1900-1920 radical social and historical changes that had a major impact on British literature
The period from 1900-1920 was marked by radical social and historical changes that had a major impact on British literature. During this period, rising nationalist movements in the colonies led to the initial dissolution of the British Empire. In addition, World War I introduced chemical and technological warfare that killed on a scale never before witnessed. With the loss of so many bright young men, British authors began to question old assumptions about everything from the beneficial role of technology in society to traditional constructs of individuality, class, and gender. Modernist writers revolted against the realism of Victorianism in experiments with form that sought to mimic the internal thought processes of individuals. Devices such as the internal monologue, use of irony, and experiments with diction contrasted with the narrative omniscient point of view of Victorian authors.
Note: This lesson does not assign the short stories “A Cup of Tea” and “The Rocking Horse Winner” due to its heavy reading load. Ambitious students should feel free to read these classic and frequently anthologized stories for their own enrichment.
• Place literary works in historical context
• Identify modernist content and techniques
• Analyze diction and poetic language
• Analyze personification, mood, and sound devices
• Examine the theme of a literary work
• Analyze figurative language
• Evaluate psychological fiction and irony
• Understand poetic forms such as the villanelle
1. Read “Modern and Contemporary Literature: Historical Context,” pp. 1077-1085.
2. Read “Literary Analysis Workshop: Modernism,” pp. 1090-1091.
3. Read the biographical sketch for T.S. Eliot, “Preludes,” “The Hollow Men,” and “The Naming of Cats,” pp. 1092-1099.
4. Read the biographical sketch of Virginia Woolf, “The Duchess and the Jeweller,” and “from Virginia Woolf,” pp. 1114-1124.
5. Read the biographical sketch of W.H. Auden, “Musée des Beaux Arts,” and “The Unknown Citizen,” pp. 1150-1155.
6. Read the biographical sketch of Dylan Thomas, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night,” and “Fern Hill,” pp. 1158-1163.
Read “Modern and Contemporary Literature: Historical Context,” pp. 1077-1085.
1. Should the post-war Labor government have tried harder to save the British Empire? Why or why not?
2. In responding to a “new, fragmented world,” why did British writers feel the need to reject traditional forms and themes?
3. What does the word commonwealth suggest about the relationship between former British colonies and Great Britain?
Read “Literary Analysis Workshop: Modernism,” pp. 1090-1091.
4. Read the passage at the bottom of p. 1091 from Katherine Mansfield’s short story, “A Cup of Tea.” What is ironic about Rosemary’s thoughts and actions in this scene? What type of irony is used in this passage?
Read the biographical sketch for T.S. Eliot, “Preludes,” “The Hollow Men,” and “The Naming of Cats,” pp. 1092-1099.
5. Eliot often uses sound devices to connect his fragmentary images. Re-examine “The Hollow Men,” noting examples of each sound device listed in the chart. Use your completed chart to describe the effect these sound devices have on the poem.
Sound device Example
6. Both “The Hollow Men” and “Preludes” are concerned with the disintegration of traditional values and beliefs in the modern world. How, according to Eliot, has this breakdown affected people and society?
7. The imagery in a poem usually contributes to its mood. How would you describe the mood of “Preludes” and that of “The Hollow Men”? How does the mood of “The Naming of Cats” differ?
Read the biographical sketch of Virginia Woolf, “The Duchess and the Jeweller,” and “from Virginia Woolf,” pp. 1114-1124.
8. Although Woolf wrote prose, she often chose words to create poetic effects. Reread the description of the Duchess in lines 112-121. Identify at least two examples of each in the following poetic devices from this description.
9. Restate each of the following passages using a more conventional sentence structure. What impressions or feelings are emphasized by Woolf’s unique diction?
• “He had a flat . . . in tapestry” (lines 1-3)
• “And now—now . . . Earls.” (lines 98-101)
• “And from a slit . . . bird.” (lines 133-135)
• “And there opened . . . her chair.” (lines 183-185)
10. In your opinion, does Woolf effectively capture the quality of a person’s inner thoughts? What are some disadvantages of Woolf’s experimental style? Support your answer with details from the story.
Read the biographical sketch of W.H. Auden, “Musée des Beaux Arts,” and “The Unknown Citizen,” pp. 1150-1155.
11. Look again at the reproduction of Breughel’s painting Landscape with the Fall of Icarus on p. 1153. Why do you think Auden chose this particular painting as the focus of Musée des Beaux Arts”? Explain, citing details from the painting as well as the poem.
12. Review “The Unknown Citizen,” noting Auden’s unorthodox capitalization of words such as Press, Union, and Public Opinion. Why do you think Auden capitalizes these words?
13. Re-examine both poems, noting examples of situational irony in “Musée des Beaux Arts” and verbal irony in “The Unknown Citizen.” In each poem, what ideas does Auden’s use of irony help him convey? How might each have been less effective if Auden had more directly stated his views?
Read the biographical sketch of Dylan Thomas, “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night,” and “Fern Hill,” pp. 1158-1163.
14. Turn again to “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.” The intensity in this poem comes in part from words, particularly verbs, which themselves convey intensity. Rage is a good example. What other words in the poem have a similar effect? How do the connotations of the words you noted enrich the meaning of the poem?
15. Review the characteristics of the villanelle form on p. 1159. How closely does “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” follow this form? How effective is the form in conveying ideas and emotions? Explain, citing evidence.
16. Re-examine “Fern Hill,” identifying at least three examples of personification. Why do you think Thomas gives human attributes to animals, objects, and concepts in this poem? Describe the effect his use of this technique creates.
Vocabulary in Context
Complete the Vocabulary Practice on p. 1126.
Test your knowledge of the boldfaced vocabulary words by answering these questions.
1. To dismantle an engine, would you build it or take it apart?
2. Who usually received homage, a powerful king or a lowly servant?
3. Is a burnished surface dull or shiny?
4. If Jonas behaves obsequiously, does he bow humbly or strut?
5. Who is more lissome, an athlete or an arthritic old woman?
6. Would a celebration full of pomp tend to be casual or formal?
Complete the Vocabulary Strategy: Figurative Language on p. 1126
Explain how the figurative use of each boldfaced word or phrase differs from its literal meaning.
1. The wealthy residents stay on the west side of town; Holmes Avenue is a strait which few of them cross.
2. An excellent shopper, she can enter a store and sniff out a truffle where no one else can find it.
3. She felt her heart leap with joy upon hearing the good news.
4. Making the honor roll was another plume in her cap.
5. He used his wily charm to snake his way into her confidence.
Conducting Independent Research
For Unit 6, you will not have an independent reading assignment. Instead, you will be learning how to conduct independent research. This learning module will culminate in the Writing Assignment for Lesson 36, where you will write a research paper and take the final exam for British Literature. For this lesson, read the following sections from Unit 7 of your textbook:
Developing Your Research Focus, pp. 1376-1377.
Using Multiple Sources, pp. 1378-1381.
In his poem, “Musée des Beaux Arts,” W.H. Auden was inspired by the painting The Fall of Icarus by 16th-century artist Peter Breughel (see p. 1153). This Flemish master created bustling narrative panoramas. The broad chaos and sense of anonymity in these works have resonated greatly with modern viewers. Study this detail from Breughel’s Children’s Games. Use it as inspiration to write a brief narrative poem or story.
A successful creative work will:
• Clearly identify elements of the painting in the creative work
• Use the inspirational subject matter in creative ways
• Use the conventions of poetry or narrative fiction to create an original work
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