Modernist Period in English Literature
The modernist period in English literature began in 1914 with the onset of World War I and extended through 1965. It is a literary period that reflects the nation’s wartime experiences (World War I and World War II), the emerging British talent of the 1920s, and the economic depression of the 1930s. Toward the end of the period, literature and art demonstrate the nation’s growing uncertainty, which became especially pronounced after World War II; this uncertainty would give way to hostility and protest in the postmodernist period.
During the early years of the modernist period, the foremost fiction writers were E. M. Forster, Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford, Virginia Woolf, and Somerset Maugham. One of the major accomplishments of this period was the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses, a work that continues to be respected as a masterpiece of twentieth-century literature. In the 1920s and 1930s, the novels of D. H. Lawrence and Evelyn Waugh were harshly critical of modern society, expressing an attitude shared by many English men and women of the day. In the 1930s and 1940s, novelists such as Greene wrote traditional fiction that was well-crafted enough both to stand up to innovative fiction of the day and to gain a wide and loyal audience.
Many writers of this period (Greene included) were born at the turn of the century, near the end of the Victorian Age. These writers were reared in an environment of romanticism, which often meant leading a relatively sheltered childhood that left them ill-prepared for the realities of adult life. This background, combined with events of the first half of the twentieth century, led writers such as Greene to question the values of their past and to reevaluate the world in which they lived as adults. This reevaluation is seen in Greene’s fiction as he explores morality and creates characters who possess the capacity for both good and evil.
During the 1950s in England, the reality of organized groups of teenagers set on being disruptive and disrespectful caused public concern. Known as teddy boys, these groups of boys banded together in the name of delinquency and destruction. In many ways, they were the precursors to the modern-day gangs. These groups of boys are regarded as products of the postwar society in which they lived, having been exposed to violence and instability as children.
The teddy boys got their name from their choice of attire; although they were generally working-class boys, they chose to wear Edwardian-style suits traditionally worn by young upper-class men. This suit, commonly known as teddy style, combined with the delinquent behavior of its wearers, caught the attention of the press. The teddy boys were not just creative in their delinquent behavior; they also made irreverent changes to their suits, such as adding bolo ties, that they had seen in movie westerns.
Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 14, Graham Greene – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.