The Great War and Modern Literature

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World War I marks the beginning of the modern era but, like the death of Queen Victoria, the war is a marker more useful in historical than literary terms. For example, the literary movement now commonly referred to as «Modernism» was well underway by the last decade of the nineteenth century. In the minds of those British writers who survived the conflict, the World War was more than a military and political event that changed the map of Europe. Beginning with the war poetry of Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, and others, modern English literature took on pervasive tones of irony and intensity, and expressed moods of sobriety and pathos that writers believed were intrinsic to the human condition in the modern world. It would be incorrect to think of these qualities as uniquely modern, of course, but their increasing importance in literature suggests the movement away from the relatively self-confident view of the world that was characteristic of the nineteenth century.

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The Great War and Modern Literature

World War I marks the beginning of the modern era but, like the death of Queen Victoria, the war is a marker more useful in historical than literary terms. For example, the literary movement now commonly referred to as «Modernism» was well underway by the last decade of the nineteenth century. In the minds of those British writers who survived the conflict, the World War was more than a military and political event that changed the map of Europe. Beginning with the war poetry of Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, and others, modern English literature took on pervasive tones of irony and intensity, and expressed moods of sobriety and pathos that writers believed were intrinsic to the human condition in the modern world. It would be incorrect to think of these qualities as uniquely modern, of course, but their increasing importance in literature suggests the movement away from the relatively self-confident view of the world that was characteristic of the nineteenth century.

For the «war poets»  themselves, and for those who read their poetry, the harrowing experiences in the trenches of Europe marked the end of idealism and the stubborn faith in altruistic action which inspired much of the best work of the nineteenth century. For many writers it was simply the treacherous, crippling war, and the promises it did not fulfill, which defined «modern». «There is simply no poetry in war», wrote Wilfred Owen shortly before he himself was killed in the war. «The poetry is in the pity». In the end there were victors and vanquished, of course, but principally victims; some nations won, but individuals always lost. More than one reader has observed that Katherine Mansfield's stories of loneliness, deprivation, and injustice reflect the fact of her brother's death in the war as much as her awareness of the long illness which was to end her own life in 1923. Modern modes of expression might still be sensitive, and even tender, as Mansfield's own prose style shows, but in any case literature was obliged to reflect the harsher qualities of modern life.

It was undoubtedly perceptions akin to those of Mansfield and Owen which brought Virginia Woolf, granddaughter of the great Victorian novelist Thackeray, to argue that the primary responsibility of fiction was «to express character — not to preach doctrines, sing songs, or celebrate the glories of the British Empire».

Eliot, Joyce, Lawrence, and Woolf

One of those whose poetry filled with unpoetic and unheroic characters and situations was T. S. Eliot, an American expatriate who became a British subject. His characters wand unattached and uncommitted, preoccupied with both the trivial and the overwhelming. They drift, usually without purpose or fulfillment, in a dry and cluttered world devoid of spiritual meaning. They are selfconsciously modern, both obsessed with time and cut off from a vital relationship with the past. In Eliot's own imagination, however, conscious detachment from the nineteenth century was accompanied by a conscientious search for inspiration in literary and philosophical tradition, and in artistic concepts nurtured on the Continent. For Eliot, tradition included the literary tradition of English metaphysical poetry and, eventually, the religious tradition of the Anglican church, to which he became a convert.

Another expatriate, and another key writer of the modern period, was James Joyce, who exiled himself from Ireland and the city he thought of as «dear, dirty Dublin» in order to escape the restrictions of nationality, language, and religion. In Paris, Trieste, Rome, and Zurich, Joyce lived and wrote — most often about the people and places he had left behind — and became a principal figure in the development of the twentieth-century novel. Joyce began his work with the short stories collected in «Dubliners» (1914). The stories describe the cramped lives of inhabitants of Ireland's largest city. «A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man» (1916), a sensitive and largely autobiographical novel, appeared two years later, and eventually Joyce completed the massive and difficult «Finnegans Wake» (1939), a blend of dream and reality, invention and translation, complex patterns and multiple puns. But perhaps his most widely acclaimed novel is «Ulysses» (1922), which employs a variety of prose styles and a story line which parallels that of Homer's «Odyssey» to recount the events of a single day in the life of a Dublin man, Leopold Bloom. «Ulysses» is perhaps the most influential novel of our time. D. H. Lawrence's response to the repressiveness of industrialized society was to affirm the instincts and impulses of man. He believed the body was «wiser» than the intellect, and he trusted in «brute blood knowledge», a knowledge available to men and women at all social levels and essential to human life.

In Mexico, New Mexico, and Australia, among other places, he sought to escape modern industrial society and to explore the «primitive» in the individual and in culture. He pursued his vision of experience in his poetry and stories. The censors believed that Lawrence was preoccupied with sex and obsessed with destructive relationships. But in novels such as «Sons and Lovers», «The Rainbow», and «Women in Love», Lawrence's focus was on how well or ill his characters understood their deepest human drives, especially as those drives were affected by personal demands and society's expectations. In this sense, Lawrence shared with Joyce and other modern writers a concern with the less conscious processes of the human mind, developing techniques to reveal the «inner life» of the individual.

Virginia Woolf was a perceptive literary theorist, critic, and reviewer. Her disapproval of several popular novelists of her day was based on her belief that they were too concerned with fiction as a social statement and not enough concerned with how fiction might reflect human character — especially the character of the mind. Woolf felt that writers could better speak to readers by recording the striking detail and conveying the telling moment in an individual's life rather than by informing readers of the individual's manners, wealth, or social status. And, like Conrad, Joyce, and Lawrence, she placed her stories as much in what the novelist Henry James called «the chamber of consciousness» as in the world of «things». She believed it was quality of mind which determined human uniqueness and vitality, rather than appearance, habitat, or social standing. It should come as no surprise, then, that one of Woolf's chief commitments — in novels such as «Mrs. Dalloway» and «To the Lighthouse» and stories such as «The Legacy» — was to the inner lives of women. Woolf knew that, «modern» as her age was, its economic, political, social, and intellectual habits created an environment in which the inner life was often the only true life that many women had. It was, then, by being a psychological novelist that Virginia Woolf was able to affirm the uniqueness and integrity of the individual, illuminate the lives of women, and fulfill the promise of her own artistic potential.

The Thirties

In 1939 the coming of mass warfare for the second time in the century brought to an end all illusions that the conflicts which had torn Spain and Germany during the thirties were simply «internal» problems. One of the first British writers to recognize that the twentieth century was — and would continue to be — an age of ideological struggle was George Orwell. Orwell's initial insight came during a period of service with the Imperial Police in Burma, when he witnessed some of the destructive (and certainly self-destructive) effects of British imperialism in the East. His insights resulted in dissatisfaction with the status quo, a dissatisfaction which was fueled by his explorations of the world of poverty which he recorded in his novels and essays of the thirties. His dissatisfaction later became a commitment to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War. In 1946 «Animal Farm» appeared, and three years later, «Nineteen Eighty-Four». In these novels, Orwell articulated the case for democratic socialism and offered devastating critiques of totalitarian rule. In his essays Orwell argues with simplicity, directness, and a rare intellectual honesty. He established a standard for modern English prose.

Of course Orwell was not alone in recognizing the ideological implications of modern experience or in establishing literary standards. W. H. Auden, for example, was one of a number of poets whose careers began during the thirties, a period of energetic political and intellectual debate. The economic and political issues debated included the great Depression of 1929, and capitalism and its alternatives (such as fascism, communism, and democratic socialism). The «failure» of earlier intellectual movements led writers to adopt and combine in various ways the insights of psychology, political theory, and mythology, and the innovative techniques of individual predecessors. Auden, for example, wrote a number of «social action» poems, and he also showed (though not always in the same poems) how much he had learned from «teachers» such as Eliot, Hopkins, and Yeats. Stephen Spender, a close friend of Auden's, wrote social commentary in both poetry and prose, and like Orwell has been considered one of the most sensitive and eloquent voices of social conscience in his generation. In the end, however, it is more useful to consider Auden, Spender, and their close contemporaries, С. Day Lewis and Louis Mac-Neice, less in relation to the thirties than in relation to the forties and fifties, when their mature work emerged. And it is more useful to think of these men in terms of art rattier than ideas, for two reasons. First, they cultivated an artistic understanding of irony, matter-of-factness, and overall economy of statement. Second, they responded to what Auden called «The Age of Anxiety» as artists of both individual and ecumenical imagination; they shared ideas, experimented with new techniques, and grew with the times.

Individual talent and drive simply resist,*and usually outlive, any effort to place them within a «school» — as the careers of Edith Sitwell, Robert Graves, Stevie Smith, and Dylan Thomas Drove. Sitwell and Thomas are particularly memorable cases in point. Sitwell began writing under the influence of T. S. Eliot and Symbolism, and created poetic blends of sight and sound, such as «The King of China's Daughter», which could be thought of as studies in perception. She continued to read and experiment, combined poetic and musical compositions, welcomed the new work of Dylan Thomas, and kept her imposing, controversial, and sometimes eccentric gifts—both personal and poetic—before the public through the sheer force of personality.

Dylan Thomas emerged from «dark» and provincial Welsh origins to invest the verse forms of the past with emotion and rhetorical energy, and to create poems «written for the love of Man and in praise of God». Thomas made his poetry reflect the paradoxes of experience, its overlaps and contradictions. He allowed his talent to express itself not only through poems, but also through stories, plays, and film scripts, the best known of which include «A Child's Christmas in Wales» and «Under Milk Wood».

Some Contemporary Poets

Philip Larkin and Thom Gunn, among others, are thought of as original witnesses to modern melancholy and innovators of the conversational manner in poetry, but their work actually seems the product of a creative understanding of such varied predecessors as Hardy, Yeats, Owen, Eliot, and others. In considering English poetry since World War II it is more useful to focus on the range of modem poetry, rather than its coherence or consistency, as the contrast between the work of Elizabeth Jennings and Ted Hughes suggests. Jennings developed as a poet of the personal, internalized affections; her poetry is often concerned with the modest, overlooked, and set-aside. Hughes, on the other hand, is a poet of violent fact, of the wild, cruel, and even grotesque; his subjects are often creatures of the animal world. Between Jennings's poetry of perceived nuances and Hughes's poetry of fierce symbol lies the basic scope of poetry in our time.

English literature in the twentieth century reflects a world far different from that which Queen Victoria knew, far different from that which earlier centuries produced. It is a world not of the British Empire but of the Commonwealth, a world in which Canada, Australia, South Africa, and India, among others, are today independent nations. A world of international community has altered the idea of what being «English» is. Writers as different in origin and art as Graham Greene and Doris Lessing, for example, are among those now working in the long tradition which holds that the quality of life is enhanced by an ability to express ideas about it.

The modern world, in all its complexity, is described with compassion and bitterness, humor and irony, cynicism and hope in English literature of the twentieth century.







































. Hector Hugh Munro Hector Hugh Munro (1870—1916), was a British writer who wrote under the pen name Saki. Munro is best known for his unsettling and cleverly constructed short stories, often with trick endings.

Many of the stories satirize British society of the early 1900's. Munro also wrote two novels. «The Unbearable Bassington» (1912) is an entertaining satire on British society. In «When William Came» (1913), Munro predicted the coming of World War I and English reactions to it. «The Complete Works of Saki» was published in 1976. Munro was born in Akyab (now Sittwe), Burma. He was taken to England when he was 2 years old. Munro became a well-known London journalist. He died in battle in France during World War I.

VIRGINIA WOOLF Virginia Woolf (1882—1941), was a major British novelist, critic, and essayist. She was one of the leading figures in the literary movement called modernism. Other modernists included James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and T. S. Eliot. Woolf used a literary technique called stream of consciousness to reveal the inner lives of her characters and at the same time to criticize the social system of the day.

Woolf's most famous novel, «To the Lighthouse» (1927), examines the life of an upper-middle class British family. It shows the fragility of human relationships and the collapse of social values. Some readers believe the portrait of Mr. Ramsay in this novel resembles Woolf's father, the critic Leslie Stephen.

Woolf's other fiction includes the novels «Jacob's Room» (1922), and «Mrs. Dalloway» (1925), in which she studies the world of characters tragically affected by World War I. «Orlando» (1928), and «Flush» (1933), are fanciful biographies. In «The Waves» (1931), interior monologues reveal the personalities of the six central characters. Unlike other modernists, whose politics were rightwing and often profascist, Woolf was a feminist, socialist, and pacifist. She expressed her socialist-feminist theories in the essays «A Room of One's Own» (1929), and «Three Guineas» (1938). Her last novels, «The Years» (1939), and «Between the Acts» (1941), are as experimental as her earlier work.

Virginia Stephen was born in London. In 1912, she married editor and writer Leonard Woolf. She belonged to the Bloomsbury Group, an informal group of intellectuals. With her husband, Woolf founded the Hogarth Press, which published works of noted modern writers. Her reputation has soared with the publication of several volumes of letters and diaries and her critical essays.


D. H. Lawrence

D. H. Lawrence (1885—1930), was an English writer known chiefly for his novels. His fiction shows deep concern for the relationships between men and women and the complications of these relationships. Many of his works deal with people torn by the need for both love and independence.

David Herbert Lawrence was born in Eastwood, a coal-mining town in Nottinghamshire. His first major novel. «Sons and Lovers» (1913), describes his early life there. This novel, like most of Lawrence's other works, criticizes social attitudes that he believed were filled with hypocrisy and self-deception. It urges men and women to follow their instincts and is highly critical of industrial society. Lawrence thought such a society separates people from their feelings.

. Lawrence used experimental techniques and unconventional themes that made him one of the most controversial authors of his time. For example, his frank discussion of sexual passion shocked many readers, and some of his novels were considered obscene. Lawrence's most famous novel, «Lady Chatterley's Lover» (1928), was banned from publication in the United States until 1944, when a shortened version appeared. The complete novel was not published in the United States until 1959.

Lawrence's other novels include «The Rainbow» (1915), «Women in Love» (1920), and «The Plumed Serpent» (1926). A collection of his essays called «Studies in Classic American Literature» (1923), ranks as a classic of literary criticism. Lawrence wrote.










James Joyce James Joyce (1882—1941), an Irish novelist, revolutionized the treatment of plot and characterization in fiction. Many critics consider William Shakespeare his only rival as a master of the English language.

Joyce was born in Dublin and wrote all his works about that city, though he lived outside Ireland from 1904 on. He lived and wrote in Paris, Rome, Trieste, and Zurich and returned to Ireland only twice, briefly in 1909 and 1912. Joyce suffered a painful eye disease for most of his adult life and became almost blind despite many operations.

Joyce's first major work was «Dubliners» (1914), a collection Of stories that reflects his concern with life among the Irish lower middle class. «A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man» (1916), is a largely autobiographical novel. Joyce appears as the character Stephen Dedalus. Like Joyce, Stephen finds himself in conflict with his family, the Roman Catholic Church, and the nationalistic zeal of the Irish people. And like Joyce, Dedalus leaves Ireland and becomes a writer. In tracing Stephen's growth to young manhood, Joyce used a highly imaginative style. This style led to his later use of the interior monologue, or stream of consciousness technique. This technique gives the reader the illusion of following the character's thoughts.

Joyce lived in poverty and obscurity until 1922, when the publication of «Ulysses» made him one of the most celebrated novelists of the 1900's. «Ulysses» takes its title from parallels Joyce established between the adventures of his main character, Leopold Bloom, and those of Ulysses. Ulysses (Odysseus in Greek) was the hero of the «Odyssey», a Greek epic poem. Bloom suffers ridicule because he is Jewish and has peculiar sexual tastes and because his wife. Molly, is unfaithful. He survives the pain and sorrow of his life by a remarkable capacity to absorb suffering — and even to enjoy it.

«Finnegans Wake» (1939), is probably Joyce's greatest work, though it lacks the human quality of «Ulysses». In this novel, Joyce portrayed one family and at the same time all families, everywhere, at all times in history. The hero's initials, HCE, stand for Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, a Dublin innkeeper. But they also stand for Here Comes Everybody. In the story, Dublin symbolizes all cities. Joyce crammed the book with topical and historical names, events, myths, songs, jokes, and gossip. His goal was to make all people, places, things, and times repeat and resemble each other.

Joyce's technique can be studied from the first sentence of «Finnegans Wake»: «riverran, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs». This sentence also ends the book. Joyce thus implied that once the events of «Finnegans Wake» are complete, they, like history itself, will begin again.

The above sentence traces the flow of the River Liffey through Dublin, past the Church of Adam and Eve, out into Dublin Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. From there, by evaporation and recirculation, the water returns to the physical starting point of the book, Howth Castle. The reference to Adam and Eve introduces a major theme of the book, the Fall of Man. In Irish-Gaelic, the river is called Anna Liffey, meaning River of Life. The river becomes interchangeable with Joyce's major female character, Anna Livia Plurabelle. She symbolizes the mother of humanity.

Joyce's other works include two collections of poems, «Chamber Music» (1907),and «Pomes Penyeach»(1927);mdaplay,«Exiles»(1918).

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