The Development of World Literature, 1907-1927
The story of literature is not one of slow incremental growth, of literary decisions arrived at after deliberate and calculated innovation. Literature grows in spurts, evolving within the context of remarkably fecund periods, in which a number of factors converge to take the art of writing in a markedly different direction. These paradigmatic shifts include periods such as the Renaissance, during which William Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, and Christopher Marlowe were writing, and the Restoration, which saw the emergence of William Congreve, Richard Sheridan, William Wycherly, and Christopher Sly.
One such period of transition, in which the art of literature took a decidedly different turn, was the period before and after World War I. In the late 1880s, literature was still largely in the sway of the Romantic era. The late Romantics, such as Algernon Swinburn, Alfred Tennyson, and Christina Rossetti, were the dominant figures, and the style and substance of their writing still adhered to Romantic ideals. These ideals included heightened emotion, idealized and imaginative situations, and heroic, larger-than-life characters.
However, while the Romantics were pursuing the Romantic philosophy, events were conspiring to change the direction of literature permanently. This was the period in which the Industrial Revolution was reordering society, and writers began to see that literature needed to address the changes that the world was going through. Mechanization, exploitation of labor, overcrowding, and disease--all the problems of an increased urban population--proved to be unusually ripe for literary exploration. Compared to daily life, Romanticism appeared distant, feeble, and removed from the concerns of the reading public .
Emile Zola, in such works as Germinal, was among the first to espouse this new way of writing, in which authentic people would be depicted in ...