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

Featured articles

  • Bloody Chamber

    Angela Carter, Gothic literature and The Bloody Chamber

    The Bloody Chamber is a collection of modern fairy tales, many of which incorporate elements of Gothic literature. Greg Buzwell traces the Gothic influence on Carter's stories, from the Marquis de Sade to Edgar Allan Poe.

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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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    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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  • Nightmares, mirrors and possession in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca

    Nightmares, mirrors and possession in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca

    Barbara Morden looks beyond the period detail and romantic conventions of Rebecca to uncover an archetypal story of female identity formation.

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    Bad-good girls, beasts, rogues and other creatures: Angela Carter and the influence of fairy tales

    Marina Warner describes how Angela Carter collected, reimagined and borrowed from fairy tales and folklore.

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    Cities in modernist literature

    Cities in modernist literature

    The alienated modernist self is a product of the big city rather than the countryside or small town. Katherine Mullin describes how an interest in the sensibility associated with the city – often London, but for James Joyce, Dublin – developed from the mid-19th century to the modernist period.

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    An introduction to To the Lighthouse

    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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  • Auden and song

    Auden and song

    Auden loved all kinds of music, from opera and nursery rhymes to blues and Berlin cabaret. Here Valentine Cunningham explores Auden’s musical influences and considers how music helped to produce some of his most subversive work.

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    An introduction to Jamaica Inn

    Bidisha explores some of the themes and preoccupations of Jamaica Inn, from violence and the supernatural to love and desire.

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    Katherine Mansfield

    An introduction to Katherine Mansfield's short stories

    Katherine Mansfield was a pioneer of the modern short story. Here Stephanie Forward provides close readings of three short stories from Mansfield’s celebrated 1922 collection, The Garden Party and Other Stories.

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    An introduction to Midnight’s Children

    An introduction to Midnight’s Children

    The narrator of Midnight's Children is born at midnight on the day of India's independence from Britain. Bidisha investigates how Salman Rushdie uses the life of one man to explore Indian postcolonial experience.

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Themes

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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People

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 ...