The early part of 20th century Europe was riddled with wars, mainly against tyranny. You've got WWI--known until WWII as the Great War--around 1915, the Russian Revolution around the same time, with the Spanish Civil War dovetailing WWII a few decades later. The solutions to autocracy were hotly debated, but unless one was in the inner party of a tyranny, it was almost universally agreed that tyranny was unsavory.
This unrest had a bearing on literature, because whether or not writers want to admit it, they by nature reflect and respond to social circumstances. Their outer-directed imaginations soak up what's going on around them and somehow incorporate it into a novel, essay, poem or song they're passionate about. It's the core of the axiom write what you know; what they know is what affects them.
Orwell says that up until the 1930's, the leading English writers are predominantly pessimistic, though not in the traditional use of the term. On page 228: "But what is noticeable about these writers is that what 'purpose' they have is very much up in the air. There is no attention to the urgent problems of the moment, above all no politics in the narrower sense. Our eyes are directed to Rome, to Byzantium, to Montparnasse, to Mexico, to the Etruscans, to the Subconscious, to the solar plexus--to everywhere except the places where things are actually happening. When one looks back at the 'twenties, nothing is queerer than the way in which every important event in Europe escaped the notice of the English intelligentsia." Their pessimism was accessed by default through their avoidance of conflict and a focus on literary techniques. They couldn't be bothered to approach this material, either because they thought it wasn't their venue, or they were fearful of exposure and persecution.
Early in the 1930's, the literary climate changed, "in other words, 'purpose' has come back, the younger writers have 'gone into politics.'" (p. 231) It takes them awhile, but the leading writers focus their attention not on their techniques or skills or whatever luxurious metaphysical puzzles they have, but on the social milieu that's changing the world in which they live. As a response to the right-wing imperialism and Fascism, writers were indoctrinated that if they weren't interested Left-Wing principles, they'd write badly. Problem with communism--the most popular form of the Left--is that it rids the two things the majority believes in strongest; patriotism and religion. The majority of humankind like to believe in something. Hence, people turned to the Roman Catholic Church due to its power and prestige, which to me is running from one autocrat directly into the arms of another.
The English weren't threatened on their own soil by the Central Powers, so their gripes were surrogate, though at least they responded to actual matters. They became coveters of the Russian Fatherland because it embodied the Communistic savior to the pressing autocratic threat. Orwell called it the "cult of Russia among the English intelligentsia." (p.236) Preceding the Great War war, literature was imbued with an anti-Fascistic energy, charged up by their beliefs and, of course, safety. Reality wasn't humbling them. Page 238-9: "The very people who for twenty years had sniggered over their own superiority to war hysteria were the ones who rushed straight back into the mental slum of 1915." They'd put themselves back in a cage.
This timeframe embodies the line all writers must toe. To be able to write, one needs freedom. To be a writer, one needs to have their mental senses open to the outside world. Their power is their sensitivity, but they need to steel themselves when presented with the woes, cancers, and cyclical patterns of civilization. If they publicly side with political parties, their freedom is threatened, "withering away their creative powers." (p. 239)
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