Sei sulla pagina 1di 8

Causes and Forms of Change in Twentieth Century Britain by Comparison with the

Victorian Age. Moving towards the Present.

1. MODULE ONE: (a) Changes in society and mentality due to the First
World War: the enfranchisement of women; hyper-critical cynicism replaces
social idealism; the emergence of a literature of lucidity and rupture
(modernism as presented in the book Modernism and the Lure of Heresy
Peter Gay, 2008). (b) The change in mentality regarding the attitude to
the First World War (the Great War): from high-mimetic (heroic) to ironic
war poems (c) Modernism: the protest of avant-garde art against
bourgeois art conventions. The historical sense as a heroic weapon for the
interpretation, protest and condemnation of the corrupt present: W.B. Yeats:
The Second Coming; T.S. Eliots and Virginia Woolfs experimental and
sophisticated war literature. London landmarks in the wake of the War.
2. MODULE TWO Political changes which chart the history of the
twentieth century: changes on the map of the world: (d) The violent
dissolution of the Union of Ireland with Great Britain after the First World War
Northern Ireland as a troubled twentieth century colonial vestige in the UK
and the peaceful dissolution of the British Empire after the Second World
War; (e) From the liberal non-interventionist state to the welfare state; from
the mixed-economy state back to the neo-liberal state during the long
Conservative rule of Mrs. Margaret Thatcher the British constitution today
(central and regional institutions)
3. MODULE THREE Understanding with literature the change from
democratic (liberal) politics to Realpolitik and totalitarianism: (f) the
change from utopian to dystopian socialism - George Orwells post-war novel
Nineteen Eighty-Four exposing the totalitarian pastoral power ideology
(Michel Foucault: Why Study Power? The Question of the Subject (page 155)
in Radu Surdulescu and Bogdan Stefanescu, Contemporary Critical Theories:
A Reader. English Department.1999. Power and its mechanisms in the serious
postmodern joke of Kazuo Ishiguros The Remains of the Day
MacDowell: An Illustrated History of Britain chapters 22 and 23
Isaacs, Alan and Monk, Jennifer The Cambridge Illustrated Dictionary of
Heritage entries to be indicated and provided in Xerox form.
The Norton Anthology of English Literature vol II Voices from World War One
(Rupert Brooke The Soldier ; Siegfried Sassoon Glory of Women; Wilfred
Owen Dulce et Decorum Est).
W.B. Yeats: Leda and the Swan and Easter 1916.

Excerpts from T.S. Eliots The Waste Land and Virginia Woolfs Mrs Dalloway.
George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-Four
*Kazuo Ishiguro: The Remains of the Day (optional)

Changes in society and mentality due to the First World War: the
enfranchisement of women; hyper-critical cynicism replaces social idealism; the
emergence of a literature of lucidity and rupture (modernism and the lure of heresy
Peter Gay, 2010)
HISTORICAL FACTS - Britain was displaced as the leading world power in the course
of the twentieth century because Germany, which had risen as the second greatly
industrialized nation of the West provoked the First World War. Also, Britain
gradually lost its colonies, the first of them being its Old World colony Ireland. These
circumstances are the occasion for going into military and political history, then
social and literary history as sections of British civilization in the twentieth
The two power blocks that entered the First World War were, on the one hand, the
Central Powers (Germany, the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires - old empires
whose powers Germany had rallied in order to oust the newer British Empire from
power) and the Allies (or Triple Entente: the French Republic, the British Empire and
the Russian Empire; these powers were seconded by Italy, in 1915, and by Japan,
Belgium, Serbia, Greece, Montenegro, Romania plus the Czech legions.) After two
years of pitched battle with volunteers, conscription became obligatory
conscientious objectors only refused to go to war the Great War, as the
propaganda called it, ended. It had changed the face of the world, granting power to
women, who replaced men at home and who started to fight (literally!) for
emancipation (see the suffragettes in MacDowells book and on the internet).
Between 1906 and 1918 women were given the right to vote (ie, they were
enfranchised) first in Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland, then, in the late 1920s,
in Britain and in America. France, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Romania and Yugoslavia did
not join in this emancipation movement until after the Second World War and
Switzerland only enfranchised women in 1971. Womens emancipation increased
the rate of divorce and made women socially more visible and powerful.
Two more significant changes occurred at about the same time in Europe: the
breakup of Southern Ireland from the United Kingdom and the withdrawal of Russia
from war, which led to the appearance of the first peoples republic on the map of
the world, the Soviet Republic. The details and effects of the latter changes are
instructive for understanding twentieth century social and political history. Soviet
Russia, which engulfed the former Tsarist, i.e., feudal empire, was to become in the
course of the twentieth century a communist backward tyranny, which drew its

power from feudal economic, social and political relationships that conveyed
poverty and blindfolded obedience to the Eastern half of Europe after the Second
World War. The appearance of a new kind of state, a communist state, in Soviet
Russia was also a major factor of historical change in the latter half of the twentieth
century, in the wake of the Second World War, when Russian imperialism asserted
itself ready to divide the world in conjunction with America and Britain (see the
secret Conferences at Yalta and Potsdam which are responsible for offering East and
Central European countries, together with Balkan Countries, as a gift to Russia see
in Kazuo Ishiguros The Remains of the Day the secret agreements between the
Realpolitik, strong, merciless and actual rulers of the world obliquely presented
through the eyes of a very English butler who records without understanding
completely very many things, as a typically unrealiable narrator)

In the context of the economic and political weakening of the belligerent countries
in Europe, America came much closer to Europe after the Allies won the War and
the same thing happened, plus more intensely, after the Second World War.
Because of Germanys exclusion from the Peace and Treaty of Versailles, which left
it out from the international network of agreements and free to pursue its ways,
the Second World War broke out. Germany became allied with Italy and Far East
countries, such as Japan. Owing to the victory of the Allies in the Second World War
(thanks to America joining the Allies in 1942), at the Yalta Peace Conference (and
thanks to a secret agreement in Potsdam), the Russians were requited by being
given control over countries of Central and Middle Europe, to the east of the Iron
Curtain. In the name of triumphant socialism (which became a mere ideology at the
time) , totalitarian terror, poverty and backwardness separated the socialist
republics which were under Russian rule ( in a European, Old World empire of sorts)
from the liberal, democratic and capitalistic west, a situation described in the novel
1984, written in 1949 by George Orwell.
The effect of the two World Wars was to prove that, in the twentieth century,
Western civlization managed to defeat, and in fact slaughter, its own best ideals,
the ideals of lay modernity. Consequently, the dominant mentality was lucid and
cynical. Modern cynicism replaced modern idealism (the new liberal learning
paradigm and the civic, democratic faith paradigm of the nineteenth century).
The First World War was won by women at home and by men abroad; women were
first pitted against men, in the suffragettes (or rioting feminists) movement, then,
in the 1920s, after the gradual replacement of women by veterans in jobs, gender
politics became a constant and a new modern problem ( in Britain, for example,
women worked in weapon factories because their men had been conscripted and

they literally started battling for equal rights (see the street rioting of the
The advent of the Labour Party (a socialist offshoot of the Trade Unionist and
Socialist movements of the nineteenth century) and the establishment of the
welfare state (which gave financial and other kinds of assistance to people in need
laid out workers families, sick and elderly people) changed the political, social and
cultural history of Britain. Britain became a mixed economy, with state intervention
in various public life sectors (for example, by subsidizing national health and
education). Marxian philosophy (which was studied as Utopian socialism in Oscar
Wildes essay, for example, in the Victorian age), was turned into the cause for an
intellectual rift between the West and the East. In the wake of the Second World
War, Marxism became the ideology of totalitarian regimes in the Countries of the
East, while in the West it became the platform for progressive, idealistic
intellectuals. Western Marxism invoked low (or working class) culture as an emblem
for progressive intellectuals, critical of the capitalist establishment. In Britain,
Western Marxism, whose main representatives were E.P. Thompson and Raymond
Williams led to the appearance of the cultural studies discipline, a popularization of
leftist, critical theory (the sociological critique of the capitalist establishment and of
its ideological discourse-formations). The main representative of twentieth century
critical theory were Michel Foucault in France and the Frankfurt school of
philosophical sociology, led by Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer and Jrgen

As literary history is concerned, the twentieth century saw the greatest revolution in
belles lettres ever, through the appearance of modernism in Paris and London
simultaneously. To explain this, we shall read first some simple, traditional war
poems; these will be contrasted next to the complicated statements about war in
famous and highly experimental poems and novels by W. B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, and
Virginia Woolf.

Three poems that illustrate the high-mimetic, the ironic and the low-mimetic views
on war which literature, when written in accordance with traditional literary
standards, is likely to produce. These are three examples of demure literature,
written before the explosion of high modernist experiments/revolutionary literature
changed the face of the world.
The Soldier
by Rupert Brooke
If I should die, think only this of me:

That there's some corner of a foreign field

That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Glory Of Women by Siegfried Sassoon

You love us when we're heroes, home on leave,
Or wounded in a mentionable place.
You worship decorations; you believe
That chivalry redeems the war's disgrace.
You make us shells. You listen with delight,
By tales of dirt and danger fondly thrilled.
You crown our distant ardours while we fight,
And mourn our laurelled memories when we're killed.
You can't believe that British troops 'retire'
When hell's last horror breaks them, and they run,
Trampling the terrible corpses--blind with blood.
O German mother dreaming by the fire,
While you are knitting socks to send your son
His face is trodden deeper in the mud.

Dulce et Decorum Est

Wilfred Owen, 1893 - 1918

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!An ecstasy of fumbling,

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling

And floundring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devils sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Louse Hunting, Isaac Rosenberg

Nudes -- stark and glistening,
Yelling in lurid glee. Grinning faces
And raging limbs
Whirl over the floor one fire.
For a shirt verminously busy
Yon soldier tore from his throat, with oaths
Godhead might shrink at, but not the lice.
And soon the shirt was aflare
Over the candle he'd lit while we lay.
Then we all sprang up and stript
To hunt the verminous brood.
Soon like a demons' pantomine
The place was raging.
See the silhouettes agape,
See the glibbering shadows
Mixed with the battled arms on the wall.
See gargantuan hooked fingers
Pluck in supreme flesh
To smutch supreme littleness.
See the merry limbs in hot Highland fling
Because some wizard vermin
Charmed from the quiet this revel
When our ears were half lulled
By the dark music
Blown from Sleep's trumpet.