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This comprehensive text traces the development of one of the world’s richest literatures from the Old English period through to the present day, discussing a wide range of key authors without losing its clarity or verve. Building on the book's established reputation and success, the third edition has been revised and updated throughout. It now provides a full final chapter on the contemporary scene, with more on genres and the impact of globalization.
This accessible book remains the essential companion for students of English literature and literary history, or for anyone wishing to follow the unfolding of writing in England from its beginnings. It is ideal for those who know a few landmark texts, but little of the literary landscape that surrounds them; those who want to know what English literature consists of; and those who simply want to read its fascinating story.

Table of Contents

Medieval

Frontmatter

Introduction

Abstract
England has a rich literature with a long history. This attempt to tell its story, from its beginnings to the present day, is written to be read as a whole. Issues arising from the discussion of one author, genre or period often arise elsewhere. So the book will give more to a reader who reads it through, although it can be read in parts, and its apparatus and index allow it to be consulted for reference. To be read as a whole, a book must be a reasonable companion; it should not discuss everything. There are said to be ‘nine and twenty ways of reciting tribal lays’, and there is more than one way of writing a history of English literature. This Introduction says what kind of a history this is and what it is not, where it begins and ends, which writers fall within its scope and which do not; and what ‘English’ and ‘literature’ are taken to mean.
Michael Alexander

CHAPTER 1. Old English Literature: to 1100

Abstract
The Angles and Saxons conquered what is now called England in the 5th and 6th centuries. In the 7th century, Christian missionaries taught the English to write. The English wrote down law-codes, and later their poems. Northumbria soon produced Cædmon and Bede. Heroic poetry, of a Christian kind, is the chief legacy of Old English literature, notably Beowulf and the Elegies. A considerable prose literature grew up after Alfred (d.899). There were four centuries of writing in English before the Norman Conquest. The cliffs at Dover were often the first of Britain seen by early incomers, and have become a familiar symbol of England, and of the fact that England is on an island. These cliffs are part of what the Romans, perhaps from as early as the 2nd century, had called the Saxon Shore: the south-eastern shores of Britain, often raided by Saxons. The Romans left Britain, after four centuries of occupation, early in the 5th century. Later in that century the Angles and Saxons took over the lion’s share of the island of Britain. By 600, they had occupied the parts of Great Britain which the Romans had made part of their empire. This part later became known as Engla-land, the land of the Angles, and its language was to become English.
Michael Alexander

CHAPTER 2. Middle English Literature: 1066–1500

Abstract
Literature in England in this period was not just in English and Latin but in French as well, and developed in directions set largely in France. Epic and elegy gave way to Romance and lyric. English writing revived fully in English after 1360, and flowered in the reign of Richard II (1377–99). It gained a literary standard in London English after 1425, and developed modern forms of verse, of prose and of drama. Medieval writing was done by hand. For the scribes, the period began and ended with the unwelcome arrivals of two conquerors: Normans in 1066, and the printing press in 1476. English literature survived the first conquest with difficulty. The record is patchy, but the few surviving manuscripts show that it was some generations before native literature recovered. Three centuries after 1066 it recovered completely, flowering in different dialects under Richard II. One generation later, London English offered a more stable literary medium.
Michael Alexander

Tudor and Stuart

Frontmatter

CHAPTER 1. Old English Literature: to 1100

Abstract
The Angles and Saxons conquered what is now called England in the 5th and 6th centuries. In the 7th century, Christian missionaries taught the English to write. The English wrote down law-codes, and later their poems. Northumbria soon produced Cædmon and Bede. Heroic poetry, of a Christian kind, is the chief legacy of Old English literature, notably Beowulf and the Elegies. A considerable prose literature grew up after Alfred (d.899). There were four centuries of writing in English before the Norman Conquest. The cliffs at Dover were often the first of Britain seen by early incomers, and have become a familiar symbol of England, and of the fact that England is on an island. These cliffs are part of what the Romans, perhaps from as early as the 2nd century, had called the Saxon Shore: the south-eastern shores of Britain, often raided by Saxons. The Romans left Britain, after four centuries of occupation, early in the 5th century. Later in that century the Angles and Saxons took over the lion’s share of the island of Britain. By 600, they had occupied the parts of Great Britain which the Romans had made part of their empire. This part later became known as Engla-land, the land of the Angles, and its language was to become English.
Michael Alexander

CHAPTER 2. Middle English Literature: 1066–1500

Abstract
Literature in England in this period was not just in English and Latin but in French as well, and developed in directions set largely in France. Epic and elegy gave way to Romance and lyric. English writing revived fully in English after 1360, and flowered in the reign of Richard II (1377–99). It gained a literary standard in London English after 1425, and developed modern forms of verse, of prose and of drama. Medieval writing was done by hand. For the scribes, the period began and ended with the unwelcome arrivals of two conquerors: Normans in 1066, and the printing press in 1476. English literature survived the first conquest with difficulty. The record is patchy, but the few surviving manuscripts show that it was some generations before native literature recovered. Three centuries after 1066 it recovered completely, flowering in different dialects under Richard II. One generation later, London English offered a more stable literary medium.
Michael Alexander

CHAPTER 3. Tudor Literature: 1500–1603

Abstract
The hopes of the humanists and the writers of the early Renaissance were cut short by the turmoil of the Reformation and the despotism of Henry VIII. A literary Renaissance was triumphantly relaunched in the late 1570s by Sidney and Spenser, and the 1590s produced – besides the drama – an unprecedented abundance of non-dramatic poets and translators. This literary golden age also saw a variety of prose, artful, lively and dignified. As the first two chapters of this book will have demonstrated, the popular notion that English literature really begins with Shakespeare is a mistake. The educated notion that it begins with the Renaissance is also a mistake. These are inherited mistakes, arising from pride in England becoming an independent nation-state after Henry VIII broke with Rome and with Europe. A nationalist pride is a constant theme in Protestant and Whig projections of national history, projections which went uncorrected until the 20th century.
Michael Alexander

CHAPTER 4. Shakespeare and the Drama

Abstract
Shakespeare’s family, early marriage, obscurity. First mentioned as a London player and playwright at the age of 28, he came in on the crest of a wave of new poetic drama. Kyd and Marlowe died, leaving the stage to him. He averaged two plays a year for twenty years: first comedy and history (a form he perfected), then tragedy, and finally romance. Half of his plays survive only in the First Folio, introduced by his successor, Jonson. William Shakespeare was born in 1564 at Stratford, a market town on the river Avon in Warwickshire. He was the eldest son and the third of eight children of John Shakespeare, a glover, and Mary Arden, a landowner’s daughter. In 1568 John was bailiff (mayor) of Stratford. Education at Stratford school was based on Latin grammar, rhetoric and composition; to speak English was forbidden in the upper forms. At church, Holy Trinity, which William attended by law with his father, he would also have learned much. At home there were three brothers and two sisters (three other sisters died as children), and around the home there were river-meadows, orchards and parks.
Michael Alexander

CHAPTER 5. Stuart Literature: to 1700

Abstract
The 17th century is divided into two by the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642 and the temporary overthrow of the monarchy. With the return of Charles II as King in 1660, new models of poetry and drama came in from France, where the court had been in exile. In James I’s reign, high ideals had combined with daring wit and language, but the religious and political extremism of the midcentury broke that combination. Restoration prose, verse, and stage comedy were marked by worldly scepticism and, in Rochester, a cynical wit worlds away from the evangelical zeal of John Bunyan. When Milton’s Paradise Lost came out in 1667, its grandeur spoke of a vanished heroic world. The representative career of Dryden moves from the ‘metaphysical’ poetry of Donne to a new ‘Augustan’ consensus. The Stuart century was concerned with succession. James VI of Scotland ruled England as James I from 1603 until 1625. James’s son, Charles I, ruled until civil war broke out in 1642. Monarchy was restored in 1660, and Charles II ruled until 1685, followed by his brother, James II.
Michael Alexander

Augustan and Romantic

Frontmatter

CHAPTER 3. Tudor Literature: 1500–1603

Abstract
The hopes of the humanists and the writers of the early Renaissance were cut short by the turmoil of the Reformation and the despotism of Henry VIII. A literary Renaissance was triumphantly relaunched in the late 1570s by Sidney and Spenser, and the 1590s produced – besides the drama – an unprecedented abundance of non-dramatic poets and translators. This literary golden age also saw a variety of prose, artful, lively and dignified. As the first two chapters of this book will have demonstrated, the popular notion that English literature really begins with Shakespeare is a mistake. The educated notion that it begins with the Renaissance is also a mistake. These are inherited mistakes, arising from pride in England becoming an independent nation-state after Henry VIII broke with Rome and with Europe. A nationalist pride is a constant theme in Protestant and Whig projections of national history, projections which went uncorrected until the 20th century.
Michael Alexander

CHAPTER 4. Shakespeare and the Drama

Abstract
Shakespeare’s family, early marriage, obscurity. First mentioned as a London player and playwright at the age of 28, he came in on the crest of a wave of new poetic drama. Kyd and Marlowe died, leaving the stage to him. He averaged two plays a year for twenty years: first comedy and history (a form he perfected), then tragedy, and finally romance. Half of his plays survive only in the First Folio, introduced by his successor, Jonson. William Shakespeare was born in 1564 at Stratford, a market town on the river Avon in Warwickshire. He was the eldest son and the third of eight children of John Shakespeare, a glover, and Mary Arden, a landowner’s daughter. In 1568 John was bailiff (mayor) of Stratford. Education at Stratford school was based on Latin grammar, rhetoric and composition; to speak English was forbidden in the upper forms. At church, Holy Trinity, which William attended by law with his father, he would also have learned much. At home there were three brothers and two sisters (three other sisters died as children), and around the home there were river-meadows, orchards and parks.
Michael Alexander

CHAPTER 5. Stuart Literature: to 1700

Abstract
The 17th century is divided into two by the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642 and the temporary overthrow of the monarchy. With the return of Charles II as King in 1660, new models of poetry and drama came in from France, where the court had been in exile. In James I’s reign, high ideals had combined with daring wit and language, but the religious and political extremism of the midcentury broke that combination. Restoration prose, verse, and stage comedy were marked by worldly scepticism and, in Rochester, a cynical wit worlds away from the evangelical zeal of John Bunyan. When Milton’s Paradise Lost came out in 1667, its grandeur spoke of a vanished heroic world. The representative career of Dryden moves from the ‘metaphysical’ poetry of Donne to a new ‘Augustan’ consensus. The Stuart century was concerned with succession. James VI of Scotland ruled England as James I from 1603 until 1625. James’s son, Charles I, ruled until civil war broke out in 1642. Monarchy was restored in 1660, and Charles II ruled until 1685, followed by his brother, James II.
Michael Alexander

CHAPTER 6. Augustan Literature: to 1790

Abstract
After the brilliant achievements of Pope, literary civilization broadened to include more of the middle class and of women. The aristocratic patron gave way to the bookseller. After mid-century, the Augustan ‘sense’ of Swift, Pope and Johnson was increasingly supplemented by Sensibility, with ‘Ossian’, Gray and Walpole. The novel flourished in the 1740s, with Richardson, Fielding and Sterne. The latter part of the century saw major achievements in non-fictional prose, with Johnson, Gibbon and Boswell, a brief revival of drama (Goldsmith, Sheridan), and a retreat of poetry into privacy and eccentricity. The course of the 18th century presents a broad contrast to the disruption and change of the 17th. A desire for rational agreement, and an increasing confidence, mark literary culture for a century after 1688. There were cross-currents, exclusions and developments: the novel arrived in the 1740s, and Augustanism was increasingly in dialogue with other modes. England and her empire within the British Isles prospered by improvements in agriculture and industry, and by trade with an overseas empire at first commercial, then territorial. In 1740 the Scottish poet James Thomson exhorted Britannia to rule, and especially to ‘rule the waves’. Having contained Louis XIV in Europe and eclipsed Holland, Britannia defeated France in India and North America, and dominated the far South Pacific.
Michael Alexander

CHAPTER 7. The Romantics: 1790–1837

Abstract
English Romantic literature is overwhelmingly a poetic one, with six major poets writing in the first quarter of the 19th century, transforming the literary climate. Blake was unknown; Wordsworth and Coleridge won partial acceptance in the first decade; Scott and Byron became popular. The flowering of the younger Romantics, Byron, Shelley and Keats, came after 1817, but by 1824 all were dead. The other great literary artist of the period is Jane Austen, whose six novels appeared anonymously between 1811 and 1818. Other books appearing without an author’s name were Lyrical Ballads (Bristol, 1798) and Waverley (Edinburgh, 1814). The novels of ‘the author of Waverley’, Sir Walter Scott, were wildly popular. There was original fiction from Maria Edgeworth and Mary Shelley, and non-fiction from Thomas De Quincey, Charles Lamb and William Hazlitt. William Blake (1757–1827) was Burns’s contemporary but had none of his success. He grew up poor in London, went to art school, was apprenticed to an engraver at 14, and lived by engraving. His fine teenage Poetical Sketches were printed but not published. He engraved his later poems by his own laborious method, hand-colouring each copy of the little books in which he published them. Eventually, his art gained him a few admirers, notably the painter Samuel Palmer (1805–1881).
Michael Alexander

Victorian Literature to 1880

Frontmatter

CHAPTER 6. Augustan Literature: to 1790

Abstract
After the brilliant achievements of Pope, literary civilization broadened to include more of the middle class and of women. The aristocratic patron gave way to the bookseller. After mid-century, the Augustan ‘sense’ of Swift, Pope and Johnson was increasingly supplemented by Sensibility, with ‘Ossian’, Gray and Walpole. The novel flourished in the 1740s, with Richardson, Fielding and Sterne. The latter part of the century saw major achievements in non-fictional prose, with Johnson, Gibbon and Boswell, a brief revival of drama (Goldsmith, Sheridan), and a retreat of poetry into privacy and eccentricity. The course of the 18th century presents a broad contrast to the disruption and change of the 17th. A desire for rational agreement, and an increasing confidence, mark literary culture for a century after 1688. There were cross-currents, exclusions and developments: the novel arrived in the 1740s, and Augustanism was increasingly in dialogue with other modes. England and her empire within the British Isles prospered by improvements in agriculture and industry, and by trade with an overseas empire at first commercial, then territorial. In 1740 the Scottish poet James Thomson exhorted Britannia to rule, and especially to ‘rule the waves’. Having contained Louis XIV in Europe and eclipsed Holland, Britannia defeated France in India and North America, and dominated the far South Pacific.
Michael Alexander

CHAPTER 7. The Romantics: 1790–1837

Abstract
English Romantic literature is overwhelmingly a poetic one, with six major poets writing in the first quarter of the 19th century, transforming the literary climate. Blake was unknown; Wordsworth and Coleridge won partial acceptance in the first decade; Scott and Byron became popular. The flowering of the younger Romantics, Byron, Shelley and Keats, came after 1817, but by 1824 all were dead. The other great literary artist of the period is Jane Austen, whose six novels appeared anonymously between 1811 and 1818. Other books appearing without an author’s name were Lyrical Ballads (Bristol, 1798) and Waverley (Edinburgh, 1814). The novels of ‘the author of Waverley’, Sir Walter Scott, were wildly popular. There was original fiction from Maria Edgeworth and Mary Shelley, and non-fiction from Thomas De Quincey, Charles Lamb and William Hazlitt. William Blake (1757–1827) was Burns’s contemporary but had none of his success. He grew up poor in London, went to art school, was apprenticed to an engraver at 14, and lived by engraving. His fine teenage Poetical Sketches were printed but not published. He engraved his later poems by his own laborious method, hand-colouring each copy of the little books in which he published them. Eventually, his art gained him a few admirers, notably the painter Samuel Palmer (1805–1881).
Michael Alexander

CHAPTER 8. The Age and its Sages

Abstract
Victoria’s long reign saw a growth in literature, especially in fiction, practised notably by Dickens, Thackeray, the Brontës, George Eliot, Trollope, James and Hardy. Poetry too was popular, especially that of Tennyson; Browning and (though then unknown) Hopkins are also major poets. Thinkers, too, were eagerly read. Matthew Arnold, poet, critic and social critic, was the last to earn the respectful hearing given earlier to such sages as Carlyle, Mill, Ruskin and Newman. Many Victorians allowed their understanding to be led by thinkers, poets, even novelists. It was an age both exhilarated and bewildered by growing wealth and power, the pace of industrial and social change, and by scientific discovery. After the middle of the reign, confidence began to fade; its last two decades took on a different atmosphere, and literature developed various specialist forms – aestheticism, professional entertainment, disenchanted social concern. These decades, which also saw an overdue revival of drama, are treated separately. ‘Victorian’ is a term that is often extended beyond the queen’s reign (1837–1901) to include William IV’s reign from 1830.
Michael Alexander

CHAPTER 9. Poetry

Abstract
This survey of Victorian poetry to 1880 restricts itself to the major figures listed below, ignoring considerable minor poets such as Emily Brontë, William Barnes, Edward Fitzgerald, William Morris, George Meredith, Coventry Patmore and C. S. Calverley. The copious variety of Victorian verse is well sampled in the anthologies which are listed in ‘Further reading’ (p. 284). Although Victorian verse is broadly post-Romantic, giving new inflections to the personal, subjective, emotional and idealistic impulses of the Romantics, it is more various than this suggests. Expressive and plangent, it is also descriptive, of nature and of domestic and urban life. Often it half-dramatizes figures from history, legend and literature. Browning, Clough and Hopkins suggest an idiosyncrasy of subject, language and metre which is equally noticeable in lesser poets. Of minor verse between Byron and Tennyson, we admire the best of Walter Savage Landor, George Darley and Thomas Lovell Beddoes and may respond to the sentimental lyrics of Tom Moore and Mrs Felicia Hemans, but the poetry of John Clare (1793–1864) has value as a whole. His Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery (1820) and later volumes are a faithful account of the old rural life.
Michael Alexander

CHAPTER 10. Fiction

Abstract
The super-productive Dickens is the dominant figure of the Victorian novel, combining elements of the Gothic – a genre made serious by the Brontë sisters – with a vividly imagined account of the social institutions of Victorian England. The mode of his novels owes much to popular stage and melodrama, though language and character-creation are his own. His rival, Thackeray, is represented here by Vanity Fair. A less theatrical realism comes in with Mrs Gaskell and Trollope, and with the historian of imperfect lives in their fullest social settings, George Eliot. Modern images of 19th-century English life owe much to novels, and versions of novels. By 1850, fiction had shouldered aside the theatre, its old rival as the main form of literary entertainment. As with the drama at the Renaissance, it took intellectuals some time to realize that a popular form might be rather significant. Human beings have always told stories, but not always read the long prose narratives of the kind known as novels. In English, the reign of the novel has now lasted so long as to appear natural.
Michael Alexander

CHAPTER 11. Late Victorian Literature: 1880–1900

Abstract
The last decades of the reign saw a disintegration of the middle ground of readership. Writers went along with or rose above a broadening mass market, as did Hardy and James respectively. These were major talents, but it was a period of transition without a central figure, although Wilde briefly took centre stage in a revival of literary theatre, with Shaw an emerging talent. The old Victorian poets went on writing, but their juniors were retiring or minor, consciously aesthetic or consciously hearty. There was a new professional minor fiction, in Stevenson and Conan Doyle. The two decades of 1880–1900, with the next decade, lie between the mid-Victorian uplands and the peaks of modernism. For a long time, Joyce, Pound, Eliot, D. H. Lawrence and, more recently, Virginia Woolf hid their predecessors. If literary history is written by the victors, as with the Romantics and the Renaissance humanists, a longer view can bring revision. As the modernist revolution revolves into the distance, and dust settles, it is easier to see origins in the eighties and nineties, and to try an evaluative sketch. A sketch it is, for major writers are few.
Michael Alexander

The Twentieth Century and Beyond

Frontmatter

CHAPTER 8. The Age and its Sages

Abstract
Victoria’s long reign saw a growth in literature, especially in fiction, practised notably by Dickens, Thackeray, the Brontës, George Eliot, Trollope, James and Hardy. Poetry too was popular, especially that of Tennyson; Browning and (though then unknown) Hopkins are also major poets. Thinkers, too, were eagerly read. Matthew Arnold, poet, critic and social critic, was the last to earn the respectful hearing given earlier to such sages as Carlyle, Mill, Ruskin and Newman. Many Victorians allowed their understanding to be led by thinkers, poets, even novelists. It was an age both exhilarated and bewildered by growing wealth and power, the pace of industrial and social change, and by scientific discovery. After the middle of the reign, confidence began to fade; its last two decades took on a different atmosphere, and literature developed various specialist forms – aestheticism, professional entertainment, disenchanted social concern. These decades, which also saw an overdue revival of drama, are treated separately. ‘Victorian’ is a term that is often extended beyond the queen’s reign (1837–1901) to include William IV’s reign from 1830.
Michael Alexander

CHAPTER 9. Poetry

Abstract
This survey of Victorian poetry to 1880 restricts itself to the major figures listed below, ignoring considerable minor poets such as Emily Brontë, William Barnes, Edward Fitzgerald, William Morris, George Meredith, Coventry Patmore and C. S. Calverley. The copious variety of Victorian verse is well sampled in the anthologies which are listed in ‘Further reading’ (p. 284). Although Victorian verse is broadly post-Romantic, giving new inflections to the personal, subjective, emotional and idealistic impulses of the Romantics, it is more various than this suggests. Expressive and plangent, it is also descriptive, of nature and of domestic and urban life. Often it half-dramatizes figures from history, legend and literature. Browning, Clough and Hopkins suggest an idiosyncrasy of subject, language and metre which is equally noticeable in lesser poets. Of minor verse between Byron and Tennyson, we admire the best of Walter Savage Landor, George Darley and Thomas Lovell Beddoes and may respond to the sentimental lyrics of Tom Moore and Mrs Felicia Hemans, but the poetry of John Clare (1793–1864) has value as a whole. His Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery (1820) and later volumes are a faithful account of the old rural life.
Michael Alexander

CHAPTER 10. Fiction

Abstract
The super-productive Dickens is the dominant figure of the Victorian novel, combining elements of the Gothic – a genre made serious by the Brontë sisters – with a vividly imagined account of the social institutions of Victorian England. The mode of his novels owes much to popular stage and melodrama, though language and character-creation are his own. His rival, Thackeray, is represented here by Vanity Fair. A less theatrical realism comes in with Mrs Gaskell and Trollope, and with the historian of imperfect lives in their fullest social settings, George Eliot. Modern images of 19th-century English life owe much to novels, and versions of novels. By 1850, fiction had shouldered aside the theatre, its old rival as the main form of literary entertainment. As with the drama at the Renaissance, it took intellectuals some time to realize that a popular form might be rather significant. Human beings have always told stories, but not always read the long prose narratives of the kind known as novels. In English, the reign of the novel has now lasted so long as to appear natural.
Michael Alexander

CHAPTER 11. Late Victorian Literature: 1880–1900

Abstract
The last decades of the reign saw a disintegration of the middle ground of readership. Writers went along with or rose above a broadening mass market, as did Hardy and James respectively. These were major talents, but it was a period of transition without a central figure, although Wilde briefly took centre stage in a revival of literary theatre, with Shaw an emerging talent. The old Victorian poets went on writing, but their juniors were retiring or minor, consciously aesthetic or consciously hearty. There was a new professional minor fiction, in Stevenson and Conan Doyle. The two decades of 1880–1900, with the next decade, lie between the mid-Victorian uplands and the peaks of modernism. For a long time, Joyce, Pound, Eliot, D. H. Lawrence and, more recently, Virginia Woolf hid their predecessors. If literary history is written by the victors, as with the Romantics and the Renaissance humanists, a longer view can bring revision. As the modernist revolution revolves into the distance, and dust settles, it is easier to see origins in the eighties and nineties, and to try an evaluative sketch. A sketch it is, for major writers are few.
Michael Alexander

CHAPTER 12. Ends and Beginnings: 1901–19

Abstract
The war of 1914–18 made the England of Edward VII (1901–10) and of the start of George V’s reign seem forever ‘pre-war’, and a pendant to the 19th century. Those years were rich in good writing of many kinds, old and new, major and minor, but established masters and modes were dominant: poetry by Hardy, drama by Shaw. Yeats’s Collected Works appeared in 1908. The fiction of James and Conrad, and of Kipling, was more ambitious and far-reaching than that of younger writers such as Arnold Bennett. Ford Madox Ford’s career is representative of the changes to come. Yet by 1918, the impression made by ‘modernist’ writing before 1914 had faded, and writers later famous as modernists or as war poets were little known. Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 renewed the novelty of the century. Her elderly, cigarsmoking son, Edward VII, diffused a far more relaxed atmosphere. In clubs, men left the bottom buttons of their waistcoats undone, as the new King did; there was talk of Votes for Women. In 1910 the accession of George V again promised fresh beginnings: the new Georgian era would differ from the Edwardian … but all is dwarfed in retrospect by how the Great War altered everything.
Michael Alexander

CHAPTER 13. From Post-War to Post-War: 1920–55

Abstract
Two pieces of writing published in 1922, James Joyce’s Ulysses and T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, differed in form from the novels and poems that had preceded them. This was the crest of a new wave in English literature, from Ezra Pound’s Lustra and Joyce’s Dubliners in 1914 to Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse in 1927. The modernist writing of Joyce, Pound, Eliot and D. H. Lawrence came when Hardy, Conrad, Shaw, Kipling and Ford were still writing, and Yeats was becoming a powerful poet. This writing, new and old, makes the period 1914–27 the richest in 20th-century English literature. It may be the richest since the Romantics, and certainly since the years about 1850, when many novelists and poets flourished. These modern writers are often called modernists. The word ‘modernism’ is a convenience term, for the ‘-ism’ of the new is hard to define; it therefore appears in this text without a capital letter. Although the present had begun – before 1914 – to feel more than usually different from the past, there were no agreed principles for an artistic programme.
Michael Alexander

CHAPTER 14. Beginning Again: 1955–80

Abstract
The change after 1955 is clearest in drama, where Beckett’s impact overturned conventions. The marked change from Rattigan and Waugh to Pinter and provincial fiction has as much to do with class and social readjustment as with literary approach. The original talent of William Golding stood aside from conventional social realism. Muriel Spark, too, is an inventive moralist rather than a social chronicler. The dominant poetic voice was Philip Larkin’s, his social irony concealing a disappointed hope in human love. Although mocking the Establishment (a word of the 1960s), he and others stood back from the sexual and social liberation of that decade. About 1955 the post-war era was ending, both in politics and in literature. Except to the young, the war had come as less of a shock than in 1914, and British casualties had been fewer, but reserves were very low. Bomb-sites still marked some cities. A Labour government built up a Welfare State, unchallenged until 1979. When Churchill retired, Eden finally succeeded.
Michael Alexander

CHAPTER 15. Contemporaries

Abstract
The English novel showed new vigour in the 1980s, from writers old and new. As fiction flourishes and poetry shrinks, writing and reading are affected by a marketplace as large as the reach of written English. Reception and production change with new electronic technologies, making the future of literature in the third millennium harder to predict. After a look at such global factors, discussion focuses on the novel’s leading practitioners. The reader of Chapter 15 is invited to turn to the Preface to the Third Edition (p. xix) for an explanation of the approach adopted. The English language, spreading along trade routes in the 18th century, eventually became the chief language of global business. Having lost their American colonies, the English, Scots and Irish used English in their rule of India and other parts of the globe. The language spoken by King Alfred and written by Dr Johnson, is now, largely thanks to US enterprise, the language of oil, airlines, electronics, computing, and mass entertainment. Words, in popular entertainment, often matter less than visual images or music.
Michael Alexander

The Twentieth Century and Beyond

Frontmatter

CHAPTER 12. Ends and Beginnings: 1901–19

Abstract
The war of 1914–18 made the England of Edward VII (1901–10) and of the start of George V’s reign seem forever ‘pre-war’, and a pendant to the 19th century. Those years were rich in good writing of many kinds, old and new, major and minor, but established masters and modes were dominant: poetry by Hardy, drama by Shaw. Yeats’s Collected Works appeared in 1908. The fiction of James and Conrad, and of Kipling, was more ambitious and far-reaching than that of younger writers such as Arnold Bennett. Ford Madox Ford’s career is representative of the changes to come. Yet by 1918, the impression made by ‘modernist’ writing before 1914 had faded, and writers later famous as modernists or as war poets were little known. Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 renewed the novelty of the century. Her elderly, cigarsmoking son, Edward VII, diffused a far more relaxed atmosphere. In clubs, men left the bottom buttons of their waistcoats undone, as the new King did; there was talk of Votes for Women. In 1910 the accession of George V again promised fresh beginnings: the new Georgian era would differ from the Edwardian … but all is dwarfed in retrospect by how the Great War altered everything.
Michael Alexander

CHAPTER 13. From Post-War to Post-War: 1920–55

Abstract
Two pieces of writing published in 1922, James Joyce’s Ulysses and T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, differed in form from the novels and poems that had preceded them. This was the crest of a new wave in English literature, from Ezra Pound’s Lustra and Joyce’s Dubliners in 1914 to Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse in 1927. The modernist writing of Joyce, Pound, Eliot and D. H. Lawrence came when Hardy, Conrad, Shaw, Kipling and Ford were still writing, and Yeats was becoming a powerful poet. This writing, new and old, makes the period 1914–27 the richest in 20th-century English literature. It may be the richest since the Romantics, and certainly since the years about 1850, when many novelists and poets flourished. These modern writers are often called modernists. The word ‘modernism’ is a convenience term, for the ‘-ism’ of the new is hard to define; it therefore appears in this text without a capital letter. Although the present had begun – before 1914 – to feel more than usually different from the past, there were no agreed principles for an artistic programme.
Michael Alexander

CHAPTER 14. Beginning Again: 1955–80

Abstract
The change after 1955 is clearest in drama, where Beckett’s impact overturned conventions. The marked change from Rattigan and Waugh to Pinter and provincial fiction has as much to do with class and social readjustment as with literary approach. The original talent of William Golding stood aside from conventional social realism. Muriel Spark, too, is an inventive moralist rather than a social chronicler. The dominant poetic voice was Philip Larkin’s, his social irony concealing a disappointed hope in human love. Although mocking the Establishment (a word of the 1960s), he and others stood back from the sexual and social liberation of that decade. About 1955 the post-war era was ending, both in politics and in literature. Except to the young, the war had come as less of a shock than in 1914, and British casualties had been fewer, but reserves were very low. Bomb-sites still marked some cities. A Labour government built up a Welfare State, unchallenged until 1979. When Churchill retired, Eden finally succeeded.
Michael Alexander

CHAPTER 15. Contemporaries

Abstract
The English novel showed new vigour in the 1980s, from writers old and new. As fiction flourishes and poetry shrinks, writing and reading are affected by a marketplace as large as the reach of written English. Reception and production change with new electronic technologies, making the future of literature in the third millennium harder to predict. After a look at such global factors, discussion focuses on the novel’s leading practitioners. The reader of Chapter 15 is invited to turn to the Preface to the Third Edition (p. xix) for an explanation of the approach adopted. The English language, spreading along trade routes in the 18th century, eventually became the chief language of global business. Having lost their American colonies, the English, Scots and Irish used English in their rule of India and other parts of the globe. The language spoken by King Alfred and written by Dr Johnson, is now, largely thanks to US enterprise, the language of oil, airlines, electronics, computing, and mass entertainment. Words, in popular entertainment, often matter less than visual images or music.
Michael Alexander
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