The Twentieth Century British Fiction.
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 with writers, artists, and surrogates for artists: V. Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway with her party = one of the ‘unpublished works of women’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
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.
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.
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.