20. Jahrhundert Literaturen
20th Century Literature
Last Updated 16/04/01
by Richard Grosser
Fig. 1 Herbert Gordon (H.G.) Wells (1866 - 1946), the inventor of Science Fiction. He presaged the chaos of man-made destruction in a world-wide technological war, through the device of depicting the villans as extraterrestrial Martians, in the seminal War of the Worlds.
No sharp dividing line separates the 19th from the 20th century. Until the outbreak of World War I, fiction was still dominated by a group of novelists who had already achieved distinction during the Victorian Age such as Thomas Hardy, the Anglo-American Henry James, George Moore, Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells, John Galsworthy and Arnold Bennett. Except for Hardy, who had abandoned the novel in disgust, after the critics' unfriendly reception of Jude the Obscure, all remained extremely active. Although James and Moore were literary perfectionists and had a somewhat limited appeal, all addressed themselves to the widest public they could reach. Their books were soundly constructed and often admirably written; none of these novelists found it necessary to indulge in technical experiments. Even E. M. Forster, although his approach to his subject was new, gave his stories a conventional framework. In the discipline of drama George Bernard Shaw and James Barrie continued to dominate the English stage. Shaw presented a coruscating flow of ideas, sometimes valuable, sometimes foolish and perverse. Barrie possessed a splendid command of stagecraft and richly sentimental gusto.
The framework of the Victorian novel was finally disrupted by the Irish novelist James Joyce, whose revolutionary novel Ulysses (1922) described the events of a single day and made bold use of the interior monologue. On a much smaller scale, Virginia Woolf adopted a similar technique. She tended to discard plot and incident, concentrating on the analysis of individual characters by resurrecting their secret memories and delving deep into their subconscious minds.
Fig 2. Graham Greene (1904 - 1991), created modern novels (eg. Our Man in Havana) in the epic English tradition.
Although, D. H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers (1913) gives a realistic picture of his own youth, he dwelt more and more on the subconscious aspects of the human personality. Lawrence had a mystic message to deliver and preached the salvation of the modern world through a return to more primitive beliefs, emotions and feelings.
A similar revolution occurred in poetry. The Georgian poets and their immediate predecessors, Robert Bridges, A. E. Housman, and, in his earlier works, William Butler Yeats, all spoke in a language that Tennyson and Arnold might have understood. During the 1930s, however, they were eclipsed by the appearance of the 'Sitwell confraternity', Osbert, Edith, and Sacheverell; by a group of new poets, W. H. Auden and his close friends Stephen Spender, C. Day-Lewis, and Louis MacNeice; and finally, by the rise of Dylan Thomas, a wild Welsh bard, whose displays of pyrotechnic word-spinning gained him extraordinary renown on both sides of the Atlantic.
More recent English poets and novelists are still too much a part of the current scene to have found their proper place in history. Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene, although undoubtedly among the most important novelists of the last 40-50 years, are by no means technical innovators but instead show a deep respect for literary tradition. Later writers also exhibit little enthusiasm for experiment, although some of the novels by William Golding, Doris Lessing and Anthony Burgess use science-fiction techniques to good effect. Other contemporary British writers who may well continue to be read 50 years hence, include Kingsley Amis and Iris Murdoch, as well as playwright Tom Stoppard and poets Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin.
Fig. 3 Tom Stoppard (1937 -), a stylistic novelist, playwright and screenwriter; notable for his unique 'international' characteristics, in many of his late 20th Century screenplays.
The 20th century in France has been characterized by a tremendous expansion in literary output and the ever-faster pace of experimentation with new means of expression. Both Marxism and Freudianism have left a deep imprint on literature, as on all the arts. Two world wars have tried France sorely, while the technological revolution confronts the current generation with an altogether new world. The result of such profound socioeconomic and political change has been a continuous questioning of all moral, intellectual, and artistic traditions.
In poetry, symbolism continued to serve as an inspiration without stifling new departures. Paul Claudel, notable as both dramatist and poet, injected a mystical Catholicism into his masterpiece, Five Great Odes (1904-10; Eng. trans., 1967). Paul Valery became famous for delicate poems that were at once meditative, musical, and rich in imagery. Guillaume Apollinaire deliberately aimed for modernity in his poetry, which was full of whimsical surprises. He not only coined the term surrealist but in The Breasts of Tiresias (1918; Eng. trans., 1961) produced the first surrealist play. Under the leadership of Andre Breton, the movement's theorist, surrealism aimed for a complete revolution in poetry and the visual arts to be achieved through an exploration of the subconscious, considered as poetry's deepest source. A rejuvenator of poetic imagination, surrealism launched, among others, the poet and novelist Louis Aragon, although Aragon after 1930 found inspiration in his Marxist beliefs.
The novel thrived especially during the first half of the century. Anatole France kept the tradition of political satire alive with his allegorical spoof, Penguin Island (1908; Eng. trans., 1909). Romain Rolland, with his 10-volume Jean-Christophe (1904-12; Eng. trans., 1910-13), followed later by Jules Romains with his even larger Men of Good Will series (27 vols., 1932-47; Eng. trans. in 14 vols., 1933-46), demonstrated the continuing popularity of the roman-fleuve, or cyclical novel, in France. Andre Gide, from The Immoralist (1902; Eng. trans., 1930) through The Counterfeiters (1926; Eng. trans., 1927), novels that are still compelling, championed the individual at war with conventional morality. France's greatest 20th-century novelist, however, was Marcel Proust, the extent of whose contributions to the genre can be compared only with those of James Joyce. In the multivolume, multilevel Remembrance of Things Past (1913-27; Eng. trans., 1922-31), Proust sought to recapture the essence of lost time, for him a spiritual reality, through reconstructing the external shape or sensations of the past; the whole was narrated chiefly by means of an interior monologue.
Working on a smaller canvas, Colette produced short novels that shrewdly analyzed the complexities of intimate relations, while Francois Mauriac took as his special preserve, in a series of novels influenced by his Catholicism, the eternal battle between spirit and flesh. Two of the freshest voices in the decade before World War II belonged to Louis Ferdinand Celine, whose cynical, often scurrilous Journey to the End of Night (1932; Eng. trans., 1934) and Death on the Installment Plan (1936; Eng. trans., 1938) spoke for the fascism to come, and to the then politically radical adventurer-writer Andre Malraux in Man's Fate (1933; Eng. trans., 1934) and Man's Hope (1937; Eng. trans., 1938).
Philosophical existentialism dominated literature in postwar France, spilling over into the novel as onto the stage. Jean Paul Sartre, leader of the movement, had previously explained its tenets (namely, the human freedom to choose and to forge one's own values) in the novel Nausea (1938; Eng. trans., 1949), the play No Exit (1944; Eng. trans., 1946), and a trilogy of novels dealing with World War II. Its themes would be echoed by others, most notably by Albert Camus in The Stranger (1942; Eng. trans., 1946) and The Plague (1947; Eng. trans., 1948), in which the absurdity, or meaninglessness, of life is stressed. Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre's lifelong friend and disciple, also dealt with existentialist problems in her novels but is probably best known for her massive treatise on the status of women, The Second Sex (1949; Eng. trans., 1952), and a series of distinguished memoirs.
From the 1950s, the dominant trend was the new novel, or antinovel, as represented by Nathalie Sarraute, Michel Butor, and Alain Robbe-Grillet. Although these authors have no common doctrine, all reject plot and verisimilitude as traditionally understood. Their work, allied with new insights provided initially by the adherents of structuralism, has had a marked effect on literary expression, analysis, and criticism (as for example, in the work of Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida.
The French theater, perhaps more than any other form, illustrates the profound literary revolution that has swept France since the days of Edmond Rostand's flamboyant Cyrano de Bergerac (1897; Eng. trans., 1937). The poetical plays of Jean Giraudoux, especially the astringent Madwoman of Chaillot (1945; Eng. trans., 1947), continued to appeal to postwar audiences, as did the productions of Jean Anouilh, some smiling, some ferocious. But with Eugene Ionesco's The Bald Soprano (1950; Eng. trans., 1958), an altogether new drama, called the theater of the absurd, came into being, marking a sharp break with the past. Samuel Beckett best exemplified both the strengths and limits of this theater in Waiting for Godot (1953; Eng. trans., 1954) and Endgame (1957; Eng. trans., 1958). In these two plays the sets, the characters, and language itself disintegrate into an awesome void. The plays of Jean Genet, such as The Balcony (1956; Eng. trans., 1958) and The Blacks (1958; Eng. trans., 1960), also aim at destruction, but in a fuller, more theatrical, sacramental way. Yet however baffling and depressing these productions are, there can be no doubt that they powerfully illuminate the underlying somber concerns of the present era. Above all, they testify to the ever-present originality and vitality of French literature and confirm its enviable avant-garde role.
American poets in the early part of the 20th century led in developing literary modernism. Vachel Lindsay and Carl Sandburg followed in the Whitman tradition of loose versification and the celebration of America, as, to some extent, did Edgar Lee Masters in his Spoon River Anthology (1915). More traditional in form yet more penetrating in psychology were the works of Edwin Arlington Robinson and, particularly, Robert Frost. By the 1930s, Frost had become America's best-known and most beloved native poet. Two American expatriates in London, Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, became leading poets of the century. Eliot's The Waste Land (1922) represents the extreme of complexity and profundity in modern poetry. Two of Eliot's contemporaries, Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams, were possibly as influential as Eliot on the younger poets. Williams, in particular, extended into imagism Whitman's exploration of American themes and rhythms.
American literature of the 1920s was characterized by disillusionment with ideals and even with civilization itself. The writers of the so-called lost generation reacted with disillusionment to the war and adopted the despairing tone of The Waste Land. The young poet E. E. Cummings used his wartime experience as the basis for a novel, The Enormous Room (1922), as did John Dos Passos and William Faulkner. Ernest Hemingway, however, captured the experience of war and the sense of loss most lucidly in his first novel, The Sun Also Rises (1926), which probes the experience of a group of disillusioned expatriates in Paris, and in A Farewell to Arms (1929). American writers gathered in Paris during the 1920s, partly to escape what they regarded as the small-town morality and shallowness of American culture. Among them, F. Scott Fitzgerald had the greatest success in the United States. His masterpiece, The Great Gatsby (1925), helped create the image of the Roaring Twenties, the age of the flapper, and the jazz age.
The 1920s were also noticeable for the group of angst-ridden urban humorists who made the pages of the New Yorker magazine famous: Robert Benchley, E. B. White, James Thurber, S. J. Perelman, and Dorothy Parker.
In the United States, a group of writers chronicled their escape from small-town America and exposed its hypocrisies. Sherwood Anderson inspired the rest with Winesburg, Ohio (1919), based on Anderson's hometown of Clyde, Ohio. Sinclair Lewis attacked provincialism in Main Street (1920) and added a word meaning "unthinking conformist" to the language with Babbitt (1922). H. L. Mencken took up the attack on the "booboisie" in his essays, as did Ring Lardner in his sports stories and, at the end of the decade, Thomas Wolfe in the autobiographical novel Look Homeward, Angel (1929).
The influence of European modernism reached the United States during this period. Gertrude Stein's experiments with the sounds and speech patterns of the American language, developed earlier in Paris, influenced Hemingway and many others. Marianne Moore edited The Dial magazine and for several decades influenced American poetry with her disciplined, often unconventional verse. Hart Crane attempted an alternative to Eliot's less vernacular modernism with his American epic, The Bridge (1930). William Faulkner assimilated the technique of the stream of consciousness novel from James Joyce's Ulysses and put it to use in The Sound and the Fury (1929). The doctrines of modernism were championed in little magazines such as Criterion, The Dial, and Hound and Horn. Meanwhile, American literature began to be studied critically. The British D. H. Lawrence's Studies in Classic American Literature (1923) was followed by William Carlos Williams's In the American Grain (1925) and V. L. Parrington's Main Currents in American Thought (1927-30).
During this period the American drama flowered, primarily because of Eugene O'Neill's plays. With such brooding, symbolic, and intensely psychological works as The Emperor Jones (1920), Mourning Becomes Electra (1931), and his later, poetically autobiographical masterpiece Long Day's Journey into Night (1956), O'Neill set a new standard for American playwrights. He was joined by a host of talented dramatists, including Maxwell Anderson, Philip Barry, Lillian Hellman, Elmer Rice, Thornton Wilder, and later by Edward Albee, Arthur Miller, and Tennessee Williams.
The Depression and the rise of fascism in Europe dominated American literature during the 1930s. Proletarian literature consciously aimed at stimulating protest--and, in some cases, revolution--by the working class. John Dos Passos chronicled the age in his trilogy U.S.A. (1930; 1932; 1936). James T. Farrell supplied naturalistic detail in Studs Lonigan (1935), as did Meyer Levin in The Old Bunch (1937). The plays of Clifford Odets and Sidney Kingsley and John Steinbeck's immensely successful The Grapes of Wrath (1939) are better remembered today than are the more overtly political works.
Concurrent with socially conscious literature, a detached school of literary criticism emerged. The New Criticism was represented by Yvor Winters and R. P. Blackmur and was dominated by the Southern critics Cleanth Brooks, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Robert Penn Warren.
Relatively untouched by the literary or political developments of the period were such innovators as Henry Miller and Nathanael West.
From the 1930s many American writers have used the short story as their principal means of expression. Notable exponents were John O'Hara and Katherine Anne Porter, who were followed in the 1940s and '50s by Carson McCullers, Eudora Welty, and Flannery O'Connor. Such writers as Cynthia Ozick, Joyce Carol Oates, and John Updike continue to devote much of their energy to short fiction, as did Donald Barthelme, Raymond Carver, and John Cheever. The detective story and novel were also perfected in the 1930s by James M. Cain, Raymond T. Chandler, and Dashiell Hammett.
Many of the new writers of the 1940s and '50s were affected by World War II but did not always express their concern explicitly. James Jones, with From Here to Eternity (1951), and Norman Mailer, with The Naked and the Dead (1948), made their reputations as war novelists. The poets Randall Jarrell, Robert Lowell, and Karl Shapiro wrote of the war but later, like Delmore Schwartz and Theodore Roethke, turned their attention to private events.
American drama began to flourish once again in the years after the war. Tennessee Williams explored the themes of innocence and experience in The Glass Menagerie (1944) and A Streetcar Named Desire (1947). Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (1949) is a classic modern tragedy. Edward Albee introduced the tradition of the theater of the absurd in The Zoo Story (1958) and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), and Israel Horovitz (The Indian Wants the Bronx, 1968) labored to keep that tradition alive. Other contemporary playwrights, however, chose to explore less experimental avenues: Neil Simon, in an increasingly impressive series of comedies; Wendy Wasserstein in plays focused on the vagaries of growing up in the 1970s; Sam Shepard in dramas often set in a mythical American West; and August Wilson, whose ambitious plays have chronicled aspects of African American life during virtually every decade of the 20th century.
The appearance of Saul Bellow's The Victim (1947) and Bernard Malamud's The Assistant (1957) seem, in retrospect, the first signs of a loosely described "Jewish movement." During the 1950s and '60s many Jewish writers emerged, including Herbert Gold, Philip Roth, and J. D. Salinger.
The social movements of the 1960s--youth, counterculture, antiwar protest--profoundly affected literature. The Vietnam War gave rise to journalism by Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, and Frances Fitzgerald; the memoir Dispatches (1977), by Michael Herr; and novels by Robert Stone (Dog Soldiers, 1974) and Tim O'Brien (Going after Cacciato, 1978).
The protest writing of the 1960s and '70s was influenced by earlier experiments in which fictional techniques were used for nonfiction writing. Truman Capote's In Cold Blood (1965), an account of a murder, and Mailer's Armies of the Night (1968) and The Executioner's Song (1980) are examples of this mode. Tom Wolfe's exuberant, rhetorical prose in The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (1965) helped establish the "new journalism". Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail (1973) introduced a variant, so-called "gonzo journalism," where the writer, while reporting on actual events, gives a totally subjective account. (In Hunter's work, his view was often shaped by drugs.) These new views of journalism left a permanent mark on the field and blurred the line separating fiction from fact-based reporting.
From the 1960s a great many American writers aligned themselves with ethnic and feminist causes. Among African American writers, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man (1952) kept within the mainstream of literary tradition. The poet Gwendolyn Brooks and the playwright Lorraine Hansberry (A Raisin in the Sun, 1959) also worked within established conventions, and James Baldwin began as a writer of traditional prose. In The Fire Next Time (1963), however, Baldwin's work grew increasingly committed to the black protest movement of the 1960s and '70s. It was followed by the angry writings of Imamu Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Eldridge Cleaver, and Ishmael Reed, and by the less strident work of Toni Morrison, Nikki Giovanni, and Alice Walker.
Women writers, partly inspired by the example of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (1963), also developed a distinct genre of writing that deals almost exclusively with feminine experience. Sylvia Plath assumed great importance for reasons that concerned her life as much as her poetry. Tillie Olsen (Tell Me a Riddle, 1961) and Grace Paley (The Little Disturbances of Man, 1959) produced humorous accounts of domestic life. The poets Denise Levertov, Adrienne Rich, and Anne Sexton also took up feminist concerns in the 1960s. Joan Didion (Play It as It Lays, 1970) described the contemporary situation of women in novels and essays. Joyce Carol Oates, writing in both traditional and experimental forms, was the most prolific novelist of the period, whose women writers also include Elizabeth Janeway and Kate Millett.
Among the most influential innovators of this period was the Russian-born Vladimir Nabokov, who, after the publication of Lolita (1958) and Pale Fire (1962), became a best-selling U.S. novelist. The experiments of William S. Burroughs and William Gaddis are celebrated but less widely read. John Gardner, who began his career with ambitious attempts to create ironic, allegorical versions of myths, argued (in On Moral Fiction, 1979) in favor of what he called "moral," or socially responsible, fiction.
Among poets a diversity of style and subject matter prohibits easy summary of the period. The publication of Robert Lowell's Life Studies (1959) is often thought to have inaugurated a "confessional" mode in the work of such poets as Plath, Sexton, Levertov, and W. D. Snodgrass. The work of Charles Olson and the Black Mountain school of poetry retained its importance to John Ashbery, Robert Bly, and James Merrill. W. S. Merwin, one of the most respected poets of his time, developed his own distinctive manner from acquaintance with the styles of W. H. Auden, Robert Graves, and Ezra Pound. Allen Ginsberg, developing out of the beat generation movement of the late 1950s, and Gary Snyder emphasized Eastern and American Indian spirituality. Two of the most notable poets of the period, Elizabeth Bishop and Richard Wilbur, seemed independent of influence or fashion, and they developed distinct and personal modes of utterance. The number of "little magazines" and small presses increased during the 1970s and '80s, creating an unprecedentedly large number of opportunities for the publication of poetry.
Literary studies during the period 1940-1970 constituted an "age of criticism," one largely dominated by formalist aesthetics. The decades that followed, however, increasingly demonstrated a fascination with "theory" and a wide variety of -isms: structuralism, poststructuralism, reader-response theory, deconstruction, the new historicism, and feminist theory, among others. The traditional canon of American writers came under heavy scrutiny, usually along the lines of race, class, and gender. Some critics, including Helen Vendler, Harold Bloom, Frederick Crews, and Peter Shaw, objected to the extraliterary, often politicized, arguments of the theorists; and this contemporary "Battle of the Books" continued into the 1990s. In the meantime, cultural theory, densely cross-disciplinary and under the influence of fashionable Continental thinkers such as Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault, and a refurbished Karl Marx, have altered the very nature of American literary study.
The nervous "little man," bedeviled by modernity, persists in the work of such contemporary humorists as Woody Allen and Fran Lebowitz, just as other humorists, operating from other traditions and in very different styles, have done their best to keep Americans laughing. The list of newspaper columnists and professional satirists and regional voices is a long one and includes such familiar names as Russell Baker, Art Buchwald, Erma Bombeck, Roy Blount, and Calvin Trillin.
Styles of contemporary American literature are as diverse as its subject matter. Whereas several novelists, such as John Hawkes, have experimented radically with technique, others have worked within traditional narrative forms to produce work that draws on several modes of writing. Kurt Vonnegut has used fantasy and science fiction; Bellow mingled philosophy with the epistolary novel in Herzog (1964); Gore Vidal has exploited the historical novel; and John Barth, Joseph Heller, and Thomas Pynchon have written arcane, fantastic, but basically traditional narratives. Wright Morris, Walker Percy, and Peter Taylor have maintained the tradition of regional writing, and the novel of manners, exemplified by Edith Wharton's works, is continued by Louis Auchincloss.
A supple, often acrobatic style infuses the social realism of Philip Roth's novels about his alter-ego, Nathan Zuckerman. John Updike's Rabbit tetralogy provides an equally effective portrait of American popular culture from the 1950s to the 1990s. Indeed, if a good many literary critics have valued theory above all else, our best contemporary American novelists continue to put their trust in style. Among notable contemporary stylists in fiction, one must name Richard Ford, Marilynne Robinson, Annie Proulx, and T. Coraghessan Boyle.
As we approach the 21st century, American literature stands divided among special-interest groups and opposed aesthetics, although its oldest traditions remain recognizable, and its major practitioners continue to think of themselves as social critics.
Because German realism had been tempered by a strong romantic tradition, naturalism came as a shock when it was introduced after 1885 by Gerhart Hauptmann and Arno Holz. Hauptmann was able to overcome the narrow restrictions of naturalistic theory and, with sympathetic understanding, created convincing dramatic characters. Arthur Schnitzler, a contemporary of Sigmund Freud's, added a Viennese flavor to his erotic, melancholy plays.
Symbolism was introduced as a reaction to naturalism about 1900 by the poets Stefan George, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. They wrote some of the most beautiful poems of modern world literature.
Expressionism is a collective term for the style of certain poets and dramatists who were active between 1910 and 1925. Before the war such poets as Gottfried Benn, Georg Trakl, and Georg Heym created apocalyptic visions or experimented with style. Toward the end of World War I and during the early years of the German republic, dramatists, notably Georg Kaiser and Ernst Toller, tried to revolutionize the theater. In the meantime the novel gradually developed from the refined realism of Theodor Fontane, the chronicler of Prussian aristocracy and Berlin's lower middle class, to the epic canvases of Hermann Broch, Alfred Doblin, Thomas Mann, and Robert Musil. They portrayed the social, intellectual, and emotional problems of their time and refined narrative techniques in the manner of Marcel Proust or James Joyce.
Modern German literature was brutally suppressed by the Nazis. Most writers had to go into exile after 1933, and many were unable to return home after the war. In 1945, Germany was a cultural vacuum. There was an acute need to reestablish contacts with the outside world, and work that had been ignored or suppressed had to be rediscovered. A writer who had been known only as author of a few minor prose sketches--Franz Kafka--appeared as a great novelist. Bertolt Brecht, who had written his best plays in exile, also became recognized as a classic modern writer. His theory of epic theater and the alienation effect was applied by the Swiss dramatists Friedrich Durrenmatt and Max Frisch, who represented German drama in the 1950s.
The literature of the postwar period has presented a wide variety of styles and trends of thought. The West German postwar literary resurgence was organized around Gruppe 47, to which belonged the novelists Heinrich Boll, Gunter Grass, and Uwe Johnson, who became the leading literary voices of the postwar era.
Authors who have achieved an international readership for their works in translation include in addition to the Gruppe 47 writers the poets Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan; the playwrights Peter Weiss and Peter Handke; and the novelist Christa Wolf. German reunification promises to make the work of writers from the former East Germany more accessible to western audiences.
The early years of the 20th century witnessed the emergence of Luigi Pirandello, already known for his novels, as one of modern drama's most innovative figures. His cerebral plays questioning the nature of reality and anticipating the thrust of later existentialism retain their flavor and popularity today. Pirandello's work shows some affinity with the "grotesque" theater of his time, of which Luigi Chiarelli, Pier Maria Rosso Di San Secondo, and Massimo Bontempelli (1878-1959) were leading exponents. The symbolic dramas of Ugo Betti have also had an influence far beyond the confines of Italy.
In lyric poetry, three successive schools appeared: the crepuscolari, or "twilight" poets, of the early 20th century, chief among them Guido Gozzano, Sergio Corazzini and Marino Moretti; the short-lived, clamorous futurists (see futurism), captained by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti; and the hermetics, whose origins may be found in the early verses of Giuseppe Ungaretti and who flourished unobtrusively during the Fascist era. Less easy to categorize are the original and irrational poetry of Dino Campana and the sensitive, autobiographical verse of Umberto Saba.
The novel in the early part of the century was represented by the Sardinian regionalist Grazia Deledda, winner of the 1926 Nobel Prize for literature, and the Tuscan realist Federigo Tozzi. At the same time the writings of the great philosopher, critic, and historian Benedetto Croce attracted an international audience, while the polemical essays and Life of Christ (1921; Eng. trans., 1923) of Giovanni Papini also enjoyed a great if ephemeral vogue.
In spite of censorship during Mussolini's years in power (1922-43), many writers continued to express themselves with some degree of freedom under fascism. Overt criticism of the regime, however, was ventured mainly by such exiles as the socialist novelist Ignazio Silone, author of Bread and Wine (1937; Eng. trans., 1962), and the critic and novelist Giuseppe Antonio Borgese; within Italy, the social commentator Carlo Levi wrote his perceptive Christ Stopped at Eboli (1945; Eng. trans., 1947) from government-enforced exile in the south, while the novelist Elio Vittorini, the father of neorealism, was temporarily imprisoned (1943) for his Marxist-oriented writings. Many prominent figures espoused the regime--Pirandello, Bontempelli, and Ungaretti among them. The discontent of such able novelists as Alberto Moravia, who in the postwar years became Italy's most prolific and popular novelist and who in The Conformist (1951; Eng. trans., 1952) exposed the suffocating destructiveness of the regime, or of Corrado Alvaro, author of Revolt in Aspromonte (1930; Eng. trans., 1962), though evident to a perceptive reader, was expressed only obliquely in the 1930s and early 1940s.
The fall of fascism brought a new flowering to Italian letters. Reflecting Italian literature's traditional bias toward social and political concerns, the Letters from Prison (1947; selections trans., 1973) and Prison Notebooks (1948-51; selections trans., 1971) of Antonio Gramsci, prewar Italy's leading Marxist theoretician, became bestsellers a decade after his death and exerted a powerful influence on European intellectuals. Among neorealist novelists, Cesare Pavese and Vasco Pratolini came to the fore; they were joined by new recruits to neorealism, many, such as Giorgio Bassani, the sensitive author of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1962; Eng. trans., 1965), and Natalia Ginzburg, in A Light for Fools (1952; Eng. trans., 1957), drawing on their memories of the war and of the partisan resistance in their fiction.
The novel of fantasy was represented by Dino Buzzati and Italo Calvino, while a sophisticated regionalism, characterized by varying styles and intents, was cultivated by Carlo Cassola, the satirical Vitaliano Brancati, Michele Prisco, and Lionello Sciscia (1921-89)--the last perhaps the most talented writer of his generation. The conventional novel of middle-class crises and problems was given a new twist by Guido Piovene, Mario Soldati, and Alba De Cespedes. Paradoxically, the two Italian novels that enjoyed the greatest international success in the postwar period were written by members of the older generation: That Awful Mess in Via Merulana (1958; Eng. trans., 1965), a riotous and multileveled detective story, by Carlo Emilio Gadda, and The Leopard (1956; Eng. trans., 1960), a sad and disillusioned historical novel, by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, were both sui generis. Primo Levi, whose literary career began about the same time, came to international attention much later; the first volume of his autobiography, with its harrowing recollections of Auschwitz, was published in Italian in 1947.
Older hermetic poets gained worldwide recognition when Salvatore Quasimodo in 1959 and Eugenio Montale in 1975 won the Nobel Prize in literature. In recent years more accessible poets became prominent, among them Vittorio Sereni (1913-83) and Pier Paolo Pasolini, who wrote his early poetry in the Friulian dialect of his childhood, reasserting the rich diversity of the language after the years of fascist insistence on a monolithic Italian. Although Pasolini was most famous outside Italy for his films, he was also a leader of the literary avante-garde--a position later occupied by poet, novelist, and critic Edoardo Sanguineti.
Since the 1950s, a great deal of dramatic talent has been channeled into the renowned Italian film industry. Of popular works on the contemporary stage, the Neapolitan plays of Eduardo De Filippo are staples of the Italian theater. The plays of Diego Fabbri (1911-80) reflect a Pirandellian influence. The plays of political satirist and actor Dario Fo attract international interest.
The "Generation of '98" demonstrated a love of countryside, nostalgia for past virtues, and passionate interest in the historical debate over the modernization of Spain: they were dedicated to the regeneration of their country through will and action. Miguel de Unamuno, the most cultured member of the group, tried his hand at all genres. His long poem, The Christ of Velazquez (1920; Eng. trans., 1951), and his best-known essay, The Tragic Sense of Life (1912; Eng. trans., 1921), as well as his dramas and novels, all reflect the spiritual anguish of modern individuals confronted by their mortality and the failure to reconcile reason with natural human needs. Jose Martinez Ruiz (also known as Azorin), sensitive to history and classical literature, evoked the timelessness of the Castilian countryside in his descriptive essays. Even more influential abroad than in his homeland, Jose Ortega y Gasset brought erudition to his discussions of the human condition, art, and the shape of the future in long philosophical essays such as The Revolt of the Masses (1930; Eng. trans., 1932) and The Dehumanization of Art (1925; Eng. trans., 1948).
Modernism, a literary renovation of form, promoted an evasive aestheticism, but 20th-century poets soon found their own styles. Antonio Machado represents the eternal verities of the Castilian landscape in his Campos de Castila (1912), which became the spiritual and poetic breviary of the Generation of '98. Juan Ramon Jimenez stressed beauty and pantheism, as opposed to Machado's metaphysical anguish, in his delicate, abstract poems, which in 1956 won him the Nobel Prize. His Platero and I (1917; Eng. trans., 1957) remains a classic of poetic prose. Leon Felipe Camino y Galicia (1884-1968) employed epic and biblical tones to convey the tragedy of modern humanity and of the Spanish Civil War.
A leader of the Generation of 1927, which opened poetry to new influences, Federico Garcia Lorca combined popular poetry with odd sensory combinations and magic metaphors in his celebrated Gypsy Ballads (1928; Eng. trans., 1953). As one of the purest lyric voices of the 20th century, Garcia Lorca continues to exert an influence far beyond the confines of the Spanish-speaking world. A surrealist poet, Vicente Aleixandre concentrated in his early poetry on death and erotic fusion with the cosmos; later he discovers man as a social being. In 1977 he won the Nobel Prize for literature. Rafael Alberti, in exile in Argentina from the Civil War to 1977, seeks values in an absurd, disintegrating world. Many of the poets of the Generation of 1927 experimented with poetry in the tradition of Gongora. The next generation returned to Garcilaso's graceful rhythms.
In the 20th century Jacinto Benavente y Martinez freed Spanish drama from the melodramatic dictates of Jose Echegaray y Eizaguirre, subtly satirizing Spanish society with irony and elegance in such dramas as The Bonds of Interest (1907; Eng. trans., 1936). The author of 172 plays, he was honored by the Nobel Prize (1922) midway in his career. Ramon del Valle Inclan, author of lyrical erotic novels, in the 1920s developed the esperpento, an expressionistic type of theater that grotesquely distorted reality through the deformation of language and the use of puppetlike characters in order to express his mordant view of Spanish civilization. Garcia Lorca concentrated on elementary passions and concepts such as virginity and motherhood in his powerful dramatic trilogy made up of Blood Wedding (1933; Eng. trans., 1939), Yerma (1934; Eng. trans., 1941), and The House of Bernarda Alba (1936; Eng. trans., 1947). Alejandro Casona (1903-65) wrote about the need to face life bravely in his special fusion of fantasy and realism. Antonio Buero Vallejo, in fantastic, philosophical, psychological, and historical tragedies of hope, dramatizes human dignity and responsibility. In a more pessimistic vein, Alfonso Sastre, Spain's best-known contemporary playwright, deals with the social and existential dilemmas of people tortured and trapped by their own weaknesses.
The Spanish Civil War has long been an obsession of Spanish writers, and many hundreds of novels use the war and its causes and effects as central themes. Among them, Jose Maria Gironella's The Cypresses Believe in God (1953; Eng. trans., 1955) is an attempt to explain the ideologies involved. Ana Maria Matute's In This Land (1955) is an expurgated version of an earlier, censored work and a precursor of her fine war novel, The Lost Children (1958; Eng. trans., 1965).
The death (1975) of dictator Francisco Franco ended a censorship characterized as much by puritanism as by political restrictions. During the dictatorship many prominent writers went into exile, among them the playwright Fernando Arrabal and the novelists Ramon Sender (1901-82) and Ramon Perez de Ayala (1880-1962). Both novelists express an ultimate faith in humanity, a faith not shared by a majority of contemporary Spanish authors. Nobel-prizewinner Camilo Jose Cela's brutal and violent The Family of Pascual Duarte (1942; Eng. trans., 1953) typifies a popular literary style called tremendismo. Less obvious but equally pessimistic is the work of another exile, Juan Goytisolo, of novelist Miguel Delibes (Five Hours with Mario, 1966; Eng. trans., 1989), and of the "neobaroque" stylist Juan Benet (A Meditation, 1969; Eng. trans., 1982).
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