The Contemporary Period/Modernism 1900

Key concepts

Key events and people

Key authors

In Wider Contexts

Psychoanalysis c. 1900

 

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity  1905

First World War: disillusionment, uncertainty, pessimism

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Depression

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alienation

 

Dislocation

 

Disintegration of the British Empire

 

Cold War

 

Closure of coal mines and factories

 

Mass media: film and television

First Labour MPs elected to Parliament 1906

 

First World War 1914-18

 

Easter Rising in Ireland 1916

 

Voting rights given to married women over 30 1918

 

Equal voting rights for men and women 1928

 

Wall Street Crash, the beginning of the Great Depression 1929

 

Adolf Hitler gains power in Germany 1933

 

Second World War 1939-45: Holocaust, nuclear bombs

 

Labour government, National Health Service introduced 1945

 

Indian Independence 1947

 

Suez Crisis 1956

 

Building of the Berlin Wall 1961

 

Cuban missile crisis 1962

 

Assassination of J.F. Kennedy 1963

 

Margaret Thatcher Conservative Prime Minister 1979-90

 

Collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe 1989

 

Tony Blair, Labour Prime Minister 1997-2007

 

 

 

 

World War One poets:

Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967)

 

Wilfred Owen 1893-1918)

Rupert Brooke (1887-1915)

 

Other poets:

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

 

W.B. Yeats (1865-1939)

 

T.S. Eliot (1888- 1965)

 

W.H. Auden (1907-73)

 

Philip Larkin (1922-85)

 

Ted Hughes (1930-98)

 

Sylvia Plath (Am) (1932-63)

 

Seamus Heaney (Irish) (1939- )

 

Novelists:

E.M. Forster (1879-1970)

 

James Joyce (Irish)(1882-1941)

 

D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930)

 

George Orwell (1903-50)

 

William Golding (1911-93)

 

Cormac McCarthy (1933 - )

 

Ernest Hemingway (Am) (1899-1961)

 

Raymond Carver (Am) (1938-88)

F. Scott Fitzgerald (Am) (1896-1940)

Margaret Atwood (1939-) (Can)

 

Dramatists:

Eugene O’Neill (Am)

(1888-1963)

 

Harold Pinter (1930-)

Thomas Hardy, “The Voice”; “After the Journey”, 1912/13

 

Rudyard Kipling, “We and They”, 1926

 

T.S. Eliot, “Preludes”*, 1917

 

Ernest Hemingway (Am), “Hills Like White Elephants”*, 1927

 

George Orwell, Burmese Days, 1934

 

W.H. Auden, “Funeral Blues”, 1938; “The Unknown Citizen”, 1939

Jawaharlal Nehru (Indian), “Tryst with Destiny”, 1947

 

Richard Matheson (Am), “Born of Man and Woman”, 1950

 

Raymond Bradbury (Am),  “The Sound of Thunder”, 1955

 

Ted Hughes, “Hawk Roosting”, 1960

 

Shirley Jackson (Am), “The Lottery”, 1960

“Biography of a Story”*. 1960

 

Elizabeth Jennings, “Warning to Parents”, 1964

 

Mary Payne, “The Song of the Spectators”, 1964

 

Joyce Carol Oates (Am), “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”, 1966

 

Roger McGough, “At Lunchtime”, 1967

 

R.K. Narayan (Indian), “Another Community”, 1967

 

Eric Hoffer (Am), “Nature and the City”, 1968

 

Ursula Le Guin (Am), “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”, 1976

 

Raymond Carver (Am), “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”, 1981

 

John Krakauer (Am), Into the Wild, 1996

 

Hasan Manto Saadat (Indian), “The Dutiful Daughter”, 1997

 

Ben Elton, (Am) Popcorn*, 1998

 

Ian McEwan, “Only Love and Then Oblivion”, 2001; “The Hot Breath of Civilization”, 2005 

 

Cormac McCarthy, The Road*, 2006

 

Aravind Adiga (Indian), The White Tiger, 2008

 

James Lasdun, “It’s Beginning to Hurt”, 2009

 

Seth Grahame-Smith, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, 2009

 

Liz Jensen, “Survivor Syndrome”, 2011

  

Historical and Social Context

The contemporary period is strongly influenced by war and death. The First World War saw the death of nearly a million soldiers from Britain and the Empire. During the Second World War, about 30 million people died. This number includes many civilians and about 6 million Jews who were exterminated in concentration camps. This added to the feeling of despair and meaninglessness. After the Second World War, the British Empire disintegrated, but many of the new independent countries now cooperate in the Commonwealth of Nations, which is not a political union, but a co-operation between independent states seeking to further certain values and goals based on democracy, human rights and good governance.

 

The experiences of trench warfare, the introduction of psychoanalysis´and the development of the Theory of Relativity contributed to the gradual scepticism towards and rejection of traditional values and religion, particularly Christianity. This is echoed in a sentiment by the main character in James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1914/15): “I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church.”

 

Literary Context

The atrocities of the First World War inspired numerous authors to write about their experiences. Particularly well-known are many poets such as Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke. Some saw warfare as their national duty (Brooke) whereas others (Sassoon and Owen) opposed the British government’s stand. In the same period W.B. Yeats wrote “Easter 1916” in honour of the Irish Rising against British rule in Ireland.

 

Modernism is an -ism which broke with traditional approaches to all art forms. Some authors challenged traditional approaches - including the Great Narratives - and introduced new ways of writing, an example of which is ‘stream of consciousness’, which became a key technique in the literature of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.

 

The novel, which had previously dealt mainly with the life of the middle classes, now included other social groups, particularly the working class, and drama included this group as well. They came to represent what was known as ‘the angry young men’, a group which tried to make the voices of post-war restlessness and dissatisfaction heard. 

 

According to poet Philip Larkin, “Sexual intercourse began/ In nineteen sixty-three/ Between the end of the Chatterley ban/And the Beatles' first LP.” By saying this, he suggests that talking about sex had been taboo till the 1960s. D.H. Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover although written in the late 1920s, could not be published openly till 1963 because of its very explicit sexual language in certain parts of the book.

 

The 1960s came to represent a massive improvement in material welfare and living standards, the rise of consumerism, improved health and increasing wealth. The Youth Revolt was a protest against the ensuing materialism, authority in the education system and old-fashioned traditions in general. Instead it promoted freedom, new spiritual ways of thinking, pop music and drugs. Some of these ideas continue well into the Postmodern Period.