Modernism Copy

MODERNISM (1901-1950)


  • At the beginning of the First World War I (1914), Great Britain was the greatest colonial power in the world;
  • During the First World War (1914-1918) 1 million Britons died and 2 million were wounded;
  • After the First World War, the colonies increased their demands for independence. The British Commonwealth of Nations was set up in 1926.
  • The first half of the 20th century marked the end of the British Empire and of the Industrial Revolution.


Britain’s economic and military position was weakened by the wars;

After World War I, debt and unemployment led to:

  • The General Strike (1926)
  • The World Economic Depression (1930)

Women started to take on new roles:

  • The Suffragette movement led to women being granted the right to vote;
  • Women enjoyed more freedom, unlike in the Victorian era, when they were generally housebound.

The start of the 20th century marked a dramatic rise in the number of writers and readers.


Modernism is a collective term for several literary orientations, such as Decadence, Expressionism, Imagism, Symbolism, and Post-Impressionism;

Modernism is a reaction against Realism and Naturalism, which aimed at representing reality as we see it;

Modernism is influenced by:

  • Einstein’s theory of relativity;
  • Freud’s psychological studies;
  • Marx’s political theories.

The Modernist novel:

  • Non-chronological, it experiments with the representation of time (temporal juxtapositions, sudden jumps);
  • The modernist narration moves from one level of narration to another without warning; thus, it breaks narrative frames.
  • The modernist narration focuses on the inner world of the characters. The plot becomes less important than the character’s consciousness, unconsciousness, memory, and perception.
  • Experiments with form and style.

Representative writers:

  • Virginia Woolf – stream-of-consciousness technique;
  • D.H Lawrence;
  • George Orwell – social and political novels;
  • Aldous Huxley – dystopian novels.
Realist novelModernist novel
Imitates life
Functions within the limits of narrative frames
Focus on the plot and the outer world of the characters
The character’s inner world is rarely revealed.
The plot is the main structural device.
Theme: social life.
Range: social panorama.
Narration: omniscient, 3rd person. Structure: closed form, clear narrative arc.
Experiments with time representation and perception: literary devices ̶ temporal juxtapositions, sudden jumps.
Focus on the inner world of the character: literary devices ̶ stream of consciousness, memory, perception.
The plot is replaced by specific modernist patterns: time, place, character, leitmotifs, symbols, mythic patterns, and cinematic devices (space and time montage).
Theme: atemporal, eternal conflicts of the soul, philosophy.
Range: limited, presented subjectively.
Life is chaotic, disordered, fragmentary.
Narration: subjective, limited point of view or combination of points of view.
Structure: open form.



Modernist poetry is defined by stylistic innovation:

  • Rejection of diction, as it is considered unsuitable for an era of technological breakthroughs and global violence;
  • Break with Romantic ideas (the notion of sublime);
  • Poetry becomes sceptical of language and its notion of coherence;
  • Disrupted syntax;
  • Free verse;
  • Focus on images and symbols;
  • In Imagism (a subset of Modernist poetry) the image becomes the focus of the poem, there is no theme behind the image.

Representative poets:

  • T.E Hume – first Imagist poems;
  • T.S Elliot – first actual Modernist poet;


  • Virginia Woolf – stream-of-consciousness technique;
  • D.H Lawrence;
  • George Orwell – social and political novels;
  • Aldous Huxley – dystopian novels.