Background for Topics 12-27: The Twentieth Century.
T h e T w e n t i e t h C e n t u r y
H i s t o r i c a l B a c k g r o u n d :
- WW I (1914 – 18)
- Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poetry publ. (1918)
- T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922)
- period of depression and unemployment begins (1930)
- WW II (1939 – 45)
- Ind. and Pakistan become independent (1947)
- death of George VI; accession of Elizabeth II (1952)
- Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (1955)
- collapse of the Soviet Union (1991)
- South Af. becomes democratic (1994)
T h e E n d o f a n E r a :
- the consequent weakening of traditional stabilities marked by:
(a) ‘Art for Art’s Sake’:
- the aesthetes assaulted the assumptions about the nature and function of art held by ordinary middle-class readers
- the breach btw artists x the ‘Philistine’ public widened < foreshadowed by M. Arnold’s war on the Philistines in Culture and Anarchy > resulted in the now commonplace ‘alienation of the artist’ and the tradition of the bohemian life: J. Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
(b) The Education Act (1870):
- elementary education compulsory and universal > a large unsophisticated lit. public
- the audience for lit. split up into ‘highbrows’, ‘middlebrows’, and ‘lowbrows’
- the gap btw pop. art x art esteemed only by the sophisticated widened
(c) Pessimism and Stoicism:
- pessimism: T. Hardy’s novels and poems
- stoicism = the determination to stand for human dignity by enduring bravely, with a stiff upper lip, whatever fate may bring: R. Kipling’s Jungle Book and many of his stories
> Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians, the classic of ironic debunking
> S. Butler’s The Way of All Flesh (1903), the bitterest indictment in E lit. of the Victorian way of life
> G. B. Shaw’s plays
(e) Women Emancipation:
- the Married Women’s Property Act (1882) = the right of married women to handle their own property > oth. acts (1870 – 1908) > a basis for the rights of women in marriage
- admission of women to the uni by the end of Victoria’s reign
- the fight for women’s suffrage > won in 1918 > fully won in 1928
P o l i t i c a l B a c k g r o u n d :
C o n f l i c t s :
(a) the Boer War (1899 – 1902):
- to annex 2 independent rep. in the south of Af. controlled by Dutch settlers = Boers
- a reaction against Br. imperialism > a gradual development of the Br. Empire into the Br. Commonwealth (i.e. an association of self-governing countries)
> reactions in lit.: R. Kipling, E. M. Forster, J. Conrad, & oth.
(b) the Ir. question:
- a rising Ir. nationalism = against the cultural, economic, and political subordination of Ir. to the Br. Crown and government
- Northern Ir.: the IRA (= the Ir. Republican Army) and its political wing Sinn Fein (= Ourselves Alone)
=> the Ir. lit. revival of the late 19th – early 20th c. = to achieve a national life culturally even if the road seemed blocked politically: W. B. Yeats, J. Joyce, & oth.
T h e E d w a r d i a n E n g l a n d ( 1 9 0 1 – 1 0 , E d w a r d V I I ) :
- a vulgar age of conspicuous enjoyment by those who could afford it
- artists kept away from involvement in high society
- the social and economic stabilities of the Victorian age unimpaired x but: a sense of change and liberation on the level of ideas
T h e G e o r g i a n E n g l a n d ( 1 9 1 0 – 1 4 , G e o r g e V ) :
- a temporary equilibrium btw Victorian earnestness x Edwardian flashiness
> but: a restlessness in T. S. Eliot’s 1st experiments in a radically new kind of poetry > and: major shifts in attitudes with the war poets
T h e P o s t - W W I E n g l a n d ( 1 9 2 0 s – 3 0 s ) :
(a) 1920s: the post-war disillusion = a spiritual matter <=> like T. S. Eliot’s Waste Land a spiritual and not a literal wasteland
(b) 1930s: depression and unemployment
- older generation with the political right: W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, and D. H. Lawrence x young intellectuals with the left: W(ystan) H(ugh) Auden and his contemporaries
- the Red Decade = the right-wing army’s rebellion against the left-wing rep. government in Sp. (1936) > the Civil War
> writers more anxious to express their attitudes than to experiment with new kinds of works of art
T h e P o s t - W W I I E n g l a n d ( 1 9 4 0 s + ) :
(a) 1940s – 50s: a sudden end of the Red Decade
- GB won the war x but: lost the empire by the independence of Ind., Pakistan, and the Ir. Rep. (1947)
(b) 1960s: decentralising developments
> renaissance of regional lit. = new writers and artists outside London (building on the native tradition of T. Hardy and W. B. Yeats) > the growth of black Br. writing > the growth of post-colonial writing: V. S. Naipaul & oth.
- the government under increasing pressure from the regions and the wider world: the Labour government of Harold Wilson (1964 – 70) capitulated to the demands of the powerful labour unions > inflation spiralled out of control
(c) 1970s – 80s: the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher (1979 – 81) curbed the power of the unions and of the ‘welfare state’ in favour of the free-market economy
(d) 1990s: the Labour government of Tony Blair (1997 +)
T h e 2 0 th C e n t u r y P o e t r y
C h a r a c t e r i s t i c s :
- poetry rev.: 1911 (the 1st y. of the Georgian poets) – 1922 (the y. of the publ. of The Waste Land)
< the Fr. impressionist, post-impressionist, and cubist painters > a radical re-examination of the nature of reality
< the publ. of the poetry of G. M. Hopkins by Robert Bridges (1918) > experimentation in language and rhythms: the poets of the 1930s, incl. W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender, Cecil Day-Lewis, & oth. infl. by G. M. Hopkins as well as by T. S. Eliot
=> W. B. Yeats’s early spare ironic language of the aesthetes > the mature symbolic and metaphysical poetry => his work itself a history of E poetry btw 1890 – 1939
I m a g i s m :
< infl. by the philos./poet Thomas Ernest Hulme’s insistence on hard, clear, and precise images
> encouraged by the Am. poet Ezra Pound, then living in London
- against romantic fuzziness and emotionalism in poetry, against the using of all words not contrib. ‘to the presentation’ x for a freer metrical movement
- successful with short descriptive lyrics x but: no technique for longer and more complex poems
M e t a p h y s i c a l P o e t r y :
< infl. by the new ed. of the 17th c. metaphysical poetry by J. Donne (1912)
< the Fr. symbolist poetry appreciated now for its imagistic precision and complexity x rather than for its dreamy suggestiveness as in the 1890s
- poetry of a higher degree of intellectual complexity
- use of the highly formal + the colloquial, even the slangy
- use of irony, wit, and puns to achieve the union of thought and passion characteristic of the metaphysical poetry (for T. S. Eliot)
+ T. S. Eliot’s new king of irony achieved by shifting suddenly from the formal to the colloquial
P o e t r y S i n c e t h e W W I :
- 1930s, ‘a neutral tone’ (Donald Davie): W. H. Auden & oth.
- 1940s, the New Apocalypse < infl. by the violence of expression of the Fr. surrealist poets and painters seeking to express the operation of the subconscious mind: incl. Dylan Thomas, David Gascoyne, and the painters/poets Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso
- 1950s, The Movement = for a neutral tone, purity of diction, and fidelity to experience x against the verbal excesses of the modernism: incl. D. Davie, Thom Gunn, and Philip Larkin (the noisiest rejecter of the imported modernism of E. Pound and T. S. Eliot in favour of the native tradition repres. by Hardy)
- The Martian School (< Craig Raine’s poem “A Martian Sends a Postcard Home”) < inspired by the painters seeking to see the world with the freshness of a child or a visitor from Mars
- 1990s, the New Generation Poets = lack any unifying programme
- ‘performance poetry’ = an informal and loosely structured poetry written for the stage
T h e 2 0 th C e n t u r y F i c t i o n
( I ) H i g h M o d e r n i s m ( 1 9 2 0 s )
> a celebration of personal and textual inwardness
- the problems of lit. idea and practice became matters of intense debate as never before
- the confidence in the great old certainties/old Grand Narratives shattered > seeking new alternatives to the old belief systems
- incl. the later Henry James, J. Conrad, J. Joyce, D(avid) H(erbert) Lawrence, and Virginia Woolf
R e a l i t y :
- aim of fiction = to reproduce what appears to be the nature of the real
- V. Woolf’s Modern Fiction (1919) = against the ‘materialism’ of the Edwardian heirs of Victorian confidence, i.e. Arnold Bennett, H(erbert) G(eorge) Wells, and John Galsworthy
- reality existed only as it was perceived > a new impressionistic, flawed, even utterly unreliable narration presented by a not-to-be-relied-on narrator, ‘reflector’ (H. James): J. Conrad’s Marlow of Heart of Darkness and of his oth. fiction x the 19th c. authoritative narrating voice
=> reality and its truth had gone inward: ‘Look within,’ V. Woolf urged the novelist
C o n c e r n :
- rejected materialist externality x but: the worldly subject, politics, and moral questions never completely omitted:
(a) perplexities of the London and Dublin urban life: V. Woolf and J. Joyce
(b) industrialism and provincial life: D. H. Lawrence
(c) social subject and satire: George Orwell and Graham Greene (<=> the condition humaine in C. Dickens; and A. Bennett, H. G. Wells, and J. Galsworthy)
- modern myth making: (+) J. Joyce’s Ulysses with Bloom mythicised as a modern Ulysses and his life’s odyssey paralleling episodes from Homer’s Odyssey; the old ‘narrative method’ replaced by a new ‘mythical method’, finding ‘a continuous parallel btw contemporaneity and antiquity’ (T. S. Eliot) x (−) D. H. Lawrence’s Aaron’s Rod with its fascist sympathies; and his The Plumed Serpent with the revived Aztec blood-cult
- the metafictional novel = conc. with writers, artists, and surrogates for artists: V. Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway with her party = one of the ‘unpublished works of women’
C h a r a c t e r :
< infl. by Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic movement = the reality of persons narrated as the life of mind in all its dimensions, i.e. consciousness, subconsciousness, unconsciousness, id, libido, etc.
- stream of consciousness = the main modernist access to ‘character’: V. Woolf’s preocc. with ‘an ordinary mind on an ordinary day’
- free indirect style = entering the characters’ mind to speak as if on their behalf
- existential loneliness = characters doomed to make their way through life’s labyrinths without much confidence in the knowable solidity of the world: J. Conrad’s Lord Jim, J. Joyce’s Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, and V. Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway > confidence leaks away from the novel itself: V. Woolf’s Jacob remains stubbornly unknowable to his closest ones, above all to his novelist
=> tricky, scattered, fragmentary narratives
P r e s e n t a t i o n :
- old conclusive tendency of plots (<=> detective story) x new open endings: the unending vista of the last paragraph of D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, the circularity of J. Joyce’s Finnegans Wake with the last sentence hooking back to be completed in the novel’s 1st word, & oth.
- linguistic self-consciousness: G. Orwell’s Newspeak in 1984, the culmination of his politically motivated engagement with E, and J. Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, the greatest example of linguisticity rampant as such and a monumental dead end
( I I ) S o c i a l R e a l i s m ( 1 9 3 0 s )
> a reaction against modernism
< the impact of the Sp. Civil War and WW II > a return to registering the social scene
> WW II inspired fiction: G. Greene’s The Ministry of Fear, Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy, & oth.
( I I I ) P o s t m o d e r n i s t P l u r a l i s m ( 1 9 4 0 s + )
> a variety of realisms
- various realisms incl. urban, proletarian, regional (esp. Scott. and Ir.), provincial E, immigrant, postcolonial, feminist, gay, etc.
P o l i t i c s & R e l i g i o n i n t h e P o s t - W W I I N o v e l :
> the new Welfare State atmosphere of the 1950s: John Wain’s Hurry on Down, a graduating scholarship-boy’s protest against the educational poshocracy
> the young demobilised officer class: Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim
- a sense of posteriority (i.e. post-war flatness and post-imperial diminution of power and infl.) + a sense of the Grand Narratives now really losing their force > questioning for new moral bases
> William Golding’s post-Christian moral fables (The Lord of the Flies) and Iris Murdoch’s moral philos. (Under the Net) + their Roman Cath. contemporaries incl. G. Greene, Muriel Spark, and E. Waugh
S t a g n a t i o n o f F i c t i o n :
- the late-c. E novel far too obsessed with the past > the postmodernists seemed condemned to simply parroting old stuff
- obsession with Ger. and the ghosts of the Hitlerzeit: Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, & oth.
- nostalgia for old imperial days: Lawrence Durrell (Alexandrian Quartet) x the earlier accusations for Br. overseas behaviour: J. Conrad, E. M. Forster (A Passage to India), & oth.
- grief over the post-imperial decline of the once-grand centre of London: the later K. Amis, Doris Lessing, I. McEwan, and M. Amis (London Fields, The Information)
N e w T r e n d s i n t h e 1 9 7 0 s – 8 0 s F i c t i o n :
- new energetic end-of-c. writers from margins:
(a) women writers: Beryl Bainbridge, dark historiciser of M as well as F plights; Angela Carter, feminist neo-mythographer, reviser of fairy tales, and rewriter of de Sade; & oth.
(b) regional writers, esp. Ir./Scott.
(c) genre writers (i.e. writers pushing their way into the mainstream from the generic edge, esp. sci-fi): Martin Amis
(d) M-gay writers: Alan Hollinghurst, the pioneer of the openly M-homosexual novel
(e) post-colonial writers: (a) old Commonwealth novelists residing in Br.: V. S. Naipaul, D. Lessing, & oth. + (b) overseas writers of Commonwealth orig.: Kazuo Ishiguru; Salman Rushdie, the Ind.-born importer of South Am. and Ger. (Gunther Grass-type) magic realism, a satirist of Ind./Pakistani/Br. life (The Satanic Verses); & oth.
E n d - o f - C e n t u r y C o n d i t i o n o f F i c t i o n :
- the end-of-c. (and end-of-millennium) Br. fiction desperately attempts to ward off the Br. novel’s contemporary sterility
=> efforts important in their way x but: telling overdone: A. Carter’s sadomasochistic F heorics, M. Amis’s stylistic and formal extremes (the backward narration of his Holocaust novel Time’s Arrow), & oth.
T h e 2 0 th C e n t u r y D r a m a
P r e l u d e t o M o d e r n D r a m a :
> O. Wilde’s witty drawing-room comedies, with verbal play + serious reflections on social, political, even feminist issues beneath
> G. B. Shaw’s discussion plays, with a provocative paradox to challenge the complacency of the audience
I r i s h D r a m a :
- the 1st major theatrical movement of the 20th c. orig. in Dublin
- (I) The Irish Literary Theatre (1899) = founded by W. B. Yeats, A. Gregory, George Moore, and Edward Martyn; inaugurated by W. B. Yeats’s The Countess Cathleeen
>> (II) The Irish National Theatre (1902) = maintained a permanent all-Irish company
>> (III) The Abbey Theatre (1904) = moved to a building of that name
> J(ohn) M(illington) Synge’s use of the speech and imagination of Ir. country people; W. B. Yeats’s use of the themes from old Ir. legends; and Sean O’Casey’s use of the Ir. civil war as a background for plays combining tragic melodrama, humour, and irony
E n g l i s h D r a m a :
> T. S. Eliot’s ritual poetic drama, incl. Murder in the Cathedral + his plays combining contemporary social chatter with profound relig. symbolism, incl. The Cocktail Party > uneven
M o d e r n D r a m a H i g h l i g h t s :
(a) Ibsenism (1890s):
< the Norwegian dramatist H. Ibsen = then perceived as a critic of middle-class society x rather than now as a poetic dramatist experimenting with symbolic modes of expression
> a sentimental social comedy, highly pop. in its time: Noel Coward (1899 – 1973), J(ames) M(atthew) Barrie (1860 – 1937), & oth.
=> typically produced in the London West End Theatre
(b) Radio drama (1940s):
- wartime verse plays written for and commissioned by the BBC radio: Louis MacNeice, & oth.
(c) Absurd Drama (1950s +):
< S. Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (1948 Fr., 1953 E), an apparent lack of plot > focus on language as ‘the main instrument of man’s refusal to accept the world as it is’
=> typically produced in the Royal Court Theatre
(d) The Angry Young Men (1950s – 60s):
> John’s Osborne’s Look Back in Anger (1956), technically traditional x but: the novelty in its non-metropolitan setting and the emotional cruelty and directionless angst of Jimmy Porter, the prototype of the E rebel without a cause
> technically more adventurous: J. Osborne’s The Entertainer (1957), a challenging allegory of the protagonist’s declining fortunes as a music-hall artist and of the changes in E society; and his Luther (1960), a study of the historical rebel with a tangible cause
(e) The Kitchen-sink Drama x Symbolic Drama (1950s – 60s):
- new challenges of cinema and TV > the response of the Br. theatre with changes
- new dramatists esp. from lower middle-class/working-class, educated on state grants, employed in odd jobs (kitchens, etc.), often jobs with the theatre (actors)
> (a) the naturalist kitchen-sink drama (1950s): Arnold Wesker’s trilogy Chicken Soup with Barley (1958), & oth.
> x (b) the drama of language and symbolism: Harold Pinter’s ‘comedies of menace’, incl. The Room (1957), a study of working-class stress and inarticulate anxiety; The Dumb Waiter (1960), a black farce; and The Homecoming (1965), a comic study of middle-class escape from working-class mores
=> typically produced in the Royal Court Theatre
(f) Black Comedy (1960s):
- self-conscious theatricality to show theatre as different from film and TV
> Joe Orton’s parodies of oth. forms of theatre, incl. What the Butler Saw (1969), a farce ending even with a deus ex machina, & oth.
> Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1968), a parodic homage to the verbal texture and theatrical technique of S. Beckett; his The Real Inspector Hound (1968), a pastiche of the murder mystery, blurring the gap btw proscenium and audience; his Travesties (1974), a study of the role of memory and imagination in the creative process, incl. time-slips and memory lapses; and his Arcadia (1955), an account of a Romantic poet and his modern critics occupying the same physical space x but: never reaching intellectual common ground
E n d - o f - C e n t u r y C o n d i t i o n o f D r a m a :
- Lord Chamberlain’s abolition of the state censorship of plays (1968) > emergence of controversial political, social, and sexual issues in plays: Edward Bond’s Lear (1971), typical of new plays combining soaring lyrical language and realistic violence; & oth.
- a new trend of collab. and group development of plays
- women pushing their way onto mainstream stages: Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls (1982), the discourse aspiring to reproduce the ebb and flow of normal speech; & oth.
- the opening of the new National Theatre Complex on London’s South Bank (1976) = a high-water mark > drama recession due to TV (1980s – 90s)
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.
Práger, Libor. Semináře: Britská literatura 2. ZS 2004/05.