Novels in The 20th Century

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      The English novel reached its height of success during the first, second and third decades of the 20th century, although the century itself began more or less on a conventional note, and were a continuity of the 19th century. The 20th century ultimately reached to an age of multifarious experiments. The major novelists of the age focused all their attention on the inner life rather than exterior human existence. The psychological novel did not anymore satisfy the neo-realistic novelist such as Henry James and James Joyce. They wanted to concern themselves with subconscious and unconscious and incorporate this into their novels. As such, they had to attempt a completely new thematic definition of the novel, and change the entire conception and characteristics as also to create a new technique. This new technique was given the generic name of the stream of consciousness. The 20th century major novelists are Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), Henry James (1843-1916), Joseph Conrad (1857- 1924), Herbert George Wells (1866-1946), David Herbert Lawrence (1885- 1930), James Joyce (1882-1941), Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), E. M. Forster (1879-1970) and Aldous Leonard Huxley (1894-1963). Some other novelists of the period arc Samuel Butler (1835-1902), George Moore (1852-1933), George Robert Gissing (1857-1903), Enoch Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) and Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936).

      Thomas Hardy stopped writing fiction after Jude the Obscure (1895) was severely criticized, so that the major novelists writing in Britain at the start of the 20th century were an Irishman James Joyce (1882-1941) and two immigrants, American Henry James (1843-1916) and Pole Joseph Com'ad (1857-1924). The modernist tradition in the novel, with its emphasis “towards the ever more minute and analytic exposition of mental life”, begins with James and Conrad, in novels such as The Ambassadors (1903), The Golden Bowl (1907) and Lord Jim (1900). Other important early modernists were Dorothy Richardson (1873rl957), whose novel Pointed Roof (1915), is one of the earliest examples of the stream of consciousness technique and D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930), who wrote with understanding about the social life of the lower and middle classes, and the personal life of those who could not adapt to the social norms of his time. Sons and Lovers (1913), is widely regarded as his earliest masterpiece. There followed The Rainbow (1915), though it was immediately seized by the police, and its sequel Women in Love published in 1920. Lawrence attempted to explore human emotions more deeply than his contemporaries and challenged the boundaries of the acceptable treatment of sexual issues, most notably in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which was privately published in Florence in 1928. However, the unexpurgated version of this novel was not published until 1959. Then in 1922 Irishman James Joyce’s important modernist novel Ulysses appeared. Ulysses has been called “a demonstration and summation of the entire movement”. Set during one day in Dublin in June 1904, in it Joyce creates parallels with Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey.

      Another significant modernist in the 1920s was Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), who was an influential feminist and a major stylistic innovator associated with the stream-of-consciousness technique. Her novels include Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), and The Waves (1931). Her essay collection A Room of One’s Own (1929) contains her famous dictum; “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”. But while modernism was to become an important literary movement in the early decades of the new century, there were also many fine novelists who were not modernists. This include E.M. Forster (1879-1970), John Galsworthy (1867-1933) (Nobel Prize in Literature, 1932), whose novels include The Forsyte Saga, Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) author of The Old Wives’ Tale, and H. G. Wells (1866-1946). Forster’s work is “frequently regarded as containing both modernist and Victorian elements”. E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India (1924), reflected challenges to imperialism, while his earlier works such as A. Room with a View (1908) and Howards End (1910), examined the restrictions and hypocrisy of Edwardian society in England. The most popular British writer of the early years of the 20th century was arguably Rudyard Kipling (1865- 1936), a highly versatile writer of novels, short stories and poems and to date the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1907).

      A significant English writer in the 1930s and 1940s was George Orwell (1903-50), who is especially remembered for his satires of totalitarianism — Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) and Animal Earm (1945). Evelyn Waugh (1903-66) satirized the “bright young things” of the 1920s and 1930s, notably in A Handful of Dust (1934), and Decline and Fall (1928), while Brideshead Revisited. (1945) has a theological basis, setting out to examine the effect of divine grace on its main characters. Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) published his famous dystopia Braue New World in 1932, the same year as John Cowper Powys’s (1872-1963) A Glastonbury Romance. Samuel Beckett (1906-89) published his first major work, the novel Murphy in 1938. This same year Graham Greene’s (1904-91) first major novel Brighton Rock was published. Then in 1939 James Joyce’s published Finnegans Wake. In this work Joyce creates a special language to express the consciousness of a character who is dreaming. Graham Greene was an important novelist whose works span the 1930s to the 1980s. Greene was a convert to Catholicism and his novels explore the ambivalent moral and political issues of the modern world. Notable for ability to combine serious literary acclaim with broad popularity, his novels include, The Heart of the Matter (1948), A Burnt-Out Case (1961), and The Human Factor (1978). Evelyn Waugh’s (1903-66) career also continued after World War II, and in 1961 he completed his most considerable work, a trilogy about the war entitled Sword of Honour. In 1947, Malcolm Lowry published Under the Volcano, while George Orwell’s satire of totalitarianism, 1984 was published in 1949. One of the most influential novels of the immediate post-war period was William Cooper’s (1910-2002) naturalistic Scenes from Provincial Life (1950), which was a conscious rejection of the modernist tradition. Other novelists writing in the 1950s and later were Anthony Powell, Kingsley Amis, William Golding, et al.

      Anthony Powell’s (1905-2000) twelve-volume cycle of novels A Dance to the Music of Time (1951-75), is a comic examination of movements and manners, power and passivity in English political, cultural and military life in the mid-20th century. Comic novelist Kingsley Amis is best known for his academic satire Lucky Jim (1954). Nobel Prize laureate William Golding’s allegorical novel Lord of the Flies (1954), explores how culture created by man fails, using as an example a group of British schoolboys marooned on a deserted island. Philosopher Iris Murdoch was a prolific writer of novels that deal with such things as sexual relationships, morality, and the power of the unconscious. Her works include Under the Net (1954), The Black Prince (1973) and The Green Knight (1993). Scottish writer Muriel Spark’s also began publishing in the 1950s. She pushed the boundaries of realism in her novels. Her first, The Comforters (1957), concerns a woman who becomes aware that she is a character in a novel. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), at times takes the reader briefly into the distant future to see the various fates that befall its characters. Anthony Burgess is especially remembered for his dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange (1962), set in the not too-distant future, which was made into a film by Stanley Kubrick in 1971. In the entirely different genre of Gothic fantasy Mervyn Peake (1911-68) published his highly successful Gormenghast trilogy between 1946 and 1959.

      Immigrant Doris Lessing (1919) from Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), published her first novel The Grass is Singing in 1950, after immigrating to England. She initially wrote about her African experiences. Lessing soon became a dominant presence in the English literary scene, frequently publishing right through the century, and won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2007. Salman Rushdie (born 1945) is another among a number of post-Second World War writers from the former British colonies who permanently settled in Britain. Rushdie achieved fame with Midnight’s Children 1981, which was awarded both the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and Booker prize, and named Booker of Bookers in 1993. His most controversial novel The Satanic Verses (1989), was inspired in part by the life of Muhammad. V. S. Naipaul (born 1932), born in Trinidad, was another immigrant, who wrote A House for Mr. Biswas (1961) and A Bend in the River (1979) among other things. Naipaul won the Nobel Prize in Literature. From the West Indies, George Lamming (born 1927) is best remembered for In the Castle of the Skin (1953). Another important immigrant writer Kazuo Ishiguro (born 1954) was born in Japan, but his parents immigrated to Britain when he was six. His works include, The Remains of the Day (1989) and Neuer Let Me Go (2005).

      In the late 20th century, Scotland has produced several important novelists, include James Kelman (born 1946), who like Samuel Beckett can create humor out of the most grim situations. How Late it Was, How Late (1994), won the Booker Prize that year; A. L. Kennedy (born 1965) whose 2007 novel Day was named Book of the Year in the Costa Book Awards. In 2007, she won the Austrian State Prize for European Literature; Alasdair Gray (born 1934) whose Lanark: A Life in Four Books (1981) is a dystopian fantasy set in his home town Glasgow. Another contemporary Scot is Irvine Welsh, whose novel Trainspotting (1993), gives a brutal depiction of the lives of working class Edinburgh drug users.

      Angela Carter (1940-1992) was a novelist and journalist, known for her feminist, magical realism, and picaresque works. Writing from the 1960s until the 1980s, her novels include The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972) and Nights at the Circus (1984). Margaret Drabble (born 1939) is a novelist, biographer and critic, who published from the 1960s until this century. Her older sister, A. S. Byatt (born 1936) is best known for Possession published in 1990. Martin Amis (born 1949) is one of the most prominent of contemporary British novelists. His best-known novels are Money (1984) and London Fields (1989). Pat Barker (born 1943)has won many awards for her fiction. Novelist and screenwriter Ian McEwan (born 1948) is another of contemporary Britain’s most highly regarded writers. His works include The Cement Garden (1978) and Enduring Love (1997), which was made into a film. In 1998, McEwan won the Man Booker Prize with Amsterdam, while Atonement (2001) was made into an Oscar-winning film. McEwan was awarded the Jerusalem Prize in 2011. Zadie Smith’s (born 1975) Whitbread Book Award winning novel White Teeth (2000), mixes pathos and humor, focusing on the later lives of two war time friends in London. Julian Barnes (born 1946) is another successful living novelist, who won the 2011 Man Booker Prize for his hook The Sense of an Ending, while three of his earlier books had been shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

      Among popular novelists Daphne Du Maurier wrote Rebecca, a mystery novel, in 1938 and W. Somerset Maugham’s (1874-1965) Of Human Bondage (1915), a strongly autobiographical novel, is generally agreed to be his masterpiece. In fiction, Agatha Christie was an important writer of crime novels, short stories and plays, best remembered for her 80 detective novels and her successful West End theatre plays. Christie’s novels include Murder on the Orient Express (1934), Death on the Nile (1937), and And Then There Were None (1939). Another popular writer during the Golden Age of detective fiction was Dorothy L. Sayers, while Georgette Heyer created the historical romance genre.

      However, in the 20th century novel is treated as an interpreter of life. Human characters are no longer studied in its external manifestation. The Human sensibility, consciousness and even the submerged bubbles of the subconscious and thoughts were ransacked to make the characters n-dimensional. The story telling was no longer the same traditional kind of a chronological statement. Time, space and chronology were destroyed intentionally and deliberately to make it possible for the entire human situation to be revealed in its primal chaotic and disintegrated condition — outside of Space — Time. Language also underwent a radical change.

      It would be wrong to think that the English novel reached its highest water-mark with the stream of consciousness novels, although Joyce’s Finnegans Wake has created an impression that it was novel to end all novels. There were also other novelists writing during the life time of Joyce and Woolf, who maintained their individuality and produced novels very different kind. As matter of fact the popular novelists during the fourth, fifth and 6th decades of the 20th century remain surprisingly free from the overwhelming influence of the stream of consciousness novel.

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