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Riassunto letteratura inglese 2 (dall'800 all'età contemporanea)

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In the Romantic period the main characteristics of the Enlightenment are literally
• Centrality of human reason;
• Nature as a source of clarity and rules for the poet;
• Enthusiasm for scientific progress;
• Belief in social progress (the possibility to go from low class to high class);
• Creation of a public consensus about aesthetic and moral values;
• Creation of new genres (like the novel, directed even to lower classes);
• Travel and cosmopolitanism (the idea of being a citizen of the world) = the
idea of “travel” changes from Enlightenment to Romanticism; in the latter
travelling is a way of rediscovering those places that can strengthen national
• Centrality of human feelings and imagination;
• Nature as a shelter and the mirror of human’s emotions;
• Progress seen as a threat;
• Egotism (attention on individual subject) = this produces the constant
presence of the poet himself into his work (first-person lyric);
• Rediscovery of traditions and national identity;
• Exotism as a form of freedom from reality (fascination with what is exotic,
different and comes from distant regions); exotism could also be found in the
18th century in travel literature.
• Importance of dreams, both in the 1st and the 2nd generation of Romantic
• The poet as a genius and a prophet, who could see more deeply into reality
than others.
The difference between Enlightenment and Romanticism can be clearly seen in two of the most representative paintings of the two periods:
• “Mrs John Hale” is a painting by one of the greatest painters of Enlightenment, Sir Joshua Reynolds. It
portrays a woman in an elegant dress. Behind her there’s a group of young children. The people portrayed
are aristocrats. It represents social prestige and social status.
• “Fishermen at Sea” is a painting by William Turner and its subjects, colours and lighting are very different
from Reynolds’. The main subject is nature, not a single individual. This painting can be considered the
beginning of Romanticism because it represents that atmosphere of gloom and darkness typical of that
period. The contrast between the two paintings represents the contrast between the light of reason and
the obscurity of thought.
The English kings who reign from 1760 to 1837 belong to the Hannover Dynasty (they were German):
• George III (1760-1820)
• George IV (1820-1830)
• William IV (1830-1837)
1. Home policy (heavily influenced by the Industrial Revolution. The workers, who were especially in the North, the most industrialized area, rebel against their
working conditions):
• Luddites Riots (1811-1812)  The French Revolution had frightened British aristocracy so much that public meetings of workers were made illegal in order
to prevent disorders. However, this didn’t stop the workers. Factory workers rebelled against industrialization, they attacked factories and destroyed machines;
• Peterloo Massacre (1819)  Lower classes gathered to ask for parliamentary representation. In order to stop this demand, the British army was called to stop
the riot. Some people were killed, and many were injured.
• Trade Unions  The first Trade Unions were founded in 1824. They were associations of workers who asked for better working conditions and better status
in society.
• First Reform Bill (1832)  Vote was given to a wider range of middle-class men, but the working class and women had still no right to vote.
• Factory Act (1833)  It was passed to improve working conditions and to abolish the employment of children under nine.
• Emancipation Act (1833)  Abolition of slavery in the colonies.
• Poor Laws (1834)  Supported by the Whig Party, it encouraged the foundation of workhouses for the lower classes.
2. Foreign policy
• Debate on the American War of Independence (1775-1783) and the French Revolution (1789).
• Act of Union (1800)  Great Britain and Ireland united to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1801-1922).
• Waterloo victory (1815)  A French army under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated by the Seventh Coalition, led by United Kingdom. Britons
acquired new transoceanic colonies (Cape of Good Hope, Trinidad, Singapore, Ceylon and Malta) but also went through a serious economic crisis. There was a
contrast between the new colonies (new riches) and homeland (great crisis).
• The Irish Question  After the Act of Union, a strong movement of independence began in Ireland against the union with the United Kingdom, that Ireland
didn’t want. Furthermore, Ireland was hit by an economic crisis caused by the “Great Famine” of 1847: the potatoes cultivation (the main food of the population)
collapsed and one million people died. The survivors left Ireland and moved to England and USA. According to the Irish, the “Great Famine” was the fault of the
British because they could have avoided it.
3. Key Historical Events
• Industrial revolution (1760s-1840s)  Passage from an agrarian, handicraft economy to one dominated by industry and machines. The consequences were:
use of new materials like iron and steel; use of new energy sources like coal, petroleum, electricity, the steam engine; invention of new machines like the spinning
machine or the power machine of weaving; the need for more workers, who were badly paid and worked in miserable conditions; exploitation of the colonies and
their resources; Enclosure Acts, a type of act which reorganized the agricultural system and land possession, it was meant to take land and power away from
the small landowners and to give everything to large landowners. The small landowners were forced to work in the new city industries.
• American War of Independence or American Revolution (1775-1783)  It had a great impact on the public image of Britain, which lost territories that it had
always possessed. When George III came to the throne, Great Britain was in control of the seas and was enjoying a long period of internal peace. The American
colonies were rich but the relationship with the mother country changed when the British government tried to impose strict control on the colonies by appointing
a governor instead of allowing the colonies to elect one themselves. The mother country claimed her right to tax the American colonies, but the colonies refused
to accept these taxes since they had no representatives in the British Parliament. The American Revolution began on 4th July 1776, when the 13 American colonies
became independent with the Declaration of Independence.
• French Revolution (1789-1799)  It was a great shock for Britain, that formed the European Coalitions against France and Napoleon. The coalitions were
regularly defeated by the French armies, but Britain managed to keep resistance alive thanks to its navy. Eventually, Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo by
Britain. The French Revolution produced an intellectual debate in England: the pros were values of democracy and freedom), the cons were instability and a
threat to the stability of England. The debate was conducted between two factions:
Edward Gibbon, the author of “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” and Edmund Burke in “Reflections on the Revolution in France” were utterly
AGAINST the French Revolution, they thought that the French Revolution represented a threat to the stability of England.
The Jacobite thinkers (Thomas Paine in “Rights of Man” and William Godwin in “Enquiries concerning political justice”) were ENTHUSIASTIC about the
Revolution and its democratic ideals. Female intellectuals too supported the French Revolution, such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Hays. As
supporters of women’s rights, they thought that democracy could change the condition of women.
French Revolution also influenced pre-romantic poets and intellectuals:
William Blake, “Songs of Innocence” (1789) and “Songs of Experience” (1794).
William Wordsworth, who visited Revolutionary France and became enthusiast for its democratic ideals.
In their works we can see how democratic ideals changed the way in which poetry was made: everyone had to have the chance to make poetry and to read it
and understand it. The number of readers increased since the level of literacy rose, and poems became simpler and more musical, more accessible to everyone.
• Romanticism as a period of strong tensions;
• Imagination and feelings more important than reason;
• Pantheistic vision of Nature  in Enlightenment nature was considered a set of rules; in Romanticism nature is the mirror of human’s emotions and it allows
the poet to enter into communion with God;
• Past history and nature as solace and shelter from what is negative in contemporary times (e.g. industrialization);
• Rediscovery of national identity;
• Reality vs. Ideality  reality is horrible, while the world of ideality is what poets are looking for (dreams, past history, nature);
• Belief in the power of culture and literature to change reality;
• Freedom of expression;
• The poet as a prophet  Poets and intellectuals can help men by showing them a reality they cannot see, but unlike Enlightenment thinkers they don’t want to
give moral teachings;
• Literature mixed with the visual arts.
• Simple poems that could be understood by anyone;
Poetry is the main genre in the Romantic period. Romanticism is made up of 2 generations of authors:
• 1st Generation of Romantic poets  its leaders are William Blake (he is considered Pre-Romantic but in reality, because of the values he writes about, he can
be considered fully Romantic), William Wordsworth and S.T. Coleridge; these authors were heavily influenced by the French Revolution; they discuss the new
aesthetic values which are typical of Romanticism, this can be seen in William Blake’s “ Laocoon”, a collection of short phrases which lay the foundations of
Romanticism. This generation set the basis for the birth of Romanticism and its main rules. William Blake’s works and the “ Preface to the Lyrical Ballads” can be
seen as the manifestos of Romanticism in England for they set new aesthetic values and shake the idea of the poet as a prophet. These authors were, in fact,
prophets, for they revealed the most hidden aspects of Nature, which is rich in secrets and only the poet can reveal them. They link poetry with music and the
visual arts (e.g. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”). They create multi-layered poems made of opposition between realism and symbolism, which can exist at the
same time in the poem. It is up to the reader to discern its different levels of interpretation, the easiest one (the realistic level) and the more complex one (the
symbolic level).
• 2nd Generation of Romantic poets  its leaders are George G. Byron, John Keats and P.B. Shelley. They were equally influenced by the French Revolution as
the 1st Generation. Byron and Shelley, for instance, rediscovered the importance of patriotism, and, as a reaction against the Terror in France, they decided to
support other European countries’ fight for independence and freedom. Byron actively participated in Greece's War of Independence and Shelley participated in
the nationalist revolution in Italy between 1820 and 1821. They were politically engaged, they wanted to reform society and since Europe was going through
battles, it was important to stand by those countries fighting for freedom. In the 2nd Generation nature and past (that of Classical Greece and Medieval times) are
still a shelter for poets (for Keats in particular), but beauty becomes way more important, it has an importance it had never had in the past. Aestheticism has its
roots in Keats’s production, particularly in “Ode on a Grecian Urn” (1819). So, to sum up, the main difference in the 2nd generation is the importance of political
commitment, social reform (the poet as a prophet who also fights for society) and beauty (as the starting point of aestheticism, strong during the Victorian Age).
⃟• WILLIAM BLAKE (1757-1827)
He was born in London into a lower-class family. When he was a child, he was sent to a drawing school and studied Raphael and Michelangelo’s works. He
became a poet, a painter and a printmaker. He was born into a dissenting tradition and he remained a religious, political and artistic radical throughout his life.
He was deeply interested in the main political and social issues of that time (French Revolution, American Revolution, Industrial Revolution). He was always a
visionary (he had visions of angels and spirits), and associated texts to art, thus adding further meaning to his works. This is shown in his “illuminated manuscripts”,
works in which text and drawings are combined, e.g. “The Lamb” or “The Tiger”.
Dante, Milton, Swedenborg and Boehme were his main sources of inspiration.
Blake’s main works are:
• “The marriage of heaven and hell” (1790)  A book about the importance of contrasts and oppositions: according to Blake progress can only be achieved
through the tension between contraries. They need to coexist;
• “Songs of innocence” & “Songs of experience” (1789-1794)  Two collections of poems, intended by Blake to be read together since they present the same
themes seen from two different points of view. They describe the opposite states of the human soul: good and evil, purity and corruption, innocence and
experience. They all need to coexist to achieve progress. The world of innocence is full of joy and happiness, it is almost perfect. It is represented by children,
innocent and creative. But the perfection of the world of innocence is only apparent because innocence is soon destroyed by adulthood, which represents the
world of experience, characterized by selfishness, cruelty and injustice. Children here are exploited and suffer.
• “The Prophetic Books”  A series of books about Blake’s own personal mythology. “In America, a Prophecy” (1793) he talks about the American Revolution;
“The First Book of Urizen” (1794); “A vision of the Lost Judgement” (1810).
• “Laocoon” (1826-27)  One of Blake’s last works. It is a classical image surrounded by sentences which represent different
principles. This work shows that Blake didn’t want to give priority to the text or the image, they both have the same importance
because each part adds meaning to the other and the reader can interpret the work freely. Some of these sentences represent the
main principles of Romanticism: in the Enlightenment the only important thing was reason, now body and soul too, Romantic poets
want to dig into human’s interiority. The reason plays a secondary role while body and soul, which are connected, are crucial. The
body is just that part of the soul discerned by the five senses. Energy is eternal delight; it is not linked with the daily experience but
with the supernatural. Imagination is fundamental because it represents the human existence itself.
• STRUCTURE: A blend of verse and art, the poem is accompanied by a beautiful drawing. The poem is quite short and very musical
(some verses are repeated). It is composed of 20 lines divided into 2 stanzas. We can find a type of refrain that makes it similar to
a nursery rhyme. The rhyme is easy, they are couplets (AA BB CC DD AA AA EF GG FE AA). The rhyme scheme in the 2 nd stanza is
less regular than the 1st one.
• LANGUAGE: The language employed is very easy (very different from “The Rape of the Lock” by Pope, characterised by a very elaborate and elevated
language), however there are some archaisms which show the poet’s cultural background and his attention to the poetic form.
Repetitions, in order to focus on the main issue (the question the poet makes);
Enjambements (feed-by, delight-softest, thy name-for) = It is when a line ends in the middle of a phrase and it continues in the next line;
Anaphors (Little Lamb… Little Lamb, Gave…Gave, He…He) = It is the repetition of the same words at the beginning of nearby verses;
Alliterations (Little Lamb, thou…thee, meek…mild) = Repetition of a consonant;
Assonances (I a child and thou a lamb) = Repetition of a vowel;
Inversions (bid thee feed) = Inversion of the normal word order;
Archaisms (thee, thou, dost);
Contractions (o’er) = A word or phrase that has been shortened;
• MEANING: 4 questions about the creation of the lamb. The main theme of the poem is therefore the Creation, a religious and biblical theme (this is the second
level of interpretation, the more symbolic one). The lamb is both an animal (realism) and the symbol of Christ (symbolism). God is at the origin of the Creation.
Poets want to know more about topics which go beyond reality, such as the creation of life. The first stanza poses an important question about the lamb’s Creator,
the second provides the answer, that is God. There are two levels of interpretation: realism = the lamb as an animal, it has a tender voice, its wool is soft. The
description corresponds to our idea of a lamb. The author also describes the nature, what the lamb eats, that is grass and water from the stream. This is the
realistic level which corresponds to our knowledge and is useful to understand what the poet is talking about the to visualize the lamb in our mind; symbolism =
the lamb is almost personified in the 2nd stanza, he is described as a little child, innocent and pure.
The 1st stanza is more realistic, the 2nd stanza is more symbolic (the subject is not only the lamb, but God and Christ too). Christ is called the Lamb of God, not
only because he is pure and innocent, but also for his sacrifice (religious theme). The picture of the little, innocent lamb conveys a sense of positivity, which is
the main feeling of the period in which Blake is writing, that is the French Revolution and the hope and expectations that are connected to it.
• STRUCTURE: It is an “illuminated manuscript”, it is a blend of verse and art, the poem is accompanied by a beautiful drawing. At first it looks like the drawing
is about nature but in reality, we can see several female figures. This represents the relationship between men and nature, creating a connection between realism
and symbolism. The poem is quite short, it is made of 8 lined divided into 2 stanzas, 4 lines each. The rhyme scheme is ABCB ABCB. It is not as musical as “The
Lamb” because there are no repetitions.
• LANGUAGE: The language is very easy, however there are some archaisms which show the poet’s cultural background and his attention to the poetic form.
The language is more concrete in the 1st stanza, more abstract in the 2nd one (as in “The Lamb”).
Enjambements (worm-that, night-in, storm-has, bed-of, love-does), apart from the first line the rest of the poem is composed of enjambements because
the poet wants to represent a scene, a sort of narration;
Archaisms (thou, art, thy);
Alliterations (that flies in the night);
No anaphors;
Synaesthesia (crimson joy) = one of the five senses is described using terms from another;
• MEANING: The 1st stanza is more realistic and describes a natural scene; the 2nd one is more symbolic. The main subject is the Rose, a natural object (realistic
level) and the symbol of love (symbolic level). The worm is instead an element of danger and corruption. The Rose, symbol of love, is the opposite of crimson
joy, symbol of pleasure and shame, this shows the conflictual idea of love of Blake. The Rose is personified: it begins with a capital letter and it owns a bed (thy
bed) so it is treated as a human being. The atmosphere is that of a storm, which symbolized strong emotions of a restless soul. The worm tries to attack the
Rose (as it is shown in the drawing), it is invisible, and it flies (these are features that a worm cannot possess). The colour red of joy (associated with the Rose)
contrasts with the dark colour of secret love (associated with the worm). So, the worm owns a dark secret love which can end the rose’s life. Unlike “The Lamb”,
the level of symbolism starts from the 1st stanza and the level of realists is limited (the worm is invisible and can fly, the Rose is sick).
There are different interpretations of this poem: the first one is that it is about the relationship between men and nature. It can also be interpreted in a religious
way: the worm could represent the sin that creeps into men’s life and destroys it. The most reliable interpretation is that the innocence (represented by the Rose)
is corrupted by the worm so it represents the passage from innocence to experience. In the passage from childhood (innocence) to adulthood (experience) there’s
a moment in which we lose our innocence, that is love, a love that is not innocent anymore but physical. The poem would therefore symbolize the passage from
pure love to physical love.
• WILLIAM COWPER (1731-1800)
As a poet he was characterised by religious melancholia, Calvinist fear of sin and damnation, anti-urban attitude towards life, hatred of industrialization and
urbanization because they go against nature, rebellion against oppression and imprisonment in his most important work, “The Task” (1784). The themes of this
work recall Oscar Wilde’s “The Ballad of Reading Goal”.
• ROBERT BURNS (1759-1796)
As a poet he was characterised by prophetic pronouncements (he shared the visionary aspect with Blake), egalitarian vision of society (equality for all people, he
supported the ideals of the French Revolution), use of vernacular and rediscovery of regional (Scottish) identity in his main work, “Poems Chiefly in The Scottish
Dialect” (1786). He lived in a very important period for the Scottish Romanticism, connected to Scotland’s several ruins and castles, the Celtic tradition, the wild
nature which attracted many visitors. As well as other Romantics, he supported the lack of perfection, while in the Enlightenment there was a strong admiration
for all those things that were considered perfect because they were influenced by the love for the Classics. The main difference between Cowper, Blake and Burns
is that Burns uses the Scottish dialect because he was very attached to traditions, even linguistic ones.
The gothic novel is a new genre that developed in the second half of the 18th century. It is characterized by terrifying atmospheres, medieval settings (such as
castles infested by ghosts, cemeteries, dark monasteries), supernatural and mysterious phenomena. The protagonists are generally innocent young girls, fleeing
from dangers, persecuted by ghosts and supernatural creatures. In most cases, these novels end with a happy ending. The main element is that of the “sublime”,
which is that feeling of terror and fear that at the same time produces amazement and wonder in the characters. The settings are very different from the ones
of the Enlightenment (urban locations and islands, like Swift and Defoe). The main authors of gothic fiction are:
• Horace Walpole (1717-1794)  He was an antiquarian, he rediscovered Medieval Italy in “The Castle of Otranto” (1749), the first gothic novel ever. The
novel presents all the main elements of the gothic fiction and we can also find some elements that anticipate Romanticism. It is a story of mystery and suspense
set in Medieval Italy. One of the main themes is that of travel.
• Anne Radcliffe (1729-1807)  Her main works are gothic novels: “The Mysteries of Udolpho” (1794) and “The Italian” (1797), which both include gender
issues, and also “A Sicilian Romance”. In her works she makes a distinction between terror (expanding the soul) and horror (freezing human faculties). Terror is
the type of experience related to literary production, horror just paralyses the individual, so it is not positive, and it doesn’t produce any type of creation. Radcliffe’s
novels are characterised by strong female protagonists, innocent and pure, who are persecuted by male characters (very negative in her works, they are evil and
mysterious); there is a fight between male and female characters, a very important idea according to the libertarian ideals of that time.
He was born in the Lake District in the North of England. After his degree at Cambridge, he leaves for France and Paris (during the French Revolution, he was as
a supporter of it). During his journey to France he understands a lot about himself, he becomes a supporter of the democratic ideals and a revolutionary. His first
works date to 1793. In 1795 he meets Coleridge and starts collaborating with him. In 1798 they write the “Lyrical Ballads” together, a collection of poems, it was
a very long project which lasts until 1800. In 1799 he starts working on “The Prelude”, an autobiographic poem. In 1800 he writes a new Preface to the “Lyrical
Ballads” (considered the manifesto of Romanticism in England). In 1801 the second edition of “Lyrical Ballads” is issued. In 1807 he publishes “Poems in Two
Volumes”, collecting his best works. In 1840 he is awarded the title of Poet Laureate, the most important title for a poet, even if he wasn’t immediately accepted
by the critic and the public. In 1850 he dies.
During his life he always had a very close relationship with his sister Dorothy, who represents a point of reference for him. She was always there for him, she
especially helped him when he had some difficult moments with Coleridge. She can be considered the mediator of their relationship. When Wordsworth and
Coleridge started two separate poetic lives, they still continued to be friends, even if they stopped collaborating in poetry.
He had a democratic vision of poetry: he was not interested in an elaborated or obscure use of language, he wanted anyone to be able to understand his poems.
Nature is his main topic and it is fundamental for man to be in touch with it in order to reach the very essence of human nature. While for Wordsworth man needs
to rediscover nature, Coleridge wanted to create a more artificial vision of nature. Wordsworth believed that by using a “certain colouring of imagination” it was
possible to see its most hidden aspects. As for Coleridge, he wanted to experiment with different forms of expressions and create new imaginary worlds.
If in the first part of his life Wordsworth was a revolutionary, in the second part he became conservative and patriotic (similar to the poets of the 2nd Generation),
because he witnessed the start and the end of the French Revolution. His poetry changed too, it became darker because he had visionary experiences and
It is considered the manifesto of Romanticism in England because it expresses the new poetic and stylistic ideals of that movement. Wordsworth explains that his
main object is to talk about events and situations from common and daily life (very different from “The Rape of the Lock” by Pope) and to describe them using a
simple language that is really used by men but at the same time to “colour” these facts using imagination. So, the poet is supposed to start from something real
and then to go beyond it using imagination (just like Blake). Through imagination the poet, who is a prophet, can discover unknown aspects that other people
cannot really see, and he can make poetry out of them, making them interesting for the readers. This is the main project of Wordsworth and Coleridge. The risk
was to be too trivial, but it never happened to them.
Another important thing is that nature and its laws must be respected. In order to discover nature and his own identity, the poet must become one with nature.
Wordsworth says that the main theme chosen is that of humble and rustic life (typical of the English society) because thanks to this theme it is possible to discover
those essential passions that men must learn to live in a mature way. The difference from Enlightenment is that in the past nature was used to know reason and
intellect, now the contact with nature allows the poet to know emotions and feelings.
Then Wordsworth focuses on language. He says that he wants to use a simple language because this gives the poet the possibility to get rid of all those complex
and artificial forms. The poet wants to catch the very essence of things thanks to a simple and direct language. He wants to get rid of social vanity (which was
typical of Pope), he doesn’t care about bringing honour to himself and his art, he just wants to get to the essence of things. Simplicity is a tool to obtain the truth.
He is criticizing those poets who don’t use a simple language because they think that if is something is written in a more obscure and complex way then it is more
sophisticated. According to Wordsworth this is not a merit, this is a fault.
The inspiration for the poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth came from a walk Wordsworth took with his sister Dorothy. She too described
this walk in her journal (15 April 1802). This shows that Dorothy was very important for William. Dorothy describes the walk in the woods beyond Gowbarrow
Park in Lake District. The weather is bad, but despite this they are fascinated by the beautiful daffodils they see close to the water side. The daffodils are
personified (they rested their heads, they danced, they laughed). Her entry in the journal is typically Romantic and the language she uses recalls that of William’s
poem. At the end she uses the word “Simplicity”, one of the main concepts in William’s and Coleridge’s poetics, this shows that the three were very close to each
other and had similar ideas.
STRUCTURE: The poem is divided into 4 stanzas in iambic tetrameter with 6 lines into each stanza. The rhyme scheme ABABCC, alternate, ending a couplet.
LANGUAGE: The language is very simple and direct, it is mainly concrete.
Enjambements (cloud-that, shine-and, line-along, they-outdid, thought-what…), there are a lot of them in order to create a story, a narration;
Alliterations (1st stanza  Beside the lake, beneath the tress; 2nd stanza  as the stars that shine; 3rd stanza  The waves beside them dances; but
they; A poet could not but be gay; What wealth; 4th stanza  They flash upon that; And dances with the daffodils);
Assonances (1st stanza  as a; on high o’er; When all at once I saw a crowd; 2nd stanza  saw I at a glance; 4th stanza  For oft, when on my couch
I lie; In vacant or in pensive mood);
Similes (as a cloud, as the stars) = It is the comparison between two different things, usually by using the words 'like' or 'as';
Personifications (a crowd, a host, fluttering and dancing, tossing their heads, the waves beside them danced, my heart…dances with the daffodils) =
When human qualities are given to non-living objects;
Inversions (saw I, to me had brought, on my couch I lie, with pleasure fills);
Anaphors (And…And);
Repetitions (gazed…gazed, in…in);
Metaphors (inward eye which is the bliss of solitude) = It is the comparison between two things that aren't alike but do have something in common.
Unlike a simile, 'like' or 'as' are not used;
• MEANING: This poem is a representative text of Romanticism, since Nature is the main subject and it is strictly connected to the poet and also since the presence
of the “Lyrical I” (which corresponds to William Wordsworth) is very strong.
The first stanza presents the scene and clarifies the object of the narration (daffodils). The second stanza provides a personified description of the daffodils. The
third stanza is centred on the relation between the poet and the daffodils. The fourth stanza connects the poet’s memories of the scene and Nature as a source
of joy. The main theme is therefore that of Nature as a source of company and joy (“in glee”, “jocund company”). In the Romantic context, generally man is
characterised by loneliness, but here Nature is a source of company and a sort of shelter.
Nature is personified and the poet becomes one with Nature (“I wandered lonely as a cloud”). The strong connection between the poet and Nature is highlighted
by “jocund company”. In the 2nd stanza the poet is not as present as in the 1st, he is not the protagonist anymore but a witness.
In 3rd stanza the poet says that Nature brings him “wealth”, seen as an inner wealth, not material. So not only Nature is a source of company and joy but it also
enriches the soul of the poet.
In 4th stanza the poet remembers that scene while he’s lying on his couch and he feels solitude, but a sort of positive solitude because it is associated with “bliss”,
with great happiness. Unlike Blake (e.g. in “The Sick Rose”), who presents a very symbolic and dark nature, Wordsworth presents a simple Nature anyone can
discover. Another difference between the two is that in Wordsworth the “Lyrical I” is way more present.
As a young man, Coleridge met Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy. They began a literary collaboration and became friends. In 1798 they wrote the “Lyrical
Ballads”, a collection of poems in which Coleridge’s most famous poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is included.
“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is considered a mixture of Gothic romance (there are supernatural and magic elements), travel literature (it is about a journey
by sea) and traditional ballad (the ballad is a medieval genre, it is a poem or a song narrating a story that is generally dramatic). It is a ballad because it has a
musical form, with repetitions and a sort of refrain. It is about an ancient mariner who stops a wedding-guest to tell him his incredible tale. The mariner has
supernatural powers in fact he uses his glittering eye to force the Guest to listen to his story. He narrates that during a journey by sea he and the other mariners
of the ship lost their way after a storm. Suddenly an albatross appeared but the ancient mariner killed him. His action is extremely mysterious because we don’t
know why he did that. After that, a series of calamities happen, and the other mariners hang the albatross around the mariner’s neck to punish his crime against
nature and God. The mariners on the ship are dying of thirst when suddenly another ship appears: it is a ghost ship that belongs to Death and Life-in-Death. The
two play at dice with the crew’s lives. Death wins the lives of the crew members, who all die, while Life-in-Death wins the life of the mariner: he must wander
the earth and tell his story eternally. One possible moral of the story is that men can only find redemption by loving all God-created things.
Coleridge’s other great poem is “Kubla Kahn”, that belongs to the “demonic poems”, called like this because they deal with mysterious and supernatural facts.
This poem is about a dream the poet had, it is set in a magical and exotic land and it deals the description of Xanadu, the palace of a legendary Oriental king.
The most intriguing fact about the poem is that probably the fantastic dream related in it was induced by opium (Coleridge became addicted to opium).
Shelley and Byron have in common that they died very young: Shelly drowned; Byron died during the war in Greece. Byron was an attractive man and was very
sophisticated, he had a fashionable style (similar to Oscar Wilde, because of the importance he gave to style and physical appearance). He travelled a lot
(especially to Middle East), he was fascinated by their culture. The idea of exotism appealed to Byron, who wanted to be portraited with typical middle eastern
clothes. He was a lord, an aristocratic. He was born in London. He began to write at Trinity College (just like Shelley), where he wrote “Hours of Idleness”, a
satire in which he sharply criticises his contemporaries’ literary production and for this reason his work was harshly attacked. In 1809, since he thought England
was too provincial, he travelled throughout Europe and Middle East. During his journey in 1812 he started writing his most important work “Childe Harold
Pilgrimage”, which was finished in 1818. The work was a huge success and in those same years he wrote a series of Oriental tales, such as “The Corsair”, “Lara”,
stories of love and adventure set in Oriental countries. In 1809 he moved to Italy and became involved in the fight against the Austrian rule. There he wrote the
tragedy “Manfred” and continued “Childe Harold Pilgrimage”. He died in Greece in 1824 during the War of Independence.
He was the bestselling poet of his time; he was the only one “who managed to eclipse Walter Scott’s primacy”. He was in favour of freedom and independence,
and against the social conventions of that time.
“Childe Harold Pilgrimage” is a long narrative poem that describes the travels and reflections of a young man who, disappointed by a life of pleasures, looks for
distraction in foreign lands. The poem is thought to be autobiographical because Byron based the story on the experiences he gained during his travels throughout
Europe and Middle East and the protagonist himself, who is the typical “Byronic Hero”, shares some features with the author: both are rebel men, they love
travelling to exotic lands, they are attracted by wild scenes of nature (such as the ocean and the Alps), they go against social conventions and fight for freedom.
“Manfred” is a tragedy about a nobleman who lives alone in his castle in the Alps.
His favourite tone was that of satire, he wanted to criticize his contemporaries (that’s why he is often linked to Alexander Pope). He didn’t just criticize his
contemporaries’ literary production but also the idea of Grand Tour. According to Byron, travelling wasn’t just visiting new places, it was something more complex
because that was a time of wars and conflicts, so he felt like travelling was a way to witness that suffering. One of his best satires is “Don Juan”, a satire against
the false respectability and abuses in English society. His main sources of inspiration were Pope and the Augustan writers of the 18th century: he shares with
them a satirical attitude against mankind and modern civilization and a sense of humour with occasional cynicism and scepticism. He is also clearly a Romantic
writer especially for his Byronic Heroes, who are rebels who feel wild passions and openly defy social conventions, for his love for the exotic and the Gothic, his
love for nature.
STRUCTURE: The poem is divided into 3 stanzas with 4 lines in each stanza. The rhyme scheme is ABAB. The structure is quite regular.
Anaphors (So…So, And…And);
Enjambements (roving-so, loving-and, sheath-and, breast-and, breathe-and, loving-and, soon-yet, roving-by);
Alliterations (1st stanza  Though the heart; be still as bright; 2nd stanza  And the soul wears out the breast; 3rd stanza  Though the night; By the
light of the moon);
Repetitions (the…the);
Personifications (the heart must pause to breathe, love itself have rest);
Paradox (the soul wears out the breast) = A statement that appears to contradict itself;
• MEANING: This poem is included in a letter that Byron wrote to his friend Thomas Moore on 28th April 1817. He was not feeling very well: after the excesses
of Carnival, he felt tired and old. He had been in exile for over a year, he had travelled all over Europe, but he had spent much of his time in Venice and Rome.
His friend was surprised he was losing energy.
In 1st stanza the poet is determined to stop roving (to wander aimlessly, this verb expresses an idea of complete freedom), even though they would like to
continue. In 2nd stanza, which is clearly metaphorical, we have the relation between the sword and human soul living longer than the sheath and the breast. In
3rd stanza we have the poet’s conclusion. It is connected to 1st stanza, but it confirms that it is time for them to stop. The main theme is that of ageing or love.
This poem is very different from Shelly’s topic, it is not about political commitment, it is way more intimate, the poet looks deep inside himself. Byron says that
he would like to continue wandering, but he is too old (“late into the night”) in a metaphorical sense, he is pretty young, but he is tired, he doesn’t have more
energy. He is tired of too many conflicts. Another interpretation could also be that he is tired of his love affairs (he uses the word “We”). This poem is Romantic
because we have the idea of darkness, of night, of feeling, of the idea of wandering endlessly (symbol of freedom, of independence, the typical ideals poets were
looking for in that period). The idea of being fed up with a lot of situations, being tired of them is also typical of the 2nd generation of Romantic poets.
P.B. Shelley was a man of great convictions and ideals. He was born into a rich, conservative family. He was at Oxford when he wrote “The Necessity of Atheism”,
and he was expelled from the university (the Christian faith was taken for granted, no one could deny it). In the following years he met Godwin and married his
daughter (Mary Shelley) and became even more radical. He was in favour of vegetarianism and sexual freedom (very striking at that time). He was married to
Harriet Westbrook (she suicided), when he fell in love with Mary Shelly and left England. They travelled over Europe but settled down in Italy in 1818. In those
years he wrote “Hymn to intellectual Beauty”, “Prometheus Unbound”, “The Cenci”, “The Masque of Anarchy” and “Men of England”, this latter a response against
Peterloo Massacre. This was a very inspiring period for him, Italy represented the main ideals of Romanticism (great sensibility, full of history and the place where
there was a large circle of intellectuals, Byron for example). He died in Italy in 1822, he drowned when he was just 30. His wife Mary Shelley will always have a
strong connection with Italy.
Shelley was politically engaged, he wanted to reform society and since Europe was going through battles, it was important to stand by those countries fighting
for freedom. He participated in the nationalist revolution in Italy between 1820 and 1821.
Shelley’s best poems were written during the years in Italy (1818-1822) and they are rich in Romantic ideals: natural landscapes, natural forces and spirit of
communion between the author and the universe. They also show Shelley’s social ideals and his political commitment.
“Hymn to intellectual Beauty” celebrates the intangible spirit of beauty alive in the world, it is a spirit that cannot be perceived using the 5 senses, it is a mysterious
force that pervades all nature.
“Prometheus Unbound” is a drama based on the Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound. Prometheus (who gives fire to humanity and for this he is chained by Zeus to a
rock as a punishment) represents the symbol of man’s resistance against political despotism (represented by Zeus).
“The Cenci” is a drama inspired by the story of Beatrice Cenci and it celebrates heroic resistance against tyranny.
“The Masque of Anarchy” is a political protest written after the Peterloo massacre.
Shelley’s most famous poem is “Ode to the West Wind”, in which the poet describes the effects of wind on nature. The wind is a metaphor, it refers to a change
brought by poetry and the poet. He hopes that poetry can change the world.
• STRUCTURE: The poem is divided into 8 stanzas with 4 lines in each stanza. The rhyme scheme is ABCC, except for the 2 nd and the 8th stanza in which the
rhyme scheme is AABC. The structure is quite regular.
• LANGUAGE: It is generally simple and concrete because the poet wants the readers to get a clear message. The author uses some archaisms.
Apostrophe (Men of England, Bees of England) = It is when the poet addresses the readers;
Enjambements (plough-for, care-the, save-from, grave-those, would-drain, forge-many, spoil-the, dear-with, see-the, loom-trace, tomb-and, fairEngland) = a lot of them to convince the readers;
Archaisms (Ye, Nay);
Alliterations (1st stanza  For the lords who lay ye low?; Wherefore weave with; rich robes; 3rd stanza  That these; stingless drones may spoil; 5th
stanza  The seed you sow; The robes ye weave, another wears; 6th stanza  Sow seed; 7th stanza  Shrink to your cellars, holes, and cells; deck
another dwells);
Assonances (3rd stanza  Many a weapon, chain and scourge; 4th stanza  Or what is it; 5th stanza  The arms ye forge, another bears);
Repetitions (and…and, the…the, your…your, with your…with your);
Climax (Wherefore feed and clothe and save; leisure, comfort, calm, shelter, food, love’s gentle balm; Shrink to your cellars, holes, and cells; With
plough and spade and hoe and loom), they are used to encourage the lower classes to rebel against the upper classes = Words are arranged in order
of increasing importance;
Hyperbole (Drain your sweat – nay, drink your blood) = An exaggeration;
Metaphor (drink your blood  it means that upper class takes the life of lower class; Bees of England  It refers to the lower classes; Stingless drones
 it is a male bee; it refers to those who don’t produce anything and only exploit others by imposing their rules and taking everything from those who
Metonymy (steel  it refers to chains) = It is to refer to something by the name of one of its parts;
Inversions (With plough…trace your grave);
• MEANING: This poem is closely related to Shelley’s political commitment, even if he was living in Italy at that time, he really wanted to express his opinion on
what was happening in England. The main theme is that of exploitation of the lower classes by the upper classes. The poet wants to make the readers aware of
what’s happening in England. The questions in the first 4 stanzas are meant to show that the men of England are being exploited by the upper classes. There is
a sharp contrast between the “Men of England”/“Bees of England”  lower classes, and the “lords”/”Tyrants”/”stingless drones”/”ungrateful drones”  upper
classes. This contrast becomes even sharper in the second part of the poem where “ye” is opposed against “another”, and this latter is even defined as a “tyrant”,
an “impostor” and “the idle”.
Some critics think that in this poem we can find socialist and pre-Marxist ideals.
The lower classes are called “Bees of England”/”Men of England” because bees are very active workers, they are a symbol for the lower classes because they
work a lot and because they follow a hierarchy from the point of view of society.
In 5th stanza the opposition between “you” and “another” is used to make the contrast between what the Men of England do and what the Lords take from them
In 6th stanza each line starts with an imperative, the poet is addressing the Men of England, he wants them to take action against oppression and exploitation. In
the same stanza, with the words “tyrant”, “impostor”, “idle” the poet is insulting the upper class.
The poet uses the imperative also in the 8th stanza because he is telling Men of England how to be free from slavery.
• JOHN KEATS (1795-1821)
His life was characterized by a sense of impending death because he was ill, so he was constantly looking for something permanent: he found this in poetry, that
for him was a form of solace. Beauty was very important for him too and he thought that beauty could be contemplated only through the 5 senses. He looks at
his objects so closely that he seems to lose his own identity, this is called “negative capability”, that means that the poet is able to deny himself in order to identify
completely with the object he is describing.
His most famous works are: “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, a poet which celebrates the beauty of the scenes that adorn an ancient Greek urn. It deals with the themes
of life and death in relation to art: everything can live forever thanks to art. It also focuses on the importance of imagination, because it is only Keats’s imagination
that brings life to the vase, which makes it live again; “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” is a typically Romantic ballad on the theme of the beautiful but evil lady.
Fiction in Romantic Age was not as popular as it was in the 18th century, but it continued to develop. The main authors were Walter Scott (1771-1832), Jane
Austen (1775-1817) and Mary Shelley (1797-1851).
• WALTER SCOTT (1771-1832)
He is the creator of the genre of “historical novel”: it is a story set in the past and the characters act in a real historical background. His first novel is “Waverley”,
a story on the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. He then wrote other novels of the same genre, known as the “Waverley novels”, generally set during the Middle Ages.
His most famous novel is “Ivanhoe”, set in England during the Middle Ages. It is both an adventure story and a medieval romance and the main theme is the
struggle between the Norman invaders and the Anglo-Saxons. Structurally the “Waverley novels” follow the same circular pattern: protagonist from one old ethnic
group (es. Ivanhoe and Waverley) comes into contact with a new ethnic group and lives with them for a while, then he finally returns to his old world and he is
able to mediate between the two groups.
• JANE AUSTEN (1775-1817)
She criticized the sentimental novel (she was against the ostentation of sensibility) and the gothic novel (she thought that these novels could produce dangerous
fantasies in the minds of the readers). In her main works we can find a balance between reason and feelings. Her novels are all set in the provincial world of
southern England, she knew from her own experience of life. Her characters, generally women, belonged to the rural middle class. They usually led a quiet life;
the only exciting element is love. Her novels focus on the growth and maturation of these characters, who must face a series of errors in order to mature (this
recalls the picaresque novel) and get their happy ending. Introspection of the characters was very strong.
Her main works are “Sense and Sensibility”, about two sisters, Elinor and Marianne, who are one the opposite of the other. Elinor relies on reason; Marianne
relies on feelings and emotions. The novel follows the development of Marianne until she is able to balance her feelings and reason like her sister.
“Pride and Prejudice” focuses on the protagonist Elizabeth Bennet, a young woman who belongs to the middle class. Darcy, a man from the upper class, falls in
love with Elizabeth and asks her to marry him but she refuses because he thinks that he is socially superior. In the end Darcy realises that his pride is useless
and sees Elizabeth as equal. Elizabeth, on the other hand, realises that her prejudice against Darcy was wrong and she accepts to marry him.
• MARY SHELLEY (1797-1851)
She was the daughter of the radical philosopher William Godwin and the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. In 1814 she met Shelley and they fell in love. When she
found out she was pregnant they ran off to Europe. They settled down in Switzerland and Byron soon joined them. Mary, Byron and Shelley used to read ghost
stories together and Mary was inspired to write her masterpiece “Frankenstein”. The couple then moved to Italy, but Shelley died during a sailing trip and Mary
found herself a widow with a son. She then decided to continue writing in order to support herself and her son.
“Frankenstein” is a gothic novel about the scientist Victor Frankenstein who wants to create artificial life from the dismembered parts of human bodies, but the
creature he gives life to turns out to be a monster and gets out of control. At the end of the novel both Frankenstein and the monster die. It deals with the
Romantic interest in the effects of science on man but also with the horror and the mystery of the Gothic novels. At the same time, it differs from the typical
Gothic novel because it is not set in a castle or in a monastery and it substitutes supernatural with science. With this novel Shelley created a new subgenre, that
of the science fiction, connected to the idea of nature: man cannot decide death or create life (in this case there is a connection between “Frankenstein” and
“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. Both works talk about the fact that man cannot take the power to give life or death, it only belongs to God).
The monster Frankenstein creates can be seen as the scientific counterpart of Shelley’s Prometheus: he is an outcast of society who suffer for no specific fault of
his own. She also wrote “The Last Man”, a science novel about the only man who survives on earth; “Rambles in Germany and Italy”, a lively account of Mary’s
travels in Europe.
Melodrama was the main genre in this period (Shakespeare’s works). London invested on theatres both in the West End and the East End (so that even the
poorest areas could have theatres, this was an educative project promoted by the English government). It paved the way for the success it achieved in the
Victorian period.
The Victorian Age started in 1837, when Queen Victoria became queen. Others think that is started in 1832 with the First Reform Bill. It was an age full of
contradiction: it was a time of prosperity, progress and expansion, but also of social and economic inequality. The main concepts that depict such a rich and
controversial period are: Power, Science and Growth. Power is represented by Queen Victoria, whose reign lasted 64 years, she was the longest serving Queen
in the history of England until that moment; Science and Growth are represented by the great progress and the development of science of that period. The theory
of evolution of Charles Darwin and the diffusion of Positivism (the idea that technical and scientific progress can lead to happiness) completely revolutionized
men’s conception and created a conflict between science and religion.
• ORLANDO, Chapter V
The extract from Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando” (1928) perfectly summarize the atmosphere of the Victorian Age. The main thing that comes up is the comparison
between the 18th and the 19th century: the grey, dull, cloudy atmosphere of the Victorian Age contrasts with the more positive landscapes of the 18th century.
She uses atmospheric images to describe that century, a metaphor of a period of oppression and darkness, totally opposed to that period enlightened by human
reason. The main problem Virginia Woolf presents is the living condition of people, women especially: the relations between the two sexes were increasingly
distant, there was no freedom of expression, the life of the average woman was a succession of child-births. She also describes the birth of the British Empire, a
distinctive trait of this period, even if it had already started during the Elizabethan Age with the great expeditions. Finally, Virginia Woolf focuses on English
language: she criticized the fact that texts became longer and more complex and grandiloquent, contents were lengthened (instead of a single column we have
whole encyclopaedias).
In 1837 Queen Victoria ascended to the throne of England after the death of William IV. Her reign lasted 64 years, she was the longest serving Queen in the
history of England until that moment. England goes through a period of stability and economic growth.
Romantic Period and Victorian Age have some common features, they cannot be separated from each other: both periods were marked by industrialisation;
important social reforms; the Trade Unions played an important political role; the colonial process continued and led to the formal foundation of the British Empire;
there was a Third Generation of Romantic poets.
The main key-words linked to the Victorian Age are:
• Victorianism  Queen Victoria was a reference point for the moral code;
• Respectability  The idea that each man and woman had to be respectable in terms of moral code and to possess good manners;
• Puritanism  Queen Victoria imposed a strict moral code even if prostitution was still present. Sex is a taboo, it was forbidden have a relationship outside
marriage, even if very often men had extramarital affairs, that, in order to preserve the idea of respectability, were always kept secret. Prostitution too was
widespread because of the strict moral rules that were imposed.
• Victorian Compromise  The Victorian Compromise is that on one hand Britain is progressing thanks to the Industrial Revolution, the rising wealth of the
upper and middle classes and the expanding power of Britain and its empire; on the other hand the working classes had to face poverty, misery, disease,
deprivation and social injustice. The change brought by the Industrial Revolution was rapid: towns and cities grew at an incredible pace as new factories and
industries were created and thousands of people moved to the cities for work. The inventions, developments and new industries showed how advanced the
country was and how it was a world power. The upper classes continued to prosper, and the middle classes had the possibility to improve themselves and their
fortunes, while the working class was poor and miserable. Poverty couldn’t be abolished, but people had the possibility to act like good citizens and do charity,
showing their philanthropy.
• Patriarchalism  The family unit was based on the figure of the authoritarian father, while the mother had a submissive role. The husband represented
authority; the wife was the “angel of the house”. This idea was slowly questioned by the suffragette movement and the Crimean War, which leads women to
leave their houses and give their contribution to society like men.
1. Home policy
• Birth of Britain’s modern parties  The Conservatives grew out of the old Tories, and the Liberals out of the Whigs;
• The Liberals and the Conservatives alternate at the government and pass a series of important social reforms: Elementary Education Act (1870), it gave
everyone the chance to be educated by making primary education obligatory; Ballot Act (1875), it introduced secret vote at elections; Public Health Act (1875),
it improved public health;
• Second Reform Bill (1867)  It gave town workers the right to vote, but still excluded miners and agricultural workers;
• Foundation of the Fabian Society (1880-1900)  A socialist organisation inspired by Marxist philosophy. The Fabians believed in the foundation of a democratic
socialist state in Great Britain through gradual reforms rather than violent revolution. George Bernard Shaw was one of their most famous members;
• The Trade Unions are finally legalised (1882);
• Third Reform Bill (1884)  Vote was extended to all male workers;
• Foundation of the Labour Party (1900)  This marked the growth in political importance of the working class. Thanks to this and the Third Reform Bill,
representatives of the workers could sit in Parliament.
2. Foreign policy
• The Crimean War (1853-1856) started to make women convinced that it was important to have the right to vote and to give their contribution to society just
like men did;
• Birth of the British Empire  The British Empire (the colonies and dominions ruled by the United Kingdom) had already started during the Elizabethan Age
with the great expeditions, but it greatly expanded during the Victorian Age. Britain extended his power all over the world: Asia (Ceylon, India), Africa (Egypt,
Kenya, Sudan, Rhodesia), Central America and Oceania. Queen Victoria became Empress of India;
3. Key Historical Events
• Second Industrial Revolution (1840s-1900s)  Technological development and ability to produce on a larger scale, which leads to the concept of mass
production and begins to touch the very idea of art. The debate of this period concerns whether beauty should coincide with imperfection or if all art can be made
equal by machines;
• Great International Exhibition of London (1851)  It displayed the wonders of industry and science. It was opened by Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince
Albert, and held in the Crystal Palace;
• Literature as a mass phenomenon (connection with the Second Industrial Revolution);
• Serialization of the novel  Novels were usually published in instalments in newspapers. The public could follow the story from week to week, like a modern
TV serial. Charles Dickens, for example, published every new chapter in a newspaper. Authors had to earn money from literature to live and survive, but the idea
of literature being manipulated and spoiled by the market didn’t please some intellectuals, who didn’t like the idea of literature being made for economic reasons.
They thought that the creative process (which had to be pure) couldn’t be spoiled by the editorial market;
• Both the novel and drama become as popular as they were in the 18th century;
• Literature as criticism against the flaws of Victorianism, such as social injustice (in this sense it recalls the political engagement of Shelley and Byron during
the Romantic Period);
• Poetry as a witness of civil progress.
Poetry in the Victorian Age is characterised by imagination, emotions and history as a form of escapism (element in common with Romanticism); tension between
the poet’s and the society’s necessities; the poet and his/her political engagement.
The most important authors are Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892), Robert Browning (1812-1889), Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), Algernon Charles Swinburne
(1837-1909), Gerard Manley Hopkins (1884-1889).
She was the wife of the promising poet Robert Browning. Her main works are: “Sonnets from the Portuguese”, a collection of sonnets inspired by her love for
Robert. It is the first canzoniere written in English by a woman; “Aurora Leigh”, a long narrative in verse which focuses on three main themes: events of the
author’s own life, the role of women in society and the role of poetry in human life.
⃟• ALFRED TENNYSON (1809-1892)
He was born in Lincolnshire. He started writing when he was at Cambridge. There he met the “Apostles”, a group of writers. The leading figure among them was
Arthur Hallam, who became friend with Tennyson. In 1830 he wrote “Poems, Chiefly Lyrical”, which are rich in references to the Romantic tradition, particularly
to John Keats. In 1842 he wrote “The Lotos-Eaters” and “Morte d’Arthur”, which testify to his ability to deal with epic themes and follow the Medieval tradition,
while “Ulysses” rewrites a classical myth. This shows Tennyson’s interest for the Middle Ages and the past tradition. In 1847 he wrote “The Princess”, a long
narrative poem about women’s education.
Hallam died suddenly and this event was the most tragic in Tennyson’s life. In 1850 he published the collection of poems called “In memoriam”, dedicated to his
friend. In the same year he becomes Poet Laureate.
In 1855 he published “Maud” a poem about the tragic end of a love relationship. In 1892 he died and was taken to Westminster, proving that he was considered
a very important poet.
Tennyson’s poetry was harmonious and of classical inspiration. His poetry was the product of his personal experiences and of his convictions, for example he
believed in the poet’s public role. His poetry expresses his difficult relationship with society, and his need to find shelter in past history, as can be seen from his
most important works.
“The Lady of Shalott” is set in the legendary medieval world of King Arthur, the protagonist is a young lady who lives alone on her island in the middle of a river
near Camelot and who never leaves the room where she is weaving a magical web. She cannot look outside her windows otherwise a curse will fall upon her,
she can only see the reflections on her mirror. One day she sees Lancelot in the mirror, and she is so taken with his looks that she rushes to the window, so the
curse falls upon her and she dies.
“Ulysses” is a dramatic monologue in which the mythical hero Ulysses describes his discontent and restlessness upon returning to his kingdom, Ithaca, after his
travels. Despite his reunion with his wife Penelope and son Telemachus, Ulysses yearns to explore again.
“The Idylls of the King” is a collection of narrative poems about the story of King Arthur and the fall of the chivalric world of the Round Table. His most innovative
poems are: “Ulysses”, in dramatic monologue form; “The Princess”, rich in parables, visions and flashbacks; “In Memoriam”, which is made of 133 fragments,
which are related to several images and themes; “The Idylls of the King”, where he advocates the necessity of religious faith.
• STRUCTURE: The poem is divided into 4 stanzas in irregular iambic tetrameter with 4 lines in each stanza. The rhyme scheme is ABCB, except for the 4th stanza.
The structure is quite regular. The 1st stanza and the 4th stanza are linked because they both start with “Break, break, break”, creating a harmonious structure.
• LANGUAGE: The language is mainly concrete in the first 2 stanzas, with many natural elements like the sea, stones, hills. In the last 2 stanzas it is more
balanced, it is a mixture of abstract and concrete.
Enjambements (break-on, utter-the, boy-that, lad-that, on-to, hand-and, break-at, dead-will);
Repetitions (break, break, break);
Alliterations (1st stanza  stones, O Sea; The thoughts that arise; 2nd stanza  for the fisherman’s boy; he shouts with his sister; That he sings in his
boat on the bay; 3rd stanza  To their haven under the hill; the sound of a voice that is still; 4th stanza  the foot of thy crags; But the tender grace
of a day that is dead);
Assonances (1st stanza  On thy cold gray stones, O Sea; 3rd stanza  But O for the touch of);
Archaisms (Thy);
Personifications (a day that is dead);
• MEANING: The poem was written in 1834 and published almost 10 years later, in 1842, because he still had to complete it. This short poem is closely related
to “In Memoriam”, which Tennyson wrote immediately after Arthur Hallam’s sudden death. It is full of grief and sorrow, and it is based on the contrast between
the outer world and the poet’s inner world. It links both the instability of the sea and the speaker’s grief. The main themes are therefore life and death, life and
nature (Tennyson questions the idea that nature is the mirror of human’s feelings and a shelter, because even nature cannot help him), loss, loneliness and
In the 1st stanza, the sea is breaking on the stones (called “cold gray stones” so the poet may be referring to tombstones), and the poet wishes he could express
his thoughts. This stanza is characterised by a strong opposition between death (“cold gray stones”) and life (the sea breaking on the stones, it seems alive) and
also by an opposition between what’s outside (the sea) and what’s inside him (the feelings of grief he cannot express). In the 2nd stanza, he marks the difference
between his way of feeling (his solitude) and other people’s happiness, so he focuses on the opposition between the fisherman’s boy who can shout and the
sailor lad who can sing and his impossibility to do it. In the 3rd stanza the poet shows all of his sadness as he cannot hold his friend’s hand and cannot hear his
voice. The opposition between the joy of other people (who are in company) and his sadness and loneliness is strong. In the 4th stanza, the sea is breaking on
the cliff, but the poet realizes that his friend will never come back from the dead. Here the opposition between death and life (represented by the sea) is even
• ROBERT BROWNING (1812-1889)
He was a promising poet who married Elizabeth Barret, who was already a famous poet. His poems are quite original because he doesn’t self-express himself in
the poems, the story is told not by the poet himself but by another speaker. This s called dramatic monologue: first-person speaker; the speaker is not the poet
but a historical figure; precise historical and geographical background; there is a listener who usually says little; it focuses on a crucial point or problem in the
speaker’s life; the language is colloquial and spontaneous. The dramatic monologue allowed Browning to maintain a great distance between himself and his
creations: through the voice of a character, Browning could explore evil without actually being evil himself, for example. His best works are: “The Ring and the
Book”, in which we are told about a murder case by various characters who tell the story according to their own point of view using dramatic monologues; “My
Last Duchess”, in which the speaker is the Duke of Ferrara, whose wife was killed on his orders because of his jealousy. In the poem the Duke speaks to the
emissary of a Count to discuss a possible marriage with the Count’s niece. The Duke makes clear that his second wife will have to show more respect than the
first one; “Pauline”, an adolescent confessional poem which was badly received; “Paracelsus”, a dramatic poem which deals with man’s desire for knowledge and
His father was an Italian patriot, Gabriele Rossetti and he called his son Dante as a tribute to Dante Alighieri. Dante was the leading personality in the PreRaphaelite Brotherhood, so called because they advocated a return to the purity of late Medieval Italian art, before Raphael and his followers. They wanted to
return to the simplicity of the Middle Ages, when the industrial and mechanical world hadn’t yet destroyed individual creativity. They wanted to give back to art
and literature all those positive elements that existed before Raphael: the creative process is free, perfection doesn’t exist and the only thing that matters is the
uniqueness of the work. They refused the serialization of the novel typical of the Victorian Age.
Rossetti’s works are characterised by sensuality, repressed in Victorian literature, and symbolism mainly derived from Dante. He was also a painter, for example
his “Ecce Ancilla Domini” shows the moment of the Annunciation when the Angel comes to the Virgin Mary. It perfectly combines sensuality and religiosity. His
poetry wasn’t socially engaged, it was rather similar to the sense of beauty of his paintings. For example, the poem “The Woodspurge” focuses on the poet, alone
in a natural setting, who is highly conscious of very part of his body – his forehead, his knees, his hair, his ears. When he comes to his eyes the scene suddenly
focuses on what’s in front of him: a wild flower, a woodspurge. Unlike Wordsworth, Rossetti doesn’t get a moral lesson from being alone in nature, he just learns
what are the features of that flower.
She was born and grown in an Anglo-Italian context. Her father Gabriel was an Italian patriot and poet, who had political ideas opposed to those of his time, so
in London he was able to find his space in intellectual circles. He transmitted his interests to his children, especially the literature of Dante and the Dolce Stil Novo
(13th-14th century), which is why his son Dante was called like that. Christina did not have a formal education, but she was always encouraged to read and study
a lot. Her brothers Dante Gabriel and William Michael encouraged her to write poetry: at the beginning it was something she didn’t do on a daily basis, but then
she started writing regularly. Christina always felt inferior to her brothers, but she never gave up writing poetry, even if for women in that time it was quite
difficult to be poets, they were considered inferior to men. She always had a very strong relationship with her brothers. Thanks to them she was related to the
Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, so called because they advocated a return to the purity of late Medieval Italian art, before Raphael and his followers. They wanted
to return to the simplicity of the Middle Ages, when the industrial and mechanical world hadn’t yet destroyed individual creativity. They wanted to give back to
art and literature all those positive elements that existed before Raphael: the creative process is free, perfection doesn’t exist and the only thing that matters is
the uniqueness of the work. They refused the serialization of the novel typical of the Victorian Age.
Anglicanism and symbolism are two important components both in her life and her work: Anglicanism because of her attachment to religion, it was both something
that helped her and prevented her from expressing herself fully; Symbolism because just like Blake, whose poems were characterised by a realistic and a symbolic
level, Christina and her brothers used the same structure, that’s why they are called “the last 3 Romantics”. She mainly dedicated to religious poems and children’s
literature, but also to love poems. Her main work is “Goblin Market and Other Poems” (1862), a collection of poems. She also wrote “The Prince’s Progress and
Other Poems” (1866), “Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book” (1872-1893), “Monna Innominata: Sonnets and Songs” (1899). She was considered Elizabeth Barrett
Browning’s successor. She was interested in social issues, such as prostitution and women’s exploitation, so more in general she was interested in the condition
of woman in that time. She went through long periods of depression and illness, yet she never stopped writing.
• STRUCTURE: The poem is divided into 2 stanzas with 8 lines in each stanza. The rhyme scheme is irregular. The poem is harmonious because there’s a perfect
balance between “remember” and “forget”.
Enjambements (dearest-sing, head-nor, me-with, remember-and, nightingale-sing, twilight-that);
Anaphors (And if though wilt; I shall not; And);
Archaisms (Thou, Wilt, Doth);
Alliterations (1st stanza I am dead, my dearest; Sing no sad songs; green grass; With showers and dewdrops wet: 2nd stanza  I shall not see the
shadows; not rise nor set);
Assonances (2nd stanza  as if in pain);
Apostrophe (my dearest);
Inversions (Plant thou; With…wet; may I forget);
Simile (as if in pain);
Repetition (Haply…Haply);
• MEANING: The poem was written in 1862. She is writing to someone (“ my dearest”) who is very close to her and she is trying to tell him/her what she wants
them to do after she dies. The main topic of the poem is mourning. 1 st stanza is about her contemporaries’ showy behaviour in mourning; 2nd stanza represents
the poet’s realistic vision of her death and her desires. She would like her lover to be free and honest about his feelings when she dies. In this case too, the poet
is against society and social conventions. She doesn’t want flowers, trees or sad songs when she dies. She gives the person she is writing to a choice: they can
remember her, or they can even forget her. The idea of mourning was generally associated with a very strict code, the memory of the dead had to be a part of
the lives of the loved ones: she goes against this idea, she believes that people can even forget. The “Lyrical I” is strongly present, as it happened in the Romantic
period. She reflects about death and realizes that she won’t be able anymore to use her 5 senses (she won’t be able to see, feel, hear, speak) so it is completely
useless to plant roses for her if she cannot smell them or sing a sad song if she cannot hear it.
She was quite religious but, in this case, she is questioning the way in which religion deals with death and produces social conventions she doesn’t want to follow.
He was a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He wrote about many taboo topics, generally related to eroticism, that’s why the publication of his “Poems
and Ballads”, rich in explicit sexual themes, caused great scandal. He was a symbol of rebellion against the conservative values of his time. He also wrote a
successful tragedy, “Atalanta in Calydon”, inspired by the Greek theatre, and “Chastelard”, about Mary Queen of Scots.
During his lifetime his poetry was completely unknown because he refused to publish it, because he thought that his poetry conflicted with his vocation as a
priest. His poems were published years after his death and made him famous. The main themes of his poems were nature and religion and in this sense his
poetry recalls that of the Metaphysical Poets (Donne, Herbert), who found unusual connections between apparently unrelated things, which indicate the presence
of God in all things. His style was innovative: the usual word order is reversed, the same sentence is repeated, and he invented a new verse called “sprung
rhythm”, meant to imitate the rhythm of natural speech. His first important poem is “The Wreck of the Deutschland”, about the death of five nuns in a shipwreck.
Fiction was the most popular genre in the Victorian Age. It is realistic until the end of the century, then it becomes more introspective and symbolic, thus
anticipating the avant-garde movements of the early 20th century. It depicts and criticizes the flaws of the Victorian Age. Nonsense is established as a technique
and a literary genre. Novels were generally serialized.
The main authors are: Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865), William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863), Charles Dickens (1812-1870), Emily Bronte (1818-1848),
George Eliot (1819-1880), Lewis Carroll (1832-1898), Bram Stoker (1847-1912), Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), Thomas Hardy (1840-1928).
Two phases can be identified: from Gaskell to Bronte fiction is realistic; from Eliot to Hardy traditional fiction begins to shatter and to take on new innovative
feature, like different point of views and a new type of narrator, less solid and traditional. They focus more on the study of their character’s psychology and
In her novels she focuses on the social problems in contemporary society. “Mary Barton” deals with the difficulties faced by the Victorian working class. It was so
successful that Charles Dickens invited her to contribute to his magazine “Household Words”, where her next major work, “Cranford”, appeared. She also wrote
“The life of Charlotte Brontë”, a biography, and “Wives and Daughters”, an incomplete novel about the life in the countryside.
His most famous works are “Barry Lyndon” and “Vanity Fair”. The first one is a picaresque novel about the life of an adventurous man who tells his story with
candour and irony. The second one is considered his masterpiece; it recounts the adventures of a young woman who makes her way through the world by any
possible means. The protagonist Becky, a clever and determined girl from a poor family, tries to climb the social ladder thanks to her wit and charm.
• CHARLES DICKENS (1812-1870)
His first novel is “The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club”, where the comic and picaresque elements are mixed, it about the adventures of a group of
people travelling around England. He gradually became more conscious of social injustice, poverty and suffering of the lower classes and the result was an
increasingly critical attitude towards contemporary society. He wrote “Oliver Twist”, which recounts the sufferings of an orphan brought up in a workhouse, who
then runs to London and joins a gang of thieves made up of children. In this novel Dickens combines the sentimental and melodramatic story of an orphan child
with social satire and realism to talk about important social issues (such as the exploitation of children, he knew from his own past experience because he had
worked in a factory when he was a child). The ending is typical of Dickens’s novels: Oliver gets his happy ending thanks to the benevolence of a wealthy person
from the upper middle class. Most Victorian issues went into Dickens’s novels, for example in “Hard Times” he criticizes the miserable working conditions in the
factories and the harm done by the Utilitarian philosophy, which judged the value of everything according to its practical value. The novel is set in Coketown, an
industrial city (the fictitious name means “town of coke”, which refers to a kind of coal used in industry).
He also wrote “David Copperfield”, a novel which contains several autobiographical elements (such as the portrait of his own father) and focuses on the loves,
pains and wonders of childhood. In his novels, Dickens portray a vivid picture of Victorian England, from the setting to the characters, in order to denounce the
social injustices of his contemporary society.
• EDWARD LEAR (1840-1928)
He is mostly known for the use of nonsense in his works. With his “Book of Nonsense” he started a new literary genre, that of nonsense. It is a collection of
drawings and limericks (a very short humorous poem). Nonsense represents the opposite of the typical moralistic production of the time. It is a form of escapism,
even though it is soon associated with the mainstream children’s literature. It recalls the 18th century anti-novel tradition. Nonsense also inspired the new avantgarde movement of the early 20th century, particularly Dadaism in France, Breton and Aragon and the Theatre of the Absurd in England.
• CHARLOTTE BRONTE (1816-1855)
Charlotte’s first and most famous work is “Jane Eyre”, a novel that reflects much of the writer’s own life experiences, that’s why it can be considered a sort of
autobiography. The plot focuses on love and adventure. It tells the story of Jane’s life and her love for Mr Rochester, but its originality rests in the mixture of
realism (some scenes were taken from her own life) and romantic imagination stimulated by nature. The heroine’s characteristics (courage, determination)
contrast with the female delicacy typical of the Victorian ideals.
• EMILY BRONTE (1818-1848)
Emily’s only novel is “Wuthering Heights”, rich with passion and feeling. It is a love story set in the Yorkshire moors, the landscape of Emily’s childhood. It
describes the love between Heathcliff and Catherine, a young woman torn between love and social conventions. The work looks back to the Romantic exaltation
of feeling over reason and the importance of nature, seen as a projection of human’s feelings. It also contains elements of gothic novels, such as the gloomy
atmosphere and the presence of supernatural and mysterious events.
• GEORGE ELIOT (1819-1880)
George Eliot is the pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans. She decided to adopt a pseudonym because she rejected the stereotype of women writing just silly and
unrealistic romantic stories. Her first published work was “Scenes of Clerical Life”, a series of stories focused on the life of simple country people.
Her masterpiece is “The Mill on the Floss”, a recreation of the world of her childhood, the rural English Midlands. The protagonists are Maggie, a smart young
girl, and her brother Tom, whom she adores with all her heart, who on the contrary is a rather dull and unimaginative boy. The work portrays the vain efforts of
Maggie to adapt to her provincial world and to fight against social conventions. When she grows up, she experiences unfortunate loves and is abandoned by her
brother because she is considered scandalous. In the end the brother and sister and reconciled and they both drown hugging each other.
She also wrote “Middlemarch”, a collection of personal stories of disillusion, failure, despair and partial fulfilment in a world which is “provincial”, meaning far
from the capital and ignorant of current ideas. Her works are characterised by great realism in presenting people, places and situations that are simple and
⃟• LEWIS CARROLL (1832-1898)
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was the eldest boy in a family of 11 children. Lewis Carroll is his pen name. His father, a clergyman, raised his children them in a
rectory. In 1852 Lewis Carroll is awarded a studentship at Christ Church, and is appointed a lecturer in mathematics. He has two interests: photography and
writing books for children. He is considered one of the most important authors of all times, especially important in child literature (“ Alice’s Adventures in
Wonderland” on one hand can appeal to children, but it also has a more complex level, thus producing double level of interpretation). In 1865 “Alice’s Adventures
in Wonderland” is finally released: it was dedicated to a young girl named Alice. It is the fantastic story of young Alice who finds herself in a strange and fascinating
world which stands between dream and reality. Its sequel is “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There”, in which Alice takes a trip to a world that
extends beyond a looking-glass. He then publishes “The Hunting of the Snark”, again, based on nonsense. It is a great success. In 1898 he dies and leaves an
enigma behind him. Carroll was not only obsessed with photography (his archive contains more than 3000 photos, but many were destroyed because they were
considered unacceptable), but also with young children. Carroll had the look of a very respectable man, but his life was very controversial, especially because of
his obsession for children, even if there’s no evidence that he was a paedophile. Religion was also very important for him; in this sense his sexuality was filtered
by his close relationship with religion.
His works are famous for the presence of nonsense, as they don’t follow a common logic but the logic of dreams, where rationality is absent or much reduced.
Nonsense is also based on the manipulation of language: we can find words with no real meaning or words that do not exist.
When we analyse a piece of fiction, we have to divide the text into sequences: in this case this is a long dialogue (the so-called dialogic sequence), introduced
by a short narrative sequence. We can also have a narrative sequence (the narrator says what happened), a descriptive sequence (description of a landscape, a
character), and reflexive sequence (the narrator expresses his/her feelings or the feelings of a character). After dividing the text into different sequences, we
have to identify the type of narrator: if there’s a 1st or 3rd person narrator, if he is omniscient or not. Here the narrator is 3rd person omniscient and he introduces
the dialogue between Alice and the Caterpillar to the reader. Then we have to analyse the characters: here the main characters are Alice and the Caterpillar (they
are both protagonist in this text but not in the whole novel). Other types of characters can be secondary characters, antagonist and the characters who support
the protagonist. Then we analyse time and space: time here is not specified (we don’t have time expression, frequency adverbs); space is not specified either.
Then we analyse language and style: language here is quite simple, there are not many subordinate clauses, so parataxis is used. The language employed in
mainly abstract. There are a lot of paradoxes (“Who are YOU? I hardly know, sir, just at present”).
The main topic is that of identity or doubts about identity, in fact identity in this text is seen as something in constant change, it is dynamic, it cannot be defined.
Alice doesn’t really know who she is.
The relationship between Alice and the Caterpillar shows that Alice is eager to start a conversation and he starts it even if he is bored, he doesn’t really like being
there. The Caterpillar is not interested in Alice at all. Alice is not very happy with the beginning of this conversation because she finds his question (“Who are
you?”) very difficult, she cannot answer it.
The main difference between Alice and the Caterpillar is that the Caterpillar is not as confused as Alice about his identity, he doesn’t understand why it is so hard
for Alice to answer that question.
The structure of the text is circular, the Caterpillar asks the same question (“Who are you?”) at the start and at the end of the dialogue. The end of the conversation
is the beginning (typical of the Theatre of the Absurd, like Beckett in “Waiting for Godot”).
Nonsense in fundamental in this text and in the whole novel. He puts to question the typical way of having a conversation, giving importance to nonsense. He
was a photographer, so he took reality for what is was, while in his works he used nonsense.
• THOMAS HARDY (1840-1928)
His novels were inspired by rural Dorset, the place where he grew up, a land full of historic remains such as Stonehenge, Roman ruins and Saxon and Norman
castles. For it he invented the term “Wessex”, which means “land of the West Saxons”. His works are generally set in Wessex and are characterised by great
realism and pessimism, because the author was mainly influenced by the German philosopher Schopenhauer and the idea of the “Immanent Will”, meaning a
universal power indifferent if not hostile to the fate of man. His most famous works are: “Far from the Madding Crowd”, about a beautiful woman who is loved
by three different men who try to win her heart; “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”, the story of a beautiful woman whose father discovers that his family was of noble
descent. Tess’s parents send her to work by the D’Urbervilles, hoping that her beauty might win them some money or a job for her. There Tess is continuously
harassed by Alec D’Urbervilles and in the end she gets pregnant. She escapes and goes to work in a dairy. Here she meets Angel Clare and they fall in love but
when she tells Angel her story, he leaves her, so she accepts to become Alec’s mistress. Angel comes back to England and Tess kills Alec to be with the man she
loved, Angel, but she is arrested and executed for Alec’s murder. With this work Hardy wanted to show that Tess was in reality an innocent girl, pure at heart,
crushed by a series of unhappy circumstances of destiny and that she wasn’t guilty for that.
Hardy, especially during the Edwardian Era, dedicated to war poetry. In his poems he shows all of his dissatisfaction with the government that had decided to
enter World War I and he denounces the horrors of war.
• BRAM STOKER (1847-1912)
He is best known today for his masterpiece “Dracula”, a Gothic-Horror novel. It shows the main typical elements of the Gothic novel (castles, supernatural events
and creatures - vampires). The protagonist is Count Dracula, a vampire with supernatural powers who lives in his castle in Transylvania. He buys a mansion in
London and goes there and after his arrival strange and horrible things happen in England. In the end Dracula is killed. The novel can be seen as a metaphor of
the cracks in Victorian society: Dracula, like Mr Hyde, is a projection of the Victorian Age’s fear of its secret and less clear aspects, the one hidden by the Victorian
His first novel is “Treasure Island”, a pirate story revolving about the map and the hidden treasure, a children’s classic. His masterpiece is “ The Strange Case of
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”, a short novel where he follows the example of the tales of terror by Edgar Allan Poe. It recounts the story of Dr Jekyll, a scientist who is
obsessed with the idea that his evil side can be separated from his good side, giving birth to two separate beings: one good and one bad. He discovers a drug
that can make this change, he takes it and he turns into a new evil person, Mr Hyde, a physically deformed man who commits all sorts of crimes. Mr Hyde begins
to take over Jekyll’s life without even needing the drug, so Jekyll realises that the only way to get rid of Hyde is to kill himself. The main theme of the work is
that of the double, meaning the eternal struggle between good and evil which coexist in the same person. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde symbolize the duplicity of the
Victorian Age: Jekyll represents the public face of the individual, that of a respectable man; Mr Hyde represents the evil and dark side present in every person.
⃟• OSCAR WILDE (1854-1900)
Born in Dublin, he belongs to the upper-middle class, to a family of scholars and physicians. In 1874 he is awarded a scholarship at Magdalene College because
he was a brilliant student. He studies the Classics and John Ruskin (the main art critic of the Victorian era, he was interested not just in works of art, but in the
society that had produced them), but he’s mainly influenced by Walter Pater’s theory of “Art for Art’s sake”. According to this theory art is not produced to focus
on social or moral issues, art only creates/represents beauty. Art doesn’t have a moral purpose; it should only be judged for its beauty. Art must have no moral
purpose and must only be used to celebrate beauty and the sensorial pleasure.
Wilde was the typical English Dandy; physical appearance was fundamental for him, he wanted to be unique and special. He was also the one who started
aestheticism in England: it is a movement that supports beauty and sensual pleasure instead of social and political themes. He thought that beauty could
regenerate society and art had to be used to celebrate beauty with a highly polished style.
Between 1875 and 1877 he visits Italy and Greece (also because of the education he received on the Classics) and then in 1879 he settles in London. In 1881 he
publishes his first collection of “Poems”. It is influenced by John Keats, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelites. In 1883 he marries Constance Lloyd, but
their marriage is a failure. Between 1885 and 1891 he publishes “The Canterville Ghost”, a short story about an American family who move to a castle haunted
by the ghost of a dead nobleman, who killed his wife and was starved to death by his wife's brothers, and “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (Wilde’s only novel).
During the 1890s he becomes a playwright. His “well-made plays” (so-called because they follow a predetermined pattern, such as the presence of three main
standard phases: introduction, climax (or complication) and resolution) are addressed to the upper middle class and sarcastically criticize Victorian values. His
main plays are “Lady Windermere’s Fan” (1892), “A Woman of No Importance” (1893) and “The Importance of Being Earnest” (1895). In his plays he criticised
Victorian values and hypocrisy, in this sense there’s a connection with the Restoration “Comedy of Manners”, in fact both types of comedy went against the basis
of society and its main institutions, like marriage. The Comedy of Manners is that kind of comedy that mocks the manners of the contemporary society, marriage
in particular, it was seen as a form of conformity. The main difference is that during the Restoration authors criticised marriage because there was a love triangle,
usually a middle class couple and the so-called “fop” (the aristocratic man who is excessively concerned with his appearance) so those comedies presented the
conflict between middle class and aristocracy (characterised by an unruly and dissolute life); in Wilde’s plays we don’t find the love triangle, but we can find some
characters who insinuate the doubt about marriage. He doesn’t present the conflict between middle class and aristocracy, he just criticises the foundations of
society. In 1895 his success ends because he was arrested and sent to prison because of his homosexual relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, being
homosexuality a crime. The years he spent in jail changed his style: beauty was still important, but he also started thinking about freedom and social reforms.
He writes “The Ballad of Reading Goal”, about the way prison changes a man and social injustice. In 1900 he dies of meningitis in Paris.
“The Picture of Dorian Gray” is about a young man of outstanding beauty. Lord Henry Wotton introduces him to the philosophy of new hedonism, meaning a life
of pleasure founded on youth and beauty. An artist paints a portrait of Dorian that captures his beauty. Dorian, impressed with the perfection of his own beauty
in the painting, wishes never to grow old. His wish is granted: his dissolute life leaves no signs on his own face but ruins the painting, which shows the signs of
Dorian’s moral decay. Disgusted by the portrait, Dorian tries to destroy it but he dies and after his death the portrait resumes its perfect beauty while the signs
of age appear on Dorian’s body. The moral is that there is a price to be paid for a life of pleasures.
“The Importance of Being Earnest” is Wilde’s greatest comedy. The title plays on a double meaning: the word earnest (an adjective which means serious), but
also the name Ernest. The protagonists of the play are Jack and his friend Algernon. Jack lives in the country, but when he goes to London uses the name Earnest,
to protect his reputation. He has a girl under his responsibility, Cecily, who thinks that Earnest is Jack’s brother. In London, Jack as Earnest, falls in love with
Gwendolen, but her mother doesn’t want the marriage because Jack’s origins are unknow. Algernon falls in love with Cecily, Jack’s ward and introduces himself
as Earnest, just like his friend. So, at this point both Gwendolen and Cecily think they are engaged to a man called Earnest. This causes some misunderstanding
but then Jack confesses he has no brother and there is no Earnest. At the end we discover that Jack and Algernon are brothers, and Jack’s original name is
Ernest. The two couples can finally marry.
The preface of “Dorian Gray” is considered the manifesto of Aestheticism. It consists of a series of aphorisms that express the author’s vision of art. He follows
the principle of “Art for Art’s sake”. According to this theory art is not produced to focus on social or moral issues, art only creates/represents beauty. Art doesn’t
have a moral purpose; it should only be judged for its beauty. Art must have no moral purpose and must only be used to celebrate beauty and the sensorial
pleasure. Art cannot be symbolic: Wilde warns against reading too much in a work, trying to go beneath the surface.
With this preface, Wilde goes against the traditional literature of that times: Dickens, for example, wanted to denounce, to criticize what’s wrong in the society of
the Victorian Age in order to change things; Wilde, on the contrary, doesn’t think that art is useful, art should just create and represent beauty. A work of art is
just form and style, the content is not so important, that’s why he says that “books are well written, or badly written”.
Style and aesthetic are fundamental, not contents. Moral and ethic issues have nothing to do with art, the writer must feel free to write whatever he/she wants
without being limited by morality and the idea of utility.
He also thinks that all art is at once surface and symbol (so, just like Romanticism, there are two levels of interpretation), but he also says that it is dangerous to
try to go beneath the surface, he suggests to the reader to stop at the surface, meaning style and form, because the symbolic level is linked to meaning, content,
message. The reader must limit himself to the beauty of the text and not go into depth.
In conclusion he says that diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that art is vital, alive, as long as we only try to grasp its beauty.
Drama was a popular genre in the Victorian Age. It mainly consisted of “well-made plays”. The main authors are Arthur Pinero (1855-1934) and Oscar Wilde
(1854-1900), they give their plays a solid narrative structure (introduction, climax, resolution of all conflicts) and offer a realistic representation of society, also
women’s condition. As it had happened during the Romantic Period, many new theatres were built both in the West End and the East End (so that even the
poorest areas could have theatres). This continues during the Victorian Age: anyone could go to the theatre. Plays were represented during the whole day and
the price of the ticket allowed everyone to afford it because depending on the time of day tickets had different prices. Theatre was a mass phenomenon. The
plays were for all tastes: intellectuals went to see George Shaw’s plays, those who wanted to see different aspects of Victorian society went to see Wilde’s and
Pinero’s plays. The limitation of this kind of theatre, meaning the “well-made plays” was that it was very traditional and linked only to the national reality. George
Shaw was the one who tried instead to represent a wider reality and a more symbolic representation of reality. He wanted to shock the middle class. His art was
also more open to being international, not only linked to the nation. His idea of theatre is therefore different from that of Wilde and Pinero.
• ARTHUR PINERO (1855-1934)
His first major success is “The Magistrate”, a comedy about a woman who has lied about her age in order to marry her second husband, an honest magistrate.
Pinero was not happy writing just comedies, so he tried to write a tragedy. One of his early attempts at tragedy was “The Profligate, in which a man takes poison
after he realizes that his marriage has failed. Unfortunately for Pinero, the public was not ready for such a gloomy ending, and he was forced to rewrite it, resulting
in a much happier outcome. In the years that followed, however, the public was exposed to the plays of social dramatists such as Henrik Ibsen and George
Bernard Shaw. Feeling that the public was now ready to receive his tragedies, Pinero composed “The Second Mrs. Tanqueray”, the first of several plays depicting
the difficult condition of women in society. Although the play raised protests from conservatives because of its subject matter, it was a great success.
He was interested in social reforms and the Socialist movement (that became part of his artistic production), in fact he was one of the founding members of the
Fabian Society. His “Problem Plays” were inspired by the plays of the Norwegian Ibsen and were meant to shake the middle classes’ convictions. He wanted
people to reconsider standard values. His plays deal with crucial issues such as socialism, capitalism, feminism, prostitution, alcoholism, religion, science. His main
collections of plays are: “Plays Unpleasant”, so called because they were meant to force the spectators to face unpleasant but real facts, and the “Plays Pleasant”,
so called because they were less shocking but equally clear in pointing out the main problems of those times. Other plays are: “Man and Superman” is one of
Shaw’s most famous play and one of the most important to understand Shaw’s thought, because it presents his theory of the “Life Force”. He thought that there’s
a natural active power that impels man to procreation and this power is stronger in women; “Pygmalion”, about a Professor who bets he can turn a poor, illiterate
girl – Liza Doolittle – into a gentlewoman simply by teaching her how to speak correct standard English. The experiment is successful, and Liza is believed to be
an upper-class lady. This play shows that language and education can help people to become independent from others.
THE XX CENTURY – From the Edwardian Era to Post-War Times (1901-1936)
1. THE EDWARDIAN ERA (1901-1910)
The Edwardian Era is characterised by an atmosphere of preparation for the next period, World War I. The king who reigns in this period is Edward
VII, Queen Victoria’s son.
• Edward VII ascends to the throne (1901-1910). His reign is characterised by great optimism because the king, called “Peacemaker”, promoted good relations
between Britain and other European countries, especially France;
• Despite all the optimism, Britain is facing economic stagnation and social unrest. Strikes are tools of rebellion against high prices, taxes and low wages. The
lower classes lived in misery, they had very low salaries and the prices were high;
• The Conservative Party loses the 1906 elections because people believed that the Liberals would be able to achieve the much-needed social reforms. Therefore,
the Liberal Party wins the elections.
• The Trade Unions movement expanded;
• The suffragettes fought for the right to vote for women;
• The Irish Question in this period represents the eve of the civil war that began in 1920. In 1905 the Irish nationalist movement became a real political party
called “Sinn Féin”, with the aim of achieving independence. The British Prime Minister Asquith, liberal, in order to find a compromise solution, he promoted the
“Home Rule” project, according to which Ireland would be granted the status of autonomy and it would have its own government and parliament, while remaining
united to the British crown. This project met the opposition of both the Irish nationalists (Sinn Féin), who wanted full independence, and the Anglican North of
Ireland, who was against autonomy. The “Home Rule” project was stopped because of the start of World War I, but the civil war that began in 1920 was inevitable:
it was mainly a religious issue, based on the opposition between the Catholic South and the Anglican North.
• Drama  Very little drama production, plays from the Victorian Age are still represented. There is a revival of verse drama particularly in Ireland, for example
Yeats showed his enthusiasm for the Irish movement of liberation against British rule.
• Fiction  Fiction in this period in mainly produced to give voice to social issues and those marginal social groups (such as women). Fiction is characterised
by the disintegration of the viewpoints and the narrator. The main authors are: Arnold Bennett (1867-1931), Herbert George Wells (1866-1946), Edward Morgan
Forster (1879-1970), Joseph Conrad (1857-1924), David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930).
These novelists are not truly Modernist (their language and plots are still fairly traditional) but they have a quite modern conception of the novel. Lawrence,
Conrad, Wells and Forster in particular created a new form of science fiction and witness to the new avant-garde movements of Modernism.
• Poetry  Poetry represents the anxiety and tensions of the modern man. The main authors are: Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), Thomas Hardy (1840-1928),
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939). The most recurrent topics are colonialism and symbolism.
• JOSEPH CONRAD (1857-1924)
“Lord Jim” is his first major novel, the story of a man who loses his honour because he had abandoned the passengers during a storm and regains it only with a
heroic death; “Heart of Darkness” is Conrad’s masterpiece, it is a long short story based on personal experience. As a captain, he sailed up the River Congo and
that experience permanently changed him. The narrator, Marlow, a sailor, tells his story to his friends on a boat. Marlow had been hired by a Belgian trading
company to sail up the River Congo and fetch a man named Kurtz, an official of the Company who apparently had gone insane. Marlow’s trip on a steamboat up
the River Congo brings him into close contact with the brutal exploitation of the native by the ivory merchants and the legend of Kurtz. When he finally finds
Kurtz, he finds a dying man who has become a sort of God for the natives. The man is brought on steamboat, where he will actually die, pronouncing the
mysterious words “The horror, the horror!”, which sum up the terrible exploitation of Africa and the horror of what Kurtz had done there. The title of the book is
full of meaning. On one hand it refers to Africa, which was often referred to as “the dark continent”, on the other hand it refers to the darkness that lies inside
the human soul. The geographical journey into the unknown continent corresponds to a journey of discovery into the self. When white men are free from social
conventions, they show their true self: savage and instinctive rather than rational and even more cruel than the black man he is trying to “civilise”. This is what
happened to Kurtz. For Marlow and for Conrad himself, the journey to Africa is the discovery of the horror of colonialism. As it happened in “Dr Jekyll and Mr
Hyde”, Conrad presents two characters that are one the opposite of the other: Kurtz represents the dark side of the other.
• RUDYARD KIPLING (1865-1936)
His works were mainly inspired by his experience in India. “Kim” is his most famous novel, it is the story of an orphan living in Victorian India who is half British
half Indian. The book contains colourful and lively descriptions of the various people, landscapes and beliefs of that country. Kipling was the first English author
to write seriously about the British in India and what it meant for them to live there rather than merely control it. Kipling was a supporter of the British Empire
and its rule in India, he was considered the “spokesman of the Empire” because he supported colonialism and the superiority of British people over the natives.
Another famous work by Kipling is “The Jungle Book”, an example of fiction of children. It tells the story of the boy Mowgli, who has grown up among the wolves,
and of his animal friends, such as the bear Baloo and the panther Bagheera.
Kipling also wrote poetry, his most famous one is “The White Man’s Burden”, which expresses the belief in the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race and justifies
imperial conquest as a mission to civilize people that are considered inferior.
His first collection of poems “Crossways” contains simple poems dealing with basic themes such as love and the passing of time and characterised by a sense of
dreaminess. His poetry started to change in the 1890s because he became more interested in Irish folklore, as is testified by his book “The Wanderings of Oisin”,
about Celtic mythology. He also wrote plays, such as “The Countess Cathleen”, a verse play for Maud Gonne, a beautiful Irish revolutionary Yeats fell in love with.
His poetry started to change and to become less dreamy. Yeats was an Anglo-Irish, but he never got involved in Irish politics, when he suddenly experiences
political enthusiasm with the Easter Rising of 1916. He commemorates this event in one of his most famous poems called “ Easter 1916”, in which the poet
describes his mixed emotions about the events of the Easter Rising in Ireland against British rule. The uprising was unsuccessful, and most of the Irish republican
leaders involved were executed for treason. In 1917 Yeats, refused again by Maud Gonne, married another woman who was a sort of spiritual medium. This
influenced Yeats’s production, in fact he published “A Vision”, in which he assumes that everything in the world in interrelated. He won the Noble Prize and his
poetry became more mature and richer in symbols, as it can be seen in his collections “The Tower” and “The Winding Stair”.
Wells had the merit of establishing “science fiction” as a genre. His best novels are: “The Time Machine”, about a man who discovers how to travel in time. In
the future he finds two people, the Eloi, weak and little, who live above ground in a seemingly perfect place, and the Morlocks, bestial creatures who live under
ground and eat the Eloi. The Time Traveller returns horrified to the present; “The Invisible Man”, about a scientist who invents a way to become invisible but fails
to become visible again; “The War of the Worlds”, about an alien invasion on earth; “The First Men in the Moon”, about the journey to the moon undertaken by
the two protagonists. These novels are examples of adventures set in modern science rather than legendary or traditional backgrounds. He also expressed his
reaction against typical Victorian values, since he came from the lower-middle class and was a convinced Socialist.
• ARNOLD BENNETT (1867-1931)
In his fiction Bennet describes lower-middle class life in an industrial district, “The Potteries”, where he grew up. His novels are rich in details and realism. His
main works are: “Anna of the Five Town”, about Anna’s struggle for freedom and independence against her father’s and her fiancé’s restraints; “The Old Wives’
Tale”, about the lives of two sisters from their youth to old age.
His best novels are: “Where Angels Fear to Tread”, which deals with the contrast between the over-refined English gentility and the Italian vitality; “A Room with
a View”, which contrasts English respectability to Italian passion; “A Passage to India”, Forster’s masterpiece. The story takes place in the city of Chandrapore in
India in the early 1920’s when the British occupied, colonized, and controlled India. Dr. Aziz, an Indian Doctor, gets to be friends with a British Professor, Fielding,
and two British women, Mrs. Moore and Miss Quested. He offers to take them to see the famous Marabar Caves. Once there, a strange and unexplained event
occurs, and Aziz is accused of attacking Miss Quested. He is arrested and put on trial. This trial represents all the conflicts between Indians and English and is
especially scandalous because Fielding has taken the side of the Indians over the British. Eventually, Miss Quested takes back her accusation, causing the Indians
to vent their rage against the English oppressors. Miss Quested, Fielding and Aziz all go their separate ways. Two years later, Fielding and Aziz are reunited only
to come to the conclusion that as long as the English are still in India, the English and Indians cannot be friends.
His first novel is “The White Peacock”, which focuses on the unhappiness caused in young people by following social conventions and not their instinct; “Sons
and Lovers” is an autobiographical novel which deals with the relationship between a mother and her sons, set in a Midlands mining town.
At the end of World War I he started writing poetry. His early poetry is collected in “Love Poems and Others”, while his more mature style appears in “Look! We
Have Come Through”, a collection of autobiographical poems influenced by Walt Whitman’s free verse. In the last part of his life he wrote his last great novel,
“Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and more poems. His last novel caused great scandal because of the descriptions of sexual intercourse. In his works he uses the themes
of modernism (such as modern man’s tension and anxiety, the contrast between natural instincts and social conventions) but he refuses its form. Like Joyce and
Virginia Woolf, he rejected the detailed realism and the lack of psychological analysis of the characters, but unlike them he wasn’t a Modernist, his technique and
style were quite traditional.
2. THE GEORGIAN ERA (1910-1936)
The Georgian Era is characterised by World War I and that period between World War I and World War II, fundamental to understand Modernism.
• In 1910 George V, Edward VII’s son, ascends the throne of England;
• Britain faces strong tensions between Liberals and Conservatives. The Liberals continued to rule the country until World War I. The Liberal Party needs the
support of the Labour Party and Irish in order to pass the necessary social reforms, which are, however, rejected. The Conservatives ally with the House of Lords
and stop any reform. Britain faces a stalemate (situazione di stallo);
• Parliament Act (1911)  The House of Lords can reject laws only for 2 years;
• Ireland is on the edge of a civil war (1914), the South became independent from Britain only in the post-war period;
• World War I (1915-1918)  Britain enters the war in 1915 against Germany. The “flower of a generation” dies, meaning the new generation of Georgian
poets, because there’s a passage from the enthusiasm for England's entry into the war and the suffering it has caused.
MODERNISM (1914-1922)
The term “modernism” refers the movement that developed between 1914-1922 and which express the reaction against 19th century ideas and conventions in
new innovative forms. The main characteristics of modernism are breakdown of traditional genres; fragmentation of the traditional ideas of place and time;
breakdown of the traditional plot with the beginning and the end; complex language which breaks the traditional style; focus on the psychology rather than on
realistic details; use of free verse instead of traditional metres; use of the “stream of consciousness”, so called because it reproduces the continuous flow of
human thought; inability to give a positive message for the future; intertextuality; link between different forms of language and of genres (for example language
can be taken from the Classics, from the old romances). Modernism is strongly linked to the shock and experience of World War I, which prompted artists to find
new forms of expressions to deal with the devastation of war.
It is an international movement that concerns art, literature, philosophy, psychology. Ezra Pound can be considered the starter of this movement, he was in favour
of semantic obscurity (the intellectual cannot transmit any positive ideal because World War I has destroyed any outlook for the future) and formal brevity.
Modernist writers don’t care if the reader understands every single word, the most important thing is the general meaning. This is the opposite of the Victorian
Age, when writers wanted to have as many readers as possible in order to earn a lot of money. The aim of modernist writers is just to represent a condition that
is shared by everyone beyond the national borders.
The use of the “stream of consciousness” is maybe the most innovative technique of this movement. Writers were not interested in representing reality as it was,
in a realistic or natural way, they wanted to represent the interiority, the most obscure, intimate and less rational part of the human being, that is consciousness.
The literary forms used until now are therefore inadequate, so modernist writers create and use new forms and techniques, for example the omniscient narrator
is not used anymore, or traditional punctuation is changed, because the goal of the writer is no longer to help the reader understand, but to represent
The main features of modernist fiction are: Stream of consciousness  narrative technique that consists in the description of a character’s thoughts as they
appear in his/her mind before they are organized into logic forms by the rational part of his/her mind. The object of the narration is the characters’ consciousness.
Writers don’t focus on what’s outside the characters, but inside. They want to explore the idea of fluid consciousness (which comes from William James and
Sigmund Freud), that’s why it is called “stream”; Interior monologue  the technique used by modernist writers to depict their characters’ consciousness. At the
end of Victorian age, we could find multiple narrators, now none of them. Narrator no longer exist. The protagonist’s consciousness is the one who speaks. The
narrator cannot filter anything. There are multiple points of view, syntax and punctuation are destroyed (especially in Joyce, while Woolf will try to preserve
syntax, she was more conservative). The interior monologue is seen an extreme form of realism.
The main authors are: Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), James Joyce (1882-1941), Dorothy Richardson (1873-1957), Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923).
She was a pioneer of the stream of consciousness technique. Her major work is “ Pilgrimage”, an ambitious sequence of 13 semi-autobiographical novels. The
originality of the novel lay not only in the structure of the work, but in Richardson’s attempt to express female consciousness, by rejecting the “masculine” tradition
and the literary experiments dominated by male writers.
⃟• VIRGINIA WOOLF (1882-1941)
She was born in London into a typical Victorian family. She will always rebel against patriarchalism and the idea of woman as “the angel of the house”, she wanted
women to be free and independent. Her life completely shattered in 1895 when her mother died: after this event she will soon manifest serious signs of mental
disorder such as depression, that will accompany her for the rest of her life. She moved to the district of Bloomsbury. She came into contact with a group of
writers called the “The Bloomsbury Group”: they were anti-Victorian, unconventional in their ideas about life, society and art, sceptical about religion and
considered scandalous because of their ideas about sex. Virginia Woolf’s ideas were influenced by this group, she supported personal freedom and, in literature,
formal experimentation, in fact her aim was to re-design the novel (especially with the use of the interior monologue and her “moments of being”). Two of the
most important figures in her life are Vita Sackville West (Virginia’s friend and lover) and Leonard Woolf (Virginia’s husband, he was always there for her and to
support her during her depression).
Her most important works are: “The Mark on the Wall”, Virginia’s first published story, it clarifies the difference between the Victorian/Edwardian culture and the
Georgian generation. For her the former is made of materialists. The Victorian/Edwardian writers focused on the outside, the Georgia writers focus on the
characters and their interiority; “The Voyage Out”, her first novel, it was quite conventional; “Mrs. Dalloway”, a typically modernist novel, it focuses on 24 hours
in the life of an elderly woman, Clarissa Dalloway, and on her plans for a party. At the same time, the return of an old friend from India triggers memories of the
past. Mrs Dalloway’s story is counterpointed by the lives of other characters, who are mysteriously interconnected. We can find interior monologues, which express
the interiority of the different characters and the way their lives cross without their even realising it; “To the Lighthouse”, a very complex work in which the
intuitive female consciousness of Mrs Ramsay is contrasted with the rigorous male consciousness of her husband. This works shows Virginia’s rejection of the
idea of patriarchalism; “The Waves”, Virginia Woolf’s last book, it is about the reunion of four characters in four different stages of their lives which correspond
to the four seasons. The novel is highly symbolic especially the element of the sea, which recalls the flux of human consciousness; “Orlando” Virginia’s strangest
novel: the protagonist, Orlando, lives about 350 years and at some point, changes sex from a man into a woman. It celebrates Woolf’s love-friendship with Vita
Sackville West and can be considered a rendering of the history of the Sackville family.
Virginia Woolf committed suicide in 1941.
Her idea of interior monologue is a compromise between traditional and Modernist narration. Her characters’ consciousness and moments of being (moments of
inspiration of the characters, like Joyce’s epiphanies) are at the heart of her novels, but syntax is still close to tradition.
She was utterly against Victorian’s materialism: intellectuals of that time were just interested in what was on the outside (they used to write very long descriptions
of characters, always starting from the exterior appearance for example), on the contrary she was interested what was on the inside, the consciousness of her
This is a text of feminist prose written in 1929 on the occasion of a conference about women and literature. It is divided into six chapters.
In this extract Virginia Woolf talks about Shakespeare and his sister Julie (she is a fictional character; she is symbol of women condition). The main topic is the
difference between the possibilities that a woman and a man could have in early modern England. When Shakespeare went to London, he started a career in
drama and his sister did the same, but he had a great success and she didn’t, so she committed suicide. Virginia Woolf is trying to rewrite history by reflecting
on the past of Elizabethan Age in order to make the readers reflect upon women condition.
The second part in particular is about patriarchal society and women’s difficult access to the world of English drama. While Judith’s frustration at home is connected
to her father, her frustration in London is caused by the men she meets on the stage.
Other issues addressed in the text are women and marriage (Julie was forced a man against her will, she hated the idea of marriage but in the end, she accepted
because her father forced her) and women and culture/writing.
The style is quite informal and direct. We can find intertextual relations with “Orlando”, where she presents a fluid character who changes sex from a man into a
woman, in fact the next year she wrote “A room of one’s own”, where we find the figure of the androgynous (a combination of masculine and feminine
characteristics into an ambiguous form).
• JAMES JOYCE (1882-1941)
His best works are “Dubliners”, a collection of 15 short stories about the lives of people in Dublin. The main theme is the psychological paralysis of men, meaning
that men and women of Dublin are slaves of their familiar, moral, cultural, religious, and political life, they have to accept the limitations imposed by the social
and family context they have to live in. Every story lacks real actions but ends with a revelation that Joyce calls “Epiphany”, a sudden manifestation caused by a
song, a photo or by particular situation through which the character comes to a self-realisation about himself or about the reality surrounding him; “A Portrait of
the Artist as a Young Man”, about his own life in Dublin. He received the admiration of other artists such as Ezra Pound, Yeats and Eliot. Pound helped him to
publish his masterpiece, “Ulysses”. It is Joyce’s masterpiece, it tells the story of a specific day in the life of Leopold Bloom, a Dubliner of Jewish origin. He is the
Ulysses of the title, and wanders about the streets of Dublin just like Homer’s Ulysses. The work’s structure is based on Homer’s “Odyssey” (the 24 hours of
Bloom’s day correspond to the 24 books of the “Odyssey” for example). What happens to Leopold is far less heroic, in fact it is quite common: he wakes up, he
goes to a Turkish bath, he goes to the funeral of a friend, he goes to the newspaper office, he has lunch, in other words, a quite common day. The other main
characters are Molly (Bloom’s wife, she corresponds to Penelope at home) and Stephen Daedalus (the artist who is seeking a father figure, he corresponds to
Telemachus). One of the most innovative element in this work is the use of the stream of consciousness, which is taken to its extreme form in the last part of the
novel (no third-person narrator tells us what is happening, no external events are described, no paragraphs, no punctuation, no subordinate sentences). The idea
behind the book is to present in detail a day in the life of a character who is not a hero, but simply a common Dubliner.
She had a rebellious and anti-conventional personality. Her best works are generally short stories: “In a German Pension”, a collection of short stories about the
guests of a pension in a German spa town; “Bliss”; “The Garden-Party”. Her stories don’t have definite plots with clear beginnings and endings, in this they recall
the Modernist novels of Joyce and Woolf which focus on few significant moments during ordinary days in ordinary lives. She uses typically modernist devices such
as the stream of consciousness and multiple viewpoints.
The collection of Georgian Poets includes Walter De La Mare (1873-1956), Sigfried Sassoon (1886-1967), Rupert Brooke (1887-1915), Robert Graves (18951985), Edmund Blunden (1896-1974) and David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930). They represent a new generation of poets, it is still close to tradition, even
though it expresses modern man’s tension and anxiety.
• WALTER DE LA MARE (1873-1956)
Walter de la Mare’s poetry goes back to many romantic themes: dreams, death, emotions, fantasy worlds of childhood and imagination. His first major work is
the collection of poems “Songs of Childhood”, a great example of children’s literature. He wrote another collection of “Poems” and a novel called “Henry Brocken”,
a work of fantasy written in a genre traditionally reserved for realistic subjects.
• EZRA POUND (1885-1972)
He was born in the United States, but he moved to Europe. He wanted English literature to be international and to mix with other European cultures. He was a
supporter of the literary movement called Imagism, characterised by the use of a clear, concrete language and brevity in order to create short but powerful
poems. In this sense he helped T.S. Eliot to free his “Wasteland” from the superfluous and to communicate the essential in a powerful way. He can be considered
the initiator of Modernism; he was in favour of semantic obscurity (the intellectual cannot transmit any positive message because due to the World War I there’s
no prospect for the future) and formal brevity. This is shown in one of his most famous poems, “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley”, a portrait of a dying civilisation through
a collage of different images and quotations from other works. His masterpiece is considered “ The Cantos”, a long epic poem written in free verse (the kind of
verse that recalls natural speech). It includes history, but also myth, foreign literature, historical documents, western and Oriental philosophy.
• SIGFRIED SASSOON (1886-1967)
He mainly dedicated to war poetry. Writers who had lived through the hell of war denounced its horrors and the errors and lies that provoked them. His poems
can be found in the collection called “Poems” and they show his great courage and his hatred of war. It is bitterly ironic in order to surprise or shock the reader.
He blames the government, the church and the high command for the death of so many innocent men.
• RUPERT BROOKE (1887-1915)
He mainly dedicated to war poetry. Writers who had lived through the hell of war denounced its horrors and the errors and lies that provoked them. Brooke was
the prototype of the brave, young and gifted British gentleman. His “War Sonnets” made him famous: they show the heroic side of war, when patriotism and
heroic ideals had not yet died.
⃟• T.S. ELIOT (1888-1965)
Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in St Louis, Missouri, into a family of English descent and was educated at Harvard. His background is European: he studies Dante,
he attends Henri Bergson’s courses at Sorbonne (French philosopher who refused the distinct ideas of past, present, future and instead conceived time as a
continuous flux), and graduates in philosophy. In 1914 he moves to London and marries Vivien Haigh-Wood. Eliot was always close to his wife, he and his works
were influenced by her mental disorder (that’s why he was quite pessimist).
He also starts his collaboration with Ezra Pound. In 1917 he publishes “The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock”, his first major poem. It is a dramatic monologue,
but not in the traditional way, in fact the speaker is not a realistic personality like Browning’s “Duke of Ferrara”, Prufrock is an incoherent voice. In this sense the
poem represents the disgregation of the human personality and the traditional verse.
In 1922 he publishes “The Wasteland”, a fundamental work for the development of Modernism in Europe. It is an innovative poem that reflects Eliot’s personal
crisis. From 1919 to 1922 he dedicates himself to the poem, but he often needs to stop and write pamphlets. His collaboration with Ezra Pound is more than
fruitful for this work. At the end of this long period, “The Wasteland” is a brilliant Modernist work, complex and concise at the same time. It is full of intertextual
references the reader must decipher. Human consciousness is at the heart of the poem but the poet himself is detached from the narration, Eliot thought that
poetry had to be impersonal (he shares this idea with Joyce).
Between 1917 and 1925 he works for Lloyd’s Bank and writes several important essays. In 1927 he becomes an Anglican and a British citizen. It is a very important
moment for him because religion saves him from despair because his wife was ill. This is why from now on his works are way more positive. Between 1930 and
1942 he publishes “Ash Wednesday”, which represents his acceptance of the Christian faith, and “Four Quartets”, a collection of four poems. Each of them is
named after a place of special significance for the author and is focused on a season and on one of the four elements. The poems deal with the themes of time
and eternity and the intervention of God in human life. In 1948 he is awarded the Nobel Prize.
Eliot’s production can be divided into 2 periods: the first period is more pessimistic and based on spiritual decadence (because his wife was hill and he couldn’t
find comfort in anything), the second period, from 1927 on, is religious and far more optimistic.
In order to depict modern man’s condition, Eliot and Joyce elaborate the “mythical method”, that refers to a systematic use of the Classics to write in the present.
He also invented the idea of the “objective correlative”, that can be found in his 1919 essay on Hamlet: an objective correlative is the only way of expressing
emotions in a work of art. It is a group of things or events which symbolize certain emotions so that they can be used to immediately evoke those emotions.
Eliot’s language is rich, symbolic and musical and he uses the free verse, which reproduces natural speech.
STRUCTURE: The poem is divided into 2 stanzas in free verse (no rhymes), the 1st stanza is longer than the 2nd.
LANGUAGE: Mixture of English and German. The poet also uses biblical language and references the reader must decipher.
Enjambements (breeding-lilacs, mixing-memory, stirring-dull, covering-earth, feeding-a, Starngergersee-with, grow-out, only-a…), so many of them
because the poet wanted to create a narration;
Personification (April is the cruellest month);
Paradox (April is the cruellest month…Winter kept us warm);
Oxymoron (Winter/warm) = It is when apparently contradictory terms appear together;
Alliterations (1st stanza  Winter kept us warm; forgetful snow feeding; little life; With a shower of rain we; down we went; feel free; 2nd stanza 
What are the roots that clutch what; broken images where the sun beats; There is shadow under this red rock);
Anaphors (And);
Repetitions (2nd stanza  What…what; the…the; no…no);
Metaphors (stony rubbish = the land the poet is describing);
• MEANING: “The Burial of the Dead” is the first section of “The Wasteland”, and it takes its title from a line in the Anglican burial service. It is made up of four
subsections giving four speakers’ different viewpoints: in lines 1-30 the speaker is a German aristocratic woman (we know that because in line 12 the language
employed is not English but German). The main themes are those of Nature (thus of life and death), Childhood and Memory = typical themes of the Romantic
Period, but they are used in an innovative way. Nature is not a mirror or a shelter anymore ( the dead tree gives no shelter) because it is dead and only causes
suffering. Likewise, past memories are not a shelter anymore, they bring pain and suffering.
In the first part of 1st stanza we find the opposition between Spring and Winter. April is called the cruellest month in a desolate land to which winter is far kinder.
April is cruel because it gives life, the poet prefers winter because it represents death (this is a paradox). This means that spring is cruel because it brings back
painful memories, while winter destroys past memories, covering earth in forgetful snow. The memories the speaker is talking about date back to when she was
a child, in fact in the second part of 1st stanza she talks about when she was a child and she used to play with her cousin, and she was frightened. The refrain in
lines 15-16 is important because it highlights the memory of this young child wo was afraid, so the message is that it is way better to die rather than to live and
be scared.
2nd stanza is more musical (more alliterations and repetitions) and it has a conversational style. The poet focuses on the description of the desolate land, called
“stony rubbish” (metaphor for the land the poet is describing), it represents the idea of death because “stone” can be seen as the opposite of life and “rubbish”
refers to something that must be thrown away because it is at the end of its life-cycle. “Stony rubbish” is the objective correlative because it is used to convey
an emotion. 2nd stanza presents several images of death: “shadow under this red rock” = it represents death because it is opposed to the sun, which is life. In
2nd stanza “broken images” conveys the idea of fragmentation, the opposite of unity, which provides certainty to man. 2nd stanza also presents some biblical
references (Ezekiel 2.1, Ecclesiastes 12.5, Isaiah 32.2).
The final message is given in the last lines, where the idea of death is even stronger, and it is emphasized by the idea of “shadow” and “dust”.
This poem is very innovative: we have mixed languages (English, German), use of free verse (no rhyme), use of paradox (opposition spring -cruel- and winter keeps warm-), the “Lyrical I” doesn’t coincide with the poet, he is not the one expressing himself. The speaker is a German aristocratic woman. Eliot thought that
poetry had to be impersonal in order to give the poet the possibility to focus not on his/her own intimate condition, but on the universal condition shared between
all the human beings. Marie represents the whole of humanity and its universal condition (which is suffering).
• ROBERT GRAVES (1895-1985)
His first poetry appeared while he was in the army during World War I. His autobiography “ Goodbye to All That” is one of the most powerful accounts of the
horrors of that war. With his wife he wrote “A Survey of Modernist Poetry”, the most important work of criticism to include the term “Modernism” and to prepare
the public for that kind of new poetry written by Eliot and other Modernists poets. He was a prolific writer of poetry even thought his historical novels are his
best-known works, such as “I, Claudius”. As a poet he didn’t want to identify with any school or movement, he just wanted to use his voice in a highly individual
and articulate way.
• EDMUND BLUNDEN (1896-1974)
He mainly dedicated to war poetry, like his friend Sassoon, and he wrote about his experiences in World War I both in verse and prose. His most famous works
is “Undertones of War”, a mixture of prose and verse that presents a series of war-related episodes that show the horrors of World War I.
After World War I drama does not express any social conflicts or tensions. At the time of Modernism drama wasn’t very popular, writers preferred to dedicate to
poetry and fiction. An opposition emerges between poetry/fiction (characterised by obscurity because of World War I) and drama (the opposite of poetry, full of
wit and very entertaining, with immoral characters). In this period drama is mainly composed of comedies, it was a way of showing there was a crisis of values
at that time. There are two main groups: the 1st one composed of witty comedies, the main playwrights are William S. Maugham (1874-1965) and Noel Coward
(1899-1973)  they used a brilliant and sophisticated style (which recalled Wilde’s style) to provide evidence of the crisis of that time and present social issues,
through characters who lack any form of morality; the 2nd one is more complex and intimate, the main playwrights are W.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot  they start a
new tradition in the field of religious drama and drama in verse. They both believe that only verse can express man’s intimate dimension. Yeats is committed to
the national cause, so his plays become the basis for this type of political-social mission. Then Yeats’s theatre becomes much more international, inspired by the
Japanese Nō theatre, which leads almost to the absence of words in Yeats's plays. T.S. Eliot dedicated to religious drama, his best play is “Murder in the Cathedral”,
concerning the death of the martyr Thomas Becket.
His plays are mainly comedies that recall those of Oscar Wilde’s: his style was brilliant and sophisticated, and his aim was to provide evidence of the crisis of that
time and present social issues, through characters who lack any form of morality. His main plays are “Lady Frederick”, which deals with the theme of marriage
and economic problems and “Our Betters”, a satire against rich Americans who buy their way into European society. His masterpiece is considered to be “Of
Human Bondage”, a semi-autobiographical novel.
• NOEL COWARD (1899-1973)
His plays are mainly comedies that recall those of Oscar Wilde’s: his style was brilliant and sophisticated, and his aim was to provide evidence of the crisis of that
time and present social issues, through characters who lack any form of morality. His main plays are “The Vortex”, about the life of a drug addict tormented by
his selfish mother; “Hay Fever”, about the bad manners of 4 eccentric family members; “Private Lives” about a divorced couple who realise that they still have
feelings for each other; “Blithe Spirit”, about a man whose domestic life is disturbed by the jealous ghost of his first wife.
• World War I ends (11 November 1918)  All men aged 21 and women over 30 who are married obtain the right of vote; Ration books introduced for butter,
margarine, lard, meat and sugar; Education Act raises the school leaving age in England and Wales to 14; According to the Parliament Act, all women over 21
are given the right to vote or stand;
• Sinn Fein refuses to take their seats in the British Parliament because they ask for Irish independence (1919);
• The Easter Rising of 1916 in Dublin results in the creation of the Irish Free State (Irish independence), which becomes a British dominion (1922);
• First Labour Government (1924);
• Political crisis caused by the international economic crisis (1931)  The King promotes the idea of a national coalition government of Labour, Conservatives
and Liberals, which is eventually formed;
• The King George V celebrates his Silver Jubilee (1935)  He celebrates 25 years of his reign. He dies 1936 and is succeeded by his son Edward VIII. Edward
VIII abdicates because he is in love with Molly Simpson (a divorced middle-class woman) and George VI ascends to the throne.
Joyce, Woolf and Eliot continue to write, but the new generation of poets tries to detach from their forms of expression and obscurity. The main authors of this
period are W.H. Auden (1907-1973), Louis MacNeice (1907-1963) and Stephen Spender (1909-1995), who found the so-called “Auden Circle”. They wanted to
be useful for society and to use ideology, particularly Marxism, as a tool to oppose against Fascism and Nazism. Their works show their determination to contribute
to the cultural-political debate of the time, and to use a more straightforward, concrete language. These writers thought that the artists didn’t have to isolate
themselves from society, as they thought Joyce, Woolf and Eliot had done. They wanted their poems to be easy to understand and to reach as many readers as
possible, so they wanted to detach from the obscurity typical of Modernist poetry.
• LOUIS MACNEICE (1907-1963)
He was part of the “Auden Circle”. After a series of unsuccessful plays, he wrote his verse translation of the ancient Greek tragedy “Agamemnon” and he became
famous with his poetry, characterised by the use of descriptive details, humour and colloquial language. He wanted to detach from the forms of expression and
obscurity typical of the Modernist writers.
• WYSTAN HUGH AUDEN (1907-1973)
He was part of the “Auden Circle”. He was interested in social problems both at home and abroad. His first important verse collection “Poems” was edited by T.S.
Eliot. Between 1930 and the outbreak of World War II he travelled a lot, he lived in pre-Hitler Berlin and Spain during the civil war. This experience was traumatic
for him and influenced his works. He continued to travel in Iceland, China and America. “The Double Man”, a book of poems, marked a change in Auden’s
approach to literature: he rejected politics because he thought that the world was unredeemable and became more emotional. One of his most famous poems is
“Musée Des Beaux Arts”, about man’s loneliness in a puzzling world.
• STEPHEN SPENDER (1909-1995)
He was part of the “Auden Circle”. He believed in the social and political function of poetry. In his “ The Destructive Element” he defends the poet’s right to deal
with political subjects. After World War II his ideas changed and he detached from the Communist Party, contributing to a collection of essays against it.
⃟• DYLAN THOMAS (1914-1953)
A Welsh poet, writer and playwright, he starts writing poems at the age of 11. In 1934 he publishes “Light Breaks no Sun Shines”, which catches the attention of
the literary world (e.g. T.S. Eliot and Stephen Spender). His first collection included 18 poems and it had visionary qualities. He then publishes “Twenty-five
Poems”, which is equally praised. He takes part in the International Surrealist Exhibition in London in 1936. In 1937 he marries Caitlin Macnamara: their relationship
is stormy and mutually destructive. In 1940 he publishes “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog” a collection of short stories in prose, which can be considered
real-life romances. He finds earning a living as a writer difficult and increases his income with reading tours and radio broadcasts. In 1946 he writes “Deaths and
Entrances”, a collection of poems clearly inspired by Donne. Other past sources of inspiration include William Blake and Gerald Manley Hopkins. In the 1950s he
travels to America. He becomes very popular, but his drinking worsens. In 1954 he dies during his fourth trip to the United States.
Thomas was considered a genius, he was one of the greatest exponents of Surrealism (dreamlike atmosphere, association of bizarre and seemingly unrelated
images, fragmented syntax). His poems are complex and obscure, they recall that of the Metaphysical Poets (e.g. John Donne), who found unusual connections
between apparently unrelated things, creating a type of obscure poetry which needed a process of interpretation. Thomas is seen as a poet who thinks in images
(his images come from Blake and the Metaphysical Poets), that convey different idea (for example in “The Force that through the Green Fuse drives the Flower”
the idea is that of death).
He is also called the “Last Romantic”, because is poetry is strongly related to Nature and highly symbolic.
• STRUCTURE: The poem is divided into 4 stanzas with 5 lines in each stanza, and a final couplet rounding off the poem. The rhyme scheme is irregular. Although
iambic pentameter is dominant, the third line in each stanza is very short. There is a refrain in each stanza (“And I am dumb”), which expresses the poet’s inability
to speak. The poem is very musical (a lot of alliterations and the refrain).
• LANGUAGE: The language is very complex and obscure, making the poem very difficult to understand. Dylan didn’t care if everyone understood the poem, he
is a Surrealist.
Enjambements (flower-drives, trees-is, rose-my, rocks-drives, streams-turns…), they create a sort of narration;
Repetitions (green, drives, the, that, force, mouth);
Alliterations (1st stanza  The force that through the green fuse drives the flower; that blasts the roots; bent by; 2nd stanza  The force that drives
the water through the rocks; Drives my red blood that dries the mouthing streams; spring the same mouth sucks; 3rd stanza  The hand that whirls
the water in the pool; Stirs the quicksand that ropes the blowing wind; shroud sail; How of my clay is made the hangman’s lime; 4th stanza The lips
of time leech to the; weather’s wind; How time has ticked a heaven);
Anaphors (The, How, And), they give the poem a defined structure;
Inversions (The force that through the green fuse drives the flower);
Synaesthesia (green age) = one of the five senses is described using terms from another;
Personifications (mouthing streams; lips of time);
Metaphor (green age = youth);
• MEANING: It is part of Thomas’s 18 Poems; it was written in 1933. The main theme is that of Nature and its relationship with human beings.
1st stanza recalls Romantic tradition. Nature is connected with humankind because the fate of the rose is the same for every person. Here we find a reference to
Blake’s “The Sick Rose”: what has destroyed the rose is what has destroyed the poet’s youth (we will later understand that he is talking about time). Nature is
linked to men because that force that is at the basis of the flower life cycle is also at the basis of the life of the poet so if the flower dies the poet dies too. What
can destroy the roots of trees can destroy the poet too. In 1st stanza we have a more traditional idea of winter as something that brings death, while Eliot
completely turns this idea around.
In 2nd stanza there is a connection between the water and the poet’s blood, so once more Nature is connected with human beings. The same force can transform
the poet’s blood into wax, so it can give life or death and the poet cannot say this to his veins. There’s a reference to Eliot’s “The Burial of the Dead” and the
element of the Stone, that shows the opposition between life and death. The rocks Thomas is describing are wet, while the Stone Eliot described in his poem is
dry but they both represent the idea of death.
In 3rd stanza there’s the idea of the divine, godly hand and a biblical reference to the Book of John 5.4, when there is a magic pool healing the sick or those in
pain. The godly hand can give life, but it can also give death in fact in it can push the poet who is sailing towards his final destination (death). The poet is made
of the same clay of the man who gives death (the hangman), so the poet himself is death. Shroud in Italian in “sudario”, it is linked to the idea of death.
In 4th stanza we understand that the force the poet is talking about is time. Time is touching, almost kissing the upper part of the fountain. Water is the love that
drips from the fountain. Time is the reason why love is dying because it is drinking from the fountain. The element of blood in this stanza evokes once more the
idea of death. The poet then refers to time itself (called “weather’s wind”), time is seen as the creator who created heaven around the stars.
The final couplet refers to Blake’s “The Sick Rose”, in which the rose is destroyed by the crooked worm. The poet too is spoiled by the worm. The final couplet
doesn’t convey the final message or an explanation, it just goes back to the starting reference to Blake.
The refrain “And I am dumb” refers to the poet’s inability to speak because of the passage from life to death.
Important to notice that in each stanza line 3 is referred to death and suffering while the initial parts of the stanzas are referred to life. We have a double presence
of life and death, with the predominance of images linked to death.
Fiction in the inter-war years is dominated by Huxley’s and Orwell’s dystopian novels, respectively “Brave New World” (1932), “Animal Farm” (1945) and “1984”
(1948). They too wanted to detach from the obscurity of the Modernist tradition and focus on ideology (to fight against Nazism and Fascism), scientific and
technological progress, individual freedom.
• ALDOUS HUXLEY (1894-1963)
His first famous novel is “Crome Yellow”, a satire against contemporary society. Other important works are: “Antic Hay” and “Those Barren Leaves”, they are a
critique of the lifestyle of the British upper class. Starting from 1920s he expressed his pessimistic vision of Western civilisation destroying itself. His masterpiece
is “Brave New World”, a dystopian novel describing life in a future society in which human life is completely under scientific control; human needs, creativity and
independence are manipulated for the sake of profit and power while personality is standardised.
• GEORGE ORWELL (1903-1950)
His best works are: “Animal Farm”, a political fable describing how the animals on a farm rebel against their cruel master. The animals decide to run the farm
themselves (a parody of workers running farms and factories in the Soviet Union) but soon the pigs gain control over the other animals and start to behave as
cruelly as the human master. The animals are a metaphor for the workers in modern society, exploited just like them, no matter who the masters are. The moral
is that revolutions are doomed to fail and result in new forms of oppression; “1984” is a dystopian novel set in a future England in 1984 (the opposite of when
the novel was written in 1948). It describes a society in which the Party ruled by Big Brother controls every aspect of human life with the use of telescreens and
hidden microphones across the city. The world in 1984 is divided into three great powers: Oceania, Eastasia and Eurasia. Britain, a part of Oceania, is ruled by a
totalitarian dictatorship whose leader is Big Brother, who controls everything. The main character is Winston Smith, who tries to understand what is really going
on in the world.
THE XX CENTURY – From the Second World War to Contemporary Times
• George VI ascends to the throne of England (1936)  He will be King of the United Kingdom and of the Dominions of the British Commonwealth until his
• World War II break out during George VI’s reign (1939)  The King supports Prime Minister Nevil Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement towards Germany
and Italy;
• Winston Churchill becomes Prime Minister (1940)  The Monarchy supports him. He was an ideal leader who kept up the country’s spirit, thanks also to his
famous radio speeches.
• The war accelerates the evolution of the British Empire into the Commonwealth of Nations (Britain maintained some degree of preferential contact with her
former colonies) and of Britain into a welfare State (after the war ends in 1945, the Labour Party lays the bases of the Welfare State to overcome the economic
problems of the post-war years);
• India gains independence after a long struggle (1947)  This marked the collapse of the British Empire;
• George Vi dies (1952)  Elizabeth II is crowned Queen;
• After the end of World War II, the world was divided into two opposing factions: the Western bloc led by the USA; the Easter bloc controlled by the USSR,
marking the start of the Cold War;
Poetry in post-war years is characterized by two opposite trends: that of Philip Larkin’s rationalism and straightforwardness; that of John Betjeman’s religion,
melancholy and tradition. Larkin is the major figure and Betjeman has been rediscovered lately. The main authors are: Philip Larkin (1922-1985) John Betjeman
(1906-1984) and Stevie Smith (1902-1971). They are all very clear (opposition between the poetry before and during war (e.g. Dylan Thomas and his very
obscure style) and after war). They didn’t want to write anything too intellectual; their aim was to reach directly the readers. They didn’t want to give a socialpolitical message in order to change the world.
Larkin wanted to tell things as they were with a clear and direct style. He talks about scenes of daily life as they are, common and simple, abandoning the typical
complexity of Modernists poets. Betjeman wanted to present reality as it was with an extremely simple style. Smith wanted to share her past experiences,
especially those of her youth, characterised by the abandonment of her father
⃟• STEVIE SMITH (1902-1971)
Her father was a shipping agent who left her when she was still a little child. She will always suffer from her father’s choice. She grows up in a family of women,
and soon moves to North London. She starts writing, and Sylvia Plath (an American poetess) appreciates her work. Her main fiction works are “Novel on a Yellow
Paper”, “Over the Frontier” and “The Holiday”. The main themes reflect her past experiences and they are loneliness, myth and legend, war, human cruelty and
religion (as a form of solace). Her best poetry is “The Englishman”, “Mother, What is Man” and “Not Waving But Drowning”. She used to put her own drawings
next to her poems. She became very popular in the 1960s also thanks to her radio recordings. At the end of her life she used to evoke death, a proof of her
mental decay. She never recovered from loneliness and the fact that her father had left her, so she became mentally unstable.
Her poetry is very simple, her style is direct and clear, she didn’t want to give social-political messages but instead to reach directly her readers by presenting her
own past experiences as the starting point, then she uses her experience to talk about more general issues (for example the problem of gender). She talks about
herself and her inner self, she wanted to use poetry in a cathartic way, as a form of solace.
• STRUCTURE: The poem is divided into 3 stanzas, the number of lines is irregular (1st stanza and 3rd stanza 4 lines, 2nd stanza 10 lines). The structure and the
rhyme scheme are irregular. Free verse is used here.
• LANGUAGE: The language is very simple, the tone is narrative and conversational.
Enjambements (girl-so, curl-who, be-in, me-I, me-what…), there are a lot of them because it is a sort of narration;
Alliterations (1st stanza  My mother; marry a man; his hair; 2nd stanza  And wished mama hadn’t made such a foolish marriage; with papa it wasn’t
the case with me; take to; took to; tried to; 3rd stanza  He used to come home; But I think I was somewhat to blame);
Assonances (1st stanza  a long time ago; 2nd stanza  What folly it is; In love with papa it wasn’t; it showed in my eyes; And a fortnight later papa
ran away to sea; 3rd stanza  I think I was);
Anaphors (I…I; And…And; What…What; But…But);
• MEANING: This poem was written in 1937. The 1st stanza is a sort of introduction, that’s why it is shorter, it is meant to say what happened. The poet expresses
her disappointment and disillusion, she is being very critical against her mother’s choice to marry. In 2 nd stanza there’s a common place, that is that daughters
are always supposed to be in love with their fathers, but the poet says that she cannot love him because he left her. So, the use of “papa” is strongly ironic. She
was 3 when she became aware of the situation, that that marriage was stupid. She feels like she is to blame because she couldn’t express her sadness (“grieve”),
she wasn’t able to express herself completely and she feels guilty for this. She thinks that if she had been more open, maybe she would have made her father
Poetry for Stevie Smith is a form of catharsis, a sort of liberation from sadness and suffering produced by the sad memories of the past.
STRUCTURE: The poem is very short; it only has 4 lines. The structure is irregular.
LANGUAGE: The language is very simple.
Repetitions (her, them);
• MEANING: This poem was written in 1942. There’s a strong connection between the title and the content of the poem. The title refers to affection between all
human being, while the poem itself refers to affection between Stevie and her mother, so the poet is trying to universalize her feelings, to express the fact that
there’s a strong connection between her and the rest of the world. There are no enjambements because these are just short simple thoughts. It is a very intimate
poem because it shows the love Stevie feels for her mother.
• JOHN BETJEMAN (1906-1984)
He was educated at Oxford, where he met Auden and MacNeice. His early poems appeared in magazines and then he wrote his first collection of poems called
“Mount Zion”. He wrote an autobiography in blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter) called “Summoned By Bells”. His poetry deals with the suburbs and
suburban life rather than the cosmopolitan themes of the capital city. The poems in “ Collected Poems” are witty and satirical and celebrate middle-class values.
His poems are very simple.
⃟• PHILIP LARKIN (1922-1985)
He was an English poet and a novelist. His father introduces him to the works of Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce and D.H. Lawrence. In 1943 he graduates
from Oxford and becomes a librarian. He has already started writing and has met Kingsley Amis. They will form an intellectual group called “The Seven”. In 1945
he publishes “The North Ship”, his first collection of poems, then he writes two novels, “Jill” and “A Girl in the Winter”. In 1946 he discovers Thomas Hardy and
becomes an admirer of his poetry. Between 1950 and 1955 he collaborates with Kingsley Amis. Monica Jones and Patsy Strang are his most important partners
in those years. In 1955 he becomes a librarian and in 1964 he publishes “Whitsun Weddings” a collection of poems. Between 1971 and 1975 he becomes Honorary
Fellow of St John’s College at Oxford: he compiles “The Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century Verse”, that includes Thomas Hardy, W.B. Yeats, W.H. Auden and
Rudyard Kipling and in 1974 he publishes “High Windows”, another collection of poems. In the early 1980s he is a popular poet, and both critics and TV directors
want to write and speak about him. He dies of cancer in 1985.
He was stimulated from the intellectual point of view, his father pushed him to read the most important poetry and fiction. He discovers Thomas Hardy and
considers him one of the most important poets: thanks to Larkin in contemporary times Hardy is rediscovered. He used his job of librarian to be in contact with
literature and conduct his own researches. He was included in the most important intellectual circles of that time. He refused to become a Poet Laureate, he
didn’t want anything so official and excessive, he was very shy, didn’t want to attract attention.
His poetry describes a variety of subjects and only a few recurring themes emerge: his pessimism means that death, illness and the passing of time are fundamental
• STRUCTURE: Very short but complex poem, it is divided into 4 stanzas in iambic pentameter of 3 lines each. The rhyme scheme is irregular, only the last stanza
has 3 rhymes.
• LANGUAGE: The language is easy, but the poem is quite complex to understand. It is also very musical.
Enjambements (unrest-builds, sky-and, why-at, find-words, kind-or);
Alliterations (1st stanza  Talking in bed ought to be easiest; together there; 2nd stanza  more and more; 3rd stanza  heap up on the horizon; None
of this cares for us nothing; 4th stanza  Or not untrue and not unkind);
Assonances (4th stanza  at once true and unkind; untrue and not unkind);
Repetitions (More, Not);
Personification (the wind’s incomplete unrest builds and disperses clouds about the sky) = the wind builds clouds in the sky;
Metaphor (dark town heap up) = negative image, these towns don’t seem to care at all;
Synaesthesia (time passes silently);
• MEANING: This poem is the product of a period of time when the poet was discovering his relationship with women. Sex is seen as a form of freedom and
liberation from his very strict and work-oriented life. This poem is a perfect example of the “Larkin Zoom”: the 1st stanza begins with a very ordinary and common
scene, and theme focuses on more universal issues and themes. Larkin wanted to focus on ordinary situations. The main themes are love and honesty (“Lying in
bed” is an ambiguous expression, in fact the verb “To lie” may also mean “Not saying the truth”, implying that the two lovers may be cheating). This is why the
poem may be ironic, because it celebrates something that may not exist, maybe this love is fake and untrue.
The 2nd and the 3rd stanzas focus on what’s outside the room: the wind moves the clouds in the sky, while dark towns can be seen on horizon. While time passes
outside the room, it is as if inside that room the two lovers are not influenced by the passing of time. What happens outside has no effect on what happens inside
the room. Another important idea is that the two people are far from isolation because they are together, even if this moment of intimacy produces a sense of
doubt because of the double meaning of the verb “To lie”.
The poem doesn’t provide a final answer, the relationship between truth and untruth is uncertain, as it is shown by the last 2 lines, where we see the opposition
between true/kind and untrue/unkind. The double negative form “not untrue and not unkind” provides no certainty even if such an intimate moment (two people
in bed together) should be one of perfect harmony, but we are not sure about that.
Some critics suggest that the fact that a poem about honesty is divided into stanzas of 3 lines is meant to strengthen the idea of doubt and uncertainty.
The main protagonists of this period are Samuel Beckett (1906-1989), William Golding (1911-1993), Angus Wilson (1913-1991), Iris Murdoch (1919-1999) and
Muriel Spark (1918-2006). They represent the transition from Modernism to Contemporary times: Beckett, for example, starts his career as a Modernist writer
and then he becomes one of the most important Contemporary writers.
• WILLIAM GOLDING (1911-1993)
Golding’s most famous novel is “The Lord of the Flies” (1954), a dystopian novel. It reverses all commonplaces about innocence and childhood, which shows his
pessimism. The novel tells the story of a group of British schoolboys who find themselves isolated on a desert island, revert to instinctive behaviour and have to
fight to survive (it links to the tensions of World War II), being free from the control of the adult world. With this novel Golding goes against the common place
of children’s innocence and kindness.
• ANGUS WILSON (1913-1991)
Wilson restores Victorian narrative styles and draws his inspiration from Zola, Dickens, Kipling, and George Eliot. He is determined to represent reality in fact he
was very attached to tradition but becomes an experimental writer at the end of his career.” Late Call” is based on the use of pastiche [pronunciation: pastìsh]
(an artistic work in a style that imitates that of another work, artist, or period); “The Old Men at the Zoo” puts men and beasts together.
• IRIS MURDOCH (1919-1999)
Murdoch starts from tradition, but then focuses on moral issues and philosophical speculation. “The Sea, the Sea” is allusive and obscure novel about the power
of love and loss, made of dreams and nightmares. Being a female writer, she was interested in defending women’s rights.
• MURIEL SPARK (1918-2006)
Spark began writing seriously, under her married name, after World War II. She has a different approach to reality because she is not part of Post-Modernism,
even though most of her novels are equally complex and problematic. She is attached to tradition, but the endings of her works are always open, we never find
a real conclusion because she thought that truth cannot be achieved. She was mainly interested in moral issues and, being a female writer, in defending women’s
rights. Her first novel, “The Comforters”, is about a young woman who becomes aware that she is a character in a novel; “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”, was
way more successful. It is about a controversial teacher who deeply marks the lives of a group of students in the years leading up to World War II.
• KINGSLEY AMIS (1922-1995)
His early poetry was traditional in form, witty, colloquial and Anti-Romantic. He achieved great success with his prose, especially with his masterpiece, the novel
“Lucky Jim”. It is about a young intellectual, Jim Dixon, the typical “angry young man”, who feels out of place in his social context but in the end finds the girl of
his dreams and a very good job. Lucky Jim became the archetypal anti-hero of a generation of British young men, mostly lower or middle class. With time his
novels became more bitterly ironic and their protagonists less attractive. The captivating Jim Dixon gives place to a more complex hero in “That Uncertain Feeling”,
about compromise and betrayal of values. One of his best later works, “Ending Up”, is a satirical study of the problems and obsessions of old age.
There are two main trends in post war years: Samuel Beckett and the Theatre of the Absurd; John Osborne and the Angry Young Men. They represent two
opposite sides of reality. The first one is highly symbolic; the second denounces the working classes’ problems after WWII, thus the failure of the Welfare State.
• Founded by Samuel Beckett, the Theatre of the Absurd has its cultural roots in the Elizabethan Era, in the circus tradition and the Marx Brothers (a comedy
group). It combines comedy and tragedy. It starts from the principle that life is absurd and is based on an empty form of communication, that’s why In Beckett’s
works words are meaningless. There’s not actual plot. He wants to represent the universal condition shared by all men.
• John Osborne is the leader of the Angry Young Men (angry with the system, the main enemies are the upper classes). He denounces the working classes’
condition in post-war years and gives voice to their members’ frustration. The setting is realistic, and the language used expresses their anger. While Becket’s
words are meaningless, Osborne’s language is full of strength and violence. Furthermore, while in Beckett’s plays the scene is highly symbolic, in Osborne’s works
we have a domestic setting characterised by strong tensions, expressed by a violent language. His main work is “Look Back in Anger” (1956).
⃟• SAMUEL BECKETT (1906-1986)
He was born in Dublin into a middle-class family. He was proud of being Irish (the Irish theatrical tradition was very strong). He was a brilliant student. He
graduates in Italian and French from Trinity College. In 1928 he goes to Paris and meets with Joyce. In 1930 he returns to Dublin as a University Professor at
Trinity College and works on the critical essay on Proust. He travels throughout Europe and continues to dedicate to novel writing. He was politically committed:
in the 1940s he is in France and joins the anti-German front. Between 1951-1953 he becomes a playwright. He started writing in French, then he rewrote his
works in English. He decided to use a foreign language first because he was influenced by Modernism. Elliot and Joyce thought the narrator had to be outside
their works, using a foreign language allowed Becket to objective. He published “Waiting for Godot” (1952) and it is a great success. In 1969 he is awarded the
Nobel Prize. Between the 1970s-1980s he writes for BBC radio and TV.
Becket started his career as a novelist: his trilogy “Molloy”, “Malone Dies” and “The Unnamable” is the most innovative product of 1950s. It was anticipated by
“More Pricks than Kicks” (1934) and “Murphy” (1938), which remind us of Joyce and of Irish culture. The characters’ consciousness is still at the heart of the
narration. After this experience, Beckett will choose to become a playwright.
His main plays are: “Endgame”, a play describing a dismal situation which shows human impotence: the protagonist, Hamm, cannot walk or sit and his parents
are legless, only their servant can walk; “Krapp’s Last Tape”, a play in which an old man listens to a tape recorded when he was younger and happier and he
doesn’t recognize himself; “Happy Days”, a play with only two characters, a woman who is buried to the waist and a man who can only crawl on all fours; “Not
I”, a play in which the audience only sees a mouth on stage; “Catastrophe”, one of Beckett’s few plays to deal with a political theme; ”What Where”.
He was the leader of the Theatre of the Absurd, which focuses on the absurdity of human life: life is meaningless, nothing really happens, there is no past or
future but rather a series of repetitions, all exactly alike and without any purpose. The world Beckett presents is a static world, where nothing happens. This kind
of drama gives expression to feelings of loss, lack of purpose and confusion.
“Waiting for Godot” is the most representative work of this kind of theatre. It has no real plot. It is about two French tramps, Vladimir and Estragon (Didi and
Gogo) who spend their days waiting for a mysterious Mr Godot, who never comes. All they can do is wait but they cannot escape their miserable situation, their
world is totally static, and this is emphasized both by the character’s physical conditions and the absence of the plot which produces a circular structure, with no
past or future, just a repetitive present. The characters are trapped in time and in their situation. The language the author uses disintegrates: the words he uses
are meaningless. The language may seem simple but in reality if often has a double sense (one more common and one more symbolic).
He starts his career as a Modernist writer and then he becomes one of the most important Contemporary writers. He starts by using the interior monologue, but
then he realises he don’t want his characters to be so independent, consciousness is too independent, he wants to be the one in control, so he becomes a
playwright. This allows him to have control over a limited and physical space (the stage). This choice allows him to give very precise directions to his characters
and they have to perfectly follow them.
“Come and Go” is a play that was first written in English (1965) and performed in German at Schiller Theatre in Berlin (1966). It is a “dramaticule” of only 30
lines of dialogue, 11 silences, 23 cues that give detailed directions to the characters and a diagram to illustrate the exact position of the three performers. It’s
clear that Beckett wanted to have control over the actors and the whole scene because he gives a lot of stage directions (about silences, position on the stage,
how each character is supposed to move), characters are not given any freedom, Becket is the one in control.
The three female characters – Flo, Ru and Vi - are sitting on a bench and share their past memories. When one of them leaves, the other two speak about their
friend’s illness. At the end of the play, the audience realises that they are all going to die. Ru’s, Vi’s and Flo’s bodily shapes are covered by their long clothes, but
it clear that they have a clear feminine grace. This is all we know about them. There is no information about the setting and the time when the action takes place.
The title echoes T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock” and the three female characters remind us of “Macbeth” and the Weird Sisters. At the beginning
Vi says “When did we three last meet?”, which is an important cultural reference to “Macbeth”. There the Weird Sisters predict the future, here the three women
speak about the past and what is going on in their lives.
Their way of communicating is very unusual, they always ask the same questions and the answers are the same.
The most interesting aspect is that it is the first time that a character walks out of the stage and the other 2 speak about her (first Vi leaves, Flo and Ru speak
about her). Flo and Ru are talking about a change in Vi, they look shocked and the audience doesn’t know what they are talking about. Apparently, they are
talking about something shocking about Vi, but she doesn’t know. This situation repeats for all of them, meaning that they all share the same condition but each
one of them thinks that the problem is only about the other 2. We understand that they are talking about a serious illness, each one of them is ill and close to
death, but they all know about the others but not about themselves.
In the end, since they are friends, they hold hands, they want to be together because they know that the others are ill and will soon die and they want to comfort
them. They say “I can feel the rings”, probably referring to their past wishes that didn’t come true, such as marriage (symbolized by the wedding rings).
They think of the past, they dream of love and there is little they can say because they know the others are dying.
It can be considered a problem play on womanhood, the mystery of love, friendship and communication.
• JOHN OSBORNE (1929-1994)
He was the leader of the Angry Young Men (angry with the system, the main enemies are the upper classes). He denounces the working classes’ condition in
post-war years and gives voice to their members’ frustration. The setting is realistic, and the language used expresses their anger. While Becket’s words are
meaningless, Osborne’s language is full of strength and violence. Furthermore, while in Beckett’s plays the scene is highly symbolic, in Osborne’s works we have
a domestic setting characterised by strong tensions, expressed by a violent language. His main work is “Look Back in Anger”, which revolves around the lives of
three young people: Jimmy, his wife Alison and Cliff, Jimmy’s friend. They share a one-room flat and they meet there at the end of the day or the week. At this
point the tensions underlying their relationships are expressed by Jimmy with almost savage violence. The structure of the play is quite traditional (it follows the
traditional structure of the well-made play: introduction, climax, resolution), but the language Osborne uses is very violent and crude, and it is used to show all
the anger and dissatisfaction towards the lack of values of the upper-class, opposed to the rich humanity of working-class people.
• Harold Macmillan (Conservative Party) wins the new General Elections (1959). In 1963 Harold Macmillan resigns, and Sir Alec Douglas-Home becomes the
fourth Conservative Prime Minister since 1951;
• The Labour Party under Harold Wilson wins the General Elections (1964 and 1966). The Prime Minister Harold Wilson tries to solve the problems of economic
crisis and unemployment by attempting to join the European Economic Community (EEC). However, since Britain had refused to join some years earlier, the EEC
countries, led by the French President Charles de Gaulle, refused to admit her (Britain finally joined it in 1973); The 1960s are a period of reforms: comprehensive
education system is initiated (one education for everybody), death penalty is abolished, abortion and homosexuality are legalised;
• The Conservatives win the General Elections and Edward Heath is the new Prime Minister (1970);
• Bloodshed in Northern Ireland, particularly in Londonderry (1971-1972)  People during a pacific civil rights march are shot dead by British paratroopers;
• The Labour Party wins the General Elections again (1974). They tried to introduce more social reforms, but State funds were almost exhausted, and the
country had to seek financial help from the European Monetary Fund. Between 1978-1979 strikes paralyse Britain during the so-called “Winter of Discontent”;
• The Conservatives win the General Elections (1979)  Margaret Thatcher becomes Prime Minister. Tensions in London and in Northern Ireland;
• The Government seemed about to lose popularity due to increasing poverty and high unemployment. A crisis in the Falkland Islands (one of the last British
dominions) erupted: Argentina claimed the Islands as part of tis national territory and invaded them (1982). Britain easily won the war;
• Margaret Thatcher wins the General Elections again (1983). The government made heavy cuts in social programmes and it met with strong opposition,
especially from the Trade Unions.
• 12-month “Miners’ strike” in Yorkshire area (1984). In the end miners had to accept the government project to close mines and the consequent loss of jobs.
• Privatisation of nearly all the important sectors (British Airways, British Steel, British Shipbuilders…) by the end of 1987;
• Margaret Thatcher is re-elected (1987);
• The World Wide Web is invented (1989);
• After the strong opposition against the “poll-tax” (a tax that regarded everybody, no difference between those who could and couldn’t pay, it was on the
production of rubbish, which had to be payed depending on the number of family members in the house), Margaret Thatcher resigns, and John Major becomes
Prime Minister (1990);
• “Black Wednesday” (1992)  John Major's Conservative government was forced to withdraw the pound sterling from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism
(ERM) after it was unable to keep the pound above its agreed lower limit in the ERM. The Conservative Party is very unpopular;
• The Labour Party wins the General Elections (1997)  Tony Blair becomes Prime Minister. He was an innovator, the leader of the New Labour Party, that mixed
the good aspects of Conservative and Liberal Party. In the same year Princess Diana dies;
• An agreement between Northern Ireland’s nationalists and unionists is reached after 30 years of conflict (1998);
• Britain decides not to join the European Single Currency (1999);
• Britain celebrates the New Millennium (2000);
1. POETRY 1960s-1990s
• The three major figures of the 1960s are Ted Hughes (1930-1998), Geoffrey Hill (1931-) and Seamus Heaney (1939-).
They detach completely from Larkin’s style, and use Nature and History against the horror of the post-war years. Their language is rich, violent, but at the same
time highly metaphorical.
• The major figures of the 1970s are Toni Harrison (1937-) and Derek Mahon (1941-).
They give their personal representation of Northern England and Ulster (Northern Ireland).
• The major figures of the 1980s are: James Fenton (1949-) and Andrew Motion (1952-).
Their poetry includes sentimental tones and sensational materials not only typical of spy stories and crime news, but also related to the international context.
Women’s poetry in this period includes authors related to Scotland, Ireland and the Commonwealth: Liz Lockhead (1947-), Mebdh McGuckian (1950-), Sajata
Bhatt (1956-) and Jackie Kay (1961-): they focus on identity, gender and genre.
• TED HUGHES (1930-1998)
His first collection of poems “The Hawk in the Rain” shows the influence of D.H. Lawrence and the world of nature and animals. Nature is also at the heart of his
later collections “Moortown”, “River”, “Flower and Insects”, “Lupercal”, “Wodwo”, “From the Life and Source of the Crow”. In the 1970s, though, myth combines
with esoterism and magic, while in the 1980s he becomes more positive and his poems become full of light.
His main themes are history and religion. His poetry is very violent and also obscure, because he used sophisticated cultural quotations and he combined figures
from the old Anglo-Saxon world with the Jews as victims of World War II in “Mercyan Hymns” and “The Mystery of Charles Péguy” (pronunciation: peghì).
He made a name for himself with his first two collections of poems, “ The Loiners” and “The School of Eloquence”, written in a clear, hard style. They are often
bitterly ironic but also tender and funny. They are filled with the poet’s sense of having become distanced from his family because of his education. One of the
main features of his poetry is that he combines colloquial elements with cultures allusions to the Classics, Milton and Keats and the medieval religious drama.
Apart from poetry, he was also interested in new media such as television and cinema, so he developed a unique form of writing called film/poem, that is poems
which are meant not just to be read but to be performed and filmed. The most famous is “The Shadow of Hiroshima”, screened on the 50th anniversary of the
first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
He was a cultured man, he was always be inspired by Dante and the old Celtic traditions. His first collections of poems are “Death of a Naturalist”, “Door into the
Dark” and “Wintering Out”, in which he shows his Irish pride, his love for his land and for his family. Only in his later works he begins to see Ireland as a more
complex reality. There he tries to explore all the different layers of Ireland, its different aspects and people. The central metaphor in his works is that of “digging”,
very familiar to him because his family dedicate to agriculture. He compared his pen to his father’s spade. Some of his poems deal explicitly with the civil war in
Northern Ireland.
• DEREK MAHON (1941-)
Like Heaney he came from Northern Ireland, even though he is able to project his national Irish identity into a more European, cosmopolitan context. In this
sense he is different from Heaney, who wanted to rediscover his roots. He starts writing in 1968, but most of his poetry is rooted in the 1970s-1980s: “Lives”,
“The Snow Party”, “The Hand by Night”.
• LIZ LOCKHEAD (1947-)
Her poetry deals with the female world (girlhood, motherhood, the female side of a relationship), the connection between past and present and Scotland. Her
first collection of poems is “Memo for Spring”. She also dedicated to theatre, “Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off” is one of her best plays, it is
about the relationship between Mary Queen of Scots and her cousin Elizabeth I.
• JAMES FENTON (1949-)
His poems mainly deal with war and politics. He uses an anti-poetic and experimental language. He draws his inspiration from the world of science, history and
anthropology. His most important works are “The Memory of War and Children in Exile”, about war, loss, pain; “All the Wrong Places”, an account of his journalistic
experiences, and “Out of Danger”, a collection of poems.
Her poetry deals with the female world and its sensibility, conveyed in a complex language which recalls the atmosphere of dreams and subconsciousness. Her
first collection is “The Flower Master”.
He is one of the most talented Larkin’s followers, but then he becomes more sentimental, dethatching from Larkin. His first collections include episodes of British
History. In the 1980s he becomes more emotional and romantic with “Secret narratives” and “Dangerous Play: Poems”. His works “Love in a Life” and “The Prince
of Everything” are more autobiographical.
⃟• CAROL ANN DUFFY (1955-)
A Scottish poet and playwright, who was born to a Roman Catholic family in the outskirts of Glasgow. She starts writing poetry at the age of 11; she meets Adrian
Henri (a representative of Pop poetry, whose major theme was the daily urban experience of the young) at the age of 16. She graduates in Philosophy from
Liverpool University and in 1985 she writes her first collection of poems, “Standing Female Nude”. Between 1988 and 1989 she works a critic for “The Guardian”.
She then becomes a Lecturer in Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University. She continues writing and publishes several works: “Feminine Gospels”, “Raptures”.
In 2009 she is appointed as Poet Laureate and became the first female poet belonging to the LGBT community to receive that title.
• STRUCTURE: Unconventional poem, it is more prose than verse. The idea of a poem written in prose is a symbol, a metaphor of inability for poets to use poetry
in contemporary times. There is no space for poetry, she wanted to be very critical against contemporary times and the Conservative party.
• LANGUAGE: It is quite clear and simple. The tone is informal and colloquial, she even uses urban slang (like “talking crack”).
Repetitions (my country, welcome);
• MEANING: It was written in 1989 as a reaction against Margaret Thatcher. It is Duffy’s attack against 1980s Britain, very different from the rest of her production,
far from intimate and focused on love, memory and trust.
The title refers to the English as community, not only as a language. Translating refers to the fact the poet is reproducing something, not only language but visual
images too. The year 1989 is part of the title, she wanted to be clear about what she was criticizing.
It reproduces parts of a speech given by a tourist guide to their group of tourists. This tourist guide proudly presents the country’s treasures to the tourists, such
as Daffodils (one of the most important poems by Wordsworth, the guide says “Up North” because it refers to the area Wordsworth was from), Shakespeare, the
Opera, Charles Dickens, Terry Wogan (an Irish radio and television broadcaster who worked for the BBC).
The guide also presents other typically British elements, by using a form that recalls that of pop culture, by putting together cultural references (e.g. “Daffodils”),
references to contemporary times and objects from everyday life: Edwina Currie (the British minister for Agriculture who famously told the truth about salmonella
contamination in eggs); The Sun (a famous scandalistic tabloid, not very interesting from an intellectual point of view), the weather (one of the main topics in
England), Black Market (a clandestine market where illegal goods are sold), Don’t eat the eggs (the typical English breakfast, the guide is underestimating it),
Wheel-clamp (it blocks the wheels if you park in the wrong area), Vagrants (homeless people), The Fergie (a royal family member, prince Andrew’s wife, she
divorced because she cheated on him and it was a scandal), Princess Diana (a complex figure), Hooligan (violent football fans), Talking crack (talking nonsense),
Carling Black Label (a Canadian brand of lager, which was well known throughout the former British Empire), Don’t drink the H20 (English people prefer other
drinks, like beer), Fish and Chips (typical British food), Official Secrets Act (domestic policy, refers to the government ability to protect state secrets), Neighbours
and Brookside (two popular soap-operas in UK), BBC Proms (it is an eight-week Summer season of daily orchestral classical music in the Royal Albert Hall in
London), Andrew Lloyd-Webber (an impresario and a musical composer), Jeffrey Archer (an English novelist and a Conservative politician who was imprisoned
because he had committed perjury), Muggers (criminals), Rule Britannia (national refrain), Child abuse (extremely negative), Channel Tunnel (the Tunnel that
connects Britain with France).
We understand that this poem is bitterly ironic because it presents some few positive elements (the treasures of England) opposed to some very negative ones
that characterise England in 1980s. She presents this opposition by assembling a collage of references and fragments which show the real face of England. She
opposes many anti-models to the few national treasures in order to show the real face of Britain and her disillusion.
The last line is linked to the beginning of the poem, where the guide introduces Britain to the tourist, it is used on one hand to remind the glories of the past, on
the other to highlight the disillusion of the poet, who sees that Britain has changed.
• SAJATA BHATT (1956-)
She is an Indian poet. In her poems she deals with the themes of multiculturalism, language and identity, the connection between the non-verbal world of plants
and animals and human beings. Her first collection is “Brunizem”.
• JACKIE KAY (1961-)
She is the daughter of a Nigerian father and a Scottish mother. Her first collection is “ The Adoption Papers” and it deals with the themes of race, parenthood,
love. In “Off Colour” the themes are health and sickness.
Since the 1950s new national theatres are built, like The Royal Shakespeare Company (1961) and The National Theatre (1962).
New playwrights emerge: Brian Friel (1929-2015), Harold Pinter (1930-2008), John Arden (1930-2012), Arnold Wesker (1932-2016), Edward Bond (1934-), Tom
Stoppard (1937-), Caryl Churchill (1938-).
• BRIAN FRIEL (1929-2015)
An Irishman, he focuses on his Northern Ireland and the Irish Question. He uses cultured allusions to Greek and Latin too. His masterpiece is “Dancing at
Langhasa”, a memory play told from the point of view of the adult Michael Evans, the narrator. He recounts the summer in his aunts' cottage when he was seven
years old.
• HAROLD PINTER (1930-2008)
He is Beckett’s most talented successor, because he too depicts the “absurd” of life, even if he uses a different type of language. His first full-length play is “The
Birthday Party”, followed by “The Caretaker”. In his works Pinter focuses on the psychological aspect, in fact he was interested in the complexity of the human
mind and in the relationships between human beings. His plays are pervaded by a sense of impending threat, fear, suspicion, the need for shelter from a hostile
world (because he lived during the World War II). Most of his early plays, such as “The Room”, take place in a single room, a close space that represents both a
suffocating place and a shelter from the outside world (in this sense it recalls Beckett). The language he uses is very common and colloquial, but it is used in
absurd situations and it doesn’t really achieve anything, for example intimate knowledge between people. His language is different from Beckett’s language
because it is extremely realistic, but both authors have the same aim: showing that language cannot connect human beings. “ The Homecoming” is a play about
a couple who return to England from America after a long absence and find it difficult to get accepted by relatives and friends.
• JOHN ARDEN (1930-2012)
Arden wanted to bring social and political problems on the stage, such as violence, corruption, revenge, a series of brutal but real problems. He also was interested
in exploring anti-social behaviour. He is especially remembered for “Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance”. It is in Brechtian style, and it is meant to create tension and
shock the audience.
• ARNOLD WESKER (1932-2016)
Wesker dedicated to the so-called “kitchen-sink drama”, whose main aim was to bring the real lives and social inequality of ordinary working-class people to the
stage in a realistic way. He mainly focused on the working classes in East-End London. His plays are highly realistic, and the language is generally cockney (“Chips
with Everything”; “Chicken Soup with Barley”; “Roots”; “I’m Talking about Jerusalem”).
• EDWARD BOND (1934-)
Inspired by the politically and socially engaged theatre of Bertolt Brecht, Bond employs violence to represent the working classes’ lexical and emotional poverty
in industrial times (“Saved”, “Lear” (he rewrites Shakespeare’s “King Lear”), “Bingo”; “The Fool”).
• TOM STOPPARD (1937-)
His first play is “A Walk on the Water”. He has always been interested in exploring different media (from the stage to radio and TV (for example he wrote
“Shakespeare in Love”, the most successful film on Shakespeare ever). His most famous play “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”, is the tragedy of
Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” seen through the eyes of two minor characters. In Shakespeare these characters are mean, calculating opportunists who become spies
for Claudius, while Stoppard sees them as two characters who don’t really know what they are doing, they find themselves unable to understand their role (like
Beckett’s two tramps in “Waiting for Godot”). The juxtaposition of Shakespeare’s language and the 20th-century English used by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
produces that absurd and comical quality of the play. Stoppard’s next important play is “The Real Inspector Hound”, a parody of a typically English detective
story, in which two theatre critics who have come to watch a play about a murder find themselves involved in it.
In her plays she deals with the abuse of power and capitalism as the cause of social injustices against women. “Top Girls” is her most famous play, about Marlene,
a businesswoman who wants to be successful. The play examines the roles available to women in modern society, and what it means or takes for a woman to
succeed. It also explores the idea of Thatcherism and its sharp contradictions in the field of gender issues.
English fiction at the end of the 19th century has no major writers.
The main genres are:
• “Campus fiction”, because these novels are set in universities and colleges but connect their characters with the outer world. Apart from Larkin, the main
authors are: Tom Sharpe (1928-), Malcolm Bradbury (1932-), and David Lodge (1935-). They greatly contribute to this branch of fiction, thus criticizing England
in contemporary times and academic life;
• TOM SHARPE (1928-)
He is a satirical novelist. His novels are rich in humour, he wants to focus on the absurdities of everyday life. His best-known novels are those that feature the
protagonist Henry Wilt, a demoralized and professionally under-rated lecturer. This is called the “Wilt” series.
His novels from “Eating People is Wrong” to “Cuts” provide satirical portraits of academic life and society in general.
• DAVID LODGE (1935-)
His novels are parodies of academic life. “Changing Places”; “Small World”; “The Picturegoers”.
• “Neogothic fiction”, because it combines gothic themes with feminist issues, and it is highly innovative. The main authors are: Angela Carter (1940-), Ian
McEwan (1948-), Martin Amis (1949-) and Irvine Welsh (1958-), who acknowledge large debts to the Modernist tradition, yet they express the violence of
contemporary times. The setting can be Scottish or cosmopolitan. The horror of the II World War is at the heart of some of their works;
• ANGELA CARTER (1940-1992)
She was always interested in the condition of woman in society and she explored it using fantasy and myth. She published a series of short stories in the collection
“The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories”, in which she blends comedy and horror. Most of her works deal with women as monsters, the she-wolf, the winged
woman. Her protagonists are always able to take care of themselves thanks to their own strengths. She rewrote some traditional stories from a feminist
perspective, for example “The Werewolf” is a reworking of the fable of Red Riding Hood.
• IAN MCEWAN (1948-)
His best-known works are “Last Rites”, a collection of short stories, “The Cement Garden”, a novel about 4 siblings who retreat into their own isolated world after
the death of their parents, “The Child in Time”, “Black Dogs” and “Atonement”. His works show a peculiar interest in the macabre, in violence and in human
perversity. They are written in a realistic, direct style used to convey the everyday nature of violence and cruelty.
• MARTIN AMIS (1949-)
His best-known works are “Money”, a comic satire of the consumerism of the 1980s; and “London Fields”, set in 1999 in London, characterised by environmental,
social and moral degradation, and the threat of a nuclear war.
• IRVINE WELSH (1958-)
His masterpiece is “Trainspotting”, extremely popular among young people. The title comes from a hobby cultivated by British people which consists in watching
trains passing by. This trivial habit is a metaphor for the lives of the main characters which are desolate and empty. The characters are drug addicts and criminals
looking for new opportunities in England. The novel has no story in a traditional sense, it is a collage of the adventure of the characters who want to make money
in order to support their vices.
• “Gender prose/gay fiction”, it deals with gender issues. The main authors are: Antonia Byatt (1936-) author of “Possession”, an intriguing story that brings
together the research of two young scholars on the love affair between a male and a female poet of the 19th century and the love affair itself, Colin Toibin (1955)
and Jeannette Winterson (1959-), who explore the themes of gender identity, homosexuality and the horror of AIDS.
Her main works are “The Virgin in the Garden”, the first in a quartet of novels which includes “Still Life”, “Babel Tower” and “A Whistling Woman”. The quartet
uses the story of a Yorkshire family to explore issues of art, literature, religion, science and social change during the second Elizabethan era, beginning with
Queen Elizabeth II in the early 1950s.
• COLIN TOIBIN (1955-)
His first novel, “The South”, set in Spain and rural Ireland in the 1950s, is the story of an Irish woman who leaves her husband and starts a relationship with a
Spanish painter; “The Heather Blazing” is about a judge haunted by his own past and the history of modern Ireland; “The Story of the Night” and “The Master”
revolve around characters who have to deal with a homosexual identity and take place outside Ireland for the most part, with a character having to cope with
living abroad.
Her production deals with gender issues. Her “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit” is about her development as a lesbian in a North of England town. Her later novels
were more experimental and complex in their structure and deal with love and sexual identity. “ Written On the Body”, for example, is a love story narrated in
such a way that it is impossible to guess the narrator’s sex, a clever way of questioning sexual identity.