IX. English Literature of the Beginning of the XX Century

The English novels of the 19th century were written at a time of great confidence in Britain. Different novel­ists of different levels of society dis­closed all the aspects of social life and explored different themes, but the sense of confidence passed through the basic structure of their work.

The writers of the 20th century could not share this confidence; the changes in beliefs and political ideas were influenced by the events across the world that led to the collapse of the British Empire. Britain found itself involved in a contradiction between its imperial ambition and the liberal ideas it wished to advance in the colonies. The British Empire became the biggest in the world’s history. In 1914 it comprised a quarter of the world’s population living on a fifth of its land surface. The British state expanded most dramatically in Queen Victoria’s later years, while the country was proud of so-called Splendid Isolation from European affairs. But by the end of the century it had become clear that the United Kingdom was no longer as powerful as it had been. Britain found that France, Germany and the USA were increasingly competing with her, the international trade was growing and, as a result, the sense of political uncertainty also increased.

English government disgraced itself with the War of 1899-1902, which was unleashed by the imperialistic circles, looking for the new markets. Britain was no longer able to persuade other countries how to behave. Instead, Great Britain had to reach agreement with them. But it failed.

The South African war (1899-1902) was the first step to­wards World War I and showed the antidemocratic character of English policy to all the world.

The social contradictions home and abroad were greatly sharp­ened; the reactionary forces of the society have been strengthen­ing. Workers movement was growing deep and wide. It was in­evitable that there should be increasing disagreement between workers and the government. Just before the war in 1914 there had been an outbreak of strikes. Immediately after the war there were further serious revolts, and in 1919-1921 soldiers were used to break these uprisings, and force men back to work.

The cultural life of this period can be characterized by several main features:


The literature that contains the tradition of critical realism.

The sprouts of the socialist culture.

Some English writers openly declared reactionary principles of the imperialistic ideology. The years between 1890-1930 were the most fertile of the British novel. The novel in Britain established itself as the leading literary genre. John Galsworthy, George Bernard Shaw, Herbert George Wells continued the traditions of Charles Dickens. Moreover, their novels revealed the changing social conditions in England. The novelists of the beginning of the 20th century differed from the novelists of the 19th century who had to follow the fine descriptive style. The novelists of the 20th century did away with the elaborate syntax of the 19th century prose. They started a new tradition of bring­ing the language of literature close to the spoken language, to the language of real life with much more expressive intonation and short, abrupt sentences.

One of the famous among the writers of the first decades of the 20th century was Rudyard Kipling — the bard of imperialism.

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