Whither the 20th Century?

A silly title maybe?  I would welcome some feedback to this post because it puzzles me that the 20th Century is being sidestepped in the GCSE/IGCSE reading lists for English Literature.

When I was at school in the 1970s it seemed to be obvious that one read 19th century writers – after all Hardy had only died 50 years before my O levels and the works of Wilde or Stoker seemed if not modern, then tangible – being written within the previous 100 years.  Alongside these writers (and Dickens and Austen and Eliot..) we read authors from the 20th century -authors who seem to have been removed from the awareness of today’s students:  DH Lawrence, Osborne, Stoppard, O’Casey, Waterhouse, Orwell (other than 1984 and Animal Farm, Rattigan…

The current student seems to be working in a world where the 20th century simply does not really exist:  Modern Literature increasingly means “post 2000” – and so it should.  The insistence on 19th Century classics in the current curriculum is prohibitive.  What has happened is that boards have stayed as close as practical to their previous teaching lists and the chance to bring on a generation of students with an awareness of writing from the Edwardian era or of the 60s – that decade of repressed conservatism and an explosion of psychedelic freedom has been lost.

I would love to teach all literature of all periods – it is not practical, bu ta list of writers denied to the current crop of 15/16 year olds is so saddening:  to the list above we might add: Forster, Isherwood, Murdoch, Woolf, Powell, Banks, McInnes, Braine and so on and so on.

We can’t have everything, but i would be fascinated to hear whether anyone has managed to shoehorn modules from the 60s or the 30s into their teaching.  It saddens me that so much recent work has been sidelined as we focus back on writing (much of it wonderful) from almost two centuries before the current students were born, yet ignore the literary landscape of their parents and grandparents.

My chosen text list:

Post war/Cold War:

Le Carre: A Small town in Germany or Tinker Tailor

Braine: Room at the Top

Waterhouse: Billy Liar

Powell: Books do furnish a room

McInnes: Absolute beginners

Murdoch: The Sea, The Sea

Edwardian/Inter War:

Orwell: The Road to Wigan Pier

Ishewrwood: Berlin Novels

Forster: Howard’s End

Lawrence: The Rainbow or the short story collection

Woolf: To the lighthouse

Not enough women here, and not enough diversity either – the new OCR course: “The immigrant experience” could easily by brought down into this year group.  This is what i had time for before Period 1… please join in.

 

 

 

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1 Comment

Filed under teacher training

One response to “Whither the 20th Century?

  1. Fran

    I agree! I would add ‘Lord of the Flies’ to your list 😀

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