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English Literature in the Twentieth century


            The twentieth century really begins before the end of the nineteenth century. Queen Victoria's Jubilee in 1887 was felt by many to represent the end of an era. An end-of-century stoicism, and a growing pessimism among writers and intellectuals, may be traced to several sources, not least the publication in 1859 of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species which put the existence of God into radical question. Across the whole population, and in the face of rapid economic and social changes, radical doubts about the stability of the existing order were expressed. By the end of the nineteenth century the pre-industrial economy and way of life had almost disappeared. In 1911 nearly 70 per cent of the country's 45 million inhabitants lived in urban areas. The sense of 'local' community was being lost. Society became more fragmented and individual identities more fluid.
             The British Empire, which had expanded under Queen Victoria and in 1900 had reached 13 million square miles, also began to disintegrate. The Boer War (1899–1902), which was fought by the British to establish control over the Boer republics in South Africa, marked the beginning of rebellion against British imperialism. The British won but it was a hollow victory, and the war inspired other colonies to rebel. The mass destruction of the First World War led many towards more extreme affiliations, and both Fascism and Marxism held attractions for many intellectuals and workers, particularly during the 1930s. A strong social ethic, continued from the Victorian times of Dickens and Disraeli, began increasingly to influence the political character of the country and its institutions. The Gladstone Parliament of 1880–85 was the 'no-man's land' between the old Radicalism and the new Socialism. In 1928 universal suffrage for women was obtained, paradoxically during a time when growing economic depression and slump appeared to lend increasing weight to Marxist analyses of the inevitable failure of capitalist economic systems.


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