Modern English Literature
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Modern English Literature
The interest, raised recently towards English language, the development of international relations on different levels has reasoned the desire to learn as much as possible about the country where this language originated as well as about its culture.
The literature is that magic key that opens the door of cognition of many sphere of human knowledge. It helps us to learn some interesting facts about t history, to know more about people's life in other countries. Sometimes, while reading a book, we can analyse actions of its' characters and it helps us to draw some certain conclusion. That’s why I find studying foreign literature is not only interesting, but also very useful.
Literature of the 20th Century
The period between 1917 and 1930 was a time when the crisis of the bourgeois world reached its highest point and revolutions took place in several countries: in Russia, in Germany and in Hungary.
The writers of this period tried to show how a new society might be built up. But many bourgeois writers who were opposed to revolutions saw nothing but chaos and anarchy before them. They explained this crisis as a failure of civilisation.
A symbolic method of writing had already started early in the 20th century. It was in the twenties, that there appeared writers who refused to acknowledge reality as such. They thought reality to be superficial – it was only a world of appearances. The cause of everything that happened,– that is what led to events – was the irrational, the unconscious and the mystical in man. These writers called the inner psychological process "the stream of consciousness" and based a new literary technique upon it.
The most important to use this new literary technique was James Joyce (1882-1941). He influenced many writers on both sides of Atlantic.
James Joyce, a native of Ireland, spent nearly all his life in voluntary exile. He could not live in his own country for it was enslaved by England. This fact may partly explain his pessimistic view on life, which is reflected in his work.
The portrayal of the steam of consciousness as a literary technique is particularly evident in his major novel Ulysses (1922). The task he set before himself was to present a day in ordinary life, as a miniature picture of the whole of human history.
Among the writers of short stories who used the realistic method were Katherine Mansfield and Somerset Maugham. Though the works of these writers differ very much in their artistic approach, their authors had one feature in common. To them the stability of the existing social and political order seemed unquestionable.
The second period in the development of English literature of the 20th century was the decade between 1930 and World War II.
The world economic crisis spread over the whole capitalist world in the beginning of the thirties. The Hunger March of the employed in 1933 was the most memorable event in Britain. The employed marched from Glasgow to London holding meetings in every town they passed.
In Germany Hitler came to power in 1933.
In 1936 the fascist mutiny of general Franco led to the Civil War in Spain. The struggle of the Spain people was supported by the democratic and anti-fascist forces all over the world. An International Brigade was formed, which fought side by side with the Spanish People's Army against the common enemy – fascism.
Many British intellectuals and workers joined the ranks of the International Brigade. Every one of them clearly realised that the struggle against fascism in Spain was at the same time a struggle for the freedom of their own country.
The Second World War broke out in 1939.
A new generation of realist writers, among them Richard Aldington, J.B. Priestley, A.J. Cronin and others appear on the literary scene.
An important event in the literary life of the thirties was the formation of a group of Marxist writers, poets and critics. Their leader was Ralph Fox (1900-1937). He came from a bourgeois family, was educated in Oxford University, but later broke away from his class. His ideas were formed by the Great October Socialist Revolution. In 1925 he joined the Communist Party. Being a journalist, historian and literary critic, Ralph Fox devoted all his activity to spreading Marxism and fighting the enemies of the British working class. When the Civil War in Spain broke out, Ralph Fox was one of the first to join the International Brigade. He was killed in action in January 1937.
Ralph Fox's main work is his book The novel and the people, published posthumously in 1937. The aim of the author was to show the decline of bourgeois art, and the novel in particular, together with the decline of the bourgeois in general. At the same time Ralph Fox sought to point out the way literature should develop in the future.
Ralph Fox considers that the novel reached its highest point in England in the 18th century. This was a time when the bourgeoisie was a progressive class, therefore Fox concludes that the optimistic view of the world expressed in the novels by Fielding is the best manifestation of the epic quality of the novel. Man in the novels of the Enlightenment is treated as a person who acts, who faces up to life.
Contrary to the active hero of the 18th century novel, the hero in the modern novel is an active figure, a passive creature. Fox speaks about 'death of hero'. He means that contemporary literature is not occupied with heroic characters. Psychological subjectivity, typical of Joyce and other authors, has nothing to do with the wide epic scene of social life described by great classics. Socialist Realism must put an end to this crisis of bourgeois literature, Fox says. It should bring forward a new man, a man who knows the laws of history and can become the master of his own life. Fox speaks of Georgi Dimitrov at the Leipzig trial as an example of such a new hero. The future belongs to the heroic element in life.
This feeling of important change and the heroic spirit of the anti-fascist struggle found its outlet in the first place in the development of poetry. The trio of poets, Auden, Spender and Day Lewis, had in many ways inaugurated the new movement which sought to fuse poetry and politics. They stood out as representative figures, and on the whole they held this position till the year 1938. Then began the rapidly extending crisis of the movement. This group, usually known as the Oxford Poets, was very popular in its time. But the movement did not last long. A Marxist critic, Christopher Caudwell, in his book Illusion or Reality explains why the movement lost its popularity. "They often glorify the revolution as a kind of giant explosion which will blow up everything they feel to be hampering them. But they have no constructive theory – I mean as artists: they may as economists accept the economic categories of Socialism, but as artists they can not see the new forms and contents of an art which will replace bourgeois art."
After World War II there appeared young writers, who are ready to keep up the standard of wholesome optimism, and mature writers, who have passed through a certain creative crisis.
In the fifties there appears a very interesting trend in literature, the followers of which were called "The Angry Young Man". The post-war changes had given a chance to a large number of young from the more democratic layers of society to receive higher education at universities. But on graduating, these students found they had no prospects in life; unemployment had increased after the war.
There appeared works dealing with such characters, angry young men who were angry with everything and everybody, as no one was interested to learn what their ideas on life and society were. Outstanding writers of this trend were John Wain, Kingsley Amis and the dramatist John Osborne.
The sixties saw a new type of literature. The criticism was revealed in the "working-class novel" as it was called. These novels deal with characters coming from the working class. The best known writer of this trend is Alan Sillitoe. Much of post-war English literature is in the form of novels, and up to the present the novel remains the most popular literature genre in Britain. Contemporary English novelists are represented by several different trends.
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