The aesthetic movement started in a very short time: a new research in artistic expressions was already going on, a fresher, renewed form of expression. They were looking for a new artistic identity. The 20th century is a new forms of expression century: from modernism on other forms of expression were developed.
The period that stands between aestheticism and modernism is called transition: it links older forms of expression and topics with new sources for experimentation. Artists belonging to this period were still turning back, looking at the past, employing typical Victorian values: it’s still characterized by neoromantic forms of expression and style. Transition is a complex period that includes both poetry and novel.
George Bernard Shaw took up the new topics proposed by the Scandinavian drama that strongly influenced that British scene and near 1900 also Wilde developed his form of drama. Some authors managed to find their own style.
In this period psychology became very important it was a novelty that would characterize the whole 20th century until 1930s.
A very radical criticism against colonialism characterized this period.
Both poets (ex.: Hardy) and novelists contributed to this search for new forms of expression:
Georgian poets (after George started reigning in England): they showed the typical features of old-fashioned romantic styles. Some of these poets would later become the poets of war (very active during the war): later on they would radically change their position and start a new form of poetry moving towards expressionism.
- Conrad was one of the best authors in this period. In his Heart of Darkness (1899) – the heart of the white man – he dealt with a strong criticism against colonialism: he tended to unmask the lies beyond the colonial period.
The white man’s burden was considered as a sort of mission – according to Kipling, they had a mission from God –, but the black man would show no gratitude: they were totally ungrateful for their civilization.
Conrad analysed instead colonialism from a deeper historical and economic point of view and he took up this idea of colonialism in order to show the psychological hell behind colonialism.
The white man is embodied by the protagonist of this work Mr Curts, whose heart is full of violence masked with morality.
The two novelties characterizing this period are this radical criticism against colonialism and this attention to the psychological side of characters.
- Lawrence, in his Lady Chatterley’s lover, tended to analyse the sexual conventions of the time: he dealt with sex, in particular with the consequences of sexual choices of a high-ranking woman with a man of a low social standing, a gardener. This was quite scandalous and disturbing because it relied on psychological forces and on the idea of dependence on sex.
In Sons and Lovers Paul’s mother plays an extraordinary role in his life: in this work Lawrence dealt with the impossibility for a boy to develop a mature attitude in love, an individuality, because of his mother obsession. Analysis of family in a more renewed and radical way, presenting quite radical views.
These authors were no longer hiding anything!
- Henry James, brother of William James (Americans) – who was one of the most famous phycologists of the time, with his stream of consciousness –, wrote psychological essays and developed very important ideas being strongly influenced by his brother’s psychological views and theories.
in his The Turn of the Screw he paid psychological attention to sexual conventions.
Transition blends traditional (ex.: omniscient narrator) and modern features, traditional and old-fashioned style: it’s a historical literary period that crosses the two centuries blending realism with psychology.
Modernism is the new great period into which the majority of artists will flow. Great artists such as Picasso, who subverted shapes, dedicated themselves to visual art.
In this new research of novelty in expression two elements totally reworked the concept of work of art: time and space.
To the second founding idea, ingredient of modernism, Einstein, Freud, with his new psychological theories, with his work Die Dentung Der Traume (1900) and Bergson.
It presents the real characteristics of novelties, as experimentation.
Time and space applied to psychology.
In this period poetry took up the name of imagism with Eliot.
The most outstanding novelists were Joyce and Virginia Woolf.
The 20th Century
The beginning of the 20th century was marked by the death of Victoria, in 1901, when Edward VII (1901-19010) set on the throne of England.
The Hannover-Coburg family would change its name into Windsor because their name was a German name: Windsor is a fake name engineered for the dynasty to sound more English, since after the end of the Stuart dynasty, that left no heir, the throne was offered to the Hannover.
At the end of Edward’s very short reign GEORGE V (1910-1936) set up on the throne and his son Edward VIII, who was very famous for his love affair with Wally Simpson, then succeeded him, in 1936.
1901-1910: Edwardian period
In the gloomy atmosphere of the late Victorian time, he renewed the architectural style and parts of the town.
Moral principles were still important, but he introduced a new look on them, for example he supported the idea that life must be enjoyed. He introduced a new atmosphere of enjoyment of life and amusement.
Theatres were renewed: an open period from a cultural point of view.
Nevertheless, this period did not fundamentally transformed itself as a different entity: from a historical point of view it was not so different from Victorian period, in fact political and social reforms were made in the wake of Victorianism.
Social reforms still in the wake of Victorian optimism and State intervention (still very important):
- 1908: Coal Mines Regulation Act;
- 1911: Natural Insurance Act.
1910-1936: Georgian period
The following monarch, who had two sons, was George V. His reign was signed by the outbreak of the World War I. His presence was very important in the war.
Great Britain was an advanced industrial country: this period was characterized by urbanization, expansion of transport network and city suburbs (Manchester and London would become great Manchester and great London).
Visible changes in the social fabric: it was more and more fragmented.
Traditional governing class characterized by possession of lands was fused with nouveau riches (plutocrats from city and industry sectors), a novelty at the top of society: this also changes the face of the governing class in England.
- Middle classes: upper, middle-lower
- Working class: skilled workers, unskilled workers
In this period we can start talking about skilled and unskilled workers: skilled workers would earn more money, since the society is based on enrichment and on richness.
The idea and Victorian principle of RESPECTABILTY still survived: it was a sign of the surviving face of VICTORIAN Principles: It represented a self-defence of a dying era.
The empire was opening its borders losing its solid dimension: it was a worldwide empire. Colonies were pushing to gain independence, therefore the mother country had to accept this, but on the other hand, people in great Britain still believed in the world of an empire. Reality and belief were clashing against each other.
The social ladder was still strong.
Social life was still quite difficult: it was a moment of change, but the condition had not radically changed from the Victorian age and at the same time the empire was less important at the eyes of the world. Bad living conditions, housing and high infant mortality.
Yet British people were united at the outbreak of the war: they thought it would be a demonstration of their superiority.
World War I and Postwar
1914: Germany into Belgium. The British entered the war in August.
The response to the war was prompt and enthusiastic: volunteers were enrolled for their wish of glory and patriotism. Yet, after few months of war the original enthusiasm and patriotism, positive feelings also proper of poets, faded and were replaced by disillusionment and anxiety (disproportion in Weapons and military strategy).
The result of the World War I, ended in 1918, was a deep and lasting effect: the many deaths and the way soldiers died dismembered shocked the whole public opinion, that got to understand nothing would be the same.
They had long lasting psychiatric problems for the very first time.
According to the economist and historian J. Stevenson, four main effects can be trace:
- Impact of the war on living standards: the war had demanded full-time labour, in fact unemployment had disappeared thanks to the warfare industry.
The majority of men employed that industry: full-time labour had been the answer to economic problems, with a consequent increase in incomes.
These advantages would later be counterbalanced by the rise in prices, therefore inflation.
Yet the standard of living was higher among the working classes.
- The role of the war in the EMANCIPATION of WOMEN from a social point of view: they not only demanded vote, but also they had to cover the jobs left empty buy their men. While men were at the front, women were entrusted with their jobs, becoming competent and skilled as men themselves in many a field. This supported/ fostered women emancipation.
In 1918 the vote was granted to women over 30 (it will be extended in 1928 to women under 30).
- Importance of the war in the strenghtening organized labour: the warfare production had demanded far more workers. Trade unions – since they had to organize themselves – grew in power and importance.
- The war had a democratizing role: it brought to WIDER social reforms. The working class acquired quite importance.
But the following period, after the war, was characterized by an industrial contraction due to largely unwise speculations and greater foreign competition: in this period Europe was characterized by an economic balance because things started changing from an economic point of view (industrial competition radically changed), but the USA had started to become the real economic power. This unwise speculation brought about an economic collapse in 1920: at the end of the war Great Britain had to suffer for the great competition by the USA. Widespread unemployment again.
In 1929 Wall Street Crash extended throughout Europe: this crises cashed on like wildfire. It was so radical that it would bring serious difficulties in the economic sector all over the world.
- Industrial and agricultural reorganization only in latter part of the 30s;
- New sectors (in research and in industry) were opened: research in plastics, artificial fibres and motor vehicles (wars always help the development of new researches in different fields).
During these years mass production methods, such as the conveyor belt by Ford, started developing and changed the market because of the large availability of products and the consumption habits (= attitudes in the consumption of goods). Great changes ended up affecting the family structure itself: the large availability of goods at low prices made people consume more goods, therefore it they had a new material comfort. The world witnessed a sort of shifts in values, from spiritual to material ones. This new form of consumption shifted also the needs to consume in a family: they developed an interest in material comfort.
A family would now tend to spend money they earned. This brought about a paradox: a drop of brths. They in fact tended to have fewer offspring/ children reducing the size of the family since they were more interested in spending their money for other things. Fewer children. Reduction of family size.
More savings. (With higher salaries they would have more children.) Higher living standards.
They got to reach the nuclear standard: two children, two parents. This brought about, in long terms, a new role of women in society.
Inter-war period: the Age of Modernism
This age of modernism started about 1918. It was a moment of research in every way, a new spiritual moment and artistic development: it was a radically new age, a sort of watershed.
According to Alan Bullock, It should built new ways if expression: he talked about new ways of looking at the universe, both artistically and scientifically, new ways of understanding man and society, new forms of expression for what they saw and felt, totally different from any one that had gone before.
This age produced radical new forms of expression in poetry, in photography,
It was an age of complexity: unrest, anxiety, ferment, political turmoils, alienation and experimentation in all the branches of literature and art.
It was difficult to define the world according to new sound values. The result of this attitude can be felt in all branches of literature.
Anxiety got to define the age and: it characterized it together with experimentation.
- Material gain - Spiritual loss (atmosphere of the age): these some new values were fundamentally material (ex.: enjoying salaries, earning money).
- Disgregation of imperial hegemony.
- The old safe world of values progressively lost its solid definition.
- Science / Religion = little comfort
Scientists and philosophers of the age contributed to a further shatter of confidence in the great systems: the old good world of Victorians was progressively going lost, therefore they had to open themselves and face new forms of expression and new situations. This new world needed redefining!
They tackled unknown fields such as… * (see Freud). They proposed a world whose dimension and order was difficult to understand.
Edward VIII was the first to sit on the throne at the death of his father George V.
Wally Simpson was an American middle-class woman. There were many rumours about her both because she had divorced and because she was famous for having been a protagonist in Chinese bordellos.
Edward VIII abdicated for her in favour of his brother: this was scandalous.
George VI accompanied the country into the greater disaster ever: the World War II.
Elizabeth II became the queen when he suddenly died: she was compelled to come back from Africa to England because her father had died.