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The Edwardian Age

When Queen Victoria died in 1901, her son became King as Edward VII.
Even if his reign was short (1901 – 1910), he modernized the monarchy, which had become gloomy in its last years.
In 1903 Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter found the Women’s Social and Political Union and fought for their rights.
In 1904 Edward signed the Entente Cordiale with France that allowed Britain to have interests in Egypt and France in Morocco.

Socially here were many similarities between Victorian and Edwardian Age:
• Class distinctions were well defined and preserved
• There were inequalities of wealth
• Signs of revolt
• Poverty

But following the victory of the Liberals in the elections of 1906 social reforms regarding the poors were taken, following the idea of the New Liberals (among which there was David Lloyd George, who thought the Government had the responsibility to look after the poor).

Between 1906 and 1908 the Children’s Charter was published to give free meals to poor children, medical inspections started and they were not allowed to beg.
Old age pensions were introduced, so that old people could stay home instead of going into workhouses.
Medical Treatment and Sickness benefits were given to the workers in 1911.
In 1911, the Parliament Act made it impossible for the Lords to reject a bill about money.
In 1918 Women over 30 yo gain the vote.

First World War

When Edward VII died in 1910, his son succeeded him and in 1911 became King as George V (1911 – 1936).
Europe was divided between Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria and Italy) and Triple Entente (France, England and Russia) and when a Slav killed the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 the war started.
In Britain there was a strong patriotic enthusiasm because of Romantic ideals and thanks to propaganda lots of men took part in it.
By the end of 1915 many men were killed and Britain needed new recruits, so it introduced conscription for all men between 18 and 41: women replaced them in social works.
Germans expected a short conflict, but when it went on more than the expected they were held up by French Resistance in the Battle of the Marne.
At the end of the war some men were still alive, but they were shocked (Shell Shock, psychological disorders  terror, anguish and immobility of combat)
Britain received some help from USA and Germans decided to use Sub-marines to sink the merchant ships with supplies.
In 1917 USA declared war to Germany, following the sinking of the Lusitania and they caused shortage of food that led the country ask for an armistice.
On 11 november 1918 war was ended.

In 1919 the Peace treaty was signed in Versailles.

The 20s

In the last two decades of 19th century the system of Victorian values had already come to an end because those values were too strict.
The positivistic faith in progress led people to think that human misery would have been swept away, but the World War I left the country in a cynical mood.
The 20s were comfortable only for privileged classes and some soldiers celebrated their return home searching for pleasure, others were haunted by a sense of guilt.
The gap between generations became wider and wider.
The dissolution of the Empire in Commonwealth led to a sense of rootlessness  many authors criticised imperialism, because they believed in equality:

• E. M. Forster > criticised imperialism
• G. Orwell > wrote anti-utopian novel against totalitarism

Religion and science seemed to give little comfort: Scientists and Philosophers destroyed the Victorian World.
Freud wrote The Interpretation of Dreams and introduced new ideas  emphasised the power of unconscious and introduced super-ego (the constraints imposed on individual by society, education and moral laws).
He introduced a new method of investigation of the human mind through interpretation of dreams and “free association”.
Jung continued Freud’s studies and added the concept of “collective unconscious”, that is a cultural memory containing the universal myths and beliefs of human race.
Albert Einstein’s Relativity brought to crisis of confidence and discarded the concepts of time and space.
The idea of time was also questioned by James and Bergson:

• James > our memory records every moment we live and is a continuous flow of “already” into “not yet”

• Bergson > distinguished historical time (linear and objective) from psychological time (measured by the intensity of a moment and subjective)

• Frazer > anthropologist who helped undermine the absolute truth of religious and ethical system.

• Nietzsche > “God is dead”: disbelief in Christianity and belief in human progress

British philosophy became analytical, focusing on the study of language.


The first decades of 20th century were a period of extraordinary originality and vitality in the history of art.
Innovation and remarking of all arts took place in Europe and in America, so the term Modernism is referred to this international movement reaching through western cultures.
It covers a variety of trends and currents that gave shape to modern consciousness and expressed the desire to break with established forms and subjects.

The common features were:
• Intentional distortion of shapes
• Breaking down of time and space
• Our perception of reality is uncertain
• Distinction between genres blurred
• Use of allusive language
• Importance given to sounds
• Intensity of an isolated moment
• Importance of unconscious
• Need to reflect complexity
• Rejection of formal aesthetics in favour of minimalist designs
• Rejection of distinction between high and low culture

In the attempt to create a new system of references writers and poets drew inspiration from classical and new cultures to create a new subjective mythology.
English literature started becoming cosmopolitan, moving away from Victorian society.

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