Paralleling the new social and artistic opportunities of the twentieth century was a kind of anomie or alienation created by the rush towards industrialization. Vast numbers of human figures remained undifferentiated and the mass-manufactured hats and clothing worn by British industrial workers served only to heighten the monotony of their daily routines. Newspapers eagerly published photographs of thousands of sooty-faced miners. The members of the workforce, which Marx had called "alienated labor," were seen to be estranged not just from their work but from one another as well, as they themselves became mass products. This situation is dramatized especially vividly in the silent films of the period-from the dystopian vision of Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1926) to the more comic vision presented by the British-American Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times (1936). The sense of major cities being overrun by crowds of nameless human locusts recurs in the poetry of the period:
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
(Eliot, The Waste Land)
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
(Yeats, Easter 1916)
The Victorian concern over huge numbers of urban poor was seconded by a fear of large numbers of restive urban lower-middle class workers and their families.The critic Hugh Kenner has described modernism as both metropolitan and also international in character. While the bulk of Victorian British literary production is associated in some way or another with London, writing in the modern period is spread not just throughout England but throughout the Empire (and later the Commonwealth). To this day, London still serves as a spiritual and economic center of British writing, and many of the best British writers, regardless of their provenance, come to London at some point in their career. Modernist literary production was further stimulated by close cross-pollination between writers and other artists in other nations, and much of the most important writing in the modern "British" canon was undertaken in cities as far-flung as Dublin, Paris, Zurich, New York, and Johannesburg. Conversely, much of the important literature written in Britain itself during the twentieth century was produced by immigrants from abroad, from the Polish Joseph Conrad and the American Henry James at the start of the century to V. S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, and Hanif Kureishi in recent decades. As a result, the distinctions between "British" and "American" writing often blurred in this period of easy and relatively inexpensive transatlantic travel. Henry James based novels like The American and Portrait of a Lady on the adventures of Americans living in Europe; James himself was an American who lived most of the last thirty-five years of his life in London, and was naturalized as a British citizen three months before his death. T. S. Eliot moved to London in 1915 and lived there until his death in 1965, becoming a British subject, a communicant of the Church of England, and being knighted along the way. The great comic writer P. G. Wodehouse commuted back and forth across the Atlantic in the 1920s and 1930s as his plays and musical comedies were staged in New York and London. In many ways, New York and London had never been so close. This artistic diaspora has inevitably resulted in a richer, more complex and urbane literature.