English literature: The Early Twentieth Century
The Early Twentieth Century
Irish drama flowered in the early 20th cent., largely under the aegis of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin (see Irish literary renaissance). John Millington Synge, William Butler Yeats, and Sean O'Casey all wrote on Irish themes—mythical in Yeats's poetic drama, political in O'Casey's realistic plays. Also Irish, George Bernard Shaw wrote biting dramas that reflect all aspects of British society. In fact, many of the towering figures of 20th-century English literature were not English; Shaw, Yeats, Joyce, O'Casey, and Beckett were Irish, Dylan Thomas was Welsh, T. S. Eliot was born an American, and Conrad was Polish.
Poetry in the early 20th cent. was typified by the conventional romanticism of such poets as John Masefield, Alfred Noyes, and Walter de la Mare and by the experiments of the imagists, notably Hilda Doolittle (H. D.), Richard Aldington, Herbert Read, and D. H. Lawrence. The finest poet of the period was Yeats, whose poetry fused romantic vision with contemporary political and aesthetic concerns. Though the 19th-century tradition of the novel lived on in the work of Arnold Bennett, William Henry Hudson, and John Galsworthy, new writers like Henry James, H. G. Wells, and Joseph Conrad expressed the skepticism and alienation that were to become features of post-Victorian sensibility.
World War I shook England to the core. As social mores were shaken, so too were artistic conventions. The work of war poets like Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, the latter killed in the war (as were Rupert Brooke and Isaac Rosenberg), was particularly influential. Ford Madox Ford's landmark tetralogy,
Equally important was the novel
Sensitivity and psychological subtlety mark the superb novels of Virginia Woolf, who, like Dorothy Richardson, experimented with the interior forms of narration. Woolf was the center of the brilliant Bloomsbury group, which included the novelist E. M. Forster, the biographer Lytton Strachey, and many important English intellectuals of the early 20th cent. Aldous Huxley and Evelyn Waugh satirized the group and the period, while Katharine Mansfield and Elizabeth Bowen captured their flavor in fiction.
Moved by the Great Depression, the rise of fascism, and English policies of appeasement, many writers and intellectuals sought solutions in the politics of the left—or the right. Wyndham Lewis satirized what he thought was the total dissolution of culture in
Sections in this article:
- The Postwar Era to the Present
- The Early Twentieth Century
- The Novel
- The Victorian Age
- The Romantic Period
- The Eighteenth Century
- The Jacobean Era, Cromwell, and the Restoration
- The Tudors and the Elizabethan Age
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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