Explore the ways in which key 20th-century authors experimented with new forms and themes to capture the fast-changing world around them.

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  • Orwell

    George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four

    Professor John Bowen explores truth, fiction, repression and freedom in George Orwell’s iconic 1949 novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. The film is shot at Senate House in London, formerly the Ministry of Information, and the building on which Orwell based the Ministry of Truth.

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    Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway

    Professor Elaine Showalter explores modernity, consciousness, gender and time in Virginia Woolf’s ground-breaking work, Mrs Dalloway. The film is shot around the streets of London, as well as at the British Library and at Gordon Square in Bloomsbury where Virginia and her siblings lived in the early 20th century. The film offers rare glimpses into the manuscript draft of the novel.

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    An introduction to W H Auden's 'Lullaby'

    W H Auden’s 'Lullaby' is an unconventional love poem, celebrating the impermanence and physicality of erotic – and implicitly homosexual – love. Roz Kaveney places the poem in the context of Auden’s life and times.

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    Simon Armitage article

    'The man from over the top of the hill': Simon Armitage on Ted Hughes

    Ted Hughes believed that poetry had the power to heal and transform, to change perceptions and to alter states. Like many of us, Simon Armitage first encountered Hughes’s poetry at school and was captivated by his ability to distill the complexity of human experience. Here he explores some of Hughes’s themes and interests and the impact he had on his own life and work.

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  • Zadie Smith

    Zadie Smith on The Buddha of Suburbia

    When Zadie Smith encountered The Buddha of Suburbia as a teenager, she found in its description of multiracial South London suburbs an image of her own experience. Here she remembers her first reading of the novel and describes how, on rereading it as an adult, she continues to appreciate Hanif Kureishi's sense of mischief and his depictions of race and class.

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    An introduction to To the Lighthouse

    Focussing on Virginia Woolf’s representation of time, consciousness and the rupture caused by World War One, Professor Kate Flint reveals how To the Lighthouse is a carefully structured, psychologically complex novel that ultimately asks the reader to reflect on their own ever-changing experience of being in the world.

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    An introduction to High Rise

    An introduction to High-Rise

    Roger Luckhurst introduces High-Rise, J G Ballard's novel about the disintegrating social fabric inside a luxury high-rise apartment block.

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    Waste Lands

    Sounds in The Waste Land: voices, rhythms, music

    The Waste Land is crowded with voices and music, from ancient Hindu and Buddhist scripture to the popular songs of the 1920s. Katherine Mullin listens to the sounds of T S Eliot's poem.

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  • Daphne du Maurier and the Gothic Tradition

    Daphne du Maurier and the Gothic tradition

    Greg Buzwell traces Daphne du Maurier’s use of Gothic themes, motifs and imagery, and shows how she was influenced both by earlier writers and by her deep connection with Cornwall.

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    Shakespeare and carnival in Angela Carter’s Wise Children

    Kate Webb introduces Angela Carter's Wise Children, which uses Shakespeare, carnival and Hollywood to challenge distinctions between high and low culture and explore the relationship between energy and disorder.

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    Empire of the Sun

    Review of Empire of the Sun

    The writer Angela Carter reviewed Empire of the Sun for Time Out on its publication in 1984. Describing it as J G Ballard's 'breakthrough' novel, she nevertheless emphasised its connections to his previous work.

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    Punk - Oh bondage up yours! A personal point of view

    Punk - Oh bondage up yours! A personal point of view

    Shelagh McCarthy first saw the Sex Pistols on television the day before her fourteenth birthday. She remembers how this experience changed her life and reflects on what punk has meant to her.

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Explore key themes in 20th-century literature

Art, music and popular culture

From riots at the ballet to punk rock fanzines, discover the music, art and popular culture that shook the world in the 20th century.

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Creating the modern

Capturing and creating the modern

Modernist writers broke new ground by experimenting with new forms and themes. From everyday life, perception and time to the kaleidoscopic and fractured nature of modern life, discover the ways in which these writers created and captured the modern.

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Gender and sexuality

Gender and sexuality

From Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and E M Forster’s Maurice to Sylvia Plath’s journals and Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, discover how literature explored, questioned and exploded traditional ideas of gender roles and sexuality.

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fantasy and fairy tale

Fantasy and fairy tale

From subversive fairy tales to gothic nightmares, explore how 20th-century writers used fantasy to analyse and question the real world around them.

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Explore iconic authors of the 20th century

Explore key 20th century literary works

Explore key 20th century literary works

*Birthday Letters*

Created by: Ted Hughes

Birthday Letters, a collection of 88 poems by the British poet Ted Hughes, was published to public and critical ...

*The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories*

Created by: Angela Carter

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories is a 1979 collection of short fiction by the British writer Angela Carter. Each ...

*The Buddha of Suburbia*

Created by: Hanif Kureishi

The Buddha of Suburbia (1990) is a bestselling novel by the British writer Hanif Kureishi. Its main protagonist is a ...