Does War Affect Literature
Many writers use the environment, political issues, or social issues as inspiration to their work. During romanticism nature imagery was a common occurrence in literature. However does on particular issue effect writers so much that a new literature movement is sprung from it? I pose the question what were considerable differences between Victorian literature and Modernism and how did the Great War play apart in those differences?
Was it because of the war that there was the Victorian Era and Modernism or was it bound to be a new literary movement with or ithout the Great War.
I pose to answer these questions to the best of my ability in this paper. The Victorian era took place from 1830 – 1901, which is almost the exact same time frame that Queen Victoria reined thus the name Victorian Era. Writers during this time were at an awe trying to respond to the expansion of the country due to the industrialization going on at the time. Reactions it the changes going on at that time were numerous between writers and the people.
Some welcomed the changes, while others challenged the changes because they found them to be threatening to their raditions. While others felt that breaking away from the traditions was more freeing than trying to maintain this conventional life. The Victorian Era was full of liveliness surrounding the social and industrial changes that were going on at the time. Nevertheless with all the change some things are bound to stay the same, Great Britain was still in a great deal of debt. Even though national debt was at an all time high the British banks continued to borrow money.
Brantlinger says borrowing money is the best way of sustaining credit in his book, the debt that the country was n played a major role in the literature and art of the time because money is used in everyday life. Whether you were paying with credit or ready money determined whether or not you would eat that night. During the Victorian Era writers focused most of their literature on social differences in social classes and reform. During this time society’s interpretation reined supreme over personal interpretation. During that time writer such as John Stuart Mill, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde emerged.
John Stuart Mill shed more light on the philosophical idea of Utilitarianism. John Stuart Mill son of Philosopher James Mill was a close friend to the creator of Utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham. Utilitarianism is the doctrine that actions are morally and socially acceptable if they benefit the majority. John Stuart Mill used this doctrine to preach reform in the social classes. John Stuart Mill felt that the government should work on the living conditions of working and lower class people. This philosophical idea was used to argue in most political arguments during the Victorian period.
Even when it came time for parliament to decide whether to continue to borrow money from allied ountries, this greater good philosophy came into play. An idea that remains strong and has stand the test of time still being used by philosophers today. Charles Dickens was renowned to be one of the greatest novelists of the Victorian Era. His works were heavy on sub textual references. He enjoyed creating then breaking down meanings and interruptions. Otten times ne put some ot his own person experiences into his work.
Fore example in his novel “Oliver Twist”, Charles Dickens himself once lived in an orphanage after his father was thrown into debtor prison like many people during this time period. While using “Oliver Twist” to somewhat tell his life story, he was also using a very melancholy type of humor reminiscent of other authors during the time. Mid Victorian era literary realism appeared, Writers and artist began to incorporate the industrial work and the excessive use of credit in the country into their work likewise discussing the social conventions of the time.
Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest takes a Jab at Victorian social conventions in this satire filled play. Beside the play making fun at the Victorian Era it also marked the end of an era and the start of Modernism and also the events leading up to the Great War. The Great War began in summer on 1914 with the assassination of the Archduke of Austria-Hungry, once Britain entered the war they quickly asked for both financial and military assistance from allies and colonies of theirs. By entering the Great War, a greater financial strain was put on to both the country and the people.
Britain fell further into debt with the United States as the war continued to rage on and on. Besides Britain suffering financially, on the battlefield the men were suffering. Spending countless days and nights in muddy blood filled trenches to stay out of the line of fire. A new type of warfare emerged through the bloodshed, poison gas. All you saw on the battlefields during were gas masks gas, gas, and gas. Chlorine gas killed more soldiers than actual bullets during this war. Most men who enlisted to fght during the Great War were dead men walking.
Chlorine gas was a favorite weapon of the Germans as Duffy has told us. However soldiers went the only ones being choked to death so to speak. Freedom of speech was being silenced in Britain by the Defense of the Realm Act in 194, besides silencing the people election were deferred during the war. Britain was becoming a place were the people no longer aw eye to eye with the government. The working class was now truly breaking away from the idea of the Victorian period; they no longer wanted to survive Just solely on credit in fear of losing everything if they were not able to pay their bills on time.
This war made the people actually see what was going on in their country and in their government and it began to spill over into literature and arts. Literature went from discussing social class and poverty to describing battlefields in great details and questioning the readers’ moral Judgment. Modernism directly followed the Victorian Era. It is said that Modernism started in 1901 and lasted until the 1960’s or 70’s. I believe it was small changes in art and literature started in 1901 but Modernism did not really begin to appear until during the Great War and everything after.
It was a conscious break from traditional art, subjective, full of alienation and despair while also rejecting the past. Modernism is extremely different from Victorian Literature, while modernism focuses on how the readers will interpretation the work and not society. Where in Victorian literature it was society’s interpretation trumps everything. Also during this time both World Wars had occurred giving writers at the time even more to write about and shed their own opinions on.
This period was a time where experimentation and individualism were encouraged most things about the past were thrown to the side and discouraged like writing about social conventions or painting pictures ot a dinner scene. Also Modernism unlike Victorian Era gives you a clear definition on what to expect from literature and art during that time period. I attribute the mast amount of differences between the two literary periods to the dark cloud that was hanging over Britain and its people once the Great War was over. People were questioning both their countrys morality and their own patriotism.
Just like the Victorian Era there were great Modernism authors. Authors like Joseph Conrad, T. S Eliot, and Wilfred Owen all with very similar dark styles that you can attribute to the Great War. Joseph Conrad still known for his short story The Heart of Darkness and novel “The Nigger of the Narcissus”. Both works drift far away from the traditional standards of the Victorian Era and was a true work of modernism. The slow dark story of The Heart of Darkness was a story whose major theme was savagery versus civilization while traveling through Africa. That was something that was not seen at that time.
This story made people question savagery and civilization. Everyone has a little savage in them but how much is too much and you cross the line of being uncivilized. This was a very big question during the Great War, what was too much? What was considered uncivilized? That was a question that was constantly raised during the Great War. Besides questioning civilization Conrad had a dark way about his work similar to another Modernism writer. The Heart Of Darkness was dark story about a voyage, a voyage that many of us could never dream of making or going on.
A voyage that would test the morality of most men, Just like the Great War tested the morality of most of its soldiers. Was it morally acceptable to continuously heave poison gas back and forth at each other? T. S Eliot was a dark writer with his works such as “The Hollow Men”, a poem that begins by quoting Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness and mimicking its darkness for entirety of the poem. Unlike the Conrad’s story, which questioned what is civilized and what is not this poem, speaks of the end of the world and humanity, as we know. The poem discusses us as humans losing our individuality and becoming empty.
While reading “The Hollow Men”, I questioned was humanity lost after the Great War with all of the unnecessary bloodshed and death. People in Britain became empty and inhuman after the Great War. Besides his dark works T. S Eliot’s poems are prime examples of Modernism. Poems like “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “The Wasteland” both poems were bold and broke far away from everything Victorian. In Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” he broke away from tradition with a title that has on particular inference to anything in the poem, there was no love in this poem.
Modernism is all about being different and T. S Eliot did that. He also wrote with a style that forced readers to read his work several times to grasp the different meaning, with his lines like the muttering retreats, of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels. Which could be interpreted as he had a considerable amount of one- night stands or he traveled a great deal and was in a different city every night. The interpretation varies from reader to reader another characteristic of Modernism. Lastly Eliot’s work do not fit any type of cookie cutter mold, Eliot focused only on ” The Love Song of J.
Alfred Prufrock”. Solely on his chaotic thinking and perception of his ife. He’s not worried about what social effect his poem has on the world. This poem shows he does not care if the reader can even understand his thought process completely subjective like Modernism works should be. Wilfred Owen another author to nave works published during Modernism. Owen is known tor his war poems classifying him as a war poet. Many of his poems describe British soldiers after or during battle. Most famously known for his poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” which was published towards the end of the Great War.
In his poem Owen paints a gruesome picture of English troops dying from poison gas. The same young men that were so anxious to fght for their country are now tired covered in blood and barely alive. At the end of the poem Owen uses Just a bit of satire after describing this horrible scene. Owen’s tells us that it is sweet and right to die for your country. Owen tells readers the old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mor. But really how sweet is it to choke to death for your country. I bet most soldier would rather be shot than to die choking on a cloud of poison gas.
The Great War made it possible for works like “Dulce et Decorum Est” to be created and become popular for the reason that it is ust like a car crash people will slow down to watch, so if a writer is describing the horrors of the battlefield people will slow down and read it. Just like the writers I described before Owen’s his works our faultless examples of Modernism and how the war contributed to the development of the literary movement and the clear differences between Victorian era and Modernism. After writing this paper I know have an improved understanding of what was going on in Britain Pre war and after.
I also can further see the differences between the two literary movements, the topic that were debated on plus by what means the topics were conversed about. The primary topic in literature during the Victorian Era were the remarkable differences between the social classes and the living conditions of the mast majority of citizens in Britain during this time. Most of these works were Jam-packed with humor to try to contradict the dim truth about the horrible situations many citizens had to deal with on the day to day.
Spending countless hours each day working low paying Jobs in factories, orphans on the street begging for money because their parents were locked in debtors’ prison. As much as authors complained of the living conditions and he need for social reform in the country, they still remained very patriotic. Nevertheless once the Great War began both the country and the literature started to change. I expected the change but I did not expect to see such a massive change in the short four-year timespan of the Great War.
Even though the textbooks roughly estimates that Modernism began before the Great War on the other hand authentic Modernism did not appear until the war began. That is because most Modernism literature questioned actions that occurred during the war. Actions like use of poison gas, trench warfare, and imperialism. Modernism was also a decline in the patriotism that was apparent in Victorian literature. The Great war made writers break from caring about the entirety of the countries issues and focus only on what interests them.
For Wilfred Owen it was war, Joseph Conrad focused on imperialism and questioning morality. To answer the question I posed in my introduction the Great War played apart in making the differences between Victorian era and Modernism because it gave authors a new topic to discuss and new moral to question. Pre-war authors did not have to question the acts of their countries soldiers if they were morally acceptable or not. The last question I posed – was it because of the Great war that Modernism appear or was it bound to be another literary movement with or without the war.
After doing this paper I believe that it was bound to be another movement without the war i t is Just that the war gave authors the push needed speed up the movement. In the end I can say that war does affect literature.