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The Modern Mood

The Modern Mood

Essays on the modern mood in literature in the 20th Century and beyond outline contemporary novelists, poets and literary giants. Paper Masters believes that three words, taken in the aggregate, usefully characterize the vast majority of twentieth century British literature:
  • Opacity
  • Uncertainty
  • Darkness.

Fowler notes that opacity can be seen in the works of James Joyce. Speaking of Finnegans Wake, he notes, "Stylistically, it represents an extreme expressionism pushed beyond grammar." It is utterly obscure. This same tendency is very noticeable in Joyce's Ulysses. Neither book can be comprehended without professional guidance. Opacity is also noticeable in some of Dylan Thomas' poetry. What, for example, are we to make of this from "Then Was My Neophyte"? "Who in these labyrinths/ This tidehead and the lane of scales,/ Twine in a moon blown shell,/ Escapes to the flat cities' sails." A philosophical preference for the mystical, the obscure, can also be seen in Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet.

Modern Mood in English Literature

This preference for opacity is something that existed before in English literature. The Elizabethan, Sir Phillip Sidney, for example, used convoluted word play in his sonnets, some of which are very difficult to figure out. But in the twentieth century deliberate obscurity may constitute a kind of revolt against Classical clarity, a rejection of the aesthetics engendered by the Greek and Latin based education of the public schools and universities.

The Victorian Era and Modern Mood

Uncertainty is something found in much English literature written after the Victorian era. The old mores and norms of the English intelligentsia were breaking down and with them the old comfortable beliefs.World War I, it can be argued, had shattered the self-confidence of the nation. One response to a loss of one's comfortable certainty is to try and find it in another place. D.H. Lawrence will, for example, look for it in several different places. In The Plumed Serpent, as Stewart notes, D.H. Lawrence "sets out to assert the existence of a long-buried wisdom the recovering of which must marvelously mend the world". He will, in Lady Chatterley's Lover, attempt to create a new code of sensual existence to supplant the old Victorian code of anti-sensual existence. However positively he asserts his alternatives to what he regards as old, dead certainties, his various attempts to find new certainties betrays a profound insecurity.

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