Essays in The 20th Century English Literature

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      In the 20th century, the writers of familiar essays have been so many that it often seems very difficult task to particularize them in the survey of the growth and development of essay writing. After Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson (1850-1894) the essay flourished until the thirties when it was affected by a declining number of periodicals, the pressure on newspapers space and their attraction of their radio. Further, the temper of an age led away from rhetoric and the essay’s self-sustaining elegance. Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965) alone retained the grand manner. Like Macaulay, he knew how effective his short and simple sentences could be amid elaborate periods. Outstanding in the final phrase was G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936). He was followed by Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953). His certain essays such as Path to Rome were fine examples of perfection and performance. Then Sir Max Bearbahm’s (1872-1956) essays reveal their 18th century’s wit and Essays in Biography still untarnished. In Essays in Persuasion (1931), Lord Keynes (1883-1946) showed his imaginative qualities. Then there are two glittering names of G.K. Ogden and I.A. Richards. The Principles of Literary Criticism and The Meaning of Meaning are illustration of their rich mid and flow of thought. D.H. Lawrence and T.S. Eliot were great writers of mid 20th century. The Criterion (1992-39), a journal started by Eliot succeeded in changing the taste of his generation in imaginative thought.

      Cyril Connolly (1903-64) in his journal Horizon (1939-50) sustained in war time the graceful image of an earlier western civilization. Many of his contributors shared his wit and irony and nostalgia for the days gone by. Another notable name of the period among good essayists is that of T.E. Laurence. His Hint (1955) dominates with realism over his romanticism. Then we have great pen in Ralph Fox a communist writer. J. S. Priestly (1894-1959) was many in one. He had recourse to the radio, to the theatre to journalism, to novel, to essay and to many other fields. His famous essays are English Journey (1934), The Secret Dream (1946), Delights (1949), Literature and Western Era (1960), The Moments and Other pieces (1966).

      George Orwell (1903-50) born in India, educated at Eton, was a great essayist. His Famous work include The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), Homage to Catclonia (1938), Inside the Whale (1940), The Lion and the Unicorn (1941), James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution (1946), Critical Essays (1946), Shooting an Elephant (1950), England your England (1953).

      Koester (1905-64) was another effective essayist of the late middle 20th century. He had a wide sweep so far as topics were concerned. His famous essays are the Yogi and the Commissar (1945) and Promise and Fulfillment 1959. There were a few women essayists who have left an indelible print on the sands of tune. The notable among them are Dorothy Richardson (1873-1957), Sheila Kaya Smith (1887-1956), Rose Macaulay (1891-1958) and John Wani (1925-75). John Wani’s works include Essays on Literature and Ideas (1963), The Living of Shakespeare (1964) and Wild Track (1965).

      However, the mid 20th century is known for variety of essays; variety in length, content, style, language, criticism and emphasis. What are missing are brevity, compactness and perfection and literary treatment of the topic(s). Essayists are more concerned with the age for which they are writing and lose with the depth and breadth of the subject and its various dimensions as was the case with Bacon, Steele and Addison etc. There is journalistic tinge in all essays except the ones written in the earlier part of the 20th century. The chief writers of the post mid 20th century are John Didi on (1934) (Slouching Towards Bethlehem in 1967 and The White Album in 1979), Sus am Sontag (1933-2004) (Against Interpretation in 1966 and Under the Sign of Saturn 1980), and Calvin Trillin (1935) (Uncivil Liberties in 1982 and Too Soon to Tell in 1995). The beauty of this age is that writers who are not primarily essayists have also turned their attention to this form. The poet Nikki Giovanni and British novelist Julian Barner have recently published book-length collection of essays entitled Racism (1994) and Letters from London (1995) respectively. 

       Modern essay has some distinct characteristic subjects which distinguish it from the essays of the 19th or even 18th century essays. These characteristic issues include global emphasis in content, political tones, globalization, liberalization, privatization, and professionalization, gender equalization, I.T. revolution, world peace, spiritualization and increasing health problems and need for poverty and ignorance elimination, democratic governance and disarmament issues. With this background the 21st centnry essay is likely to be a genre of its own type different from the present genre called essays. Usually authors are invited to deliver special lectures on topic of World Concern or on Historical, Political, Literacy, Religious Personalities and their speeches delivered on such, occasion are printed in the form of essays which are only a shade different from dissertations or brief reports, fully documented.

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