Twentieth Century Modernism
Twentieth Century Modernism
Twentieth Century Modernism
The twentieth century can be distinguished by the saying, “Beyond the pale”. This metaphoric meaning represents modernists standing outside the conformist restrictions of law, behavior, and social class- in a sense, beyond the pale. Modernists wanted to expand their dimensions and represent life in a different way. They were very skeptical of the Victorian age because they did not believe it was possible to have unity in all the world which was what Victorian literature had portrayed. Modernists saw life as a series of non-ordinary actions that were uncontrollable. Victorians wrote their literature with a 1-2-3 story plot which began with an introduction and ended happily ever after. Modernists thought that realistic life was too fragmented to portray it in this form of perfection.

Socially, paradigm shifts were occurring in the fields of philosophy, psychology, and physics. A German Philosopher named Friedrich Nietzsche suggested that traditional religion was being discredited by advances in the natural and physical sciences. His quote from The Joyful Science states, “God is dead”. People began to start believing this and their standards of truth began disappearing. In psychology, a man named Sigmund Freud began a revolution by evolving the theories of influence of the unconscious mind. He said peoples past experiences have a great deal of unconscious influence on their mind. This idea provoked a wide range of responses which were equally adopted and rejected in the world of literature. A few years later, Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity arose. His new ideas about motion and gravity sparked a new understanding of the universe and our relationship to it. His vision was that nothing is relative except humans and that everything in life is absolutely fixed. These new theories in physics, philosophy, and psychology had a profound effect on Modern literature.

Politically, the moral and theoretical turmoil was given additional strength by the shock of World War I. The British fought Germany to preserve their influence in Europe and to aid their weaker allies against German hostility. The advancements in technology, which had improved Victorian standards of living, led to warfare which caused the death of hundreds of thousands of soldiers. People began to discover that modernity had arrived with retribution. After the war, people began looking at modernism as a structure of compensation. T. S. Elliot described the new literature as “The perpetual task of poetry is to make all things new. Not necessarily to make new things”. As a result, the modern writer was faced with an enormous task: “to create new and appropriate values for modern culture, and a style appropriate to those values”. Because of this, there is often an inquisitive or nervous quality to modern literature when investigating ultimate questions that people of the time wanted answers to. The modern novel no longer allows readers to watch a character from a safe distance learn through struggles and events in the story. It causes the readers to learn the lessons themselves through maneuverings of the narrative. The stories no longer begin with a “Once upon a time…” or end with a “Happily ever after”. They typically throw the reader into the middle of the story and cause them to infer the plot themselves.

Economically, Britain began to consciously deal with their human rights problems. In the past, women and other minority groups had frequently been excluded from British literary tradition. They were seen as non-useful and with no real important views that anyone would want to read about. However, with the onset of Modernism, women, working-class, ethnic, religious, and sexual perspectives were now being fully introduced into literature. The Women’s Property Act of 1882 allowed married women to own property for the first time. Full voting rights for women opened up in 1928 which gradually lead to opportunities for higher education and the professions for women. Sexuality in literature began loosening up the strict gender and sexual roles which had been reinforced throughout British history. Writers were now able to share their views on any topic and people were willing to listen because of the need to better the human rights problems. Minority groups were beginning to increase their presence in literature and the culture was cautiously accepting it.

Before World War II, improvements in philosophy, psychology, and physics caused writers to examine concepts of the world in a new light which did not depend on faith to be proven true. These fields were able to prove theories with substantial evidence that was not seen in religion. Literature began showing how values are constructed rather than given, and social identities were merely roles. Writers were being forced to answer difficult questions that

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New Ideas And Modern Literature. (April 2, 2021). Retrieved from