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The War and its impact on English literature

             The First World War, or the Great War as it used to be called, is rightly thought of as bringing cataclysmic changes in life and thought and social forms. Yet in acknowledging these transformations we must remember that revolutionary innovations, particularly in technology, already existed in 1914. The motorcar, the aeroplane, the cinema, the telephone, the principles of radio, were quite familiar, though the war greatly speeded their development. Similarly, many of the most radical manifestations of modernism in the arts belong to the immediate pre-war era.
             In English Literature we need to distinguish between the writing, most often poetry, which directly expresses the personal experiences of the young men who went to war, and the major work by the emerging modernist writers that was published during the war years. The latter was not directly concerned with the war, but represented the continuation and fruition of tendencies from before the war. At the same time the war's presence was increasingly felt, if in oblique or indirect ways, in accentuating the existing modernist sense of crisis and severance with the past.
             It was a very literary war. The British nation had achieved a high degree of literacy and before the development of radio and television all mass communication was via the printed page. People read widely and the classics of English Literature were in general circulation. Young men of education went into the army as junior officers and in the conditions of the Western front, had a short expectation of life. They read poetry as a source of memories of home and often, they wrote poetry themselves. These works are known as 'War poetry', and their authors are called The 'War Poets'. The most famous is the young Georgian Rupert Brooke (1877-1915), on the outbreak of war he enlisted in the navy and in the autumn of 1914 he wrote a short sequence of sonnets called '1914', expressing a sense of exalted personal and patriotic dedication.

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