The 20 Century Background Notes th

Background Notes
Historical Context
• Turn of the Century
• World War I
• Rise of Nationalism, Fascism, & Communism
• World War II
• Decline of British Empire
Century = Progress!
Rejection of traditional Victorian views and values
More rights and democratic freedoms
Expansion of British power over the rest of the world
Science, technology, and medicine helped improve daily lives for
It’s 1912 and
we’re doing
Rise in living conditions and
average wages
Rise in literacy and education
Symbol of British and world
progress and idealism:
The Titanic
“Roaring 20’s” – wealth,
parties, optimism
WWI: “The War to End All Wars”
• England went in with sense of
patriotism and sense of duty/honor
- anticipated glory of past conflicts
• An entire generation of young
Englishmen devastated, nearly
wiped out
WWI: Trench Warfare
– Traditional method of large forces
marching against other large forces
no longer worked  trench war
– Machine gun
– Poison gas
– Development of the airplane, tank,
submarine, and flamethrower as
weapons of war
Trench Poets
• Soldiers, medics, photographers came back from war
with a new understanding of what war really is:
– Dismissed the past ideas about the “glory” of war
– Used verse and powerful imagery and figurative language to
bring realism of experiences to readers
– More cynical about warfare
• British trench poets include:
– Wilfred Owen
– Siegfried Sassoon
– Rupert Brooke
Radical New Thinking
Charles Darwin’s “Darwinism” from Origin
of Species – “survival of the fittest”
Karl Marx’s Das Kapital 
communism and socialism /
anti-capitalism, antiDemocracy
 Sigmund Freud – Psychoanalysis: the
individual as “complex, inconsistent, and
unpredictable, driven by irrational urges.”
World War II
• Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Communist
Russia/Soviet Union all represented modern
philosophies taken to their most-feared
• Britain lost over
300,000 soldiers and over 60,000 Winston
• Britain fought in France, Europe, and the Middle East
• Germans bombed London (air raids)
• Massive damages inflicted to military empire and at
• At the end of the war, Britain and Allied Powers find out
the extent of Hitler’s Holocaust of the Jews
Decline of England as a World Power
• Late 1800s: Lost control of
colonies in Australia, South
Africa, and New Zealand
• After World War II, Britain
was recovering from the war
and was in massive debt
– Loss of India
– Loss of colonies in the Middle
East and Africa
Rise & Fall of the British Empire
20th Century
New Era of Doubt, Cynicism, and Fear
• At peak of creating a world based around peace,
technology, democracy, and seek to eliminate
social ills we…
• …kill more human beings in two wars than the
rest of human history combined
• …face a legacy of colonialism/imperialism that
leaves Africa and parts of Asia and the Middle
East in shambles
• …create the most destructive weapon ever
• …lead to the Cold War
20th Century British Literature
• Experimented with form and content
– Satire, irony, dark humor
– Gender, sexual, psychological examination
– Post-colonialism
• Rejected tradition in all art forms, challenging Victorian
• Increased cynicism toward government, national honor,
and glory (due to war)
• Challenged conventional patriotism and romantic notions
of bravery
• WWI Trench Poets:
– War was not glorified, but vilified
– Loss of innocence
– Degradation of body and soul
20th Century British Literature
• Dystopian literature
– Presents the worst future
– “Dystopia” the opposite of
“utopia” (a perfect society).
1984 by George Orwell
“Orwellian” - an adjective used to describe excessive government
control and invasion and loss of personal privacy and individual
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Influential 20th Century British Authors
Virginia Woolf
J.K. Rowling
Ian Fleming
J.R.R. Tolkien
Neil Gaiman