MODERN AGE: THE TURN OF THE CENTURY- HISTORICAL AND SOCIAL BACKGROUND: THE 1910s/1920s

The death of Queen Victoria in 1901 marked the end of the Victorian Age, even if the real break with the former Era came with the First World War which was a turning point in the history of the world.

The years between the death of Queen Victoria and the war were also known as the Edwardian Age. It was a period of transition in which many of the social movements and prevailing attitudes of the Victorians continued their course .The Reforms continued too: the Compensation Act in 1906 ensured some compensations for workers in case of accident ; The Old Age Pension Law  in 1909 ensured a pension to the old workers ; The Reform Bill in 1911 introduced the Universal Suffrage and extended the right to vote to all men ( it was extended to women, too, in 1918 and  the following year the first women voted at a General Election); The Reform Bill was very important because it forced the Government to accept some responsibilities in looking after its poor citizens , who were also voters now , and then more powerful than before.

In 1911 there was also another important institutional step: The Parliament Act. It changed Parliament’s powers, weakening the powers of the House of Lords. The Liberal Party had proposed heavier land-taxes, but the proposal was rejected by The Lords. The Commons, then, passed an Act by which money-Bill could become Law without the consent of the Lords and so their right to put veto was abolished.

In the years before the 1st World War Britain underwent the risk of a civil war. In Ireland the opposition of a minority group, The Sinn Fein (a Celtic expression meaning “ourselves alone”) got the support of a large part of the Catholics. When the situation was becoming worse, the 1st World War broke out. It started in 1914 and lasted four years .On the one side there were Germany , Austria , Hungary , Turkey and Bulgaria ,

On the other side England and The British Empire, Russia, France, Italy and in 1917 The United States. The war shocked a whole generation. The toll was enormous and people lost their faith in Liberalism, capitalism and progress: they realised that science and industry had not produced a better world but only weapons of mass destruction (the most fearful were the gases which brought the so called invisible death) and had made the power of destruction greater than before. Of course there were many economic consequences: the fall in value of money, the rise in taxation, the excessive profits of some war-profiteers, difficulties both in home and foreign trade.

It also marked the decline of European dominion over the world and the rise of the new Great Powers:Russia and USA.

In 1917 Lenin and the Bolshevik Party took control of the Russian State in the name of the working class and invited the working class of other countries to follow them.  Some people of the working class and many intellectuals accepted this invitation. They believed that it was time to take advantage of the crises of capitalism and worked to take the power away from the Middle Class establishing by revolution a fully socialist society following the suggestion contained in The Communist Manifesto by Marx (1848).

The experiment in Soviet Union impressed the intellectuals all over Europe. Its principles of socialism and internationalism appeared to them as an alternative both to the great division still separating the Rich and the Poor and to the imperialism and nationalism produced by the 1st World War.

With the end of the war The Irish Question rose again. After the 1916 Easter Monday, during which the English Army had killed more over 450 Irishman, the Irish nationalists started organizing their own army, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) which mostly used terrorist attempts and guerrilla tactics. In the meanwhile the Sinn Fein Party started boycotting all what was British, and after the 1818 general election, the 69 Sinn Fein MPs refused to attend the Westminster Parliament in London and declared themselves the Elected Assembly of the Irish People. In 1921 a treaty between The British Government and the Irish rebels divided Ireland into two parts: the Irish Free State, which governed itself still staying under British rule, and Ulster or Northern Ireland, which was given a limited home rule and a separate Parliament in Belfast, but remained tied to Britain. The treaty was not accepted by the Assembly in Dublin and a civil war broke out. The toll was high and over 4,000 people died. Eventually the IRA surrendered their army but not their intention of a republic for all Ireland. In 1937 there was a new Constitution and The Irish Free State was renamed EIRE, the Gaelic name for Ireland. In 1949 EIRE became an independent republic.

Another important phenomenon of the first two decades of the 20th cent. was the growing social prominence of the women thanks to the SUFFRAGETTE MOVEMENT. Women began to claim for more rights and for their emancipation. At the beginning it was a pacific movement but eventually it degenerated in violence. There were many riots and some of its leaders were also arrested. Thanks to their role during the war, they did the jobs of men who were away fighting and they were also engaged in the war as nurses, the women obtained the right to vote in 1818.

As a result of the 1st World War the usual pattern of trade had changed. English economy depended very much on the exchange with non-industrialized countries of textiles, ships and machinery in return for raw material and food. Many of the above mentioned countries began to develop their own industries and found new trading partners. As a consequence workers in British industries lost their jobs and the Trade Unions rose in their defence organizing important strikes.

In 1926 mine owners reduced miners’ wages and increased work hours. A general strike was called for and the miners had the support by many other workers.

The crisis in the international trade reached its climax with the Wall Street Crash in October 1929. A period of sacrifices and hardship began all over the world. In England The Labour Government, that had won the 1929 General Election, was forced to cut the pays from government funds; this measure had a great impact on the poor families because it also cut  the Dole, that is the money help given to the unemployed by the Government.

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About rosariomario

retired teacher docente in pensione
This entry was posted in appunti di letteratura inglese per studenti italiani e non, tratti da testi vari. Notes of English Literature for Italian/non-Italian students taken from various school textbooks. Bookmark the permalink.

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