Month: April 2022

writers embrace a bold new style

writers embrace a bold new style

Writers embracing a bold new style

Moving on from the novels of Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters that characterized the previous century, let’s trace the development of the English novel in the twentieth century and meet writers embracing a bold and less convoluted style of writing. We, as modern authors should thank these writers for paving the way and granting us the freedom to write creatively.

All the authors I cover today are male but I did cover women authors last blog and will again feature writers of the sisterhood.

Joseph Conrad

My first featured author is Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) who was not really English, but Polish. He spoke no English at all in his first twenty years.  He left Poland for life at sea at 17 and became a sailor on British ships, sailing the oceans of the world. Such adventures inspired his brilliant and psychologically fascinating novels; Lord Jim, Heart of Darkness and many others. Heart of Darkness offers a strong discourse about colonial rule in Africa and racism. It provided the inspiration for Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 film, Apocalypse Now. Conrad explores the moral consciousness of his characters and writes often in the first person not as an omniscient narrator. This at the time was a bold change of direction for the novel.

Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald

I devoted a previous blog,  (Novels of the Jazz Age) to the novels of Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald.  Certainly, world events impacted on this generation of writers and musicians. The post-World War One years saw a burst of amazing energy funneled into creativity in the arts and set the scene for experimentation in art forms. These two high living Americans in Paris wrote from their own experiences and capture the disillusionment surrounding war and love in their novels, The Great Gatsby and Farewell to Arms.

H.G. Wells

Along with these two writers, H. G. Wells (1866-1946) made the first real break away from upper class love triangles dominating past English literature. Apart from the brilliant French writer, Jules Verne, Herbert George Wells seems to be the first writer of the English language to embrace Science Fiction. His novel, The Time Machine is still a good read today. Later novels include War of the Worlds, The First Men in the Moon and The Food of the Gods. Later, despite his mastery of the SF genre, Wells branched out to write tales of social realism, featuring the common man confronted by the industrialization and commercialization of the world. Sidetracked by his own strong views on the modern world, he lost his imaginative touch and returned to the didactic style of the previous century, preaching at his readers, with scant attention to character and plot, about the evils of progress and world government. But he will always be remembered for The Time Machine and is considered the father of Science Fiction.

Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley (1894-1968) also explores the possible future issues of a capitalist and technological society in his dystopian novel, Brave New World.

E.M. Forester

There seemed a bit of a trend amongst writers at that time to use just initials not full name! An even stronger divergence from the traditional way of writing is seen in the prose of E.M Forester and D. H Lawrence.

E.M, Forester (1879-1970) wrote the famous novels, Passage to India and Room with a View, both now excellent films. Both are personal favourites of mine. They feature confused young women who discover after near disaster that it is best to be truthful early on about how you feel. This new intimate treatment of characters opens the way for the raw humanity of D.H. Lawrence.

D.H. Lawrence

Lawrence (1885-1930) was unlike others before him, (despite again using only his initials.) David Herbert Lawrence burst onto the scene like a storm. His earthy, sexual novels shocked many in society. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, published in Italy, was banned in Britain until 1960. As the son of a miner, he had an insight into the humanity of the working class and perfectly captures this living force in his writing. His free form sentences and imagery are as liberating as the explicit content of his work. His love scenes are raw, sensual and incredibly daring for their time but pave the way forward for other writers. The story itself is as old as time involving star crossed lovers but Lawrence’s writing makes it fresh and breathtaking.

Didactic prose to Subjective Creativity

Thanks to these amazing writers we see the development of the English novel in the twentieth century from  didactic stilted prose to a more personal subjective and creative style.

 

 

 

Origins Of the Novel

Origins Of the Novel

The Origins of the Novel

The term novel is a contraction of the Italian word, ‘novella’ (meaning ‘new, innovative’), The novella was a short story of light and entertaining nature. It was perhaps invented as an antidote to the epic poems of earlier days. It is interesting that the novel is a larger serving of prose than the original novella.

Early novels usually took a narrative form and proceeded to tell the tale in chronological order. Literary scholars date the novel in its earliest form to Samuel Johnson’s Pamela of 1740. Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory in 1485 is considered an experimental form. Such early work did not concentrate on the individual but employed stereotypical characters.

The novel focused more on driving the narrative with accompanying moral lessons for the reader than entertaining the reader. These ‘novels’ were long winded, lacked humor and preached moral rectitude to their audience. They are hard for the modern reader to digest. But the novel shows development within the nineteenth century. We can follow its progress by reference to famous writers, both male and female.

Frankenstein, the First Science Fiction

In 1818, Mary Shelley, a young woman of amazing talent and possessing a vivid imagination, wrote the Gothic novel, Frankenstein. The tale started out as a short story prompted by a late-night dare by fireside companions to each write ghost stories. Her companions were her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron, both influential Romantic poets.

But Mary’s story aced theirs and its character Frankenstein became legendary. Many do not realize that Frankenstein was the doctor who created the manufactured monster not the name of the monster himself. Apart from its unique character and plot, Frankenstein has a deep message about life, death and man versus Nature. The work is seen as the precursor to science fiction, an unknown genre at the time but one French author, Jules Verne would later embrace in his fantastical stories. This is a significant development of the novel namely the creation of a new genre.

Jane Austen and Real Characters

Jumping forward to a familiar name and a change in the style of the novel genre we come to the works of Jane Austen (1775-1817). Her six novels, many now adapted to film, are refreshing in their strong female characters and depiction of real life on the home front. Elizabeth Bennett and Darcy are well known characters even to non-Austen fans. Though the stories lack rollicking adventure and Gothic tragedy, really nothing more than elopements and love triangles, they excel in irony, humour and accurate observation of real people. Austen’s character driven novels paved the way for The Bronte sisters who emerged as a brilliant trio of writers some thirty years later. The break away from stereotypes towards real characters is a development in the novel as an art form.

The Bronte Sisters and Romantic Passion

These young women who all died young, Anne at 29, Emily at 30 and Charlotte at 39, never travelled beyond Yorkshire yet penned sweeping passionate novels that startled the reading public at the time. Even today, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Wuthering Heights by Emily, rate in the top romance novels of all time. These works challenge all the previous overly polite fiction populated by swooning virgins and swashbuckling heroes.

Dickens and Social Commentary

Enter Dickens in the 19th century who creates great characters but again tends towards long winded narration. I recall still the ordeal of reading Bleak House for my final year of school. Nevertheless, Dickens works served as social commentary akin to the Romanticism writings of poets like William Blake and Wordsworth. Additionally, no one had to read the whole Dickens book at one sitting as like many books of the time it emerged as a periodical.

Mary Ann Evans and Moral Conflict

Another notable female author, Mary Ann Evans (1819-1880) wrote under the pen name of George Eliot and created extraordinary moral conflicts for her characters in the novels, Mill on the Floss and Silas Marner. Her work shows great intellect and a mastery of the tragic element and represents another development in the novel.

Thomas Hardy and Tragedy

This paved the way for Thomas Hardy and his tragic novels of which he wrote many. He concentrated his stories in Wessex, a place term he invented. His tragedies are all set in the countryside and mostly focus on the poor and hard done by people of the working class. They present a strong discourse of man battling Fate and are almost reminiscent of the great tragedies of Shakespeare. The Return of the Native, The Mayor of Casterbridge and especially Tess of the D’Urbervilles leave a lasting impact. The latter affected me so much as a teenager that I named my daughter Tess! She is not overly impressed that her bookworm mother named her after a tragic heroine but concedes it is a lovely name.

Next week, Novels of the early 20th century. My blogs are now available as audible minipodcasts on Podbean in the History section under Whispers through Time, the same title as my historical fiction novel.

Joni Scott is an Australian author with two published novels: Whispers through Time and The Last Hotel. Joni also co-hosts a women’s blog; https://whisperingencouragement.com/ and has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.

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