The Modernist period in English Literature, as Holman & Harmon explain("Handbook to Literature" 6th ed. New York: MacMillan, 1992.), may be considered to begin with the first world war in 1914, to be marked by strenuousness of that experience and by the flowering of talent and experiment that came during the boom of the twenties and that fell qway during the ordeal of the economic depression of in the thirties. The catastrophic years of the Second World War, which made England an embattled fortress, profoundly and negatively marked everything British, and it was followed by a preriod of uncertainty,, a sadley diminished age. By 1965, which to all purposes marked an end to the Modernist Period, the uncertainty was giving way to anger and protest. 20th-Century Literature Two world wars, an economic depression, and the austerity of life in Great Britain after World War II (1939-1945) help to explain the direction of English literature in the 20th century. Because many writers saw society breaking down, they discarded many traditional literary forms and tried new ones instead. Before World War I (1914-1918), novelist E. M. Forster called for a return to a simple, intuitive reliance on the senses. Novelist D. H. Lawrence similarly related his sense of the need for a return to the primitive, unconscious springs of human vitality. The most experimental writer of the time was Irish writer James Joyce, whose novel Ulysses (1922) focused on the events of a single day and related them to one another in thematic patterns based on Greek mythology. Another experimental novelist was Virginia Woolf, who used stream-of-consciousness technique to capture life experienced from moment to moment. Noted novelists included Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, and George Orwell, whose works warned against the dangers of totalitarianism. After World War II the so-called angry young men, led by novelists Kingsley Amis, John Wain, and John Braine, attacked outmoded social values left over from the prewar world. Other 20th-century novelists of note include Anthony Powell, Iris Murdoch, Anthony Burgess, John Le Carré, and William Golding, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1983. Two of the most remarkable poets of the modern period were Irish writer William Butler Yeats and American-born T. S. Eliot. Eliot achieved immediate acclaim with The Waste Land (1922), the most famous poem of the early part of the century. Of the many poets stimulated to indignant verse by World War I, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, and Robert Graves rank among the most important. The succeeding generation of poets made use at first of private and esoteric symbolism, rendering their poetry barely intelligible to any but a small coterie of readers. The best known of these—W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender, and C. Day Lewis—filled their earlier poetry with political and ideological discussion and a horror at nascent totalitarianism. Experimentalism continued in the poetry of Welsh writer Dylan Thomas. Among leading younger poets after World War II were Philip Larkin, Thom Gunn, and Ted Hughes. The most important drama produced in English in the first quarter of the 20th century came from Irish writers George Bernard Shaw and Sean O'Casey. Other playwrights of the period were James Matthew Barrie, John Galsworthy, Somerset Maugham, and Sir Noel Coward. Beginning in the 1950s the angry young men also became a new force in English drama. Dramatists John Osborne, Arnold Wesker, and others focused their attention on the working classes. Other noted playwrights include Harold Pinter and Irish writer Brendan Behan. Outside the literary mainstream was Irish-born novelist-dramatist Samuel Beckett, recipient in 1969 of the Nobel Prize for literature. More contemporary playwrights of note include Joe Orton and Tom Stoppard.
Eliot, T(homas) S(tearns) (1888-1965), American-born English poet, literary critic, and dramatist, who is best known for his poem The Waste Land. He was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He became a resident of London in 1915 and a naturalized British citizen in 1927. Eliot's methods of literary analysis have been a major influence on English and American critical writing. His first important poem was "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (1915). During the 1920s Eliot developed pronounced views on literary, religious, and social subjects. The Waste Land (1922), written in five parts, expresses his conception of the sterility of modern society in contrast with past societies. Eliot profoundly influenced the tenets of literary criticism. He contended, in the collection The Sacred Wood (1920), that the critic must develop a strong historical sense in order to judge literature from a proper perspective, and that the poet must be impersonal in the creative exercise of the craft. Beginning in the 1930s the qualities of serenity and religious humility became paramount in Eliot's poetry. Four Quartets (1943), considered by many critics to be his finest work, expresses a transcendental sense of time. Eliot received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1948
Auden, W(ystan) H(ugh) (1907-1973), Anglo-American poet, playwright, and literary critic. Auden was born in York. In 1925 he entered Christ Church College, University of Oxford. Auden's book Poems (1930) helped establish his reputation. In the 1930s he also wrote three verse plays with English writer Christopher Isherwood, and in 1937 he drove an ambulance for the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). In 1939 Auden moved to the United States, where he became a citizen and was active as a poet, reviewer, lecturer, and editor. His work began to reflect an increasing concern with religion, and his long poem The Age of Anxiety (1947) won him the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Among his other works are Collected Poetry (1945) and The Shield of Achilles (1955). From 1956 to 1961 Auden was professor of poetry at Oxford, and in 1972 he returned to Christ Church as a writer in residence. As a poet, Auden bore some resemblance to T. S. Eliot, with his ironic wit and deep religious feeling, although he was more concerned than Eliot with social problems. EZRA POUND - AN AMERICAN INFLUENCE Pound, Ezra Loomis (1885-1972), American avant-garde poet, critic, and translator, who exerted an enormous influence on the development of English and American poetry and criticism in the early 20th century. He was born in Hailey, Idaho. While living in England, Pound championed works of several avant-garde authors writing there at the time. Pound also set forth the theories behind the literary movement that came to be known as imagism. Pound's literary reputation was established with the publication of Personae, a verse collection, in 1909. In 1920 Pound moved to Paris, where he became a leader of the American expatriate literary circle; translated from Italian, Chinese, and Japanese literature; and completed several books of criticism and poetry. During World War II (1939-1945), Pound broadcast Fascist propaganda from Rome to the United States. He was arrested after the war and confined to a mental hospital in Washington, D.C., until 1958. Portions of Pound's major work, Cantos, were first published in 1925; the first complete English edition was issued in 1970. His Collected Poems were published in 1950. His Literary Essays appeared in 1954, and his Translations appeared in 1963.
Joyce, James Augustine Aloysius (1882-1941), Irish novelist and poet, whose psychological perceptions and innovative literary techniques make him one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Joyce was born in Dublin. In 1904 he left Dublin and lived with his family in Trieste, Italy, in Paris, and in Zürich, Switzerland. His first book, Chamber Music (1907), consists of 36 highly finished love poems. In his second work, Dubliners (1914), a collection of 15 short stories, Joyce dealt with crucial episodes of childhood and adolescence and with family and public life in Dublin. His first novel, the autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), made use of the stream-of-consciousness, or interior-monologue, technique, a literary device that renders all the thoughts, feelings, and sensations of a character with scrupulous psychological realism. Joyce attained international fame with the publication of his novel Ulysses in 1922. In this work, Joyce further developed the stream-of-consciousness technique as means of character portrayal. Finnegans Wake (1939), is Joyce's last and most complex work. The novel is written in the form of an interrupted series of dreams during one night in the life of the character Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker. Joyce carried his linguistic experimentation to its furthest point in Finnegans Wake by writing English as a composite language made up of parts of words from various languages. Joyce employed symbols to create what he called an "epiphany," the revelation of an emotional or personal truth. Using experimental techniques to convey the essential nature of realistic situations, Joyce merged in his greatest works the literary traditions of realism, naturalism, and symbolism.