Twentieth Century Novels and Prose

The novels of the nineteenth century were written at a time when there was confidence and stability in British society. But the twentieth-century novels are influenced by the changes in beliefs and political ideas after the events of the First World War and the disappearance of the British Empire. This change can be noticed if we look at the works of the two writers who are not so far from other in terms of time.

August Wilson

His novels present a picture of modern twentieth century life and its problems. But he uses the traditional form of novel. His novels contain various sorts of characters, but all of them belong to the same middle class social group. His stories, which belong to his earlier collections, are satirical and express moral judgments indirectly. His Anglo Saxon Attitude is about a historian’s life who is compelled by some events to tell the truth. His another novel The Middle Age of Mrs. Eliot is about a woman’s life who makes herself familiar with the outside world around her, in spite of the family’s suggestion to live a lonely life after her husband. Her other novels are No Laughing Matter and As If By Magic.

Rudyard Kipling

He was born and brought up in India. He spent most of his adult life there when it was under the rule of the British Empire. In his best works, The Jungle Book and Kim he has written with great confidence about Indian wildlife, British army, Navy, power and glory of the British Empire. At this time the power and influence of British Empire was at its height. Kipling wrote with the hope that the beliefs and values of his stories are accepted and shared completely by his readers.

E. M. Forster

Forster wrote novels a short time later than Kipling. He held the different view of India and the British Empire. The main theme of this novel was human relationship. Howard’s End explores the relation between inward feeling and outward behavior. There are two families The Wilcoxes and the Schlegel, who believes in two different aspects of life, material and spiritual, respectively. Foster’s theme is how to connect these two aspects of life, the outer and the inner. Only this connection will make human love of a higher and greater kind.

A Passage to India is a Forster’s masterpiece in which he takes the relations between the English and the Indians in the early 1920’s. Adela Quested, and English girl comes to India to marry an English officer. She makes friendship with some Indians and travels with them. Once she accuses an Indian of sexually attacking her in the cave. The case begins in the court. This incidence breaks the relationship between the English and the Indians. Forster as a liberal humanist is on the side of Indian independence. His main theme in this novel is the importance of bringing together opposites in order to create unity.

Arnold Bennett

He used the traditional form of the novel, but with realistic presentation of the details of the characters. Most of his novels are set in the five towns, the center of English Pottery industry. His novels deal with the lives of the same sort of people of the industrial society. They present the dull and difficult picture of life. His famous novels include, Clayhanger, Hilda Lessways and These Twain.

H. G. Wells

He also often took characters from a lower social level, but many of his characters are given a chance of happiness. Kipps and The History of Mr Polly both deal with men working in shops. They think that money and running away change their lives. But they do not bring them what they hoped for. At the end of the novels they know better what they need to be happy. Wells also used modern scientific advances in his novels in a new way. The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds and The First Men on the Moon, use the material of science. He also wrote Ann Veronica about a girl who wants to choose for herself what to do in life, which in many ways also looks ahead to the women's movement much later this century.

Somerset Maugham

He is good novelist, but his popularity as a story writer is even higher. His first novel, Lisa of Lambeth presents a realistic picture of slum life. Of Human Bondage is his autobiographical novel which shows the difficulties that the writer met in his early life. In The Moon and Sixpence a French artist tries to break away and fight against the conventional society. Maugham satirizes the social and literary life of the English people in Cakes and Ale. Ashenden is his well known collection of short stories. His stories often have a bitter or unexpected ending.

D. H. Lawrence

He created a new kind of novel. He believed that a novelist’s duty is to show how a person’s view of his own personality is influenced by the conventions of language, family and religion and how a person’s relation with other people is always changing. Sons and Lovers is his autobiographical novel, which deals about his attachment to his mother. Paul Morel, the hero of the novel is brought in the English Midlands as Lawrence was brought up. The novel is mainly concerned with the relationship between Paul and his mother. Paul wants to be a creative artist, but for this he has to free himself from the influence of his mother and take his own decisions in his personal matters. The novel ends with the mother’s death and a sort of liberation for the hero.

The Rainbow deals with the story of three couples of families of different ages. He takes three generations and explores all the basic human relationship- relationship between man and his environment, men and woman, intellect and instinct and different generations. The first couple has a deep and loving understanding of each other, the second couple has a physical passion for each other, and the third couple use language as a wall to keep them apart and each tries to force their own wishes on the other.

James Joyce

He was born and brought up in Ireland. He is noted for his experimental use of language and exploration of new literary method. Dubliners are his collection of short stories which gives the realistic pictures of Dublin life with symbolic meaning. The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is his autobiographical novel in which Joyce has appeared in the form of his hero, Stephan Dedalus, who is under the influence of Irish nationality, politics and religion. But he realizes that the artist must be outside the society in order to be objective. So to make himself free he escapes from Dublin life.

James Joyce’s Ulysses is one of the strangest novels written in English. Stephen Dedalus also appears as a character in Ulysses. The central character, Leopold Bloom is an antihero rather than a hero. The characters and some events of the novel have been derived from Old Greek stories, as the title suggests. The novel is concerned with the artist and the nature of the artistic creation. Joyce has used stream of consciousness technique a new style of writing, in this novel. It is funny, satirical and partly realistic work and it contains many literary references and many kinds of language.

Virginia Woolf

She has also used the technique of stream of consciousness in her novels. But unlike Joyce she is interested to explore the consciousness in her novels. But unlike Joyce she is interested to explore the consciousness of her novels. To the Lighthouse has an abrupt opening without any background of setting. A family is on holiday in Scotland. The intense of James Ramsay, a six year boy to visit to the lighthouse by boat is prevented by his father, Mr. Ramsay. The novel ends with the revisiting of the house by the same family ten years later. James Ramsay finally goes to the lighthouse with his father unwillingly. He hates his father both for preventing him to go at the earlier time as well as insisting him to go at last. The novel presents a fine pattern of symbolic relations and the study of the moral and psychological problems.

Woolf’s Orlando might be called a symbolic biography of the author’s friend, Victoria Saukville-West, with the hero, Orlando. In the novel, Orlando begins as a man in the sixteenth century and ends as a man in 1928. It is a lively and humorous work containing a considerable number of private jokes. Woolf also wrote other novels and critical writings.

Graham Greene

He divides his many books into two groups. In the first group there are sophisticated adventure stories which he calls entertainments. His next group contains serous novels in which he explores the difference between human decency and religious virtue, between moral intention and irreligious act. The characters, which are seen nearer to God, are failure than those who are successful in worldly affairs. Brighton Rock and The Power and the Glory are his famous novels.

William Golding

He is a symbolic novelist. His first and well known novel Lord of the Flies has been probably the most powerful English novel written since the war. It is the story told with clear realism and symbolic meaning of a group of small children wrecked on a desert island. The novel shows how the effects of civilization break down and they return to their essential animal nature. For, Golding it is the essential nature of all human beings. His later novels also contain his sense of human inadequacy and his own vision of man.

Anthony Burgess

He wrote various sorts of novels. He praised Joyce and imitated his way of using language. His early three novels, which have the setting of Malaya take a lot form Forster’s A Passage to India. A Clockwork Orange is his most famous novel, which present the picture of the future in which a character named Alex willingly chooses the evil course in his life. He intends to hurt the people and to make them suffer the pain because he takes delight in doing so. Later he is taken to the doctor for cure. Burgess here wants to make a moral point that Alex can choose both the options, either good or evil. The language of the novel contains words from other languages, particularly Russian. The Wanting Seed is his satirical novel, which has the setting of the future England.

Evelyn Waugh

He is famous as the greatest comic novelist of the century. He satirizes the unpleasant situations by presenting comic events of characters who are often treated unkindly. The events of comic situations are impossible to believe, but they are very amusing indeed. His first novel Decline and Fall is about a young man’s innocence and the world’s dishonesty. Scoop is a very humorous novel in which a wrong British reporter is sent to East Africa during the war. When he returns another man is rewarded for the act which the first man did not do. His later novels Men at Arms and Officers and Gentleman are serious and religious.

George Orwell

He became a very famous writer, mainly because of his political and critical writing. His best works are written on the political subjects. There is no doubt that he is considered to be the most important political writer after the war. Orwell presents with great clarity, the realities of social and political life of this time.

In the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four he describes how government uses language in order to hide the truth and betray the people. The novel gives a picture of a future world where the state provides a kind of television for the people to watch. The state slowly changes people’s language and only such words are left in use among the people, which are suitable for the purpose of the state. Thus, the language and action are controlled in order to control the people by the state Orwell realizes that people must be given their freedom and the state should not control them so strictly.

Animal Farm is his best-known novel. It is a political allegory which presents wrong political events and revolution which were carried out just to capture the power and rule over the country. He satirizes the absolute power holders who always believed in suppressing the people and fulfilling their selfish desires. This is very well done by the novelist by using the animal characters. In the story of the novels the animals on the farm are led by the pigs to dismiss their master Jones. But when they hold the power, they become as selfish and cruel as their master Jones.

Women Writers of Twentieth Century Novels and Prose

One of the interesting development in the twentieth century literature is the remarkable increase in the number of women writers especially novelist. Some woman novelist, generally deals with the same kind of subjects as men do, for example, Virginia Woolf and Iris Murdoch.

Ivy Compton-Burnett

Her novels deal with the family life in a very original way. She presents the reality of Victorian family life in her novels. Mostly her cruel and evil characters succeed where as good characters remain unsuccessful in their lives. No force form outside or inside can change her characters. The bad are never punished and good are never rewarded. In her novels she deals with the traditions of the Victorian family to show that the realities of their lives are basically cruel and destructive. Her famous novels include Brothers and Sisters, Parents and Children and A Heritage and its History.

Doris Lessing

She is mainly concerned with the women’s problems in her novels. Her first novel, The Grass is Singing is about the sad life of a poor white farmer’s wife. It has the setting of Southern Africa. In Children of Violence the central character, Martha Quest, tries to break away from old social ideas and traditions in order to live a free life. In her famous novel, The Golden Notebook, Lessing deals with women’s lives, beliefs and problems with her great courage, power and honesty. She explores how the pressures of the social and political events have been put on women. The people in the novel are seen hostile and unfriendly towards women. They hurt and treat female characters cruelly because they themselves are weak.

Margaret Drabble

Her novels also present women as main characters. But they do not express ideas and feelings much about themselves; rather they are concerned mainly to receive higher education. In her novels, The Millstone and The Waterfall the central characters who find themselves in loneliness and frustration are brought into the happy world with love and human feelings. Drabble creates a picture of unhappy in The Ice Age. The people in the novel are seen unhappy because they only live in one part of their personality. It is shown as a danger to the whole of society.

Over a few decades there has been a tremendous interest in the books written by and about women. Virago Press has helped in this field by publishing the books about women and their experience. Several important women writers from the first half of the country include Rebecca West, Elizabeth Bowen, Storm Jameson and Rosamond Lehman. They have found a new audience in this way.

Science Fiction

The stories which are based on developments in science technology are known as science fiction. Because of the development in science many writers have turned to the subject of science in their writing. Their work includes either exciting developments or fictional developments of the future. Early science fiction falls into three main areas: -
* If the present scientific developments are carried further, it may be dangerous to man and destroy the human races.
* What may happen after man has defeated the problem of war, disease and poverty-perhaps he will be able to go beyond the limits of the human body and gain some of qualities of machines.
 * Although man may have lost something of natural life on earth; he can explore the world of space.

Many writers who have been mentioned in terms of their other work have also written science fiction. One of such writers is H.G. Wells. He was very interested in the scientific advances of his age and looked ahead to imagine what the result might be in the future. He was optimistic about the advantages of science. Many of his novels present a struggle between two ways of life, the human and the non-human. Like Wells there are other writers who have written in the area of science fiction, such as E. M. Forster, Aldous Huxley, Kingsley Amis and Doris Lessing. George Orwell and Anthony Burgess also give pictures of a future world in their work.

There is another group of writers who have mainly written science fiction. John Wyndham in The Day of the Triffids and The Krakam Wakes show a different world after the destruction of present society. Brian Aldiss has written many books in this area. His Graybeard presents a group of people trying to be alive even after the destruction of most of the world. Arthur C. Clarke has written many science fictions, including The City and the Stars. His 2001: A Space Odyssey is about the exploration in the space.