Words, War, Women and More

My research now concluded, my understanding of England’s literary landscape in the first half of the twentieth century has changed dramatically.

I went in to this project with only the names of a handful of authors and a vague idea of English history.I soon learned that I could not possibly condense a century of short stories into my project, and decided to focus on the first half of the century. This is not because stories were better during this time, but simply because literary economics made the publishing of short stories less profitable after the second world war, so the bulk of more influential stories were published before then.

Blast First England

From the first issue of Blast (ed. Wyndham Lewis) , July 1914

Then came the problem of deciding which authors were worthy of isolating from the rest. I certainly don’t claim authority on deciding the best short story writers of this time, so instead I focused on a handful of authors who I felt represented different facets of England’s literary landscape.

I ended up including stories from Joseph Conrad (the earliest chronologically), Elizabeth Bowen, Katherine Mansfield, Jean Rhys, Roald Dahl, and Mollie Panter-Downes. These writers had different levels of notoriety and published both in more established magazines like The Strand, and in more experimental outlets like Blast and Blue Review. Dahl and Panter-Downes even published transatlantically in The New Yorker.

Sitting down to write about what connects these authors, I found that I had been drawn to one of two things: the consequences of war, and the role of women in society. All of the stories I wrote about explored one of these issues in a powerful way. Some, like Panter-Downes’ “Good Evening Mrs. Craven,” and Bowen’s “Mysterious Kor,” did both.

While I will never be able to say I have learned everything there is to learn about this particular era of the English short story, I was introduced to incredible writers and have become even more intensely curious about discovering what the stories I left out have to say.