Capturing and creating the modern

Discover the ways in which writers captured the fast-changing world around them.

Waste Lands

Sounds in The Waste Land: voices, rhythms, music

Article by:
Katherine Mullin

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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City of dead souls: The Waste Land and the modern moment

City of dead souls: The Waste Land and the modern moment

Article by:
Lyndall Gordon

Lyndall Gordon explores how modernist art, dance and music, as well as the experience of early 20th-century urban living, shaped T S Eliot's The Waste Land, which both describes the modern condition and searches for something outside of it.

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Presences in The Waste Land

Presences in The Waste Land

Article by:
Seamus Perry

T S Eliot's The Waste Land is full of references to other literary works. Seamus Perry takes a look at four of the most important literary presences in the poem: Shakespeare, Dante, James Joyce and William Blake.

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Waste Lands

The Waste Land: collaboration, montage and dislocation

Article by:
Roz Kaveney

The Waste Land was radical in both style and substance. Roz Kaveney examines the modernist devices, cultural influences and literary collaborations that shaped this landmark poem.

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A close reading of 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'

A close reading of 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'

Article by:
Seamus Perry

The speaker of 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' is trapped in his own mind, so full of hesitation and doubt that he is unable to act. Seamus Perry explores the poem's portrayal of paralysing anxiety.

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The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:  fragmentation, interruption and fog

'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock': fragmentation, interruption and fog

Article by:
Roz Kaveney

Roz Kaveney considers 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' as a poem that both grapples with the modern world and looks back to the work of writers such as Dante, Robert Browning, Henry James and Stéphane Mallarmé.

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Katherine Mansfield

An introduction to Katherine Mansfield's short stories

Article by:
Stephanie Forward

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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City, paralysis, epiphany: an introduction to Dubliners

City, paralysis, epiphany: an introduction to Dubliners

Article by:
Seamus Perry

Seamus Perry describes the stark realism of James Joyce's Dubliners, and its attention to the details of everyday life in Ireland's capital city.

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Dubliners

Money in James Joyce's Dubliners

Article by:
Katherine Mullin

James Joyce wrote some of the stories in Dubliners in a state of financial crisis, desperate to earn money from his writing. Katherine Mullin describes how this preoccupation with money makes its way into the stories themselves.

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An introduction to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

An introduction to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Article by:
Katherine Mullin

James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man follows the development of a young Catholic Irishman from early boyhood to young adulthood. Here Dr Katherine Mullin examines Joyce’s portrayal of artistic expression, sexual transgression, and the repressive forces of culture and church.

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An introduction to Ulysses

An introduction to Ulysses

Article by:
Katherine Mullin

Since its publication in 1922, readers have been daunted, dazzled and puzzled by Ulysses. Katherine Mullin introduces James Joyce's novel, exploring both its commitment to modernist experimentation and to the portrayal of everyday life.

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Cities in modernist literature

Cities in modernist literature

Article by:
Katherine Mullin

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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Exploring consciousness and the modern: an introduction to Mrs Dalloway

Mrs Dalloway: exploring consciousness and the modern world

Article by:
Elaine Showalter

Elaine Showalter describes how, in Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf uses stream of consciousness to enter the minds of her characters and portray cultural and individual change in the period following the First World War.

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Mrs Dalloway

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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Virginia Woolf's London

Virginia Woolf's London

Article by:
David Bradshaw

Virginia Woolf loved London, and her novel Mrs Dalloway famously begins with Clarissa Dalloway walking through the city. David Bradshaw investigates how the excitement, beauty and inequalities of London influenced Woolf's writing.

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Mrs Dalloway and the First World War

Mrs Dalloway and the First World War

Article by:
David Bradshaw

Mrs Dalloway, which takes place on one day in June 1923, shows how the First World War continued to affect those who had lived through it, five years after it ended. David Bradshaw explores the novel's commemoration of the dead and evocations of trauma and mourning.

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An introduction to To the Lighthouse

An introduction to To the Lighthouse

Article by:
Kate Flint

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

Article by:
Valentine Cunningham

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 Waiting for Godot

Article by:
Chris Power

Chris Power explores how Waiting for Godot resists straightforward interpretation, producing audiences as uncertain as its characters.

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‘Your Godot was our Godot’: Beckett’s global journeys

Article by:
Andrew Dickson

Waiting for Godot has been performed in many languages and in many contexts: in prisons, in apartheid South Africa, in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and during the Siege of Sarajevo. Andrew Dickson examines the ways in which Samuel Beckett's play has resonated in different communities and political climates.

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An introduction to Happy Days

Article by:
William McEvoy

The main character in Happy Days is a middle-aged woman inexplicably buried in a mound, first to her waist and then to her neck. William McEvoy discusses how Beckett uses this character and her predicament to explore a recurring interest in his work: the failings of bodies and language.

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An introduction to My Beautiful Laundrette

An introduction to My Beautiful Laundrette

Article by:
Sukhdev Sandhu

Hanif Kureishi's 1985 film My Beautiful Laundrette portrays a young British Asian man who runs a laundrette with his white schoolfriend, and the romantic relationship between the two. Sukhdev Sandhu explains how the film marked a radical departure from previous representations of British Asians in mainstream culture.

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An introduction to the Buddha of Suburbia

An introduction to The Buddha of Suburbia

Article by:
Rachel Foss

Rachel Foss sees The Buddha of Suburbia as a coming-of-age novel with a distinctly late 20th-century spin. In this close reading of Kureishi’s work, she shows how he identifies new ways of being British, through his characters’ explorations of ethnic identity, class and sexuality in 1970s multicultural Britain.

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Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith on The Buddha of Suburbia

Article by:
Zadie Smith

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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Kureshi

Interview with Hanif Kureishi

Hanif Kureishi explores suburbia, pop-culture, race and the fluidity of identity in relation to some of his most famous literary works. Shot at his house in south London and at the British Library, the film offers rare glimpses into Kureishi’s archive, allowing viewers to examine manuscript drafts of My Beautiful Laundrette, The Buddha of Suburbia and The Black Album.

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Broken mirrors the First World War and modernist literature

Broken mirrors: the First World War and modernist literature

Article by:
Randall Stevenson

Randall Stevenson describes how the violence and loss of the First World War affected modernist writers’ attitudes towards nature and time, as well as shaping their experiments with language, literary form and the representation of consciousness.

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The Hogarth Press

The Hogarth Press

Article by:
Duncan Heyes

Virginia and Leonard Woolf set up the Hogarth Press in 1917 and published works by key modernist writers as well important works in translation. Duncan Heyes assesses the contribution that the Hogarth Press made to modernism and to British literary culture.

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Modernism, time and consciousness: The influence of Henri Bergson and Marcel Proust

Modernism, time and consciousness: the influence of Henri Bergson and Marcel Proust

Article by:
Matthew Taunton

Matthew Taunton explains how the work of a French novelist and a French philosopher influenced the way many modernist writers, including Virginia Woolf and T S Eliot, depict consciousness and time.

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Cinema

Cinema and modernism

Article by:
Laura Marcus

Modernism was concerned with everyday life, perception, time and the kaleidoscopic and fractured experience of urban space. Cinema, with its techniques of close-up, panning, flashbacks and montage played a major role in shaping experimental works such as Mrs Dalloway or Ulysses. Here Laura Marcus explores the impact of cinema on modernist literature.

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The riot at the Rite: the premiere of The Rite of Spring

The riot at the Rite: the premiere of The Rite of Spring

Article by:
Ivan Hewett

Ivan Hewitt describes the ballet that caused a riot on its premiere in Paris in May 1913.

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Writers in Paris

Writers in Paris

Article by:
Stephen Cleary

In the years after the First World War, a number of American writers took up residence in Paris. Steve Cleary assesses some of the work that came out of their time abroad.

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An introduction to Stanislavski

Article by:
Petonelle Archer

Petonelle Archer explains how Konstantin Stanislavski developed his legendary method for training actors to discover the inner world of their characters.

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Brecht, interruptions and epic theatre

Article by:
Robert Gordon

Bertolt Brecht wanted his work to revolutionise theatre's bourgeois values and bring about social and political change. Robert Gordon introduces the aesthetic principles and techniques that Brecht believed could achieve these aims, and explores how they operate in some of his best-known plays.

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Bertolt Brecht and epic theatre: V is for Verfremdungseffekt

Article by:
Andrew Dickson

Brecht's approach to epic theatre drew on the work of earlier director Erwin Piscator, as well as cabaret, Elizabethan history plays and new technologies of light and sound. Andrew Dickson explores how the rejection of naturalism, in the service of political ideals, underpins Brecht's plays, and considers the influence of Brecht's techniques on theatre today.

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British Modernism and the Idea of Russia

British modernism and the idea of Russia

Article by:
Matthew Taunton

Russian art, dance and music influenced many modernist writers in the first half of the 20th century, while the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 heightened both communist and anti-communist feeling in Britain. Matthew Taunton explores the influence of Russia on British modernism.

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technology and literature

Modern literature and technology

Article by:
Roger Luckhurst

From the telegraph and the gramophone to cinema and cyberspace, 20th-century literature frequently addressed the wondrous and weird nature of emerging technologies. Here Roger Luckhurst explores the ways in which technological innovation impacted on key literary works of the period.

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Nonsense talk: Theatre of the Absurd

Article by:
Andrew Dickson

Absurdist theatre responded to the destruction and anxieties of the 20th century by questioning the nature of reality and illusion. Andrew Dickson introduces some of the most important figures in the Theatre of the Absurd, including Eugène Ionesco, Martin Esslin and Samuel Beckett.

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Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty

Article by:
Natasha Tripney

The Theatre of Cruelty, developed by Antonin Artaud, aimed to shock audiences through gesture, image, sound and lighting. Natasha Tripney describes how Artaud's ideas took shape, and traces their influence on directors and writers such as Peter Brook, Samuel Beckett and Jean Genet.

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Further themes

20th-century theatre

Find close readings, critical interpretations and personal responses to the works of key 20th-century playwrights and practitioners, including Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Shelagh Delaney and Timberlake Wertenbaker.

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.

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.

European influence

From Paris to Moscow and from Berlin to Dublin, discover how European cities were crucibles for modernist experimentation.

Exploring identity

Examine how writers have explored identity – through the prisms of ethnicity, class, gender and sexuality – in the modern world.

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.

Gender and sexuality

From Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, E M Forster’s Maurice and Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey 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.

Literature 1900–1950

From The Waste Land to Ulysses and from Mrs Dalloway to Nineteen Eighty-Four, discover the seminal literary works of the early 20th century.

Literature 1950–2000

From The Bell Jar and Birthday Letters to High-Rise and The Buddha of Suburbia, explore key literary works of the late 20th century.

Power and conflict

From First World War poetry to works inspired by the Blitz and from futuristic dystopias to depictions of religious radicalism, see how war and conflict shaped 20th-century literature.

Theatre practitioners and genres

From Stanislavski to Brecht and from Theatre of the Absurd to Theatre Workshop, explore some of the key influences and developments within 20th century theatre practice.

Visions of the future

From Orwell’s Ministry of Truth to Ballard’s crashed cars, see how 20th-century writers imagined the future, investigated the present and prepared for the unknown.