Question 3: What were the major literary trends during the 20th century? Illustrate.
Ans: Human life in the 20th century differed markedly from that of the 19th century as a result of the revolutions in industry, science, and technology. As a result, literature sought new ways of expressions and styles. Two important movements in philosophy and literary criticism of the 20th century are Modernism and Post-Modernism. Since population was poorly educated, there was no demand for written communication such as newspapers. Sharing jokes and stories was a common form of entertainment at any place where people gathered. These stories were difficult to remember so rhyme was introduced into it, to assist the authors to memorize them. Consistent rhythm and metres were later on added. As a result of these changes Australian poetry was born. The earliest written poetry acted as cathartic outburst of emotions which allowed the convicts to address those feelings that they could not openly discuss. Through their poetry they described their pain in silence. The most notable of these early poets include Michale Massey Robinson, George Barrington and Francis MacNamara also known as Frank the Poet. At this time poetry had melancholic themes. As convicts were feeling anguish, their poetry indicated empathy for the anguish of others. Lack of paper or writing ability forced the convicts to turn their poems into songs. From these convict foundations a rich poetic tradition grew in the form of Bush Ballads. The farmers, horsemen and a myriad of other everyday people started writing poetry. The bush ballads were deeply ingrained in Australian history and culture. These reflect quite accurately the time in which those people lived. The stories are wonderful and cover all aspects of life in Australia at the time. Among the greats of Australian Bush poetry, Henry Lawson and Andrew ‘Banjo’ Paterson were the best known and love poets.
Because of its geographical isolation from the rest of the world, Australia came into contact with other countries very late. At the turn of the twentieth century Australian poets started dreaming about the future of Australia and its identity. Something that remained constant was the focus of the poets on the landscape of Australia and their neglect of the people and character of Australia. Notable poets of the time were Bernard O’Dowd, W.C. Wentworth, known for his “Australasia, an Ode”, Dorothea Mackellar, Adam Linsay Gordon, Henry Kendall and Christopher Brennan. All depicted Australia, not as a colony of Britain but as a nation with its separate identity in their poems. As Elizabeth Webby also noticed “By the 1900, too, Australian readers were beginning to develop something of a taste for writing about Australia and about themselves” (50). Wentworth anticipated that the future of Australia might be as rich as England’s past. Navigator Captain Cook was still glorified along with Forby Sutherland and Arthur Phillip. The Aborigines were almost never mentioned in the poetry of white settlers. They were presented in derogatory terms to serve as a contrast to the Anglo-Saxon culture. Australia had started to see itself a country, separate from Britain and British culture. The Australian landscape was described in detail, but still the common people of Australia were hardly ever mentioned.
Modernism arrived with the poetry of Kenneth Slessor and R.D. Fitz Gerald. In 1930s two poetry movements emerged in Adelaide: The Jindyworobaks and the Angry Penguins. The Jindiworobaks encouraged Australian writers to express themselves in a language indicating their essence as Australians, whereas the Angry Penguins wanted Australian poetry to become more innovative and international by using surrealism and new experimental techniques. A.D. Hope and Judith Wright were regarded as Post-War giants in Australian poetry. In 1950s and 60s poetry expressed a solemn, ironic concern for social and moral issues. During this period poets like Kenneth Slessor, R.D. Fitzgerald, Douglas Steward, Rosemary Dobson, John McAuley, Gwen Harwood, William Hart-Smith and Bruce Dawe were influential and wrote social and political satires as well as reflected the realist tradition. A strong social awareness with religious overtones also permeated their poetry.
The vital feature of 1960s was the beginning of Aboriginal poetry. The growth of Aboriginal poetry during this period enticed the attentions of the readers worldwide. In fact the Aboriginal poets through their poetry raise their own political issues and try to make the rest of the world aware of the injustices done to them. Regarding the function of Aboriginal literature, Mudrooroo writes: “Aboriginal literature begins as a cry from the heart directed at the white man. It is a cry for Justice and for a better deal, a cry for understanding and an asking to be understood” (67). Contemporary Aboriginal Australian writing began in the 1960s. Oodegeroo Noonuccal’s first volume of poetry We are going “ended a period of white deafness by bringing a powerful Aboriginal voice into earshot of large, mainstream audience both in overseas and Australia” (Toom 24). In Aboriginal Australian poetry Kevin Gilbert, Colin Johnson, Jack Davis, Graham Dixon and Robert Walker gained worldwide popularity. During 1980s and 1990s prominent poets like Davis Campbell, John Blight, Bruce Dawe, Les A Murray, David Malouf, John Tranter and Robert Gray wrote more experimental verses. After 1990s Fayzwicky, Roberta Sykes and Billy Marshall dominated Australian poetry.
Like poetry the commencement of Australia fiction can be related to the outlet of the dormant emotions of convicts. The development of novel in Australia was a slow and gradual process because of the slow publishing process. Most books were imported from England. By 1945 only fifteen percent of books sold in Australia were published there.
The earlier phase of Australian novel was “writing about convict life, by
convicts or ex-convicts…” (Bird 32). The vast majority of the convicts to Australia were English, Irish and Scottish. Large number of convicts were thieves and others were soldiers, who were transported for crimes such as mutiny, desertion and disobedience. The convicts were employed according to their skills and good behavior was the only key, which could ensure their freedom. Convict labour was used to develop public facilities of the colonies like roads, bridges, courthouses and hospitals. Convicts also worked for free settlers and small land holders.
When Australia became a federation of independent states, Henry Lawson,
Miles Franklin and Joseph Furphy brought transformation by portraying social realism and national identity in their novels. Australia’s vast and dry landscape became a character in many works of fiction. But still many writers struggled with the notion of what it meant to be Australian. The novel of adventure and romance dropped its masculine spirit and transformed into nationalistic novel. Novelists portrayed the preoccupation of Australian citizens.
Until the depression in 1929 most novelists were optimistic about the country, its past and present. However, in the late 1930s the literary mood shifted and darker world views were explored. Henry Handel Richardson’s trilogy The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, published between 1917 and 1929, exhibited that Australian life could be material for a tragic novel. The post-World War Two novel sought to examine the relationship between people and the environment. Some novelists promoted reconciliation with indigenous people in Australia and developed a greater appreciation for their relationship with the land.
In 1973, Patrick White became the first Australian to be awarded the Nobel
Prize for literature. He published twelve novels, eight plays, several collections of short stories and works of nonfiction. The contemporary phase of the novel starts roughly from 1970. At this time Australia eye-witnessed many political, social and economical changes and as a result fiction attained the height, which it had never experienced before. Since Patrick White, Australia has produced a large number of outstanding novelists. Many of them experimented with the techniques also.
During 1970s and 1980s prominent novelists were Helen Gamer, Jassica
Anderson, Beverly Farmers, Barbara Jaffsers, Kate Granville and Thea Ashley. After 1980 there is no single vision or ideology in the diverse and multicultural Australian society. So fiction also became diverse. Female novelists developed feministic themes.