Georgian Age (in English literature)

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018

Georgian Age (in English literature)

Georgian Age (in English literature): (1) An era in English literary history spanning the years 1714—1830 and named for kings George I, George II, George III, and George IV, who reigned successively. (2) An era in English literary history spanning the years 1910—36, during which George V was king. Both Georgian ages overlap with other literary eras, the first with the Neoclassical Period and Romantic Period, and the second with the Edwardian Age and the Modern Period. This entry focuses on the twentieth-century Georgian Age since use of the term Georgian in literary criticism is most common with respect to poetry from this era.

Georgian poetry, showcased in Edward Marsh’s five Georgian Poetry anthologies (1911—22), is characterized by quiet, formal, often elegiac and pastoral lyrics. Georgian poets sought to widen the audience for poetry by writing simply and directly; using colloquial language; and featuring the individual, often in a rural setting, in keeping with the traditions of romanticism. As a result, their poetry was popular, and they were lauded for challenging the status quo — for reacting against imperialism, nationalistic verse, and the restrictive didacticism and conventions of Victorianism. Significant Georgian poets included Richard Aldington, Rupert Brooke, W. H. Davies, Walter de la Mare, and John Masefield. Aldington and Brooke also wrote passionately about the war experience, as did lesser-known Georgians Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg, and Siegfried Sassoon.

Notably, the term Georgian is not generally used to describe modernist contemporaries, such as T. S. Eliot, William Butler Yeats, and the American expatriate Ezra Pound, whose poetry was more fragmented, allusive, and unconventional. Further, with the advent of modernism, which was more radical and experimental, as exemplified by Eliot’s seminal poem The Waste Land (1922), Georgian poetry came to be seen as conservative, simplistic, and escapist — negative connotations that still persist to some extent today.

When applied to other genres, such as prose and drama, the term Georgian is used neutrally and covers a wide range of works. Many novelists of the earlier Edwardian Age, such as Arnold Bennett, Joseph Conrad, and H. G. Wells, wrote well into the Georgian Age and are sometimes called Georgian novelists. Modernist novelists who wrote during the Georgian Age include James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, Dorothy Richardson, and Virginia Woolf. In theater, George Bernard Shaw further developed the kind of serious, intellectual drama (Saint Joan [1923]) pioneered by the nineteenth-century Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, and Noël Coward helped revive the lighter genre known as the comedy of manners (Private Lives [1929]). John Galsworthy, whose career spanned most of the Edwardian and Georgian Ages, addressed issues of class both in novels (The Forsyte Saga [1906—21]) and plays (The Skin Game [1920]).