A Guide to Modernism in Literature

Literary modernism, or modernist literature, has its origins in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, mainly in Europe and North America, and is characterized by a self-conscious break with traditional ways of writing, in both poetry and prose fiction

The horrors of World War I (1914-19), with its accompanying atrocities and senselessness became the catalyst for the Modernist movement in literature and art. Modernist authors felt betrayed by the war, believing the institutions in which they were taught to believe had led the civilized world into a bloody conflict. They no longer considered these institutions as reliable means to access the meaning of life, and therefore turned within themselves to discover the answers.

Characteristics of the Movement

  1. Modernist writers were influenced by such thinkers as Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx, amongst others, who raised questions about the rationality of the human mind.
  2. Marked by a strong and intentional break with tradition. This break includes a strong reaction against established religious, political, and social views
  3. A central preoccupation of Modernism is with the inner self and consciousness.
  4. The Modernist cares little for Nature, Being, or the overarching structures of history
  5. The “unreliable” narrator supplanted the omniscient, trustworthy narrator of preceding centuries, and readers were forced to question even the most basic assumptions about how the novel should operate.
  6. There is no such thing as absolute truth. All things are relative.

Modernism Influenced by

  • Charles Darwin, who forwarded a theory of evolution and natural selection
  • Sigmund Freud, who pioneered psychoanalysis and revolutionized the way people thought about the brain
  • Karl Marx, who analyzed class inequalities.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, who turned the world on its head when he proclaimed that “God is dead.”

Authors and their writings

Elizabeth Bishop (February 8, 1911 – October 6, 1979) was an American poet and short-story writer. She was Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1949 to 1950, the Pulitzer Prize winner for Poetry in 1956, the National Book Award winner in 1970, and the recipient of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1976. She is the author of Question of Travel

Ernest Miller Hemingway (July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961) was an American novelist, short story writer, and journalist. His economical and understated style had a strong influence on 20th-century fiction, while his life of adventure and his public image influenced later generations. Hemingway produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the mid-1950s, and won the Nobel Prize in Literaturein 1954. He is the author of the Old Man and the Sea

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (September 24, 1896 – December 21, 1940), known professionally as F. Scott Fitzgerald, was an American novelist and short story writer, whose works illustrate the Jazz Age. While he achieved limited success in his lifetime, he is now widely regarded as one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century. Fitzgerald is considered a member of the “Lost Generation” of the 1920s. He finished four novels: This Side of ParadiseThe Beautiful and DamnedThe Great Gatsby, and Tender Is the Night. A fifth, unfinished novel, The Last Tycoon, was published posthumously. Fitzgerald also authored 4 collections of short stories, as well as 164 short stories in magazines during his lifetime.

Other Literary Movements and Periods

If you want to learn more about literary periods and movements, consider visiting some of these posts:

  1. A Guide to Renaissance Literature
  2. A Guide to Postmodernism in Literature
  3. A Guide to Modernism in Literature
  4. A Guide to the Beat Generation in Literature
  5. The Beginner’s Guide to Realism in Literature
  6. A Guide to Naturalism in Literature
  7. A Guide to the Bloomsbury Group in Literature
  8. A Guide to Existentialism in Literature
  9. A Guide to Transcendentalism in Literature
  10. A Guide to the Victorian Period Literature
  11. A Guide to Romanticism in Literature
  12. A Guide to The Enlightenment Literature
  13. A guide to Medieval Literature
Manuel Campos

I am Jose Manuel, English professor and creator of EnglishPost.org, a blog whose mission is to share lessons for those who want to learn and improve their English