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Old Friday, December 16, 2011
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Prose-Writers of the Early Victorian Period

The early Victorian prose is in keeping with the energetic temperament of the time. An expansive energy seems to be characteristic of the whole period, displaying itself as freely in literature as in the development of science, geographical exploration and the rapidity of economic change.
This energetic mood prescribes the inventiveness and fertility of the prose-writers of the period and explains the vitality of so many of their works. Carlyle’s The French Revolution, Ruskin’s Modern Painters and Arnold’s Essays in Criticism are not modest and light-hearted compositions, but they represent the aesthetic equivalent of self-assertion and an urgent ‘will to survive’ which was characteristic of the early Victorians. Their prose is not, as a rule, flawless in diction and rhythm, or easily related to a central standard of correctness or polished to a uniform high finish, but it is a prose which is vigorous, intricate and ample, and is more conscious of vocabulary and imagery than of balance and rhythm. The dominant impression of zestful and workmanlike prose.
As the number of prose-writers during the period is quite large, there is a greater variety of style among them than to be found in any other period. In the absence any well-defined tradition of prose-writing, each writer cherishes his oddities and idiosyncrasies and is not prepared to sacrifice his peculiarities in deference to a received tradition. Victorian individualism, the ‘Doing As One Likes’, censured by Matthew Arnold, reverberates in prose style.
Taking the Victorian prose as a whole, we can say that it is Romantic prose. Though Romanticism gave a new direction to English poetry between 1780 and 1830, its full effects on prose were delayed until the eighteen-thirties when all the major Romantic poets were either dead or moribund. That is why, early Victorian prose is, properly speaking, Romantic prose, and Carlyle is the best example of a Romantic prose-artist. In fact it were the romantic elements—unevenness, seriousness of tone, concreteness and particularity—which constitute the underlying unity of the prose of the early Victorian period. All the great prose writers of period—Carlyle, Ruskin, Macaulay and Matthew Arnold have these qualities in common.

(a) Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)

Carlyle was the dominant figure of the Victorian period. He made his influence felt in every department of Victorian life. In the general prose literature of his age he was incomparably the greatest figure, and one of the greatest moral forces. In his youth he suffered from doubts which assailed him during the many dark years in which he wandered in the ‘howling wilderness of infidelity,’ striving vainly to recover his lost belief in God. Then suddenly there came a moment of mystical illumination, or ‘spiritual new birth’, which brought him back to the mood of courage and faith. The history of these years of struggle and conflict and the ultimate triumph of his spirit is written with great power in the second book of Sartor Restartus which is his most characteristic literary production, and one of the most remarkable and vital books in the English language. His other works are: French Revolution (1837); his lectures on Heroes and Hero-Worship; Past and Present (1843); the Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell (1845); Latter-day Pamphlets (1850); the Life of John Sterling (1851); the History of Frederick the Great (1858-65).
Basically Carlyle was a Puritan, and in him the strenuous and uncompromising spirit of the seventeenth century Puritanism found its last great exponent. Always passionately in earnest and unyielding in temper, he could not tolerate any moral weakness or social evil. He wanted people to be sincere and he hated conventions and unrealities. In the spheres of religion, society and politics he sought reality and criticised all sham and falsehood. To him history was the revelation of God’s righteous dealings with men and he applied the lessons derived from the past to the present. He had no faith in democracy. He believed in the ‘hero’ under whose guidance and leadership the masses can march to glory. This is the theme of his lectures on Heroes and Hero-Worship. He proclaimed a spiritual standard of life to a generation which had started worshipping the ‘mud-gods of modern civilisation’. He denounced scientific materialism and utilitarianism in Past and Present. He preached to his contemporaries in a most forceful manner that spiritual freedom was the only life-giving truth. Carlyle could not turn back the currents of his age, but he exerted a tremendous influence.
Carlyle’s style is the reflection of his personality. In fact in hardly any English writer are personal and literary characters more closely and strongly blended. He twists the language to suit his needs. In order to achieve this he makes use of strange ‘tricks’—the use of capital initials, the dropping of conjunctions, pronouns, verbs, the quaint conversion of any noun into a verb, free use of foreign words or literal English translations of foreign words. Thus his language is like a mercenary army formed of all sorts of incongruous and exotic elements. His personifications and abstractions sometimes become irritating and even tiresome. At times he deliberately avoids simplicity, directness, proportion and form. He is in fact the most irregular and erratic of English writers. But in spite of all these faults, it is impossible to read him at his best without the sentiment of enthusiasm. In his mastery of vivid and telling phraseology he is unrivalled and his powers of description and characterisation are remarkable. His style with its enormous wealth of vocabulary, its strangely constructed sentences, its breaks, abrupt turns, apostrophes and exclamations, is unique in English prose literature, and there is no doubt that he is one of the greatest literary artists in the English language.

(b) John Ruskin (1819-1900)

In the general prose literature of the early Victorian period Ruskin is ranked next to Carlyle. Of all the Victorian writers who were conscious of the defeats in contemporary life, he expressed himself most voluminously. Being one of the greatest masters of English he became interested in art and wrote Modern Painters (1843-1860) in five volumes in order to vindicate the position of Turner as a great artist. Being a man of deeply religious and pious nature he could not separate Beauty from Religion, and he endeavoured to prove that ‘all great art is praise’. Examination of the principles of art gradually led Ruskin to the study of social ethics. He found that architecture, even more than painting, indicated the state of a nation’s health. In his The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) and The Stones of Venice (1851-53) he tried to prove that the best type of architecture can be produced only in those ages which are morally superior.
The year 1860 when Ruskin published Unto this Last marks a great change in him. From this time onward he wrote little on art and devoted himself to the discussing of the ills of society. In this book he attacked the prevalent system of political economy, and protested against unrestricted competition, the law of ‘Devil-take-the-hindmost’, as Ruskin called it. In his later books—Sesame and Lilies (1865) and The Crown of Wild Olive (1866), Ruskin showed himself as a popular educator, clear in argument and skilful in illustration. His last work, an autobiography called Praterita, is full of interesting reminiscences.
Ruskin was a great and good man who himself is more inspiring than any of his books. In the face of drudgery and poverty of the competitive system he wrote: “I will endure it no longer quietly; but henceforward, with any few or many who will help, do my best to abate this misery.” It was with this object that leaving the field of art criticism, where he was the acknowledged leader, he began to write of labour and justice. Though as a stylist he is one of the masters of English prose, he is generally studied not as a literary man but as an ethical teacher, and every line that he wrote, bears the stamp of his sincerity. He is both a great artist as well as a great ethical teacher. We admire him for his richly ornate style, and for his message to humanity.
The prose of Ruskin has a rhythmic, melodious quality which makes it almost equal to poetry. Being highly sensitive to beauty in every form, he helps the reader to see and appreciate the beauty of the world around us. In his economic essays he tried to mitigate the evils of the competitive system; to bring the employer and the employed together in mutual trust and helpfulness; to seek beauty, truth, goodness as the chief ends of life. There is no doubt that he was the prophet in an age of rank materialism, utilitarianism and competition, and pointed out the solution to the grave problems which were confronting his age.

(c) Thomas Babington Lord Macaulay (1800-59)

Though Carlyle and Ruskin are now considered to be the great prose-writers of the Victorian period, contemporary opinion gave the first place to Macaulay, who in popularity far exceeded both of them. He was a voracious reader, and he remembered everything he read. He could repeat from memory all the twelve books of Paradise Lost. At the age of twenty-five he wrote his essay on poetry in general and on Milton as poet, man and politician in particular, which brought him immediate popularity as Byron’s Childe Harold had done. Besides biographical and critical essays which won for him great fame and popularity, Macaulay, like Carlyle; wrote historical essays as well as History of England. As early as 1828, he wrote, ‘a perfect historian must possess an imagination sufficiently powerful to make his narrative affecting and picturesque.” That power of imagination he possessed and exercised so delightfully that his History was at once purchased more eagerly than a poem of romance.
Macaulay was the representative of the popular sentiments and prejudices of the common English man of the first half of the nineteenth century. But his popularity was based mainly on the energy and capacity of his mind, and the eloquence with which he enlivened whatever he wrote. By the resources and the quickness of his memory, by his wide learning which was always at his command, he rose to the high rank as the exponent of the matter of history, and as a critic of opinions.
The chief quality which makes Macaulay distinct from the other prose writers of the period is the variety and brilliance of details in his writings. There is a fondness for particulars in his descriptions which distinguished the poems and novels of the new age from the more generalised and abstract compositions of the old school. Though he may be more extravagant and profuse in his variety of details than is consistent with the ‘dignity’ of history, this variety is always supported by a structure of great plainness. The only fault of his style is that at times it becomes too rhetorical and so the continuity of the narrative is sacrificed. His short sentences, and his description of particular interference with the flow of the narrative, and so the cumulative effect of the story is not always secured. Besides this weakness of style, Macaulay is now given a rank lower than that of Carlyle, Ruskin and Arnold on account of his lack of originality and depth as a thinker. But on the whole he still remains as one of the most enjoyable of all Victorian prose-writers.

(d) Matthew Arnold (1822-88)

Besides being a poet, Matthew Arnold was a prose-writer of a high order. He was also a great literary as well as social critic. Like Carlyle and Ruskin, he was vehement critic of his age. According to him, the Englishmen needed classical qualities in order to attain harmonious perfection in morals and in literature. It was not to the Hebrews or the Germans (as suggested by Carlyle), or to the men of the Middle Age (as suggested by Ruskin) that England could with advantage look for teaching, but to the Greeks or to that people which among the moderns had imbibed most of Hellenic culture, the French.
In literature Arnold strove to rehabilitate and to propagate the classical spirit in his country. England had reason to be proud of the literary splendour of the Elizabethan period, or of the glories of her Romantic movement, but according to Arnold, she had to long condemned or disdained the “indispensable eighteenth century.” From 1855 onwards Arnold wrote incessantly in order to raise the intellectual and cultural level of his countrymen. All his prose works are directed to this end: On Translating Homer (1861), The Study of Celtic Literature (1867), Essays in Criticism (1865 and 1888) and Culture and Anarchy (1869) in which he declared that “culture is the minister of the sweetness and light essential to the perfect character”. Being a poet himself, he looked upon poetry as “a criticism of life”, and laid great emphasis on the part it played in the formation of character and the guidance of conduct. He always attacked “the Philistines”, by whom he meant the middle class indifferent to the disinterested joys of pure intelligence. Arnold also attempted to eliminate the dogmatic element from Christianity in order to preserve its true spirit and bring it into the line with the discoveries of science and the progress of liberal thought.
Unlike the teachings of Carlyle and Ruskin, which appealed to the masses, Arnold’s teaching appealed mainly to the educated classes. As a writer of prose he is simply superb. His style is brilliant and polished to a nicety, possessing’ the virtues of quietness and proportion which we associate with no other English writer except Dryden. As his object was to bring home to his countrymen certain fundamental principles of cultured and intellectual life, he has the habit of repeating the same word and phrase with a sort of refrain effect. It was no wonder that critics first and the public afterwards, were attracted, irritated, amused or charmed by his writings. His loud praise of ‘sweetness’ and ‘culture’, his denunciation of the ‘Philistine’, the ‘Barbarian’, and so forth, were ridiculed by some unkind critics. But rightly considered we find that there is something of justice in all that he wrote, and on every line there is the stamp of his sincerity.
When Arnold returned from religion and politics to his natural sphere of literature, then the substance of his criticism is admirably sound and its expression always delightful and distinguished. In spite of its extreme mannerism and the apparently obvious tricks by which that mannerism is reached, the style of Arnold is not easy to imitate. It is almost perfectly clear with a clearness rather French than English. It sparkles with wit which seldom diverts or distracts the attention. Such a style was eminently fitted for the purposes of criticism. As a writer of essays he had no superior among the writers of his time, and he can probably never be surpassed by any one in a certain mild ironic handling of a subject which he disapproves. He may not be considered as one of the strongest writers of English prose, but he must always hold a high rank in it for grace, for elegance, and for an elaborate and calculated charm.
Poets of the Later Victorian Period

(a) Pre-Raphaelite Poets

In the later Victorian period a movement took place in English poetry, which resembled something like a new Romantic Revival. It was called the Pre-Raphaelite Movement and was dominated by a new set of poets-Rossetti, Swinburne and Morris, who were interested simply in beauty. They were quite satisfied with the beauty of diction, beauty of rhythm, and the beauty of imagery in poetry.
They were not interested in the contemporary movements of thought which formed the substance of Arnold’s poetry, and had influenced Tennyson a good deal. They made use of the legends of the Middle Ages not as a vehicle for moral teaching or as allegories of modern life, as Tennyson had done, but simply as stories, the intrinsic beauty of which was their sufficient justification. There was no conscious theory underlying their work as there was in the case of Arnold’s poetry.
It was in 1847 that a young artist named Holman Hunt came under the influence of Ruskin’s first volume of Modern Painters. He along with his friends, Millais and D.G. Rossetti, who were also painters, determined to find a club or brotherhood which should be styled Pre-Raphaelite, and whose members should bind themselves to study Nature attentively with the object of expressing genuine ideas in an unconventional manner, in sympathy with what was ‘direct and serious and heart-felt’ in early Italian painting before the artificial style of Raphael. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood lasted for a very short time, but its effect upon the plastic arts was far-reaching and revolutionary. D.G. Rossetti who was a painter as well as poet, introduced these principles in the field of poetry also. As early as 1848, in his twentieth year, Rossetti began to write the sonnets long afterwards collected as The House of Life, in the opening of which he urges the poets not to be satisfied with a repetition of the worn-out forms of current literature, but to turn back to the earliest masters:
Unto the lights of the great-past, new-lit
Fair for the Future’s track.
Rossetti displayed in those earliest pieces the passion for material beauty, and the love of rich language, magnificent even in simplicity, which were always to characterise his poetry. He also showed a complete detachment from ethical curiosity, from that desire to mend the world, which occupied almost all his Victorian contemporaries, and was to obsess his successors. Being a painter he was able to express his poetic genius more exclusively concentrated on the hues and forms of phenomena, than any other English poet. He withdrew poetry from its wide field, and concentrated it on the intensity of passion, and the richness of light on an isolated object. His earliest volume of Poems (1870), which spread thrills of aesthetic excitement far and wide, attracted a number of young enthusiasts, in spite of some faint protests by the older generation against the ‘Fleshly School’ of English poetry. Other poets who followed him and belong to the Pre-Raphaelite group of poets are—Christiana Rossetti, William Morris, and Swinburne.
The Pre-Raphaelite school of poetry did not regard poetry as being prophetic, or as being mainly philosophical. Their poetry did not concern itself with intellectual complications after the manner of Browning, nor with social conditions. Thus it divided itself sharply from the great writers of the time—Tennyson, Browning and Arnold. It was not an intellectual movement at all, but it brought back the idea that poetry deals with modes of thought and feeling that cannot be expressed in prose. Moreover, it gave greater importance to personal feeling over thought. It also introduced symbolism which was so far rare in English poetry, and insisted on simplicity of expression and directness of sensation. The fleshly images used by the Pre-Raphaelite poets were full of mysticism, but the Victorians who considered them as merely sensuous were shocked by them.

(i) Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)

Rossetti was the chief force behind the Pre-Raphaelite movement. He was the son of Gabriel Rossetti, an Italian refugee, who was a poet himself and a man of sterling character. D.G. Rossetti studied drawing, and as a young man became one of the most enthusiastic members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which was at the middle of the century to convert England from conventional art. His own form of painting never admitted reconciliation with convention, and possessed far greater charm than that of the other members of pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood—Millais and Holman Hunt. Though his drawings were severely criticised, no one with eyes could doubt the magnificence of his colour. The same pictorial quality became the chief characteristic of his poetry, which lies apart from the main current of contemporary verse, both in its highly specialised quality of thought and language and in the condition and circumstances of its production, Rossetti openly followed the profession of a painter, pursuing poetry, for the most past, as a recreative rather than a principal study.
In his poetry Rossetti assumes for ever the reality and immanence of spiritual and moral world. But he is not a consciously didactic poet. On the other hand, the form and substance of his utterance are so perfected in truth and virility of thought, in majesty and grace of speech, that the reader is unconsciously affected by them. Rossetti’s poetry can be roughly divided into two groups—the personal and the impersonal poems. In the House of Life sonnets, Dante at Verona, The Streams Secret, The Portrait, and many of the shorter lyrics, the personal note of love or grief, of memory or hope, is wholly dominant. The poet’s soul is absorbed with its individual being, and sees in all the life around him the illustration and interpretation of his own. In the second group, in the great romantic ballads, in Rose Mary, and The Blessed Damozel, in The White Ship and The King’s Tragedy, in The Bride’s Pleasure and Sister Helen, the imagination takes a higher and larger range. Here the art becomes impersonal in this sense only that the thought of self is merged in the full and immense life of humanity laying hold of the universal consciousness through its own experience.
Rossetti was a supreme master of rhythm and music. He cast his great historical lyrics in the highest narrative—that is to say, the ballad from; and chose the sonnet—the most chastened and exclusive vehicle for the meditative and yet sensuous, self-delineative love poetry. But whether written in the form of ballad or sonnet, Rossetti’s verse remains fully charged with the very essence of romance. As a poet, he is neither less nor more pre-Raphaelite than as painter. The vivid and intense simplicity of his diction, the verbal flashes of his ballad style, seem to correspond with the tone and method of his water-colour painting, and the more laboured splendour of the sonnets with the qualities of his oil paintings.

(ii) Christiana Rossetti

Though Christiana Rossetti naturally displayed a temperament akin to her brother’s and sometimes undoubtedly wrote to some extent under his inspiration, large parts, and some of the best parts, of her poetical accomplishments, are quite distinct from anything of his. Her sonnet sequences have the same Italian form and the same characteristics of colour, music, and meditation, as those of Rossetti, because the sonnet form exercised its strong restraint. But her a lyrics have lighter, more bird-like movement and voice than the stately lyrics of Rossetti. Her range was distinctly wide. She had, unlike Mrs. Browning, and perhaps unlike the majority of her sex, a very distinct sense of humour. Moreover, her pathos has never been surpassed except in the great single strokes of Shakespeare. But her most characteristic strain is where this pathos blends with or passes into, the utterance of religious awe, unstained and un-weakened by any fear. The great devotional poets of the seventeenth century, Crashaw, Vaughan, Herbert are more artificial than she is in their expression of this.
Christiana Rossetti began with Goblin Market and Other Poems in 1861, followed it with another volume, The Prince’s Progress in 1866 and after a much longer interval with A Pageant and Other Poems in 1881. Later her verse was collected more than once, and it was supplemented by a posthumous volume after her death. But a good deal of it remains in two books of devotion, entitled Time Flies (1885) and The Face of the Deep (1892).

(iii) William Morris (1834-96)

William Morris who was an eminent designer and decorator besides being a poet, was chiefly interested in the Middle Ages. His first volume of poems—The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems (1858)—gives expression to his enthusiasm for the Middle Ages. His object of writing poetry was to revive the true Gothic spirit, and these poems interpreted ardours and mysteries of the Middle Ages which the Victorians had forgotten. Though Tennyson also drew inspiration for his ‘Idylls’ from medieval sources, he used medieval stories as a vehicle for contemporary moralising. Morris, on the other hand tried to bring back to life the true spirit of the Middle Ages.
For nine years after The Defence of Guenevere, Morris did not write anything, as Rossetti under whose influence he had come, wanted him to be a painter. When he did resume his literary work, his style had entirely changed. The Life and Death of Jason is the first of a long series of narrative poems which forms the bulk of his contribution to literature. In it he followed Chaucer whom he knew and loved best. In 1868-1870 were published the greatest collection of his stories in Earthly Paradise. These stories which are in Medieval setting, are written in an easy and simple style, and their diction is always graceful and suited to the subject.
In the later parts of Earthly Paradise there is an indication of a change in Morris’s interests and methods. Tales such as the ‘Lover of Gudrun’ which are derived from the mythologies of northern Europe are treated in a different manner. This new interest was intensified by his visits to Iceland in 1871 and 1873, and the greater part of Morris’s subsequent work is based on the study of the sagas, and has a spirit of Epic poetry. He translated the ‘Grettis and Volsunga’ Sagas; but the new spirit is found at its best in the poems Sigured the Volsung.
Morris is a pre-Raphaelite in the sense that he wrote poetry mainly with the object of creating beauty. He is a past master in producing languorous effects bathed in an atmosphere of serenity and majesty. He, therefore, belongs to the lineage of Spenser in combining virile strength with the greatest refinement of touch. His poems have a harmonious and musical flow, the variety and suppleness of which recall at once the styles of Chaucer and Spenser. In whatever form he writes—blank verse, rhymed verse, the complicated or the simple stanza—he can produce exquisite music which casts its fascinating spell on the readers. In all his poetry the love of adventure, the attraction of an imaginary world, where beautiful human lives bloom out in open nature and unrestricted liberty, where unhappiness, suffering and death have themselves a dignity unknown in the real world made ugly by industrialisation, inspired Morris. The charm of his poems lies mainly in their indefiniteness and their remote atmosphere which soothe the aching of a mind disturbed and tortured by the tyranny of a vulgar present. His poetry is the result of the reaction of a wounded sensibility against the sordidness and ugliness of the real world.

(iv) Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)

Besides Rossetti and Morris, Swinburne was another Victorian poet who is reckoned with the pre-Raphaelites, though his association with them was personal rather than literary, and he belonged to the later styles of the movement. Unlike the other members of the group, Swinburne was a musician rather than a painter. The poetry of Rossetti and Morris, however musical it may be, is primarily pictorial. Swinburne’s poetry lacks the firms contours and sure outlines of the poetry of Rossetti and Morris, but it has the sonority of the rhymes which links the verses together. From his youth Swinburne displayed an extraordinary skill in versification and a gift of imitating widely different rhythms, not only those of English poets, but also those of the Latin, the Greeks, and the French. It is in fact in the music of verse that Swinburne is pre-eminent. When once asked at an Oxford gathering, which English poet had the best ear, he answered, “Shakespeare, without doubt; then Milton;’ then Shelley; then, I do not know what other people would do, but ‘I should put myself.” This claim, though made in all simplicity, is quite justified, and there is no doubt that Swinburne is one of the great masters in metrical technique. He handled the familiar forms, of verse with such freedom that he revealed their latent melody for the first time.
Swinburne’s poetry deals with great romantic themes—like Shelley’s revolt against society, the hatred of kings and priests and the struggle against conventional morality. He was also inspired by the French romantics, Victor Hugo and Baudelaire. The appearance of his Poems and Ballads in 1866 created great excitement. The Victorians who had accepted Tennyson as the great poet of the age, resented the audacity of this upstart who, though possessing high technical skill, cared nothing for restraint and dignity. Arnold found many of his lines meaningless, and called him “a young pseudo-Shelly”. Serious persons were perturbed by his downright heterodoxy. His violent paganism was the first far-heard signal of revolt that was to become general till a generation later. The young, however, were carried away by the passion of his verse, his intoxicating rhythms, and the new prospects of beauty which seemed to be opening in English poetry.
Swinburne first became known by his Atalanta in Calydon (1865), a poetic drama, distinguished by some great choruses, especially the one that opens, ‘Before the beginning of the years’. Swinburne was essentially lyrical even when he attempted drama, and the success of Atalanta in Calydon was due to the choral passages possessing great lyrical quality. Dramatic movement and the creation of characters were outside Swinburne’s range. He wrote other dramas—Bothwell (1874), and Mary Stuart (1881) both on a period of history in which he was passionately interested. But, above all, Swinburne is a lyrical poet and he never surpassed or equalled the Poems and Ballads, (1886). In his later poems—Laus Veneris, The Garden of Proserpine, The Tymn to Proserpine, The Triumph of Time, Ltylus and Dolores, there is a repetition of images and ideas already familiar. These songs of love were succeeded by poems dedicated to national liberty, especially that of Italy, for Swinburne was an ardent admirer of Mazzini. In A Song of Italy (1867) and Songs before Sunrise (1871) he gave lyrical expression to his passion for freedom. Two other volumes of Poems and Ballads appeared in 1878 and 1889. His later poems—Studies in Song (1880). A Century of Roundels (1883) and Tristram of Lyonesse (1882) show more of metrical skill than lyrical power.
Though much of Swinburne’s poetry, especially that of his later years, seems unsubstantial and almost empty of meaning, he is not merely a technician in verse. His love of liberty, hatred of tyranny in all forms and voluptuous paganism were quite genuine impulses which inspired much of his poetry. At his best, when he sings in Hertha of the birth and destiny of man, no one can deny him the title of a great-poet.

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(b) The Decadent or Aesthetic Movement

The Pre-Raphaelite Movement in English poetry was followed by Decadent or Aesthetic Movement, though it is not so well defined. In the later part of the nineteenth century (1890-1900) there was a tendency among the literary artists to lay greater emphasis on the idea of Art for Art’s sake. They were obviously influenced by Walter Pater and the French authors like Baudelaire and Verlaine, who tried to break with conventional values. They believed that all themes must be excluded from poetry except the record of the few deeply moving movements of passion or sadness of emotional exaltation or distress. They sought themes from pleasures which the virtuous forbid, and inflicted agonies upon themselves to achieve perfection of form. These they conveyed for their own sake with exquisite brevity. They found this conception not only in the study of French models but in the critical work of Walter Pater, and their adherence to these self-imposed limitations separates them from earlier English romanticism and from pre-Raphaelite verse. Swinburne had already been subjected to similar influence, but he had wider interests—enthusiasm for medieval legends, for Elizabethan drama and his love of liberty and hatred for tyranny. The Decadents, on the other hand, were not interested in any great subject, theme or idea. They showed anxiety about the right word and were fussy about vowel and consonant patterns. Moreover, they emphasised the passion rather than the intellect. Pater, in his essay on the pre-Raphaelites, and above all in his Conclusions to Studies in the Renaissance, had given a double suggestion which greatly affected this group of poets. First, there accompanies life an inevitable mortality, “the undefinable taint of death is upon all things”; and, secondly, “out of life may be seized some few moments of deep passion or high intellectual endeavour.” The poets belonging to the Aesthetic Movement attempted to express in a most beautiful manner such evanescent moods of pleasure and pain for their own sake without any extraneous motive of conveying any moral. In fact they were pitted against all conventional morality and rebelled against established social and moral laws. They knew neither philosophy nor religion but were the worshippers of Beauty for its own sake. Their object was to afford the readers merely aesthetic pleasure.

(i) Oscar Wilde (1856-1900)

Oscar Wilde was the first to come under the influence of Walter Pater. Though in his early poems he had dealt with religious and spiritual experiences, in New Helen he declared himself as the votary of Beauty.
Of heaven or hell I have no thought or fear
Seeing I know no other god but thee.
In The Garden of Eros he reaffirmed his belief that the pursuit of beauty is the only desirable form of human activity. Like the pre-Raphaelites he also pointed out that modern civilisation opposes this ideal:

Spirit of beauty, tarry yet awhile
Although the cheating merchants of the mart
With iron rods profane our lovely isle,
And break on whirling wheels the limbs of art.
In the short poem, Panthea, Wilde almost gives a paraphrase of Pater’s aesthetic creed:
Nay, let us walk from fire to fire,
From passionate pain to deadlier delight.
I am too young to live without desire,
Too young art thou to waste this summer night
Asking those idle questions which of old
Man sought to see and oracle made no reply.

(ii) Ernest Dowson (1867-1900)

Ernest Dowson symbolises in his work the Aesthetic Movement of the eighteen nineties. He came under the influence of Rossetti, Swinburne and the French romanticists who believed in the doctrine of Art for Art’s sake. Following Pater’s artistic principles the recorded in his poetry moments of sensations to the utter exclusion of all moral and philosophical comment. He dealt mainly with the theme of the brevity of life and the fading of things that once were beautiful:
They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate;
I think they have no portions in us after we pass the gate.
Dowson possessed a love of words for their very shape and appearance on the page, apart from their values of sound and association. He also possessed an unusual prosodic skill. His Cynara holds a pre-eminent place in his work mainly on account of the sweet melody of its verse. His central poetic theme is most profoundly treated in Nuns of the Perpetual Adoration knowing that the ‘world is wild and passionate; and that the rose of the world would fade’, the poet views with sad admiration those whose ascetism allows them to stand aside and make their nights and days, ‘Into a long returning rosary’:
Calm, sad, secure; behind high convent walls,
These watch the sacred lamp, these watch and pray;
And it is one with them when evening falls,
And one with them the cold return of day.

(iii) Lionel Pigot Johnson (1867-1902)

Lionel Johnson was an associate of Oscar Wilde and Dowson who created the aesthetic poetry of the eighteen nineties. Though he was greatly influenced by old Christianity and wrote a good deal of religious verse, yet along with passages of religious enthusiasm can be found paragraphs marked by aestheticism.

(iv) Arthur Symons

Next to Dowson the most consistent follower of the Aesthetic Movement was Arthur Symons. Though he did not possess the unfaltering artistic perfection of Dowson’s poetry where the images burn clearly and steadily, yet his poetic range was wider, and he was a great critic.

(c) Other Important Poets

Other important poets of the Later Victorian Period were Patmore, Meredith and Hardy, though the last two are better known as novelists. Coventry Patmore was a pre-Raphaelite in the sense that he believed in ‘the simplicity of art’ theory, but much of his poetry expresses his own individuality rather than any literary or aesthetic doctrine. His most popular poem is The Angel in the House which contains some very fine things. His great Odes covered by the title The Unknown Eros convey in beautiful, controlled free verse, the mysticism of love combined with an intense religious feeling as no other poems in the English language do.
Though Geroge Meredith was associated with Rossetti and Swinburne, as a poet he had nothing in common with the pre-Raphaelite group except his belief that art should not be the handmaid of morality. He looked upon life as glorious, increasingly exciting and always worth while. The tremendous vigour and metrical skill of his long lyrics—The Lark Ascending and Love in the Valley remind one of Swinburne. His greatest poetical work, Modern Love written in sonnets of sixteen lines, is a novel in verse, and is of its own kind in English literature. It is no doubt the most successful long poem written during the later Victorian period.
Thomas Hardy, though a novelist, expressed himself, like Meredith, in verse also. His greatest work, The Dynasts, is written in the form of an epic in which the immense Napoleonic struggle unrolls itself as drama, novel, tragedy, and comedy. In his verse sometimes he is as prosaic as Wordsworth in his later poetry, but at times his poems like ‘Only a man harrowing clods’ he gives expression to his pessimistic philosophy, but in others he gives a true picture of human experience with a queer sense of super reality. Moments of Vision, the title of one of his volume, in an apt description of his poems as a whole, because most of them give us visions of emotional moments charged with the inheritance of past ages of emotions, combined with irrational half-conscious feelings which are recognized by the contemplative mind as being part of every-day experience.

Novelists of the Later Victorian Period

The novel in the later Victorian period took a new trend, and the novels written during this period may be called ‘modern’ novels. George Eliot was the first to write novels in the modern style. Other important novelists of the period were Meredith and Hardy. The year 1859 saw the publication not only of George Eliot’s Adam Bede but also of Meredith’s The Ordeal of Richard Feveral. Though they are vastly different from each other, they stand in sharp contrast to the works of established novelists that appeared the same year—as Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities and Thackeray’s Virginians.

The novelists of the early Victorian period—Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope and others—had followed the tradition of English novel established by Defoe, Richardson and Fielding. Their conception of themselves was modest, and their conscious aim nothing much more elevated than Wilkie Collins’s “make them laugh, make them cry, make them wait.” Set against this innocent notion of the novelist’s function, the new novelists of England as well of other countries of Europe, began to have high ambitions of making the novel as serious as poetry. The Russian novelists—Turgenev, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and the French novelists like Flaubert, all began to look upon the novel as a medium of conveying profound thoughts. Flaubert especially arrogated to himself the rights and privileges of the poet, and he talked about his talent and medium as seriously as poets do theirs. He stated his ambition as a novelist thus: “To desire to give verse rhythm to prose, yet to leave it prose and very much prose, and to write about ordinary life as histories and epics are written, yet without falsifying the subject. It is perhaps an absurd idea. But it may also be a great experiment and very original”. These words of Flaubert show that the European novelists in the middle of the nineteenth century were making the same claims about their vocation as the Romantic poets in England did in the beginning of the century. The seriousness of these European novelists was both moral and aesthetic, and it came to English fiction with George Eliot and Meredith. Both of them were intellectuals and philosophers and had associates among such class of people. On the other hand, their predecessors, Dickens and Thackeray, had association with journalists, artists and actors, and they themselves belonged to their group. George Eliot lived in a much larger world of ideas. These ideas conditioned her views of fiction, determined the shape of her novels and the imagery of her prose. Meredith who was partly educated in Germany and was influenced by French writers, developed a highly critical view of England and its literature. Thus specially equipped, these two novelists—George Eliot and Meredith—gave a new trend to the English novel, and made it ‘modern’. They were followed by Hardy who extended the scope of the novel still further.

(a) George Eliot (1819-1880)

The real name of George Eliot was Mary Ann Evans. For a long time her writings was exclusively critical and philosophic in character, and it was when she was thirty-eight that her first work of fiction Scenes of Clerical Life (1857) appeared. It was followed by Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss(1860), Silas Marner(1861), Romola (1863), and Middlemarch (1871-72).
George Eliot was born in Warwickshire, where she lived till her father’s death in 1849. It was her Warwickshire experience—the life of an English village before the railway came to disturb it, which provided the substance of most of her novels. Gifted with a wonderful faculty of observation, she could reproduce faithfully the mannerism of rustic habit and speech. Having a thorough knowledge of the countryside and the country people, their hierarchies and standards of value, she could give a complete picture of their life. Moreover, she could beautifully portray the humour and pathos of these simple folk as no English novelist had done before. Just as we look to Dickens for pictures of the city streets and to Thackeray for the vanities of society, we look to George Eliot for the reflection of the country life in England.
In George Eliot the novel took its modern form. Every story derives its unity from its plot. The different episodes are all related to one another and subordinated to the main story. The chief appeal to the emotions of the reader is made by the inevitable catastrophe towards which the whole action moves. This unity of plot construction was lacking in the English novel before George Eliot appeared on the scene. This was a singular contribution of hers to the development of the English novel. Another important feature of George Eliot’s novels is that they reflect more clearly than any other Victorian novels the movement of contemporary thought. They specially appeal to the mind which is troubled by religious and ethical difficulties. The mood of much of her work is like that of Matthew Arnold’s poems. She shares also with him his melancholy and depressing mood.
In her novels George Eliot takes upon herself the role of a preacher and moraliser. Though profoundly religious at heart, she was greatly affected by the scientific spirit of the age; and finding no religious creed or political system satisfactory, she fell back upon duty as the supreme law of life. In all her novels she shows in individuals the play of universal moral forces, and establishes the moral law as the basis of human society. The principle of law which was in the air during the Victorian era and which deeply influenced Tennyson, is with George Eliot like fate. It is to her as inevitable and automatic as gravitation and it overwhelms personal freedom and inclination.
All the novels of George Eliot are examples of psychological realism. She represents in them, like Browning in his poetry, the inner struggle of a soul, and reveals the motives, impulses and hereditary influences which govern human action. But unlike Browning who generally stops short when he tells a story, and either lets the reader draw his own conclusion or gives his in a few striking lines, George Eliot is not content until she has minutely explained the motives of her characters and the moral lessons to be learned from them. Moreover, the characters in her novels, unlike in the novels of Dickens, develop gradually as we came to know them. They go from weakness to strength, or from strength to weakness, according to the works that they do and the thoughts that they cherish. For instance, in Romola we find that Tito degenerates steadily because he follows selfish impulses, while Romola grows into beauty and strength with every act of self-renunciation.

(b) George Meredith (1829-1909)

Another great figure not only in fiction, but in the general field of literature during the later Victorian period, was Meredith who, though a poet at heart expressed himself in the medium of the novel, which was becoming more and more popular. The work of Meredith as a novelist stands apart from fiction of the century. He did not follow any established tradition, nor did he found a school. In fact he was more of a poet and philosopher than a novelist. He confined himself principally to the upper classes of society, and his attitude to life is that of the thinker and poet. In his novels, he cared little for incident or plot on their account, but used them principally to illustrate the activity of the ‘Comic Spirit’. Comedy he conceives of as a Muse watching the actions of men and women, detecting and pointing out their inconsistencies with a view to their moral improvement. She never laughs loud, she only smiles at most; and the smile is of the intellect, for she is the handmaid of philosophy. Meredith loves to trace the calamities which befall those who provoke Nature by obstinately running counter to her laws. A certain balance and sanity, a fine health of body and soul are, in his view, the means prescribed by Nature for the happiness of man.
The Ordeal of Richard Feveral, which is one of the earliest of Meredith’s novels, is also one of his best. Its theme is the ill-advised bringing up of an only son, Richard Feveral, by his well-meaning and officious father, Sir Austen Feveral. In spite of his best intentions, the father adopts such methods as are unsuited to the nature of the boy, with the result that he himself becomes the worst enemy of his son, and thus an object of ridicule by the Comic Spirit. Besides containing Meredith’s philosophy of natural and healthy development of the human personality the novel also has some fines passages of great poetic beauty. Evan Harrington (1861) is full of humorous situations which arise out of the social snobbery of the Harrington family. Rhoda Fleming (1865), Sandra Belloni (1864), Harry Richmond (1871) and Beauchamp’s Career (1876) all contain the best qualities of Meredith’s art—intellectual brilliance, a ruthless exposure of social weaknesses, and an occasional poetic intensity of style. In all of them Meredith shows himself as the enemy of sentimentality. In The Egoists which is the most perfect illustration of what he meant by ‘comedy’, Meredith reached the climax of his art. The complete discomfiture of Sir Willoughby Patterne, the egoist, is one of the neatest things in English literature. This novel also contains Meredith’s some of the best drawn characters—the Egoist himself, Clara Middleton, Laetitia Dale, and Crossjay Patterne.
Like George Eliot, Meredith is a psychologist. He tries to unravel the mystery of the human personality and probe the hidden springs there. Being at heart a poet, he introduced in his earlier novels passages of unsurpassable poetic beauty. A master of colour and melody when he wills, Meredith belongs to the company of Sterne, Carlyle and Browning who have whimsically used the English language. He seldom speaks directly, frequently uses maxims and aphorisms in which are concentrated his criticism of contemporary life. Like Browning, Meredith preaches an optimistic and positive attitude to life. Influenced by the theory of Evolution, he believes that the human race is evolving towards perfection. This process can be accelerated by individual men and women by living a sane balanced and healthy life. They should follow the golden mean and steer clear of ‘the ascetic rocks and sensual whirlpools’. On account of this bracing and refreshing philosophy, the novels of Meredith, though written in a difficult style, have a special message for the modern man who finds himself enveloped in a depressing atmosphere.

(c) Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

The greatest novelist of the later Victorian period was Thomas Hardy. Like Meredith, he was at heart a poet, and expressed himself also in verse. But unlike Meredith whose attitude to life is optimistic, and who has written comedies, Hardy’s attitude to life is rather pessimistic and he has written tragedies. Hardy thinks that there is some malignant power which controls this universe, and which is out to thwart and defeat man in all his plans. It is especially hostile to those who try to assert themselves and have their own way. Thus his novels and poems are, throughout, the work of a man painfully dissatisfied with the age in which he lived. He yearned for England’s past, and he distrusted modern civilisation because he suspected that its effect was frequently to decivilise and weaken those to whom Nature and old custom had given stout hearts, clear heads and an enduring spirit. In his books, ancient and modern are constantly at war, and none is happy who has been touched by ‘modern’ education and culture. Hardy also resists the infiltration of aggressive modernity in the quiet village surroundings.
Hardy passed the major portion of his life near Dorchester, and his personal experiences were bound up with the people and customs, the monuments and institutions of Dorest and the contiguous countries of south-western England, which he placed permanently on the literary map by the ancient name “Wessex’. Thus Hardy has left a body of fiction unique in its uniformity. No other novelist in England has celebrated a region so comprehensively as Hardy has done. Though he has dealt with a limited world, he has created hundreds of characters, many of whom are mere choral voices as in Greek drama.
On account of Hardy’s philosophy of a malignant power ruling the universe which thwarts and defeats man at every step, his novels are full of coincidences. In fact, chance plays too large a part in them. For this Hardy has been blamed by some critics who believe that he deliberately introduces coincidences which always upset the plans of his characters. In real life chance sometimes helps a man also, but in Hardy’s novel chance always comes as an upsetting force.
The great novels of Hardy are The Woodlanders, The Return of the Native, Far From the Madding Crowd, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. Though most of Hardy’s novels are tragedies, yet the role of tragedy becomes intensified in The Return of the Native, Tess and Jude. The last chapter of Tess outraged the religious conscience of 1891; to-day it offends the aesthetic conscience by its violation of our critical sense of order and imaginative sufficiency. Hardy had said enough in Tess before the beginning of the last chapter. As it stands, the novel is a masterpiece, but it is scarred by an unhappy final stroke, the novel is a masterpiece, but it is scarred by an unhappy final stroke. Jude the Obscure, though a very powerful novel is spoiled by Hardy’s ruthlessness. At no time are Sue and Jude permitted to escape the shadowing hand of malignant destiny. They are completely defeated and broken.
As a writer of tragedies Hardy can stand comparison with the great figures in world literature, but he falls short of their stature because he is inclined to pursue his afflicted characters beyond the limits of both art and nature. In the use of pathos Hardy is a past master. As for Hardy’s style, his prose is that of a poet in close contact with things. In his evocation of scenes and persons, his senses bring into play a verbal incantation that relates him to the pre-Raphaelites. He describes characters and scenes in such a manner that they get imprinted on the memory.
The main contribution of Hardy to the history of the English novel was that he made it as serious a medium as poetry, which could deal with the fundamental problems of life. His novels can be favourably compared to great poetic tragedies, and the characters therein rise to great tragic heights. His greatest quality as a writer is his sincerity and his innate sympathy for the poor and the down-trodden. If at times he transgressed the limits of art, it was mainly on account of his deep compassion for mankind, especially those belonging to the lower stratum.

(d) Some Other Novelists

Besides George Eliot, Meredith and Hardy there were a number of other Victorian novelists during the later Victorian period. Of these Stevenson and Gissing are quite well-known.

(i) Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94)

Stevenson was a great story-teller and romancer. He took advantage of the reader’s demand for shorter novels. His first romance entitled Treasure Islandbecame very popular. It was followed by New Arabian Nights, Kidnapped, The Black Arrow, which contain romances and mystery stories. In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde he departed from his usual manner to write a modern allegory of the good and evil in the human personality. In The Master of Ballantre Stevenson described the story of a soul condemned to evil. At his death he was working on unfinished novel, Weir of Hermiston, which is considered by some critics as the most finished product of his whole work. In it he dramatised the conflict between father and son—the Lord Justice-Clerk, the hanging judge, and his son Archie who has the courage to face him.
The contribution of Stevenson to the English novel is that he introduced into it romantic adventure. His rediscovery of the art of narrative, of conscious and clever calculation in telling a story so that the maximum effect of clarity and suspense is achieved, meant the birth of the novel of action. He gave a wholly new literary dignity and impetus to light fiction whose main aim is entertainment.

(ii) George Gissing (1857-1903)

Gissing has never been a popular novelist, yet no one in English fiction faced the defects of his times with such a frank realism. Like Dickens he paints generally the sordid side of life, but he lacks Dickens’s gusto and humour and Dickens’s belief that evil can be conquered. Working under the influence of French realists and Schopenhauer’s philosophy, he sees the world full of ignoble and foolish creatures. He considers the problem of poverty as insoluble; the oppressed lower classes cannot revolt successfully and the rich will not voluntarily surrender their power. Under such circumstances it is the intellectuals who suffer the most, because they are more conscious of the misery around them. This is the moral of all Gissing’s novels, chief among which are Worker in the Dawn (1880), The Unclassed (1884), Domes (1886), The Emancipated (1889), New Grub Street (1891), Born in Exile (1892). One can guess the subjects treated in them from their titles.
All Gissing’s novels bear unmistakable traces of his many years of struggle against poverty, obstruction and depreciation. He drew his inspiration from Dickens, but he made the mistake of omitting altogether that which is present in Dickens even to excess-the romance and poetry of poverty. He saw the privations of the poor, but unlike Dickens, he was blind and deaf to their joyousness. In his later years he discovered his mistake, and in 1903 he brought out The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, a great autobiographic fiction, which is written in a most delightful manner revealing his inner life.

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Prose-Writers of the Later Victorian Period

In the later Victorian period there were two great prose-writers—Newman and Pater. Newman was the central figure of the Oxford Movement, while Pater was an aesthete, who inspired the leaders of the Aesthetic Movement in English poetry.

(a) Newman and the Oxford Movement

The Oxford Movement was an attempt to recover a lost tradition. England had become a Protestant country in the 16th century under the reign of Elizabeth, and had her own Church, called the Anglican Church, which became independent of the control of the Pope at Rome. Before that England was a Catholic country. The Anglican Church insisted on simplicity, and did not encourage elaborate ceremonies. In fact it became too much rational having no faith in rituals and old traditions. Especially in the eighteenth century in England religion began to be ruthlessly attacked by philosophers as well as scientists. The protagonists of the Oxford Movement tried to show that the Middle Ages had qualities and capacities which the moderns lacked. They wished to recover the connection with the continent and with its own past which the English Church had lost at the Reformation in the sixteenth century. They recognised in the medieval and early Church a habit of piety and genius of public worship which had both disappeared. They, therefore, made an attempt to restore those virtues by turning the attention of the people to the history of the Middle Ages, and by trying to recover the rituals and art of the medieval Church.
From another point of view the Oxford Movement was an attempt to meet the rationalist attack by emphasising the importance of tradition, authority, and the emotional element in religion. It sought to revive the ancient rites, with all their pomp and symbolism. It exalted the principle of authority the hierarchy and dogmatic teaching. Instead of being inspired by the doctrines of liberalism which were being preached in the Victorian period, it resumed its connection with the medieval tradition. It was favourable to mystery and miracles and appealed to the sensibility and imagination which during the eighteenth century had been crushed by the supremacy of intellect.
The aesthetic aspect of the Oxford Movement, or the Catholic Reaction, had a much wider appeal. Even those who were not convinced by the arguments advanced by the supporters of the Movement, were in sympathy with its aesthetic side. The lofty cathedrals aglow with the colours of painting, stately processions in gorgeous robes , and all the pomp and circumstance of a ceremonial religion, attract even such puritanic minds as Milton’s and are almost the only attraction to the multitudes whose God must take a visible shape and be not too far removed from humanity. Thus many who were only alienated by the arguments in favour of the Catholic Reaction, were in sympathy with this aspect of the reaction, with the bringing back of colour and beauty into religious life, with the appeal to the imagination and the feelings.
The germ of the Oxford Movement is to be found in 1822 in Wordsworth’s Ecclesiastical Sketches. Although Wordsworth here showed himself a follower Catholic past which survived there. He regretted the suppressions of the ritual, lamented the dissolution of the monasteries, the end of the worship of saints and the virgin, the disappearance of the ancient abbeys, and admired the splendours of the old Cathedrals. It was one of Wordsworth’s disciples, John Kelile, professor of poetry at Oxford, who some years later started the Oxford Movement. The first impulse towards reaction was given by his sermon on ‘national apostasy’ in 1833. In this movement which Keble heralded there were two phases. The first was the High Church revival within the framework of the Anglican Church. The second was reverting to Roman Catholicism. But both laid emphasis on ceremonies, dogmatism and attachment to the past.
Others who took up this movement were E. B. Pusey and John Henry Newman, both belonging to Oxford. (In fact this movement was called the Oxford Movement, because its main supports came from Oxford.) To explain their point of view they wrote pamphlets called Tracts for the Times (1833-41) whence the movement got its name the ‘Tractarian Movement’ E.B. Pusey (1800-82) who was a colleague of Keble originated ‘Puseyism’, the form of Anglicanism which came nearest to Rome without being merged into Romanism.
John Henry Newman (1801-90) who joined later, became soon the moving force in the movement. He was, in fact, the once great man, the one genius, of Oxford Movement. Froude calls him the ‘indicating number’, all the rest but as ciphers. This judgment is quite sound. It was he who went to the length of breaking completely with Protestantism and returning to the bosom of the Roman Church. Newman, the most important personality of the movement, is also its most conspicuous writer. He dreamt of a free and powerful Church, and aspired to a return to the spirit of the Middle Ages. At first he believed that this reform could be accomplished by Anglicanism, but he was distressed to find lack of catholicity in the Anglican Church. Universality and the principle of authority he could find only in Rome. So after a period of hesitation he was converted to Roman Catholicism in 1845. In 1879 he was made a Cardinal.
Newman was great writer of prose and verse. His greatest contribution to English prose is his Apologia, in which he set forth the reasons for his conversion. This fascinating book is the great prose document of the Oxford Movement, and it is eminently and emphatically literature. From first to last it is written in pure, flawless and refined prose. His style is a clear reflection of his character. Refinement, severity, strength, sweetness, all of these words are truly descriptive of the style as well as of the character of Newman. Another special characteristic of Newman’s style is its wide range. He can express himself in any manner he pleases, and that most naturally and almost unconsciously. In his writings sarcasm, biting irony glowing passion are seen side by side, and he can change from one to the other without effort. His art of prose writing is, therefore, most natural and perfectly concealed.

(b) Walter Pater (1839 – 1894)

Pater belongs to the group of great Victorian critics like Ruskin and Arnold, though he followed a new line of criticism, and was more akin to Ruskin than to Arnold. He was also the leader of the Aesthetes and Decadents of the later part of the nineteenth century. Like Ruskin, Pater was an Epicurean, a worshipper of beauty, but he did not attach much importance to the moral and ethical side of it as Ruskin did. He was curiously interested in the phases of history; and chiefly in those, like the Renaissance and the beginnings of Christianity, in which men’s minds were driven by a powerful eagerness, or stirred by proud conflicts. He thus tried to trace the history of man through picturesque surroundings as his life developed, and he laid great stress on artistic value. From these studies – Studies in the History of the Renaissance (1873), Greek Studies and others – it becomes clear that Pater considered that the secret principle of existence that actually possesses and rules itself is to gather as many occasions of psychial intensity which life offers to the knowing, and to taste them all at their highest pitch, so that the flame of consciousness should burn with its full ardour. Far from giving itself away, it shall suck in the whole world and absorb it for its own good. Pater’s most ambitious and, on the whole, his greatest work, Marius the Epicurean, the novel in which most of his philosophy is to be found also spiritualises the search for pleasure. Pater’s aestheticism was thus spent in tasting and intensifying the joys to be reaped from the knowledge of the past and the understanding of the human soul.
As a critic Pater stands eminent. His method is that impressionism which Hazlitt and Lamb had brilliantly illustrated. His approach is always intuitional and personal, and, therefore, in his case one has to make a liberal allowance for the ‘personal equation’. His studies are short ‘appreciations’ rather than judgments. But few writers have written more wisely upon style, and the sentence in which he concentrates the essence of his doctrine is unimpeachable: “Say what you have to say, what you have a will to say, in the simplest, the most direct and exact manner possible, and with no surplusage; there is the justification of the sentence so fortunately born, entire, smooth and round, that it needs no punctuation, and also (that is the point) of the most elaborate period, if it be right in its elaboration.” Few again have more wisely discriminated between the romantic and classical elements in literature. According to him the essential elements of the romantic spirit are “curiosity and the love of beauty,” that of the classical spirit – “a comely order”. He believes that “all good art was romantic in its day”, and his love for and affinity to the romantic spirit is obvious. But he attempts to make romantic more classical, to superimpose the “comely order” upon beauty, so that its strangeness may be reduced. His point of view, therefore, is similar to that of Arnold, but he lacks Arnold’s breadth of outlook, and his attitude is more of a recluse who has no part to play in the world.
As a writer of prose, Pater is of the first rank, but he does not belong to the category of the greatest, because there is such an excess of refinement in his style that the creative strength is impoverished. Moreover, he does not possess the capacity of producing the impression of wholeness in his work. His chief merit, however, lies in details, in the perfection of single pages, though occasionally some chapters or essays are throughout remarkable for the robustness of ideas. Like a true romanticist Pater gives flexibility to his prose which beautifully corresponds to his keen sensitive perception and vivid imagination. He is capable of producing more intense and acute effects in his poetic prose than other great masters of this art – Sir Thomas Browne, De Quincey and Ruskin. And more than any other prose-writer he brushed aside the superficial barrier between prose and poetical effects and he clothed his ideas in the richly significant garb of the most harmonious and many-hued language.

Modern Literature (1900-1961)

The Modern Age in English Literature started from the beginning of the twentieth century, and it followed the Victorian Age. The most important characteristic of Modern Literature is that it is opposed to the general attitude to life and its problems adopted by the Victorian writers and the public, which may be termed ‘Victorian’. The young people during the fist decade of the present century regarded the Victorian age as hypocritical, and the Victorian ideals as mean, superficial and stupid.

This rebellious mood affected modern literature, which was directed by mental attitudes moral ideals and spiritual values diametrically opposed to those of the Victorians. Nothing was considered as certain; everything was questioned. In the field of literary technique also some fundamental changes took place. Standards of artistic workmanship and of aesthetic appreciations also underwent radical changes.
What the Victorians had considered as honourable and beautiful, their children and grandchildren considered as mean and ugly. The Victorians accepted the Voice of Authority, and acknowledged the rule of the Expert in religion, in politics, in literature and family life. They had the innate desire to affirm and confirm rather than to reject or question the opinions of the experts in their respective fields. They showed readiness to accept their words at face value without critical examinations. This was their attitude to religion and science. They believed in the truths revealed in the Bible, and accepted the new scientific theories as propounded by Darwin and others. On the other hand, the twentieth century minds did not take anything for granted; they questioned everything.
Another characteristic of Victorianism was an implicit faith in the permanence of nineteenth century institutions, both secular and spiritual. The Victorians believed that their family life, their Constitution, the British Empire and the Christian religion were based on sound footings, and that they would last for ever. This Victorian idea of the Permanence of Institutions was replaced among the early twentieth century writers by the sense that nothing is fixed and final in this world. H. G. Wells spoke of the flow of things and of “all this world of ours being no more than the prelude to the real civilisation”. The simple faith of the Victorians was replaced by the modern man’s desire to prob and question, Bernard Shaw, foremost among the rebels, attacked not only the ‘old’ superstitions of religion, but also the ‘new’ superstitions of science. The watchwords of his creed were: Question! Examine! Test! He challenged the Voice of Authority and the rule of the Expert. He was responsible for producing the interrogative habit of the mind in all spheres of life. He made the people question the basic conceptions of religion and morality. Andrew Undershift declares in Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara: “That is what is wrong with the world at present. It scraps its obsolete steam engines and dynamos; but it won’t scrap its old prejudices and its old moralities and its old religions and its old political institutions”. Such a radical proclamation invigorated some whereas others were completely shaken, as Barbara herself: “I stood on the rock I thought eternal; and without a word it reeled and crumbled under me.”
The modern mind was outraged by the Victorian self-complacency. The social and religious reformers at first raised this complaint, and they were followed by men of letters, because they echo the voice around them. Of course, the accusation of self-complacency cannot be rightly levelled against many of the Victorian writers, especially the authors of Vanity Fair, David Copperfield, Maud, Past and Present, Bishop Blouhram, Culture and Anarchy, Richard Feveral and Tess. But there was felt the need of a change in the sphere of literature also because the idiom, the manner of presentment, the play of imagination, and the rhythm and structure of the verse, of the Victorian writers were becoming stale, and seemed gradually to be losing the old magic. Their words failed to evoke the spirit.
Thus a reaction was even otherwise overdue in the field of literature, because art has to be renewed in order to revitalise it. The Victorian literature had lost its freshness and it lacked in the element of surprise which is its very soul. It had relapsed into life of the common day, and could not give the reader a shock of novelty. At the end of the Victorian era it was felt that the ideas, experiences, moods and attitudes had changed, and so the freshness which was lacking in literature had to be supplied on another level.
Besides the modern reaction against the attitude of self-complacency of the Victorians, there was also failure or disintegration of values in the twentieth century. The young men who were being taught by their elders to prize ‘the things of the spirit’ above worldly prosperity, found in actual experience that nothing could be attained without money. Material prosperity had become the basis of social standing. Whereas in 1777 Dr. Johnson affirmed that ‘opulence excludes but one evil Poverty’, in 1863, Samuel Butler who was much ahead of his time, voiced the experience of the twentieth century, when he wrote: “Money is like antennae; without it the human insect loses touch with its environment. He who would acquire scholarship or gentility must first acquire cash. In order to make the best of himself, the average youth must first make money. He would have to sacrifice to possessiveness the qualities which should render possession worthwhile.”
Besides the immense importance which began to be attached to money in the twentieth century, there was also a more acute and pressing consciousness of the social life. Whereas some of the Victorians could satisfy themselves with the contemplation of cosmic order, identification with some Divine Intelligence or Superhuman plan which absorbs and purifies our petty egoisms, and with the merging of our will in a higher will, their successors in the twentieth century could not do so. They realised every day that man was more of a social being than a spiritual being, and that industrial problems were already menacing the peace of Europe. Instead of believing in the cult of self-perfection as the Victorians did, they were ready to accept the duty of working for others. A number of twentieth century writers began to study and ponder seriously over the writings of Karl Marx, Engels, Ruskin, Morris, and some of them like Henry James, discussed practical suggestions for the reconstruction of society.
The Victorians believed in the sanctity of home life, but in the twentieth century the sentiments for the family circle declined. Young men and women who realised the prospect of financial independence refused to submit to parental authority, and considered domestic life as too narrow. Moreover, young people who began early to earn their living got greater opportunity of mixing with each other, and to them sex no longer remained a mystery. So love became much less of a romance and much more of an experience.
These are some of the examples of the disintegration of values in the twentieth century. The result was that the modern writers could no longer write in the old manner. If they played on such sentiments as the contempt for money, divine love, natural beauty, the sentiments of home and life, classical scholarship, and communication with the spirit of the past, they were running the risk of striking a false note. Even if they treated the same themes, they had to do it in a different manner, and evoke different thoughts and emotions from what were normally associated with them. The modern writer had, therefore, to cultivate a fresh point of view, and also a fresh technique.
The impact of scientific thought was mainly responsible for this attitude of interrogations and disintegration of old values. The scientific truths which were previously the proud possessions of the privileged few, were now equally intelligible to all. In an age of mass education, they began to appeal to the masses. The physical and biological conclusions of great scientists like Darwin, Lyell and Huxley, created the impression on the new generation that the universe looks like a colossal blunder, that human life on our inhospitable globe is an accident due to unknown causes, and that this accident had led to untold misery. They began to look upon Nature not as a system planned by Divine Architect, but as a powerful, but blind, pitiless and wasteful force. These impressions filled the people of the twentieth century with overwhelming pity, despair or stoicism. A number of writers bred and brought up in such an atmosphere began to voice these ideas in their writings.
The twentieth century has become the age of machine. Machinery has, no doubt, dominated every aspect of modern life, and it has produced mixed response from the readers and writers. Some of them have been alarmed at the materialism which machinery has brought in its wake, and they seek consolation and self-expression in the bygone unmechanised and pre-mechanical ages. Others, however, being impressed by the spectacle of mechanical power producing a sense of mathematical adjustment and simplicity of design, and conferring untold blessings on mankind, find a certain rhythm and beauty in it. But there is no doubt, that whereas machinery has reduced drudgery, accelerated production and raised the standard of living, it has given rise to several distressing complications. The various scientific appliances confer freedom and enslavement, efficiency and embarrassment. The modern man has now to live by the clock applying his energies not according to mood and impulse, but according to the time scheme. All these ideas are found expressed in modern literature, because the twentieth century author has to reflect this atmosphere, and he finds little help from the nineteenth century.
Another important factor which influenced modern literature was the large number of people of the poor classes who were educated by the State. In order to meet their demand for reading the publishers of the early twentieth century began whole series of cheaply reprinted classics. This was supplemented by the issue of anthologies of Victorian literature, which illustrated a stable society fit for a governing class which had established itself on the economic laws of wealth, the truth of Christianity and the legality of the English Constitution. But these failed to appeal to the new cheaply educated reading public who had no share in the inheritance of those ideals, who wanted redistribution of wealth, and had their own peculiar codes of moral and sexual freedom. Even those who were impressed by the wit and wisdom of the past could not shut their eyes to the change that had come about on account of the use of machinery, scientific development, and the general atmosphere of instability and flux in which they lived. So they demanded a literature which suited the new atmosphere. The modern writers found in these readers a source of power and income, if they could only appeal to them, and give them what they wanted. The temptation to do so was great and it was fraught with great dangers, because the new reading public were uncertain of their ideologies, detached from their background, but desperately anxious to be impressed. They wanted to be led and shown the way. The result was that some of the twentieth century authors exploited their enthusiasm and tried to lead their innocent readers in the quickest, easiest way, by playing on their susceptibilities. In some cases the clever writer might end as a prophet of a school in which he did not believe. Such was the power wielded by the reading public.
One great disadvantage under which the modern writers labour is that there is no common ground on which they and their readers meet. This was not so during the Victorian period, where the authors and the reading public understood each other, and had the common outlook on and attitude to life and its problems. In the atmosphere of disillusionment, discontent and doubt, different authors show different approaches to life. Some lament the passing of old values, and express a sense of nostalgia. Some show an utter despair of the future; while others recommend reverting to an artificial primitivism. Some concentrate on sentiment, style or diction in order to recover what has been lost. Thus among the twentieth century writers are sometimes found aggressive attempts to retain or revitalise old values in a new setting or, if it is not possible, to create new values to take their place.
The twentieth century literature which is the product of this tension is, therefore, unique. It is extremely fascinating and, at the same time, very difficult to evaluate, because, to a certain extent, it is a record of uncoordinated efforts. It is not easy to divide it into school and types. It is full of adventures and experiments peculiar to the modern age which is an age of transition and discovery. But there is an undercurrent in it which runs parallel to the turbulent current of ideas which flows with great impetuosity. Though it started as a reaction against ‘Victorianism’ in the beginning of the twentieth century, it is closely bound up with the new ideas which are agitating the mind of the modern man.

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Modern Poetry

Modern poetry, of which T. S. Eliot is the chief representative, has followed entirely a different tradition from the Romantic and Victorian tradition of poetry. Every age has certain ideas about poetry, especially regarding the essentially poetical subjects, the poetical materials and the poetical modes.
These preconceptions about poetry during the nineteenth century were mainly those which were established by great Romantic poets—Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley and Keats. According to them the sublime and the pathetic were the two chief nerves of all genuine poetry. That is why Spenser, Shakespeare and Milton were given a higher place as poets than Dryden and Pope, who were merely men of wit and good sense, and had nothing of the transcendentally sublime or pathetic in them. During the Victorian Age, Matthew Arnold, summing up these very assumptions about poetry stated:
Though they may write in verse, though they may in a certain sense be masters of the art of versification, Dryden and Pope are not classics of our poetry, they are classics of our prose.
The difference between genuine poetry and the poetry of Dryden and Pope and all their school is briefly this; their poetry is conceived and composed in their wits; genuine poetry is conceived and composed in the soul.
Arnold shared with the age the prejudice in favour of poetry which in Milton’s phrase was “simple, sensuous and passionate.” It was generally assumed that poetry must be the direct expression of the simple, tender, exalted, poignant and sympathetic emotions. Wit, play of intellect and verbal jugglery were considered as hinderances which prevented the readers from being “moved”.
Besides these preconceptions, a study of the nineteenth century poetry reveals the fact that its main characteristic was preoccupation with a dream world, as we find in Keats’s La Belle Dame Sans Merci, Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott and Rossetti’s The Blessed Damozel. O’ Shaughnessy’s following lines express the popular conception of the poet during the nineteenth century:

We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers
On whom the pale moon shines.

Such conceptions of the poet and his art prevailed during the Victorian period not because they were right, but because they suited the age, and moreover they had the prestige of the Romantic achievement behind them. But they could not find favour with the poets and critics of the twentieth century on account of the radical changes that had taken place. Under the stress and strain of new conditions they could not take the dream habit seriously. Though during the Victorian period Tennyson was aware of the new problems which were creeping in on account of scientific and technical discoveries, yet under the impact of the popular conception of poetry, and also because of his own lack of intellectual vigour, he expressed in his poems more of a spirit of withdrawal and escape, rather than of facing squarely the problems confronting his age. This is illustrated by his The Palace of Art. The explicit moral of the poem is that an escape from worldly problem is of no avail; but instead of effectively conveying this moral, the poem stands for withdrawal and escape. In the songs of Swinburne about Liberty and Revolution we do not find the preciseness and genuineness of Shelley’s ideals.
The Victorian poetry was obviously other-worldly. Its cause was stated by Arnold when he referred to:
………this strange disease of modern life
With its sick hurry, its divided aims,
Its heads o’ertaxed, its palsied hearts……
(A Summer Night)
But in spite of the fact that Arnold among all the Victorian poets was the most frank in his expression of the ‘disease’ of his age, his response to it was not fundamentally unlike that of the other poets of his age. For him the past was out of date, the future was not yet born, and not much could be done. He studied Wordsworth and the Greek poets mainly with the purpose of escaping to the freshness of the early world. In his own poems like A Summer Night, where he refers to the disease of modern life, he slips away from ‘this uncongenial place, this human life’ into the beautiful moon-lit region, and forgets the iron time in the midst of melodious sentiments.
Arnold, therefore, was not qualified to give a new direction to poetry. Browning on the other hand, though a greater poet, was unaware of the disharmonies of his time. He was too optimistic to face the realities of life and new problems which had crept in. He was a poet of simple emotions and sentiments, and though he could understand psychologically the past ages, he had no aptitude to understand the complexities of modern life. He was also, therefore, not in a position to provide the impulse to bring back poetry to the proper and adequate grappling with the new problems which had arisen.
William Morris, though a practical socialist, reserved poetry for his day-dreams. Moreover, some of the distinguished authors like Meredith and Hardy turned to the novel, and during the early part of the twentieth century it was left to the minor poets like Houseman and Rupert Brooke to write in the poetic medium. Thus there was the greatest need for some great poets to make poetry adequate to modern life, and escape from the atmosphere which the established habits had created. For generations owing to the reaction of aesthetes against the new scientific, industrial and largely materialistic world, the people in England had become accustomed to the idea that certain things are ‘not poetical,’ that a poet can mention a rose and not the steam engine, that poetry is an escape from life and not an attack on life, and that a poet is sensitive to only certain beautiful aspects of life, and not the whole life. So the twentieth century needed poets who were fully alive to what was happening around them, and who had the courage and technique to express it.

The great poetical problem in the beginning of the twentieth century was, therefore, to invent technique that would be adequate to the ways of feeling, or modes of experience of the modern adult sensitive mind. The importance of T. S. Eliot lies in the fact that, gifted with a mind of rare distinction, he has solved his own problem as a poet. Moreover, being a poet as well as a critic his poetical theories are re-inforced by his own poetry, and thus he has exerted a tremendous influence on modern poetry. It is mainly due to him that all serious modern poets and critics have realised that English poetry must develop along some other line than that running from the Romantics to Tennyson, Swinburne and Rupert Brooke.
Of the other important poets of the twentieth century Robert Bridges belonged to the transitional period. He was an expert literary technician, and it was his “inexhaustible satisfaction of form” which led him to poetry. His metrical innovations were directed to the breaking down of the domination of the syllabic system of versification, overruling it by a stress prosody wherein natural speech rhythms should find their proper values. He was convinced that it was only through the revival of the principle of quantitative stress that any advances in English versification could be expected. A. E. Houseman a classical scholar like Robert Bridges, rejected the ecstasles of romantic poetry, and in his expression of the mood of philosophic despair, used a style characterised by Purity, Simplicity, restraint and absence of all ornamentation. W. B. Yeats, the founder of the Celtic movement in poetry and drama, a phase of romanticism which had not been much exploited hitherto, gave expression to the intellectual mood of his age.
The twentieth century poets who were in revolt against Victorianism and especially against the didactic tendency of poets like Tennyson, Browning, Arnold and even Swinburne and Meredith, felt that the poet’s business was to be uniquely himself, and to project his personality through the medium of his art. Poetry to them was not a medium for philosophy and other extraneous matters; nor was it singing for its own sake. It was a method first of discovering one’s self, and then a means of projecting this discovery. Thus the problem before each of them was how to arrive at a completely individual expression of oneself in poetry. Naturally it could not be solved by using the common or universally accepted language of poetry. On account of the change in the conceptions of the function of poetry, it was essential that a new technique of communicating meaning be discovered. It was this necessity which brought about the movements known as imagism and symbolism in modern poetry.
Symbolism was first started in France in the nineteenth century. The business of the symbolist poet is to express his individual sensations and perceptions in language which seems best adapted to convey his essential quality without caring for the conventional metres and sentence structures. He aims at inducing certain states of mind in the reader rather than communicating logical meaning. The imagists, on the other hand, aim at clarity of expression through hard, accurate, and definite images. They believe that it is not the elaborate similes of Milton or extended metaphors of Shakespeare which can express the soul of poetry. This purpose of poetry can be best served by images which by their rapid impingement on the consciousness, set up in the mind fleeting complexes of thought and feeling. In poetry which is capable of capturing such instantaneous state of mind, there is no scope for Wordsworth’s “emotion recollected in tranquillity”. In it suggestion plays the paramount part and there is no room for patient, objective descriptions.
The symbolist poetry in England came into prominence with the appearance of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. But it had actually started right during the Victorian Age, which is evident from the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89), a Jesuit priest whose poems were published thirty years after his death. It was the poetry of Hopkins and T. S. Eliot which exerted the greatest influence on English poetry between the two wars.
The technique of the symbolist is impressionistic and not representational. In order to prevent any obstruction in the way of emotive suggestion by any direct statement of experience, he gives a covering of obscurity to his meaning. There is also in symbolist poetry a strong element of charm or incantation woven by the music of words. Repetition is often resorted to by the symbolist poets as we find in Tennyson’s The Marriage of Geraint:
Forgetful of his promise to the king
Forgetful of the falcon and the hunt,
Forgetful of the tilt and tournament,
Forgetful of his glory and his name
Forgetful of the princedom and its cares.
But the repetitive rhythms which the symbolists use have in them a hypnotic quality. They also recall the texture of dreams of the subconscious states of mind, and because of absence of punctuation they can express the continuous “stream of consciousness”.
The symbolists also give more importance to the subjective vision of an object or situation rather than the object or the situation itself. Moreover, unlike the Romantics who create beauty out of things which are conventionally beautiful, like natural objects, works of art etc., the symbolists find beauty in every detail of normal day-to-day life. Naturally to accomplish that and create beauty out of such prosaic material requires a higher quality of art and a more sensitive approach to life. Moreover, besides including all sorts of objects and situations in the poetical fold, the symbolist has broken fresh grounds in language also. He considers that every word in the language has a potentiality for being used in poetry as well in prose. For him the language of poetry is not different from that of prose. As he uses all sorts of words which were never used in poetry by the Romantics, the symbolist has to invent a new prosody to accommodate such words as were banned previously from the domain of poetry. Thus the symbolist does not consider any particular topic, diction or rhythm specially privileged to be used in poetry.

Modern Poets

1. Robert Bridges (1840-1930)

Robert Bridges, though a twentieth century poet, may be considered as the last of the Great Victorians as he carried on the Victoriantradition. He is not a poet of the modern crisis except for his metrical innovations. Belonging to the aristocracy his work is also concerned with the leisured and highly cultivated aristocratic class of society.

In his poetry we find beautiful descriptions of English landscapes, clear streams, gardens, songs of birds. The world that he depicts is haunted by memories of the classics, of music and poetry and decorous love making. He carries on the tradition of Milton, Wordsworth and Tennyson, against which the young men of his times were in open revolt. We do not find in his poetry any bold attempt to face the critical problems facing his generation. Even his greatest poem, The Testament of Beauty, does not contain any consistent treatment of deep philosophy. That is why Yeats remarked that there is emptiness everywhere in the poetry of Bridges.
The importance of Bridges in modern poetry, however, is in his metrical innovations. He was lover of old English music and many of his early lyrics are obviously influenced by the Elizabethan lyricists, especially Thomas Campion. He was a remarkable prosodist, the first English poet who had a grasp of phonetic theory. He was tireless experimenter in verse form. He himself admitted: “What led me to poetry was the inexhaustible satisfaction of form, the magic of speech, lying as it seemed to be in the masterly control of the material.” Working under the influence of his friend, Hopkins, to whom he dedicated the second book of shorter poems, Bridges wrote his poems following the rules of new prosody. The best of Bridges’ metrical experiment is the sprung rhythm, a kind of versification which is not, as usual, based on speech rhythm, but on “the hidden emotional pattern that makes poetry.” And it was a definite contribution to the development of English verse.
The lyrics of Bridges like A Passer-By, London Snow, The Downs, are marked by an Elizabethan simplicity. In the sonnets of The Growth of Love, we find the calm, the mediative strain of Victorian love poetry. A believer in Platonic love, he exalts the ethical and intellectual principle of beauty. In his greatest poem, The Testament of Beauty, he has given beautiful expression to his love for ‘the mighty abstract idea of beauty in all things’ which he received from Keats. Here he has also sought to ‘reconcile Passion with peace and show desire at rest.’ In his poetry Bridges thus transcended rather than solved the modern problems by his faith in idealism and the evolutionary spirit. He has no sympathy for the down-trodden and less fortunate members of humanity, and so whenever he deals with a simple human theme, as in the poem The Villager, he reflects the mind of the upper class which has lost touch with common humanity. Bridges is, therefore, rightly called the last Great Victorian, and his greatest poem, The Testament of Beauty, the final flower of the Victorian Spirit.

2. Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

Hopkins who died in 1889, but whose poems were not issued during his lifetime, and who only became widely known after his friend Robert Bridges edited the collection in 1918, exerted a great influence on modern English poetry. The poems of Hopkins were so eccentric in style that Bridges dared not publish them till thirty years after his death. Hopkins had tried to revive the ‘sprung rhythm’, the accentual and alliterative measure of Langland and Skelton, which had dropped out of use since the sixteenth century. In this rhythm there are two currents, the undercurrent and the overcurrent, which are intertwined. This effect is produced by inducing the metre to run back on itself, sometimes making a second line reverse the movement of one before; sometimes in the same line confronting a metric foot by its opposite, for instance, an iambic followed by a trochee. As these variations produce the momentary effect of a break or split, Hopkins called this device sprung rhythm. This rhythm follows the system of beats and stresses unlike the quantitive metres where every syllable is counted. As in conversation we stress significant words and syllables with so much emphasis that accompanying syllables and words are left to take care of themselves, the ‘sprung’ rhythm is nearer to natural speech. That is why it has appealed to the modern poets who in their poetry attempt to convey the everyday experience of modern life and its multifarious problem in a most natural manner. The ‘sprung’ rhythm of Hopkins, therefore, is his greatest contribution to modern poetry. Of course he was not the first to invent it; there are examples of it in the poetry of all great poets, especially Milton. But Hopkins revived it and laid special emphasis on it, and exerted a great influence because the twentieth century needed it.
Hopkins, like Keats, was endowed with a highly sensuous temperament, but being a deeply religious man having an abiding faith in God, he refined his faculty and offered it to God. He avoided all outward and sensuous experiences, but enjoyed them in a deeply religious mood as intimations of the Divine Presence. He could perceive God in every object, and tried to find its distinctive virtue of design of pattern the inner kernel of its being, or its very soul which was expressed by its outer form. This peculiarity or the immanent quality in each thing which is the manifestation of Beauty was called by Hopkins as inscape’, a term which he borrowed from Don Scotus. For example, the inscape of the flower called ‘blue bell’, according to Hopkins, is mixed strength and grace. Thus to him not only trees, grass, flower, but each human spirit had its personal inscape, a mystic, creative force which shapes the mind. This ‘inscape Hopkisn expressed in a style also which was peculiar to himself, because he could not be satisfied with the conventional rhythms and metres which were incapable of conveying what came straight from his heart.
The poems of Hopkins are about God, Nature and Man, and all of them are pervaded with the immanence of God. His greatest poem is The Wreck of Deutschland, which is full of storm and agony revealing the mystery of God’s way to men. All his poetry is symbolic, and he means more than he says. Some of his lyrics are sublime, but the majority of his poems are obscure. It is mainly on account of his theory—sprung rhythm, and inscape, that he has exerted such a tremendous influence on modern poets.

3. A. E. Houseman (1859-1936)

Alfred Edward Houseman was a great classical scholar. He wrote much of his poetry about Shorpshrie, which like Hardy’s Wessex, is a part of England, full of historic memories and still comparatively free from the taint of materialism. Out of his memories of this place, Houseman created a dream world, a type of arcadia. His most celebrated poem, Shorpshire Lad, which is a pseudo-pastoral fancy, deals with the life of the Shorpshire lad who lives a vigorous, care-fee life.
Housemen was disgusted with the dismal picture which the modern world presented to him, but he did not possess a sufficiently acute intellect to solve its problems. However, in some of his poems he gives an effective and powerful expression to the division in the modern consciousness caused by the contrast between the development of the moral sense and the dehumanised world picture provided by scientific discoveries. In one of his poems based on his memories of Shorpshrie, he has achieved tragic dignity:
Men loved unkindness then, but lightless in the quarry
I slept and saw not; tears fell down, I did not mourn;
Sweat ran and blood sprang and I was never sorry;
Then it was well with me, in days ere I was born
Housemen also wrote a few poems expressing the horrible destruction caused by modern wars, and their utter futility and inhumanity. But he was on the whole a minor poet who could not attain the stature of T. S. Eliot or W. B. Yeats.

4. The “Georgian” Poets

Besides Bridges and Houseman, who did not belong to any group, there was in the first quarter of the twentieth century a group of poets called the “George Group:” These poets flourished in the reign of George V (1911-1936). They possessed various characteristics and were not conscious of belonging to a particular group. In reality they were imitators of the parts, who shut their eyes against the contemporary problems. But they were presumptuous enough to think of themselves as the heralds of a new age. Robert Graves who first claimed to belong to this group, and subsequently broke away with it, wrote about the Georgian poets. “The Georgians’ general recommendations were the discarding of archaistic diction such as ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ and ‘flower’d’ and ‘when’er’, and of poetical construction such as ‘winter clear’ and ‘host on armed host’ and of pomposities generally… In reaction to Victorianism their verse should avoid all formally religious, philosophic or improving themes; and all sad, wrecked cafe-table themes in reaction to the ninetees. Georgian poets were to be English but not aggressively imperialistic, pantheistic rather than atheistic; and as simple as a child’s reading book. Their subjects were to be Nature, love, leisure, old age, childhood, animals, sleep… unemotional subject.”
This is rather a severe account of the Georgian poets but it is not wholly unjustified. Though the quantity of work produced by the Georgian poets is great, the quality is not of a high order. The poets generally attributed to this group are roughly those whose work was published in the five volumes of Georgian Poetry, dated respectively 1911-12, 1913-15, 1916-17, 1918-19 and 1920-22. The important poets who contributed to these volumes were Lascelles Aberchrombie, Gordon Bottomley, Rupert Brooke, G. K. Chesterton, W. H. Davis; Walter De La Mare, John Masefield, J. E. Flecker, W. W. Gibson; D. H. Lawrence, John Drinkwater, Sturge Moore, Laurence Binyon, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen.
Among these the poets whose work has some lasting value are Walter De la Mare, W. H. Davis, Laurence Binyon and John Masefield. The greatest of them is Walter De La Mare (1873-1957) who writes in a simple, pure, lyrical style about beautiful sights and sounds of the country, about children and old people but there is always in his poetry a strange enchantment produced by the apprehension of another world existing side by with the everyday world. His poetry has the atmosphere of dreamland, as he himself says in his introduction to Behold, This Dreamer: “Every imaginative poem resembles in its onset and its effect the experience of dreaming.” He has the faculty of bridging the gulf between waking and dreaming, between reality and fantasy. Besides this he has great skill in the management of metre, and successfully welding the grotesque with the profoundly pathetic.
William Henry Davies (1871-1940) is one of the natural singers in the English language. Being immensely interested in Nature, the experiences which he describes about natural objects and scenes are authentic. His lyrics remind us of the melodies of Herrick and Blake. Though living in the twentieth century, he remained wholly unsophisticated, and composing his poems without much conscious effort, he could not give them polish and finish. But inspite of this he has left quite a number of lyrics which on account of their lively music have an enduring appeal to sensitive ears.
Laurence Binyon (1869-1943), a scholar and poet who translated Dante into English had a sense of just word and its sound. Generally he wrote about classical themes. The most notable of such poems is his Attila, a dramatic poem which is a well-constructed play. Its vehement blank verse and speed of action remind the readers of Shakespeare. The First World War stirred him to profound feelings and he wrote some very moving poems, for example, the one beginning with the unforgettable line—
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old.
The Second World War had a great saddening effect on him, and in his last years he wrote poems in which he contrasted old pleasures and dreams with the horrible war oppressed present. They were posthumously published in 1944 under the title The Burning of the Leaves and other Poems. Though these poems were written under the shadow of war and they deal with the transient nature of things and their tendency to decay, yet they express the hope, like Browning’s poetry, that nothing that is past is ultimately gone.
John Masefield (born 1878) who has been Poet Laureate since 1930, has been composing poems for the last forty years, but he has not attained real greatness as a poet. As a young man he was a sailor, and so most of his early poetry deals with life at sea and the various adventures that one meets there. The poems which give expression to this experience are contained in the volumes Salt Water Ballads (1902) and Ballads (1906). In 1909 he produced his best poetic tragedy—The Tragedy of Nan. After that he gave up writing on imaginative themes, and produced poems dealing with the graver aspects of modern life in a realistic manner, e.g. The Everlasting Mercy (1911), The Widow in the Bye-Street Dauber (1913), The Daffodil Fields (1913). All these poems narrate a stirring story with an excellent moral. Now he is looked upon as one of the ‘prophets’ of modern England.

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5. The Imagists

The first revolt against the Victorian Romantic poetic tradition came from a group of poets called the Imagists. Their activities extended for about ten years—from 1912 to 1922. They realized that the poetry of the Georgians did not introduce any new vitality in English poetry. At its best it displayed both power and individuality, but it did not alter the fact that each of the Georgian poets was content to delimit or modify the poetic inheritance of the nineteenth century rather than abandon it in favour of a radically different approach. Neither Masefield, whose poetry is realistic in subject and vocabulary, no De la Mare, who is the last of the true romantic poets of England, pointed to the new paths in English poetry.
The poetic revolution engineered by the Imagists, which began in the years immediately preceding the First World War, and which was both produced and further encouraged by T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, preferred the older tradition in English poetry to the Victorian Romantic tradition. The Romantic and the Victorian poets tried to express their personalities in their poems. For them poetry was a means of self-expression and they appealed to the cultivated sensibility of their reader. They treated of themes dealing with their personal hopes and fears and often indulged in the emotions of nostalgia and self-pity. That is why the Victorian poetry especially had a tendency of running to elegy. The Imagists believed that the function of poetry is not self-expression, but the proper fusion of meaning in language. According to them poems are works of art and not pieces of emotional autobiography or rhetorical prophecy. As the purpose of poetry is the exploration of experience, the poet must strive after a kind of poetic statement, which is both precise and passionate, profoundly felt and desperately accurate, even if it means the twisting of the language into a new shape. There must be the fusion of thought and emotion which is found among the Metaphysical poets of the seventeenth century. The Imagists did not look upon the poet as the sweet singer whose function was to render in sweet verse and conventional imagery some personal emotions, but he was the explorer of experience. Therefore, he must use the language in order to build up rich patterns of meaning which required very close attention before they were communicated. The rebels were conscious of the fact that the poetry of their own time represented the final ebb of the Victorian Romantic tradition, and that the time was ripe to give a new direction to English poetry.
The new movement began with a revolt against every kind of sweet verbal impression and romantic egotism which persisted throughout the nineteenth century. Its originator, T. E. Hulme, who was killed in war in 1917, in an article which he wrote in 1909, declared his preference for precise and disciplined classicism to sloppy romanticism. He advocated hardness and precision of imagery “in order to get the exact curve of the thing” together with subtler and more flexible rhythms. He with the help of Ezra Pound, who had come from America, founded the movement called Imagism. Defining the Imagists, Pound wrote in 1912: “They are in opposition to the numerous and unassembled writers who busy themselves with dull and interminable effusions, and who seem to think that a man can write a good long poem before he learns to write a good short one, or even before he learns to produce a good single line.” Giving a fuller statement of the aims of the Imagist movement, F. S. Flint pointed out in 1913 that three rules the Imagists observed were—(a) “direct treatment of the “thing”, (b) “to use absolutely no word that did not contribute to the presentation”, and (c) “to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.” Pound emphasised that the Imagists should “use no superfluous word, no adjective, which does not reveal something”, and that they should avoid abstraction. The Imagist movement spread in England and America, and it was helped by the seventeenth century metaphysical poetry and the nineteenth century symbolists, who contributed their techniques and attitudes to the revolution.
The leader of the Imagists was Ezra Pound. Other poets who were included in this group were F. S. Flint, Richard Aldington, F. M. Hueffer, James Joyce, Allan Upward, H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), Amy Lowell, William Carlos Williams, Instead of imitating the English romantics like the Georgians, the Imagists attempted to reproduce the qualities of Ancient Greek and Chinese poetry. They aimed at hard, clear, brilliant effects instead of the soft, dreamy vagueness of the English nineteenth century. Their aims which were expressed in the introduction to Some Imagist Poets (1915), can be summarised as follows:
(1) To use the language of common speech, but to employ always the exact word, not the nearly exact, nor the merely decorative word.
(2) To produce poetry that is hard and clear, and not deal in vague generalities, however, magnificent and sonorous.
(3) To create new rhythms and not to copy old rhythms which merely echo old ones.
The Imagists were greatly influenced by the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, which appeared in 1918, thirty years after the death of the poet. It was the complete absence of any sign of laxness in Hopkins’ poetry, the clear signs of words and rhythms which were perfectly controlled by the poet to produce the desired effect, with no dependence at all on the general poetic feeling, which made an immediate appeal to the new poets.
Regarding the subject matter of poetry, the Imagists, believing that there was no longer a general public of poetry lovers, concentrated on expressing the modern consciousness for their own satisfaction and that of their friends. They gave up the old pretence that humanity was steadily progressing towards a millennium. Instead they recognised that in the new dark age of barbarism and vulgarity, it is the duty of the enlightened few to protect culture and escape the spiritual degradation of a commercialised world. This attitude seems to be similar to that of the aesthetes of the last decade of the nineteenth century, but it is not so. Whereas the aesthetes hating the vulgarity of the contemporary world tried to lose themselves among beautiful fantasies by withdrawing into an ivory tower, the Imagists, on the contrary, faced the new problems and tried to create a very precise and concentrated expression, a new sort of consciousness because the traditional poetic techniques were inadequate for that purpose. Opposed to the romantic view of man as “an infinite reservoir of possibilities”, they looked upon him as a very imperfect creature “intrinsically limited but disciplined by order.” Unlike the romantics who regarded the world as a glorious place with which man was naturally in harmony, the Imagists regarded it “as landscape with occasional oasis…But mainly deserts of dirt, ash-pits of cosmos, grass on ashpits”. They did believe in the words of Hulme, in “no universal ego, but a few definite persons gradually built up”. In his essay on Romanticism and Classicism, he predicted that “a period of dry, hard, classical verse is coming” and expressed the opinion that “there is an increasing proportion of people who simply can’t stand Swinburne.”
The Imagists could not adequately tackle the contemporary problems, because they lived too much among books, were rather irresponsible in their conduct, did not possess sharp intellect, and were not in close contact with actualities. The result is that their poetry is as nerveless and artificial as the neo-romantic poetry of the Georgians. But they certainly deserve the credit of showing that English poetry needed a new technique, and that unnecessary rules and a burdensome mass of dead associations must be removed.
The poets belonging to the Imagist group did not produce great poetry on account of the reasons stated above. Ezra Pound is a poet of real originality, but his too much and rather undigested learning which he tries to introduce in his poems, makes them difficult to understand, and also gives them an air of pedantry. His greatest contribution to modern poetry is his development of an unrhymed ‘free verse’, and other metrical experiments which influenced T. S. Eliot.
The most important writer, who in spite of his being not a regular member of their group, was directly connected with the Imagists, was David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930). He contributed both to Georgian poetry and the Imagist anthologies. Most of his mature poetry deals with the theme of duel of sex, a conflict of love and hate between man and wife, and expresses an annihilation of the ego and a sort of mystical rebirth or regeneration. His most remarkable poem Manifesto ends with a beautiful description of universe where all human beings have completely realised their individualities, where

All men detach themselves and become unique;
Every human being will then be like a flower, untrammelled,
Every movement will be direct
Only to be will be such delight, we cover our faces when we think of it,
Lest our faces betray us to some untimely end.

The poems which he wrote in the last year of his life when he was dying of consumption, deal with the themes of death and eternity. Lawrence did a lot in rebuilding English poetry, and as a critic he set before the English poets the following ideal, which has greatly influenced the modern English poets.

The essence of poetry with us in this age of stark unlovely actualities is a stark directness, without a shadow of a lie, or a shadow of deflection anywhere. Everything can go, but this stark, bare, rocky directness of statement, this alone makes poetry to-day.”

6. Trench Poets

The First World War (1914-18) gave rise to war poetry, and the poets who wrote about the war and its horrors especially in the trenches are called the War Poets, or the “Trench Poets.” The war poetry was in continuation of Georgian poetry, and displayed its major characteristics, namely, an escape from actuality. For example, E. W. Tennant describes the soldiers in Home Thoughts in Laventie, as

Dancing with a measured step from wrecked and shattered town.
Away upon the Downs.

Instead of facing squarely the horrors of war, these poets looked upon the terrible present as a mere dream and the world of imagination the only reality. Following the Georgian tradition with its fanciful revolution from the drabness of urban life and its impressionistic description of the commonplace in a low emotional tone, a number of poets who wrote about the war, described incidents of war and the ardours and pathos of simple men caught in the catastrophe. Their method was descriptive and impressionistic, and on account of lack of any intense, sincere and realistic approach, they failed to arouse the desired emotions in the readers.
Out of a number of these war poets, only two—Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen – attained some poetic standard. Though Sassoon in his early period belonged to the Georgian group, his predominant mood was not lyrical but satiric, not ‘escapist’ but rebellious, because he felt that the soldier was being sacrificed for a false idealism. He looked upon him as

a decent chap
Who did his work and hadn’t much to say
(A Working Party)

In his Suicide in Trenches he described the horrors of trench warfare. In Song Books of the War he dwelt on the short memory of the public who forget those who suffered and died for them during the war. Sassoon, who is still living, wrote some poems between the two great wars, in which he attacked the shallow complacency of his contemporaries, and gave voice to the disillusionment.
Wilfred Owen wrote war poems under the influence of Sassoon. He admired Sassoon because the latter expressed in a harsh manner the truth about war. Speaking about his own poetry he remarked, “Above all, I am not concerned with poetry. My subject is War and the poetry of War. The poetry is in the pity … all a poet can do today is to warn. That is why the true poets must be truthful.” Though in his poems we find the mood of disillusioned irony, yet, unlike Sassoon, he does not completely lose his hope for man. His poems are free from bitterness and he rejoices in the exultation of battle as well as in the fellowship of comrades. Whereas in Sassoon’s poetry we find a mood of indignation and satire, in Owen’s poetry the mood is of reconciliation and elegy. The following remarkable lines in his poem Strange Meeting reveal Owen’s typical approach to War.

I am the enemy you killed, my fried…
Let us sleep now.

As an experimenter in metre Owen’s contribution to modern English poetry is great. Against the Georgian laxity, he introduced accumulative use of balance and parallelism. And above all, he brought a new dignity to war poetry.

7. W. B. Yeats (1865 – 1939)

William Butler Yeats was one of the most important of modern poets, who exerted a great influence on his contemporaries as well as successors. He was an Irish, and could never reconcile himself to the English habits and way of thinking. By temperament he was a dreamer, a visionary, who fell under the spell of the folk-lore and the superstitions of the Irish peasantry. Like them he believed in fairies, gnomes, and demons, in the truth of dreams, and in personal immortality. Naturally with such a type of temperament, Yeats felt himself a stranger in the world dominated by science, technology and rationalism.
Being convinced that modern civilisation effaces our fundamental consciousness of ourselves, Yeats trusted in the faculty of imagination, and admired those ages when imagination reigned supreme. Thus he went deeper and farther in the range of folk-lore and mythology. He discovered the primitive and perennial throb of life in passions and beliefs of ancient times, and he wanted to revive it, because he felt that modern civilisation has tamed it by its insistence on dry logic and cold reason.
Yeats was anti-rationalist. He believed in magic, occult influences and hypnotism. He thus led the ‘revolt of the soul against the intellect’, in the hope to acquire ‘a more conscious exercise of the human faculties’. He also believed in the magic of words, the phrases and terms which appeal to common humanity. Therefore, he tried to rediscover those symbols which had a popular appeal in ancient days, and which can even now touch man’s hidden selves and awaken in him his deepest and oldest consciousness of love and death, or his impulse towards adventure and self-fulfillment. Being disillusioned by lack of harmony and strength in modern culture, he tried to revive the ancient spells and incantations to bring about unity and a spirit of integration in modern civilisation which was torn by conflicts and dissensions.
All these factors inclined Yeats towards symbolism. Believing in the existence of a universal ‘great mind’, and a ‘great memory’ which could be ‘evoked by symbols’, he came to regard that both imagery and rhythm can work as incantations to rouse universal emotions. He liked Shelley’s poetry because of the symbolism inherent in the recurrent images of leaves, boats, stars, caves, the moon. He found that Blake invented his own symbols, but his own task was easier because he could draw freely on Irish mythology for the symbols he required. Coming under the influence of French Symbolists like Verlaine, Macterlinck, he tried to substitute the wavering, meditative and organic rhythms, which are the embodiment of imagination, for those energetic rhythms as of a running man which are not suited to serious poetry.
As a symbolist poet Yeats’ aim was to evoke a complex of emotions not by a direct statement but by a multitude of indirect strokes. The result is that sometimes the symbols used by him are not clear as they have been derived from certain obscure sources. For example, the symbols used in the following lines from The Poet Pleads with the Elemental powers demand a commentary:

Do you not hear me calling white deer with no horns?
I have been changed to a hound with one red ear!
I would that the Boar without bristles had come from the west
And had rooted the sun and moon and stars out of the sky
And lay in the darkness, grunting, and turning to his rest.

In most of his poems, however, the symbols used by Yeats are obvious. One very common symbol in his poetry is ‘the moon’, which stands for life’s mystery.
Yeats, therefore, tried to reform poetry not by breaking with the Past, but with the Present. According to him, the true poet is he who tells the most ancient story in a manner which applies to the people today. His early poems, like The Wanderings of Oisin (1889), express Yeats’ deepest idealism in the simple outlines of primitive tales. The same attempt, though more effective and mature, was made in The Wind Among the Reeds (1899) and The Shadowy Waters (1900). But up to this time Yeats had not found himself; he was groping in the dreamland for wisdom and illumination.
The First World War (1914-18) and the Irish disturbances during those eventful years gave to Yeats a more realistic direction. These conflicts, of course, did not completely efface his dreams, but they turned his eyes from mythology to his own soul which was divided between earthly passions and unearthly visions. Yeats realised that the highest type of poetry is produced by the fusion of both—“the synthesis of the Self and Anti-self” as he called It. The Anti-self is our soaring spirit which tries to rise above the bondage of our mental habits and associations. Yeats’ lyrics which give the most effective expression to these views are The Wild Swan at Coole (1917), The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair (1929). Here he gave a very satisfying presentation of the wholeness of man—his Self and Anti-self.
In his later poetry Yeats reached a maturity of vision and style which may be described as hard, athletic and having a metallic glint. Instead of serving as symbols and having certain indefinite associations, his last poems expressed ‘Cold passion’ in images which are chastened and well-defined. That is why, it is no exaggeration to say that Yeats was influenced by the Imagists, and influenced them in return. A Thought from Propertius is in every respect an Imagist poem.
In his last years Yeats retired to the solitude of his own mind, and he wrote poems dealing with his early interests—love of dreams (Presences), admiration of simple joy of youth and old civilisations, but the disintegration of modern civilisation under the impact of war pained Yeats, and he believed that a revolutionary change is in the offing. In Second Coming he describes what lies at the root of the malady;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity

For about half a century Yeats exerted a tremendous influence on modern poetry on account of his utter sincerity and extraordinary personality and genius. He recognised no external law, but like a true and great artist, he was a law unto himself.

8. T. S. Eliot (1888)

Thomas Stearns Eliot is the greatest among the modern English poets, and he has influenced modern poetry more than any other poet of the twentieth century. He combines in himself strange and opposing characteristics. He is a great poet as well a great critic; he is a traditionalist rooted in classicism as well as an innovator of a new style of poetry; he is a stern realist acutely conscious of modern civilisation with its manifold problems as well as a visionary who looks at life beyond the limits of time and space.
T. S. Eliot was born in 1888 in the U.S.A. He was educated at Harvard University. After that he received education at Paris and Oxford, and settled in England which he has made his literary home. He came into prominence as a poet in the decade following the First World War i.e., between 1920 and 1930, during which period he wrote the poems for which he is best known. There was at that time in England a tendency in favour of classicism which directly influenced Eliot. Being himself a great classical scholar, and finding around him petty poets of the Georgian group, he set himself to establish principles of a sound classicism. To him classicism stands for order. It is a tradition not established by the authority of Aristotle or any other ancient critic, but by the whole body of great writers who have contributed to it in the course of centuries. He conceives of literature as a continuous process in which the present contains the past. The modern poet, according to Eliot, should carry on that process, follow the permanent spirit of that tradition, and thus create fresh literature by expressing the present on a new and modified manner. Thus Eliot is different from the neo-classicists of the eighteenth century who insisted on implicitly following the narrowly defined rules of writing. To him classicism means a sort of training for order, poise and right reason. In order to achieve that the modern writer should not defy the permanent spirit of tradition, and must have “a framework of accepted and traditional ideas.”
But the surprising thing about Eliot is that in spite of his being a professed classicist and an uncompromising upholder of tradition, he was the man who led the attack on the writing of “traditional’ poetry, and come out as the foremost innovator of modern times. He thought that the literary language which had served its purpose in the past was not suited for modern use. So he rejected it outright. According to him, the modern writer while carrying on the literary tradition of ‘poise, order and right reason’ need not follow the old and obsolete idiom of his predecessors, but should invent entirely a new medium which is capable of digesting and expressing new objects and new feelings, new ideas, and new aspects of modern life. The language used by the modern poet must be different from the language of the past because modern life dominated by science and technology is radically different from the life of the past ages characterised by slow and steady development.
In his attempt to find a new medium for poetry Eliot became interested in the experiments of Ezra Pound, the leader of the Imagists. Like Pound, Eliot also sought to extend the range of poetic language by introducing words used in common speech but commonly regarded as inappropriate in literature. But Eliot is different from Pound in this respect that having a profound knowledge of classical literature he can, whenever he likes, borrow phrases from well-known poets and thus create an astonishing effect. Thus in his poem one find colloquial words expressing precisely and exactly the meaning which he wants to convey, along with archaic and foreign words used by ancient poets, philosophers and prophets, which sound like voice far away beyond a mountain.
Eliot is acutely aware of the present and the baffling problems which face mankind in the modern times. The poems of his early period as The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1917) express the disillusion, irony and disgust at the contemplation of the modern world which is trivial, sordid and empty. In his greatest poem, The Waste Land, the poet surveys the desolate scene of the world with a searching gaze. He relentlessly uncovers its baffling contrasts and looks in vain for a meaning where there is only
A heap of broken images, where the sun heats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water.
The same attitude is expressed in the Hollow Men (1925):
We are the hollow men,
We are stuffed men,
Leaning together,
He Headpiece filled with straw.
But it is not merely the present with which Eliot is preoccupied. He is a mystic who has a profound sense of the past and he looks into the future. His aim is to look beyond the instant, pressing moment, and think of himself as belonging to what was best in the past and may be prolonged into the future. For him the spirit exists in one eternal Now, in which Past, Present and Future are blended. In order to experience it one should surrender one’s ego and relax in a mood of humble receptivity. Only then one can absorb the fleeting moment in such a way that the scheme of existence purged of all one’s personal prejudices, narrowness and resentment is felt all around one’s self. It is in this mood that his later poems published together in Four Quartets, consisting of Burnt Norton (1936), East Coker (1940), The Dry Salvages (1941), and Little Gidding (1942) are written. In the last mentioned poem the poet lets his thoughts go free amid the ruined chapel at Little Gidding from which all recollection of conflict and effort has vanished, but where the intensity of spiritual prayer can still be left.
Burnt Norton begins with the significant lines
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
Thus T. S. Eliot who is a force in modern English literature, is a many-sided personality. He is a classicist, innovator, critic, poet, social philosopher and mystic—all combined into one. He makes the reader aware not merely of the problems of modern life but also of mankind as a whole. The soul of man finds itself in horror and loneliness in the Waste Land unless it is redeemed by courage and faith. Though a great and acute thinker, he has a spiritual approach to life, which is rare in the twentieth century dominated by science and materialism. And he has expressed his ideas and feelings in a language which is devoid of all superfluous ornamentation and is capable of conveying the bewildering and terrifying aspects of modern life. Of all the living English poets he has done most to make his age conscious of itself, and aware of the dangers inherent in modern civilisation.

9. Poets after T. S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot dominated the English poetic scene till 1930; after that a new school of English poets came to the forefront. It is headed by W. H. Auden, and the other leading poets of this group are Stephen Spender and Cecil Day Lewis. They follow the example of Hopkins and make use of the technical achievements of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. These poets are conscious of the bareness of modern civilisation and strive to find a way out of the Waste Land. Their ideal is the creation of a society in which the real and living contact between man and man may again become possible.
The most original and the most poetically exciting among the modern poets is W. H. Auden who settled in America shortly before the Second World War. He also considers the Waste Land as symbolic of modern civilisation, but whereas to T. S. Eliot it is a symbol of a state of spiritual dryness, to Auden it is a symbol of the depressing physical and psychological condition in the English social life. He is greatly distressed by the upper and lower classes. It is the sense of imminent crisis which pervades his early poetry.
In his later poetry Auden has given up the psychological-economic diagnosis of the troubles of the times, and developed a more sober, contemplative and religious approach to life. But he is also capable of writing light verse full of puns and ironic overtone. But whatever he writes is full of symbols and images derived not from mythology as in the case of Yeats and Eliot, but from the multifarious of everyday life.
Stephen Spender who began writing under the influence of Auden composed lyrics in which he expressed sympathy for the working classes:
Oh young men, oh young comrades,
It is too late now to stay in those houses
Your fathers built where they built you to breed money on money.
But in his later poetry he has developed his own quiet, autobiographical style, which is unlike the style of any modern poet.
What I expected was
Thunder, fighting.
Long struggle with men
And climbing,
After continual straining
I should grow strong;
Then the rocks would shake
And I should rest long.
What I had not foreseen
Was the gradual day
Weakening the will
Leaking the brightness away,
The lack of good to touch
The fading of body and soul
Like smoke before wind
Corrupt, unsubstantial.
Cecil Day Lewis also wrote his early poetry under the influence of Auden. But his later poetry has become more and more reflective and reminiscent. Moreover, he has adopted the Victorian diction. On account of his profound knowledge of technique he may be called the academic poet of the present age. In his poems the imagery is primarily rural and his tone is elegiac. These characteristics associate him with the Georgians.
Other important English poets of the present age are Louis Mac Niece, Edith Sitwell, Robert Graves, Roy Campbell, Geoffrey Grigson, George Barker and Dylan Thomas. Though they do not form any definite group, yet there is a tendency among them to Romanticism in English poetry which had become metaphysical and classical under the influence of Hopkins, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot and the Auden group of poets. They do not give so much importance to ‘dry, hard’ images, and being visionary rather than speculative, their presiding genius is Blake rather than Donne. Dylan Thomas who is the most popular of the young poets finds unity of man with nature, of the generations with each other, of the divine with the human, of life with death. Death does not mean destruction, but a guarantee of immortality, of perpetual life in cosmic eternity:
And death shall have no dominion
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not,
And death shall have no dominion.
But in spite of this tendency towards Romanticism in the poetry of the present age in England, Eliot, and his school of poetry which is akin to classicism, still hold the field. All modern poetry possesses intellectual toughness and there is no attempt to return to the melodious diction of Tennyson and Swinburne or to the imaginative flights of Shelley. Of course, the tension that we find in Eliot’s poetry has ceased and the trend is towards Wordsworthian quietness.

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Modern Drama

After the death of Shakespeare and his contemporaries drama in England suffered a decline for about two centuries. Even Congreve in the seventeenth, and Sheridan and Goldsmith in the eighteenth, could not restore drama to the position it held during the Elizabethan Age. It was revived, however, in the last decade of the nineteenth century, and then there appeared dramatists who have now given it a respectable place in English literature.

Two important factors were responsible for the revival of drama in 1890’s. One was the influence of Ibsen, the great Norwegian dramatist, under which the English dramatists like Bernard Shaw claimed the right to discuss serious social and moral problems in a calm, sensible way. The second was the cynical atmosphere prevailing at that time, which allowed men like Oscar Wilde to treat the moral assumptions of the great Victorian age with frivolity and make polite fun of their conventionality, prudishness or smugness. The first factor gave rise to the Comedy of Ideas or Purpose, while the second revived the Comedy of Manners or the Artificial Comedy.
Under the influence of Ibsen the serious drama in England from 1890 onward ceased to deal with themes remote in time and place. He had taught men that the real drama must deal with human emotions, with things which are near and dear to ordinary men and women. The new dramatists thus gave up the melodramatic romanticism and pseudo-classical remoteness of their predecessors, and began to treat in their plays the actual English life, first of the aristocratic class, then of the middle class and finally of the labouring class. This treatment of actual life made the drama more and more a drama of ideas, which were for the most part, revolutionary, directed against past literary models, current social conventions and the prevailing morality of Victorian England. The new dramatists dealt mainly with the problems of sex, of labour and of youth, fighting against romantic love, capitalism and parental authority which were the characteristic features of Victorianism. The characters in their plays are constantly questioning, restless and dissatisfied. Youngmen struggle to throw off the trammels of Victorian prejudice. Following the example of Nora, the heroine in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, who leaves her dull domineering husband who seeks to crush her personality and keep her permanently in a childlike, irresponsible state, the young women in these plays join eagerly the Feminist movement and glory in a new-found liberty. Influenced by the philosophy of Schopenhauer and the psychological investigations of Freud, the new dramatists no longer held love or the relation between the sexes as something sacred or romantic as their forefathers did. They looked upon it as a biological phenomenon directed by Nature, or the ‘life force’ as Bernard Shaw calls it. Thus these dramatists introduced Nature and Life in drama, and loved to make them play their great parts on the stage.
In the new drama of ideas, where a number of theories had to be propounded and explained, action became slow and frequently interrupted. Moreover, inner conflict was substituted for outer conflict, with the result that drama became quieter than the romantic drama of the previous years. The new researches in the field of psychology helped the dramatist in the study of the ‘soul’, for the expression of which they had to resort to symbols. By means of symbolism the dramatist could raise the dark and even sordid themes to artistic levels. The emphasis on the inner conflict led some of the modern dramatists to make their protagonists not men but unseen forces, thereby making wider and larger the sphere of drama.
In the field of non-serious comedy there was a revival, in the twentieth century, of the Comedy of Manners. The modern period, to a great extent, is like the Augustan period, because of the return of the witty, satirical comedy which reached its climax in the hands of Congreve in 1700. Though this new comedy of manners is often purely fanciful and dependent for its effect upon pure wit, at times it becomes cynical and bitter when dealing with social problems. Mainly it is satirical because with the advancement of civilisation modern life has become artificial, and satire flourishes in a society which becomes over-civilised and loses touch with elemental conditions and primitive impulses.
The two important dramatists who took a predominant part in the revival of drama in the last decade of the nineteenth century were Geroge Bernard Shaw, and Oscar Wilde, both Irishmen. Shaw was the greatest practitioner of the Comedy of Idea, while Wilde that of the new Comedy of Manners. Shaw, who was a great thinker, represented the Puritan side of the Anglo-Irish tradition. Wilde, on the other hand, lived a life of luxury and frivolity, was not a deep thinker as Shaw was; and his attitude to life was essentially a playful one.
The success of Oscar Wilde as a writer of artificial comedy or the comedy of manners was mainly due to his being a social entertainer, and it is mainly as ‘entertainments’ that his plays have survived. Wilde may be considered, therefore, as the father of the comedy of pure entertainment as Shaw is the father of the Comedy of Ideas. Other modern writers who have followed Wilde directly are Somerset Maugham and Noel Coward. But the artificial comedy of the last fifty years in England does not compare well with the artificial comedy of the Restoration. The reason is that in the twentieth century there is a lot of confusion and scepticism about social values, and for the production of a really successful artificial comedy the recognition and establishment of some high and genuine code of behaviour, which most people find it too hard to live up to, is essential. Moreover, social manners change so rapidly in the modern time, that the comedy of manners grows out of date more rapidly than any other type of drama. The same is the case with the modes of speech and attitudes to life which also undergo change in a decade. The result is that the appeal of such plays is not lasting, and many of them are no longer appreciated now though in their own day they were immensely successful and powerful.
This is not the case with the comedy of ideas or social comedy. George Bernard Shaw, the father of the comedy of ideas, was a genius. His intellectual equipment was far greater than that of any of his contemporaries. He alone had understood the greatness of Ibsen, and he decided that like Ibsen’s his plays would also be the vehicles of ideas. But unlike Ibsen’s grim and serious temperament, Shaw’s was characterised by jest and verbal wit. He also had a genuine artistic gift for form, and he could not tolerate any clumsiness in construction. For this purpose he had studied every detail of theatrical workmanship. In each of his plays he presented a certain problem connected with modern life, and his characters discuss it thoroughly. In order to make his ideas still more explicit he added prefaces to his plays, in which he explored the theme more fully. The main burden of his plays is that the civilised man must either develop or perish. If he goes on with his cruelty, corruption and ineffectuality, ‘The Life Force’ or God would wipe him out of existence. Shaw laughed at and ridiculed even things which others respected or held sacred. What saved him from persecution as a rebel was his innate sense of humour which helped him to give a frivolous cover to whatever he said or wrote. Other modern dramatists who following the example of Bernard Shaw wrote comedies of ideas were Granville Barker, Galsworthy, James Birdie, Priestley, Sir James Barrie and John Masefield, but none of them attained the standard reached by Shaw.
Besides the artificial comedy and the comedy of ideas, another type of drama was developed in England under the influence of the Irish Dramatic Movement whose originators were Lady Gregory and W. B. Yeats. The two important dramatists belonging to this movement are J. M. Synge and Sean O’Casey. There has been the revival of the Poetic Drama in the Twentieth century, whose most important practitioner is T. S. Eliot. Other modern dramatists who have also written poetic plays are Christopher Fry, Stephen Philips and Stephen Spender. Most of the poetic plays written in modern times have a religious theme, and they attempt to preach the doctrines of Christianity.

Modern Dramatists

1. George Bernard Shaw (1856—1950)

The greatest among the modern dramatists was George Bernard Shaw. He was born and brought up in Ireland, but at the age of twenty in 1876 he left Ireland for good, and went to London to make his fortune. At first he tried his hand at the novel, but he did not get any encouragement. Then he began to take part in debates of all sorts, and made his name as the greatest debator in England. He read Karl Marx, became a Socialist, and in 1884 joined the Fabian Society which was responsible for creating the British Labour Party.
He was also a voracious reader, and came under the influence of Samuel Butler whom he described as the greatest writer of the latter half of the nineteenth century. Shaw was specially impressed by Butler’s dissatisfaction with the Darwinian Theory of Natural Selection. According to Butler, Darwin had banished mind from the universe by banishing purpose from natural history. Shaw came to believe in the Force which Butler had described as ‘the mysterious drive towards greater power over our circumstances and deeper understanding of Nature.’ Shakespeare had described it as ‘divinity that shapes our ends’. Shaw termed it the Life Force.
Two other writers who provoked the critical mind of Shaw during his formative period were Ibsen, a Norwegian dramatist; and Friedrish Nietzche, a German philosopher. From Nietzche Shaw took his admiration for the intellectually strong, the aristocrats of the human species, the supermen who know their own minds, pursue their own purpose, win the battle of life and extract from it what is worth having. Ibsen whose doctrine, ‘Be Thyself,’ which was very much like Nietzche’s theory of the Superman who says ‘Yea to Life’, gave a dramatic presentation of it by picturing in his plays the life of the middle class people with relentless realism. In his plays Ibsen had exposed sentimentality, romanticism and hypocrisy. He showed men and women in society as they really are, and evoked the tragedy that may be inherent in ordinary, humdrum life.
Working under the influence of Butler, Nietzche and Ibsen, Shaw who up to the age of forty was mainly concerned in learning, in propagating ideas, in debating, and persuading people to accept his views about society and morals decided to bring the world round to his opinion through the medium of the theatre. With that end in view he studied the stage through and through, and came out with his plays which were theatrically perfect and bubbling with his irrepressible wit. The result was that he immediately attracted attention and became the most popular and influential dramatist of his time.
Shaw wrote his plays with the deliberate purpose of propaganda. He himself said, “My reputation has been gained by my persistent struggle to force the public to reconsider its morals.” He prepared the minds of the audience by written prefaces to his plays which are far more convincing than the plays themselves. That is why plays were more successful when they were produced a second or third time when the audience had read them in their published forms.
In most of his plays, Shaw himself is the chief character appearing in different disguises. Other characters represent types which Shaw had studied thoroughly. The only exceptions are Candida, Saint Joan and Captain Shotover in Heartbreak House. But mostly the characters in his plays are mere puppets in his hands taking part in the conflict of ideas. In all his plays he is a propagandist or prophet. He criticises mental servitude, moral slavery, superstition, sentimentalism, selfishness and all rotten and irrational ideas. As his plays are concerned with ideas, and he is a staunch enemy of sentimentalism, he passes by the subtler, finer elements in the individual, and fails to arouse emotions. But in spite of his being the severest critic of contemporary society, his inherent sense of humour, joviality and generous temperament produced no bitterness. His frankness and sincerity compelled the people to listen to him even when he provoked, exasperated and shocked many of them.
All the plays of Shaw deal with some problem concerning modern society. In Mrs. Warren’s Profession Shaw showed that for the evils of prostitution the society, and not the procuress, was the blame. In Widower’s House he again put the blame on society, and not on the individual landlord for creating abuses of the right to property. In Man and Superman Shaw dealt with his favourtie theme that it is the Life Force which compels woman to hunt out man, capture and marry him for the continuation of the race. In Getting Marriedhe showed the unnaturalness of the home-life as at present constituted. In The Doctor’s Dilemma he exposed the superstition that doctors are infalliable. In John Bull’s other Island, the hero talks exactly like Shaw, and the Englishman represents the worst traits in English character. Caesar and Cleopatrahas no particular theme, and that is why it comes nearer to being a play than most of Shaw’s works. In The Apple Cart Shaw ridiculed the working of democratic form of government and hinted that it needed a superman to set things right. In Back to Methuselah he goes to the very beginning of things and forward as far as thought can reach in order to show the nature of the Life Force and its effect on the destiny of Man. It was in St. Joan that Shaw reached the highest level of his dramatic art by dealing in a tragic manner a universal theme involving grand emotions.

2. Oscar Wilde (1856-1900)

Another dramatist who took an important part in the revival of drama in the later part of the nineteenth century was Oscar Wilde. It was only during the last five years of his life that he turned his attention to writing for the stage. During his lifetime his plays became very popular, and they were thought to represent a high mark in English drama. But their important was exaggerated, because they are merely the work of a skilled craftsman. It was mainly on account of their style—epigramtic, graceful, polished and full of wit—that they appealed to the audience. Oscar Wilde had the tact of discovering the passing mood of the time and expressing it gracefully. Otherwise, his plays are all superficial, and none of them adds to our knowledge or understanding of life. The situations he presents in his plays are hackneyed, and borrowed from French plays of intrigue.
Lady Windermer’s Fan (1892), A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband(1895) and The Importance of Being Earnest are the four important comedies o Wilde. The first three plays are built on the model of the conventional social melodramas of the time. They are given sparkle and literary interest by the flashing wit of the dialogue. The Importance of Being Earnest, on the other hand, is built on the model of the popular farce of the time. Wilde calls this a trival comdedy for serious people. It is successful because of its detachment from all meaning ad models. In fact this play proved to Wilde that the graceful foolery of farce was the from which was best suited to the expression of his dramatic genius. The playfulness of the farce helped Wilde to comment admirably on frivolous society. Encouraged by the success of The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde would have written more such plays and perfected this form of artificial comedy, but for the premature closing of his literary career by his imprisonment in 1895.

3. John Galsworthy (1867-1933)

Galsworthy was a great dramatist of modern times, who besides being a novelist of the first rank, made his mark also in the field of drama. He believed in the naturalistic technique both in the novel and drama. According to him, “Naturalistic art is like a steady lamp, held up from time to time, in whose light things will be seen for a space clearly in due proportion, freed from the mists of prejudice and partisanship.” Galsworthy desired to reproduce, both upon the stage and in his books, the natural spectacle of life, presented with detachment. Of course his delicate sympathies for the poor and unprivileged classes make his heart melt for them, and he takes sides with them.
The important plays of Galsworthy are Strife (1909), Justice (1910). The Skin Game (1920), and The Silver Box. All these plays deal with social and ethical problems. Strife deals with the problem of strikes, which are not only futile but do immense harm to both the parties. The Skin Game presents the conflict between the old-established landed aristocracy and the ambitious noisy, new rich manufacturing class. Justice is a severe criticism of the prison administration of that period. The Silver Box deals with the old proverb that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor.
Though the plays of Galsworthy are important on account of the ideas which they convey, they are no less remarkable for their technical efficiency. He effects in all of them a strict economy of style and characterisation and they are denuded of all superfluity. But sometimes he carries simplicity of aim and singleness of purpose too far and the result is that his plays lack human warmth and richness which are essential elements in literature.

4. Harley Granville-Barker (1877-1946)

Granville-Barker belonged to that group of dramatists like Galsworthy who dealt with Domestic Tragedy and Problem Plays. Though he wrote a number of plays of different sorts in collaboration with other playwrights, he occupies his place in modern drama mainly as a writer of four “realistic’ plays—The Marrying of Anne Leete (1899), The Voysey Inheritance (1905), Waste (1907) and The Madras House (1910). Each of these plays deals with a dominant problem of social life.
The Marrying of Anne deals with the Life Force, and attacks the convention and hypocrisy surrounding the social culture of the time The Voysey Inheritance deals, like Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession, with the problem of prostitution. In Waste, Granville-Barker again deals with the problem of sex. It is the tragedy of a woman with no motherly instinct. The hero, Trebell, who suffers on account of his wife’s misdoings, possesses tragic majesty of Shakespeare’s heroes. The Madras House deals with social forces which play havoc in the lives of individuals who try to oppose them.
The importance of Granville-Barker in the twentieth century drama lies in his fine delineation of character and realistic style. His plays seem to be excerpt of real life to a greater extent than even those of Galsworthy. The dialogue is very natural and near to ordinary conversation. The life presented in these plays is the narrow and petty life lived by the upper-middle class in England in his days.

5. John Masefield (1878-1967)

Another dramatist belonging to the same school as Galsworthy and Granville-Barker is Masefield. He passionate enthusiasm and cold logic, fantasy and realism. Though he clings to the natural world and is a confirmed realist, he is wrapped in the spirit of mysticism. All these conflicting qualities are seen in his greatest play—The Tragedy of Nan, which is the best modern example of the form of domestic tragedy. The social forces do not play any significant part in it. The sufferings of Nan who becomes a veritable outcast on account of her father having been hanged for stealing a sheep, and her connection with the half-mad old Gaffer, have been raised to tragic heights by the playwright’s imaginative passion which is given an appropriate poetic expression. But in spite of the supernatural and imaginative cast of the play, the story is one of unflinching realism.
Other plays of Masefield are the The Daffodil Fields, Reynard the Fox, Melloney Holtspur, Esther and Berenice, The Campden Wonder and Mrs. Harrison. In Melloney Holtspur Masefield has introduced spirit forces, but not quite successfully. The Campden Wonder and Mrs. Harrison, are also domestic tragedies, but they do not come to the high standard of The Tragedy of Nan, which is undoubtedly Masefield’s masterpiece.

6. J. M. Barrie (1860-1937)

J. M. Barrie did not belong to any school of dramatists. The best of his work is marked by imaginative fantasy, humour and tender pathos. His most characteristic and original play is The Admirable Crichton (1902), a drawing-room comedy in which the family butler is the hero. As Barrie did not find himself at peace with himself and the society, he was fond of capturing and treasuring a child’s dream of what life ought to be. This is exactly what we find in this play. From day-to-day life of London we are wafted to a world of romance, of innocence, which is a so refreshing after the sordid picture of real life. Three other plays Peter Pan, The Golden Bird and The Golden Age have the children story-book characters in them, who are brought to life by the writer’s skill.
Barrie also wrote A Kiss for Cinderella, a fantasy; Dear Brutus which tries to prove that character is destiny. In all these plays Barrie shows himself as a pastmaster in prolonging our sense of expectancy till the end of the last act. Moreover, no one since the Elizabethan era, has so effectively suggested the close proximity of the fairyland with the visible world.
Barrie’s last and most ambitious drama was The Boy David (1936) in which he has given a fine picture of the candid soul of boyhood. As the play deals with a story from the Bible, which is well-known, Barrie could not here effectively make use of the element of surprise, which is his strongest point in other plays.
On the whole, Barrie is a skilled technician. The episodes in his plays grow out of each other with refreshing unexpectedness, giving rise to crisp dialogue and contrast of character. He discovered that in an age of affectations and pretensions, the theatre-goers needed the sincerity and innocence of childhood, and he earned his popularity by giving them what they needed.

7. The Irish Dramatic Revival

One of the important dramatic movement of modern times was the Irish Dramatic Revival. This was a reaction against the new realistic drama of Shaw and Wilde. The protagonists of this new movement—Lady Gregory, W. B. Yeats, and J. M. Synge, were all Irish dramatists who wanted to introduce flavour richness and poetry into drama. Being dissatisfied with the intellectual drama where everything proceeded logically, they thought that especially in Ireland where the people were highly imaginative and the language was rich and living, it was possible to produce plays rich and copious in words and at the same time to give the reality, which is the root of all poetry, in a comprehensive and natural form. According to them, such plays dealing with the profound and common interests of life and full of poetic speeches would be different from the intellectual plays of Ibsen and Shaw, which dealt with the realities of life, only of the urban population, in a dry and joyless manner. They tried to exploit in their plays the richness of peasant culture of Ireland and appeal to the popular imagination of their countrymen as against the intellectual plays of Shaw and others, which, they thought, had failed on account of their being too rational and dealing with urban complexities.
The leader of the new movement was William Butler Yeats. He was born in Dublin, and in his youth he became interested in the Gaelic League which had been formed to revive popular interest in the old fairy stories and folk-lore of the Irish people. Under the inspiration of the Gaelic movement, Yeats was convinced that through a wide dissemination of these Celtic myths, not alone Ireland but the whole world might be stimulated. As at that time drama was the most popular literary medium for moving a large number of audience, Yeats, who was primarily a lyrical poet, turned to drama. But as commercial theatre with its elaborately decorated stage and other technical devices was unsuited to his simple, poetical and symbolical plays, he, with the help of Lady Gregory, established the Irish Literary Theatre. This theatre gave performances of Yeats plays, and in course of time it became so important that out of it grew the Irish National Theatre Society, which constructed the famous Abbey Theatre, Dublin. Here the play was the main thing, and the stage setting comparatively unimportant.
Though Yeats wrote about thirty plays, the most important and widely known ones are The Countess Cathleen (1892) and The Land of Heart’s Desire (1894). But the popularity of these plays depended more upon poetic charm and strangeness than upon dramatic power. Yeats’ plays are defective in their organic constructions, and they do not maintain the proper balance between poetry, action and characterisation. The poetic element obtrudes too much and prevents the creation of the illusion of possible people behaving credibly and using an appropriate speech medium. As the characters have to speak long passages in verse, they look artificial, arrogating to themselves an exaggerated importance. The fact is that Yeats was essentially as romantic lyric poet and, therefore he did not handle the dramatic form with ease.
Lady Gregory (1852-1932) made several experiments in her dramatic work. Like Yeats she drew much of her material from the folk-lore of her country, and also wrote Irish historical plays. Her best known pieces are the Seven Short Plays (1909). The characters in her plays, who are mostly peasants, are more human than in the plays of Yeats or Synge, and the audience get a thrill of joy on account of the sweet savour of the dialogue.
John Millington Synge (1871-1909), who graduated from Dublin, spent a number of years among the peasants of Ireland. With them he lived like a peasant, using their language, learning their tales, and observing closely their customs and characters, until he started writing his plays which, in the opinion of some critics, are second only to Shakespeare’s.
Synge exercises strictest economy in his plays, and he rarely admits a superfluous word. The result is that sometimes his humour becomes too grim and his tragedy bitterly painful. He has not got the generous superfluity of Shakespeare which gives us an impression of the superabundance of life. His Riders to the Sea (1909), which is one of the greatest tragedies written in the twentieth century, is considered by some critics as too harrowing and ruthless. His comedy, The Shadow of the Glen, aroused much protest because in it the heroine, an Irish woman, is shown as proving unfaithful to her husband. The people of Ireland could not tolerate this as they thought that Irish women were more virtuous than English women. Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, in which he gave an impression that Irishmen were capable of glorifying as murderers, provoked riots. But it proved to be very popular because it gives an impressive representation of Irish peasant phrases which the author had heard on the roads, or among beggar women and ballad-singers around Dublin.
Yeats, Synge, and Lady Gregory were the leading figures of the older generation of dramatists in the modern Irish theatre. In the younger generation the most prominent dramatist is Sean O’Casey. It was his play Juno and the Paycock (1925) which placed him, along with Synge, at the head of the Abbey Theatre dramatists. Mostly he draws material for his plays, in which there is a mixture of tragedy and comedy, from the grim slum-dwellings and the recent history of Ireland. The reason why he mixes tragedy and comedy in plays as in The Plough and the Stars, is that they are symbolic of the condition of Ireland, where virtue and vice, heroism and cowardice, beauty and foulness, poetry and profanity, were inextricably mingled. These plays are written in the language of the slums, but it is full of beauty. The only faults of O’Casey are those of indisciplined power and exhuberance. He is at his best in the portrayal of women. His later plays The Silver Tassie (1928) and Within the Gates (1933) are full of satire on modern society, especially its injustice to the under-privileged.

8. Poetic Drama

In the twentieth century there has been a revival of the poetic drama, and some of the great poets as Yeats and Eliot have written poetic plays. This was a reaction against the prose plays of Shaw and others, which showed a certain loss of emotional touch with the moral issues of the age. Yeats did not like the harsh criticism of the liberal ideas of the nineteenth century at the hands of revolutionary dramatists like Shaw. He felt that in the past people had a higher tradition of civilisation than in our own time. The drama of ideas was thus failing to grasp the realities of the age. On the other hand, the drama of entertainment, or the artificial comedy, was becoming dry and uninteresting. Thus the tradition of realistic drama needed an injection of fresh blood.
It was under these circumstances that some modern writers who had made reputation as poets made the attempt in the 1930’s and 1940’s to revive the tradition of the poetic drama which had been dead since the Restorations. This revival of the poetic drama took various forms, and it is significant that the new attempts at poetic drama had a much closer connection with the deeper religious beliefs or social attitudes of their authors than had most of the prose drama of the time.
T. S. Eliot commenced his career as a practical dramatist by writing a pageant play called, The Rock, to encourage the collection of funds for the building of new London churches. His second play, Murder in the Cathedral, however, is a proper play. It was written to be performed in Canterbury Cathedral at the yearly Canterbury Festival, commemorating the death of St. Thomas Backet, Canterbury’s famous martyr, who had been murdered in the very Cathedral where Eliot’s play was first performed. Obviously the impulse behind this play was also religious rather than a properly theatrical one, as in the case of The Rock. But Murder in the Cathedral is closer to being a drama than The Rock is.Here T. S. Eliot has made a very effective use of the chorus which is made up of the women of Canterbury, who are presented very realistically. St. Thomas, though a dignified and impressive character, is more of a symbol than a person. Other characters in the play are also personifications of various simple, abstract attitudes. The most important ‘action’ in the play is St. Thomas’ triumphing over various temptations, which takes place in his mind. Thus Murder in the Cathedral is strictly ‘interior’, and the outward value of the play is rather that of a spectacle and a commemorative ritual.
Whereas The Rock and Murder in the Cathedral belong to the special religious occasions rather than to the wider world of the theatre, and one has to approach them in a religious frame of mind, T. S. Eliot’s next play, The Family Reunion, is not a religious play. Its primary aim is not edification or commemoration. It deals with the return of a young nobleman, Harry, Lord Monchensey to his ancestral home, where his widowed mother, Amy, wants him to settle as the head of the aristocratic country-house. But Harry feels restless as he is obsessed with the ideas of having killed his wife, and on account of that he is pestered by Furies. This is nothing but hallucination produced from the inherited, unconscious memory of his father’s desire to kill his mother, because he (the father) was in love with his wife’s (Amy’s) sister Agatha. This fact is revealed to Harry by his aunt Agatha. Herry believes that the Furies are not instruments of blind revenge, but rather of purification, and so he decides to leave his ancestral home, and sets out again on his travels. His mother is so much shocked by Harry’s decision that she dies.
The Family Reunion does not contain so many memorable and eloquent passages as Murder in the Cathedral, because here T. S. Eliot tried to catch the tones, idioms, and rhythms of contemporary speech. But on account of this The Family Reunion conveys the illusion of reality. There are also more minor characters in this play than in the previous plays. Moreover, T. S. Eliot has deliberately written it in a plain manner in order to convince his audience of the reality of what they are listening to.
T. S. Eliot’s latest play, The Cocktail Party, deals with a more profound and serious theme, that of the various kind of self-deceptions in which even cultivated and pleasant and well-meaning people tend to indulge. The play begins with a cocktail party which has been arranged by the wife, and the husband does not know all the guests. The disappearance of the wife adds to the embarrassment of the husband. When the party is over, one of the guests, who is psychiatrist, stays behind. He knows the secret. The husband does not love his wife, and has a mistress. The wife, on the other hand, has been having her own love affair with a youngman, who is secretly in love with her husband’s mistress. The psychiatrist solves the tangle by advising the husband and wife that they should not expect too much from each other. Instead of yearning for a romantic drama, they should honestly realise their limitations, and accept a moral basis for successful marriage. So they are reconciled to each other. The husband’s mistress becomes a missionary and after a short time becomes a martyr in a primitive country. The yongman who has been in love with her as well as with the wife joins film industry in Hollywood.
In The Cocktail Party, T. S. Eliot has dealt with a typical problem of ordinary behaviour in modern time. Moreover, he has managed to write a play which at once keeps us continually amused and expectant. Of course, it does not have the poetic richness of Murder in The Cathedral, though it does have a few eloquent passages. On the whole, The Cocktail Party is the most successful of T. S. Eliot’s plays from the theatrical point of view.
Another great modern poet who has written poetic plays is Stephen Spender. His most important play is The Trail of a Judge. The judge, the hero of the play, tries to administer justice impartially between the Fascists and Communists. But the Fascists who are in power, charge him with Communistic leanings, and he is disgraced, imprisoned and killed. The judge who stands for abstract justice is a dignified figure. He embodies in himself permanent human values. The rhetorical tendency of Spender’s poetry helps him in conveying the emotional tone of the character speaking under stress of strong feeling. On account of these reason The Trial of a Judge is one of the most effective pieces of poetic drama in the modern age.
W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood have also written verse and prose plays—Auden contributing the verse chorus and Isherwood crisp and neat prose dialogue. One of their important plays is The Dog Beneath the Skin—a gay, satirical farce. On the other hand, The Ascent of F6 and Across the Frontier are serious plays dealing with modern problems through symbolism.
Besides these, another poet who has written poetic plays is Christopher Fry. He has mainly written verse comedies, e.g., A Phoenix too Frequent, The Lady’s Not for Burning and Venus Observed. In his plays there is a fantastic wealth of language which reminds us of young Shakespeare of Love’s Labour’s Lost. But he does not have a coherent conception of his play as a whole, and therefore his plays often betray an air of wonderfully clever improvisations.

9. Historical and Imaginative Plays.

The latest movement in drama in England is the rapid development of the historical play. The exploitation of historical themes is the result of a deliberate endeavour to escape from the trammels of naturalism and to bring back something of the poetic expression to the theatre. The close association between the poetic school and historical school is well exemplified by John Drinkwater and Clifford Bax. Drinkwater’s Abraham Lincoln (1918) was such a great success that it made the author internationally famous. He wrote several other historical plays, as Mary Stuart (1921) Oliver Cromwell (1922) and Robert E. Lee (1923). In all these plays Drinkwater has built the action round a particular theme. Lincoln pursues war against the Southern States resolutely but not vindictively. His aim is not the crushing of the enemy, but the raising of a new understanding born out of the turmoil of the conflict. In Oliver Cromwell and Robert E. Lee the author gives greater importance to the political and social problems than to the presentation of history. In Mary Stuart, he gives us a subtle study of a woman who cannot find any one man great enough to satisfy her soul’s love.
Clifford Bax has written several poetic plays, of which the important ones are Socrates (1930), The Venetian (1932). The Immortal Lady (1931), and The Rose Without the Thorn (1932). They are all lyrical and philosophical plays, and the characters in them are developed within a pattern, based on historic facts, but shaped by his imagination.
Besides Drinkwater and Bax, other dramatists who have written historical and imaginative plays, are Ashley Dukes and Rudolf Besier. The most popular plays of Ashley Duke are The Man with a Load of Mischief (1924), The Fountain Head (1928) and Tyle Ulenspiegel (1930), Rudolf Besier’s The Barretts of Wimpole Street in which he deals with the courtship of Browning and Miss Elizabeth Barrett (Mrs. Browning), their elopement and marriage, is the most successful of all the historical plays produced in the twentieth century.
The modern drama in England is in a transitional stage, and it is difficult to understood where it stands. The naturalistic method of Shaw still makes an appeal; there are dramatists like Somerset Maugham who have written very successful comedies of manners; and at the same time the new experiments in non-realistic and imaginative drama also excite the audience. In fact all these tendencies are found in modern drama, and no one in particular holds the predominant place at present.

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The Modern Novel

This is the most important and popular literary medium in the modern times. It is the only literary form which can compete for popularity with the film and the radio, and it is in this form that a great deal of distinguished work is being produced. The publication of a new novel by a great novelist is received now with the same enthusiastic response as a new comedy by Dryden or Congreve was received in the Restoration period, and a new volume of poems by Tennyson during the Victorian period. Poetry which had for many centuries held the supreme place in the realm of literature, has lost that position. Its appeal to the general public is now negligible, and it has been obviously superseded by fiction.

The main reason for this change is that the novel is the only literary form which meets the needs of the modern world. The great merit of poetry is that it has the capacity to convey more than one meaning at a time. It provides compression of meaning through metaphorical expression. It manages to distil into a brief expression a whole range of meanings, appealing to both intellect and emotion. But this compression of metaphor is dependent upon a certain compression in the society. In other words, the metaphor used in poetry must be based on certain assumptions or public truths held in common by both the poet and the audience. For example the word ‘home’ stood for a settled peaceful life with wife and children, during the Victorian home. So if this word was used as a metaphor in poetry its meaning to the poet as well to the audience was the same. But in the twentieth century when on account of so many divorces and domestic disturbances, home has lost its sanctity, in English society, the word ‘home’ cannot be used by the poet in that sense because it will convey to different readers different meanings according to their individual experiences.
For poetry to be popular with the public there must exist a basis in the individuals of some common pattern of psychological reaction which has been set up by a consistency in the childhood environment. The metaphors or ‘ambiguities’ which lend subtlety to poetic expression, are dependent on a basis of common stimulus and response which are definite and consistent. This is possible only in a society which in spite of its eternal disorder on the surface, is dynamically functioning on the basis of certain fundamentally accepted value.
The modern period in England is obviously not such a period when society is functioning on the basis of certain fundamental values. This is the age of disintegration and interrogations. Old values have been discarded and they have not been replaced by new values. What Arnold said of the Victorian period applies more truly to the modern period—‘Caught between two worlds, one dying, the other seeking to be born’. It is the conflict between the two that the common basis of poetry has disappeared. In England of today the society is no longer homogenous; it is divided in different groups who speak different languages. Meanings that are taken for granted in one group are not understood in another. The western man is swayed by conflicting intentions, and is therefore erratic and inconsistent in his behaviour. It is difficult for him to choose between communism and capitalism, between belief in God and scepticism, confidence in science and fear of the atomic bomb, because every belief is riddled with doubts. In no department of life do we find postulates which can be accepted at their face values. In the absence of any common values compression of meaning is impossible. The poets of today find themselves isolated from society, and so they write in a language which cannot be understood by all. Sometimes the isolation of the poet is so extreme that his writing cannot be understood by anyone but himself. That is why poetry has lost its popularity in the modern time. But the very reasons which make the writing of poetry difficult have offered opportunity to fiction to flourish. In prose the ambiguity can be clarified. Those things which are no longer assumed can be easily explained in a novel.
But it is not merely on account of the loss of common pattern of psychological response, and the absence of common basis of values, that the novel has come into ascendancy. Science, which is playing a predominant role today, and which insists on the analytical approach, has also helped the novel to gain more popularity, because the method of the novel is also analytical as opposed to the synthetical. The modern man also under the influence of science, is not particularly interested in metaphorical expression which is characteristic of poetry. He prefers the novel form because here the things are properly explained and clarified. Moreover the development of psychology in the twentieth century has made men so curious about the motivation of their conduct, that they feel intellectually fascinated when a writer exposes the inner working of the mind of a character. This is possible only in the novel form.
After discussing the various reasons which have made the novel the most popular literary form today, let us consider the main characteristics of the modern novel. In the first place, we can say that it is realistic as opposed to idealistic. The ‘realistic’ writer is one who thinks that truth to observed facts—facts about the outer world, or facts about his own feelings—is the great thing, while the ‘idealistic’ writer wants rather to create a pleasant and edifying picture. The modern novelist is ‘realistic’ in this sense and not in the sense of an elaborate documentation of fact, dealing often with the rather more sordid side of contemporary life, as we find in the novels of Zola. He is ‘realistic’ in the wider sense, and tries to include within the limits of the novel almost everything—the mixed, average human nature—and not merely one-sided view of it. Tolstoy’s War and Peace and George Eliot’s Middle March had proved that the texture of the novel can be made as supple and various as life itself. The modern novelists have continued this experiment still further, and are trying to make the novel more elegant and flexible. Under the influence of Flaubert and Turgeniev, some modern novelists like Henry James have taken great interest in refining the construction of the novel so that there will be nothing superfluous, no phrase, paragraph, or sentence which will not contribute to the total effect. They have also tried to avoid all that militates against plausibility, as Thackeray’s unwise technique of addressing in his own person, and confessing that it is all a story. They have introduced into the novel subtle points of view, reserved and refined characters, and intangible delicacies, of motive which had never been attempted before by any English novelist.
In the second place, the modern novel is psychological. The psychological problem concerns the nature of consciousness and its relation to time. Modern psychology has made it very difficult for the novelist to think of consciousness, as moving in a straight chronological line from one point to the next. He tends rather to see it as altogether fluid, existing simultaneously at several different levels. To the modern novelists and readers who look at consciousness in this way, the presentation of a story in a straight chronological line becomes unsatisfactory and unreal. People are what they are because of what they have been. We are memories, and to describe as truthfully at any given moment means to say everything about our past. This method to describe this consciousness in operation is called the ‘stream of consciousness’ method. The novelist claims complete omniscience and moves at once right inside the characters’ minds. In this kind of a novel a character’s change in mood, marked externally by a sigh or a flicker of an eyelid, or perhaps not perceived at all, may mean more than his outward acts, like his decision to marry or the loss of a fortune. Moreover, in such a novel the main characters are not brought through a series of testing circumstances in order to reveal their potentialities. Everything about the character is always there, at some level of his consciousness, and it can be revealed by the author by probing depthwise rather than proceeding lengthwise.
Since the ‘stream of consciousness’ novelists, like Virginia Woolf, believe that the individual’s reaction to any given situation is determined by the sum of his past experience, it follows that everyone is in some sense a prisoner of his own individuality. It therefore means that ‘reality’ itself is a matter of personal impression rather than public systematisation, and thus real communication between individuals is impossible. In such a world of loneliness, there is no scope for love, because each personality, being determined by past history, is unique. This idea is further strengthened on account of disintegration of modern society in which there is no common basis of values. That is why the modern novelist regards love as a form of selfishness or at least as something much more complicated and problematical than simple affection between two persons. D. H. Lawrence believes that true love begins with the lover’s recognition of each others’ true separateness. Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway rejected Peter Welsh, the man she really loved, because of the fear that his possessive love would destroy her own personality.
It is in the technique of characterisation that the ‘stream of consciousness’ novelist is responsible for an important development. Previously two different methods were adopted by the novelists in the delineation of character. Either the personalities of characters in fiction emerge from a chronological account of a group of events and the character’s reaction to it; or we are given a descriptive portrait of the character first, so that we know what to expect, and the resulting actions and reactions of characters fill in and elaborate that picture. The first method we see in Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge, where in the beginning there is no hint of Michael’s real nature or personality. That emerges from the story itself. The second method is seen in Trollope’s Barchester Towers, where in the early chapter we get general sketches of the characters of Dr. Proudie and Mrs. Proudie, and in the later chapter we see the application to particular events of the general principle already enunciated. Some time both these methods are adopted as in the case of Emma Woodhouse by Jane Austen. Though the methods adopted in all these cases are different, we find that consistent character-portrait emerges. The ‘stream of consciousness’ novelist, on the other hand, is dissatisfied with these traditional methods. He has realised that it is impossible to give a psychologically accurate account of what a man is at any given moment, either by static description of his character, or by describing a group of chronologically arranged reactions to a series of circumstances. He is interested in those aspects of consciousness which are essentially dynamic rather than static in nature and are independent of the given moment. For him the present moment is sufficiently specious, because it denotes the ever fluid passing of the ‘already’ into the ‘not yet’. It not merely gives him the reaction of the person to a particular experience at the moment, but also his previous as well as future reactions. His technique, therefore, is a means of escape from the tyranny of the time dimension. By it the author is able to kill two birds with one stone; he can indicate the precise nature of the present experience of his character, and give, incidentally, facts about the character’s life previous to this moment, and thus in a limited time, one day for example, he gives us a complete picture of the character both historically and psychologically.
This ‘stream of consciousness’ technique not only helps to reveal the character completely, historically as well as psychologically, it also presents development in character, which is in itself very difficult. Thus James Joyce in Ulysses is not only able, while confining his chronological framework to the events of a single day, to relate so much more than merely the events of that single day, and to make his hero a complete and rounded character, but by the time the book closes, he had made the reader see the germ of the future in the present without looking beyond the present. Similarly Virginia Woolf in Mrs. Dalloway by relating the story of one day in the life of a middle-aged woman, and following her ‘stream of consciousness’ up and down in the past and the present, has not only given complete picture of Mrs. Dalloway’s character, but also she has made the reader feel by the end of the book that he knows not only what Mrs. Dalloway is, and has been, but what she might have been—he knows all the unfulfilled possibilities in her character. Thus what the traditional method achieves by extension, the ‘stream of consciousness’ method achieves by depth. It is a method by which a character can be presented outside time and place. It first separates the presentation of consciousness from the chronological sequence of events, and then investigates a given state of mind so completely, by pursuing to their end the remote mental associations and suggestions, that there is no need to wait for time in order to make the potential qualities in the character take the form of activity.
Besides being psychological and realistic, the novelist is also frank especially about sexual matters. This was rather an inevitable result of the acceptance of the ‘stream of consciousness’ technique. Some time a striking sexual frankness is used by writers like D. H. Lawrence to evade social and moral problems. An elaborate technique for catching the flavour of every moment helps to avoid coming into grips with acute problems facing the society.
Moreover, on account of the disintegration of society, and an absence of a common basis of values, the modern novelist cannot believe that his impressions hold good for others. The result is that whereas the earlier English novel generally dealt with the theme of relation between gentility and morality, the modern novel deals with the relation between loneliness and love. So whereas Fielding, Dickens, Thackeray wrote for the general public, the modern novelist considers it as an enemy, and writes for a small group of people who share his individual sensibilities and are opposed to the society at large. E. M. Forster calls it the ‘little society’ as opposed to the ‘great society’. D. H. Lawrence was concerned with how individuals could fully realise themselves as individuals as a preliminary to making true contact with the ‘otherness of other individuals’. He deals with social problems as individual problems. Virginia Woolf, who was particularly sensitive to the disintegration of the public background of belief, was concerned with rendering experience in terms of private sensibility. Thus the novel in the hands of James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence, Dorothy Richardson or Katherine Mansfield, borrowed some of the technique of lyrical poetry on account of emphasis on personal experience. There are such fine delicacies of description and narrative in modern novels, that they remind us of the works of great English poets.

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Modern Novelists

1. The Ancestors

The immediate ancestors of the modern English novel, who dominated the earlier part of the twentieth century, were Wells, Bennet, Conard, Kipling and Forster.

(i) H. G. Wells (1866-1946)

Among the writers of twentieth century Herbert George Wells was the greatest revolutionary, and like Barnard Shaw, he exerted a tremendous influence on the minds of his contemporaries. Wells was the first English novelist who had a predominantly scientific training, and who was profoundly antagonistic to the classics. He insisted that classical humanism should be discarded in favour of science, and that Biology and World History should take the place of Latin and Greek.

Moreover, he had no respect for accepted conventions which he criticised most ruthlessly. He was untouched by sentiment and had no loyalty to the past, with the result that he rejected what was hitherto considered sacred and part of the English cultural inheritance.
The novels of Wells fall into three divisions. First he wrote the scientific romances; next he tried his hand on the domestic novel, with its emphasis on character and humour; and then when he had gained sufficient fame as a writer, he wrote a series of sociological novels in which he showed his concern with the fate of humanity as a whole.
As a writer of scientific romances, Wells stands unrivalled; they are masterpieces of imaginative power. He looks at life on earth from a higher level by projecting himself to a distant standpoint, to the moon, the future, the air, or another planet. In these romances Wells has shown an extraordinary ability to took into the future, and many of his predictions have proved to be true. His first scientific romance was The Time Machine (1895), in which the hero invents a ‘time machine’, which enables him to accelerate the time consciousness and project himself into the future. Here is also described in a most vivid manner the grim picture of the earth divided between a master race and their resentful serfs, the Marlocks, belonging the sub-race. His next work, The War of the Worlds (1898), deals with the theme of the invasion of the earth by the people living on the planet Mars. They spread destruction by the use of a death-ray, but they are ultimately defeated on account of their lack of immunity from bacteria. In this way the earth is saved. The other scientific romances written by Wells were The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), When the Sleeper Wakes (1899), The First Man in the Moon (1901) and The Food of the Gods (1904). These were the most exciting scientific thrillers which ever appeared in English fiction, and in them Wells anticipated various forms of warfare including the atom bomb.
From fantastic romances, Wells then turned to domestic fiction. He was thoroughly familiar with the life in London suburbs, which he described with enthusiasm in Kipps (1905), a comedy of class instincts. The hero Kipps, rises from the position of a draper’s assistant to a man of fortune. The high society accepts him and trains him in its culture, but Kipps feels relived only when he loses his fortune, and relapses to the lower class from where he rose. This novel is full of satire and humour typical of Wells. In Tono Bungay (1909), Wells gives a most remarkable picture of the disintegration of English society in the later nineteenth century and the advent of the new rich class. In Anna Veronica (1909) which is the full-length study of a modern young woman. There is the first attempt in English fiction at a frank and open treatment of sex relationship. In Love and Mrs. Lewisham (1910), and The History of Mr. Polly (1910), Wells gives us realistic, humorous and sympathetic studies of the lower middle class life, with which he was quite familiar.
By this time Wells had gained great reputation as a writer. He then started a series of novels dealing with great social problems confronting the men of his time. This series includes The New Machiavelli (1911), which is a study of political and sociological creeds in the guise of a biography; Mr. Britling sees it Through (1916), a study of the reaction of the people to the First World War; The Undying Fire (1919) which is a religious and satiric fantasy; Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island (1928) and The Autocracy of Mr. Parham (1930), an attack on capitalism.
Wells believed that human civilisation can survive only if people discipline their instincts by means of reason. He also visualised a Words State to which nations must owe allegiance. He was looked upon by the post-war world as teacher, prophet and guide. His greatest weakness was that being too much scientific minded, he lacked spiritual wisdom. He was undoubtedly the most intellectual of the ancestors of the modern novel.

(ii) Arnold Bennett (1867-1931)

Unlike Wells, Bennett was more concerned with the craft of fiction and was not disposed to preach in his novels. That is why, during his time he was the most popular novelist. He looked at the world as a spectacle and recorded in his novels his impressions with complete detachment. Following the example of French novelists, Maupassant, Flaubert and Balzac, he aimed at recording life—its delights, indignities and distresses—without conscious intrusion of his own personality between the record and the reader. He was a copyist of life, and only indirectly did he play the role of a commentator, an interpreter, or an apologist. On account of these qualities, Bennett may be called the ‘naturalistic’ novelist, though this term can be applied to him only partially. The reason is that the purpose of a purely ‘naturalistic’ novelist is to be as dispassionate and detached as a camera, but Bennet even while desisting from utilizing his novels as an instrument of moral and social reforms was compelled to select certain things as relevant and significant, and reject certain others as irrelevant and insignificant, in order to determine the nature of his picture of life. Moreover, though intellectually he was ‘naturalistic’ temperamentally he was not so. No doubt, he looked at life as a spectacle, but sometimes that spectacle became for him so wonderful thrilling and awesome that he could no longer remain detached as a mere spectator.
The spectacle of life, which Bennett presents in his novels, is not drab or diseased. On the other hand he interprets it romantically as ‘sweet, exquisite, blissful, melancholy. He never regrets that life has lost its glamour and pines for the past glory of Greece and Rome. On the contrary, he finds sufficient grandeur in the modern everyday life of the Five Towns, his native district, which he has made as famous in English fiction as Hardy’s Wessex.
Bennett wrote three most popular novels—The Old Wives Tale (1908), Clayhanger (1910) and Riceyman Steps (1923) which place him high among English novelists. His other novels are Buried Alive (1908), and The Card (1911), which are first-rate humorous character novels; and The Grand Babylon Hotel (1902), which provides good entertainment. In all these novels, the characters spend most of their time in the small area of the Five Towns—the Stafordshire pottery towns. The readers become familiar not only with the principal streets and buildings and landmarks, but also with the men and women who walked the streets. By an accumulation of carefully chosen details, Bennett gives a life-like quality to his novels. Though ugliness and coarseness are also presented in that otherwise pleasant picture, they, however make it more true to real life.
Though Bennett confines himself to a small area—The Five Towns,he sketches in these novels the social and historical background with considerable skill. Moreover, he illumines his books with a sense of beauty and universal sympathy which are indispensable to creative artist. Above all, he writes in a style which is simply delightful. No doubt, Bennett won the hearts of his readers and became the most popular novelist of his time.

(iii) Henry James (1843-1916)

Henry James, one of the important of elder novelists, was an American naturalised in England. It was, perhaps, because of his foreign origin, that Henry James was untouched by the pessimism of the age, whereas almost all his contemporaries who tried to investigate the human mind showed unmistakable signs of depression. Moreover, his characters have no background, and they move from country to country. The emphasis is more on their mental and emotional reactions.
In his earlier novels such as The Europeans (1879), Henry James is chiefly concerned with the clash between the American and European mind. In his next important novel, What Masie Knew (1897), he gives us an exquisitely delightful picture of the young American girls brought up in the sentimental Victorian surroundings, and introduced to a modern society entirely devoid of sentiment. His later novels also deal with similar simple situations, pregnant with the most complex psychological effects. The Golden Bowl (1905) for instance, deals with the interactions of five characters—the American millionaire and his daughter, the Italian noble whom she marries, her penniless friend who has a love-affair with the Italian, and an elderly friend of both girls. It is the psychological complications both before and after the wedding, of the friends and the father, which provide the whole material of the story. Everything is narrated in a quiet undertone, and it is the nobility and decency which all the characters preserve in their behaviour, which gives a unity to the novel. The love for antique, beautiful things which the American millionaire exhibits in his character, is the theme of Henry James, two other novels—The Spoils of Poynton and The Sense of the Past.
The main contribution of Henry James to the technique of the novel is his use of narrative at second hand. Through this method the story unfolds itself completely in the mental plane. The reader is permitted only vague glimpses even of what the character thinks. Thus James transferred to the psychological novel the methods of the detective novel. As a stylist, James aims at expressing the exact shade of emotion or apprehension which he wishes to convey. The later psychological novelists like Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, were greatly influenced by Henry James’ style as well as the indirect technique of narration.

(iv) Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)

Chief among those who used the technique of Henry James was Conrad, a Pole, who wrote exquisite English. He was gifted with great love for his fellow creatures, and through it he acquired an unusual insight in all that was going on around him. Being a sailor he spent twenty years of strenuous life in the ship or the port. All this experience revealed to him one central problem of human nature, that is, the tension between our higher and lower selves. As his own sailor’s life provided him with the memory of mistakes, humiliations and corrections under authority, he took a sort of morbid interest in people whose souls are harassed and tormented by other. Moreover, as a sailor learns the histories of people at second hand, in hotels, clubs etc. Conrad developed the plots of his novels through a third person as if in conversation, in which the voice and personality of the narrator becomes extremely suggestive quite apart from the story he is telling.
Conrad was influenced by Henry James’ artistic rectitude and psychological subtlety. He learned the attitude of detachment and an acute observation of environment from the French novelists, Flaubert and Maupassant. From Turgenev and Dostoevsky, Conrad imbided a cosmopolitan outlook, and also a love for portraying characters who are in conflict with themselves, who are frustrated by their own passions and impulses, and who on account of having missed their life purpose become introverts and find their only outlet in crime. But unlike these great novelists, Conrad had neither the experience nor the opportunity to examine such characters as social types or psychological puzzles. His imagination thrived on glimpses which suggested a mystery. For example, Lord Jim, hero of the novel of same name, seems to feel himself always under a cloud.
The themes of Conrad’s novels transcend temporary and material interests. Unlike some of the contemporary novelists he scorned to expose social abuses, or laugh at social prejudices. He lived on his past, which on account of the lapse of years invoked in him nobler qualities, especially his capacity for intellectual sympathy and single-heartedness. He was thus always true to himself and to the characters he created.
The masterpieces of Conrad are The Nigger of the Narcissus (1898), Lord Jim (1900), Typhoon (1902), Nostromo (1904). These series cover an immense range of human activity. We have in them man’s conflict with the internal sea, his avarice for fabulous wealth in a mine, and the tribal wars between savages. The characters in them are not refined or fashionable people; they become slaves to their peculiar idiosyncrasies. They have tormented souls, and often border on tragedy. Conrad’s greatest merit in these novels lies in his descriptive power by which he, like Milton, can make us see the unseen as he can see it. The result is that the readers get an impression that the seenes are described by one who knows how things happen in the modern world, and this gives a touch of realism to the stories. Moreover, Conrad in all his novels exhibits the great ideals of impartiality, practical wisdom, sense of fitness and freedom sentimentality, which earned for him the admiration of his English readers.

(v) Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

Kipling’s view of life and his range of subjects were rather similar to Conrad’s. Like Conrad, he very much admired the strong, brave, silent man, but unlike Conrad’s his is the slightly wistful admiration of the intellectual, who has wanted very much to be a man of action, and never succeeded in becoming one. He was born in India and after being educated in England he returned to India at the age of seventeen and became the editor of an Anglo-Indian paper. He derived the material for his early stories—Plain Tales from the Hills, Under the Deodars. Soldiers Three from his experiences in India. Of his novels, the important are The Light that Failed (1890), The Naulakha (1892), Captain Courageous (1897), and Kim (1901). The Light that Failed is supposed to be the story of an artist who goes blind and loses his love. The Naulakha deals with the life of a medical missionary in India, and its moral is that woman’s place is in the home. Captain Courageous relates the story of a miserable dull boy who is swept overboard a ship, and is then picked by a fishing schooner and restored to his parents. Kim is a long story in which a well-defined central character travels through circumstances towards a goal.
Though Kipling wrote about India in his tales and novels, yet he never got very deep into India. His knowledge is very superficial and he looks at everything from the point of the view of British rulers. His main importance as a writer lies in his rich vocabulary and technical excellence. Like Defoe, he borrowed from all great writers, and his opening sentences are the most wonderful in literature.

(vi) John Galsworthy (1867-1933)

Besides being a dramatist, Galsworthy belonged to the front rank of the novelists of his time. He was exactly the contemporary of Arnold Bennet, but unlike him Galsworthy belonged to the upper class, and was most at his ease describing the life of the country gentry or people of inherited wealth living in London. Moreover, unlike Bennet Galsworthy always wrote with a purpose and the reformer in him sometimes got the better of the artist.
Galsworthy found in English society that majority of people clung to old established traditions, while a small minority wanted change. In his novels he tried to hold the balance between opposed ideas or between characters with opposite tendencies. In his preface to The Island Pharisees, Galsworthy contrasts these opposite elements in society. His novels which are collectively called The Forsyte Saga, all deal with the same theme. In the first novel of this group, The Man of Property (1906), he holds the balance between the mechanical mind of Soames Forsyte and the impulsive Irene; in The Country House (1907), which is the most attractive of all his novels, between the unimaginative Squire and his perceptive, compassionate wife; in Fraternity (1909) and in The Patrician (1919) between the tolerant and the advocates of ‘an eye for an eye’. In these early novels, Galsworthy stands on the ‘middle line’, but he enlists the sympathy of the readers for the young in mind, the generous, the rash and the wilful, and on the other hand, he exposes those who are tradition-ridden, and survivors of an old and outworn order.
But the First World War effected a change in the attitude of Galsworthy. He began to regard with respect and even tenderness those elder men who having formed habits stuck to them rigidly. On the other hand, he lost sympathy with the young, restless troublous spirits in whose life he found no aim. This changed attitude is reflected in his later novels—In Chancery (1920), To Let (1921), The White Monkey (1924), The Silver Spoon (1930). In these novels it appears that Galsworthy the pioneer and humanist has been replaced by Galsworthy the moralist and disciplinarian. He himself became a pillar of the institutions he himself criticised in his earlier days. But in spite of this change in his attitude, he gets the credit of awakening the Edwardian England from intellectual lethargy. Moreover, he was a true artist, and a man of generous impulses, who believed that literature has also a social function to fulfil, that is, to reform society.

(vii) E. M. Forster (1879-1970)

Forster belonged to the group of elder novelists of the twentieth century and occupied an exceptional place in the history of the modern novel. Unlike his contemporaries, Forster had never tried to impose on his readers a new creed or astonish him by some technical novelty. Though he was the most popular of all living novelists, yet his production had been small. His last novel—A Passage to India, was published in 1924, and after that he did not write any new novel except a few volumes of short stories.
Forster’s earliest novel Where Angles Feared to Tread appeared in 1905. It was followed by The Longest Journey in 1907, and A Room with a View in (1908). By this time Forster’s reputation had been firmly established. In 1910 appeared Howards End, a novel of great power and beauty, which attracted great attention. His last great novel, A Passage to India, appeared in 1924.
Forster belonged to the tradition of cultural liberalism at its best. In his early years he admired the liberal tradition of Western civilisation, which had given opportunities for leisure and personal relations. But as time passed, he became more and more aware of the darker side of the picture, and his attitude became gravely reflective. When after the First World War, Fascism and Communism came to the forefront in many European countries, he saw that the way of life which he had favoured might be an oasis rather than an enduring possibility. So he put his weight on the side of Parliamentary democracy, which seemed to him to be the only hope in the modern world of stress and strain.
In all Forster’s novels there is a conflict between good and evil, between what is cruel, philistine and unperceiving, and the good which is lively, entertaining and sensitive. He wants a harmonious development of man in which there is combination of body and spirit, reason and emotion, work and play, architecture and scenery, laughter and seriousness. He believes that the aim of the civilised life is to enhance the quality of personal relation. This can be achieved not by pomp and power and aggressiveness in the personality, but by gentle and quiescent qualities. Feeling that Europe was degenerating to barbarism. Forster became attracted to the Eastern and especially Indian conception of personality, which is free from aggressive possessiveness.
In all the novels of Forster we find an extraordinary lightness of touch, and a sensitive spirit, but he is never weak or sentimental. Death comes suddenly and unexpectedly to the characters of Forster, because his philosophy is that the contemplation of the idea of death is necessary to the good life. Death destroys a man; the idea of Death saves him. Thus Forster, in spite of his great brilliance of incident and dialogue, basically remains a moralist. But his morality is individual, and his philosophy has a mystical background. He insists on the distinction between the civilised and the barbarous, between those ‘who have a room with a view and those who have not.’
Forster possessed gift of rhythmic prose, rarely possessed by a novelist and an ironic spirit which he exercised with the skill of Meredith. As a story-teller he was very powerful. This became clear from his first novel—Where Angels Fear to Tread. Here his theme is the contrast of two cultures—the English and the Italian, with further complications dealing with the contrast of two Italian cultures—idealistic and practical. In The Longest Journey (1907) contrast appears again. It is the novel of friendship, and of a bitterly unhappy marriage, of falsehood and shams, and of the good life. In A Room with a View (1908) Forster reached his full maturity. It was written in the form of a morality play, and deals with the theme of contrast between those who understand themselves and those who are caught in self-deception. In Howard’s End (1910) Forster reached his highest achievement as a novelist. It shows the contrast between those who live in a civilised world and those who do not. This novel, which has a great variety in incident and character, is made by Forster as symbol of his plea that it is the people gifted with insight and understanding on whom civilisation really depends. His last great novel—A Passage to India (1924) is not technically superior to Howard’s End, but here Forster has appealed to a very much larger audience, and has given a genuine picture of Indians and of the English during the British rule. Here he emphasised on personal relations, which had been his theme in all his previous novels. The atmosphere of the story is highly fascinating, and here Forster had presented a fine study of those who seek the good life by removing the barriers of civilisation, of race creed and caste.
In all his novels Forster had expressed and strongly affirmed his faith in the individual, and it is this fundamental element in his philosophy which has given him a place of exceptional honour among the modern English novelists.

2. The Transitionalists

From the beginning of the First Word War new experiments were made in the field of literature on account of the new forces which resulted from the war, and which broke the old tradition. In fiction James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Adlous Huxley and Somerset Maugham played the prominent part.

(i) James Joyce (1822-1941)

James Joyce was a novelist of unique and extraordinary genius. He was born in Dublin, but he left Ireland in 1904 to become a European cosmopolitan. Most of his life was spent in retirement in Paris. He was a highly gifted man and was acutely responsive to observed details. By temperament he was an artist and symbolist. He found around him an atmosphere of frustration, aimlessness and disintegration, and thus in order to express himself as a novelist he had to create for himself a different medium. He leant from the psychologists and biologists of his day that our speech occupies the dominant ‘association area’ in the brain. It is like a telegraph exchange which verbalise what we experience and hope or fear to experience. Himself a born linguist, Joyce looked upon language as a sixth sense, that machinery through which the human organism reveals its inner processes, an instinctive and therefore truthful comment on experience. He, therefore, thought that to explore the unconscious record of our psychic and psychological adjustments, would be a fascinating study if taken up by a novelist. As it was an unexplored field, and offered a new world for the artist to conquer, Joyce who was in search of a new medium, took it up, and did the pioneering work in the ‘stream of consciousness’ technique.
The important novels of Joyce are The Dubliners (1914), A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), Exiles (1918) and Ulysses. Of these Ulysses is his masterpiece. In all these novels, Joyce makes a study of the artist who frees himself from various shackles and ultimately comes to the realisation of his own true personality. In Ulysses the artist is shown at one with humanity through insight into the psychology of speech, our most intimate faculty, in which all men share and have shared. This book is presented as an epic, the counterpart of Homer’s Odyssey. But whereas Homer dwells on the adventures, and has very little to say about reactions of the adventurer, Joyce lays emphasis on the speeches of the hero, because according to him, speech, not action, is the token of humanity. Our nature reveals itself through our speech, and in order to demonstrate it fully twenty-four hourse are quite sufficient, and there is no need of any change of scene.
Unlike great novels, Ulysses does not present truth to life. In that way it may be considered as a failure, though a magnificent one, because Joyce here has introduced a new technique, which exercises great intellectual appeal to the thoughtful readers. His is a pioneering work, because here he showed to the novelists to explore a new field—‘the stream of consciousness’, which was so far hidden from their view. Thus Ulysses holds an important place in the history of modern novel.

(ii) Virgina Woolf (1882-1941)

Virginia Woolf, who was the most distinguished woman writer of her generation, made a far more exciting use of the ‘stream of consciousness’ technique than James Joyce. She was greatly impressed by Ulysses, in which Joyce had found an alternative to the well-made plot and external characterisation. She found that this conception of the inner drama of the mind was fraught with tremendous possibilities, and she decided to exploit it to the fullest extent. This method suited her admirably because having a purely literary background, much of her experience had come from books rather than from actual life. Moreover, like Joyce, she had a fine sense of language, and was gifted with a poetic temperament.
Working under the influence of Joyce, and of the French novelist, Proust, who conceived personality as a continued process of decantation from state to state, Virginia Woolf ignored the outer personality regarding it simply as the ‘semi-transparent envelope’, through which she could study the ‘reality’, namely, the thoughts, feelings and impressions as they quickened into life. She herself pointed out, “It’s life that matters, nothing but life, the process of discovering the everlasting and perpetual process.” She depicts in her novels the stuff of life—the thought, feelings, impressions—steeped in the richest dyes of her imagination and turned into images by her poetic sensibility.
In her first novel—The Voyage Out (1913), Virginia Woolf followed the traditional pattern of story—telling. Here she relates the story of a young and inexperienced girl who comes to learn something of life and the relations between the sexes, falls in love and dies of tropical fever before she can realise herself. But the real interest in the novel centres on a vogue awareness that there is a meaning in life. Her second novel, Night and Day (1919), offers an elaborate long drawn-out study of Katherine Hilberry, an intelligent young woman of the middle class and her relation with her mother and four friends. But the main interest lies not on the theme of love, but on the conversations and introspections in which the chief characters are engaged and which gradually reveal their doubts and hesitations as they face the reality of experience.
Her next novel, Jacob’s Room (1922), represents her first serious experiment in the stream of consciousness’ technique. Here she makes an attempt to construct pictorially the personality of a young Englishman from his infancy to the age of twenty-six, when he is killed in the war. Here the sunlit streams of youth are overshadowed by time. Frustration and death, and fires of love are quenched by human faithlessness. In this novel, Virginia Woolf’s quest for the meaning of human experience goes on but the mystery is not yet solved. In Mrs. Dalloway (1925) she explores and recreates the personality of a middle-aged woman, Mrs. Dalloway. Here she sets down the incidents of a day in her life accompanied by visual, mental and emotional impressions. The day in her life is expressed in terms of a long interior monologue, the smooth flowing of the stream of consciousness, which is interrupted by the striking hours of the clock.
Virginia Woolf’s most successful novel in the new ‘stream of consciousness’ method is To the Lighthouse (1927). Here the scene is set on an unnamed island, and the Lighthouse symbolize in some queer way the ‘reality’ which is never experienced. Her next novel. Orlando, which is liveliest of all, relates in a series of vivid scenes and dramatic climaxes the mental experiences of a poet while writing a prize poem. In The Years (1937) Virginia Woolf returned to a much simpler form of fiction. It is the novel of the generations in which the fortunes of a middle-class family from 1880 to the present time are rather sketchily represented. Her last novel Between the Acts (1941), is filled with a sense of her personal failure to wrest meaning from experiences, and the spectacle of the world at war deepens the despair.

(iii) Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)

As a novelist Aldous Huxley is concerned with the search for a workable faith in the bewildering world of today, and being pre-eminently an intellectual, whatever faith he finally accepts must be one justifiable by logical argument, not merely by appeals to feeling or tradition. In order to understand the generation that came to maturity between the First and Second World Wars, the writings of Huxley are the best guide. Though he lacks the imaginative power of Lawrence, and the poetic sensitivity of Virginia Woolf, he is better intellectually equipped than either. He represents the small percentage of the people of his generation who have ideas.
In his early novels Crome Yellow (1921), Antic Hay (1923) and Those Barren Leaves (1925), Huxley presented the dangerously attractive doctrine of hedonism, that is, pleasure is the greatest thing in life. The style of these novels has a seductive charm, and here the author fully exploits his scientific and literary vocabulary. The characters in these novels include middle-aged cultured voluptuaries who ask little more of life than readable books, amusing conversation, art and quiet comfortable life. Of these three novels, Crome Yellow, which is touched with lyricism possesses the greatest charm. Antic Hay which is the liveliest of the three, is a rollicking satire on the life-worshippers. Those Barren Leaves has a number of finely-drawn characters, who are easy-going pagans. They take it for granted that the universe has no meaning and therefore the only thing to do is to enjoy oneself and take no thought for the marrow. But there is one exception—Calamy, who takes a serious view of life and believes that there is an inner life within him which should be properly understood.
In his next novel, Point Counter Point, Huxley studies the frustration brought about by the conflict between passion and reason. Here he shows that man’s foolish attempt to deny the validity of the sense and pretend that he is a spiritual being, has condemned him to wretchedness and self-destruction. There is thus a self-division in human personality. The romantics find that passion divorced from reason makes life a mockery. The rational intellectual with his analytic reason destroys spontaneity and the power to feel and sympathise. Thus there is no escape. The total effect of Point Counter Point is one of bitter disillusionment with society.
In Brave New World (1923) Huxley accomplishes the combination of scientific materialism and hedonism. Here he searches for a new faith in spiritualism and Eastern philosophy. After presenting a future state dominated by science which has discovered how to produce life in the laboratory, Huxley points out that from such a life emotion has been eliminated, and there is no art, culture, religion, love, ideals, loyalty or personality. Into such a world Huxley introduces the Savage John, who represents the old world of religion and cultural values. He asks the people to revolt against spiritual slavery, but they do not understand him, and he is driven to suicide.
In Brave New World, Huxley is clearly on the side of the angels of death so long as he can have the assurance of the reality of the spirit. This respect for the spirit is further developed in his next novel—Eyless in Gaza (1939). Here he reveals a deeper concern for the quality of human personality. In the latter part of this book there is a long sermon on non-attachment and the oneness of life. Huxley derived these mainly from Hindu philosophy with its emphasis on non-attachment and universal pity.
This new philosophy is further developed in Huxley’s succeeding novels—Ends and Means (1938) and Grey Eminence (1940). Here he accepts the existence of supramundane reality. He also believes that we are bound to this world of illusion through desire, which springs from self-hood. These ideas are very much akin to the philosophy of the Bhagwad Gita. Huxley’s last novel—After Many a Summer, deals with the contrast between two conceptions of time, that of the mystic and that of the scientist. The biologist believes that eternity is a mere extension of physical life. The mystic, on the other hand, believes that it is through expansion and intensification of consciousness which is a spiritual activity, that mystic eternity can be experienced here and now.
Huxley did not make any notable contribution to the technique of the novel. His novels in fact are essays and conversations strung together on a slender thread of a plot. But he did for the novel what Shaw did for the drama; that is, he made the novel a form capable of propagating great ideas and thus making an appeal to the intellect rather than the emotions of the reader. He turned fiction into an image of the dynamic world of ideas that underlies the changing outward society.

(iv) D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930)

Lawrence was a great and original writer who brought a new kind of poetic imagination to English fiction. To the man in the street Lawrence is still a great ‘sex novelist’. But he himself said, “I, who loathe sexuality so deeply am considered a lurid sexuality specialist’ Lawrence was a passionate Puritan, and his sexual idea was high and lofty. He believed that there can be no satisfying union on the physical plane alone. “Once a man establishes a full dynamic communication at the deeper and the higher centres, with a woman, this can never by broken…very often not even death can break it.” “If man makes sex itself his goal, he drives on towards anarchy and despair, and his living purpose collapses. Sex is the door. Beyond lies an ultimate, impersonal relationship, free of all emotional complications. Beyond lies the service of God.”
If we study the novels of D. H. Lawrence from this point of view, our attitude towards them would be different. His first novel, The White Peacock (1911) struck the lyrical note of much of his best work; his second The Trespasser (1912), was more melodramatic. With Sons and Lovers Lawrence came to his own. In this novel, in which he describes the boy’s life in the miner’s househood and his wonderful relationship with his mother, has been recognised as one of the great pieces of English autobiographical fiction. His next novel The Rainbow (1915) starts in much the same way, but there is far more poetry and beauty in it than in Sons and Lovers. His next novel, Woman in Love (1921), is rather obscene. In The Lost Girl (1920) Lawrence’s feeling for nature appears at its best. In Aeron’s Rod (1922) he discusses the theme of male comradeship and leadership, which is continued in the Australian novels, Kangaroo (1923) and The Bay in the Bush (1924). In Plumed Serpent (1926) Lawrence turns his back on everything that man has achieved since he began his long climb out of dust. In his last great novel. Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928), Lawrence returned to the sex theme.
Regarding the relation between the sexes, Lawrence resents man’s subjection to woman, not woman’s subjection to man. He believes that it is the modern woman’s rebellion against man which lies at the heart of the disease that is killing civilisation. Unless man is supreme, the relation that he develops with the woman is a filial relation, which amounts to incest.
Regarding the modern civilisation, Lawrence believes that man has cut himself off from the living cosmos, which is God. Without the restoration of that contact society will perish. But this cannot be brought about by the mind, which is at the centre of all this mischief. We should have more trust in our flesh and blood rather than in intellect. Man must “let his will lapse back into his unconscious self”, and arrive at “mindlessness” which is akin to the state of Smadhi as explained in Hindu scriptures.
Lawrence was a rebel, and he continued, and perhaps, won the fight for freedom which began with Hardy.

3. The Moderns

Among the moderns the most important novelist is Somerset Maugham (1874), who is equally famous as a dramatist and short story writer. He believes in working in a narrow life and his method is ‘naturalistic’ as that of Maupassant. His important novels are Liza of Lambath (1897), Of Human Bondage (1915), Cakes and Ale (1930) and The Rozor’s Edge. Liza of Lambath is the completest specimen of Naturalistic novel in English. Here he gives us a picture of life which has long ceased to be, but in spite of this the novel remains remarkably fresh. In Of Human Bondage, Maugham plays the role of the impartial spectator as a boy and Youngman. Though the views expressed by him in it are outdated, yet it has got its value because here the author expressed his honest, unflinching acceptance of his belief in the meaninglessness of life. It is an autobiographical novel, and contains one of the most moving accounts of loneliness in English fiction. Cakes and Ale which is a witty, malicious, satirical comedy, is highly entertaining. In The Razor’s Edge, Maugham seeks the meaning of life, like Aldous Huxley, in Hindu philosophy with its emphasis on detachment and renunciation.
J. B. Priestley (1894) is another important novelist, who revived the sane and vital telling of a story in The Good Companions, which in spite of its having the defect of being too sentimental, is a great novel in the English tradition. His other novels are Let the People Sing, Daylight on Saturday and Bright Day.
Though there are a large number of minor modern novelists, the well-known among them are the followings;
(a) Charles Morgan, who is philosophical in his approach. His important novels are Portrait in Mirror, The Fountain, Sparkenbroke, The Vayage, The Judge’s Story;
(b) Clive Staples Lewis, who presents in his novels his ethical and philosophical views. Chief among his books are Problem of Pain, The Screwtapa Letters, The Great Divorce and Miracles;
(c) Herbert Ernest Bates, who has evolved a use of English which will be effective in the development of prose style. His important novels are A House of Women, Spella Ho, Fair Stood the Wind for France, The Cruise of the Bread Winner, The Purple Plain;
(d) Frederick Lawrence Greene who shows in his novels the inevitability of the power of human emotions which twist men round the designs they play for their own lives. Behind this is a pattern of life on a structure of religion against which human life is thrown in relief. All Greene’s important novels are related to a life after death, and his views about both the worlds are firm. His well-known novels are On the Night of the Fire, The Sound of Winter, a Fragment of Glass, Mist on the Waters;
(e) In Graham Greene’s novels ‘culture’ is a living force. He believes that man is essentially good, but flamed by evil. His important novels are The Man Within, Stamboul Train, England Made Me, Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory and The Heart of the Matter;
(f) Frank Swinnerton, who gives in his novels a detached but amiable appreciation of people, and whose treatment of life and its significance are quite satisfying. His well-known novels are Nocturne, The Georgian House and The Doctor’s Wife Comes to Stay;
(g) Richard Church, who has been mainly concerned with contemporary life. His important novels are High Summer, The Porch, The Room Within, The Sampler and The Other Side.

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Post-Modern Literature

Understanding Post-modernism

Until the 1920’s, the term “modern” used to mean new or contemporary, but thereafter it came to be used for a particular period, the one between the two World Wars (1914-1945). Then came up after about half a century the, magic term, “post-modern,” meaning the period after the modern.
Now, this sort of naming is certainly problematic. For how many “post” will have to be used for the further periods of literary history to follow? Since our purpose here is limited to writing the “history” of literature, we shall not go on with the issue, leaving the matter for the more qualified critics to give it a thought. Even as it is, there is a problem about the naming of the period between 1945 to 1965, during which period there was no consciousness of what is now called “post-modern”. The period of the “post-modern” is said to date from the mid-sixties - some critics push it even further to the nineteen eighties. Dealing with the contemporary is always, of course, a little ticklish, because closer we stand to an object, more details we see of the picture. Once removed by some distance, the outline comes out clearly. As of today, critics have seen historical changes in literary styles from decade to decade, from even author to author. Perhaps we shall have to wait another half a century or so to be able to make greater generalizations about the later half of the twentieth century. Meanwhile, let us accept what has become almost conventional in the historical writing of English literature.
In his essay “The Post-Modern Condition,” Krishan Kumar has clarified some confusion about the meaning of post-modernism:
Most theories claim that contemporary societies show a new or heightened degree of fragmentation, pluralism, and individualism.... It can also be linked to the decline of the nation-state and dominant national cultures. Political, economic, and cultural life is now strongly influenced by developments at the global level. This has as one of its effects, unexpectedly, the renewed importance of the local, and a tendency to stimulate sub-national and regional cultures....
Post-modernism proclaims multi-cultural and multi-ethnic societies. It promotes the politics of difference! Identity is not unitary or essential, it is fluid and shifting, fed by multiple sources and taking multiple forms (there is no such thing as ‘woman’ or ‘black’).’
The debate about contemporary society being “post-industrial,” “post-modern,” “post-structuralist,” “post-colonial,” “pluralistic,” “multi-cultural,” “fragmented,” etc., goes on, with select pieces of literature used for illustration. The fact of the matter is that the theoretical discussion of the subject has been self-generative, proliferating all over the space, pushing literature to the periphery, leaving not much space for actual human narratives in the privileged domain. As such, it has not proved of much help to the historian of literature who would much rather record the literary happenings than discuss literary theories (unless, of course, the latter has been an integral part of the former). Until the time of the Modernists like Pound and Eliot, literary theory came from the leading literary writers. During the Post-modern period, however, it has come from the non-literary thinkers. Hence the problem of its meaningful application to literary works.
One quickly turns to Frederic Jameson, who seems to have aptly articulated the reader’s dilemma about “post-modernism”:
I occasionally get just as tired of the slogan ‘post-modern’ as anyone else, but when I am tempted to regret my complicity with it, to deplore its misuses and its notoriety, and to conclude with some reluctance that it raises more problems than it solves, I find myself pausing to wonder whether any other concept can dramatize the issues in quite so effective and economical a fashion.
In the absence of a more useful concept, therefore, as also because now the concept of post-modernism has come to stay, we have no choice but to go on with it, leaving the problems it has raised to time for whatever solution will become possible tomorrow. But we must know at the same time how and why the term ‘postmodernism’ has come about and what it has accumulated around itself as a description of certain distinctive characteristics of the post-War period, which is still going on.
The growth of post-modernism, in the words of Charles Jencks, a major theorist of architecture and the originator of the term, has been “a sinuous, even tortuous, path. Twisting to the left and then to the right, branching down the middle, it resembles the natural form of a spreading root, or a meandering river that divides, changes course, doubles back on itself and takes off in a new direction.” (What is Post-Modernism? London: Academy Editions, 1986, p.2). We may cite and examine any number of definitions (out of the innumerable available to us), post-modernism proves slippery like a snake whose twists and twirls are impossible to pin down. From the very inception of the term in Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History (1947), the term has accumulated a lot of meanings many of which are mutually contradictory. How then do we go about understanding the term, making sense of all that it has accumulated? As Tim Woods has rightly observed:
The prefix ‘post’ suggests that any post-modernism is inextricably bound up with modernism, either as a replacement of modernism or as chronologically after modernism. Indeed with post-modernism, post-feminism, post-colonialism and post-industrialism, that ‘post’ can be seen to suggest a critical engagement with modernism, rather than claiming the end of modernism to survive, or it can be seen that modernism has been overturned, superseded or replaced. The relationship is something more akin to a continuous engagement, which implies that post-modernism needs modernism to survive, so that they exist in something more like a host-parasite relationship. Therefore, it is quite crucial to realize that any definition of post-modernism will depend upon one’s prior definition of modernism. (Beginning post-modernism. Manchester University Press, 1999, p.6)
Seen from the viewpoint suggested above, one can see how post-modernism is a sort of knowing modernism, or a self-reflective modernism. In one sense, post-modernism is a modernism which does not agonise itself; it, in fact, does all that modernism does, but only in a mood of celebration, not in a mood of repentance. Rather than lament the loss of the past, the fragmentation of life, and the collapse of civilization as well as selfhood, postmodernism embraces these phenomena as a new form of social existence and behaviour. Thus, the difference between the two is best understood as difference in mood or attitude, rather than a chronological difference or as different institutions of aesthetic practices.
One core issue of this debate between postmodernism and modernism is the extent to which the Enlightenment values are still valuable. The Romantic philosophers, such as Rousseau, Kant and Hegel, had placed great faith in man’s ability to reason as a means of securing our freedom. The modernist philosophers later raised doubts about man’s ability to do so. This questioning of the Romantic philosopher’s faith is mainly associated with the work of Jean-Francois Lyotard, for whom postmodernism is best understood as an attack on reason. As Sabina Lovibond has observed:
The Enlightenment pictured the human race as engaged in an effort towards universal moral and intellectual self-realization, and so as the subject of a universal historical experience; it also postulated a universal human reason in terms of which social and political tendencies could be assessed as ‘progressive’ or otherwise.... Postmodernism rejects this picture: that is to say, it rejects the doctrine of the unity of reason. It refuses to conceive of humanity as a unitary subject striving towards the goal of perfect coherence (in its common stock of beliefs) or of perfect cohesion and stability (in its political practice). (“Feminism and Postmodernism”, New Left Review, 178 (1989):6)
As against the universality of modernism and the long-standing conception of the human self as a subject with a single, unified reason. Postmodernism has pitted reasons in the plural, that is fragmented and in­commensurable. Post-modern theory is suspicious of the notion that man possesses an undivided and coherent self which acts as the standard of rationality. It no longer believes that reasoning subjects can act as vehicles for historically progressive change. Here, we must also understand the difference between post-modernism and post-modernity. Post-modernity is used to describe the socio-economic, political and cultural condition of the present-day West; where people are living in post-industrial, ‘service-oriented’ economies; where human dealings like shopping are mediated through the computer interface, where communication is done through e-mail, voice-mail, fax, teleconference on video-link; where the wider world is accessed via the net; where the choice of entertainment falls on high-speed image bombardment of the pop video, etc. Such conditions of living are often described as “post-modernity”. Postmodernism on the other hand describes only the aesthetic and intellectual beliefs and attitudes often presented in the form of theory.
The term postmodernism, in use roughly since the 1960’s, designates cultural forms that display certain characteristics, which include (i) the denial of an all-encompassing rationality; (ii) the distrust of meta-narratives; (iii) challenge to totalizing discourses; in other words, suspicion of discursive attempts to offer a universal account of existence; (iv) a rejection of modernism. Thus, rejecting belief in the infinite progress of knowledge; in infinite moral and social advancement; in rigorous definition of the standards of intelligibility, coherence and legitimacy; postmodernism seeks local or provisional, rather than universal and absolute, forms of legitimation.


Jean-Francois Lyotard (1724-98)

Extensive and varied debates about postmodernism in philosophy and cultural theory notwithstanding, we can concentrate upon the key theorists whose ideas have shaped these debates about the philosophical effects and theoretical impact of the movement after modernism. The philosopher who is said to have put the first post-modern cat among the modernist pigeons was Jean-Francois Lyotard, whose The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979) occupies a special place among a set of books which launched an attack on modernity. His argument is for a rejection of the search for logically consistent, self-evidently “true” grounds for philosophical discourse. Instead, he would wish to substitute ad hoc tactical manoeuvres as justification for what are generally considered eccentricities. Ultimately, he is suspicious of all claims to proof or truth. As he puts it, “Scientists, technicians, and instruments are purchased not to find truth, but to augment power,” (Postmodern Condition, p.46). In his considered view, beneath the facade of objectivity there always is a hidden and dominant discourse of realpolitik: “The exercise of terror” (p.64). Thus, any kind of legitimation is nothing but an issue of power. He believes that there is a connection, an intimate one, between power and the rhetoric of truth or value.
Lyotard identifies “an equation between wealth, efficiency, and truth,” and contends that it continually remains a question of: “No money, no proof—and that means no verification of statements and no truth. The games of scientific language become the games of the rich, in which whoever is wealthiest has the best chance of being right” (Postmodern Condition, p.45). He also demonstrates how utilatarianism is predominant in institutions:
The question (overt or implied) now asked by the professionalist student, the State, or institutions of higher education is no longer ‘Is it true?’ but ‘What use is it?’ In the context of the mercantilization of knowledge, more often than not this question is equivalent to: ‘Is it saleable?’
And in the context of power-growth: ‘Is it efficient?’... What ho longer makes the grade is competence as defined by other criteria true/false, just/unjust, etc. (Postmodern Condition, p.51).
From these ideas Lyotard develops a narrative of the difference between modernist and postmodernist aesthetics which does not conform to an historical period. In his argument, Modernism is:
an aesthetic of the sublime, though a nostalgic one. It allows the unpresentable to be put forward only as the missing contents; but the form, because of its recognizable consistency, continues to offer to the reader or viewer matter for solace or pleasure....
The postmodern would be that which, in the modern, puts forward the unpresentable in presentation itself, that which denies itself the solace of good forms...that which searches for new presentations, not in order to enjoy them but in order to impart a stronger sense of the unpresentable.
Thus, to sum up Lyotard’s view of Postmodernism, it is, first of all, a distrust of all metanarratives; it is also anti-foundational. Secondly, when it presents the unpresentable, it does not do so with a sense of nostalgia, nor does it offer any solace in so doing. Thirdly, it does not seek to present reality but to invent illusions to the conceivable which cannot be presented. Fourthly, it actively seeks heterogeneity, pluralism, and constant innovation. Lastly, it challenges the legitimation of positivist science.

Jean Baudrillard (1929—)

Next to Lyotard, the founder of Postmodernism, comes Jean Baudrillard, another French intellectual who can be called the high priest of Postmodernism. According to Baudrillard, postmodernity is also characterized by “simulations” and new forms of technology of communication. His argument is that whereas earlier cultures depended on either face-to-face communication or, later, print, contemporary culture is dominated by images from the electronic mass media. Our lives today are increasingly being shaped by simulated events and opportunities on television, computer shopping at “virtual stores,” etc. Simulation is in which the images or ‘manufactured’ reality become more real than the real. In his view, the demarcation between simulation and reality implodes; and along with this collapse of distinction between image and reality, the very experience of the real world is lost. Hyper-reality, according to Baudrillard, is the state where distinctions between objects and their representations are dissolved. In that case, we are left with only simulacra. Media messages are prime examples that illustrate this phenomenon. In these messages, self-referential signs lose contact with the things they signify, leaving us witness to an unprecedented destruction of meaning. Advertisements present manipulated images to float a dream world only to trap the viewer for the sale of consumer goods. The manipulated simulation, manufacturing motivated reality, ignores or overlooks the harsh or unpleasant aspects associated with an image—say New York or New Delhi. Consequently, the images of sparkle and light casually erase the urgent socio-economic problems. His conclusion is that TV is the principal embodiment of these aesthetic transformations, where the implosion of meaning and the media result in “the dissolution of TV into life, the dissolution of life into TV” (Simulations, New York, 1983, p.55). Baudrillard was the one who contributed to the Guardian of 11 January, 1991, the well-known article “The Gulf War Did Not Take Place.”

Jacquis Derrida (1930-2004)

Perhaps the most influential person among the Postmodernist intellectuals has been Jacquis Derrida, who remains the principal theorist of Deconstruction. The publication of the three of his books in 1967, namely Writing and Difference, Of Grammatology, and Of Speech and Phenomena, laid the foundation of the theory of Deconstruction. Derrida has his precursors in Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1939), Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), and Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), who questioned the fundamental philosophical concepts such as “knowledge”, “truth”, and “identity” as well as the traditional concepts of a coherent individual consciousness and a unitary self. Although notoriously difficult and elusive, Derrida’s views can be summarised as under:
He insists that all Western philosophies and theories of knowledge, of language and its uses, of culture, are LOGOCENTRIC. What he means is that they are centred or grounded on a “logo” (which in Greek signified both “word” and “rationality.”). Using a phrase from Heidegger, he says that they rely on “the metaphysics of presence.” According to him, these philosophies and theories are logocentric in part because they are PHONOCENTRIC; that they, in other words, grant, implicitly or explicitly, logical “priority”, or “privilege”, to speech over writing as the model for analysing all discourse.
Derrida’s explanation for “logo” or “presence” is that it is an “ultimate referent”, a self-certifying and self-sufficient ground, or foundation, which is available to us totally outside the play of language itself. In other words, it is directly present to our awareness and serves to “centre” (that is to anchor, organise and guarantee) the structure of the linguistic system. As a result, it suffices to fix the bounds, coherence, and determinate meanings of any spoken or written utterance within the foundation in God as the guarantor of its validity. Another is Platonic form of the true reference of a general term. Still another is Hegelian “telos” or goal toward which all process strives. Intention, too, is an instance, which signifies something determinate that is directly present to the awareness of the person who initiates an utterance. Derrida questions these philosophies and shows how untenable these premises are. His alternative conception is that the play of linguistic meanings is “undecidable” in terms derived from Saussure’s view that in a sign-system (which is language), both the “signifiers” and the “signifides” owe their seeming identities, not to their own inherent or “positive” features, but to their differences from other speech sounds, written marks, or conceptual significations.
Derrida’s most influential concept has been that of DIFFERANCE. His explanation for substituting ‘a’ for ‘e’ is that he has done it to indicate a fusion of two senses of the French verb “differer,” which are (I) to be different, and to defer. Thus, meanings of words are relational (in relation to other words). They are also contextual. In any case, there are no absolute meanings, nor are the meanings of words stable, as words always defer their meanings. Any utterance, therefore, oral or written, can be subjected to any number of interpretations, depending upon the reader’s ability to “play” with the various possible meanings each word is capable of yielding. This view of language and meaning has had great impact on both literary criticism as well as literary writing. Postmodernist texts as well as interpretations decentre and subvert the conventional or settled meanings and values of any given story or situation, concept or construction, system or structure.
Some of Derrida’s sceptical procedures have been quite influential in deconstructive literary criticism as well as in feminist, postcolonial, and poststructuralist creative compositions. One of these is to subvert the innumerable binary oppositions—such as man/woman, soul/body, right/wrong, white/black, culture/nature, etc.—which are essential structural elements in logocentric language. In Derrida’s view, as he shows, there is a tacit hierarchy implied in these binaries, in which the term that comes first is privileged and superior, while the one that comes second is derivative and inferior. What Derrida does is to invert the hierarchy, by showing that the secondary term can be made out to be derivitative from, or a special case of the primary term. He does not, however, stop at that; rather, he goes on to destablise both hierarchies, leaving them in a state of undecidability.
Derrida had not thought of Deconstruction as a mode of literary criticism. He had only suggested a way of reading all kinds of utterances so as to reveal and subvert the presuppositions of Western Metaphysics. But more than any other discipline of knowledge it is literary criticism which has adopted his theory of Deconstruction as a critical tool of literary analysis. His most ardent followers have, however, been in America, not in England. The most influential of these has been Paul de Man whose Allegories of Reading (1979) was the earliest application of Derrida’s concepts and procedures. Then came Barbara Johnson, a student of de Man, whose work, The Critical Difference (1980), carried the task of appropriating Derrida to literary criticism still further. Later, J. Hillis Miller, once a leading American critic of the Geneva School, converted to Deconstruction and contributed to the theory’s practical application his Fiction and Repetition: Seven English Novels (1982), The Linguistic Movement: From Wordsworth to Stevens (1985), and Theory Then and Now (199l).

Michael Foucault (1926-84)

As he himself described, Foucault was a “specialist in history of systems of thought”, although we often call him a French philosopher and historian. Even though he wrote on a variety of subjects ranging from science to literature, his works that have influenced the course of Postmodern literature and literary criticism include The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969), The Order of Things (1966), Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975), History of Sexuality (1976), Power/Knowledge (1980), “What is an Author?” (1977), and Madness and Civilization (1961). In the book listed last, Foucault explores how madness is socially constructed by a wide variety of DISCOURSES that give rise to collective attitudes or mentalities defining insanity. Its basic thesis is that, like the lepers of the Middle Ages, the mad are excluded in a gesture that helps to construct modern society and its image of reason. Foucault’s major works examine the question why, in any given period, it is necessary to think in certain terms about madness, illness, sexuality or prisons. By clear implication he seems to ask if it is possible to think about those topics in different ways. The effect of Foucault has been to view with distrust all that has been passing in the name of essentials, universals, or natural, and take all these as social constructs reflecting the values of different cultures and societies.
In the history of philosophy, Foucault’s work falls within the tradition established by Nietzsche, from whom he adopts the technique of “Genealogy” and the insight that the search for knowledge is also an expression of a will to power over others. For Foucault knowledge is always a form of power. He takes even psychiatry and mental health as new technologies that categorize certain forms of social and sexual behaviour as deviant in order to control them. The modern psychiatrist assumes the role of medieval priest, seeking confessions, imposing the values of the empowered. His thesis is that power is not something that one seizes, holds, or loses, but a network of forces in which power always meets with resistance. These views have led to the challenging of all sorts of political, social, and gender constructs, taken as networks of power to repress the weak, the individual, the disadvantaged, the female, etc. Although Foucault’s name was associated with structuralism and the controversial theme of Barthe’s catchy title, DEATH OF THE AUTHOR (1968) and DEATH OF MAN (1966), his true concern remained with the formation and limitations of systems of thought. Although made an icon of QUEER THEORY, Foucault’s contribution has been valuable to all the Postmodern critical approaches including the Feminist, Postcolonial, Poststructuralist, etc.

Roland Barthes (1915-80)

A French literary critic and theorist Barthes has been quite influential among the Postmodernist writers and critics. His principal concern, despite his varied writings, remains with the relationship between language and society, and with the literary forms that mediate between the two. The idea is that no literary composition can be studied in isolation, being one of the practices of a culture, an expression of society’s ruling discourse. Hence, study of a text will be useful if it is done in relation to other contemporary practices of the same culture—even fashions of dress, cigarette smoking, or styles of wrestling. Cultural Studies, one of the aspects of Postmodernist critical theory, although founded by Richard Hoggart (The Uses of Literary, 1957) and Raymond Williams (Culture and Society 1780-1950, 1958), owes a good deal to the writings of Barthes as well.
Barthes’s famous work Mythologies (1957), as well as his very first essay on writing in 1953, demonstrates that no form or style of writing is a free expression of an author’s subjectivity, that writing is always marked by social and ideological values, that language is never innocent. A sense of the need for a critique of forms of writing that mask the historical-political features of the social world by making it appear ‘natural’, or inevitable, provides the impulse behind the analysis of Mythologies. Barthes’s other books include Elements of Semiology (1964), Writing Degree Zero (1953), The Pleasure of the Text (1975), and “The Death of the Author” (1968), later included in Image-Music-Text (1977) ed. By Stephen Heath. In his essay mentioned last, Barthes pleads for abandoning the conventional author-and-works approach in favour of an anthropological and psycho-analytical reading of canonical texts. His insistence is that literature as well as literary criticism, as well as language itself, is never neutral, and that the specificity of literature can be examined only within the context of a semiology or a general theory of signs. His ideas about language and author and their relation with social world promoted cultural studies as well as reader-response theory.

Jacques Lacan (1901-81)

A French psychoanalyst, also most controversial since Freud, Lacan has had an immense influence on the literary theory of our time, as well as on philosophy, feminism and psychoanalysis. Most of his important writings are included in his Ecrils (1966). His writings, full of allusion to Surrealism, contend that the unconscious is structured like a language. His notion of the Fragmented Body clearly shows his debt to surrealism. He elaborates an immensely broad synthetic vision in which psychoanalysis appropriates the findings of philosophy, the structural anthropology of Levistrauss, and the linguistics of Saussure. He also heavily relies on Jackbson’s work of Phoneme analysis and Metaphor/Metonymy. He defines language as a synchronic system of signs which generates meaning through their interaction. In other words, meaning insists in and through a chain of signifiers, and does not reside in any one element. For him there is never any direct correspondence between signifier and signified, and meaning is therefore always in danger of sliding or slipping out of control.

Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975)

A Russian literary theorist, Bakhtin has been a great influence on the contemporary theory of Discourse analysis. He is best known by his works named The Dialogic Imagination (1981), Speech Genres and Other Late Essays (1986), Rabelais and his World (1968), and Problems of Dostoevski’s Poetics (1984). In these studies, there is a critique of Russian Formalism and an outline of his characteristic theme of “dialogism.” He criticizes Formalism for its abstraction, for its failure to analyse the content of literary works, and for the difficulty it finds in analysing linguistic and ideological changes. This critique is then extended to linguistics, especially the Saussurean. In his view, the purely linguistic approach to both language and literature is highly limited in scope. It tends to isolate linguistic units or literary texts from their social context, having no analysis to offer of the relations that exist between both individual speakers and texts.
Bakhtin’s proposal is for a historical poetics or a “translinguistics” which can show how all social intercourse is generated from verbal communication and interaction, and that linguistic signs are conditioned by the social organization of the participants. In his later work, Bakhtin develops his historical poetics into a theory of “speech genres” or “typical forms of utterances.” He claims that the weakness of Saussure’s linguistics is that it focuses solely on individual utterances and is unable to analyse how they are combined into relatively stable types of utterance. Although his speech theory remains incomplete, Bakhtin was ambitious to apply it to everything from proverbs to long novels by analysing their common verbal nature.
With these major intellectual influences in the background, the Postmodern literature in the second half of the twentieth century grew to show greater impact of the new ideas on the continent and in America, with comparatively much less impact on the literature of the British islands. Mostly used as a periodising concept to mark literature in the later half of the twentieth century, Postmodernism is also used, as we have earlier discussed, as a description of literary and formal characteristics such as linguistic play, new modes of narrational self-reflexivity, and referential frames within frames. Going chronologically and genrewise, we shall try to explore the nature and extent of Postmodernism the literature in Britain absorbed and reflected during the period beginning with the 1950’s.

Post-War Novel

After Hitler’s devastation of Britain, the country was literally in ruins, torn apart by years of bombardment. “The landscape of ruins must also be recognized as forming an integral part of much of the literature of the late 1940’s and the early 1950’s. It was a landscape which provided a metaphor for broken lives and spirits.” One of the best expressions in fiction of this ruin and its implications is a novel, The World My Wilderness (1950), by a female novelist of the post-War period, named Rose Macaulay (1881-1958). The novel’s London is not only post-War but also post-Eliotic: “Here you belong; you cannot get away, you do not wish to get away, for this the maquis that lies about the margins of the wrecked world, and here your feet are set... ‘Where are the roots that clutch, what branches grow out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, you cannot say, or guess....’ But you can say, you can guess, that it is you yourself, your own roots, that clutch the stony rubbish, the branches of your own being that grow from it and nowhere else.” Macaulay was, of course, not the only one to view the post-War period as one requiring the reassemblage of fragments of life and meaning. Another female novelist of the period, Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973), also gave powerful expression to the post-War experience in her The Death of the Heart (1938), Look at all those Roses (1941), The Demon Lover (1945), The Heat of the Day (1949), and The Little Girls (1964). Equally important among the post-War novelists was another female writer, Rebecca West (the pen name of Cecily Isabel Fairfield, 1892-1983), whose The Fountain Overflows (1956) and The Birds Fall Down (1966) depict the same devastated world. With her pen-name derived from an Ibsen play, and actively involved in the feminist cause, West wrote on political climate of the cold-war era.

Graham Greene

A major novelist of the postmodern or contemporary period was Graham Greene (1904-1991), who frequently gave direct expression to his pessimism, such as “For a writer, success is always temporary,” or “Success is only a delayed failure,” which he made in his autobiographical memoir A Sort of Life (1977). He emerged a popular writer with his very first novel, The Comedians (1965). He was a staunch anti-imperialist who resented the rising imperialism of America and despised the crumbling empire of Britain. He remained a Roman Catholic since 1926 when he was admitted to the Roman Church. Almost all of his work is haunted by the themes of a wounded world of the European colonies in Africa or the American imperialism in Latin America, a gloomy sense of sin and moral failure, and a commitment to “others” and rebels. Although Greene produced as many as twenty six novels, those necessary to know are The Power and the Glory (1940), focused on the character of a Whisky-priest in anti-clerical Mexico; The Ministry of Fear (1943) and The End of the Affair (1951) both of which are located in the twilit, blitzed London; The Heart of the Matter (1948), focused on the flyblown, rat-infested, and war-blitzed West-African colony; The Quiet American (1955), set in Vietnam, and Our Man in Havana (1955), set in Cuba, both expose the American imperialism. All of these novels present a grim picture of the world that emerged in the post-War period.

Anthony Powell

Another notable novelist of the period was Anthony Powell, whose sequence of 12 novels collectively named A Dance to the Music of Time “is neither a fictionalized war memoir, nor a prose elegy for the decline and fall of a ruling class. However, as a chronicle of British upper-middle-class life, set between the 1920’s and 1950’s, it necessarily takes the disasters, disillusions, inconveniences, and changes of a society and its war in its leisurely and measured stride.”

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Samuel Beckett

The most important writer who emerged in mid-50’s was Samuel Beckett (1906-1989), who was an Irish by birth but remained in Paris and wrote in French much of his dramatic and fictional work. Although better known as dramatist, because of his radical innovations, his contribution to the English novel is no less significant.
His famous trilogy was published in London in 1959, whose English titles are Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable. The trilogy proved to be the most innovative fiction of the fifties. Another, and early, notable work of Beckett was a volume of interconnected short stories put together under the title More Pricks than Kicks (1934), in which he had already presented the typical, unconventional, absurdist hero. His novels, as well as plays, have been described by several readers of repute as illustrations of Sartre’s Existentialism. For a summing up of Beckett’s concerns in his work, an excerpt from Martin Esslin would do more justice to the novelist than any fresh attempt:
The search for man’s own identity—not the finding of the true nature of self which for Beckett will remain ever elusive, but the raising of the problem of identity itself, the confrontation of the audience with the existence of its own problematical and mysterious condition; this fundamentally is the theme of Beckett’s plays, novels, prose, sketches, and poems.
Such a quest, despairing and nihilistic as it may appear (for at the center of being there is a void, nothingness) is nevertheless a very lofty enterprise — for it is totally fearless, dedicated and uncompromising; it is, in the last resort, a religious quest in that it seeks to confront the ultimate reality.

Hawrence Durrell

True to the spirit of Postmodernism, Beckett’s novels could not be interpreted as ‘representations’ of real life’. In his work the text is maintained as an object of questioning, the working of codes, rather than a series of situations and allusions to a subtext which the reader or audience ought to feel. One can feel an infinite openness (about his texts) to significance and a space for perpetual deferment of any conclusive meaning. Beckett’s experiments with the technique of the novel, and with the dis-integration of its conventions, were followed, though not as ruthlessly, by some of the writers of popular fiction, such as Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990). Durrell, incidentally, was born in India of families who had been on the subcontinent for several generations. He is best known by what is called “Alexandria Quartet” - Justine (1957), Balthazar (1958), Mountolive (1958), and Clea (1960).

William Golding

A novelist better known than Durrell was William Golding (1911-1993), who came into prominence with the publication of his Lord of the Flies (1954). Deriving his title indirectly from Milton (Beelzibub, one of the fallen angels in Paradise Lost, is called the lord of the flies), Golding sets his novel on a desert island. Here lands on the island a marooned party of boys from an English cathedral choir-school. They gradually deteriorate from their genteel tradition which shaped them into barbarism ending with murder. The novel is actually a moral allegory, making a systematic undoing of R.M. Ballantyne’s adventure story, The Coral Island (1857). Golding reverses the Victorian tale of optimism into a post-Darwinian pessimism. In a sort of deconstruction of the Victorian novel, an interrogation of the conventional values and attitudes, Golding’s novel reflects the spirit and mood of Postmodernism. It measures up to John Barth’s conception of the contemporary ‘literature of exhaustion’. Golding’s other novels include The Inheritors (1964), Pincher Martin (1956), Free Fall (1959), The Spire(1964), and The Pyramid (1967) His Darkness Visible (1979) is once again dependent for its title on Milton’s Paradise Lost, where the blind epic poet uses the expression for Hell. The novels that followed in Golding’s later life include Rites of Passage (1980), Close Quarters (1987), Fire Down Below (1989), and The Paper Men (1984). Of these Rights of Passage has been most successful. Its hero, Edmund Talbot, faces the problems of “too much understanding” and tries to comprehend “all that is monstrous under the sun.” In a sense, the central concern in Golding’s fiction remains what T.S. Eliot puts down in his Gerontion: “After such knowledge what forgiveness.” There is, thus, in the post-War novel an exploration of the darker regions of human psyche and the nothingness of human existence, pessimism being the keynote in the fiction of the fifties.

Angus Wilson

While there has been a continuation of modernist experimentation with the narrative technique and novel’s form among the writers of the fifties, there has also been a reaction, rather strong, against experimentalism. A leading practitioner of this reaction was Angus Wilson (1913-1991), who deliberately tried to restore the traditional Victorian narrative style. Adopting the realism of Zola and comic sense of Dickens, he produced a large body of fiction, including The Wrong Set (1949), which is a collection of short stories, and Such Darling Dodos (1950), yet another volume of stories. Among his novels, the better-known are Hemlock and After (1952), Setting the World on Fire (1980), The Middle Age of Mrs. Eliot (1958), Last Call (1964), Old Men at the Zoo (1961) and As If By Magic (1973). His best-known novels, however, remain Anglo-Saxon Attitudes (1956) and No Laughing Matter (1967). Anglo-Saxon Attitudes has become a sort of classic. Panoramic like a Victorian novel, it is focused on an archaeological fraud whose ramifications ruin the ageing historian, Gerald Middleton.


Iris Murdoch

The most philosophic among the novelists of the fifties was, of course, Iris Murdoch (1919-1999), although she followed the conventional novel form. Starting with her study of Sartre, Sartre, Romantic Rationalist (1953), she produced a large number of novels, which clearly reflect her stance of anti-empirical view of mankind. Her moral philosophy is best illustrated by her The Sovereignty of Good (1970) and Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (1992). Samuel Beckett’s Murphy has been one of the influences on her, to which she pays homage in her own early novels Under the Net (1954) and Bruno’s Dream (1969). Her other novels include They Flight from the Enchanter (1955), The Sea (1978), The Philosopher’s Pupil (1983), The Bell (1958), A Fairly Honourable Defeat (1970), The Black Prince (1973), The Time of the Angels (1966), The Sand Castle (1957), A Severed Head (1961), An Unofficial Rose (1962), The Unicom (1963), The Italian Girl (1964), The Red and The Green (1965), The Nice and The Good (1968), An Accidental Man (1971).
Murdoch’s article, “Against Dryness,” argues that we are living in an age (the post-modern) in which “we are left with far too shallow and flimsy an idea of human personality,” in which the relation between art and morality has dwindled “because we are losing our sense of form and structure in the moral world itself.” Like the modernists, she seems firmly to believe in the salvaging power of art. As she argues in The Sovereignty of Good,
Good art, unlike bad art, unlike ‘happenings,’ is something pre-eminently outside us and resistant to our consciousness. We surrender ourselves to its authority with a love which is unpossessive and unselfish. Art shows us the only sense in which the permanent and incorruptible is compatible with the transient; and whether representational or not it reveals to us aspects of our world which our ordinary dull dream—consciousness is unable to see. Art pierces the veil and gives sense to the notion of a reality which lies beyond appearance; it exhibits virtue in its true guise in the context of death and chance.
This view of art and life, of man and age, is reflected in all her fictional work, although not equally powerfully in each. Her The Time of the Angels is still rated by some as her best, although there is no critical unanimity in her case.

Muril Spark

Another female novelist of the fifties, this prolific decade, was Muriel Spark (b. 1918), who also shares with Murdoch and Golding, a firm commitment to moral issues in relation to fictional form. One of her early novels is The Comforters (1957), which focuses on the life of a neurotic woman writer, who is working on a project, Form in the Modern Novel, having difficulty with her chapter on realism. This writer, Caroline Rose, is determined to write a novel about writing a novel. Spark also did her biography entitled Curriculum Vitae (1992). She not only made a critical study of Mary Shelly (Child of Light), but also wrote some novels in the Gothic style, namely Memento Mori (1959), The Ballad of Lekham Rye (1960), and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961). However, the novel that made her famous is The Driver’s Seat (1970), which deals with the first-person account of a woman with a death-wish, who goes to the extreme of plotting circumstances of her own violent murder. Among her later novels figure Not To Disturb (1971), which has its opening quotation from The Duchess of Malfi, and The Abbess of Crewe (1974), making an investigative study of a convent, but avoiding all Gotihc temptations. All in all, the focus in her novels, too, remains, just as in the novels of her many a contemporary, on the irrational and darker side of human nature, reflecting the mood and spirit of postmodernism.
A not-so-well-known novelist of the 1950’s was Leslie Poles Hartley (1895-1972). Besides a trilogy called Eustace and Hilda (1944-1947), she has left behind some novels with catchy titles, such as The Hireling (1957), focused on class conflict, and The Go-Between (1953), where the novelist’s discomforting feeling about contemporary society becomes manifest.


The novelists of the 1950’s that we have discussed so far did not constitute any group or movement. They might have had broad similarities among them shared by most post-War or post-modern writers, but they did not have any common manifesto or ideology to bind them into a homogeneous group. There was, however, during the same prolific fifties, a definite group of writers who consciously and deliberately followed an agenda in their novels (in some cases, also plays). This group got the brand-name of Angry Young Men of the 50’s. It was John Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger (performed in 1956, published in 1957) which supplied the tone and title for the movement. This group of writers, mostly novelists, represented the typical mood and flavour of the decade. These “angry young men” belonged to the middle or lower-middle sections of society, educated not in Oxford or Cambridge, but in what are called Red-brick universities. They had not experienced the War, and were not bitten by the bug of absurdism. Their anger was directed against the old establishment, the liberal-human, largely upper-middle class, Bloomsbury intelligentia (Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, Lytton Strachey) symbolized by Horizen. The movement was part social, part cultural. However, the anger they displayed in their novels (and plays) was not of a very serious order. It was not the kind of anger we associate with D.H. Lawrence or Wyndhan Lewis, which emanated from a firm commitment to an ideology or morality. The anger or protest of these young men of the 50’s was rather of a lower order, closer to an ordinary disgruntlement. Actually, what they demanded was social and cultural accommodation among the privileged, an extension of upper-class comforts in privileged jobs, etc. Once that was extended to them, the anger was soon subsided. No wonder the movement did not last beyond the decade of the 1950’s.

Kingsley Amis

Among these “angries” Kingsley Amis (1922-1995) is considered the leading novelist. His Lucky Jim (1954) provides not only a catchy title but also an effective metaphor for the protesting young men. It is also a campus novel, which exposes the academic racket in the British universities, their social pretentions and pseudoculture that so often accompany it. Amis went on exploring further the various dimensions of the aesthetic cant and snobbery in his subsequent novels, such as I Like It Here (1958) and The Uncertain Feeling (1955), One Fat Englishman (1963). Jim Dixon, the hero of Lucky Jim, remains a representative angry young man of the 1950’s.

John Wain

Another “angry” novelist of the decade was John (Barrington) Wain (1925--), whose Hurry On Down (1953) constructs a more careful portrait of the Angry Young Man. Like other protagonists of the 1950’s, this one is actually an anti-hero, who wishes to opt out of the society he despises and yet stays in it without any commitments. In the categorization made by Raymond Williams (in his The Long Revolution; 1961) of the forms of protest, the Angry Young Man is a tramp who only wishes his individual rights and freedom without responsibilities. As Charles Lumbey, the protagonist of Hurry on Down, reflects at the end of the novel, “Neutrality; he had found it at last. The running fight between himself and society had ended in a draw.” The novels by Wain include The Contenders (1952), A Travelling Woman (1959), Strike the Father Dead(1962), and the short stories Nuncle (1960) - the Fool in King Lear calls Lear ‘nuncle’.

John Braine

Still another “angry” novelist of the group is John Braine (b. 1922), who produced, in the most productive decade, his popular Room at the Top (1957), with Joe Lampton as its hero, and Life at the Top (1962), both of which expose the emptiness of upper-class life. Depicting the no-holds-bar race for material prosperity and social status, these novels show that when one has made it to the top, he only finds himself trapped and lonely, conscious of the social contempt he has earned. The same theme is elaborated in his Stay With Me Till Morning (1970), depicting again the desperate quest of the rich for excitement in sensuous pleasures of sex and social gatherings or business deals. Similarly, the need of such a lot for pretending eternal youth and reassure oneself by promiscuity is at the heart of his The Crying Game (1968), The Queen of a Distant Country (1972), and Waiting for Sheila (1976).

Alan Sillitoe

Another significant novelist of the period is Alan Sillitoe (b. 1928), whose plots are generally placed in Nottingham. He depicts the working-class characters, still haunted by the Great Depression of the 1930’s. He is best known by his Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958), The Loneliness of the Long-Distant Runner (1959), The Death of William Posters (1966), A Start in Life (1970), and The Widower’s Son (1976).

Anthony Burgess

Yet another notable writer of this terrific decade - perhaps, no other decade in the history of the English novel can claim such a huge crop of fiction - was Anthony Burgess (1917-1993). Making use of his long stay in Malaysia, he produced his Malayan Triology (1956-1959), which, like A Passage to India or The Raj Quartet, depicts life in that country at the end of the colonial regime with emphasis on relationships between different races. What made him famous, however, were his later novels, namely A Clockwork Orange (1962), The Wanting Seed (1962), and The Clock-work Testament (1974). His novels are full of teenage violence and horror, with farcical humour - an example of dark comedy. There is in all the narratives a hovering sense of doom and nothingness (nadsat). Thus, this group of writers, though not quite homogeneous, shared some of their antipathies and a few of their sympathies with each other; they certainly shared a common sensibility which established itself as a new voice of the post-war literary world. Their little narratives and dark humour reflect the typical mood and spirit of Postmodernism.

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