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 influences:
- The First World War
- Russian Revolution
- Freuds psychoanalysis
- Bergsons philosophy of subjective idealism
- Einsteins theory of relativity
- Existentialists thought
- Economic crises 1919-1921 & consequent upheaval of social movement
- Marxist ideology
- 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 behave.
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.
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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 catastrophe.
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 passive.
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