Transition from Victorian Era to Modernism

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      It is almost a truism to say that no other period of English literature rather transitional period, has been so rich in its variety and complexity, in the mixture of progress and regress at the same time, of hope and futility, as the first forty years of the present century. Literature is always a reflex of life and also a product of the times and the modernism literature, more than those previous periods, has been conditioned by its social milieu. New ideas, new inventions, were rapidly transforming the world in the first decades of the century and social life in all its various aspects physical, intellectual, political, economic and moral had practically emarged anew, as it were.

A new spirit in poetry, a need for reform and renovation had expressed itself in the poetry of the 'nineties' (the Decadents).
Transitional Writer

      In the first decade this life was serene and happy at least for the upper and middle classes of England, in many ways, though in the lower strata poverty was the rule rather than the exception. Nevertheless, the first decade may be described as "the Indian summer of the old world". It was chiefly the comfortable middle classes "who gave this decade its broad characteristics of material prosperity, continuing faith in progress and a rather self-satisfied philistinism". There was the leisurely atmosphere of life and this bred the qualities of dignity, grace, and sweetness. "Work was agreeably broken by undouded holidays; there was time and the inclination to relax. The roads were not crowded; only birds and balloons occupied the air." There was no breathless hurry and hustle, and life ran smoothly. People could pursue occupations with a thoroughness, with a sense of beauty and love for form.

      The expansion of democracy conferred its benefits of health, education and happiness on the citizens. On the high seas the might of the British navy inspired the nation with pride, with high hopes and a sense of supremacy. Yet this was only a stage of transition, a passing phase. Inner and outer tensions were gathering force, and horizon was blackened at the beginning of the second decade. Industrial problems raised their ugly heads and there was national rail strike in 1911 to be followed by a coal strike in 1912. The reign of George V opened with a sharp political strife in domestic sphere. Abroad, there was the threat of civil war in Ireland and the menace of the growing power of Germany. At last the storm broke out in August 1914, when Germany declared the War. Poets and sentimentalists welcomed it as the splendid opportunity for patriotic self-sacrifice and deeds of heroism.

      But the discordant note was also sounded by the realists like Owen, Sassoon among poets and others of the common people who saw, war at first hand and realistically. As massacres developed, and horrors were piled on horrors by aerial bombing of towns and trenches, filling the country with the slain, the maimed; doubt, despair and disillusionment filled the entire nation. The average mass was still in the slough of despair, poverty and fear, with little hope of improvement and progress. The war to end war and to ensure liberty and democracy had been fought and won. The flowers of the nation had been cut off. Post-war reconstruction was taken up in right earnest but huge and multifarious problems in the economic, moral and social spheres arose. The forces of disintegration and unrest were let loose till another World War, more devastating than the first came.

      This was the social scene of England in these two decades and it was reflected minutely and vividly in its literature. Nominally, the Victorian era came to an end in 1901 with the death of the Queen but even disintegrating forces were at work and the revolt had begun. Victorians, stood for a sense of stability and self-complacency, for conformity with custom and established order and a consciousness of dignity. But in the words of the late Victorian elders like Carlyle, Meredith and Hardy a note of revolt against the deadening effects of convention had been struck.

      A new spirit in poetry, a need for reform and renovation had expressed itself in the poetry of the 'nineties' (the Decadents). Victorian literature had languished and become devitalised. It was the task of the generation that arose with the turn of the century to infuse new life, force, beauty into this decadent literature. The attitude of the new generation was one of challenge challenge of the old moral and social values, challenge of the old literary conventions and forms and what not. In this all-embracing and sweeping process of change everything Victorian had suffered from a great contempt. In the zeal to let in fresh air, the windows were smashed, as in the case with every pioneering movement. Fresh fields of experience were annexed, old man traditional models of literary expression were cast aside and new ones evolved. This is reflected in all branches of the literature of the age - poetry, the novel and the drama.

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