Literature in English Post-1914

ISBN 0340882689 Edited by Ian Mackean

Introduction to the book and links to sample articles



Part 1: Major Modern Authors A-Z

Articles on over 80 of the most important novelists, poets, and playwrights of the modern and postmodern period

Authors included: Edward Albee, Kingsley Amis, Martin Amis, Margaret Atwood, W. H. Auden, Beryl Bainbridge, James Baldwin, Samuel Beckett, Saul Bellow, Elizabeth Bishop, Charles Bukowski, Peter Carey, Angela Carter, Raymond Carver, Willa Cather, J. M. Coetzee, Rita Dove, T. S. Eliot, Buchi Emecheta, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Penelope Fitzgerald, E. M. Forster, John Fowles, Robert Frost, John Galsworthy, Allen Ginsberg, William Golding, Graham Greene, Seamus Heaney, Ernest Hemingway, Gerard Manley Hopkins, A. E. Housman, Langston Hughes, Ted Hughes, Aldous Huxley, Kazuo Ishiguro, James Joyce, Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, Jhumpa Lahiri, Philip Larkin, D. H. Lawrence, Harper Lee, Doris Lessing, Malcolm Lowry, Katherine Mansfield, Cormac McCarthy, Ian McEwan, Arthur Miller, Rohinton Mistry, Toni Morrison, Alice Munro, Iris Murdoch, Vladimir Nabokov, V. S. Naipaul, R. K. Narayan, Flannery O'Connor, George Orwell, Harold Pinter, Sylvia Plath, Katherine Anne Porter, Ezra Pound, Anthony Powell, Jean Rhys, Arundhati Roy, Salman Rushdie, J. D. Salinger, Carol Shields, Alan Sillitoe, John Steinbeck, Wallace Stevens, Tom Stoppard, Dylan Thomas, Evelyn Waugh, Nathanael West, Rebecca West, Tennessee Williams, Jeanette Winterson, Virginia Woolf, W. B. Yeats

Sample article: An Introduction to W B Yeats

Part 2: Studies in Modern Literature in English

Modernism and popular literature

The Modernist period was marked by rapid changes in every sphere of society and its politics, changes which sparked furious debates. The newspapers and journals of the day were replete with issues that still concern us today - urban housing and space, public health and hygiene, transportation, diet, immigration, ethnic relations. These debates show why Modernity is seen as a period of cultural churning and, therefore, crisis. The fact that some of these issues are still prominent is one reason why Modernism is still relevant, and continues to be called Modernism, conveying that sense of immediacy, of here and now.

Language in Modern literature

An investigation into the language of modern literature in English is in many ways an investigation of the Modernist movement itself. While all canonical literature is to some extent self-conscious about its language, the exploration and playful objectifying of linguistic resources is a characteristic of many of the most admired works of the modern, and postmodern, periods.

Modern British, Irish, and American Drama

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the best of British/Irish theatre was produced by Irish writers. By the 1940s and '50s, new influences came to bear when European and American dramatists introduced innovatory concepts of what a play might be. British playwrights were quick to take up the challenge and by the end of the century the theatre was flourishing, with dramatists producing plays with the originality and vitality to keep theatre alive and, importantly, to challenge audiences on contemporary issues.

Feminist Literature

Women's rewritings: Margaret Atwood's 'Gertrude Talks Back'

In her collection of short stories, Good Bones (1992), Margaret Atwood included 'Gertrude Talks Back', a piece which rewrites the famous closet scene in Shakespeare's Hamlet. Like other revisionist rewritings produced by women writers in the last few decades, Margaret Atwood's short story challenges received concepts of the female, and particularly the 'Frailty, thy name is woman' notion that has marked so much canonical literature.

Postcolonial feminist theory

Postcolonial feminist criticism examines how women are represented in colonial and postcolonial literature, and challenges assumptions which are made about women in both literature and society. Colonialism and patriarchy have been closely entwined historically, but an end to formal empire has not meant an end to the oppression of women in the former colonies.

Postmodern Literature

The term, 'postmodernism' is applied to many areas of human activity, including art, architecture, literature, film, and music, but it is difficult to pinpoint an exact date for the beginning of postmodernism as a movement. The late 1960s and 1970s witnessed various artistic, literary and cultural productions which may be called 'postmodern', but the concept became a subject of academic study and discussion in the 1980s. Postmodernism is still a significant issue of philosophical and theoretical debate, and many of the artistic, literary and cultural productions of our time may be described as 'postmodern'.

Postcolonial Literature

Postcolonial writing can serve as both cultural decolonisation of the habits, views and assumptions of British colonialism (subject peoples were seen in stereotyped ways) and as part of the aspirant or newly independent nation's building of its own separate identity. It can thus be both part of the struggle for independence and the creation of a new national identity when that country is freed from Empire.

Part 3: Regional influences in modern literature

American Literature

A survey of Modern American fiction and poetry

Before 1912, when Ezra Pound (1885-1972) and his circle rose to cultural power, the most important American poet was probably Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935), whose poetry evidenced - as can be seen in some of his most anthologized pieces, like 'Miniver Cheevy' and 'Richard Cory' - an early sense of the alienation and irony that would come to characterize later twentieth century American poetry.

Modern American poetry: Elizabeth Bishop and her influence

American poet Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) was one of the most praised poets of her generation. Yet she was never the most read or respected at the time. Bishop's influence took time to make itself felt and is still something of a well-kept secret. While each of her four collections of poetry gained recognition from her peers in the form of various fellowships and prizes, this acclaim did not immediately translate into much academic interest or popular success.

Australian Literature

Postcolonialism and Peter Carey's Jack Maggs

In Decolonising Fictions, theorists Diana Brydon and Helen Tiffin claim that postcolonial writers create texts that 'write back' against imperial fictions and question values taken for granted by the once dominant Anglocentric discourse of the imperial epicentre. In Jack Maggs the process of 'writing back' is well illustrated. As in Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, which 'writes back' to Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, the colonial 'other' character from a canonised Victorian novel becomes the principal figure in a modern 'decolonising' text, and the peripheral reaches of empire become of central importance.

British Literature

A survey of modern British fiction and poetry

A radical break from the literary traditions established in the Victorian era took place in the 1920s, with the rise of Modernism, bringing with it a type of literature which, with its experimental approaches to form, style, and language would have been unthinkable to nineteenth century readers and writers. The roots of modernism were already present at the end of the nineteenth century, showing themselves, for example, in the alienation and uncertainty experienced by Marlow, the central character of Heart of Darkness (1902) by Joseph Conrad, the emphasis on the inner psychological complexity of characters seen in the novels of Henry James, and the highly individual, posthumously published, poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. But it took the shock of the First World War to bring the movement fully into being.

The poetry of the First World War

Of the varied literary output of the twentieth century, few kinds of writing have been more influential in shaping cultural memory and public imagination than the poetry of the First World War. The mythic landscape of the Western Front, pitted with shell-holes and rent by fire, is one of the most enduring images of the modern era. The two major protagonists in this theatre were Siegfried Sassoon, the conscientious objector turned bitter satirist, and Wilfred Owen, the quintessential war poet with his 'pity of war'.

The Bloomsbury Group

The Bloomsbury Group, whose best-known member was Virginia Woolf, had a considerable influence on literature, philosophy and art during and after the First World War. They were rebels in that they paid little heed to the social, religious, or political norms of their day, and were experimental and innovative in their work, in which they had a serious purpose: to redefine the parameters of art and literature. The painters and art critics among them were influential in bringing modern art to England, while in literature, reacting against the formal rigidity and realist approach of the nineteenth century, Virginia Woolf became a key figure of Modernism.

British writers of the 1930s

The leading British writer of the 1930s was W. H. Auden, and closely associated with him were four other writers of significance: Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986), Stephen Spender (1909-1995), Louis MacNeice (1907-63), and Cecil Day-Lewis (1904-1972). They began writing during a turbulent period in European history, encompassing the Spanish Civil War, and Hitler's rise to power in Germany, and feeling a need to respond made their left-wing political views central to their work. They were influenced by, in literature - the modernist writers, in politics - Karl Marx, and in psychology - Sigmund Freud.

The Liverpool poets

The Liverpool poets, Adrian Henri (1932-2000), Roger McGough (1937- ), and Brian Patten (1946- ) began their careers in poetry by giving readings in the clubs and coffee bars of Liverpool in the 1960s, and gained recognition in print in Penguin Modern Poets 10: The Mersey Sound (1967) and The Liverpool Scene (1968). They wrote their poetry to be read aloud, and their audiences were young Liverpudlians who might normally have attended pop concerts, but were now finding that poetry could be equally accessible and appealing.

Canadian Literature

Canadian literature in English came of age in the twentieth century. The nineteenth century had witnessed the beginnings of a literary consciousness in small magazines and newspapers, and the development of a growing body of literature that at first imitated its closest western models: the United Kingdom and the United States. By the end of that century, the political emancipation of the country (British North America Act, 1867) was mirrored by the achievements of a new generation of authors who attempted to express the themes and aesthetic values of a new Canadian identity through both poetry and fiction.

Caribbean Literature

In speaking of identity and the Anglophone Caribbean literary experience, it is necessary to emphasize that all such discussions/analyses should include the experiences of all of the groups and their unique experiences of the Caribbean. The groups did not experience the Caribbean in the same way, nor, for that matter, did they respond in exactly the same way. So while one can speak of a Caribbean experience or a Caribbean identity, it is necessary to be aware of the nuances of experience of each specific group and how it manifested itself in the region. Such an understanding of Caribbean experiences has implications even for today, with respect to how these groups express their Caribbeanness.

Indian Literature in English

Rabindranath Tagore's Gitanjali: Defining Modernity in the East

When Virginia Woolf asserted, 'In or about December, 1910, human character changed', in a lecture to the Heretics at Cambridge on 18 May 1924 [2], she was referring to the first Post-Impressionist exhibition in London, curated by Roger Fry. Unknown to her and most of the West, human identity also underwent a change in the East around the same time. In 1910 Rabindranath Tagore's Gitanjali was published in Bangla. In 1913 the Nobel Committee of the Swedish Academy conferred that year's Prize for Literature on Tagore for the poet's English version of the same work, Gitanjali: Song Offerings (1912).

Indian women writers

The efforts of several generations of Indian authors writing in English have resulted in international success, particularly since the publication of Midnight's Children (1981) by Salman Rushdie, and the Indian novel in English has finally been accepted as an important literary endeavour. Indian women writers have begun to gain recognition, largely thanks to Arundhati Roy winning the Booker Prize for The God of Small Things in 1997. Behind this success lies a social history, and a body of other work to which little critical attention has yet been paid.

Irish Literature

The Irish Cultural Revival, W. B. Yeats, and postcolonialism: two perspectives

Only recently has Ireland been included in the study of postcolonial societies. The fact that we are geographically close to Britain, racially identical, speak the same language, and have the same value systems, makes our status as postcolonial problematic. Some might argue that it is impossible to distinguish between Irish and British, while for others to mistake Irish for English is a grave insult. An examination of Ireland's position in the light of the theories of the West Indian social philosopher Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), put forward in his seminal work of anti-colonialism, The Wretched of the Earth (1961), can help to determine whether Ireland should be considered a postcolonial nation.

South African Literature

South Africa has a rich history of literary output. Until relatively recently, realism dominated South African fiction - perhaps because authors felt an overriding concern to capture the country's turbulent history and the experiences of its people. Fiction has been written in all of South Africa's 11 official languages - with a large body of work in Afrikaans, in particular - but this survey focuses primarily on fiction in English, though it also touches on major poetic developments.

Sample articles:
The Liverpool poets
Modern American poetry: Elizabeth Bishop and her influence
Modern Indian women writers in English

Part 4: Reference Materials

Glossary of literary terms

Definitions of terms frequently encountered in the study of modern literature, cross-referenced to authors and articles in the book.

Awards, prizes, and laureateships

Comprehensive chronological listing, covering: Poets Laureate of England, Poets Laureate of the USA, The Nobel Prize for Literature, The Man Booker Prize for Fiction, The Costa (ex-Whitbread) Book Awards, The Orange Prize for Fiction, The Commonwealth Writers' Prize, The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Pulitzer Prize for Drama, The Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, The Governor General's Award

Time chart

A 33 page table cross-referencing the dates of publication of major works of modern literature with the important political and social events of the time.


Sample article: Glossary of Literary Terms

Literature in English Post-1914
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The purpose of this book is to provide an introduction to literature in English of the modern period - approximately 1914 to the present day - from around the world. The first of the book's four sections, 'Major Authors', presents articles on important modern authors. Given the large number of eligible authors, and the limitation on space, difficult choices had to be made about which authors to include. I have aimed to present a representative selection in terms of nationality, time period, and gender.

The second and third sections presents articles on aspects of modern literature. Here I have presented a representative selection in terms of both subject matter and type of article. Articles about literature can take many forms, such as a biographically-based study of an author's life and works, a close analysis of a single text, a broad historical survey of a country's output, an analysis of the political and historical background to a country's literature, an overview of world-wide trends, or any combination of these. Literary criticism can also deal with its subject at many levels, from the basic introduction, to the postgraduate thesis. I have presented articles of a variety of types and levels in order that the reader can experience a wide range of approaches. Thus, while being a source of information about literature, this book also offers examples of the range of forms which writing about literature can take. The book draws together the knowledge and enthusiasm of a large number of contributors from all over the world, most of them university lecturers or postgraduate students currently active in the field of literary studies.

The fourth section, 'Reference materials', contains the Glossary, a list of poets laureate and winners of prizes, and a Time chart.

Cross-referencing: Within articles, names of authors about whom there is a separate entry have been highlighted. Important terms have also been highlighted, to indicate that there is an entry on them in the Glossary.

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