The term modernism refers to the radical shift in aesthetic and cultural sensibilities evident in the art and literature of the post-World War I period. The ordered, stable and inherently meaningful world view of the nineteenth century could not, wrote T.S. Eliot, accord with "the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history”. Modernism thus marks a distinctive break with Victorian bourgeois morality; rejecting nineteenth-century optimism, they presented a profoundly pessimistic picture of a culture in disarray. This despair often results in an apparent apathy and moral relativism.
Causes: Growth of science and technology, new and richer life, new inventions upsetting old ways, became difficult to find order in life, “machine age”, developments influenced man’s thought, human behaviour was no longer easily explainable, upheaval of ideas, religious controls and social conventions were challenged.
Characteristics: Opposed to the general attitude of life and its problem adopted by Victorians, became pessimistic and experimental, out-raged by the Victorian self-complacency, extremely fascinating , difficult to evaluate, record of uncoordinated efforts, uneasy to divide, full of adventures and experiments, bound up with new ideas.
Victorian ideals---mean, superficial and stupid.
• Rebellious mood affected modern literature.
• Nothing was considered as certain; everything was questioned.
• What was considered as honourable and beautiful by Victorians, their children considered as mean and ugly.
Voice of authority and Rule of the Expert: Victorian accepted the Voice of Authority and acknowledged the Rule of the Expert in religion, politics, literature and family life. Bernard Shaw attacked the old superstitions of religion and new superstitions of science. He challenged the Voice of Authority and the Rule of the Expert.
• The 20th century mind did not take anything for granted; they questioned everything.
• Permanence of Institutions was replaced by new man’s desire to probe and question, and by new minds that nothing is fixed and final in this world. H.G.Well—“all this world of ours being no more than the prelude to the real civilization.
• They could no longer write in old manner.
• If they played on contempt for money, divine love, natural beauty, home and life, classical scholarship, communication with the spirit of past, they were running the risk of striking a false note.
• If they treated the same themes in a different manner, they had to evoke different thoughts and emotions.
• They had to cultivate fresh point of view and technique.
Changes: Field of literary technique, taste and form, standards of artistic workmanship and of aesthetic appreciations.
Disadvantage: No common ground for writers and readers to meet.