Periods of Literature
Like other forms, literature went through several periods of evolution and changes corresponding to its differences in nature and faith. The differences in nature and faith of each period are largely influenced by the ideas, challenges and opinions of the times. The later periods of literature are called the Romantic period (c. 1790-1830), Victorian Period and the 19th century (c.1831-1901), Modern Period (C. 1914-1945) and postmodern period (c. 1945 onward).
Born in time of revolutions, American and French Revolutions, in particular, Romantic literary writers believed in the pre-eminence and value of the individual human spirit, the value of feeling above intellect and value of freedom above form (Crofton 386). Romanticism placed a high belief in the natural goodness of man yet the path to goodness is hindered by civilization. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, European Romantic writers reacted against the classical ideals of balance, order and reason but rather stressed the expression of intense individual emotions and imaginations. Although Romanticism is popularly connected with “romantic love”, it was not actually exclusively about love but instead it is a “philosophical “and “international artistic movement” shaped by upheavals in political and economic and social life in that age (Melani 2008). The individual emotions of the writers expresses social and political consciousness that reacted so strongly to oppression and injustice in the world.
Romanticism, which began in Germany and Italy, is primarily characterized by a revolutionary energy, a nationalistic sentiment and a reaction against the great influence that French culture had throughout Europe which was neoclassical in nature. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) proclaimed the need to stop imitating French culture and rebelled against convention in both art and life, and exalted the free, the natural and the spontaneous. Naturalness of emotion and a feeling for nature were the keynotes of Goethe’s youthful poetry, while his plays dramatized the struggle for freedom .Moreover, besides their lyrical descriptions of nature, many writers of the Romantic periods used their imaginations to create stories and poems based on fantasy and the supernatural. Romantic writers also created a form of fiction called ‘gothic’. This style of writing emphasize tales of terror and mystery set in picturesque ruined buildings. One master of the gothic story was the American author Edgar Allan Poe (Perry 467).
The next period is the Victorian and the 19th century period. The term Victoria refers to the reign of Queen Victoria (1837 – 1901) in England. The literature of this period reflects the impact of and struggles brought on by the Industrial Revolution. For example, Charles Dickens wrote in weekly magazines his stories (which was full of humor and tragedy) of the human conditions in the factories and cities of Industrial England. Dickens, like many writers of that period, believed that their works should realistically reflect what is true in life. This is known as realism and it rejected the emphasis of emotions of the Romantics. The 19th century writers chose therefore to portray characters with depth and honesty and gave detailed, accurate and objective descriptions of life. Their stories reflected social problems and dealt with the everyday lives of ordinary people –factory workers, shopkeepers, and peasants. Realist writers prided themselves on truthfulness to life, strength of feeling, moral seriousness and common sense and uses formal language. Towards the end of the 19th century, literature assumed a new focus with the appearance of naturalism (Crofton 388). Naturalism is a specialized form of Realism based on the philosophical doctrines of materialism and determinism. It portrayed the working class as oppressed and controlled by society and believed that they struggle for survival like what Darwin proposed in his theory of the Origin of species (Wilkie & Hurt 971-976).
The third is the Modern period. Modern literature is characterized by a mood of experimentation –in ideas, in form and in expression (Crofton 392). These ideas are influenced by the two global wars, changes in industry and technology, interconnectedness across the globe, and “westernization’ of traditional societies. In other words, modernism places its faith in the “ideas, values, beliefs, culture, and norms of the West” (Wilkie & Hurt 1328-1336). Literatures of this period grows from a reaction against Realism and Naturalism. Characteristics of modern literature are: impressionism, expressionism, surrealism, and absurdism. Impressionism portrays psychological impressions of events and objects to characters, expressionism is the writer’s individual expressions of what he thinks to be the internal emotion or visions of objects or events being presented, surrealism is the portrayal of what seems to be and not what they are and absurdism is the attempt to portray the absurd conditions in life like the Holocaust. Moreover, modern literatures uses colloquial language and uses it in a self-conscious way, utilizes images and symbols and intends to change the view of modern man ( Wilkie & Hurt 1328-1336).
The last period is postmodernism. Postmodernism rejects traditional Western ideas, beliefs, culture, and norms. It is a byproduct of the disillusionment brought about by the devastation of the second war and the developments of technology and culture in the 1960’s. It breaks with traditional genre, structure and style and explores what is assumed false. It embraces complexity, diversity, contradiction and ambiguity. It avoids forming conclusions and interpretation but instead ends the work “openly” , that is , the reader must make his own conclusions based on how he interpret the [piece of literature( Wilkie & Hurt 1328-1336).
Crofton, Ian. The Guinness Compact Encyclopedia. London: Guinness Publishing Limited, 1994.
Melani, Lilia. Introduction to Romanticism. Brooklyn College. 2008 Accessed June 7, 2008 <http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/rom.html>
Perry, Marvin. A History of the World. New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 1988.
Wilkie, Brian and James Hurt. “Moderns and Contemporaries.” Literature of the Western World. Vol.2. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1997.