Modernism in literature – what is worth knowing about it?

Modernism in literature – what is worth knowing about it?
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The years 1890 to 1918 in literature were the time of modernism. After the times of positivism, faith in progress and work at the grassroots, came a literary era when creative freedom was emphasized, but also a certain characteristic pain of existence. Several literary trends were developed, but naturalism, decadence, and pessimism often appeared. What is worth knowing about the literature of these times?

Modernism in European literature

In the literature of this period, it is used to emphasize, above all, the individuality of the author, whose message should operate with ambiguity and symbolism

Nietzsche and Schopenhauer – philosophers who inspired the literature of modernism

The term modernism, which was used in the context of literature for the first time in 1887 by the Viennese critic H. Bahr, was to give a name to a new era. Authors living at the time imagined that a new phase in human history was made possible by progress, liberation from God and religion – man was to be the creator of the world. In practice, however, he is not able to meet this task. Literature should be the author’s “material,” while he himself is free of rules and systems. This gives him freedom, but also a sense of alienation and loneliness

Nietzsche and Schopenhauer

Friedrich Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer are the two philosophers who left the greatest impression on the creators of literature of modernism. In a way, their thoughts also represent the contradictions and chaos characteristic of the era. Nietzsche was a champion of the superman, understood as a certain possibility or potential to reject the old culture and values. For Schopenhauer, on the other hand, culture was a source of suffering from which only art can be a liberation

Photo Lum3n/Pexels

The role of the artist and important themes

The need to reject the existing culture and the importance of art as a remedy for the “pain of existence” gave rise to the modernist concept of the artist as a brilliant and incomprehensible individual. The literary life of the time took place in bustling cafes and within avant-garde groups that were called bohemians. They were interested in art and led a lavish lifestyle

What topics did they like to discuss? The basic theme was the sense of crisis of European civilization, which was intensified by the climate of the end of the century. Art, including literature, was supposed to break with the imitation of reality.

Creators of literature of modernism in Europe

This era saw the development of both lyric, novel, and drama. Among the leading authors were:

  • Charles Baudelaire,
  • Arthur Rimbaud,
  • Paul Verlaine,
  • Stéphane Mallarmé.

Young Poland

In Poland between 1890 and 1918 one speaks of the literature of Young Poland. It was also here that European currents, the problems associated with the extremely rapid progress of technology and its perception, and the fears that the end of the century brought, left their mark. Additionally, pessimism was associated with the situation, where the Polish lands were under three partitions. The term “Young Poland” originated from a series of programmatic articles published by Artur Górski in the Kraków-based “Życie” – it is a reference to the new consciousness that was to characterize the artists of the time. The year 1891 (the debut of Kazimierz Przerwy-Tetmajer, among others) is often considered the first date which conventionally opens the era’s duration

Developed trends

As in world literature, the authors of the Young Poland movement were characterized by decadence, symbolism, naturalism, neo-romanticism and catastrophism. Literary criticism developed strongly alongside lyric poetry, prose, and drama.

The most important artists

The authors of Young Poland (Młoda Polska) include, above all, poets with Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer and Jan Kasprowicz at the forefront. Other well-known figures from this circle include Leopold Staff, Tadeusz Miciński and Lucjan Rydel. Among the playwrights, Stanisław Wyspiański became famous above all. The works of Gabriela Zapolska and Adolf Nowaczyński were also recognized for their high quality. The field of prose includes above all Stefan Żeromski and Władysław Reymont, but also a little less known Władysław Orkan or Stanisław Przybyszewski.

Photo: Karolina Grabowska/Pexels

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