Edwardian Age (in English literature)
Edwardian Age (in English literature): A brief era in English literary history spanning the years 1901—1914 and named for Edward VII, whose reign began with the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 and ended in 1910, four years before the outbreak of World War I. The Edwardian Age is often seen as a “long sunlit afternoon,” a golden age of innocence, leisure, style, and opulence that bridged the gap between the Victorian Period, when England reached the height of its power and influence, as reflected by the phrase “the sun never sets on the British Empire,” and the Modern Period, which was born in the ensuing chaos, death, and destruction of the Great War. Yet the era was also one in which people began to question the existing social order, including the “upstairs downstairs” system of rigid class distinctions, the stark gap between rich and poor, and the unequal standing of women.
Like Victorian literature, the literature of the Edwardian Age encompassed virtually all forms, genres, and styles, but many writers of the era reacted against what they viewed as the staid attitudes and conventions of Victorianism. Prose was dominant, especially prose fiction in the form of novels and short stories. Major prose fiction writers included J. M. Barrie, Arnold Bennett, Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford, John Galsworthy, Thomas Hardy, and H. G. Wells. Barrie and Galsworthy were also playwrights, and notable poets included Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Alfred Noyes, and Arthur Symons.
Chronological boundaries notwithstanding, the Edwardian Age is relatively unhelpful as a literary category. For one thing, the brevity of the era means that many of the authors associated with it are also associated with the preceding Victorian era or either of two subsequent and overlapping eras, the Georgian Age and the Modern Period. (Hardy, whose career extended from 1865 to 1928, is a case in point.) In addition, except for the general reaction against Victorianism, works said to represent the Edwardian Age seem less united by an underlying worldview and aesthetic than the works generally affiliated with many other literary eras or movements. Finally, the term Edwardian is sometimes also used with reference to American realist contemporaries (such as Henry James) as well as Irish writers (such as Isabella Augusta, Lady Gregory; J. M. Synge; and W. B. Yeats) associated with the Celtic Revival, a movement intended to revive and promote an indigenous Celtic cultural, literary, and artistic tradition to counter centuries of imperial English domination.