Coming of The Modern Age II
A new faith was steel needed - and G.B. Shaw and H.G. Wells found one in what may be called Liberalism - the belief that man s future lies on earth, not in heaven, and that, with scientific and social progress, and earthly paradise may eventually be truth.
Wells is one of the great figures of modern literature. In some books /Kipps, The History of Mr. Polly/ he borrows Dickens s prose-style, his homour and his love for eccentric novels. The Time Machine, The First Man in the Moon, The War of the Worlds.. all seemed concerned not merely with telling a strange and entertaining story but with showing that, in science, everything is theoretically possible. Wells once described himself as a "Utopiagrapher". He was always planning worlds in which science had achieved its last victories over religion and superstition. -his books were filled with skyscrapers and aircraft. he destroyed class-distinction and introduced directionaless education, enlightened politicians, economic equality - he together with Shaw wanted a kind of Socialism. They both believed that man s mistakes and crimes came from stupidity or from an unfavourable environment. Wells was a prolific author /=producing many books/ and when he kept to a story, it was always an interesting one. His preaching is now a little out of date, and his hope for the future was rudely shattered by the second world war. Optimistic Liberalsim died with him.
John Galsworthy is best known for his Forsyte Saga, a series of six novels which trace the story of a typically English upper-class family from Victorian days to the nineteen-twenties - presenting their reaction to great events including World War I, the growth of Socialism and social unrest. He is trying to view this dying class dispassionatly - with occasional irony - nevertheless seems to develop a sympathy for the hero, Soames Forsyte. Galsworthy slowly becomes involved and what starts off as a work of criticism ends in acceptance of the very principles it attacks. This work is still widely read, though it is not greatly esteemed by the modern critics. The twentieth century has been much concerned with finding something to believe in - it has that in common with the last 20 years of the Victorian era. But whereas the first of our moderns were satisfied deeper - it has wanted the sense of continuous tradition, the sense of being involved in a civilisation. Galsworthy s world is a dying one.
Liberalism, with its great shout of progress, was to turn sour on people who experienced the First World War and found the science meant gas and guns.
There were Americans, sick of Puritanism and materialism, who found a myth in the continuity of Europead culture. First of them, Henry James, felt that his spiritual home was Europe and his novels deal with the theme of the impact of Europe on visiting Americans. The Americans feel themselves uncivilised, young, inexperienced, and Europe seems so old, wise and beautiful. Some other Americans /Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Hemingway, Fitzgerald.../ made their home in Europe. As for British authors, one reaction against Liberalism of Wells and Shaw was to be found in the novels and poems of the Englishman David Herbert Lawrence, who rejected civilisation and wanted men go back to the "natural world" of instinct. Lawrences s novels /Sons and Lovers, Lady Chatterlay s Lower, Women in Love.../ are much concerned with the relationship between man and woman. Nobody has ever presented human passion, man s relationship to nature, the sense of the presence of life in all things, like Lawrence.
Often associated with Lawrence is Aldous Huxley whose early novels showed a world without aim or direction /artists, rich people, the Waste Land of post-war London/ and offered no solution to the puzzle of a seemingly meaningless existence. Point Counter Point especially seemed to show that man is a creature too mixed, too divided by "passion and reason" to find much happiness. Brave New World brilliantly satirised Wellsian Utopias, showing that, if man became completely happy and sociaty completely efficient, he would cease to be human and it would become intolerable. Huxley found a faith in brotherly love and non-violence. In later works he was turned to satire and mysticism. Somersat Maugham is perhaps best known for his short stories. The character who often tells the story became associated with Maugham himself in the minds of the public. He is shown as a man who travelled widely and has a great knowledge of people and places as well as expensive food and drink. Maugham is a sharp observer of people and is amused by them, but does not want to get closely involved with them. He wants to tell good stories rather than to explore characters deeply, and the stories often have a bitter or unexpected ending.