Epigones of the Lost Generation

Near the end of this fine book, John Aldridge observes: "The history of the period from 1890, roughly, to 1940 might . . . have been the history of the disappearance of the novel as an art form in society. . . . Yet there has seldom if ever been a time when more novels of distinction as well as novels of more distinction have been produced or when writers have been more intent on exploiting and extending the possibilities of the novel as an art form."

This statement, which might seem a contradiction, really falls in line with what we have come to accept as orthodox 20th-century literary history. The novel, as men had known it in the days of Dickens and Trollope, was produced in a world where men ardently believed that the triumph of justice and goodness depended primarily on the solicitude of just and good men; the form itself existed to facilitate the practice of these virtues. That confidence persisted through the 19th century. It receded from the minds of men between the time of Arnold and the end of World War I, when men first began to question and then to reject the view of nature underlying the traditional position.

In this intellectual climate, the novel went through two major transformations: one leading the novelist away from the dead world of society and shared values into one of private consciousness (Joyce, Conrad, and Woolf), the other turning away from the old morality toward the pronouncement of...

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