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Modern Literature: A detailed overview


Task: Provide a detailed report on the evolution of modern literature.


Modern literature reveals the opinion of contemporary society. By literary works like novels, poems, dramas, etc., people's thought process could be easily understood. When English literature is taken into account, the modern period had started even from the early phase of the twentieth century (1900 to 1961). The rapid social changes, the emergence of industrialization, new inventions in the scientific field, political developments, etc., were witnessed in most countries during this period. The modern population in such a period had found themselves in contradiction with the Victorian concepts of optimism, morality, and convention. The idea of expression had completely changed among the population since the new concepts regarding political theory, philosophy and psychology had emerged. Let us move on to the discussion of major points to be understood before focusing on modern literature.

A nimble insight on the concept of modern literature

Tremendous advancements were witnessed in the field of social and natural sciences in the latter half of the 19th century and at the start of the 20th century (Frank, 1945). By dint of the heavy changes and progress in various fields, a large amount of material wealth was secured by many entities. However, this beneficiary element faded away when the concept of capitalism emerged in various countries. The high disparity between private and social ownership was introduced in this phase which created a strong contradiction between the economies that adopted them.

With gradual progress, English literature adopted the concepts of the Victorian age in the modern age. The frivolous attitude towards life was strongly criticized and opposed by the Victorian writers who adopted the concept of modern literature. If said in a rough manner, modern literature concepts are totally in contradiction with that of the Victorian age (Booker, 1994).

The same period has witnessed large international conflicts like World War I and World War II and substantial chaos in literature and society. The absurd theatres and the numerous anti-war pieces of literature emerged in this phase. The higher impact of global scenarios like colonialism has been prominent in disciplines like psychology and sciences.

To dig deep into modern literature's characteristics, we should research more about the key concepts of the Victorian age. It is when most of the artists and writers thought about a total change in the modes of literature that the Victorian age came to an end. It is the new arts and scientific concepts that would make a tremendous impact on modern literature.

Key features of modern literature

Art for the sake of life: Art for the sake of life was given more importance rather than just displaying the doctrine of art. The works in it were more practical due to the stress given on realism that highlighted life's serious issues. Prominent writers like Kipling, Shaw, and H.G. Wells have given prominent contributions in this era of modern literature.

Anxiety and integration: The whole time period of the 20th century was labelled as the era of interrogation and anxiety by scholars and writers. The faith in religion and other cultural believes faded away in this phase of modern literature. The century has also witnessed drastic changes in the areas of political scenario, moral, economic, and social subjects. Freedom in the thoughts and actions and the proper rational thinking were encouraged among the population in this period.

Psychology and literature: New theories and researches highly influenced modern literature in the discipline of psychology. The works got so much open from the older era that the rational view of sex relations was discussed in related literature. Sexual behaviour and emotional needs were displayed through a rationalized approach in modern literature.

Instigating interest among the poor and working classes towards the literature: The middle-class population has lost its prominence in the literary community by the early decades of the 20th century. The emergence of modern literature challenged the rhetorical drama, which reflected in the contemporary social conscience. The public had turned their interest towards the poor working section of the society.

The significance of the two world wars in modern literature: The impact of the two world wars was significant in modern literature, which greatly impacted the economic and social aspects. Social issues like unemployment, depression, and poverty were very rampant in this period. The period has witnessed a lot of works with the theme of anti-war. The emptiness and the futility of engaging in the war were described in a lot of books written during the period.

Consequences of the social and economic situation on modern literature: There was no art form left unaffected by the intense social conditions and rapid development in the industrial area. The materialistic importance of the significance of money was well described in such pieces of literature. The higher reference on Marxism and the resentment against poverty was widely observed in modern literature.

Influence created by the media like radio and cinema: The new form of programs presented on the radio and various cinemas had created an impending impact on modern literature. The change had created more engagement in the literature with the common population. With the invention of inexpensive intercommunication, new forms of the locomotive, the telegraph, etc., the new world had witnessed an intellectual revolution. A significant shift in the vision and ideas had been observed in the modern social context.

Dissimilarities between the Modern literature age and the Victorian age

Our readers should understand certain aspects regarding the evolution of the modern literature age. A lot of elements have been transformed from the Victorian age to the modern literature age. Even a normal student could notice evident changes in the aspect of vision and ideas of the modern literature age and Victorian age.

The new influence created on the poor classes: The publications highly influenced the educated students who belonged to the poor classes in modern literature. The publications targeted these sections of the population and published series which came at affordable prices (Richards, 2003). A lot of experiments and adventures have been described in modern literature, which is still perceived as the transitional period or the age of discovery. The works represented the ideas adopted and followed by the modern population.

Age Machine: The excessive machinery influence had very prominently impacted modern literature, and there is no doubt regarding this point among the arts community. The modernization and the increased level of industrialization have attracted mixed comments from the writers and poets. Relying on the element of machinery consequences, the writers have focused on the people's materialistic approach. The people's lives were very comfortable, and the standard had significantly increased by the advent of modern technologies. However, the same aspect has raised the level of competition and stress among societies. The impact of it was so significant that society was influenced as a whole and sexual life at the individual level. There is no sign of a particular person’s impulse or mood while carrying out a job or activity in the 20th century since higher importance is given to complete a particular amount of work within a decided time span.

Deviation in common emotions and thoughts: Modern literature scholars highly debate that the world under the Victorian period was very stupid and hypocritical in its approach. They strictly held on to their ideals in that period and upheld their institutions' spirituality and secularism in the 19th century. No doubts were raised against the religious values, family life, and the British Empire since they were considered conclusive and undisputable (Gould, 2017). All of these aspects and values were questioned by the writers who belonged from the modern literature period. The modern literature hence introduced a fresh approach and vision to every aspect.

History of modern literature

Literary movements: Most of the trends and literary movements were initiated by the end of the First World War. The prominent trends at that period were Dadaism, cubism, a stream of consciousness, futurism, imagism, surrealism, symbolism, and expressionism. In the below section of this article, the impending impact on the different forms of literature is being discussed.

Modern Poetry: The values followed in Victorian literature were strongly being opposed to English poetry, which belonged to the modern literature period. High criticisms were raised against conservative concepts and thinking. It was modern poetry that displayed a high level of deviation towards modernism (Teeuw, 2013). A high difference in the type of technologies used and writers' thought process could be observed in modern dramas and poems. Here are some of the key features of modern poetry:

  • The increase of free verse, irony, and metaphors
  • High criticism towards the Victorian and romantic values mentioned in the poetries
  • The skilful juxtaposition of the thoughts
  • No abidance to any religious values and encouraging the free approach towards thinking
  • No sort of regular rhyming pattern was followed in modern poetry.

A better example of the modern literature values could be witnessed in the works like T.S. Eliot, like "The Waste Land". The work is a pure contradiction for the values of Victorianism and romanticism (Glicksberg, 1969). Below are mentioned down the major concepts of Symbolism and Imagism, which were affluently used in modern literature.

Symbolism: The concept of symbolism was started in France, which focused on conveying the concepts with the help of symbols. The symbolists focused on conveying the prettiness of the life followed on a day to day basis. The works of symbolists were not bound towards any particular rhythm, theme, or issue. By the publication of the prominent and famous poem "The Waste Land", the concept of symbolist poetry emerged in the literary world.

Imagism: It was for nearly a decade after the 20th century that the concept of imagism came into existence. The concept of imagism had the same attitude towards romantic and Victorian poetry and hence strongly denied them. The decorative words were strictly avoided in this approach, and the common language was widely used to convey the message through the exact words. The higher quality of imagism could be witnessed in the works of Ezra Pound.

Modern novels: The initial three decades of the 20th century are considered to be the golden years for modern novels. The major theme that prevailed through such literary works is the stream of consciousness. In the modern era, the readers preferred to read the artworks, which mentioned the real instances and incidents (Lodge, 2015). The interest of the audience was given high importance in the modern literature age. Below are mentioned down some of the key factors of modern novels:

  • The discussions about the new scientific advancements and modern technologies were initiated.
  • The concept of idealism and realism were upheld.
  • The stream of consciousness was considered to be the best technique and approach by modern literature novelists.
  • The hidden inner motives of people's actions which Sigmund Freud proposed, frequently relied upon these works
  • It is in this phase that the high development of psychology could be witnessed in modern English literature.

Modern English Drama: George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde are considered to be the most famous dramatists by the end of the 19th century. It is on the work of these writers that the foundation of modern literature was laid.

Modern Literature: Key characters

Modernism: More abidance to reality and the acceptance of technical and scientific thinking were more signified in the modern literary era. The issues in society and people's emotions were described before the audience in a much authentic and realistic manner. The same concept could be classified into the two categories of radicalism and realism

Key characteristics of modernism

  • The people were made aware that life is unordered by relying on the concept of modernism.
  • Many opinions regarding religious, political, and social values were questioned and heavily criticized traditional values.
  • The works majorly relied on the individual's inner self and encouraged them to find a champion in themselves.

The rise of modern literature had revealed the creative aspect of the poets and other writer's vision. A more realistic approach was made in this aspect, and hence it focused more on the living style of the population. A better understanding of modern literature could be made by conducting a detailed reading session. If you want any academic aid service, you could rely on The expert panel of TAH is active round the clock, and hence you could approach us at any time.

Frank, J. (1945). Spatial form in modern literature: An essay in two parts. The Sewanee Review, 53(2), 221-240.

Booker, M. K. (1994). The dystopian impulse in modern literature: Fiction as social criticism. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Glicksberg, C. I. (1969). The ironic vision in modern literature. The Ironic Vision in Modern Literature (pp. 3-24). Springer, Dordrecht.

Lodge, D. (2015). The modes of modern writing: Metaphor, metonymy, and the typology of modern literature. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Teeuw, A. (2013). Modern Literature. Springer Science & Business Media.

Gould, E. (2017). Mythical intentions in modern literature. Princeton University Press.

Richards, J. (2003). Rhetoric and courtliness in early modern literature. Cambridge University Press.


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