Modernism was an international movement which developed in the first decades of the 20th century and was represented by several members of the highest level. It was a period of extraordinary vitality in the history of art. The term "Modernism" contributed to expressing the nature of modern experience. It expressed the desire to break with established forms and subjects.
In the novel, under the influence of Freud, it explored the characters' psyches through the stream of consciousness technique and the interior monologue. In poetry, it mixed slang with elevated language, experimented with free verse, and often employed obscure symbols and fragmented images. In painting, Fauvism, which developed in France, was a manifestation of the new interest in the primitive and the magical. Picasso and Georges Braque began to develop Cubism: they painted by separating objects and figures into basic geometric shapes such as cubes, cylinders, spheres and cones.
In England Modernism represented a profound change from the previous period. The private morality of the Victorians had been strict and cynical, decency had to be maintained, whatever went on under the surface; the positivist faith in progress and science had led people to believe that all human misery would be swept away.
The First World War, in which almost a million British soldiers had died, left the country in a cultural crisis and disillusioned mood: stability and prosperity proved to belong only to a privileged class, consciences were haunted by the atrocities of the war. An increasing feeling of frustration led to a remarkable transformation of the notions of Imperial hegemony and white superiority as a result of the slow dissolution of the Empire into a "Commonwealth of Nations".
Even science and religion seemed to offer little comfort or security. The great advances in technology had radically altered and distorted the known world. New concepts of man and the universe emerged. In 1905 Albert Einstein published his theory of special relativity, which radically changed the views of time and space.
The modernists felt the need to innovate the tools of literature: hence, the rejection of the conventions and traditions of the past. All the artistic forms of modernism had common features:
- the breaking down of limitations in space and time;
- the awareness that our perception of reality is necessarily uncertain;
- the use of allusive language;
- the use of the image to provide a true insight into the nature of things;
- importance of unconscious as well as conscious life;
- the need to reflect the complexity of modern urban life in artistic form.