Power and conflict

Find out how war and conflict shaped literature throughout the 20th century.

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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Santanu Das

'Dulce Et Decorum Est', a close reading

Article by:
Santanu Das

Santanu Das examines the crafting of one of Owen’s most poignant poems, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, and shows how Owen’s war poems evoke the extreme sense-experience of the battlefield.

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anthem for doomed youth

‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ and ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’: tracing the influence of John Keats

Article by:
Sandra M. Gilbert

Sandra M Gilbert explores the literary heritage of two of the most famous First World War poems, Wilfred Owen's 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' and 'Dulce et Decorum est'.

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An Inspector Calls and J B Priestley’s political journey

Article by:
Alison Cullingford

Alison Cullingford explores how J B Priestley's childhood in Bradford and experiences during two world wars shaped his socialist beliefs and fueled the anger of his play An Inspector Calls, a work that revolves around ideas of social responsibility and guilt.

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An introduction to An Inspector Calls

Article by:
Chris Power

Chris Power introduces An Inspector Calls as a morality play that denounces the hypocrisy and callousness of capitalism and argues that a just society can only be achieved if all individuals feel a sense of social responsibility.

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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 Oh What a Lovely War

Article by:
Michael Billington

In its emphasis on the perspective of ordinary soldiers and its use of crinolines and clown costumes, Oh What a Lovely War departed from previous portrayals of the First World War. Michael Billington examines the ideas and sources that shaped the play, and discusses the contradictory emotions it provokes in audiences.

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Oh What a Lovely War: an interview with Murray Melvin

Oh What a Lovely War changed the landscape of British theatre and had a major impact on perceptions of the First World War. Here actor Murray Melvin discusses his memories of performing in the original Theatre Workshop production and describes Joan Littlewood’s radically experimental working methods.

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An introduction to C L R James’s 'The Black Jacobins'

An introduction to C L R James's The Black Jacobins

Article by:
Rachel Douglas

Rachel Douglas traces the evolution of C L R James’s ground breaking work on the Haitian Revolution, which developed in the form of articles, a published history and stage plays.

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Directing The Black Jacobins

Article by:
Yvonne Brewster

The Black Jacobins, by Trinidadian historian C L R James, tells the story of the Haitian Revolution. Director Yvonne Brewster recalls how her groundbreaking production of the play in 1986 contributed to the development of black British theatre.

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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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Ted Hughes and war

Ted Hughes and war

Article by:
Helen Melody

Helen Melody investigates how the First and Second World Wars shaped Ted Hughes's life and work.

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1984

Nineteen Eighty Four and the politics of dystopia

Article by:
Roger Luckhurst

Roger Luckhurst describes the political environment in which George Orwell wrote and published Nineteen Eighty-Four, and analyses its different – and often opposing – interpretations.

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Animal Farm

An introduction to Animal Farm

Article by:
John Sutherland

George Orwell’s Animal Farm combines animal fable with political satire targeting Stalinist Russia. John Sutherland describes the novel’s genesis, its struggle to find a publisher, and its eventual success.

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An introduction to Down and Out in Paris and London

An introduction to Down and Out in Paris and London

Article by:
John Sutherland

John Sutherland describes the biographical and historical events that produced George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, which combines memoir with a study of poverty in two European cities in the late 1920s.

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Animal Farm

Animal Farm and the beast fable

Article by:
Mercedes Aguirre

Mercedes Aguirre explores how George Orwell rewrote the beast fable for the 20th century in Animal Farm.

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Empire of the sun

Looking back at Empire: the background to Empire of the Sun

Article by:
J G Ballard

J G Ballard was born and raised in Shanghai, and spent the last two years of the Second World War interned in a civilian camp with his parents. He explains how these experiences inspired Empire of the Sun, and reflects on seeing his novel made into a film.

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Empire of the Sun

Review of Empire of the Sun

Article by:
Angela Carter

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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The mystery and muddle of A Passage to India

The mystery and muddle of A Passage to India

Article by:
Kate Symondson

Kate Symondson explores the tensions and dualities at the heart of A Passage to India and the challenges E M Forster faced in writing the novel.

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Knock, knock, it’s Enoch': Hanif Kureishi remembers the effect of Enoch Powell

'Knock, knock, it’s Enoch': Hanif Kureishi remembers the effect of Enoch Powell

Article by:
Hanif Kureishi

Hanif Kureishi describes how the MP Enoch Powell made racism the basis of his political position, and recalls the climate of fear Powell's hate-mongering created among people of colour in the 1970s.

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Newness in the world: an introduction to The Black Album

Newness in the world: an introduction to The Black Album

Article by:
Hanif Kureishi

Hanif Kureishi explains how the rise of Islamic radicalism in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as well as Britain's growing awareness of itself as a multicultural society, inspired his novel The Black Album.

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An introduction to Midnight’s Children

An introduction to Midnight’s Children

Article by:
Bidisha

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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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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Dystopia

Freedom or oppression? The fear of dystopia

Article by:
Mike Ashley

Mike Ashley considers how British, Russian and American writers created repressive imaginary worlds and totalitarian regimes in order to explore 20th-century political concerns.

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Blitz

London during the Blitz: a landscape of fear and shadows

Article by:
Greg Buzwell

During the Second World War, Nazi Germany conducted a sustained bombing campaign on cities and towns across Britain. The raids killed 43,000 civilians and lasted for eight months. Here Greg Buzwell examines how novelists have woven the effects of the Blitz into their work, from Graham Greene and Elizabeth Bowen in the 1940s to Sarah Waters in the 21st century.

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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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Dr Santanu Das explores the manuscript for Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen, 'Dulce et Decorum Est'

Dr Santanu Das explores the manuscript for Wilfred Owen's 'Dulce et Decorum Est', revealing new insights into the composition of one of World War One's most well-known poems.

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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.