The Twentieth Century Literature: 1900-45

History of English Literature

(Written in 2007, published in this blog in 2011)


The Twentieth Century Literature: 1900-45

The Education of Act in 1870 that makes the elementary education compulsory for people in the age of 5 into 13 is the factor of the development of literary public, the rising of popular press, and the mass production of ‘popular’ literature for a semi-literate ‘low-brow’ leadership, that those at the end shows the existence of rapid expansion of unsophisticated literary public at this century. Moreover, the increasing access to literary and to education in general, led to profound changes in the reading public. The ability of writing a letter besides reading ability is the real example of literacy ability in the wartime because 1900-45 is the time when World War I happens.

Characteristics of Twentieth Century Literature:

  1. after 1918, ‘Modern’ defines the effect of literature that are to expand its range, to fragment its solidarity, to enlarge and profoundly change its audience, its forms and its subject matter.
  2. the influence of Sigmund Freud works about ‘unconsciousness’ as a sort of psychological theories among other theories has influenced literary works; therefore, the characteristics of this century is that there are many works of art that are difficult to read because readers have to prepare themselves before reading the works by understanding psychology, anthropology, history and aesthetics to get the meaning and the values of works. It is then, existing the ‘Against Modernism’ as ‘Modernism’ is the key concept of this era that means to battle the chaotic writings.

Poetry, Novels, and Drama


Poetry in the Twentieth Century Literature: 1900-45

The greatest poets in this era are such as Thomas Hardy and W. B. Yeats to T. S. Elliot and W. H. Auden. Hardy (1940-1928) mostly writes about country people living in Wessex – a rural country in southwest England. He said that he is a poet though many his works are also novels (Chalton 260-1).

Georgian and Imagist Poetry

Rupert Brooke, D. H. Lawrence, Siegfried Sassoon and Isaac Rosenberg are the significant poets in ‘Georgian’ because they can be found in a series entitled Georgian Poetry. The name of Georgian poetry is derived from the King (George V) who reign in 1910 to 1936 as Carter explains (329). Imagist poets, such as Des Imagistes (1914), have some characteristics that are tends to be short and sharp glimpses. It is a movement designed to replace the ‘soft’discursive narrative voice of Victorian verse with a harder, more condensed, Imagistic language – ‘nearer the bone.’ For instance, D. H. Lawrent, who is prolific poet, writes especially about nature. He ranged from descriptive to love poetry, from light satirical verse to philosophical meditation (The Ship of the Death). Moreover, as in Carter, Norman Cameron (Collected Poems, 1957), David Gascoyne (Roman Balcony, 1932 and Poems 1937-1943) and Charlotte Mew (The Farmer’s Bridge, 1915 and The Rambling Sailor, 1928) are other Imagist poets (330).

First World War Poetry

Poetry is written in order to express a sense of honour and to celebrate the glories of war. It is a romantic sonnet and deeply patriotic. For example, Wilfred Owen (The Sholdier, 1915, Dulce et decorum est– no year mentioned), Ezra Pound (Provincia Decerta, 1916) and Isaac Rosenberg (Dead Man’s Dump andCollected Works). One of the best poets of the war is Charles Hamilton Sorley – Carter (331-5).

Irish Writing (Celtic Twilight by W. B. Yeats)

W. B. Yeats

Yeats (1865-1939) is an Irish writer and Elliot said that he is the greatest poet of his time and a poet who won Nobel Prize for literature in 1927 with one of his works is Celtic Twilight and The Secret Rose (Chalton 670-1).

T. S. Elliot

A given Nobel Prize poet in 1948 with his greatest work is The Waste Land in 1922 (Chalton 190-1).

Popular Poets

They are Laurette Robert, for his poetry The Testament of Beauty (1929) and John Masefield – Cargoes in Ballads and Poems (1923) with his subject is the sea. Unlike Masefield, W. H. Davies is the poet of the open road, like The Autobiography of a Super – Tramp (1908), who is followed by George Borrow’s with his work is Lavengro (1851) – Carter (344).

Thirties poets (summarized from Carter)

It is such as Consider by W. H. Aulden (1930) and in 1937 with Spain. There is Auden Group in which the members are Louis MacNeice, C. Day Lewis, and Stephen Splender. Their poetry focus on social themes and on use of clear, ordinary language and popular forms. For example, Song by Lewis and Eclogue for Christmas by MacNeice. William Empson is also a great poet in the era. He is the one who encompasses the sciences as well as the world of literature through his intellectual range.

Scottish and Welsh Poetry (summarized from Carter 350-2)

–           Scottish Poetry

It has always been polyglot (the linguistic influences of the Highlands, the Lowlands,Norway, England, France, and Rome have all shaped the language, thought and style of Scottish writing). The author is Hugh MacDiamid (1920s) who creates a Scottish poetic language based on Lowlands (Lallans). For instance, A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (1926),  First Hymn to Lenin (1932) by MacDiamid. Moreover, Edwin Munir, an international poet, has Chorus of the Newly Dead (1926) and The Horses. Norman MacCaig is also the author of thenera who uses Highlands and Edinburgh as his insporation, with his works such as Far Cry (1943), Measures (1965), and Surroundings (1966).

–           Welsh Poetry

Welsh writing in English (Anglo-Welsh writing) receives an enormous boost with the Education Act of 1870 and the establishment of the University of Wales in 1893. The works such as Metaphysical poet by Henry Vaughan to the Second World War poet Alun Lewis and the critic and novelist Raymond Williams. The famous authors are Dylan Thomas and R. S. Thomas while Richard Llewellyn has How Green Was My Valley (1939) for his novel.

Drama in the Twentieth Century Literature: 1900-45

For instance, Henrik Ibsen’s play Ghosts about heredity syphilis and George Bernard Shaw’s Mrs Warren’s Profession about prostitution. The best plays that remain theatrically viable, and entered twentieth-century consciousness are Man and Superman (1903) with the ideas is ‘Life Force’, Heartbreak House (published in 1919), Pygmallion (1912) that reveals Shaw’s constant fascination with language, Saint Joan (1924) based on the French martyr Joan of Arc, and Candida, as a ‘pre-feminis’. Harley Granville-Barker, a theatre director, has written many Prefaces for Shakespeare plays. His works such as The Madras House (1910), The Voysey Inheritance (1905), and Waste (1907), that is banned to be published.

Irish Drama

A group drama by Lady Augusta Gregory and Edward Martyn The Heather Field (1899) as one of the proof of the Irish Literary Theatre existence that was built by W. B. Yeasts in 1899. The Abbey Theatre in Dublin has a position as the home of the Irish National Theatre Society because Irish Literary Theatre is renamed. For instance of the Irish drama, John Millington Synge’s plays Riders to the Sea (1904), The Playboy of the Western World (1907) and Deirdre of the Sorrows (1910). Meanwhile, Sean O’Casey is also an Irish creator who put his plays in the city rather than the country, but has a similar intention: to portray, in realistic language and action, the Irish character, and the issues of patriotism, self-deceit, resignation and tragedy. For example, Juno and the Paycock (1924), The Shadow of a Gunman (1923) and The Plough and the Stars (1926).

D. H. Lawrence

Just in a glance to the drama in the era, Lawrence has written his works mainly in dialect, and with a carefully naturalistic description of the life of the Nottinghamshire mining community where Lawrence had grown up. For examples, A Collier’s Friday Night (1909), The Daughter-in-Law (1912), and The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd (1914) while David (1926) is also a powerful drama of him about male solidarity.

Popular and Poetic Drama

W. Sommerset Maugham (1908) and Noel Coward (1925), Alan Ayckboum (1975) are the examples of the famous authors in the era. Maugham’s works are such as The Circle (1921) and The Constant Wife (1926) while Noel’s are Private Lives (1930), Hay Fever (1925), Design For Living (1933) and Blithe Spirit (1941) as English comedy. Time and the Conways and I Have Been Here Before (1937) are the best known in the era. Then in 1940s, there is Christopher Fry with A Phoenix Too Frequent (1946), Venus Observed (1950), and A Sleep of Prisoners (1951). He is then followed by Osborne and Wesker, as British drama.

Novel in the Twentith Century Literature: 1900-45

The English fiction of the early nineteenth century was written at a time of great confidence in the basic structure of society and the place of individuals in it. Novelists realized that there was no longer a shared and agreed community of values; a general background of belief that united them with their readers no longer existed after Darwin.

Subjectivity: the popular tradition

“The whole nature of what made a fictional hero or heroine is also questioned because it could no longer be a model of behaviour; therefore, the ‘stream of consciousness’ technique is developed in vaious ways by writers in order to render directly and in depth the experience of individual characters. Under the general influence of work by Sigmund Freud and C.G. Jung, writers come to believe that we are our memories, that the present is the sum of our past and that the form and style of the novel have to capture this understanding.” (363)

Principal novels exist as the characteristic of English fiction in the era. For instance, The House with the Green Shutters by George Douglas Brown (1901) and Arnold Bennet with The Old Wives’ Tale (1908) and Clayhanger (1910). Moreover, social concern is also characteristic of the era because it has John Galsworthy as an author who concern about issues of class and social awareness, such as in his works Forsyte Saga (1906-34) and James Joyce’s Ullysses (1922). Then, H. G. Wells in Kipps (1905) and The History of Mr Polly (1910) who concerns about lower social level and has The Time Machine (1895), The Invisible Man (1897), and The War of the Words (1898).

Light novels such as My Man Jeeves (1919) and The Inimitable Jeeves (1923) by P. G. Wodehouse and Three Men in a Boat (1889) by Jerome K. Jerome, and Ronald Firbank with his works Valmouth (1919) and Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli (1926). Meanwhile in Genre fiction, there are novels of adventure and spying as a mainstay of twentieth-century fiction such as The Thirty-nine Steps (1915) by John Buchan and Baroness Orczy with The Scarlet Pimpernal (1905) and The Riddle of the Sounds (1903) by Erskine Childers. In the modernism and the novel, modernism is seen as a reflection of a shift of knowledge and understanding, in sensibility and expression. In relation to literature, modern writing has given rise to unprecedented amounts of commentary and criticism, precisely because each individual creative voice can be seen to be distinctive: it is not as easy to classify writers into groups, trends and movements.


Forster (1879-1970) has his works printed before 45 and all his novels are famously known by people and at the end of his life, he is a teacher at Cambridge University (Chalton 214). His works such as A Passage to India (1924), Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905) and A Room with A View (1908).

Conrad and Ford

Conrad, or Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) is a traveler before he is famus as an author with his works are Heart of Darkness in 1902 (Chalton 142-3). Ford, or Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939) is an author who has printed more than 80 books of fiction and nonfiction with the best of his works is The Good Soldier in 1915 while there are two compounded with Conrad such as The Inheritors in 1901 (Chalton 212-3).

The greatest novelists in this era are Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and D.H. Lawrence.

  • Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woofl (1882-1941) is a founder of the Bloomsbury Group of writers and artists and an author who applies the stream-of-consciousness method such as in Jacobs’ Room in 1922, Mrs. Dalloway in 1925 and The Waves in 1931 and then become a feminist pioneer (Chalton 665).

  • James Joyce

James Joyce (1882-1941) is an author, who intends a new kind of storytelling and experience with language to create a kind of writing unlike anything that had been seen before. Chamber Music as his first work as a collection of poem and A Portrait of Artist as a Young Man as his first novel and has written with publication since 1907 until 1936 (Chalton 317).

  • D. H. Lawrence

David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930) has a bad growing time because his parents are always quarelling; therefore, even though he is a well-known author with Sons and Lovers, he has bad record because many of his works told about sex or human bodily relationship but then such works are published after his death with several exceptions (Chalton 352).

Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) is the major British writer of the period just after World War I with Brave New World as his first novel and has published ten works since 1921 until 1962 in which when he is in 16, he faces eye blind disease (Chalton 298).

Rooms of their own reflect the women’s writing, such as Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own (1928), as a small minority. It is about women’s voice to be heard and known for their own right. A. S. Byatt (Antonia), A. L. Kennedy (Atkinson), J. K. Rowling (Joanne) are three current example of the recent female novelists. In this era, their method in writing is through the stream of consciousness such as Pilgrimage (1915-38) in which there is psychology and motivations and in Mary Sinclair with her work is Mary Oliver: A Life (1919) and The Life and Death of Harriet Frean (1922).


In brief, the era of 1900-45 shows that the external factors like the Education of Act, isolation and alienation, a tension writing between the popular and esoteric, the World Wars, the influence of Sigmund Freud’s theory and Sir James Fracer’s thought about cultures in the universe and the Modernism existence are the context and clues in understanding this era. Meanwhile, these factors influence many greatest authors to write works that are mostly consfusing but rich in terms of their intention. Moreover, as indicated avove, many of those authors are influenced by their willingness to write about social problems and as well as about themselves in poetic and artificial way. Therefore, the writings of the authors in this era have their own characteristics and uniqueness but still follow the previous writings. Indeed, each development happened in English literature is categorized as ‘continual activity’.

Works Cited

  • Carter, Roland, and John McRae. The Routledge History of Literature in English: Britain and Ireland. 2nd ed. London and New York; Routledge. 2001.
  • Chalton, Nicola, ed. The Literature Lover’s Companion: Who Wrote What When. Scotland; Geddes & Grosset. 2004.
  • Long, William J. English Literature. New York; Ginn, 1950.
  • Mullik, B. R. English Literature: Its Background and Development. Delhi; S. Chand & Co.
  • Quennell, Peter. A History of English Literature. Great Britain; G & C Merriam Company, Publishers, 1973.

Author: Syayid

Syayid Sandi Sukandi is a person who is just like you. He loves to meet new people. He likes to learn new things and opens his horizon to understand how this world works. He is happy to help you when he can. His personal blog is Sparkling Silent Silhouette ( He can be contacted at e-mails: or He has a YouTube channel @Mr.Syayid's Corner. He is active on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You may follow and subscribe to his creativity and works there. Enjoy different perspective and insightful ideas!

2 thoughts on “The Twentieth Century Literature: 1900-45”

    1. Instead of focusing on grammatical and spelling errors, would you please focusing on which aspects that are worthy of appreciation from my writing? I appreciate your feedback.

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