Essay on World War I and The Literary Transition Into Modernism

Essay on World War I and The Literary Transition Into Modernism

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World War I and The Literary Transition Into Modernism


World War I was the culmination of many things. On the surface, it was the ultimate in international disputes. Never before had the nations of the civilized world boiled over on such an enormous level. So large was the scale of World War I that there were few countries who did not feel its effects.

On a more profound level, the human being had never before exacted such damage upon themselves in the name of warfare. Due to the absolute horror of the violence, man became shell-shocked psychologically and disillusionment filled many people. The psychological effects of this conflict would alter world views for years to come, especially as recorded in the post-war literature.

This cultural report will briefly discuss the historical circumstances of the war, its violent resolution, and the effects of its horror as felt in the literary world, specifically through modernism and Edith Wharton’s novel The Age of Innocence. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary in June 1914 by a Serbian caused an international dispute when Serbia refused to hand over the assassin. Serbia pleaded with Russia for assistance in dealing with the Austro-Hungarians, but soon after Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. In response, Germany, the ally of the Austro-Hungarians, declared war on Russia and France in August 1914. The Germans did not stop there, as they had been massing forces for some time previous to this. They had aspirations of complete European conquest. The assassination had merely provided them the opportunity for aggression. On August 4th, 1914 the Germans invaded Belgium, prompting the British to declare war on Germany and aid the French. Austria-Hungary fi...


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...entury, a world where the youth feels they are equals with their fate. Perhaps there is logic in the timing of her novel’s publication at the tail end of the war. It is a modernist reacting in disillusionment to the violently different and modern world around her and searching for an answer.



Works Cited

Norton Anthology of American Literature. “Volume D: American Literature Between the Wars, 1914-1945” from The Norton Anthology of American Literature, 6th Edition. Online. 20 September 2004. W.W. Norton and Company, 2003.

The Smithsonian Institution. “Edith Wharton’s World.” From “Portraits of People and Places.” Online. 20 September 2004. The Smithsonian Institution, 2000.

Spartucus Educational. “Chronology of World War One” & “Casualties of World War One” from “History of World War One.” Online. 20 September 2004. Spartucus Educational, Inc., 2004.

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