History of Literature

English literature



The Old English period

The early Middle English period

The later Middle English and early Renaissance periods

The Renaissance period: 1550–1660

Elizabethan and early Stuart drama

Effect of religion and science on early Stuart prose

The Restoration

The 18th century

The 18th century. The novel

The Romantic period

The later Romantics

The Post-Romantic and Victorian eras

Late Victorian literature

The 20th century. The Modernist revolution

The literature of World War I and the interwar period

Literature after 1945. Fiction. Poetry

Literature after 1945. Drama. The 21st century


English literature


The 20th century. The Modernist revolution


George Bernard Shaw  "Pygmalion"
John Galsworthy
Harley Granville-Barker

Arnold Bennett  "The Old Wives' Tale"   BOOK I-II, BOOK III-IV

E.M. Forster
Hilaire Belloc

G.K. Chesterton  PART I "The Innocence of Father Brown", PART II "The Wisdom of Father Brown",
PART III "The Incredulity of Father Brown", PART IV "The Secret of Father Brown", PART V "The Scandal of Father Brown"

Edward Thomas
Walter de la Mare
John Masefield
Robert Graves
Edmund Blunden

Joseph Conrad  "Lord Jim"

T.E. Hulme
F.S. Flint
Richard Aldington
Wyndham Lewis

D.H. Lawrence  "Sons and Lovers"    PART I, PART II "Lady Chatterley's Lover"   PART I, PART II

T.S. Eliot 
"The Waste Land

William Butler Yeats  "A Man Young And Old

James Joyce
 "Ulysses"    PART I,   PART II,   PART III

David Jones
Hugh MacDiarmid
A. C. Ewing
G. E. Moore

Bertrand Russell  "The Problems of Philosophy"

Gilbert Ryle
John Langshaw Austin

Ludwig Wittgenstein 
"Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus"




The Edwardians

The 20th century opened with great hope but also with some apprehension, for the new century marked the final approach to a new millennium. For many, humankind was entering upon an unprecedented era.
H.G. Wells’s utopian studies, the aptly titled Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought (1901) and A Modern Utopia (1905), both captured and qualified this optimistic mood and gave expression to a common conviction that science and technology would transform the world in the century ahead. To achieve such transformation, outmoded institutions and ideals had to be replaced by ones more suited to the growth and liberation of the human spirit. The death of Queen Victoria in 1901 and the accession of Edward VII seemed to confirm that a franker, less inhibited era had begun.

Many writers of the Edwardian period, drawing widely upon the realistic and naturalistic conventions of the 19th century (upon Ibsen in drama and Balzac, Turgenev, Flaubert, Zola, Eliot, and Dickens in fiction) and in tune with the anti-Aestheticism unleashed by the trial of the archetypal Aesthete, Oscar Wilde, saw their task in the new century to be an unashamedly didactic one. In a series of wittily iconoclastic plays, of which Man and Superman (performed 1905, published 1903) and Major Barbara (performed 1905, published 1907) are the most substantial, George Bernard Shaw turned the Edwardian theatre into an arena for debate upon the principal concerns of the day: the question of political organization, the morality of armaments and war, the function of class and of the professions, the validity of the family and of marriage, and the issue of female emancipation. Nor was he alone in this, even if he was alone in the brilliance of his comedy. John Galsworthy made use of the theatre in Strife (1909) to explore the conflict between capital and labour, and in Justice (1910) he lent his support to reform of the penal system, while Harley Granville-Barker, whose revolutionary approach to stage direction did much to change theatrical production in the period, dissected in The Voysey Inheritance (performed 1905, published 1909) and Waste (performed 1907, published 1909) the hypocrisies and deceit of upper-class and professional life.


Photo from film "My Fair Lady" (Pygmalion)
My Fair Lady is a 1964 musical film adaptation of the Lerner and Loewe stage musical, My Fair Lady,
based on the film adaptation of the stage play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw.
The ending and the ballroom scene are from the 1938 film Pygmalion rather than Shaw's original stage play.
The film was directed by George Cukor and stars Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison.


George Bernard Shaw



born July 26, 1856, Dublin, Ireland
died November 2, 1950, Ayot St. Lawrence, Hertfordshire, England

Irish comic dramatist, literary critic, and socialist propagandist, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925.

Early life and career
George Bernard Shaw was the third and youngest child (and only son) of George Carr Shaw and Lucinda Elizabeth Gurly Shaw. Technically, he belonged to the Protestant “ascendancy”—the landed Irish gentry—but his impractical father was first a sinecured civil servant and then an unsuccessful grain merchant, and George Bernard grew up in an atmosphere of genteel poverty, which to him was more humiliating than being merely poor. At first tutored by a clerical uncle, Shaw basically rejected the schools he then attended, and by age 16 he was working in a land agent’s office.

Shaw developed a wide knowledge of music, art, and literature as a result of his mother’s influence and his visits to the National Gallery of Ireland. In 1872 his mother left her husband and took her two daughters to London, following her music teacher, George John Vandeleur Lee, who from 1866 had shared households in Dublin with the Shaws. In 1876 Shaw resolved to become a writer, and he joined his mother and elder sister (the younger one having died) in London. Shaw in his 20s suffered continuous frustration and poverty. He depended upon his mother’s pound a week from her husband and her earnings as a music teacher. He spent his afternoons in the British Museum reading room, writing novels and reading what he had missed at school, and his evenings in search of additional self-education in the lectures and debates that characterized contemporary middle-class London intellectual activities.

His fiction failed utterly. The semiautobiographical and aptly titled Immaturity (1879; published 1930) repelled every publisher in London. His next four novels were similarly refused, as were most of the articles he submitted to the press for a decade. Shaw’s initial literary work earned him less than 10 shillings a year. A fragment posthumously published as An Unfinished Novel in 1958 (but written 1887–88) was his final false start in fiction.

Despite his failure as a novelist in the 1880s, Shaw found himself during this decade. He became a vegetarian, a socialist, a spellbinding orator, a polemicist, and tentatively a playwright. He became the force behind the newly founded (1884) Fabian Society, a middle-class socialist group that aimed at the transformation of English society not through revolution but through “permeation” (in Sidney Webb’s term) of the country’s intellectual and political life. Shaw involved himself in every aspect of its activities, most visibly as editor of one of the classics of British socialism, Fabian Essays in Socialism (1889), to which he also contributed two sections.

Eventually, in 1885 the drama critic William Archer found Shaw steady journalistic work. His early journalism ranged from book reviews in the Pall Mall Gazette (1885–88) and art criticism in the World (1886–89) to brilliant musical columns in the Star (as “Corno di Bassetto”—basset horn) from 1888 to 1890 and in the World (as “G.B.S.”) from 1890 to 1894. Shaw had a good understanding of music, particularly opera, and he supplemented his knowledge with a brilliance of digression that gives many of his notices a permanent appeal. But Shaw truly began to make his mark when he was recruited by Frank Harris to the Saturday Review as theatre critic (1895–98); in that position he used all his wit and polemical powers in a campaign to displace the artificialities and hypocrisies of the Victorian stage with a theatre of vital ideas. He also began writing his own plays.

First plays
When Shaw began writing for the English stage, its most prominent dramatists were Sir A.W. Pinero and H.A. Jones. Both men were trying to develop a modern realistic drama, but neither had the power to break away from the type of artificial plots and conventional character types expected by theatregoers. The poverty of this sort of drama had become apparent with the introduction of several of Henrik Ibsen’s plays onto the London stage around 1890, when A Doll’s House was played in London; his Ghosts followed in 1891, and the possibility of a new freedom and seriousness on the English stage was introduced. Shaw, who was about to publish The Quintessence of Ibsenism (1891), rapidly refurbished an abortive comedy, Widowers’ Houses, as a play recognizably “Ibsenite” in tone, making it turn on the notorious scandal of slum landlordism in London. The result (performed 1892) flouted the threadbare romantic conventions that were still being exploited even by the most daring new playwrights. In the play a well-intentioned young Englishman falls in love and then discovers that his prospective father-in-law’s fortune and his own private income derive from exploitation of the poor. Potentially this is a tragic situation, but Shaw seems to have been always determined to avoid tragedy. The unamiable lovers do not attract sympathy; it is the social evil and not the romantic predicament on which attention is concentrated, and the action is kept well within the key of ironic comedy.

The same dramatic predispositions control Mrs. Warren’s Profession, written in 1893 but not performed until 1902 because the lord chamberlain, the censor of plays, refused it a license. Its subject is organized prostitution, and its action turns on the discovery by a well-educated young woman that her mother has graduated through the “profession” to become a part-proprietor of brothels throughout Europe. Again, the economic determinants of the situation are emphasized, and the subject is treated remorselessly and without the titillation of fashionable comedies about “fallen women.” As with many of Shaw’s works, the play is, within limits, a drama of ideas, but the vehicle by which these are presented is essentially one of high comedy.

Shaw called these first plays “unpleasant,” because “their dramatic power is used to force the spectator to face unpleasant facts.” He followed them with four “pleasant” plays in an effort to find the producers and audiences that his mordant comedies had offended. Both groups of plays were revised and published in Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant (1898). The first of the second group, Arms and the Man (performed 1894), has a Balkan setting and makes lighthearted, though sometimes mordant, fun of romantic falsifications of both love and warfare. The second, Candida (performed 1897), was important for English theatrical history, for its successful production at the Royal Court Theatre in 1904 encouraged Harley Granville-Barker and J.E. Vedrenne to form a partnership that resulted in a series of brilliant productions there. The play represents its heroine as forced to choose between her clerical husband—a worthy but obtuse Christian socialist—and a young poet who has fallen wildly in love with her. She chooses her confident-seeming husband because she discerns that he is actually the weaker. The poet is immature and hysterical but, as an artist, has a capacity to renounce personal happiness in the interest of some large creative purpose. This is a significant theme for Shaw; it leads on to that of the conflict between man as spiritual creator and woman as guardian of the biological continuity of the human race that is basic to Man and Superman. In Candida such speculative issues are only lightly touched on, and this is true also of You Never Can Tell (performed 1899), in which the hero and heroine, who believe themselves to be respectively an accomplished amorist and an utterly rational and emancipated woman, find themselves in the grip of a vital force that takes little account of these notions.

The strain of writing these plays, while his critical and political work went on unabated, so sapped Shaw’s strength that a minor illness became a major one. In 1898, during the process of recuperation, he married his unofficial nurse, Charlotte Payne-Townshend, an Irish heiress and friend of Beatrice and Sidney Webb. The apparently celibate marriage lasted all their lives, Shaw satisfying his emotional needs in paper-passion correspondences with Ellen Terry, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, and others.

Shaw’s next collection of plays, Three Plays for Puritans (1901), continued what became the traditional Shavian preface—an introductory essay in an electric prose style dealing as much with the themes suggested by the plays as the plays themselves. The Devil’s Disciple (performed 1897) is a play set in New Hampshire during the American Revolution and is an inversion of traditional melodrama. Caesar and Cleopatra (performed 1901) is Shaw’s first great play. In the play Cleopatra is a spoiled and vicious 16-year-old child rather than the 38-year-old temptress of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. The play depicts Caesar as a lonely and austere man who is as much a philosopher as he is a soldier. The play’s outstanding success rests upon its treatment of Caesar as a credible study in magnanimity and “original morality” rather than as a superhuman hero on a stage pedestal. The third play, Captain Brassbound’s Conversion (performed 1900), is a sermon against various kinds of folly masquerading as duty and justice.

International importance
In Man and Superman (performed 1905) Shaw expounded his philosophy that humanity is the latest stage in a purposeful and eternal evolutionary movement of the “life force” toward ever-higher life forms. The play’s hero, Jack Tanner, is bent on pursuing his own spiritual development in accordance with this philosophy as he flees the determined marital pursuit of the heroine, Ann Whitefield. In the end Jack ruefully allows himself to be captured in marriage by Ann upon recognizing that she herself is a powerful instrument of the “life force,” since the continuation and thus the destiny of the human race lies ultimately in her and other women’s reproductive capacity. The play’s nonrealistic third act, the “Don Juan in Hell” dream scene, is spoken theatre at its most operatic and is often performed independently as a separate piece.

Shaw had already become established as a major playwright on the Continent by the performance of his plays there, but, curiously, his reputation lagged in England. It was only with the production of John Bull’s Other Island (performed 1904) in London, with a special performance for Edward VII, that Shaw’s stage reputation was belatedly made in England.

Shaw continued, through high comedy, to explore religious consciousness and to point out society’s complicity in its own evils. In Major Barbara (performed 1905), Shaw has his heroine, a major in the Salvation Army, discover that her estranged father, a munitions manufacturer, may be a dealer in death but that his principles and practice, however unorthodox, are religious in the highest sense, while those of the Salvation Army require the hypocrisies of often-false public confession and the donations of the distillers and the armourers against which it inveighs. In The Doctor’s Dilemma (performed 1906), Shaw produced a satire upon the medical profession (representing the self-protection of professions in general) and upon both the artistic temperament and the public’s inability to separate it from the artist’s achievement. In Androcles and the Lion (performed 1912), Shaw dealt with true and false religious exaltation in a philosophical play about early Christianity. Its central theme, examined through a group of early Christians condemned to the arena, is that one must have something worth dying for—an end outside oneself—in order to make life worth living.

Possibly Shaw’s comedic masterpiece, and certainly his funniest and most popular play, is Pygmalion (performed 1913). It was claimed by Shaw to be a didactic drama about phonetics, and its antiheroic hero, Henry Higgins, is a phonetician, but the play is a humane comedy about love and the English class system. The play is about the training Higgins gives to a Cockney flower girl to enable her to pass as a lady and is also about the repercussions of the experiment’s success. The scene in which Eliza Doolittle appears in high society when she has acquired a correct accent but no notion of polite conversation is one of the funniest in English drama. Pygmalion has been both filmed (1938), winning an Academy Award for Shaw for his screenplay, and adapted into an immensely popular musical, My Fair Lady (1956; motion-picture version, 1964).

Works after World War I
World War I was a watershed for Shaw. At first he ceased writing plays, publishing instead a controversial pamphlet, “Common Sense About the War,” which called Great Britain and its Allies equally culpable with the Germans and argued for negotiation and peace. His antiwar speeches made him notorious and the target of much criticism. In Heartbreak House (performed 1920), Shaw exposed, in a country-house setting on the eve of war, the spiritual bankruptcy of the generation responsible for the war’s bloodshed. Attempting to keep from falling into “the bottomless pit of an utterly discouraging pessimism,” Shaw wrote five linked plays under the collective title Back to Methuselah (1922). They expound his philosophy of creative evolution in an extended dramatic parable that progresses through time from the Garden of Eden to ad 31,920.

The canonization of Joan of Arc in 1920 reawakened within Shaw ideas for a chronicle play about her. In the resulting masterpiece, Saint Joan (performed 1923), the Maid is treated not only as a Catholic saint and martyr but as a combination of practical mystic, heretical saint, and inspired genius. Joan, as the superior being “crushed between those mighty forces, the Church and the Law,” is the personification of the tragic heroine; her death embodies the paradox that humankind fears—and often kills—its saints and heroes and will go on doing so until the very higher moral qualities it fears become the general condition of man through a process of evolutionary change. Acclaim for Saint Joan led to the awarding of the 1925 Nobel Prize for Literature to Shaw (he refused the award).

In his later plays Shaw intensified his explorations into tragicomic and nonrealistic symbolism. For the next five years, he wrote nothing for the theatre but worked on his collected edition of 1930–38 and the encyclopaedic political tract “The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism” (1928). Then he produced The Apple Cart (performed 1929), a futuristic high comedy that emphasized Shaw’s inner conflicts between his lifetime of radical politics and his essentially conservative mistrust of the common man’s ability to govern himself. Shaw’s later, minor plays included Too True to Be Good (performed 1932), On The Rocks (performed 1933), The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles (performed 1935), Geneva (performed 1938), and In Good King Charles’s Golden Days (1939). After a wartime hiatus, Shaw, then in his 90s, produced several more plays, including Farfetched Fables (performed 1950), Shakes Versus Shav (performed 1949), and Why She Would Not (1956), which is a fantasy with only flashes of the earlier Shaw.

Impudent, irreverent, and always a showman, Shaw used his buoyant wit to keep himself in the public eye to the end of his 94 years; his wiry figure, bristling beard, and dandyish cane were as well-known throughout the world as his plays. When his wife, Charlotte, died of a lingering illness in 1943, in the midst of World War II, Shaw, frail and feeling the effects of wartime privations, made permanent his retreat from his London apartment to his country home at Ayot St. Lawrence, a Hertfordshire village in which he had lived since 1906. He died there in 1950.

George Bernard Shaw was not merely the best comic dramatist of his time but also one of the most significant playwrights in the English language since the 17th century. Some of his greatest works for the stage—Caesar and Cleopatra, the “Don Juan in Hell” episode of Man and Superman, Major Barbara, Heartbreak House, and Saint Joan—have a high seriousness and prose beauty that were unmatched by his stage contemporaries. His development of a drama of moral passion and of intellectual conflict and debate, his revivifying the comedy of manners, his ventures into symbolic farce and into a theatre of disbelief helped shape the theatre of his time and after. A visionary and mystic whose philosophy of moral passion permeates his plays, Shaw was also the most trenchant pamphleteer since Swift; the most readable music critic in English; the best theatre critic of his generation; a prodigious lecturer and essayist on politics, economics, and sociological subjects; and one of the most prolific letter writers in literature. By bringing a bold critical intelligence to his many other areas of interest, he helped mold the political, economic, and sociological thought of three generations.

Stanley Weintraub
John I.M. Stewart



John Galsworthy

British writer

born Aug. 14, 1867, Kingston Hill, Surrey, Eng.
died Jan. 31, 1933, Grove Lodge, Hampstead

English novelist and playwright, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1932.

Galsworthy’s family, of Devonshire farming stock traceable to the 16th century, had made a comfortable fortune in property in the 19th century. His father was a solicitor. Educated at Harrow and New College, Oxford, Galsworthy was called to the bar in 1890. With a view to specializing in marine law, he took a voyage around the world, during which he encountered Joseph Conrad, then mate of a merchant ship. They became lifelong friends. Galsworthy found law uncongenial and took to writing. For his first works, From the Four Winds (1897), a collection of short stories, and the novel Jocelyn (1898), both published at his own expense, he used the pseudonym John Sinjohn. The Island Pharisees (1904) was the first book to appear under his own name.

The Man of Property (1906) began the novel sequence known as The Forsyte Saga, by which Galsworthy is chiefly remembered; others in the same series are “Indian Summer of a Forsyte” (1918, in Five Tales), In Chancery (1920), Awakening (1920), and To Let (1921). The saga chronicles the lives of three generations of a large, upper middle-class family at the turn of the century. Having recently risen to wealth and success in the profession and business world, the Forsytes are tenaciously clannish and anxious to increase their wealth. The novels imply that their desire for property is morally wrong. The saga intersperses diatribes against wealth with lively passages describing character and background. In The Man of Property, Galsworthy attacks the Forsytes through the character of Soames Forsyte, a solicitor who considers his wife Irene as a mere form of property. Irene finds her husband physically unattractive and falls in love with a young architect who dies. The other two novels of the saga, In Chancery and To Let, trace the subsequent divorce of Soames and Irene, the second marriages they make, and the eventual romantic entanglements of their children. The story of the Forsyte family after World War I was continued in The White Monkey (1924), The Silver Spoon (1926), and Swan Song (1928), collected in A Modern Comedy (1929). Galsworthy’s other novels include The Country House (1907), The Patrician (1911), and The Freelands (1915).

Galsworthy was also a successful dramatist, his plays, written in a naturalistic style, usually examining some controversial ethical or social problem. They include The Silver Box (1906), which, like many of his other works, has a legal theme and depicts a bitter contrast of the law’s treatment of the rich and the poor; Strife (1909), a study of industrial relations; Justice (1910), a realistic portrayal of prison life that roused so much feeling that it led to reform; and Loyalties (1922), the best of his later plays. He also wrote verse.

In 1905 Galsworthy married Ada Pearson, the divorced wife of his first cousin, A.J. Galsworthy. Galsworthy had, in secret, been closely associated with his future wife for about ten years before their marriage. Irene in The Forsyte Saga is to some extent a portrait of Ada Galsworthy, although her first husband was wholly unlike Soames Forsyte.

Galsworthy’s novels, by their abstention from complicated psychology and their greatly simplified social viewpoint, became accepted as faithful patterns of English life for a time. Galsworthy is remembered for this evocation of Victorian and Edwardian upper middle-class life and for his creation of Soames Forsyte, a dislikable character who nevertheless compels the reader’s sympathy.

A television serial of The Forsyte Saga by the British Broadcasting Corporation achieved immense popularity in Great Britain in 1967 and later in many other nations, especially the United States, reviving interest in an author whose reputation had plummeted after his death.



Harley Granville-Barker


born Nov. 25, 1877, London, Eng.
died Aug. 31, 1946, Paris, France

English dramatist, producer, and critic whose repertoire seasons and Shakespeare criticism profoundly influenced 20th-century theatre.

Barker began his stage training at 13 years of age and first appeared on the London stage two years later. He preferred work with William Poel’s Elizabethan Stage Society and Ben Greet’s Shakespeare repertory company to a West End career, and in 1900 he joined the experimental Stage Society. His first major play, The Marrying of Ann Leete (1900), was produced by the society. In 1904 he became manager of the Court Theatre with J.E. Vedrenne and introduced the public to the plays of Henrik Ibsen, Maurice Maeterlinck, John Galsworthy, John Masefield, and Gilbert Murray’s translations from Greek. His original productions of the early plays of George Bernard Shaw were especially important. His wife, Lillah McCarthy, played leading roles in many of the plays he produced. Among new plays produced at the Court Theatre were several of his own: The Voysey Inheritance (1905), the most famous, showing Shaw’s influence; Prunella (1906), a charming fantasy written with Laurence Housman; Waste (1907); and The Madras House (1910).

Also revolutionary was his treatment of Shakespeare. Instead of traditional scenic decor and declamatory elocution, Barker successfully introduced, in the Savoy productions (1912–14) of The Winter’s Tale and Twelfth Night, continuous action on an open stage and rapid, lightly stressed speech. He and William Archer were active in promoting a national theatre, and by 1914 Barker had every prospect of a brilliant career.

After World War I, however, during which he served with the Red Cross, he found the mood of the postwar theatre alien and contented himself with work behind the scenes, including presidency of the British Drama League. He settled in Paris with his second wife, an American, collaborating with her in translating Spanish plays and writing his five series of Prefaces to Shakespeare (1927–48), a contribution to Shakespearean criticism that analyzed the plays from the point of view of a practical playwright with firsthand stage experience.

In 1937 Barker became director of the British Institute of the University of Paris. He fled to Spain in 1940 and then went to the United States, where he worked for British Information Services and lectured at Harvard University. He returned to Paris in 1946. A selection of his letters was published in 1986 as Granville Barker and His Correspondents.


Many Edwardian novelists were similarly eager to explore the shortcomings of English social life. Wells—in Love and Mr. Lewisham (1900); Kipps (1905); Ann Veronica (1909), his pro-suffragist novel; and The History of Mr. Polly (1910)—captured the frustrations of lower- and middle-class existence, even though he relieved his accounts with many comic touches. In Anna of the Five Towns (1902), Arnold Bennett detailed the constrictions of provincial life among the self-made business classes in the area of England known as the Potteries; in The Man of Property (1906), the first volume of
The Forsyte Saga,
Galsworthy described the destructive possessiveness of the professional bourgeoisie; and, in Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905) and The Longest Journey (1907), E.M. Forster portrayed with irony the insensitivity, self-repression, and philistinism of the English middle classes.

These novelists, however, wrote more memorably when they allowed themselves a larger perspective. In The Old Wives’ Tale (1908), Bennett showed the destructive effects of time on the lives of individuals and communities and evoked a quality of pathos that he never matched in his other fiction; in Tono-Bungay (1909), Wells showed the ominous consequences of the uncontrolled developments taking place within a British society still dependent upon the institutions of a long-defunct landed aristocracy; and in Howards End (1910), Forster showed how little the rootless and self-important world of contemporary commerce cared for the more rooted world of culture, although he acknowledged that commerce was a necessary evil. Nevertheless, even as they perceived the difficulties of the present, most Edwardian novelists, like their counterparts in the theatre, held firmly to the belief not only that constructive change was possible but also that this change could in some measure be advanced by their writing.


Arnold Bennett

"The Old Wives' Tale"   BOOK I-II, BOOK III-IV

British author

born May 27, 1867, Hanley, Staffordshire, Eng.
died March 27, 1931, London

British novelist, playwright, critic, and essayist whose major works form an important link between the English novel and the mainstream of European realism.

Bennett’s father was a self-made man who had managed to qualify as a solicitor: the family atmosphere was one of sturdy respectability and self-improvement. Arnold, the eldest of nine children, was educated at the Middle School, Newcastle-under-Lyme; he then entered his father’s office as a clerk. In 1889 he moved to London, still as a solicitor’s clerk, but soon gained a footing in literature by writing popular serial fiction and editing a women’s magazine. After the publication of his first novel, A Man from the North (1898), he became a professional writer, living first in the Bedfordshire countryside, then, following his father’s death, moving to Paris in 1903. In 1907 he married a French actress, Marguerite Soulié; they separated in 1921.

Bennett is best known for his highly detailed novels of the “Five Towns”—the Potteries, since amalgamated to form the city of Stoke-on-Trent, in his native Staffordshire. As a young writer he learned his craft from intensive study of the French realistic novelists, especially Gustave Flaubert and Honoré de Balzac, who emphasized detailed description of people, scenes, and events. He also owes an immediate debt to George Moore, who was influenced by the same writers. Bennett’s criticism was of such high calibre that, if he had never written fiction, he would rank as an important writer. He was less successful in his plays, although Milestones (1912), written with Edward Knoblock, and The Great Adventure (1913), adapted from his novel of five years earlier, Buried Alive (1908), both had long runs and have been revived.

As early as 1893 he had used the “Five Towns” as background for a story, and his major novels—Anna of the Five Towns (1902), The Old Wives’ Tale (1908), and Clayhanger (1910; included with its successors, Hilda Lessways, 1911, and These Twain, 1916, in The Clayhanger Family, 1925)—have their setting there, the only exception being Riceyman Steps (1923), set in a lower-middle-class district of London.

Paris during Bennett’s eight years there was the capital of the arts, and he made full use of his opportunities to study music, art, and literature as well as life. He retained an understanding of provincial life, but he shed the provincial outlook, becoming one of the least insular of Englishmen. At a time when the popular culture and the arcane complacencies of the elite were equally inbred, Bennett was a cosmopolitan who appreciated Impressionist painting, the ballet of Sergey Diaghilev, and the music of Igor Stravinsky before they reached London. Later, reviewing a constant stream of new books, he unerringly picked out the important writers of the next generation—James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway—and praised them discerningly. When Bennett returned to England, he divided his time between London and a country home in Essex. He never returned to the Potteries except on brief visits, but he continued to live there imaginatively, much as Joyce did in Dublin.

Bennett wrote 30 novels, and even many of the lesser ones display the essential Bennettian values, ironic yet kindly, critical yet with a large tolerance. His reputation declined in the 1920s and ’30s but soon rose, partly as the result of a reevaluation of his work by a group of young writers who felt themselves to be artistically in his debt. The Journals of Arnold Bennett, 1896–1928 were published in three volumes (1932–33).




E.M. Forster

born Jan. 1, 1879, London
died June 7, 1970, Coventry, Warwickshire, Eng.

British novelist, essayist, and social and literary critic. His fame rests largely on his novels Howards End (1910) and A Passage to India (1924) and on a large body of criticism.

Forster’s father, an architect, died when the son was a baby, and he was brought up by his mother and paternal aunts. The difference between the two families, his father’s being strongly evangelical with a high sense of moral responsibility, his mother’s more feckless and generous-minded, gave him an enduring insight into the nature of domestic tensions, while his education as a dayboy (day student) at Tonbridge School, Kent, was responsible for many of his later criticisms of the English public school (private) system. At King’s College, Cambridge, he enjoyed a sense of liberation. For the first time he was free to follow his own intellectual inclinations; and he gained a sense of the uniqueness of the individual, of the healthiness of moderate skepticism, and of the importance of Mediterranean civilization as a counterbalance to the more straitlaced attitudes of northern European countries.

On leaving Cambridge, Forster decided to devote his life to writing. His first novels and short stories were redolent of an age that was shaking off the shackles of Victorianism. While adopting certain themes (the importance of women in their own right, for example) from earlier English novelists such as George Meredith, he broke with the elaborations and intricacies favoured in the late 19th century and wrote in a freer, more colloquial style. From the first his novels included a strong strain of social comment, based on acute observation of middle-class life. There was also a deeper concern, however, a belief, associated with Forster’s interest in Mediterranean “paganism,” that, if men and women were to achieve a satisfactory life, they needed to keep contact with the earth and to cultivate their imaginations. In an early novel, The Longest Journey (1907), he suggested that cultivation of either in isolation is not enough, reliance on the earth alone leading to a genial brutishness and exaggerated development of imagination undermining the individual’s sense of reality.

The same theme runs through Howards End, a more ambitious novel that brought Forster his first major success. The novel is conceived in terms of an alliance between the Schlegel sisters, Margaret and Helen, who embody the liberal imagination at its best, and Ruth Wilcox, the owner of the house Howards End, which has remained close to the earth for generations; spiritually they recognize a kinship against the values of Henry Wilcox and his children, who conceive life mainly in terms of commerce. In a symbolic ending, Margaret Schlegel marries Henry Wilcox and brings him back, a broken man, to Howards End, reestablishing there a link (however heavily threatened by the forces of progress around it) between the imagination and the earth.

The resolution is a precarious one, and World War I was to undermine it still further. Forster spent three wartime years in Alexandria, doing civilian war work, and visited India twice, in 1912–13 and 1921. When he returned to former themes in his postwar novel A Passage to India, they presented themselves in a negative form: against the vaster scale of India, in which the earth itself seems alien, a resolution between it and the imagination could appear as almost impossible to achieve. Only Adela Quested, the young girl who is most open to experience, can glimpse their possible concord, and then only momentarily, in the courtroom during the trial at which she is the central witness. Much of the novel is devoted to less spectacular values: those of seriousness and truthfulness (represented here by the administrator Fielding) and of an outgoing and benevolent sensibility (embodied in the English visitor Mrs. Moore). Neither Fielding nor Mrs. Moore is totally successful; neither totally fails. The novel ends in an uneasy equilibrium. Immediate reconciliation between Indians and British is ruled out, but the further possibilities inherent in Adela’s experience, along with the surrounding uncertainties, are echoed in the ritual birth of the God of Love amid scenes of confusion at a Hindu festival.

The values of truthfulness and kindness dominate Forster’s later thinking. A reconciliation of humanity to the earth and its own imagination may be the ultimate ideal, but Forster sees it receding in a civilization devoting itself more and more to technological progress. The values of common sense, goodwill, and regard for the individual, on the other hand, can still be cultivated, and these underlie Forster’s later pleas for more liberal attitudes. During World War II he acquired a position of particular respect as a man who had never been seduced by totalitarianisms of any kind and whose belief in personal relationships and the simple decencies seemed to embody some of the common values behind the fight against Nazism and Fascism. In 1946 his old college gave him an honorary fellowship, which enabled him to make his home in Cambridge and to keep in communication with both old and young until his death.

Although the later Forster is an important figure in mid-20th-century culture, his emphasis on a kindly, uncommitted, and understated morality being congenial to many of his contemporaries, it is by his novels that he is more likely to be remembered, and these are best seen in the context of the preceding Romantic tradition. The novels sustain the cult of the heart’s affections that was central to that tradition, but they also share with the first Romantics a concern for the status of man in nature and for his imaginative life, a concern that remains important to an age that has turned against other aspects of Romanticism.

In addition to essays, short stories, and novels, Forster wrote a biography of his great-aunt, Marianne Thornton (1956); a documentary account of his Indian experiences, The Hill of Devi (1953); and Alexandria: A History and a Guide (1922; new ed., 1961). Maurice, a novel with a homosexual theme, was published posthumously in 1971 but written many years earlier.

John Bernard Beer


Other writers, including
Thomas Hardy and Rudyard Kipling, who had established their reputations during the previous century, and Hilaire Belloc, G.K. Chesterton, and Edward Thomas, who established their reputations in the first decade of the new century, were less confident about the future and sought to revive the traditional forms—the ballad, the narrative poem, the satire, the fantasy, the topographical poem, and the essay—that in their view preserved traditional sentiments and perceptions. The revival of traditional forms in the late 19th and early 20th century was not a unique event. There were many such revivals during the 20th century, and the traditional poetry of A.E. Housman (whose book A Shropshire Lad, originally published in 1896, enjoyed huge popular success during World War I), Walter de la Mare, John Masefield, Robert Graves, and Edmund Blunden represents an important and often neglected strand of English literature in the first half of the century.

Hilaire Belloc

born July 27, 1870, La Celle-Saint-Cloud, Fr.
died July 16, 1953, Guildford, Surrey, Eng.

French-born poet, historian, and essayist who was among the most versatile English writers of the first quarter of the 20th century. He is most remembered for his light verse, particularly for children, and for the lucidity and easy grace of his essays, which could be delightfully about nothing or decisively about some of the key controversies of the Edwardian era.

Belloc was educated at the Oratory School, Birmingham, and then worked as a journalist. After military service, as a French citizen, he entered Balliol College, Oxford, in 1894. He graduated with first-class honours in history, was president of the Union (debating society), and in 1896 married Elodie Hogan (1870–1914) of Napa, Calif. He became a naturalized British subject in 1902 and sat as a member of Parliament for Salford (1906–10), first as a Liberal and then as an Independent.

Verses and Sonnets (1895) and The Bad Child’s Book of Beasts (1896) launched Belloc on his literary career. Cautionary Tales, another book of humorous verse for children, which parodied some Victorian pomposities, appeared in 1907. His Danton (1899) and Robespierre (1901) proved his lively historical sense and powerful prose style. Lambkin’s Remains (1900) and Mr. Burden (1904) showed his mastery of satire and irony. In The Path to Rome (1902) he interspersed his account of a pilgrimage on foot from Toul to Rome with comments on the nature and history of Europe. Born and brought up a Roman Catholic, he showed in almost everything he wrote an ardent profession of his faith. This coloured with occasional inaccuracy and overemphasis most of his historical writing, which includes Europe and the Faith (1920), History of England, 4 vol. (1925–31), and a series of biographies ranging in period from James II (1928) to Wolsey (1930). But he had the power of bringing history to life.

The Four Men (1912) described a walk through Sussex, the county where he made his home, and his love of sailing was vividly illustrated in The Cruise of the “Nona” (1925). In political and economic matters Belloc was a follower of William Cobbett, English author, journalist, and radical influential in the early 19th century. Among Belloc’s volumes of lighter verse are The Modern Traveller (1898) and the Heroic Poem in Praise of Wine (1932). He also wrote a number of satiric novels, which were illustrated by his close friend, the novelist G.K. Chesterton.

Belloc engaged in much heated controversy, particularly with H.G. Wells, whose Outline of History he vigorously attacked, and with the Protestant scholar and historian G.C. Coulton. Belloc is one of the masters of modern English prose, a good poet, and a deeply interesting literary personality.





G.K. Chesterton

"The Innocence of Father Brown"

"The Wisdom of Father Brown"

"The Incredulity of Father Brown"

"The Secret of Father Brown"

"The Scandal of Father Brown"

in full Gilbert Keith Chesterton

born May 29, 1874, London
died June 14, 1936, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, Eng.

English critic and author of verse, essays, novels, and short stories, known also for his exuberant personality and rotund figure. Chesterton’s biography of Charles Dickens appeared in the 14th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica (see the Britannica Classic: Charles Dickens).

Chesterton was educated at St. Paul’s School and later studied art at the Slade School and literature at University College, London. His writings to 1910 were of three kinds. First, his social criticism, largely in his voluminous journalism, was gathered in The Defendant (1901), Twelve Types (1902), and Heretics (1905). In it he expressed strongly pro-Boer views in the South African War. Politically, he began as a Liberal but after a brief radical period became, with his Christian and medievalist friend Hilaire Belloc, a Distributist, favouring the distribution of land. This phase of his thinking is exemplified by What’s Wrong with the World (1910).

His second preoccupation was literary criticism. Robert Browning (1903) was followed by Charles Dickens (1906) and Appreciations and Criticisms of the Works of Charles Dickens (1911), prefaces to the individual novels, which are among his finest contributions to criticism. His George Bernard Shaw (1909) and The Victorian Age in Literature (1913) together with William Blake (1910) and the later monographs William Cobbett (1925) and Robert Louis Stevenson (1927) have a spontaneity that places them above the works of many academic critics.

Chesterton’s third major concern was theology and religious argument. He was converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism in 1922. Although he had written on Christianity earlier, as in his book Orthodoxy (1909), his conversion added edge to his controversial writing, notably The Catholic Church and Conversion (1926), his writings in G.K.’s Weekly, and Avowals and Denials (1934). Other works arising from his conversion were St. Francis of Assisi (1923), the essay in historical theology The Everlasting Man (1925), and St. Thomas Aquinas (1933).

In his verse Chesterton was a master of ballad forms, as shown in the stirring “Lepanto” (1911). When it was not uproariously comic, his verse was frankly partisan and didactic. His essays developed his shrewd, paradoxical irreverence to its ultimate point of real seriousness. He is seen at his happiest in such essays as “On Running After One’s Hat” (1908) and “A Defence of Nonsense” (1901), in which he says that nonsense and faith are “the two supreme symbolic assertions of truth” and “to draw out the soul of things with a syllogism is as impossible as to draw out Leviathan with a hook.”

Many readers value Chesterton’s fiction most highly. The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904), a romance of civil war in suburban London, was followed by the loosely knit collection of short stories, The Club of Queer Trades (1905), and the popular allegorical novel The Man Who Was Thursday (1908). But the most successful association of fiction with social judgment is in Chesterton’s series on the priest-sleuth Father Brown: The Innocence of Father Brown (1911), followed by The Wisdom . . . (1914), The Incredulity . . . (1926), The Secret . . . (1927), and The Scandal of Father Brown (1935).

Chesterton’s friendships were with men as diverse as H.G. Wells, Shaw, Belloc, and Max Beerbohm. His Autobiography was published in 1936.




Edward Thomas

born March 3, 1878, Lambeth, London, Eng.
died April 9, 1917, Arras, France

English writer who turned to poetry only after a long career spent producing nature studies and critical works on such 19th-century writers as Richard Jefferies, George Borrow, Algernon Charles Swinburne, and Walter Pater.

Thomas was educated at St. Paul’s School and the University of Oxford and spent most of his life unhappily employed as an essayist and journalist. In 1913 he met the American poet Robert Frost, who encouraged him to write poetry. Two years later Thomas enlisted in the British army; freed from routine literary work, he was able to produce increasingly fluent poetry. The rhythms of his verse are quiet and unstressed; he was above all a poet of the country. He was killed during World War I, and most of his poems were published posthumously, though a few were published under the name Edward Eastaway during his lifetime. Thomas’ Collected Poems appeared in 1920.




Walter de la Mare

born April 25, 1873, Charlton, Kent, England
died June 22, 1956, Twickenham, Middlesex

British poet and novelist with an unusual power to evoke the ghostly, evanescent moments in life.

De la Mare was educated at St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir School in London, and from 1890 to 1908 he worked in the London office of the Anglo-American Oil Company. From 1902, however, when his poetry collection Songs of Childhood appeared under the pseudonym Walter Ramal, he devoted himself increasingly to writing. His first novel, Henry Brocken, was published in 1904 and his Poems in 1906. As the years passed his books continued to appear: poems and short stories for adults and children; novels, of which Memoirs of a Midget (1921) reached the greatest poetic fantasy; a fairy play, Crossings (1921); and essays and literary studies. His anthology Come Hither (1923) is often held to be one of the best and most original in the language. He was made a Companion of Honour in 1948 and received the Order of Merit in 1953.

Among de la Mare’s other works for children are Bells and Grass (1941); Collected Rhymes and Verses (1944); and Collected Stories for Children (1947). Later poetry for adults includes The Burning Glass (1945), The Traveller (1946), Inward Companion (1950), and O Lovely England (1953).



John Masefield

born June 1, 1878, Ledbury, Herefordshire, Eng.
died May 12, 1967, near Abingdon, Berkshire

poet, best known for his poems of the sea, Salt-Water Ballads (1902, including “Sea Fever” and “Cargoes”), and for his long narrative poems, such as The Everlasting Mercy (1911), which shocked literary orthodoxy with its phrases of a colloquial coarseness hitherto unknown in 20th-century English verse.

Educated at King’s School, Warwick, Masefield was apprenticed aboard a windjammer that sailed around Cape Horn. He left the sea after that voyage and spent several years living precariously in the United States. His work there in a carpet factory is described in his autobiography, In the Mill (1941). He returned to England, worked for a time as a journalist for the Manchester Guardian, and settled in London. After he succeeded Robert Bridges as poet laureate in 1930, his poetry became more austere.

Other of Masefield’s long narrative poems are Dauber (1913), which concerns the eternal struggle of the visionary against ignorance and materialism, and Reynard the Fox (1919), which deals with many aspects of rural life in England. He also wrote novels of adventure—Sard Harker (1924), Odtaa (1926), and Basilissa (1940)—sketches, and works for children. His other works include the poetic dramas The Tragedy of Nan (1909) and The Tragedy of Pompey the Great (1910), as well as a further autobiographical volume, So Long to Learn (1952). Masefield was awarded the Order of Merit in 1935.



Robert Graves

born July 24/26, 1895, London
died Dec. 7, 1985, Deyá, Majorca, Spain

English poet, novelist, critic, and classical scholar who carried on many of the formal traditions of English verse in a period of experimentation. His more than 120 books also include a notable historical novel, I, Claudius (1934); an autobiographical classic of World War I, Good-Bye to All That (1929; rev. ed. 1957); and erudite, controversial studies in mythology.

As a student at Charterhouse School, London, young Graves began to write poetry; he continued this while serving as a British officer at the western front during World War I, writing three books of verse during 1916–17. The horror of trench warfare was a crucial experience in his life: he was severely wounded in 1916 and remained deeply troubled by his war experiences for at least a decade. Graves’s mental conflicts during the 1920s were exacerbated by an increasingly unhappy marriage that ended in divorce. A new acceptance of his own nature, in which sexual love and dread seemed to exist in close proximity, appeared in his verse after he met Laura Riding, an American poet, who accompanied him to the island of Majorca, Spain, in 1929 and with whom he was associated for 13 years.

The success of Graves’s Good-Bye to All That, war memoirs notable for their unadorned grimness, enabled him to make his permanent home on Majorca, an island whose simplicity had not yet been altered by tourism. Graves’s novel I, Claudius is an engaging first-person narrative purportedly written by the Roman emperor Claudius as he chronicles the personalities and machinations of the Julio-Claudian line during the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligula. This work was followed by other historical novels dealing with ancient Mediterranean civilizations and including Claudius the God (1934), which extends Claudius’ narrative to his own reign as emperor; Count Belisarius (1938), a sympathetic study of the great and martyred general of the Byzantine Empire; and The Golden Fleece (1944; U.S. title Hercules, My Shipmate). Graves’s researches for The Golden Fleece led him into a wide-ranging study of myths and to what was his most controversial scholarly work, The White Goddess; A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth (1948). In it the author argues the existence of an all-important religion, rooted in the remote past but continuing into the Christian Era, based on the worship of a goddess.

Graves began before 1914 as a typical Georgian poet, but his war experiences and the difficulties of his personal life gave his later poetry a much deeper and more painful note. He remained a traditionalist rather than a modernist, however, in his emphasis on meter and clear meaning in his verse. Graves’s sad love poems are regarded as the finest produced in the English language during the 20th century, along with those of W.B. Yeats.

Graves was elected professor of poetry at the University of Oxford in 1961 and served there until 1966. His Collected Poems appeared in 1948, with revisions in 1955, 1959, 1961, and 1975. His controversial translation of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyàm, with Omar Ali-Shah, appeared in 1967. His own later views on poetry can be found in The Crowning Privilege (1955) and Oxford Addresses on Poetry (1962).


Edmund Blunden

born Nov. 1, 1896, London
died Jan. 20, 1974, Long Melford, Suffolk, Eng.

poet, critic, scholar, and man of letters, whose verses in the traditional mode are known for their rich and knowledgeable expression of rural English life.

Long a teacher in the Far East, he showed in his later poetry Oriental influences, as in A Hong Kong House (1962). His Undertones of War (1928; new ed. 1956), which established his international reputation, is one of the most moving books about World War I, all the more compelling for its restraint. The war interrupted his studies at Oxford, but he returned in 1919, moving the following year to London as associate editor of The Athenaeum. His poems began appearing in the 1920s.

Blunden taught in Japan throughout most of the 1920s and returned there in the late 1940s, after teaching at Oxford and serving on the staff of The Times Literary Supplement. He was professor of English at Hong Kong University (1953–64) and professor of poetry at Oxford (1966–68). His poetry is collected in The Poems of Edmund Blunden, 1914–1930 (1930) and Poems 1930–1940 (1940). Poems of Many Years appeared in 1957. One of the major results of his scholarship was the discovery and publication of unprinted poems by the 19th-century peasant-poet John Clare.


The most significant writing of the period, traditionalist or modern, was inspired by neither hope nor apprehension but by bleaker feelings that the new century would witness the collapse of a whole civilization. The new century had begun with Great Britain involved in the South African War (the Boer War; 1899–1902), and it seemed to some that the British Empire was as doomed to destruction, both from within and from without, as had been the Roman Empire. In his poems on the South African War, Hardy (whose achievement as a poet in the 20th century rivaled his achievement as a novelist in the 19th) questioned simply and sardonically the human cost of empire building and established a tone and style that many British poets were to use in the course of the century, while Kipling, who had done much to engender pride in empire, began to speak in his verse and short stories of the burden of empire and the tribulations it would bring.

No one captured the sense of an imperial civilization in decline more fully or subtly than the expatriate American novelist Henry James. In The Portrait of a Lady (1881), he had briefly anatomized the fatal loss of energy of the English ruling class and, in The Princess Casamassima (1886), had described more directly the various instabilities that threatened its paternalistic rule. He did so with regret: the patrician American admired in the English upper class its sense of moral obligation to the community. By the turn of the century, however, he had noted a disturbing change. In The Spoils of Poynton (1897) and What Maisie Knew (1897), members of the upper class no longer seem troubled by the means adopted to achieve their morally dubious ends. Great Britain had become indistinguishable from the other nations of the Old World, in which an ugly rapacity had never been far from the surface. James’s dismay at this condition gave to his subtle and compressed late fiction, The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903), and The Golden Bowl (1904), much of its gravity and air of disenchantment.

James’s awareness of crisis affected the very form and style of his writing, for he was no longer assured that the world about which he wrote was either coherent in itself or unambiguously intelligible to its inhabitants. His fiction still presented characters within an identifiable social world, but he found his characters and their world increasingly elusive and enigmatic and his own grasp upon them, as he made clear in The Sacred Fount (1901), the questionable consequence of artistic will.

Another expatriate novelist, Joseph Conrad (pseudonym of Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, born in the Ukraine of Polish parents), shared James’s sense of crisis but attributed it less to the decline of a specific civilization than to human failings. Man was a solitary, romantic creature of will who at any cost imposed his meaning upon the world because he could not endure a world that did not reflect his central place within it. In Almayer’s Folly (1895) and Lord Jim (1900), he had seemed to sympathize with this predicament; but in Heart of Darkness (1902), Nostromo (1904), The Secret Agent (1907), and Under Western Eyes (1911), he detailed such imposition, and the psychological pathologies he increasingly associated with it, without sympathy. He did so as a philosophical novelist whose concern with the mocking limits of human knowledge affected not only the content of his fiction but also its very structure. His writing itself is marked by gaps in the narrative, by narrators who do not fully grasp the significance of the events they are retelling, and by characters who are unable to make themselves understood. James and Conrad used many of the conventions of 19th-century realism but transformed them to express what are considered to be peculiarly 20th-century preoccupations and anxieties.




Joseph Conrad

"Lord Jim"

British writer
original name Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski

born Dec. 3, 1857, Berdichev, Ukraine, Russian Empire [now Berdychiv, Ukraine]
died Aug. 3, 1924, Canterbury, Kent, Eng.

English novelist and short-story writer of Polish descent, whose works include the novels Lord Jim (1900), Nostromo (1904), and The Secret Agent (1907) and the short story “Heart of Darkness” (1902). During his lifetime Conrad was admired for the richness of his prose and his renderings of dangerous life at sea and in exotic places. But his initial reputation as a masterful teller of colourful adventures of the sea masked his fascination with the individual when faced with nature’s invariable unconcern, man’s frequent malevolence, and his inner battles with good and evil. To Conrad, the sea meant above all the tragedy of loneliness. A writer of complex skill and striking insight, but above all of an intensely personal vision, he has been increasingly regarded as one of the greatest English novelists.

Conrad’s father, Apollo Nalęcz Korzeniowski, a poet and an ardent Polish patriot, was one of the organizers of the committee that went on in 1863 to direct the Polish insurrection against Russian rule. He was arrested in late 1861 and was sent into exile at Vologda in northern Russia. His wife and four-year-old son followed him there, and the harsh climate hastened his wife’s death from tuberculosis in 1865. In A Personal Record Conrad relates that his first introduction to the English language was at the age of eight, when his father was translating the works of Shakespeare and Victor Hugo in order to support the household. In those solitary years with his father he read the works of Sir Walter Scott, James Fenimore Cooper, Charles Dickens, and William Makepeace Thackeray in Polish and French. Apollo was ill with tuberculosis and died in Cracow in 1869. Responsibility for the boy was assumed by his maternal uncle, Tadeusz Bobrowski, a lawyer, who provided his nephew with advice, admonition, financial help, and love. He sent Conrad to school at Cracow and then to Switzerland, but the boy was bored by school and yearned to go to sea. In 1874 Conrad left for Marseille with the intention of going to sea.

Bobrowski made him an allowance of 2,000 francs a year and put him in touch with a merchant named Delestang, in whose ships Conrad sailed in the French merchant service. His first voyage, on the Mont-Blanc to Martinique, was as a passenger; on her next voyage he sailed as an apprentice. In July 1876 he again sailed to the West Indies, as a steward on the Saint-Antoine. On this voyage Conrad seems to have taken part in some unlawful enterprise, probably gunrunning, and to have sailed along the coast of Venezuela, memories of which were to find a place in Nostromo. The first mate of the vessel, a Corsican named Dominic Cervoni, was the model for the hero of that novel and was to play a picturesque role in Conrad’s life and work.

Conrad became heavily enmeshed in debt upon returning to Marseille and apparently unsuccessfully attempted to commit suicide. As a sailor in the French merchant navy he was liable to conscription when he came of age, so after his recovery he signed on in April 1878 as a deckhand on a British freighter bound for Constantinople with a cargo of coal. After the return journey his ship landed him at Lowestoft, Eng., in June 1878. It was Conrad’s first English landfall, and he spoke only a few words of the language of which he was to become a recognized master. Conrad remained in England, and in the following October he shipped as an ordinary seaman aboard a wool clipper on the London–Sydney run.

Conrad was to serve 16 years in the British merchant navy. In June 1880 he passed his examination as second mate, and in April 1881 he joined the Palestine, a bark of 425 tons. This move proved to be an important event in his life; it took him to the Far East for the first time, and it was also a continuously troubled voyage, which provided him with literary material that he would use later. Beset by gales, accidentally rammed by a steamer, and deserted by a sizable portion of her crew, the Palestine nevertheless had made it as far as the East Indies when her cargo of coal caught fire and the crew had to take to the lifeboats; Conrad’s initial landing in the East, on an island off Sumatra, took place only after a 13 1/2-hour voyage in an open boat. In 1898 Conrad published his account of his experiences on the Palestine, with only slight alterations, as the short story “Youth,” a remarkable tale of a young officer’s first command.

He returned to London by passenger steamer, and in September 1883 he shipped as mate on the Riversdale, leaving her at Madras to join the Narcissus at Bombay. This voyage gave him material for his novel The Nigger of the “Narcissus,” the story of an egocentric black sailor’s deterioration and death aboard ship. At about this time Conrad began writing his earliest known letters in the English language. In between subsequent voyages Conrad studied for his first mate’s certificate, and in 1886 two notable events occurred: he became a British subject in August, and three months later he obtained his master mariner’s certificate.

In February 1887 he sailed as first mate on the Highland Forest, bound for Semarang, Java. Her captain was John McWhirr, whom he later immortalized under the same name as the heroic, unimaginative captain of the steamer Nan Shan in Typhoon. He then joined the Vidar, a locally owned steamship trading among the islands of the southeast Asian archipelago. During the five or six voyages he made in four and a half months, Conrad was discovering and exploring the world he was to re-create in his first novels, Almayer’s Folly, An Outcast of the Islands, and Lord Jim, as well as several short stories.

After leaving the Vidar Conrad unexpectedly obtained his first command, on the Otago, sailing from Bangkok, an experience out of which he was to make his stories “The Shadow-Line” and “Falk.” He took over the Otago in unpropitious circumstances. The captain Conrad replaced had died at sea, and by the time the ship reached Singapore, a voyage of 800 miles (1,300 km) that took three weeks because of lack of wind, the whole ship’s company, except Conrad and the cook, was down with fever. Conrad then discovered to his dismay that his predecessor had sold almost all the ship’s supply of quinine.

Back in London in the summer of 1889, Conrad took rooms near the Thames and, while waiting for a command, began to write Almayer’s Folly. The task was interrupted by the strangest and probably the most important of his adventures. As a child in Poland, he had stuck his finger on the centre of the map of Africa and said, “When I grow up I shall go there.” In 1889 the Congo Free State was four years old as a political entity and already notorious as a sphere of imperialistic exploitation. Conrad’s childhood dream took positive shape in the ambition to command a Congo River steamboat. Using what influence he could, he went to Brussels and secured an appointment. What he saw, did, and felt in the Congo are largely recorded in “Heart of Darkness,” his most famous, finest, and most enigmatic story, the title of which signifies not only the heart of Africa, the dark continent, but also the heart of evil—everything that is corrupt, nihilistic, malign—and perhaps the heart of man. The story is central to Conrad’s work and vision, and it is difficult not to think of his Congo experiences as traumatic. He may have exaggerated when he said, “Before the Congo I was a mere animal,” but in a real sense the dying Kurtz’s cry, “The horror! The horror!” was Conrad’s. He suffered psychological, spiritual, even metaphysical shock in the Congo, and his physical health was also damaged; for the rest of his life, he was racked by recurrent fever and gout.

Conrad was in the Congo for four months, returning to England in January 1891. He made several more voyages as a first mate, but by 1894, when his guardian Tadeusz Bobrowski died, his sea life was over. In the spring of 1894 Conrad sent Almayer’s Folly to the London publisher Fisher Unwin, and the book was published in April 1895. It was as the author of this novel that Conrad adopted the name by which he is known: he had learned from long experience that the name Korzeniowski was impossible on British lips.

Unwin’s manuscript reader, the critic Edward Garnett, urged Conrad to begin a second novel, and so Almayer’s Folly was followed in 1896 by An Outcast of the Islands, which repeats the theme of a foolish and blindly superficial character meeting the tragic consequences of his own failings in a tropical region far from the company of his fellow Europeans. These two novels provoked a misunderstanding of Conrad’s talents and purpose which dogged him the rest of his life. Set in the Malayan archipelago, they caused him to be labeled a writer of exotic tales, a reputation which a series of novels and short stories about the sea—The Nigger of the “Narcissus” (1897), Lord Jim (1900), Youth (1902), Typhoon (1902), and others—seemed only to confirm. But words of his own about the “Narcissus” give the real reason for his choice of settings: “the problem . . . is not a problem of the sea, it is merely a problem that has risen on board a ship where the conditions of complete isolation from all land entanglements make it stand out with a particular force and colouring.” This is equally true of his other works; the latter part of Lord Jim takes place in a jungle village not because the emotional and moral problems that interest Conrad are those peculiar to jungle villages, but because there Jim’s feelings of guilt, responsibility, and insecurity—feelings common to mankind—work themselves out with a logic and inevitability that are enforced by his isolation. It is this purpose, rather than a taste for the outlandish, that distinguishes Conrad’s work from that of many novelists of the 19th and early 20th centuries. They, for the most part, were concerned to widen the scope of the novel, to act, in Balzac’s phrase, as the natural historians of society; Conrad instead aimed at the isolation and concentration of tragedy.

In 1895 Conrad married the 22-year-old Jessie George, by whom he had two sons. He thereafter resided mainly in the southeast corner of England, where his life as an author was plagued by poor health, near poverty, and difficulties of temperament. It was not until 1910, after he had written what are now considered his finest novels—Lord Jim (1900), Nostromo (1904), The Secret Agent (1907), and Under Western Eyes (1911), the last being three novels of political intrigue and romance—that his financial situation became relatively secure. He was awarded a Civil List pension of £100, and the American collector John Quinn began to buy his manuscripts—for what now seem ludicrously low prices. His novel Chance was successfully serialized in the New York Herald in 1912, and his novel Victory, published in 1915, was no less successful. Though hampered by rheumatism, Conrad continued to write for the remaining years of his life. In April 1924 he refused an offer of knighthood from Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, and he died shortly thereafter.

In his own time Conrad was praised for his power to depict life at sea and in the tropics and for his works’ qualities of “romance”—a word used basically to denote his power of using an elaborate prose style to cast a film of illusory splendour over somewhat sordid events. His reputation diminished after his death, and a revival of interest in his work later directed attention to different qualities and to different books than his contemporaries had emphasized.

An account of the themes of some of these books should indicate where modern critics lay emphasis. Nostromo (1904), a story of revolution, politics, and financial manipulation in a South American republic, centres, for all its close-packed incidents, upon one idea—the corruption of the characters by the ambitions that they set before themselves, ambitions concerned with silver, which forms the republic’s wealth and which is the central symbol around which the novel is organized. The ambitions range from simple greed to idealistic desires for reform and justice. All lead to moral disaster, and the nobler the ambition the greater its possessor’s self-disgust as he realizes his plight.

“Heart of Darkness,” which follows closely the actual events of Conrad’s Congo journey, tells of the narrator’s fascination by a mysterious white man, Kurtz, who, by his eloquence and hypnotic personality, dominates the brutal tribesmen around him. Full of contempt for the greedy traders who exploit the natives, the narrator cannot deny the power of this figure of evil who calls forth from him something approaching reluctant loyalty. The Secret Agent (1907), a sustained essay in the ironic and one of Conrad’s finest works, deals with the equivocal world of anarchists, police, politicians, and agents provocateurs in London. Victory describes the unsuccessful attempts of a detached, nihilistic observer of life to protect himself and his hapless female companion from the murderous machinations of a trio of rogues on an isolated island.

Conrad’s view of life is indeed deeply pessimistic. In every idealism are the seeds of corruption, and the most honourable men find their unquestioned standards totally inadequate to defend themselves against the assaults of evil. It is significant that Conrad repeats again and again situations in which such men are obliged to admit emotional kinship with those whom they have expected only to despise. This well-nigh despairing vision gains much of its force from the feeling that Conrad accepted it reluctantly, rather than with morbid enjoyment.

Conrad’s influence on later novelists has been profound both because of his masterly technical innovations and because of the vision of humanity expressed through them. He is the novelist of man in extreme situations. “Those who read me,” he wrote in his preface to A Personal Record, “know my conviction that the world, the temporal world, rests on a few very simple ideas; so simple that they must be as old as the hills. It rests, notably, among others, on the idea of Fidelity.” For Conrad fidelity is the barrier man erects against nothingness, against corruption, against the evil that is all about him, insidious, waiting to engulf him, and that in some sense is within him unacknowledged. But what happens when fidelity is submerged, the barrier broken down, and the evil without is acknowledged by the evil within? At his greatest, that is Conrad’s theme. Feminist and postcolonialist readings of Modernist works have focused on Conrad and have confirmed his centrality to Modernism and to the general understanding of it.


The Modernist revolution

Anglo-American Modernism: Pound, Lewis, Lawrence, and Eliot

From 1908 to 1914 there was a remarkably productive period of innovation and experiment as novelists and poets undertook, in anthologies and magazines, to challenge the literary conventions not just of the recent past but of the entire post-Romantic era. For a brief moment, London, which up to that point had been culturally one of the dullest of the European capitals, boasted an avant-garde to rival those of Paris, Vienna, and Berlin, even if its leading personality, Ezra Pound, and many of its most notable figures were American.

The spirit of Modernism—a radical and utopian spirit stimulated by new ideas in anthropology, psychology, philosophy, political theory, and psychoanalysis—was in the air, expressed rather mutedly by the pastoral and often anti-Modern poets of the Georgian movement (1912–22) and more authentically by the English and American poets of the Imagist movement, to which Pound first drew attention in Ripostes (1912), a volume of his own poetry, and in Des Imagistes (1914), an anthology. Prominent among the Imagists were the English poets T.E. Hulme, F.S. Flint, and Richard Aldington and the Americans Hilda Doolittle (H.D.) and Amy Lowell.

Reacting against what they considered to be an exhausted poetic tradition, the Imagists wanted to refine the language of poetry in order to make it a vehicle not for pastoral sentiment or imperialistic rhetoric but for the exact description and evocation of mood. To this end they experimented with free or irregular verse and made the image their principal instrument. In contrast to the leisurely Georgians, they worked with brief and economical forms.

Meanwhile, painters and sculptors, grouped together by the painter and writer Wyndham Lewis under the banner of Vorticism, combined the abstract art of the Cubists with the example of the Italian Futurists who conveyed in their painting, sculpture, and literature the new sensations of movement and scale associated with modern developments such as automobiles and airplanes. With the typographically arresting Blast: Review of the Great English Vortex (two editions, 1914 and 1915) Vorticism found its polemical mouthpiece and in Lewis, its editor, its most active propagandist and accomplished literary exponent. His experimental play Enemy of the Stars, published in Blast in 1914, and his experimental novel Tarr (1918) can still surprise with their violent exuberance.

World War I brought this first period of the Modernist revolution to an end and, while not destroying its radical and utopian impulse, made the Anglo-American Modernists all too aware of the gulf between their ideals and the chaos of the present. Novelists and poets parodied received forms and styles, in their view made redundant by the immensity and horror of the war, but, as can be seen most clearly in Pound’s angry and satirical Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920), with a note of anguish and with the wish that writers might again make form and style the bearers of authentic meanings.

In his two most innovative novels, The Rainbow (1915) and Women in Love (1920), D.H. Lawrence traced the sickness of modern civilization—a civilization in his view only too eager to participate in the mass slaughter of the war—to the effects of industrialization upon the human psyche. Yet as he rejected the conventions of the fictional tradition, which he had used to brilliant effect in his deeply felt autobiographical novel of working-class family life, Sons and Lovers (1913), he drew upon myth and symbol to hold out the hope that individual and collective rebirth could come through human intensity and passion.

On the other hand, the poet and playwright T.S. Eliot, another American resident in London, in his most innovative poetry, Prufrock and Other Observations (1917) and The Waste Land (1922), traced the sickness of modern civilization—a civilization that, on the evidence of the war, preferred death or death-in-life to life—to the spiritual emptiness and rootlessness of modern existence. As he rejected the conventions of the poetic tradition, Eliot, like Lawrence, drew upon myth and symbol to hold out the hope of individual and collective rebirth, but he differed sharply from Lawrence by supposing that rebirth could come through self-denial and self-abnegation. Even so, their satirical intensity, no less than the seriousness and scope of their analyses of the failings of a civilization that had voluntarily entered upon the First World War, ensured that Lawrence and Eliot became the leading and most authoritative figures of Anglo-American Modernism in England in the whole of the postwar period.

During the 1920s Lawrence (who had left England in 1919) and Eliot began to develop viewpoints at odds with the reputations they had established through their early work. In Kangaroo (1923) and The Plumed Serpent (1926), Lawrence revealed the attraction to him of charismatic, masculine leadership, while, in For Lancelot Andrewes: Essays on Style and Order (1928), Eliot (whose influence as a literary critic now rivaled his influence as a poet) announced that he was a “classicist in literature, royalist in politics and anglo-catholic in religion” and committed himself to hierarchy and order. Elitist and paternalistic, they did not, however, adopt the extreme positions of Pound (who left England in 1920 and settled permanently in Italy in 1925) or Lewis. Drawing upon the ideas of the left and of the right, Pound and Lewis dismissed democracy as a sham and argued that economic and ideological manipulation was the dominant factor. For some, the antidemocratic views of the Anglo-American Modernists simply made explicit the reactionary tendencies inherent in the movement from its beginning; for others, they came from a tragic loss of balance occasioned by World War I. This issue is a complex one, and judgments upon the literary merit and political status of Pound’s ambitious but immensely difficult Imagist epic The Cantos (1917–70) and Lewis’s powerful sequence of politico-theological novels The Human Age (The Childermass, 1928; Monstre Gai and Malign Fiesta, both 1955) are sharply divided.


T.E. Hulme

born Sept. 16, 1883, Endon, Staffordshire, Eng.
died Sept. 28, 1917, France

English aesthetician, literary critic, and poet, one of the founders of the Imagist movement and a major 20th-century literary influence.

Hulme was educated at Newcastle-under-Lyme grammar school and went to St. John’s College, Cambridge, but was expelled for rowdyism in 1904. Thereafter he lived mainly in London, translating the works of Henri Bergson and Albert Sorel and, with Ezra Pound, F.S. Flint, and Hilda Doolittle (H.D.), instigating the Imagist movement. Five of his poems were published in New Age (January 1912) and reprinted at the end of Pound’s Ripostes. Before his death while fighting in World War I, Hulme defended militarism against the pacifism of Bertrand Russell.

Hulme posited that post-Renaissance humanism was coming to an end and believed that its view of man as without inherent limitations and imperfections was sentimental and based on false premises. His hatred of romantic optimism, his view of man as limited and absurd, his theology, which emphasized the doctrine of original sin, and his advocacy of a “hard, dry” kind of art and poetry foreshadowed the disillusionment of many writers of the 1920s. He advocated the “geometrical” art of Pablo Picasso and Wyndham Lewis as the potential expression of a new, more disciplined religious outlook.

Hulme published little in his lifetime, but his work and ideas sprang into fame in 1924, when his friend Herbert Read assembled some of his notes and fragmentary essays under the title Speculations. Additional compilations were edited by Read (Notes on Language and Style, 1929) and by Sam Hynes (Further Speculations, 1955). Many of his noted contemporaries hailed him as a great thinker, though later opinion has tended to downplay his originality.



F.S. Flint

born Dec. 19, 1885, London, Eng.
died Feb. 28, 1960, Berkshire

English poet and translator, prominent in the Imagist movement (expression of precise images in free verse), whose best poems reflect the disciplined economy of that school.

The son of a commercial traveler, Flint left school at the age of 13 and worked at a variety of jobs. At the age of 17 his reading of a volume by the 19th-century Romantic poet John Keats fired his enthusiasm for poetry. Two years later he became a civil-service typist and enrolled in a workingman’s night school. He learned French and Latin (eventually he mastered 10 languages) and after World War I rose to become a high official in the Ministry of Labour.

Flint’s first volume of poetry, In the Net of the Stars (1909), was a collection of love lyrics, clearly showing the influence of Keats and his contemporary Percy Bysshe Shelley. The same year, he and a group of young poets, all dissatisfied with the state of English poetry, began working to overthrow conventional versification and to replace strict metre with unrhymed cadence (a term he appropriated). His friendship with the English poet T.E. Hulme and the American poet Ezra Pound helped him to develop further his own distinctive poetic style. Cadences (1915) and Otherworld (1925) established him as a leading member of the Imagists.

After the death of his wife in 1920, Flint suddenly stopped writing. He did, however, continue to produce translations, mostly of French works.



Richard Aldington

original name Edward Godfree Aldington
born July 8, 1892, Hampshire, Eng.
died July 27, 1962, Sury-en-Vaus, France

poet, novelist, critic, and biographer who wrote searingly and sometimes irascibly of what he considered to be hypocrisy in modern industrialized civilization.

Educated at Dover College and London University, Aldington early attracted attention through his volumes of Imagist verse (see Imagists). In 1913 he married Hilda Doolittle (H.D.; divorced 1938), the American Imagist poet. Aldington’s contribution is difficult to assess. His best and best known novel, Death of a Hero (1929), to which All Men Are Enemies (1933) was a sequel, reflected the disillusionment of a generation that had fought through World War I. In The Colonel’s Daughter (1931) he satirized sham gentility and literary preciousness so outspokenly that two lending libraries refused to handle the novel. However, in his long poems A Dream in the Luxembourg (1930) and A Fool i’ the Forest (1925) he inveighed against the mechanization of modern man more lyrically, with bittersweet romanticism. His translations from ancient Greek and Latin poets revealed his love for earlier civilizations. His book of reminiscences, Life for Life’s Sake, was published in 1941.

Aldington’s critical works, uneven in quality, included Literary Studies (1924), French Studies and Reviews (1926), and biographies of Voltaire, D.H. Lawrence, Norman Douglas, and Wellington. Lawrence of Arabia (1955), one of his last books, was an uncompromising attack on T.E. Lawrence. Late in life Aldington became a best-seller in the U.S.S.R., where he celebrated his 70th birthday. A Passionate Pilgrim: Letters to Alan Bird from Richard Aldington, 1949–1962 was published in 1975.


Wyndham Lewis

in full Percy Wyndham Lewis

born November 18, 1882, on a yacht near Amherst, Nova Scotia, Canada
died March 7, 1957, London, England

English artist and writer who founded the Vorticist movement, which sought to relate art and literature to the industrial process.

About 1893 Lewis moved to London with his mother after his parents separated. At age 16 he won a scholarship to London’s Slade School of Fine Art, but he left three years later without completing his course. Instead, he went to Paris, where he practiced painting and attended lectures at the Sorbonne. While in Paris, Lewis became interested in Cubist and Expressionist art; he was one of the first British artists to do so.

On his return to London in 1908, Lewis began to write satirical stories, and he developed a style of painting that drew upon aspects of Cubism and Expressionism. By 1913 he was creating paintings that contained abstract geometric forms and references to machines and urban architecture. This style was named Vorticism, due to Lewis’s belief that artists should observe the energy of modern society as if from a still point at the centre of a whirling vortex. In 1914 Lewis published the first of two numbers of Blast: Review of the Great English Vortex, a publication that announced the new art movement in a manifesto attacking Victorian values. Contributors included the American Imagist poet Ezra Pound, the French-born sculptor Jacob Epstein, and the French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. Lewis’s writings in this journal show the influence of Imagist poetry, while his inventive typography and graphic designs, characterized by a violent and theatrical handling of harsh shapes, have much in common with Futurism, an Italian-based art movement that glorified speed and the machine.

In World War I Lewis served at the front as an artillery officer and then, commissioned as a war artist, he produced some memorable paintings and drawings of battle scenes. An example is A Battery Shelled (1919), which is representational yet retains a Vorticist angularity. He wrote his first novel, Tarr, in 1915 (published in 1918).

After the war Lewis became better known for his writing than for his visual art, although he continued to paint portraits and abstract watercolours. He worked in seclusion until 1926, when he began to publish a remarkable series of books: The Art of Being Ruled (political theory); Time and Western Man (an attack on subjectivity and the cult of flux in modern art); The Lion and the Fox (a study of Shakespeare and Machiavelli); and The Wild Body (short stories and essays on satire). In 1930 Lewis caused a furor in literary London with a satirical novel, The Apes of God, in which he scourged wealthy dilettantes.

The 1930s were difficult for Lewis. Although he produced some of his most noted paintings, such as The Surrender of Barcelona (1936) and a portrait of the poet T.S. Eliot (1938), and wrote some of his finest books—including Men Without Art (literary criticism; 1934), Blasting and Bombardiering (memoirs; 1937), and The Revenge for Love (a novel; 1937)—he was deeply in debt by the end of the decade. Two successful libel actions brought against Lewis in 1932 had made publishers wary of him, while his books and articles championing fascism had lost him many friends. Though Lewis later stated that he had made errors of political judgment, his reputation never recovered.

In 1939 Lewis and his wife journeyed to the United States, where he hoped to recoup his finances with a lecture tour and with portrait commissions. The outbreak of World War II made their return impossible; after a brief, unsuccessful stay in New York City, the couple went to Canada, where they lived in poverty for three years in a dilapidated Toronto hotel. Lewis’s 1954 novel, Self-Condemned, is a fictionalized account of those years.

At the war’s end, Lewis and his wife returned home; he became art critic for The Listener, a publication of the British Broadcasting Corporation. Until his sight failed in 1951, Lewis produced a memorable series of articles for that journal, praising several young British artists, such as Michael Ayrton and Francis Bacon, who later became famous. Lewis also wrote a second volume of memoirs (Rude Assignment, 1950), satirical short stories (Rotting Hill, 1951), and the continuation of a multivolume allegorical fantasy begun in 1928 (The Human Age, 1955–56). A year before his death he was honoured with a retrospective exhibition of his art at London’s Tate Gallery.





D.H. Lawrence

"Sons and Lovers"    PART I, PART II

"Lady Chatterley's Lover"   PART I, PART II

English writer
in full David Herbert Lawrence

born September 11, 1885, Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, England
died March 2, 1930, Vence, France

English author of novels, short stories, poems, plays, essays, travel books, and letters. His novels Sons and Lovers (1913), The Rainbow (1915), and Women in Love (1920) made him one of the most influential English writers of the 20th century.

Youth and early career
Lawrence was the fourth child of a north Midlands coal miner who had worked from the age of 10, was a dialect speaker, a drinker, and virtually illiterate. Lawrence’s mother, who came from the south of England, was educated, refined, and pious. Lawrence won a scholarship to Nottingham High School (1898–1901) and left at 16 to earn a living as clerk in a factory, but he had to give up work after a first attack of pneumonia. While convalescing, he began visiting the Haggs Farm nearby and began an intense friendship (1902–10) with Jessie Chambers. He became a pupil-teacher in Eastwood in 1902 and performed brilliantly in the national examination. Encouraged by Jessie, he began to write in 1905; his first story was published in a local newspaper in 1907. He studied at University College, Nottingham, from 1906 to 1908, earning a teacher’s certificate, and went on writing poems and stories and drafting his first novel, The White Peacock.

The Eastwood setting, especially the contrast between mining town and unspoiled countryside, the life and culture of the miners, the strife between his parents, and its effect on his tortured relationship with Jessie all became themes of Lawrence’s early short stories and novels. He kept on returning to Eastwood in imagination long after he had left it in fact.

In 1908 Lawrence went to teach in Croydon, a London suburb. Jessie Chambers sent some of his poems to Ford Madox Hueffer (Ford Madox Ford), editor of the influential English Review. Hueffer recognized his genius, the Review began to publish his work, and Lawrence was able to meet such rising young writers as Ezra Pound. Hueffer recommended The White Peacock to the publisher William Heinemann, who published it in 1911, just after the death of Lawrence’s mother, his break with Jessie, and his engagement to Louie Burrows. His second novel, The Trespasser (1912), gained the interest of the influential editor Edward Garnett, who secured the third novel, Sons and Lovers, for his own firm, Duckworth. In the crucial year of 1911–12 Lawrence had another attack of pneumonia. He broke his engagement to Louie and decided to give up teaching and live by writing, preferably abroad. Most importantly, he fell in love and eloped with Frieda Weekley (née von Richthofen), the aristocratic German wife of a professor at Nottingham. The couple went first to Germany and then to Italy, where Lawrence completed Sons and Lovers. They were married in England in 1914 after Frieda’s divorce.

Sons and Lovers
Lawrence’s first two novels, first play, and most of his early short stories, including such masterpieces as Odour of Chrysanthemums and Daughters of the Vicar (collected in The Prussian Officer, and Other Stories, 1914), use early experience as a departure point. Sons and Lovers carries this process to the point of quasi-autobiography. The book depicts Eastwood and the Haggs Farm, the twin poles of Lawrence’s early life, with vivid realism. The central character, Paul Morel, is naturally identified as Lawrence; the miner-father who drinks and the powerful mother who resists him are clearly modeled on his parents; and the painful devotion of Miriam Leivers resembles that of Jessie Chambers. An older brother, William, who dies young, parallels Lawrence’s brother Ernest, who met an early death. In the novel, the mother turns to her elder son William for emotional fulfillment in place of his father. This section of the original manuscript was much reduced by Garnett before publication. Garnett’s editing not only eliminated some passages of sexual outspokenness but also removed as repetitive structural elements that constitute the establishment of a pattern in the mother’s behaviour and that explain the plural nouns of the title. When William dies, his younger brother Paul becomes the mother’s mission and, ultimately, her victim. Paul’s adolescent love for Miriam is undermined by his mother’s dominance; though fatally attracted to Miriam, Paul cannot be sexually involved with anyone so like his mother, and the sexual relationship he forces on her proves a disaster. He then, in reaction, has a passionate affair with a married woman, Clara Dawes, in what is the only purely imaginary part of the novel. Clara’s husband is a drunken workingman whom she has undermined by her social and intellectual superiority, so their situation mirrors that of the Morels. Though Clara wants more from him, Paul can manage sexual passion only when it is split off from commitment; their affair ends after Paul and Dawes have a murderous fight, and Clara returns to her husband. Paul, for all his intelligence, cannot fully grasp his own unconscious motivations, but Lawrence silently conveys them in the pattern of the plot. Paul can only be released by his mother’s death, and at the end of the book, he is at last free to take up his own life, though it remains uncertain whether he can finally overcome her influence. The whole narrative can be seen as Lawrence’s psychoanalytic study of his own case, a young man’s struggle to gain detachment from his mother.

The Rainbow and Women in Love
During World War I Lawrence and his wife were trapped in England and living in poverty. At this time he was engaged in two related projects. The first was a vein of philosophical writing that he had initiated in the “Foreword” to Sons and Lovers and continued in “Study of Thomas Hardy” (1914) and later works. The other, more important project was an ambitious novel of provincial life that Lawrence rewrote and revised until it split into two major novels: The Rainbow, which was immediately suppressed in Britain as obscene; and Women in Love, which was not published until 1920. In the meantime the Lawrences, living in a cottage in remote Cornwall, had to endure growing suspicion and hostility from their rural neighbours on account of Lawrence’s pacifism and Frieda’s German origins. They were expelled from the county in 1917 on suspicion of signaling to German submarines and spent the rest of the war in London and Derbyshire. Though threatened with military conscription, Lawrence wrote some of his finest work during the war.

It was also a period of personal crisis. Lawrence and Frieda fought often; Frieda had always felt free to have lovers. Following a 1915 visit to Cambridge, where he met Bertrand Russell, Maynard Keynes, and other members of the Cambridge secret society known as the Apostles, Lawrence began to question his own sexual orientation. This internal conflict, which was resolved a few years later, is evident in the abandoned first chapter of Women in Love.

In The Rainbow, the first of the novels of this period, Lawrence extends the scope of Sons and Lovers by following the Brangwen family (who live near Eastwood) over three generations, so that social and spiritual change are woven into the chronicle. The Brangwens begin as farmers so attached to the land and the seasons as to represent a premodern unconsciousness, and succeeding generations in the novel evolve toward modern consciousness, self-consciousness, and even alienation. The book’s early part, which is poetic and mythical, records the love and marriage of Tom Brangwen with the widowed Polish exile Lydia in the 1860s. Lydia’s child Anna marries a Brangwen cousin, Will, in the 1880s. These two initially have a stormy relationship but subside into conventional domesticity anchored by work, home, and children. Expanding consciousness is transmitted to the next generation, Lawrence’s own, in the person of their daughter Ursula. The last third of the novel describes Ursula’s childhood relationship with her father and her passionate but unsuccessful romantic involvement with the soldier Anton Skrebensky. Ursula’s attraction toward Skrebensky is negated by his social conventionality, and her rejection of him is symbolized by a sexual relationship in which she becomes dominant. Ursula miscarries their child, and at the novel’s end she is left on her own in a convalescence like Paul Morel’s, facing a difficult future before World War I. There was an element of war hysteria in the legal suppression of the book in 1915, but the specific ground was a homoerotic episode between Ursula and a female teacher. Lawrence was marked as a subversive writer.

Women in Love takes up the story, but across the gap of changed consciousness created by World War I. The women of the title are Ursula, picking up her life, still at home, and doubtful of her role as teacher and her social and intellectual status; and her sister Gudrun, who is also a teacher but an artist and a free spirit as well. They are modern women, educated, free from stereotyped assumptions about their role, and sexually autonomous. Though unsure of what to do with their lives, they are unwilling to settle for an ordinary marriage as a solution to the problem. The sisters’ aspirations crystallize in their romantic relationships: Ursula’s with Rupert Birkin, a university graduate and school inspector (and also a Lawrence-figure), Gudrun’s with Gerald Crich, the handsome, ruthless, seemingly dominant industrialist who runs his family’s mines. Birkin and Gerald themselves are deeply if inarticulately attached to each other. The novel follows the growth of the two relationships: one (Ursula and Birkin) is productive and hopeful, if difficult to maintain as an equilibrium of free partners. The other (Gudrun and Gerald) tips over into dominance and dependence, violence and death. The account is characterized by the extreme consciousness of the protagonists: the inarticulate struggles of earlier generations are now succeeded at the verbal level by earnest or bitter debate. Birkin’s intellectual force is met by Ursula’s mixture of warmth and skepticism and her emotional stability. The Gerald-Gudrun relationship shows his male dominance to be a shell overlying a crippling inner emptiness and lack of self-awareness, which eventually inspire revulsion in Gudrun. The final conflict between them is played out in the high bareness of an Alpine ski resort; after a brutal assault on Gudrun, Gerald wanders off into the snow and dies. Birkin, grieving, leaves with Ursula for a new life in the warm symbolic south, in Italy.

The search for a fulfilling sexual love and for a form of marriage that will satisfy a modern consciousness is the goal of Lawrence’s early novels and yet becomes increasingly problematic. None of his novels ends happily: at best, they conclude with an open question.

Later life and works
After World War I Lawrence and his wife went to Italy (1919), and he never again lived in England. He soon embarked on a group of novels consisting of The Lost Girl (1920), Aaron’s Rod (1922), and the uncompleted Mr. Noon (published in its entirety only in 1984). All three novels are in two parts: one set in Eastwood and sardonic about local mores, especially the tribal ritual of finding a mate, the other set in Europe, where the central figure breaks out of the tribal setting and finds what may be a true partnership. All three novels also end with an open future; in Mr. Noon, however, Lawrence gives his protagonist Lawrence’s own experience of 1912 with Frieda in Germany, thus continuing in a light-hearted manner the quasi-autobiographical treatment he had begun in Sons and Lovers. In 1921 the Lawrences decided to leave Europe and go to the United States, but eastward, via Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Australia.

Since 1917 Lawrence had been working on Studies in Classic American Literature (1923), which grew out of his sense that the American West was an uncorrupted natural home. His other nonfiction works at this time include Movements in European History (1921) and two treatises on his psychological theories, Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious (1921) and Fantasia of the Unconscious (1922).

Lawrence wrote Kangaroo in six weeks while visiting Australia in 1922. This novel is a serious summary of his own position at the time. The main character and his wife move to Australia after World War I and face in the new country a range of political action: his literary talents are courted alike by socialists and by a nationalist quasi-fascist party. He cannot embrace either political movement, however, and an autobiographical chapter on his experiences in England during World War I reveals that the persecution he endured for his antiwar sentiments killed his desire to participate actively in society. In the end he leaves Australia for America.

Finally reaching Taos, New Mexico, where he settled for a time, Lawrence visited Mexico in 1923 and 1924 and embarked on the ambitious novel The Plumed Serpent (1926). In this novel Lawrence maintains that the regeneration of Europe’s crumbling postwar society must come from a religious root, and if Christianity is dead, each region must return to its own indigenous religious tradition. The Plumed Serpent’s prophet-hero, a Mexican general, revives Aztec rites as the basis of a new theocratic state in Mexico whose authoritarian leaders are worshiped as gods. The Lawrence-representative in the story, a European woman, in the end marries one of the leader-gods but remains half-repelled by his violence and irrationality. After pursuing this theme to its logical conclusion in The Plumed Serpent, however, Lawrence abandoned it, and he was reduced to his old ideal of a community where he could begin a new life with a few like-minded people. Taos was the most suitable place he had found, but he was now beginning to die; a bout of illness in 1925 produced bronchial hemorrhage, and tuberculosis was diagnosed.

Lawrence returned to Italy in 1925, and in 1926 he embarked on the first versions of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and wrote Sketches of Etruscan Places, a “travel” book that projects Lawrence’s ideal personal and social life upon the Etruscans. Privately published in 1928, Lady Chatterley’s Lover led an underground life until legal decisions in New York (1959) and London (1960) made it freely available—and a model for countless literary descriptions of sexual acts. The London verdict allowing publication capped a trial at which the book was defended by many eminent English writers. In the novel Lawrence returns for the last time to Eastwood and portrays the tender sexual love, across barriers of class and marriage, of two damaged moderns. Lawrence had always seen the need to relate sexuality to feeling, and his fiction had always extended the borders of the permissible—and had been censored in detail. In Lady Chatterley’s Lover he now fully described sexual acts as expressing aspects or moods of love, and he also used the colloquial four-letter words that naturally occur in free speech.

The dying Lawrence moved to the south of France, where in 1929 he wrote Apocalypse (published 1931), a commentary on the biblical Book of Revelation that is his final religious statement. He was buried in Vence, and his ashes were removed to Taos in 1935.

Poetry and nonfiction
The fascination of Lawrence’s personality is attested by all who knew him, and it abundantly survives in his fiction, his poetry, his numerous prose writings, and his letters. Lawrence’s poetry deserves special mention. In his early poems his touch is often unsure, he is too “literary,” and he is often constrained by rhyme. But by a remarkable triumph of development, he evolved a highly spontaneous mode of free verse that allowed him to express an unrivaled mixture of observation and symbolism. His poetry can be of great biographical interest, as in Look! We Have Come Through! (1917), and some of the verse in Pansies (1929) and Nettles (1930) is brilliantly sardonic. But his most original contribution is Birds, Beasts and Flowers (1923), in which he creates an unprecedented poetry of nature, based on his experiences of the Mediterranean scene and the American Southwest. In his Last Poems (1932) he contemplates death.

No account of Lawrence’s work can omit his unsurpassable letters. In their variety of tone, vivacity, and range of interest, they convey a full and splendid picture of himself, his relation to his correspondents, and the exhilarations, depressions, and prophetic broodings of his wandering life. Lawrence’s short stories were collected in The Prussian Officer, England My England, and Other Stories (1922), The Woman Who Rode Away, and Other Stories (1928), and Love Among the Haystacks and Other Pieces (1930), among other volumes. His early plays, The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd (1914) and The Daughter-in-Law (performed 1936), have proved effective on stage and television. Of his travel books, Sea and Sardinia (1921) is the most spontaneous; the others involve parallel journeys to Lawrence’s interior.

D.H. Lawrence was first recognized as a working-class novelist showing the reality of English provincial family life and—in the first days of psychoanalysis—as the author-subject of a classic case history of the Oedipus complex. In subsequent works, Lawrence’s frank handling of sexuality cast him as a pioneer of a “liberation” he would not himself have approved. From the beginning readers have been won over by the poetic vividness of his writing and his efforts to describe subjective states of emotion, sensation, and intuition. This spontaneity and immediacy of feeling coexists with a continual, slightly modified repetition of themes, characters, and symbols that express Lawrence’s own evolving artistic vision and thought. His great novels remain difficult because their realism is underlain by obsessive personal metaphors, by elements of mythology, and above all by his attempt to express in words what is normally wordless because it exists below consciousness. Lawrence tried to go beyond the “old, stable ego” of the characters familiar to readers of more conventional fiction. His characters are continually experiencing transformations driven by unconscious processes rather than by conscious intent, thought, or ideas.

Since the 1960s, Lawrence’s critical reputation has declined, largely as a result of feminist criticism of his representations of women. Although it lacks the inventiveness of his more radical Modernist contemporaries, his work—with its depictions of the preoccupations that led a generation of writers and readers to break away from Victorian social, sexual, and cultural norms—provides crucial insight into the social and cultural history of Anglo-American Modernism.

Lawrence was ultimately a religious writer who did not so much reject Christianity as try to create a new religious and moral basis for modern life by continual resurrections and transformations of the self. These changes are never limited to the social self, nor are they ever fully under the eye of consciousness. Lawrence called for a new openness to what he called the “dark gods” of nature, feeling, instinct, and sexuality; a renewed contact with these forces was, for him, the beginning of wisdom.

Michael H. Black





T.S. Eliot

"The Waste Land"

Anglo-American poet
in full Thomas Stearns Eliot

born September 26, 1888, St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
died January 4, 1965, London, England

American-English poet, playwright, literary critic, and editor, a leader of the modernist movement in poetry in such works as The Waste Land (1922) and Four Quartets (1943). Eliot exercised a strong influence on Anglo-American culture from the 1920s until late in the century. His experiments in diction, style, and versification revitalized English poetry, and in a series of critical essays he shattered old orthodoxies and erected new ones. The publication of Four Quartets led to his recognition as the greatest living English poet and man of letters, and in 1948 he was awarded both the Order of Merit and the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Early years
Eliot was descended from a distinguished New England family that had relocated to St. Louis, Missouri. His family allowed him the widest education available in his time, with no influence from his father to be “practical” and to go into business. From Smith Academy in St. Louis he went to Milton, in Massachusetts; from Milton he entered Harvard in 1906; he received a B.A. in 1909, after three instead of the usual four years. The men who influenced him at Harvard were George Santayana, the philosopher and poet, and the critic Irving Babbitt. From Babbitt he derived an anti-Romantic attitude that, amplified by his later reading of British philosophers F.H. Bradley and T.E. Hulme, lasted through his life. In the academic year 1909–10 he was an assistant in philosophy at Harvard.

He spent the year 1910–11 in France, attending Henri Bergson’s lectures in philosophy at the Sorbonne and reading poetry with Alain-Fournier. Eliot’s study of the poetry of Dante, of the English writers John Webster and John Donne, and of the French Symbolist Jules Laforgue helped him to find his own style. From 1911 to 1914 he was back at Harvard reading Indian philosophy and studying Sanskrit. In 1913 he read Bradley’s Appearance and Reality; by 1916 he had finished, in Europe, a dissertation entitled Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F.H. Bradley. But World War I had intervened, and he never returned to Harvard to take the final oral examination for the Ph.D. degree. In 1914 Eliot met and began a close association with the American poet Ezra Pound.

Early publications
Eliot was to pursue four careers: editor, dramatist, literary critic, and philosophical poet. He was probably the most erudite poet of his time in the English language. His undergraduate poems were “literary” and conventional. His first important publication, and the first masterpiece of “modernism” in English, was The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table. . . .

Although Pound had printed privately a small book, A lume spento, as early as 1908, Prufrock was the first poem by either of these literary revolutionists to go beyond experiment to achieve perfection. It represented a break with the immediate past as radical as that of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth in Lyrical Ballads (1798). From the appearance of Eliot’s first volume, Prufrock and Other Observations, in 1917, one may conveniently date the maturity of the 20th-century poetic revolution. The significance of the revolution is still disputed, but the striking similarity to the Romantic revolution of Coleridge and Wordsworth is obvious: Eliot and Pound, like their 18th-century counterparts, set about reforming poetic diction. Whereas Wordsworth thought he was going back to the “real language of men,” Eliot struggled to create new verse rhythms based on the rhythms of contemporary speech. He sought a poetic diction that might be spoken by an educated person, being “neither pedantic nor vulgar.”

For a year Eliot taught French and Latin at the Highgate School; in 1917 he began his brief career as a bank clerk in Lloyds Bank Ltd. Meanwhile he was also a prolific reviewer and essayist in both literary criticism and technical philosophy. In 1919 he published Poems, which contained the poem Gerontion, a meditative interior monologue in blank verse: nothing like this poem had appeared in English.

The Waste Land and criticism
With the publication in 1922 of his poem The Waste Land, Eliot won an international reputation. The Waste Land expresses with great power the disenchantment, disillusionment, and disgust of the period after World War I. In a series of vignettes, loosely linked by the legend of the search for the Grail, it portrays a sterile world of panicky fears and barren lusts, and of human beings waiting for some sign or promise of redemption. The poem’s style is highly complex, erudite, and allusive, and the poet provided notes and references to explain the work’s many quotations and allusions. This scholarly supplement distracted some readers and critics from perceiving the true originality of the poem, which lay rather in its rendering of the universal human predicament of man desiring salvation, and in its manipulation of language, than in its range of literary references. In his earlier poems Eliot had shown himself to be a master of the poetic phrase. The Waste Land showed him to be, in addition, a metrist of great virtuosity, capable of astonishing modulations ranging from the sublime to the conversational.

The Waste Land consists of five sections and proceeds on a principle of “rhetorical discontinuity” that reflects the fragmented experience of the 20th-century sensibility of the great modern cities of the West. Eliot expresses the hopelessness and confusion of purpose of life in the secularized city, the decay of urbs aeterna (the “eternal city”). This is the ultimate theme of The Waste Land, concretized by the poem’s constant rhetorical shifts and its juxtapositions of contrasting styles. But The Waste Land is not a simple contrast of the heroic past with the degraded present; it is rather a timeless, simultaneous awareness of moral grandeur and moral evil. The poem’s original manuscript of about 800 lines was cut down to 433 at the suggestion of Ezra Pound. The Waste Land is not Eliot’s greatest poem, though it is his most famous.

Eliot said that the poet-critic must write “programmatic criticism”—that is, criticism that expresses the poet’s own interests as a poet, quite different from historical scholarship, which stops at placing the poet in his background. Consciously intended or not, Eliot’s criticism created an atmosphere in which his own poetry could be better understood and appreciated than if it had to appear in a literary milieu dominated by the standards of the preceding age. In the essay Tradition and the Individual Talent, appearing in his first critical volume, The Sacred Wood (1920), Eliot asserts that tradition, as used by the poet, is not a mere repetition of the work of the immediate past (“novelty is better than repetition,” he said); rather, it comprises the whole of European literature from Homer to the present. The poet writing in English may therefore make his own tradition by using materials from any past period, in any language. This point of view is “programmatic” in the sense that it disposes the reader to accept the revolutionary novelty of Eliot’s polyglot quotations and serious parodies of other poets’ styles in The Waste Land.

Also in The Sacred Wood, Hamlet and His Problems sets forth Eliot’s theory of the objective correlative:

The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an “objective correlative”; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula for that particular emotion; such that, when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.

Eliot used the phrase “objective correlative” in the context of his own impersonal theory of poetry; it thus had an immense influence toward correcting the vagueness of late Victorian rhetoric by insisting on a correspondence of word and object. Two other essays, first published the year after The Sacred Wood, almost complete the Eliot critical canon: The Metaphysical Poets and Andrew Marvell, published in Selected Essays, 1917–32 (1932). In these essays he effects a new historical perspective on the hierarchy of English poetry, putting at the top Donne and other Metaphysical poets of the 17th century and lowering poets of the 18th and 19th centuries. Eliot’s second famous phrase appears here—“dissociation of sensibility,” invented to explain the change that came over English poetry after Donne and Andrew Marvell. This change seems to him to consist in a loss of the union of thought and feeling. The phrase has been attacked, yet the historical fact that gave rise to it cannot be denied, and with the poetry of Eliot and Pound it had a strong influence in reviving interest in certain 17th-century poets.

The first, or programmatic, phase of Eliot’s criticism ended with The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933)—his Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard. Shortly before this his interests had broadened into theology and sociology; three short books, or long essays, were the result: Thoughts After Lambeth (1931), The Idea of a Christian Society (1939), and Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (1948). These book-essays, along with his Dante (1929), an indubitable masterpiece, broadened the base of literature into theology and philosophy: whether a work is poetry must be decided by literary standards; whether it is great poetry must be decided by standards higher than the literary.

Eliot’s criticism and poetry are so interwoven that it is difficult to discuss them separately. The great essay on Dante appeared two years after Eliot was confirmed in the Church of England (1927); in that year he also became a British subject. The first long poem after his conversion was Ash Wednesday (1930), a religious meditation in a style entirely different from that of any of the earlier poems. Ash Wednesday expresses the pangs and the strain involved in the acceptance of religious belief and religious discipline. This and subsequent poems were written in a more relaxed, musical, and meditative style than his earlier works, in which the dramatic element had been stronger than the lyrical. Ash Wednesday was not well received in an era that held that poetry, though autonomous, is strictly secular in its outlook; it was misinterpreted by some critics as an expression of personal disillusion.

Later poetry and plays
Eliot’s masterpiece is Four Quartets, which was issued as a book in 1943, though each “quartet” is a complete poem. The first of the quartets, Burnt Norton, had appeared in the Collected Poems of 1936. It is a subtle meditation on the nature of time and its relation to eternity. On the model of this Eliot wrote three more poems, East Coker (1940), The Dry Salvages (1941), and Little Gidding (1942), in which he explored through images of great beauty and haunting power his own past, the past of the human race, and the meaning of human history. Each of the poems was self-subsistent; but when published together they were seen to make up a single work, in which themes and images recurred and were developed in a musical manner and brought to a final resolution. This work made a deep impression on the reading public, and even those who were unable to accept the poems’ Christian beliefs recognized the intellectual integrity with which Eliot pursued his high theme, the originality of the form he had devised, and the technical mastery of his verse. This work led to the award to Eliot, in 1948, of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

An outstanding example of Eliot’s verse in Four Quartets is the passage in Little Gidding in which the poet meets a “compound ghost,” a figure composite of two of his masters: William Butler Yeats and Stéphane Mallarmé. The scene takes place at dawn in London after a night on duty at an air-raid post during an air-attack; the master speaks in conclusion:

From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
Where you must move in measure, like a dancer.
The day was breaking. In the disfigured street
He left me, with a kind of valediction,
And faded on the blowing of the horn.

The passage is 72 lines, in modified terza rima; the diction is as near to that of Dante as is possible in English; and it is a fine example of Eliot’s belief that a poet can be entirely original when he is closest to his models.

Eliot’s plays, which begin with Sweeney Agonistes (published 1926; first performed in 1934) and end with The Elder Statesman (first performed 1958; published 1959), are, with the exception of Murder in the Cathedral (published and performed 1935), inferior to the lyric and meditative poetry. Eliot’s belief that even secular drama attracts people who unconsciously seek a religion led him to put drama above all other forms of poetry. All his plays are in a blank verse of his own invention, in which the metrical effect is not apprehended apart from the sense; thus he brought “poetic drama” back to the popular stage. The Family Reunion (1939) and Murder in the Cathedral are Christian tragedies, the former a tragedy of revenge, the latter of the sin of pride. Murder in the Cathedral is a modern miracle play on the martyrdom of Thomas Becket. The most striking feature of this, his most successful play, was the use of a chorus in the traditional Greek manner to make apprehensible to common humanity the meaning of the heroic action. The Family Reunion (1939) was less popular. It contained scenes of great poignancy and some of the finest dramatic verse since the Elizabethans; but the public found this translation of the story of Orestes into a modern domestic drama baffling and was uneasy at the mixture of psychological realism, mythical apparitions at a drawing-room window, and a comic chorus of uncles and aunts.

After World War II, Eliot returned to writing plays with The Cocktail Party in 1949, The Confidential Clerk in 1953, and The Elder Statesman in 1958. These plays are comedies in which the plots are derived from Greek drama. In them Eliot accepted current theatrical conventions at their most conventional, subduing his style to a conversational level and eschewing the lyrical passages that gave beauty to his earlier plays. Only The Cocktail Party, which is based upon the Alcestis of Euripides, achieved a popular success. In spite of their obvious theatrical defects and a failure to engage the sympathies of the audience for the characters, these plays succeed in handling moral and religious issues of some complexity while entertaining the audience with farcical plots and some shrewd social satire.

Eliot’s career as editor was ancillary to his main interests, but his quarterly review, The Criterion (1922–39), was the most distinguished international critical journal of the period. He was a “director,” or working editor, of the publishing firm of Faber & Faber Ltd. from the early 1920s until his death, and as such was a generous and discriminating patron of young poets. Eliot rigorously kept his private life in the background. In 1915 he married Vivien Haigh-Wood. After 1933 she was mentally ill, and they lived apart; she died in 1947. In January 1957 he married Valerie Fletcher, with whom he lived happily until his death.

Allen Tate
Dame Helen Gardner

Celtic Modernism:

Yeats, Joyce, Jones, and MacDiarmid

Lewis, Lawrence, and Eliot were the principal male figures of Anglo-American Modernism, but important contributions also were made by the Irish poet and playwright William Butler Yeats and the Irish novelist James Joyce. By virtue of nationality, residence, and, in Yeats’s case, an unjust reputation as a poet still steeped in Celtic mythology, they had less immediate impact upon the British literary intelligentsia in the late 1910s and early 1920s than Pound, Lewis, Lawrence, and Eliot, although by the mid-1920s their influence had become direct and substantial. Many critics today argue that Yeats’s work as a poet and Joyce’s work as a novelist are the most important Modernist achievements of the period.

In his early verse and drama, Yeats, who had been influenced as a young man by the Romantic and Pre-Raphaelite movements, evoked a legendary and supernatural Ireland in language that was often vague and grandiloquent. As an adherent of the cause of Irish nationalism, he had hoped to instill pride in the Irish past. The poetry of The Green Helmet (1910) and Responsibilities (1914), however, was marked not only by a more concrete and colloquial style but also by a growing isolation from the nationalist movement, for Yeats celebrated an aristocratic Ireland epitomized for him by the family and country house of his friend and patron, Lady Gregory.

The grandeur of his mature reflective poetry in The Wild Swans at Coole (1917), Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921), The Tower (1928), and The Winding Stair (1929) derived in large measure from the way in which (caught up by the violent discords of contemporary Irish history) he accepted the fact that his idealized Ireland was illusory. At its best his mature style combined passion and precision with powerful symbol, strong rhythm, and lucid diction; and even though his poetry often touched upon public themes, he never ceased to reflect upon the Romantic themes of creativity, selfhood, and the individual’s relationship to nature, time, and history.

Joyce, who spent his adult life on the continent of Europe, expressed in his fiction his sense of the limits and possibilities of the Ireland he had left behind. In his collection of short stories, Dubliners (1914), and his largely autobiographical novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), he described in fiction at once realist and symbolist the individual cost of the sexual and imaginative oppressiveness of life in Ireland. As if by provocative contrast, his panoramic novel of urban life, Ulysses (1922), was sexually frank and imaginatively profuse. (Copies of the first edition were burned by the New York postal authorities, and British customs officials seized the second edition in 1923.) Employing extraordinary formal and linguistic inventiveness, including the stream-of-consciousness method, Joyce depicted the experiences and the fantasies of various men and women in Dublin on a summer’s day in June 1904. Yet his purpose was not simply documentary, for he drew upon an encyclopaedic range of European literature to stress the rich universality of life buried beneath the provincialism of pre-independence Dublin, in 1904 a city still within the British Empire. In his even more experimental Finnegans Wake (1939), extracts of which had already appeared as Work in Progress from 1928 to 1937, Joyce’s commitment to cultural universality became absolute. By means of a strange, polyglot idiom of puns and portmanteau words, he not only explored the relationship between the conscious and the unconscious but also suggested that the languages and myths of Ireland were interwoven with the languages and myths of many other cultures.

The example of Joyce’s experimentalism was followed by the Anglo-Welsh poet David Jones and by the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid (pseudonym of Christopher Murray Grieve). Whereas Jones concerned himself, in his complex and allusive poetry and prose, with the Celtic, Saxon, Roman, and Christian roots of Great Britain, MacDiarmid sought not only to recover what he considered to be an authentically Scottish culture but also to establish, as in his In Memoriam James Joyce (1955), the truly cosmopolitan nature of Celtic consciousness and achievement. MacDiarmid’s masterpiece in the vernacular, A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (1926), helped to inspire the Scottish renaissance of the 1920s and ’30s.


William Butler Yeats

"A Man Young And Old"

Irish author and poet

born June 13, 1865, Sandymount, Dublin, Ire.
died Jan. 28, 1939, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, Fr.

Irish poet, dramatist, and prose writer, one of the greatest English-language poets of the 20th century. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923.

Yeats’s father, John Butler Yeats, was a barrister who eventually became a portrait painter. His mother, formerly Susan Pollexfen, was the daughter of a prosperous merchant in Sligo, in western Ireland. Through both parents Yeats claimed kinship with various Anglo-Irish Protestant families who are mentioned in his work. Normally, Yeats would have been expected to identify with his Protestant tradition—which represented a powerful minority among Ireland’s predominantly Roman Catholic population—but he did not. Indeed, he was separated from both historical traditions available to him in Ireland—from the Roman Catholics, because he could not share their faith, and from the Protestants, because he felt repelled by their concern for material success. Yeats’s best hope, he felt, was to cultivate a tradition more profound than either the Catholic or the Protestant—the tradition of a hidden Ireland that existed largely in the anthropological evidence of its surviving customs, beliefs, and holy places, more pagan than Christian.

In 1867, when Yeats was only two, his family moved to London, but he spent much of his boyhood and school holidays in Sligo with his grandparents. This country—its scenery, folklore, and supernatural legend—would colour Yeats’s work and form the setting of many of his poems. In 1880 his family moved back to Dublin, where he attended the high school. In 1883 he attended the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin, where the most important part of his education was in meeting other poets and artists.

Meanwhile, Yeats was beginning to write: his first publication, two brief lyrics, appeared in the Dublin University Review in 1885. When the family moved back to London in 1887, Yeats took up the life of a professional writer. He joined the Theosophical Society, whose mysticism appealed to him because it was a form of imaginative life far removed from the workaday world. The age of science was repellent to Yeats; he was a visionary, and he insisted upon surrounding himself with poetic images. He began a study of the prophetic books of William Blake, and this enterprise brought him into contact with other visionary traditions, such as the Platonic, the Neoplatonic, the Swedenborgian, and the alchemical.

Yeats was already a proud young man, and his pride required him to rely on his own taste and his sense of artistic style. He was not boastful, but spiritual arrogance came easily to him. His early poems, collected in The Wanderings of Oisin, and Other Poems (1889), are the work of an aesthete, often beautiful but always rarefied, a soul’s cry for release from circumstance.

Yeats quickly became involved in the literary life of London. He became friends with William Morris and W.E. Henley, and he was a cofounder of the Rhymers’ Club, whose members included his friends Lionel Johnson and Arthur Symons. In 1889 Yeats met Maud Gonne, an Irish beauty, ardent and brilliant. From that moment, as he wrote, “the troubling of my life began.” He fell in love with her, but his love was hopeless. Maud Gonne liked and admired him, but she was not in love with him. Her passion was lavished upon Ireland; she was an Irish patriot, a rebel, and a rhetorician, commanding in voice and in person. When Yeats joined in the Irish nationalist cause, he did so partly from conviction, but mostly for love of Maud. When Yeats’s play Cathleen ni Houlihan was first performed in Dublin in 1902, she played the title role. It was during this period that Yeats came under the influence of John O’Leary, a charismatic leader of the Fenians, a secret society of Irish nationalists.

After the rapid decline and death of the controversial Irish leader Charles Stewart Parnell in 1891, Yeats felt that Irish political life lost its significance. The vacuum left by politics might be filled, he felt, by literature, art, poetry, drama, and legend. The Celtic Twilight (1893), a volume of essays, was Yeats’s first effort toward this end, but progress was slow until 1898, when he met Augusta Lady Gregory, an aristocrat who was to become a playwright and his close friend. She was already collecting old stories, the lore of the west of Ireland. Yeats found that this lore chimed with his feeling for ancient ritual, for pagan beliefs never entirely destroyed by Christianity. He felt that if he could treat it in a strict and high style, he would create a genuine poetry while, in personal terms, moving toward his own identity. From 1898, Yeats spent his summers at Lady Gregory’s home, Coole Park, County Galway, and he eventually purchased a ruined Norman castle called Thoor Ballylee in the neighbourhood. Under the name of the Tower, this structure would become a dominant symbol in many of his latest and best poems.

In 1899 Yeats asked Maud Gonne to marry him, but she declined. Four years later she married Major John MacBride, an Irish soldier who shared her feeling for Ireland and her hatred of English oppression: he was one of the rebels later executed by the British government for their part in the Easter Rising of 1916. Meanwhile, Yeats devoted himself to literature and drama, believing that poems and plays would engender a national unity capable of transfiguring the Irish nation. He (along with Lady Gregory and others) was one of the originators of the Irish Literary Theatre, which gave its first performance in Dublin in 1899 with Yeats’s play The Countess Cathleen. To the end of his life Yeats remained a director of this theatre, which became the Abbey Theatre in 1904. In the crucial period from 1899 to 1907, he managed the theatre’s affairs, encouraged its playwrights (notably John Millington Synge), and contributed many of his own plays. Among the latter that became part of the Abbey Theatre’s repertoire are The Land of Heart’s Desire (1894), Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902), The Hour Glass (1903), The King’s Threshold (1904), On Baile’s Strand (1905), and Deirdre (1907).

Yeats published several volumes of poetry during this period, notably Poems (1895) and The Wind Among the Reeds (1899), which are typical of his early verse in their dreamlike atmosphere and their use of Irish folklore and legend. But in the collections In the Seven Woods (1903) and The Green Helmet (1910), Yeats slowly discarded the Pre-Raphaelite colours and rhythms of his early verse and purged it of certain Celtic and esoteric influences. The years from 1909 to 1914 mark a decisive change in his poetry. The otherworldly, ecstatic atmosphere of the early lyrics has cleared, and the poems in Responsibilities: Poems and a Play (1914) show a tightening and hardening of his verse line, a more sparse and resonant imagery, and a new directness with which Yeats confronts reality and its imperfections.

In 1917 Yeats published The Wild Swans at Coole. From then onward he reached and maintained the height of his achievement—a renewal of inspiration and a perfecting of technique that are almost without parallel in the history of English poetry. The Tower (1928), named after the castle he owned and had restored, is the work of a fully accomplished artist; in it, the experience of a lifetime is brought to perfection of form. Still, some of Yeats’s greatest verse was written subsequently, appearing in The Winding Stair (1929). The poems in both of these works use, as their dominant subjects and symbols, the Easter Rising and the Irish civil war; Yeats’s own tower; the Byzantine Empire and its mosaics; Plato, Plotinus, and Porphyry; and the author’s interest in contemporary psychical research. Yeats explained his own philosophy in the prose work A Vision (1925, revised version 1937); this meditation upon the relation between imagination, history, and the occult remains indispensable to serious students of Yeats despite its obscurities.

In 1913 Yeats spent some months at Stone Cottage, Sussex, with the American poet Ezra Pound acting as his secretary. Pound was then editing translations of the nō plays of Japan, and Yeats was greatly excited by them. The nō drama provided a framework of drama designed for a small audience of initiates, a stylized, intimate drama capable of fully using the resources offered by masks, mime, dance, and song and conveying—in contrast to the public theatre—Yeats’s own recondite symbolism. Yeats devised what he considered an equivalent of the nō drama in such plays as Four Plays for Dancers (1921), At the Hawk’s Well (first performed 1916), and several others.

In 1917 Yeats asked Iseult Gonne, Maud Gonne’s daughter, to marry him. She refused. Some weeks later he proposed to Miss George Hyde-Lees and was accepted; they were married in 1917. A daughter, Anne Butler Yeats, was born in 1919, and a son, William Michael Yeats, in 1921.

In 1922, on the foundation of the Irish Free State, Yeats accepted an invitation to become a member of the new Irish Senate: he served for six years. In 1923 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Now a celebrated figure, he was indisputably one of the most significant modern poets. In 1936 his Oxford Book of Modern Verse, 1892–1935, a gathering of the poems he loved, was published. Still working on his last plays, he completed The Herne’s Egg, his most raucous work, in 1938. Yeats’s last two verse collections, New Poems and Last Poems and Two Plays, appeared in 1938 and 1939 respectively. In these books many of his previous themes are gathered up and rehandled, with an immense technical range; the aged poet was using ballad rhythms and dialogue structure with undiminished energy as he approached his 75th year.

Yeats died in January 1939 while abroad. Final arrangements for his burial in Ireland could not be made, so he was buried at Roquebrune, France. The intention of having his body buried in Sligo was thwarted when World War II began in the autumn of 1939. In 1948 his body was finally taken back to Sligo and buried in a little Protestant churchyard at Drumcliffe, as he specified in “Under Ben Bulben,” in his Last Poems, under his own epitaph: “Cast a cold eye/On life, on death./Horseman, pass by!”

Had Yeats ceased to write at age 40, he would probably now be valued as a minor poet writing in a dying Pre-Raphaelite tradition that had drawn renewed beauty and poignancy for a time from the Celtic revival. There is no precedent in literary history for a poet who produces his greatest work between the ages of 50 and 75. Yeats’s work of this period takes its strength from his long and dedicated apprenticeship to poetry; from his experiments in a wide range of forms of poetry, drama, and prose; and from his spiritual growth and his gradual acquisition of personal wisdom, which he incorporated into the framework of his own mythology.

Yeats’s mythology, from which arises the distilled symbolism of his great period, is not always easy to understand, nor did Yeats intend its full meaning to be immediately apparent to those unfamiliar with his thought and the tradition in which he worked. His own cyclic view of history suggested to him a recurrence and convergence of images, so that they become multiplied and enriched; and this progressive enrichment may be traced throughout his work. Among Yeats’s dominant images are Leda and the Swan; Helen and the burning of Troy; the Tower in its many forms; the sun and moon; the burning house; cave, thorn tree, and well; eagle, heron, sea gull, and hawk; blind man, lame man, and beggar; unicorn and phoenix; and horse, hound, and boar. Yet these traditional images are continually validated by their alignment with Yeats’s own personal experience, and it is this that gives them their peculiarly vital quality. In Yeats’s verse they are often shaped into a strong and proud rhetoric and into the many poetic tones of which he was the master. All are informed by the two qualities which Yeats valued and which he retained into old age—passion and joy.





James Joyce

"Ulysses"    PART I,   PART II,   PART III

in full James Augustine Aloysius Joyce
born Feb. 2, 1882, Dublin, Ire.
died Jan. 13, 1941, Zürich, Switz.

Irish novelist noted for his experimental use of language and exploration of new literary methods in such large works of fiction as Ulysses (1922) and Finnegans Wake (1939).

Early life
Joyce, the eldest of 10 children in his family to survive infancy, was sent at age six to Clongowes Wood College, a Jesuit boarding school that has been described as “the Eton of Ireland.” But his father was not the man to stay affluent for long; he drank, neglected his affairs, and borrowed money from his office, and his family sank deeper and deeper into poverty, the children becoming accustomed to conditions of increasing sordidness. Joyce did not return to Clongowes in 1891; instead he stayed at home for the next two years and tried to educate himself, asking his mother to check his work. In April 1893 he and his brother Stanislaus were admitted, without fees, to Belvedere College, a Jesuit grammar school in Dublin. Joyce did well there academically and was twice elected president of the Marian Society, a position virtually that of head boy. He left, however, under a cloud, as it was thought (correctly) that he had lost his Roman Catholic faith.

He entered University College, Dublin, which was then staffed by Jesuit priests. There he studied languages and reserved his energies for extracurricular activities, reading widely—particularly in books not recommended by the Jesuits—and taking an active part in the college’s Literary and Historical Society. Greatly admiring Henrik Ibsen, he learned Dano-Norwegian to read the original and had an article, Ibsen’s New Drama—a review of the play When We Dead Awaken—published in the London Fortnightly Review in 1900 just after his 18th birthday. This early success confirmed Joyce in his resolution to become a writer and persuaded his family, friends, and teachers that the resolution was justified. In October 1901 he published an essay, The Day of the Rabblement, attacking the Irish Literary Theatre (later the Dublin Abbey Theatre) for catering to popular taste.

Joyce was leading a dissolute life at this time but worked sufficiently hard to pass his final examinations, matriculating with “second-class honours in Latin” and obtaining the degree of B.A. on Oct. 31, 1902. Never did he relax his efforts to master the art of writing. He wrote verses and experimented with short prose passages that he called “epiphanies,” a word that Joyce used to describe his accounts of moments when the real truth about some person or object was revealed. To support himself while writing, he decided to become a doctor, but, after attending a few lectures in Dublin, he borrowed what money he could and went to Paris, where he abandoned the idea of medical studies, wrote some book reviews, and studied in the Sainte-Geneviève Library.

Recalled home in April 1903 because his mother was dying, he tried various occupations, including teaching, and lived at various addresses, including the Martello Tower at Sandycove, now Ireland’s Joyce Museum. He had begun writing a lengthy naturalistic novel, Stephen Hero, based on the events of his own life, when in 1904 George Russell offered £1 each for some simple short stories with an Irish background to appear in a farmers’ magazine, The Irish Homestead. In response Joyce began writing the stories published as Dubliners (1914). Three stories, The Sisters, Eveline, and After the Race, had appeared under the pseudonym Stephen Dedalus before the editor decided that Joyce’s work was not suitable for his readers. Meanwhile Joyce had met a girl named Nora Barnacle, with whom he fell in love on June 16, the day that he chose as what is known as “Bloomsday” (the day of his novel Ulysses). Eventually he persuaded her to leave Ireland with him, although he refused, on principle, to go through a ceremony of marriage.

Early travels and works
Joyce and Nora left Dublin together in October 1904. Joyce obtained a position in the Berlitz School, Pola, Austria-Hungary, working in his spare time at his novel and short stories. In 1905 they moved to Trieste, where James’s brother Stanislaus joined them and where their children, George and Lucia, were born. In 1906–07, for eight months, he worked at a bank in Rome, disliking almost everything he saw. Ireland seemed pleasant by contrast; he wrote to Stanislaus that he had not given credit in his stories to the Irish virtue of hospitality and began to plan a new story, The Dead. The early stories were meant, he said, to show the stultifying inertia and social conformity from which Dublin suffered, but they are written with a vividness that arises from his success in making every word and every detail significant. His studies in European literature had interested him in both the Symbolists and the Realists; his work began to show a synthesis of these two rival movements. He decided that Stephen Hero lacked artistic control and form and rewrote it as “a work in five chapters” under a title—A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man—intended to direct attention to its focus upon the central figure.

In 1909 he visited Ireland twice to try to publish Dubliners and set up a chain of Irish cinemas. Neither effort succeeded, and he was distressed when a former friend told him that he had shared Nora’s affections in the summer of 1904. Another old friend proved this to be a lie. Joyce always felt that he had been betrayed, however, and the theme of betrayal runs through much of his later writings.

When Italy declared war in 1915 Stanislaus was interned, but James and his family were allowed to go to Zürich. At first, while he gave private lessons in English and worked on the early chapters of Ulysses—which he had first thought of as another short story about a “Mr. Hunter”—his financial difficulties were great. He was helped by a large grant from Edith Rockefeller McCormick and finally by a series of grants from Harriet Shaw Weaver, editor of the Egoist magazine, which by 1930 had amounted to more than £23,000. Her generosity resulted partly from her admiration for his work and partly from her sympathy with his difficulties, for, as well as poverty, he had to contend with eye diseases that never really left him. From February 1917 until 1930 he endured a series of 25 operations for iritis, glaucoma, and cataracts, sometimes being for short intervals totally blind. Despite this he kept up his spirits and continued working, some of his most joyful passages being composed when his health was at its worst.

Unable to find an English printer willing to set up A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man for book publication, Weaver published it herself, having the sheets printed in the United States, where it was also published, on Dec. 29, 1916, by B.W. Huebsch, in advance of the English Egoist Press edition. Encouraged by the acclaim given to this, in March 1918, the American Little Review began to publish episodes from Ulysses, continuing until the work was banned in December 1920. An autobiographical novel, A Portrait of the Artist traces the intellectual and emotional development of a young man named Stephen Dedalus and ends with his decision to leave Dublin for Paris to devote his life to art. The last words of Stephen prior to his departure are thought to express the author’s feelings upon the same occasion in his own life: “Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of my experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”

After World War I Joyce returned for a few months to Trieste, and then—at the invitation of Ezra Pound—in July 1920 he went to Paris. His novel Ulysses was published there on Feb. 2, 1922, by Sylvia Beach, proprietor of a bookshop called “Shakespeare and Company” Ulysses is constructed as a modern parallel to Homer’s Odyssey. All of the action of the novel takes place in Dublin on a single day (June 16, 1904). The three central characters—Stephen Dedalus (the hero of Joyce’s earlier Portrait of the Artist), Leopold Bloom, a Jewish advertising canvasser, and his wife, Molly Bloom—are intended to be modern counterparts of Telemachus, Ulysses, and Penelope. By the use of interior monologue Joyce reveals the innermost thoughts and feelings of these characters as they live hour by hour, passing from a public bath to a funeral, library, maternity hospital, and brothel.

The main strength of Ulysses lies in its depth of character portrayal and its breadth of humour. Yet the book is most famous for its use of a variant of the interior monologue known as the “stream-of-consciousness” technique. Joyce claimed to have taken this technique from a forgotten French writer, Édouard Dujardin (1861–1949), who had used interior monologues in his novel Les Lauriers sont coupés (1888; We’ll to the Woods No More), but many critics have pointed out that it is at least as old as the novel, though no one before Joyce had used it so continuously. Joyce’s major innovation was to carry the interior monologue one step further by rendering, for the first time in literature, the myriad flow of impressions, half thoughts, associations, lapses and hesitations, incidental worries, and sudden impulses that form part of the individual’s conscious awareness along with the trend of his rational thoughts. This stream-of-consciousness technique proved widely influential in much 20th-century fiction.

Sometimes the abundant technical and stylistic devices in Ulysses become too prominent, particularly in the much-praised “Oxen of the Sun” chapter (Episode 14), in which the language goes through every stage in the development of English prose from Anglo-Saxon to the present day to symbolize the growth of a fetus in the womb. The execution is brilliant, but the process itself seems ill-advised. More often the effect is to add intensity and depth, as, for example, in the “Aeolus” chapter (Episode 7) set in a newspaper office, with rhetoric as the theme. Joyce inserted into it hundreds of rhetorical figures and many references to winds—something “blows up” instead of happening, people “raise the wind” when they are getting money—and the reader becomes aware of an unusual liveliness in the very texture of the prose. The famous last chapter of the novel, in which we follow the stream of consciousness of Molly Bloom as she lies in bed, gains much of its effect from being written in eight huge unpunctuated paragraphs.

Ulysses, which was already well known because of the censorship troubles, became immediately famous upon publication. Joyce had prepared for its critical reception by having a lecture given by Valery Larbaud, who pointed out the Homeric correspondences in it and that “each episode deals with a particular art or science, contains a particular symbol, represents a special organ of the human body, has its particular colour . . . proper technique, and takes place at a particular time.” Joyce never published this scheme; indeed, he even deleted the chapter titles in the book as printed. It may be that this scheme was more useful to Joyce when he was writing than it is to the reader.

Finnegans Wake
In Paris Joyce worked on Finnegans Wake, the title of which was kept secret, the novel being known simply as “Work in Progress” until it was published in its entirety in May 1939. In addition to his chronic eye troubles, Joyce suffered great and prolonged anxiety over his daughter’s mental health. What had seemed her slight eccentricity grew into unmistakable and sometimes violent mental disorder that Joyce tried by every possible means to cure, but it became necessary finally to place her in a mental hospital near Paris. In 1931 he and Nora visited London, where they were married, his scruples on this point having yielded to his daughter’s complaints.

Meanwhile he wrote and rewrote sections of Finnegans Wake; often a passage was revised more than a dozen times before he was satisfied. Basically the book is, in one sense, the story of a publican in Chapelizod, near Dublin, his wife, and their three children; but Mr. Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker (often designated by variations on his initials, HCE, one form of which is “Here Comes Everybody”), Mrs. Anna Livia Plurabelle, Kevin, Jerry, and Isabel are every family of mankind, the archetypal family about whom all humanity is dreaming. The 18th-century Italian Giambattista Vico provides the basic theory that history is cyclic; to demonstrate this the book begins with the end of a sentence left unfinished on the last page. It is thousands of dreams in one. Languages merge: Anna Livia has “vlossyhair”—włosy being Polish for “hair”; “a bad of wind” blows, bâd being Turkish for “wind.” Characters from literature and history appear and merge and disappear as “the intermisunderstanding minds of the anticollaborators” dream on. On another level, the protagonists are the city of Dublin and the River Liffey—which flows enchantingly through the pages, “leaning with the sloothering slide of her, giddygaddy, grannyma, gossipaceous Anna Livia”—standing as representatives of the history of Ireland and, by extension, of all human history. And throughout the book Joyce himself is present, joking, mocking his critics, defending his theories, remembering his father, enjoying himself.

After the fall of France in World War II (1940), Joyce took his family back to Zürich, where he died, still disappointed with the reception given to his last book.

James Joyce’s subtle yet frank portrayal of human nature, coupled with his mastery of language and brilliant development of new literary forms, made him one of the most commanding influences on novelists of the 20th century. Ulysses has come to be accepted as a major masterpiece, two of its characters, Leopold Bloom and his wife, Molly, being portrayed with a fullness and warmth of humanity unsurpassed in fiction. Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is also remarkable for the intimacy of the reader’s contact with the central figure and contains some astonishingly vivid passages. The 15 short stories collected in Dubliners mainly focused upon Dublin life’s sordidness, but The Dead is one of the world’s great short stories. Critical opinion remains divided over Joyce’s last work, Finnegans Wake, a universal dream about an Irish family, composed in a multilingual style on many levels and aiming at a multiplicity of meanings; but, although seemingly unintelligible at first reading, the book is full of poetry and wit, containing passages of great beauty. Joyce’s other works—some verse (Chamber Music, 1907; Pomes Penyeach, 1927; Collected Poems, 1936) and a play, Exiles (1918)—though competently written, added little to his international stature.

James Stephen Atherton



David Jones

born Nov. 1, 1895, Brockley, Kent, Eng.
died Oct. 28, 1974, London

English artist of great originality and sensitivity. He was also a writer distinguished for complex poetic prose works of epic scope.

His father was a native of Holywell, Flintshire, Wales, and from his father Jones drew a sense of Welsh identity and an interest in Welsh language and culture. Jones attended the Camberwell School of Art in London (1910–14), and during World War I he served in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. After the war he was for a time a member of the community of Roman Catholic craftsmen that gathered around the sculptor Eric Gill at Ditchling in England. Jones’s earliest work as an engraver shows Gill’s influence, as do the lettered inscriptions, at once poetry and visual art, in which he was unrivalled. From about 1927 he worked chiefly in watercolour. His animal drawings and still lifes are of great beauty, and he also painted portraits, but most characteristic are his landscapes and seascapes, which incorporate human or animal figures or elaborately accurate ships and boats, illustrative of Welsh and Christian mythological and heroic themes.

Jones became known as a writer after making his reputation as a painter. In 1921 he had become a Roman Catholic, and the Latin liturgy is one of the thematic strands that run through all his work, along with the army and Welsh and British history and legend. His experience of war in the trenches gave him the theme of In Parenthesis (1937), an epic novel. Also important is his religious poem The Anathemata (1952).



Hugh MacDiarmid

born Aug. 11, 1892, Langholm, Dumfriesshire, Scot.
died Sept. 9, 1978, Edinburgh

preeminent Scottish poet of the first half of the 20th century and leader of the Scottish literary renaissance.

The son of a postman, MacDiarmid was educated at Langholm Academy and the University of Edinburgh. After serving in World War I he became a journalist in Montrose, Angus, where he edited three issues of the first postwar Scottish verse anthology, Northern Numbers (1921–23). In 1922 he founded the monthly Scottish Chapbook, in which he advocated a Scottish literary revival and published the lyrics of “Hugh MacDiarmid,” later collected as Sangschaw (1925) and Penny Wheep (1926). Rejecting English as a medium for Scottish poetry, MacDiarmid scrutinized the pretensions and hypocrisies of modern society in verse written in “synthetic Scots,” an amalgam of elements from various middle Scots dialects and folk ballads and other literary sources. He achieved notable success both in his lyrics and in A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (1926), an extended rhapsody ranging from investigation of his own personality to exploration of the mysteries of space and time. Later, as he became increasingly involved in metaphysical speculation and accepted Marxist philosophy, he wrote Scotticized English in To Circumjack Cencrastus (1930) and archaic Scots in Scots Unbound (1932), then returned to standard English in Stony Limits (1934) and Second Hymn to Lenin (1935). His later style was best represented in A Kist of Whistles (1947) and In Memoriam James Joyce (1955). Autobiographical volumes include Lucky Poet (1943) and The Company I’ve Kept (1966). His Complete Poems appeared in 1974. MacDiarmid became professor of literature to the Royal Scottish Academy (1974) and president of the Poetry Society (1976).





A. C. Ewing

British philosopher and educator

born May 11, 1899, Leicester, Eng.
died May 14, 1973, Manchester

British philosopher and educator and an advocate of a Neo-Realist school of thought; he is noted for his proposals toward a general theory of personal and normative ethics (as against the purely descriptive). He proposed a theory of the intuitive knowledge of good and duty (“deontological”) that dispensed with the necessity for an essential concept or definition of the good. His principal writings include Kant’s Treatment of Causality (1924); Reason and Intuition (1941); The Fundamental Questions of Philosophy (1951); Ethics (1953); and Non-Linguistic Philosophy (1968). His essays in philosophical journals emphasize Realist theories of knowledge and the possibility of a meaningful metaphysics.




G. E. Moore

British philosopher

born Nov. 4, 1873, London, Eng.
died Oct. 24, 1958, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

influential British Realist philosopher and professor whose systematic approach to ethical problems and remarkably meticulous approach to philosophy made him an outstanding modern British thinker.

Elected to a fellowship at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1898, Moore remained there until 1904, during which time he published several journal articles, including “The Nature of Judgment” (1899) and “The Refutation of Idealism” (1903), as well as his major ethical work, Principia Ethica (1903). These writings were important in helping to undermine the influence of Hegel and Kant on British philosophy. After residence in Edinburgh and London, he returned to Cambridge in 1911 to become a lecturer in moral science. From 1925 to 1939 he was professor of philosophy there, and from 1921 to 1947 he was editor of the philosophical journal Mind.

Though Moore grew up in a climate of evangelical religiosity, he eventually became an agnostic. A friend of Bertrand Russell, who first directed him to the study of philosophy, he was also a leading figure in the Bloomsbury group, a coterie that included the economist John Keynes and the writers Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster. Because of his view that “the good” is knowable by direct apprehension, he became known as an “ethical intuitionist.” He claimed that other efforts to decide what is “good,” such as analyses of the concepts of approval or desire, which are not themselves of an ethical nature, partake of a fallacy that he termed the “naturalistic fallacy.”

Moore was also preoccupied with such problems as the nature of sense perception and the existence of other minds and material things. He was not as skeptical as those philosophers who held that we lack sufficient data to prove that objects exist outside our own minds, but he did believe that proper philosophical proofs had not yet been devised to overcome such objections.

Although few of Moore’s theories achieved general acceptance, his unique approaches to certain problems and his intellectual rigour helped change the texture of philosophical discussion in England. His other major writings include Philosophical Studies (1922) and Some Main Problems of Philosophy (1953); posthumous publications were Philosophical Papers (1959) and the Commonplace Book, 1919–1953 (1962).




Bertrand Russell

"The Problems of Philosophy"

British logician and philosopher
in full Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell of Kingston Russell, Viscount Amberley of Amberley and of Ardsalla

born May 18, 1872, Trelleck, Monmouthshire, Wales
died Feb. 2, 1970, Penrhyndeudraeth, Merioneth, Wales

British philosopher, logician, and social reformer, founding figure in the analytic movement in Anglo-American philosophy, and recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. Russell’s contributions to logic, epistemology, and the philosophy of mathematics established him as one of the foremost philosophers of the 20th century. To the general public, however, he was best known as a campaigner for peace and as a popular writer on social, political, and moral subjects. During a long, productive, and often turbulent life, he published more than 70 books and about 2,000 articles, married four times, became involved in innumerable public controversies, and was honoured and reviled in almost equal measure throughout the world.

Russell was born in Ravenscroft, the country home of his parents, Lord and Lady Amberley. His grandfather, Lord John Russell, was the youngest son of the 6th Duke of Bedford. In 1861, after a long and distinguished political career in which he served twice as prime minister, Lord Russell was ennobled by Queen Victoria, becoming the 1st Earl Russell. Bertrand Russell became the 3rd Earl Russell in 1931, after his elder brother, Frank, died childless.

Russell’s early life was marred by tragedy and bereavement. By the time he was age six, his sister, Rachel, his parents, and his grandfather had all died, and he and Frank were left in the care of their grandmother, Countess Russell. Though Frank was sent to Winchester School, Bertrand was educated privately at home, and his childhood, to his later great regret, was spent largely in isolation from other children. Intellectually precocious, he became absorbed in mathematics from an early age and found the experience of learning Euclidean geometry at the age of 11 “as dazzling as first love,” because it introduced him to the intoxicating possibility of certain, demonstrable knowledge. This led him to imagine that all knowledge might be provided with such secure foundations, a hope that lay at the very heart of his motivations as a philosopher. His earliest philosophical work was written during his adolescence and records the skeptical doubts that led him to abandon the Christian faith in which he had been brought up by his grandmother.

In 1890 Russell’s isolation came to an end when he entered Trinity College, University of Cambridge, to study mathematics. There he made lifelong friends through his membership in the famously secretive student society the Apostles, whose members included some of the most influential philosophers of the day. Inspired by his discussions with this group, Russell abandoned mathematics for philosophy and won a fellowship at Trinity on the strength of a thesis entitled An Essay on the Foundations of Geometry, a revised version of which was published as his first philosophical book in 1897. Following Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781, 1787), this work presented a sophisticated idealist theory that viewed geometry as a description of the structure of spatial intuition.

In 1896 Russell published his first political work, German Social Democracy. Though sympathetic to the reformist aims of the German socialist movement, it included some trenchant and farsighted criticisms of Marxist dogmas. The book was written partly as the outcome of a visit to Berlin in 1895 with his first wife, Alys Pearsall Smith, whom he had married the previous year. In Berlin, Russell formulated an ambitious scheme of writing two series of books, one on the philosophy of the sciences, the other on social and political questions. “At last,” as he later put it, “I would achieve a Hegelian synthesis in an encyclopaedic work dealing equally with theory and practice.” He did, in fact, come to write on all the subjects he intended, but not in the form that he envisaged. Shortly after finishing his book on geometry, he abandoned the metaphysical idealism that was to have provided the framework for this grand synthesis.

Russell’s abandonment of idealism is customarily attributed to the influence of his friend and fellow Apostle G.E. Moore. A much greater influence on his thought at this time, however, was a group of German mathematicians that included Karl Weierstrass, Georg Cantor, and Richard Dedekind, whose work was aimed at providing mathematics with a set of logically rigorous foundations. For Russell, their success in this endeavour was of enormous philosophical as well as mathematical significance; indeed, he described it as “the greatest triumph of which our age has to boast.” After becoming acquainted with this body of work, Russell abandoned all vestiges of his earlier idealism and adopted the view, which he was to hold for the rest of his life, that analysis rather than synthesis was the surest method of philosophy and that therefore all the grand system building of previous philosophers was misconceived. In arguing for this view with passion and acuity, Russell exerted a profound influence on the entire tradition of English-speaking analytic philosophy, bequeathing to it its characteristic style, method, and tone.

Inspired by the work of the mathematicians whom he so greatly admired, Russell conceived the idea of demonstrating that mathematics not only had logically rigorous foundations but also that it was in its entirety nothing but logic. The philosophical case for this point of view—subsequently known as logicism—was stated at length in The Principles of Mathematics (1903). There Russell argued that the whole of mathematics could be derived from a few simple axioms that made no use of specifically mathematical notions, such as number and square root, but were rather confined to purely logical notions, such as proposition and class. In this way not only could the truths of mathematics be shown to be immune from doubt, they could also be freed from any taint of subjectivity, such as the subjectivity involved in Russell’s earlier Kantian view that geometry describes the structure of spatial intuition. Near the end of his work on The Principles of Mathematics, Russell discovered that he had been anticipated in his logicist philosophy of mathematics by the German mathematician Gottlob Frege, whose book The Foundations of Arithmetic (1884) contained, as Russell put it, “many things…which I believed I had invented.” Russell quickly added an appendix to his book that discussed Frege’s work, acknowledged Frege’s earlier discoveries, and explained the differences in their respective understandings of the nature of logic.

The tragedy of Russell’s intellectual life is that the deeper he thought about logic, the more his exalted conception of its significance came under threat. He himself described his philosophical development after The Principles of Mathematics as a “retreat from Pythagoras.” The first step in this retreat was his discovery of a contradiction—now known as Russell’s Paradox—at the very heart of the system of logic upon which he had hoped to build the whole of mathematics. The contradiction arises from the following considerations: Some classes are members of themselves (e.g., the class of all classes), and some are not (e.g., the class of all men), so we ought to be able to construct the class of all classes that are not members of themselves. But now, if we ask of this class “Is it a member of itself?” we become enmeshed in a contradiction. If it is, then it is not, and if it is not, then it is. This is rather like defining the village barber as “the man who shaves all those who do not shave themselves” and then asking whether the barber shaves himself or not.

At first this paradox seemed trivial, but the more Russell reflected upon it, the deeper the problem seemed, and eventually he was persuaded that there was something fundamentally wrong with the notion of class as he had understood it in The Principles of Mathematics. Frege saw the depth of the problem immediately. When Russell wrote to him to tell him of the paradox, Frege replied, “arithmetic totters.” The foundation upon which Frege and Russell had hoped to build mathematics had, it seemed, collapsed. Whereas Frege sank into a deep depression, Russell set about repairing the damage by attempting to construct a theory of logic immune to the paradox. Like a malignant cancerous growth, however, the contradiction reappeared in different guises whenever Russell thought that he had eliminated it.

Eventually, Russell’s attempts to overcome the paradox resulted in a complete transformation of his scheme of logic, as he added one refinement after another to the basic theory. In the process, important elements of his “Pythagorean” view of logic were abandoned. In particular, Russell came to the conclusion that there were no such things as classes and propositions and that therefore, whatever logic was, it was not the study of them. In their place he substituted a bewilderingly complex theory known as the ramified theory of types, which, though it successfully avoided contradictions such as Russell’s Paradox, was (and remains) extraordinarily difficult to understand. By the time he and his collaborator, Alfred North Whitehead, had finished the three volumes of Principia Mathematica (1910–13), the theory of types and other innovations to the basic logical system had made it unmanageably complicated. Very few people, whether philosophers or mathematicians, have made the gargantuan effort required to master the details of this monumental work. It is nevertheless rightly regarded as one of the great intellectual achievements of the 20th century.

Principia Mathematica is a herculean attempt to demonstrate mathematically what The Principles of Mathematics had argued for philosophically, namely that mathematics is a branch of logic. The validity of the individual formal proofs that make up the bulk of its three volumes has gone largely unchallenged, but the philosophical significance of the work as a whole is still a matter of debate. Does it demonstrate that mathematics is logic? Only if one regards the theory of types as a logical truth, and about that there is much more room for doubt than there was about the trivial truisms upon which Russell had originally intended to build mathematics. Moreover, Kurt Gödel’s first incompleteness theorem (1931) proves that there cannot be a single logical theory from which the whole of mathematics is derivable: all consistent theories of arithmetic are necessarily incomplete. Principia Mathematica cannot, however, be dismissed as nothing more than a heroic failure. Its influence on the development of mathematical logic and the philosophy of mathematics has been immense.

Despite their differences, Russell and Frege were alike in taking an essentially Platonic view of logic. Indeed, the passion with which Russell pursued the project of deriving mathematics from logic owed a great deal to what he would later somewhat scornfully describe as a “kind of mathematical mysticism.” As he put it in his more disillusioned old age, “I disliked the real world and sought refuge in a timeless world, without change or decay or the will-o’-the-wisp of progress.” Russell, like Pythagoras and Plato before him, believed that there existed a realm of truth that, unlike the messy contingencies of the everyday world of sense-experience, was immutable and eternal. This realm was accessible only to reason, and knowledge of it, once attained, was not tentative or corrigible but certain and irrefutable. Logic, for Russell, was the means by which one gained access to this realm, and thus the pursuit of logic was, for him, the highest and noblest enterprise life had to offer.

In philosophy the greatest impact of Principia Mathematica has been through its so-called theory of descriptions. This method of analysis, first introduced by Russell in his article “On Denoting” (1905), translates propositions containing definite descriptions (e.g., “the present king of France”) into expressions that do not—the purpose being to remove the logical awkwardness of appearing to refer to things (such as the present king of France) that do not exist. Originally developed by Russell as part of his efforts to overcome the contradictions in his theory of logic, this method of analysis has since become widely influential even among philosophers with no specific interest in mathematics. The general idea at the root of Russell’s theory of descriptions—that the grammatical structures of ordinary language are distinct from, and often conceal, the true “logical forms” of expressions—has become his most enduring contribution to philosophy.

Russell later said that his mind never fully recovered from the strain of writing Principia Mathematica, and he never again worked on logic with quite the same intensity. In 1918 he wrote An Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy, which was intended as a popularization of Principia, but, apart from this, his philosophical work tended to be on epistemology rather than logic. In 1914, in Our Knowledge of the External World, Russell argued that the world is “constructed” out of sense-data, an idea that he refined in The Philosophy of Logical Atomism (1918–19). In The Analysis of Mind (1921) and The Analysis of Matter (1927), he abandoned this notion in favour of what he called neutral monism, the view that the “ultimate stuff” of the world is neither mental nor physical but something “neutral” between the two. Although treated with respect, these works had markedly less impact upon subsequent philosophers than his early works in logic and the philosophy of mathematics, and they are generally regarded as inferior by comparison.

Connected with the change in his intellectual direction after the completion of Principia was a profound change in his personal life. Throughout the years that he worked single-mindedly on logic, Russell’s private life was bleak and joyless. He had fallen out of love with his first wife, Alys, though he continued to live with her. In 1911, however, he fell passionately in love with Lady Ottoline Morrell. Doomed from the start (because Morrell had no intention of leaving her husband), this love nevertheless transformed Russell’s entire life. He left Alys and began to hope that he might, after all, find fulfillment in romance. Partly under Morrell’s influence, he also largely lost interest in technical philosophy and began to write in a different, more accessible style. Through writing a best-selling introductory survey called The Problems of Philosophy (1911), Russell discovered that he had a gift for writing on difficult subjects for lay readers, and he began increasingly to address his work to them rather than to the tiny handful of people capable of understanding Principia Mathematica.

In the same year that he began his affair with Morrell, Russell met Ludwig Wittgenstein, a brilliant young Austrian who arrived at Cambridge to study logic with Russell. Fired with intense enthusiasm for the subject, Wittgenstein made great progress, and within a year Russell began to look to him to provide the next big step in philosophy and to defer to him on questions of logic. However, Wittgenstein’s own work, eventually published in 1921 as Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1922), undermined the entire approach to logic that had inspired Russell’s great contributions to the philosophy of mathematics. It persuaded Russell that there were no “truths” of logic at all, that logic consisted entirely of tautologies, the truth of which was not guaranteed by eternal facts in the Platonic realm of ideas but lay, rather, simply in the nature of language. This was to be the final step in the retreat from Pythagoras and a further incentive for Russell to abandon technical philosophy in favour of other pursuits.

During World War I Russell was for a while a full-time political agitator, campaigning for peace and against conscription. His activities attracted the attention of the British authorities, who regarded him as subversive. He was twice taken to court, the second time to receive a sentence of six months in prison, which he served at the end of the war. In 1916, as a result of his antiwar campaigning, Russell was dismissed from his lectureship at Trinity College. Although Trinity offered to rehire him after the war, he ultimately turned down the offer, preferring instead to pursue a career as a journalist and freelance writer. The war had had a profound effect on Russell’s political views, causing him to abandon his inherited liberalism and to adopt a thorough-going socialism, which he espoused in a series of books including Principles of Social Reconstruction (1916), Roads to Freedom (1918), and The Prospects of Industrial Civilization (1923). He was initially sympathetic to the Russian Revolution of 1917, but a visit to the Soviet Union in 1920 left him with a deep and abiding loathing for Soviet communism, which he expressed in The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism (1920).

In 1921 Russell married his second wife, Dora Black, a young graduate of Girton College, Cambridge, with whom he had two children, John and Kate. In the interwar years Russell and Dora acquired a reputation as leaders of a progressive socialist movement that was stridently anticlerical, openly defiant of conventional sexual morality, and dedicated to educational reform. Russell’s published work during this period consists mainly of journalism and popular books written in support of these causes. Many of these books—such as On Education (1926), Marriage and Morals (1929), and The Conquest of Happiness (1930)—enjoyed large sales and helped establish Russell in the eyes of the general public as a philosopher with important things to say about the moral, political, and social issues of the day. His public lecture “Why I Am Not a Christian,” delivered in 1927 and printed many times, became a popular locus classicus of atheistic rationalism. In 1927 Russell and Dora set up their own school, Beacon Hill, as a pioneering experiment in primary education. To pay for it, Russell undertook a few lucrative but exhausting lecture tours of the United States.

During these years Russell’s second marriage came under increasing strain, partly because of overwork but chiefly because Dora chose to have two children with another man and insisted on raising them alongside John and Kate. In 1932 Russell left Dora for Patricia (“Peter”) Spence, a young University of Oxford undergraduate, and for the next three years his life was dominated by an extraordinarily acrimonious and complicated divorce from Dora, which was finally granted in 1935. In the following year he married Spence, and in 1937 they had a son, Conrad. Worn out by years of frenetic public activity and desiring, at this comparatively late stage in his life (he was then age 66), to return to academic philosophy, Russell gained a teaching post at the University of Chicago. From 1938 to 1944 Russell lived in the United States, where he taught at Chicago and the University of California at Los Angeles, but he was prevented from taking a post at the City College of New York because of objections to his views on sex and marriage. On the brink of financial ruin, he secured a job teaching the history of philosophy at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. Although he soon fell out with its founder, Albert C. Barnes, and lost his job, Russell was able to turn the lectures he delivered at the foundation into a book, A History of Western Philosophy (1945), which proved to be a best-seller and was for many years his main source of income.

In 1944 Russell returned to Trinity College, where he lectured on the ideas that formed his last major contribution to philosophy, Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits (1948). During this period Russell, for once in his life, found favour with the authorities, and he received many official tributes, including the Order of Merit in 1949 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. His private life, however, remained as turbulent as ever, and he left his third wife in 1949. For a while he shared a house in Richmond upon Thames, London, with the family of his son John and, forsaking both philosophy and politics, dedicated himself to writing short stories. Despite his famously immaculate prose style, Russell did not have a talent for writing great fiction, and his short stories were generally greeted with an embarrassed and puzzled silence, even by his admirers.

In 1952 Russell married his fourth wife, Edith Finch, and finally, at the age of 80, found lasting marital harmony. Russell devoted his last years to campaigning against nuclear weapons and the Vietnam War, assuming once again the role of gadfly of the establishment. The sight of Russell in extreme old age taking his place in mass demonstrations and inciting young people to civil disobedience through his passionate rhetoric inspired a new generation of admirers. Their admiration only increased when in 1961 the British judiciary system took the extraordinary step of sentencing the 89-year-old Russell to a second period of imprisonment.

When he died in 1970 Russell was far better known as an antiwar campaigner than as a philosopher of mathematics. In retrospect, however, it is possible to see that it is for his great contributions to philosophy that he will be remembered and honoured by future generations.

Additional Reading
Ronald W. Clark, The Life of Bertrand Russell, rev. ed. (1978), is the standard biography, though it is marred to some extent by Clark’s lack of interest in philosophy. Ray Monk, Bertrand Russell: The Spirit of Solitude (1996), provides more detail than Clark’s book, particularly on Russell’s intellectual development. Alan Ryan, Bertrand Russell: A Political Life (1988, reissued 1993), is a sympathetic, though not especially detailed, survey of Russell’s political development.

Among Russell’s own works, the first volume of Bertrand Russell, The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, 3 vol. (1967–69), is his literary masterpiece: honest, self-searching, and compellingly written. A History of Western Philosophy (1945), Russell’s most popular work, is brilliant and witty but, from a scholarly point of view, maddeningly partial and opinionated. Logic and Knowledge, ed. by Robert Charles Marsh (1956), is an invaluable collection of Russell’s most important essays, including “On Denoting.” My Philosophical Development (1959) includes the definitive statement of Russell’s “retreat from Pythagoras.” Also significant is The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell, ed. by Nicholas Griffin, of which vol. 1, The Private Years, 1884–1914 (1992), is dominated by love letters to Alys and Morrell, though it also includes some fascinating correspondence with G.E. Moore, Gottlob Frege, and Alfred North Whitehead, among others.

Ray Monk




Gilbert Ryle

British philosopher

born Aug. 19, 1900, Brighton, Sussex, Eng.
died Oct. 6, 1976, Whitby, North Yorkshire

British philosopher, leading figure in the “Oxford philosophy,” or “ordinary language,” movement.

Ryle gained first-class honours at Queen’s College, Oxford, and became a lecturer at Christ Church College in 1924. Throughout his career, which remained centred at Oxford, he attempted—as Waynflete professor of metaphysical philosophy (1945–68), in his writings, and as editor (1948–71) of the journal Mind—to dissipate confusion arising from the misapplication of language.

Ryle’s first book, The Concept of Mind (1949), is considered a modern classic. In it he challenges the traditional distinction between body and mind as delineated by René Descartes. Traditional Cartesian dualism, Ryle says, perpetrates a serious confusion when, looking beyond the human body (which exists in space and is subject to mechanical laws), it views the mind as an additional mysterious thing not subject to observation or to mechanical laws, rather than as the form or organizing principle of the body. What Ryle deems to be logically incoherent dogma of Cartesianism he labels as the doctrine of the ghost-in-the-machine.

In Dilemmas (1954) Ryle analyzes propositions that appear irreconcilable, as when free will is set in opposition to the fatalistic view that future specific events are inevitable. He believed that the dilemmas posed by these seemingly contradictory propositions could be resolved only by viewing them as the result of conceptual confusion between the language of logic and the language of events.

Among his other well-known books are Philosophical Arguments (1945), A Rational Animal (1962), Plato’s Progress (1966), and The Thinking of Thoughts (1968).




John Langshaw Austin

British philosopher

born March 28, 1911, Lancaster, Lancashire, Eng.
died Feb. 8, 1960, Oxford

British philosopher best known for his individualistic analysis of human thought derived from detailed study of everyday language.

After receiving early education at Shrewsbury School and Balliol College, Oxford, he became a fellow at All Souls College (1933) and Magdalen College (1935), where he studied traditional Greco-Roman classics, which later influenced his thinking. After service in the British intelligence corps during World War II, he returned to Oxford and eventually became White’s professor of moral philosophy (1952–60) and an influential instructor of the ordinary-language movement.

Austin believed that linguistic analysis could provide many solutions to philosophical riddles, but he disapproved of the language of formal logic, believing it contrived and inadequate and often not as complex and subtle as ordinary language.

Although linguistic examination was generally considered only part of contemporary philosophy, the analytical movement that Austin espoused did emphasize the importance of language in philosophy. Austin’s theoretical essays and lectures were published posthumously in Philosophical Papers (1961), Sense and Sensibilia (1962), and How to Do Things with Words (1962).



Ludwig Wittgenstein

"Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus"

British philosopher
in full Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein
born April 26, 1889, Vienna, Austria-Hungary [now in Austria]
died April 29, 1951, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, Eng.

Austrian-born English philosopher, regarded by many as the greatest philosopher of the 20th century. Wittgenstein’s two major works, Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung (1921; Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1922) and Philosophische Untersuchungen (published posthumously in 1953; Philosophical Investigations), have inspired a vast secondary literature and have done much to shape subsequent developments in philosophy, especially within the analytic tradition. His charismatic personality has, in addition, exerted a powerful fascination upon artists, playwrights, poets, novelists, musicians, and even filmmakers, so that his fame has spread far beyond the confines of academic life.

Wittgenstein was born into one of the wealthiest and most remarkable families of Habsburg Vienna. His father, Karl Wittgenstein, was an industrialist of extraordinary talent and energy who rose to become one of the leading figures in the Austrian iron and steel industry. Although his family was originally Jewish, Karl Wittgenstein had been brought up as a Protestant, and his wife, Leopoldine, also from a partly Jewish family, had been raised as a Catholic. Karl and Leopoldine had eight children, of whom Ludwig was the youngest. The family possessed both money and talent in abundance, and their home became a centre of Viennese cultural life during one of its most dynamic phases. Many of the great writers, artists, and intellectuals of fin de siècle Vienna—including Karl Kraus, Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, and Sigmund Freud—were regular visitors to the Wittgensteins’ home, and the family’s musical evenings were attended by Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler, and Bruno Walter, among others. Leopoldine Wittgenstein played the piano to a remarkably high standard, as did many of her children. One of them, Paul, became a famous concert pianist, and another, Hans, was regarded as a musical prodigy comparable to Mozart. But the family also was beset with tragedy. Three of Ludwig’s brothers—Hans, Rudolf, and Kurt—committed suicide, the first two after rebelling against their father’s wish that they pursue careers in industry.

As might be expected, Wittgenstein’s outlook on life was profoundly influenced by the Viennese culture in which he was raised, an aspect of his personality and thought that was long strangely neglected by commentators. One of the earliest and deepest influences upon his thinking, for example, was the book Sex and Character (1903), a bizarre mixture of psychological insight and pathological prejudice written by the Austrian philosopher Otto Weininger, whose suicide at the age of 23 in 1903 made him a cult figure throughout the German-speaking world. There is much disagreement about how, exactly, Weininger influenced Wittgenstein. Some allege that Wittgenstein shared Weininger’s self-directed disgust at Jews and homosexuals; others believe that what impressed Wittgenstein most about Weininger’s book is its austere but passionate insistence that the only thing worth living for was the aspiration to accomplish work of genius. In any case, it remains true that Wittgenstein’s life was characterized by a single-minded determination to live up to this latter ideal, in pursuit of which he was prepared to sacrifice almost everything else.

Although he shared his family’s veneration for music, Wittgenstein’s deepest interest as a boy was in engineering. In 1908 he went to Manchester, England, to study the then-nascent subject of aeronautics. While engaged on a project to design a jet propeller, Wittgenstein became increasingly absorbed in purely mathematical problems. After reading The Principles of Mathematics (1903) by Bertrand Russell and The Foundations of Arithmetic (1884) by Gottlob Frege, he developed an obsessive interest in the philosophy of logic and mathematics. In 1911 Wittgenstein went to Trinity College, University of Cambridge, in order to make Russell’s acquaintance. From the moment he met Russell, Wittgenstein’s aeronautical studies were forgotten in favour of a ferociously intense preoccupation with questions of logic. He had, it seemed, found the subject best suited to his particular form of genius.

Wittgenstein worked with such intensity on logic that within a year Russell declared that he had nothing left to teach him. Wittgenstein evidently thought so too and left Cambridge to work on his own in remote isolation in a wooden hut that he built by the side of a fjord in Norway. There he developed, in embryo, what became known as the picture theory of meaning, a central tenet of which is that a proposition can express a fact by virtue of sharing with it a common structure or “logical form.” This logical form, however, precisely because it is what makes “picturing” possible, cannot itself be pictured. It follows both that logic is inexpressible and that there are—pace Frege and Russell—no logical facts or logical truths. Logical form has to be shown rather than stated, and, though some languages and methods of symbolism might reveal their structure more perspicuously than others, there is no symbolism capable of representing its own structure. Wittgenstein’s perfectionism prevented him from putting any of these ideas in a definitive written form, though he did dictate two series of notes, one to Russell and another to G.E. Moore, from which one can gather the broad lines of his thinking.

In the summer of 1914, at the outbreak of World War I, Wittgenstein was staying with his family in Vienna. Unable to return to Norway to continue his work on logic, he enlisted in the Austrian army. He hoped that the experience of facing death would enable him to concentrate his mind exclusively on those things that mattered most—intellectual clarity and moral decency—and that he would thereby achieve the degree of ethical seriousness to which he aspired. As he had told Russell many times during their discussions at Cambridge, he regarded his thinking about logic and his striving to be a better person as two aspects of a single duty—the duty, so to speak, of genius. (“Logic and ethics are fundamentally the same,” Weininger had written, “they are no more than duty to oneself.”)

While serving on the Eastern front, Wittgenstein did, in fact, experience a religious conversion, inspired in part by Leo Tolstoy’s The Gospel in Brief (1883), which he bought at the beginning of the war and subsequently carried with him at all times, reading and rereading it until he knew it practically by heart. Wittgenstein spent the first two years of the war behind the lines, relatively safe from harm and able to continue his work on logic. In 1916, however, at his own request, he was sent to a fighting unit at the Russian front. His surviving manuscripts show that during this time his philosophical work underwent a profound change. Whereas previously he had separated his thoughts on logic from his thoughts on ethics, aesthetics, and religion by writing the latter remarks in code, at this point he began to integrate the two sets of remarks, applying to all of them the distinction he had earlier made between that which can be said and that which must be shown. Ethics, aesthetics, and religion, in other words, were like logic: their “truths” were inexpressible; insight in these areas could be shown but not stated. “There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words,” Wittgenstein wrote. “They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical.” Of course, this meant that Wittgenstein’s central philosophical message, the insight that he was most concerned to convey in his work, was itself inexpressible. His hope was that precisely in not saying it, nor even in trying to say it, he could somehow make it manifest. “If only you do not try to utter what is unutterable,” he wrote to his friend Paul Engelmann, “then nothing gets lost. But the unutterable will be—unutterably—contained in what has been uttered.”

Near the end of the war, while he was on leave in Salzburg, Austria, Wittgenstein finally finished the book that was later published as Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. In the preface he announced that he considered himself to have found “on all essential points” the solution to the problems of philosophy. “The truth of the thoughts that are here communicated,” he wrote, “seems to me unassailable and definitive,” and, “if I am not mistaken in this belief, then the second thing in which the value of this work consists is that it shows how little is achieved when these problems are solved.” For the most part, the book consists of an austerely compressed exposition of the picture theory of meaning. It ends, however, with some remarks about ethics, aesthetics, and the meaning of life, stressing that, if its view about how propositions can be meaningful is correct, then, just as there are no meaningful propositions about logical form, so there can be no meaningful propositions concerning these subjects either. This point, of course, applies to Wittgenstein’s own remarks in the book itself, so Wittgenstein is forced to conclude that whoever understands his remarks “finally recognizes them as senseless”; they offer, so to speak, a ladder that one must throw away after using it to climb.

Consistent with his view that he had solved all the essential problems of philosophy, Wittgenstein abandoned the subject after World War I and instead trained to be an elementary school teacher. Meanwhile, the Tractatus was published and attracted the attention of two influential groups of philosophers, one based in Cambridge and including R.B. Braithwaite and Frank Ramsey and the other based in Vienna and including Moritz Schlick, Friedrich Waismann, and other logical positivists later collectively known as the Vienna Circle. Both groups tried to make contact with Wittgenstein. Frank Ramsey made two trips to Puchberg—the small Austrian village in which Wittgenstein was teaching—to discuss the Tractatus with him, and Schlick invited him to join the discussions of the Vienna Circle. Stimulated by these contacts, Wittgenstein’s interest in philosophy revived, and, after his brief and unsuccessful career as a schoolteacher came to an end, he returned to the discipline, persuaded, largely by Ramsey, that the views he had expressed in his book were not, after all, definitively correct.

In 1929 Wittgenstein returned to Trinity College, initially to work with Ramsey. The following year Ramsey died at the tragically young age of 26, after a spell of severe jaundice. Wittgenstein stayed on at Cambridge as a lecturer, spending his vacations in Vienna, where he resumed his discussions with Schlick and Waismann. During this time his ideas changed rapidly as he abandoned altogether the notion of logical form as it appeared in the Tractatus, along with the theory of meaning that it had seemed to require. Indeed, he adopted a view of philosophy that rejected entirely the construction of theories of any sort and that viewed philosophy rather as an activity, a method of clearing up the confusions that arise through misunderstandings of language.

Philosophers, Wittgenstein believed, had been misled into thinking that their subject was a kind of science, a search for theoretical explanations of the things that puzzled them: the nature of meaning, truth, mind, time, justice, and so on. But philosophical problems are not amenable to this kind of treatment, he claimed. What is required is not a correct doctrine but a clear view, one that dispels the confusion that gives rise to the problem. Many of these problems arise through an inflexible view of language that insists that if a word has a meaning there must be some kind of object corresponding to it. Thus, for example, we use the word mind without any difficulty until we ask ourselves “What is the mind?” We then imagine that this question has to be answered by identifying some “thing” that is the mind. If we remind ourselves that language has many uses and that words can be used quite meaningfully without corresponding to things, the problem disappears. Another closely related source of philosophical confusion, according to Wittgenstein, is the tendency to mistake grammatical rules, or rules about what it does and does not make sense to say, for material propositions, or propositions about matters of fact or existence. For example, the expression “2 + 2 = 4” is not a proposition describing mathematical reality but a rule of grammar, something that determines what makes sense when using arithmetical terms. Thus “2 + 2 = 5” is not false, it is nonsense, and the philosopher’s task is to uncover the multitude of more subtle pieces of nonsense that typically constitute a philosophical “theory.”

Wittgenstein thought that he himself had succumbed to an overly narrow view of language in the Tractatus, concentrating on the question of how propositions acquired their meaning and ignoring all other aspects of meaningful language use. A proposition is something that is either true or false, but we do not use language only to say things that are true or false, and thus a theory of propositions is not—pace the Tractatus—a general theory of meaning nor even the basis of one. But this does not imply that the theory of meaning in the Tractatus ought to be replaced by another theory. The idea that language has many different uses is not a theory but a triviality: “What we find in philosophy is trivial; it does not teach us new facts, only science does that. But the proper synopsis of these trivialities is enormously difficult, and has immense importance. Philosophy is in fact the synopsis of trivialities.”

Wittgenstein regarded his later book Philosophical Investigations as just such a synopsis, and indeed he found its proper arrangement enormously difficult. For the last 20 years of his life, he tried again and again to produce a version of the book that satisfied him, but he never felt he had succeeded, and he would not allow the book to be published in his lifetime. What became known as the works of the later Wittgenstein—Philosophische Bemerkungen (1964; Philosophical Remarks), Philosophische Grammatik (1969; Philosophical Grammar), Bermerkungen über die Grundlagen der Mathematik (1956; Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics), Über Gewissheit (1969; On Certainty), and even Philosophical Investigations itself—are the discarded attempts at a definitive expression of his new approach to philosophy.

The themes addressed by Wittgenstein in these posthumously published manuscripts and typescripts are so various as to defy summary. The two focal points are the traditional problems in the philosophy of mathematics (e.g., “What is mathematical truth?” and “What are numbers?”) and the problems that arise from thinking about the mind (e.g., “What is consciousness?” and “What is a soul?”). Wittgenstein’s method is not to engage directly in polemics against specific philosophical theories but rather to trace their source in confusions about language. Accordingly, Philosophical Investigations begins not with an extract from a work of theoretical philosophy but with a passage from St. Augustine’s Confessions (c. 400), in which Augustine explains how he learned to speak. Augustine describes how his elders pointed to objects in order to teach him their names. This description perfectly illustrates the kind of inflexible view of language that Wittgenstein found to underlie most philosophical confusions. In this description, he says, there lies “a particular picture of the essence of human language,” and “in this picture of language we find the roots of the following idea: Every word has a meaning. This meaning is correlated with the word. It is the object for which the word stands.”

To combat this picture, Wittgenstein developed a method of describing and imagining what he called “language games.” Language games, for Wittgenstein, are concrete social activities that crucially involve the use of specific forms of language. By describing the countless variety of language games—the countless ways in which language is actually used in human interaction—Wittgenstein meant to show that “the speaking of a language is part of an activity, or of a form of life.” The meaning of a word, then, is not the object to which it corresponds but rather the use that is made of it in “the stream of life.”

Related to this point is Wittgenstein’s insistence that, with regard to language, the public is logically prior to the private. The Western philosophical tradition, going back at least to Descartes’s famous dictum “Cogito, ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am”), has tended to regard the contents of one’s own mind as being foundational, the rock upon which all other knowledge is built. In a section of Philosophical Investigations that has become known as the private language argument, Wittgenstein sought to reverse this priority by reminding us that we can talk about the contents of our own minds only once we have learned a language and that we can learn a language only by taking part in the practices of a community. The starting point for philosophical reflection, therefore, is not our own consciousness but our participation in communal activities: “An ‘inner process’ stands in need of outward criteria.”

This last remark, along with Wittgenstein’s robust rejection of Cartesianism generally, has sometimes led to his being interpreted as a behaviourist, but this is a mistake. He does not deny that there are inner processes, nor does he equate those processes with the behaviour that expresses them. Cartesianism and behaviourism are, for Wittgenstein, parallel confusions—the one insisting that there is such a thing as the mind, the other insisting that there is not, but both resting on the Augustinian picture of language by demanding that the word mind has to be understood as referring to some “thing.” Both theories succumb to the temptation to misunderstand the grammar of psychological descriptions.

Related to Wittgenstein’s rejection of theorizing in philosophy are two more general attitudes that have to be taken into account if one is to understand the spirit in which he wrote. The first of these attitudes is a detestation of scientism, the view that we must look to science for a “theory of everything.” Wittgenstein regarded this view as characteristic of 20th-century civilization and saw himself and his work as swimming against this tide. The kind of understanding the philosopher seeks, Wittgenstein believed, has more in common with the kind of understanding one gets from poetry, music, or art—i.e., the kind that is chronically undervalued in our scientific age. The second of these general attitudes—which again Wittgenstein thought isolated him from the mainstream of the 20th century—was a fierce dislike of professional philosophy. No honest philosopher, he considered, could treat philosophy as a profession, and thus academic life, far from promoting serious philosophy, actually made it almost impossible. He advised all his best students against becoming academics. Becoming a doctor, a gardener, a shop assistant—almost anything—was preferable, he thought, to staying in academic life.

Wittgenstein himself several times considered leaving his academic job in favour of training to become a psychiatrist. In 1935 he even thought seriously of moving to the Soviet Union to work on a farm. When he was offered the prestigious chair of philosophy at Cambridge in 1939, he accepted, but with severe misgivings. During World War II he worked as a porter in Guy’s Hospital in London and then as an assistant in a medical research team. In 1947 he finally resigned his academic position and moved to Ireland to work on his own, as he had done in Norway before World War I. In 1949 he discovered that he had cancer of the prostate, and in 1951 he moved into his doctor’s house in Cambridge, knowing that he had only a few months to live. He died on April 29, 1951. His last words were: “Tell them I’ve had a wonderful life.”

Ray Monk



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