novel

The Twentieth Century

The English Novel

World War I and its attendant disillusionment with 19th-century values radically altered the nature of the novel. In search of greater freedom of expression English writers like E. M. Forster in Howard's End (1910), D. H. Lawrence in Sons and Lovers (1913), and James Joyce in Ulysses (1922) described more explicitly than ever before the conflict between human intellect and human sexuality. Joyce, along with Dorothy Richardson in Pilgrimage (1915–38) and Virginia Woolf in Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927), carried Freud's discovery of the unconscious into art by attempting to portray human thought and emotion through the stream of consciousness technique. Like Sterne these writers were concerned with inner rather than outer reality.

The American Novel

In the United States the profound postwar dislocation of values is evident in such novels as The Great Gatsby (1925), by F. Scott Fitzgerald, about a romantic bootlegger whose version of the American dream of success is shattered by a corrupt reality; The Sun Also Rises (1926), by Ernest Hemingway, concerning a group of disillusioned expatriates in Europe who find meaning only in immediate physical experience; and The Sound and the Fury (1929), by William Faulkner, about the disintegration of a once-proud Southern family.

An even more profound dislocation than that came after World War I occurred in the years following World War II. To many American novelists the atrocities of the Nazi regime, the specter of the atom bomb, the tensions of the Cold War, the horrors of the war in Vietnam, the assassinations and riots of the 1960s, and the political corruption of the 1970s and 80s rendered the so-called reality of earlier literature terrifyingly unreal, bringing about a switch toward the fantastic. Novelists such as John Hawkes, William Burroughs, and Kurt Vonnegut wrote darkly surreal fantasies, while Philip Roth and Norman Mailer produced brutal satires of American life and Joyce Carol Oates wrote fictive studies of violence in America.

The French Novel

The greatest masterpiece of the 20th-century novel in France is widely acknowledged to be Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past (1913–27), a monumental work in seven parts that is at once an inquiry into the meaning of experience, a study of the development of an artist, and a detailed portrait of life within a particular segment of French society. Also important are Jean-Paul Sartre's Nausea (1938) and Albert Camus's The Stranger (1942), both fictional explications of existentialism. In the late 1950s there appeared in France the so-called new novel, in which traditional elements such as plot, characterization, and rational ordering of time and space are abandoned and replaced by flashbacks, slow motion, magnification of objects, and a scenario format, all of which produce a mutant—the novel influenced by films. New novelists include Michel Butor, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Marguerite Duras, and Nathalie Sarraute.

The Russian Novel

After 1917 Russian Revolution, much of the country's literature reflected Marxist ideology. Maxim Gorky was the leading exponent of social realism. In 1933, Ivan Bunin became the first Russian to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The novel in the Soviet Union either avoided offending the Communist party or, by reflecting a dissenting outlook, avoided publication in the USSR. Mikhail Sholokhov's epic series about the Don Cossacks, including And Quiet Flows the Don (1934), met the first qualification; Boris Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago (1957), about life in Russia from 1903 to 1929, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward (1968) and First Circle (1968), both realistic, powerful accounts of life under Stalin's regime, met the second and were published outside the Soviet Union.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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