Edwardian

Sometimes referred to as 'the golden age', the Edwardian era was a time of great change and famous literature. The turn of the century brought excitement and fear in equal measures. Here we will look at what happened during the Edwardian era and the literature it produced.

Edwardian Edwardian

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Table of contents

    Edwardian era

    The Edwardian era is a period of time in British history that commonly dates from the end of the Victorian era in 1901 until the beginning of the First World War in 1914. The period is named after the reign of King Edward VII. Although Edward's reign ended with his death in 1910, the four years that succeeded are also referred to as 'Edwardian'. The Edwardian era is the last in British history to be named after a reigning monarch.

    Although it was a relatively short time, it was a period of tremendous change. The Victorian era brought about the Industrial Revolution, which rapidly increased the size and population of cities. This increase led to the poor and working classes living among the more wealthy and this, in turn, led to a demand for social change. It was also the time when women's suffrage came to prominence. High-profile campaigns brought women's suffrage to the forefront of political discussion.

    Edwardian, Edwardian people in a procession, StudySmarterThe Edwardian era was a period of great change.

    The Industrial Revolution was a period in history when new technology helped develop new forms of production, travel and farming, causing great growth in cities.

    Women's suffrage was the campaign for earning women the right to vote in elections.

    The Edwardian era began and ended with seismic events in British history. It began with the death of Queen Victoria after a reign of 63 years. During those years, the British Empire was at its most dominant. The end of the Edwardian era oversaw an event that would accelerate the fall of the empire. In 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, which was the catalyst for the First World War and the end of the Edwardian era.

    Edwardian era facts

    Here we look at some facts about the Edwardian era across culture.

    • The Edwardian era is sometimes known as the 'golden age', this is because it was a time of great prosperity and luxurious parties among the wealthy elite.

    • Child labour laws were finally introduced to prevent children from working during the Edwardian era. No longer did children have to perform dangerous tasks like sweeping chimneys or mining for coal.

    • King Edward VII was a popular if somewhat controversial monarch. He was thought of as quite fashionable with the company he kept and made frequent visits to Paris. He also had a reputation as a playboy due to his fondness for parties and women.

    • The Edwardian era oversaw a lot of progressive social change. As well as child labour laws being introduced, the Edwardians also saw women's suffrage rise to prominence and the working class becoming an active voice in politics.

    Edwardian literature

    Because of the era's short length in time, there is an overlap between Victorian and Edwardian literature. Renowned authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle and Joseph Conrad were prolific in both periods and could be considered either Victorian or Edwardian. For that reason, we will primarily look at individual texts written between 1901 and 1914. The writers George Bernard Shaw and E.M. Forster are much more closely associated with the era and helped bring forward a dramatic shift in storytelling.

    The Edwardian era saw the origins of movements such as Modernism, the Bloomsbury Group and, somewhat ironically, the Georgian poets. The Bloomsbury group were a collective of authors, painters and critics who would often meet in the London district of their name. The majority of these movements chose to move away from the traditional forms of storytelling and poetry to embrace more experimental methods. Authors started using techniques including unreliable narrators and using a stream of consciousness. The Georgian poets, by contrast, were almost anti-modern, producing lyric poetry with rural and pastoral themes. Many of these Georgian poets found themselves fighting in the First World War.

    Modernism is a movement in art and literature that rejected traditional forms to present new ways, to tell stories and poetry to reflect modern society.

    Stream of consciousness is a technique used by writers to depict the speed and sometimes randomness of human thought.

    Lyric poetry is a poetic form which is deeply personal. Emotions and feelings are expressed explicitly in the first person.

    Notable works

    Here we will look at some notable works from writers predominantly associated with the Edwardian era.

    A Room With a View (1908)

    E.M. Forster's novel tells the story of a young woman living in the moderate and repressive world of English society during the Edwardian period. The novel is split into two parts; the first part concerns Lucy Honeychurch and her cousin touring Italy. While in Florence, the pair encounter the Emersons. The Emersons are a father and son who try to aid Lucy and her cousin when complaining about the view from their room. The second part of the novel finds Lucy back in England, and she is reunited with the Emersons. The novel is both a romance and a critique of Edwardian society.

    Pygmalion (1912)

    George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion is named after the Greek mythological king. The play was first produced in Vienna in the German language. It premiered in English in 1914. Two experts are discussing their fields when they decide to place a bet. The bet is that one of the two, Henry Higgins, can transform a cockney flower girl into a well-spoken lady fit for high society. The character of the flower girl is Eliza Doolittle, and the play famously inspired the musical My Fair Lady (1956).

    The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)

    The novel, written by G.K. Chesterton, could be considered a surreal or metaphysical spy thriller. Gabriel Syme is hired by Scotland Yard to join an anti-anarchist task force. He infiltrates a secret anarchist council that plans to commit acts of terrorism led by an enigmatic leader known only as 'Sunday'. In a confusing turn of events, Gabriel (Thursday) discovers that he is not the only undercover detective in the council.

    Anarchists are people who believe in anarchy, a political idea according to which the world is better without the state or a ruling class.

    Characteristics of Edwardian literature

    Edwardian literature followed the Victorian era, and the period had a transformative effect on storytelling. Edwardian literature is a period of time rather than a movement or style, so the work of the time is wide-ranging. This means that there aren't strict characteristics for the work of the time. There are, however, some familiar characteristics developed in Edwardian literature that are still used today. Below are some of the more common themes.

    Questioning society

    The Edwardian era was a time of great transition marked by the dawn of a new century. This gave writers the opportunity to look introspectively into society. George Bernard Shaw used his plays to polemicise on society's ills. The theatre became a place where the political ideas of the past were challenged. Another writer who used their work to take a closer look at society was E.M. Forster. Forster examined the repressive nature of the Edwardian era in novels such as A Room With a View and Howard's End (1910).

    New ways of telling a story

    Modernism did not fully come into prominence until after the Edwardian era. This is most likely due to the events of the First World War. However, the origins of modernism are rooted in the Edwardian era as writers looked for new ways to tell their stories. Ford Maddox Ford used an unreliable narrator for his novel The Good Soldier (1915). Developments in psychoanalysis meant both writers and readers were more aware of the subconscious. Characters became more complex, and their intentions were no longer so clear. Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent (1907) and G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday (1908) exemplify this duality.

    The unreliable narrator is a technique used by authors where the narrator would withhold information from the reader, either intentionally or because they are misinformed.

    Psychoanalysis is a form of therapy which aims to explore a person's subconscious. It was made famous by the Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud.

    The rise of the 'popular' novel

    Edwardian literature also brought forward a change in reading habits. The period saw a clear distinction between what is considered 'high' culture in literature and the 'popular' works. These novels were considered lighter in tone and normally fast-paced to engage readers. Popular novels like The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) and Rudyard Kipling's Kim (1901) were published and considered 'entertainments'. The most prolific and Edwardian of this kind of light entertainment was P.G. Wodehouse, who first introduced characters such as Jeeves and Psmith in the Edwardian era. Many children's classics were also published, including The Wind in the Willows (1908) by Kenneth Grahame and Edith Nesbit's The Railway Children (1905).

    Edwardian vs Victorian

    The Victorian era marks the period of time during the reign of Queen Victoria - from 1837 until 1901. In that period, Great Britain became an immense global power, and its empire expanded as far as Asia and the Caribbean. The Edwardian era gave writers cause to reflect on the imperial rule and its flaws. Edwardian literature became more critical of imperialism compared to Victorian literature. The Edwardian writers became more political, they examined issues including the class system, colonialism, and other societal issues like women's suffrage.

    Some authors in the Victorian era also addressed social issues, with the novelists Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy condemning child labour in their works. A large percentage of Victorian literature tried to move away from the Romanticism that preceded it; stories of the wealthy 'upper' class and their romantic travails. Novels concerning more 'everyday' characters increased during the Edwardian era. Victorian literature is also famed for the revival of Gothic Romanticism. Some of the gothic novels to be published in the Victorian era included Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) and Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897).

    Romanticism is a movement in art and literature which valued inspiration and subjectivity over reality.

    Edwardian literature, by contrast, moved away from the supernatural and focussed more on realism. There was an increase in spy thrillers and provincial novels. Arnold Bennett's work was renowned for its realistic depictions of life in the towns that surrounded his youth. But Bennett himself was inspired by the regional fiction of Victorian novelists George Eliot and Thomas Hardy. Despite their efforts to create new forms of literature, the Edwardians were greatly indebted to the Victorians that preceded them.

    Realism is a movement in art and literature which aims to capture life as it is commonly perceived.

    Edwardian - Key takeaways

    • The Edwardian era is a period of time in British history that commonly dates from the end of the Victorian era in 1901 until the beginning of the First World War in 1914.
    • The Edwardian era is known as a time of great change in Britain.
    • The period is named after the reign of King Edward VII. Though Edward's reign ended with his death in 1910, the four years that succeeded are also referred to as 'Edwardian'.
    • Edwardian literature became more critical of imperialism compared to Victorian literature.
    • The Edwardian era is also known as the 'golden age', this is because it was a time of great prosperity and luxurious parties among the wealthy elite.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Edwardian

    Why is it called the Edwardian period?

    The period is named after the reign of King Edward VII. Although Edward's reign ended with his death in 1910, the four years that succeeded are also referred to as 'Edwardian'. 

    What is the Edwardian era?

    The Edwardian era is a period of time in British history during the reign of King Edward VII.

    When was the Edwardian period?

    The Edwardian era commonly dates from the end of the Victorian era in 1901 until the beginning of the First World War in 1914.

    What is the difference between Victorian and Edwardian?

    Edwardian literature became more critical of imperialism compared to Victorian literature.

    What is the Edwardian era known for?

    The Edwardian era is also known as the 'golden age', this is because it was a time of great prosperity and luxurious parties among the wealthy elite.

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