularly uncomfortable and unfamiliar En.

- explores the untidy ugliness of industrialism, the urban life scarred by unemployment and poverty, and the contrasts btw the rich x the poor

Homage to Catalonia (1938):

< his own experience of the Sp. Civil War on the Republican side

- strongly criticises the Communist part in the Civil War

> roused a great indignation on the left: leftists believed they should support the Soviet Union and the Communist Party in the struggle against international fascism

Animal Farm (1945):

= an animal fable

- satirises the manifest failure of Communist ideals in Rus. against the background of a fictional speculation of how a perversion of socialism could develop

-sentimentalises the working class strength and good nature (the carthorse Boxer) x but: makes a fine choice of pigs as the undoers of the animals’ rev.

- pigs = at times look suspiciously human, traditionally associated with greed and laziness, and proverbially supposed to be incapable of flight

=> their rev. remains earthbound, their aspirations too much resemble those of their enemies

- incl. the corruptions and distortions of language serving Napoleon to his dictatorial ends [see also his Nineteen Eighty-Four]

> banned in the USSR and its satellites until after the rev. of the late 1980s

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949):

= a savagely powerful dystopia

- set in a totalitarian En. in which the government uses the language of socialism to cover the tyranny systematically destroying the human spirit

- language = one of the principal instruments of oppression, controlled by the Ministry of Truth, and conc. with the transmission of untruth into ‘Newspeak’

- the slogans of the party on the facade of the Ministry = ‘War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.’

- makes purges and vaporisations ‘a necessary part of the mechanics of government’ to create the world with no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement

- blends:

(a) the Stalinist Rus.

(b) the bomb-scarred post-war Br.

(c) Franz Kafka’s (1883 – 1924) dark fantasies of incomprehension and impersonal oppression

(d) Aldous Huxley’s (1894 – 1963) dystopian vision of an ordered scientific future

< C. Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend > an individualist society obsessed by the power of money and typified by the phrase ‘scrunch or be scrunched’ (was among the 1st modern critics to take D.’s fiction seriously)

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

- an outstanding investigative social journalist, regularly publ. in left-wing periodicals

- an acute observer, generaliser, and an open-eyed crosser of class boundaries

“Shooting an Elephant” (1936):

= an anti-colonialist essay

“Looking Back on the Spanish War” (1943):

< his own experience of personal discomfort and political disillusionment in Sp.

- criticises both intellectual pacifists x those who dismiss as sentimental his contention that ‘a man holding up his trousers isn’t a ‘Fascist’, he is visibly a fellow-creature, similar to yourself, and you don’t feel like shooting at him’

- provokes those insisting on a division of history into right causes defended by heroes x wrong cause supported by villains

- concl.: his escape not from victorious Fascists x but: from persecution by one of the warring fractions of the split Sp. Left

“Politics and the English Language” (1946):

= one of his most influential essays

- explores the decay of language and the ways to its improvement

- dismisses political language as ‘designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable’

- argues for the plain E as ‘an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought’

“Why I Write” (1947):

- claims every line he had written since 1936 had been ‘directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism, and for democratic socialism’


G r a h a m  G r e e n e  ( 1 9 0 4 – 9 1 )

L i f e :

- experienced a singularly unhappy and suicidal adolescence

- entered the Rom. Church (1926)

W o r k :

- wrote 26 novels, 9 vol. of short stories, and many miscellaneous articles

- blamed for seemingly ‘un-English’ prejudices in his time: a semi-devout x but: believing Rom.-Cath., a devout anti-imperialist, and a critic of both Br. and new Am. imperialism

- recurring themes:

(a) a colonially wounded world beyond Eur.

(b) a gloomy sense of sin and moral unworthiness

(c) a commitment to outsiders and rebels

1 9 2 0 s – 3 0 s  P e r i o d :

The Man Within (1929):

- the title: from Sir Thomas Browne’s (1605 – 83): ‘There is another man within me that is angry with me.’

- introd. the recurrent 2-sidedness of his protagonists, complicated by dangerous self-destructiveness

Brighton Rock (1938):

- the protagonist = Pinkie, a Cath. and a gangster

- fascinated by the conc. of ‘Hell, Flames, and damnation’ x but: seems to be intent on courting his own eternal destruction in the face of ‘the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God’

1 9 4 0 s – E a r l y  1 9 5 0 s  P e r i o d :

= his finest work

< the WW II > added sharpness to his fictional perspectives and preocc.

- the angry and self-destructive ‘other man’ moved his fiction in a more distinctively agnostic direction

- the Cath. Christianity:

(a) for him: a single ray of heavenly hope over the dark abysses of human depravity, despair, decay, and pain

(b) for his characters: God and his Church as distant as evidently ‘appallingly strange’

- characteristic settings: troubled and disorienting topographies

- characteristic protagonists: Cath., all of them ruins, or at best ruinous

The Power and the Glory (1940):

- set in the violently restless Mexico

- the protagonist = a whisky-priest in the anti-clerical Mexico

- conc. as much with doubt and failure as with faith

> enriched the E language with the phrase ‘whisky-priest’

The Ministry of Fear (1943):

- set in the phantasmagoria world of the twilit, blitzed London

- incl. the tormented protagonist’s frenetic hallucinations when hiding underground during an air-raid

The Heart of the Matter (1948):

- set in a flyblown, rat-infested, and war-blighted West Af. colony

- the protagonist = Scobie, a suicide

- accuses God of ‘forcing decisions on people’ and blames the Church for having all the answers

The Third Man (1951):

- set in the precarious, ‘smashed, dreary’, and partly subterranean Vienna

- the Cath. Vienna, its citizens, its displaced refugees, and its military occupiers = all wrecked, divided, and guilt-ridden

> coexists with its more brilliant variant of a film-script written by G. himself

The End of the Affair (1951):

- set in the blitzed London

“The Destructors”

L a t e 1 9 5 0 s +  P e r i o d :

= more ostensibly political novels

x but: none of them of quite the same edgy power as his former writing

The Quiet American (1955):

- set in Vietnam

Our Man in Havana (1958):

- set in Cuba

The Comedians (1967):

> provoked an international scandal: the Haitian Government brought a case against it for is having damaged the Rep.’s tourist trade

A Sort of Life (1977):

= an autobiog. memoir

- claims with a characteristic note of pessimism: ‘Success is only a delayed failure.’

x but: achieved both commercial and critical success and became by far the best known and most respected Br. novelist of his generation


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

Práger, Libor. Semináře: Britská literatura 2. ZS 2004/05.


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