11. Literature of the turn of the centuries – Fin de Siecle.
Great Britain in the end of the 19th – beginning of the 20th century was under a great tension. That was the end of the Victorian Age. The queen Victory died in 1901 and that was a symbolic sign of the end of the century.
The same period is characteristic for the great changes in science. Darwin’s theory of evolution, genetic theory of the inherited features, Mendeleev’s periodical system, non-Eucledian geometry all these openings were new and unknown to the humanity. People felt the atmosphere of instability. That is also the period of the new social theories such as Marksism, socialists ideas.
Under the influence of these factors new tendencies and trends of art are being formed. Writer tend to the shorter forms, the period of the solid realistic novel passes away and the writer stick to the dramatization of prose – f. e. Hardy’s tragedy novel, Galsworthy – modern comedy, Bernard Shaw – “Unpleasant plays”. Poetical creativity also carries some changes: peots are greatly influenced by the French aestheticism on the one hand, and on the other hand poetry becomes more neutral, loses its romantic poeticism as in Kipling’s poetry as review – “Boots, boots, boots, boots…”.
The turn of the centuries is the period of the mixture of the different trends in literature, the most important among which are:
Oscar Wilde is one of the strangest representatives of the period. He is closely connected to the theories of aestheticism and hedonism. Art always surrounded him: his mother was a poet and aristocratic intelligent people were gathering in the house of Wildes. His creativity is rich in genres: poetry – “ballad of Reading Gaol”, drama – “Solomia”, novels. He was under the court for his sexual orientation and was scandalous and that’s why was very popular.
The principles of the theory of aestheticism:
These ideas are revealed in the book “The portrait of Dorian Grey”. The novel is highly symbolic and it shows not real characters but three types caring one philosophic idea: Basil Hallward – is a real creator, artist – he serves beauty and paints the portrait of Dorian Grey to express the beauty in its ideal. Lord Henry symbolizes hedonistic ideas – life is too short to spend it for something but pleasures. Dorian is an image that gives the social idea of the author. He is a pure young man in the beginning and is ruined by the society and its prejudices.
Thomas Hardy in his creativity was greatly influenced by naturalistic tendencies. Naturalism is a literary and philosophical trend that first appeared in France. It was pushed forward by the genetic theory. The main idea is that all the actions of the people are taken under the natural forces. People act because of their main instincts such as an instinct to survive, to eat, to give birth to children. Nature plays a great role in this philosophy as close to God, because it rules everything, the best people are natural people that stick to nature. These ideas are shown in the novel “Tess from the D’Urbervilles”. The subtitle of the book is “Pure woman”. It could be understood as mockery if we didn’t know the author’s attitude towards Tess. She is a pure woman by her nature. The prejudices of the society do not worry Hardy he looks into her soul and sees a girl who is clear in the face of her instincts and attitudes to nature. That’s why she is really pure for the author.
The author’s attitude towards peasantry lacks embroidery; he is very true to life. He describes all the sins of this society: Tess’s father drinking, not willing to work and lazy; her mother with quite a usual approach to children – they will grow themselves and those who do not survive are too weak to live in this world. His descriptions are absolutely non-idealistic because his task is to describe the nature of this class. The equal attitude is towards the family of D’Urbervilles. They are rich but dishonest and this description is very vivid and true. So, the portrayal of the different classes in the Hardy’s book is also naturalistic.
The next thing worth mentioning is the power of instincts in the Hardy’s novel. That is vividly seen in the period of Tess’s pregnancy. Her nightly works in the forest, her happiness of the following motherhood are described as though it was a description of a mother cat or a bird sitting on the eggs. Her feelings are the expression of the natural mother’s instincts.
Nature in the Hardy’s novel has also a symbolic sounding. For example, the fact that Tess gives birth to the child in the harvest period. The author shows Tess and Nature as parallel because they both produce something new. This symbolic detail is probably one of the most beautiful and vivid in the book because it portrays a woman as equal to the nature in the moment of the birth of the new life. That also explains that women are closer to nature because they are able to create.
Another symbolic detail of the novel is the image of Stonehenge as a return to the predecessors in the most difficult moment of life. This night before she is captures is passed together with her routes. It shows the course of time as the changes of the numerous generations. And this approach is also purely naturalistic.
Naturalism rules the whole development of the novel and its message is also purely naturalistic. Hardy says that everything is predominated by nature – by the instincts of the person. They rule Tess’s desire to be loved, to give birth to a child, to survive when Angel leaves her and so on. Every person has natural origin and cannot get far from the nature.
The second idea is that human existence is a tragedy. And the roots of this tragedy lie in the opposition of nature and society. Human prejudices destroy the natural development of the human life and bring a person to a tragedy.
Bernard Shaw writes in the genre of intellectual drama. The main peculiarity of the genre in contrast with the philosophic one is that it doesn’t give real solution of the situations but makes people think over the problems presented by the author. The first period of his creative work begins in 1879 and last till the world war 1. During this period he writes Plays pleasant, plays unpleasant, three plays for puritans, man and superman – a play written to criticize the philosophy of individualists, John Bull’s other island (Irish question), Major Barbara. The plays of the first period expose the vices of capitalist society. There is no hero in these plays – the main hero is the society. Shaw addresses to church, government and marriage as the main institutions and proves that often there is no democracy behind the government, no religious feeling for the church and no love behind marriage. The second period begins with the end of the World War 1 and here Shaw reveals the problem of class struggle as necessary for the reconstruction of the world. Social criticism gives place to an attempt to find way out of social conflicts. The most well-known play of this period is Pygmalion. His drama is for reading as well as for acting. That is achieved through many vivid remarks, preface with the descriptions of the characters, numerous paradoxes. Pygmalion is highly realistic play – the end is open because there is no place the Eliza in the English society.
Herbert Wells introduced the genre of science fiction to the English literature. But his fantastic world reveal the deep social problems of his own society. “Time machine” is a great criticism of the English society where people are divided into workers and high class. He shows that this division can bring people to degradation. “The war of the worlds” makes the readers think about their moral value. The mankind wins because Wells likes people but his novel is a warning for the people not to be alike the martians. “The invisible man” deals with the problems of the person without the society.
John Galsworthy is a representative of the psychological realism. He was a master of the psychological analysis. “The Foresyte Saga” is a perfect example of critical realism where the author criticizes the commercial world of the Forsytes. The trilogy is a history of the three generations of the Forsyte family from the 80-s of the 19th century to the 20-s of the 20th. In this work the author exposes the same social prejudices and possessive instincts as in his earlier novels, but his criticism becomes sharper. The main characteristic features of the Forsytes are tenacity, an ability to form a “formidable unit”, snobbery, practicality, sense of property.
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