Modernism, Romance, and the Fin de Siècle: Popular Fiction and British Culture, 1880-1914

Modernism, Romance, and the Fin de Siècle: Popular Fiction and British Culture, 1880-1914

Modernism, Romance, and the Fin de Siècle: Popular Fiction and British Culture, 1880-1914

Modernism, Romance, and the Fin de Siècle: Popular Fiction and British Culture, 1880-1914

Synopsis

Nicholas Daly explores the popular fiction of the "romance revival" of the late Victorian and Edwardian years, focusing on authors such as Bram Stoker, H. Rider Haggard and Arthur Conan Doyle. Drawing on recent work in cultural studies, Daly argues that these adventure narratives provided a narrative of cultural change at a time when Britain was trying to accommodate the "new imperialism." The presence of a genre such as romance within modernism, he claims, should force a questioning of the usual distinction between high and popular culture.

Excerpt

We begin with a play and a party. In December 1899 The Ghost, a play by Henry James, Robert Barr, George Gissing, H. Rider Haggard, Joseph Conrad, H. B. Marriott-Watson, H. G. Wells, Edwin Pugh, A. E. W. Mason and Stephen Crane, had its first and last performance in a village schoolhouse in Sussex. Besides the eponymous ghost, the dramatis personae seem uncannily familiar, including as they do a Dr Moreau, a Peter Quint and, with a nod to Gilbert and Sullivan, 'Three Little Maids from Rye'. To mark the arrival of the new century, Crane had invited a large party, including some of the authors of The Ghost, and other well-known men of letters, to spend Christmas and New Year's Eve with him and his wife at Brede Place, near Rye, a partly modernized medieval manor house. In his Experiment in Autobiography (1934), H. G. Wells tries to evoke the spirit of the occasion:

I remember very vividly a marvellous Christmas Party in which Jane and I participated. We were urged to come over and, in a postscript, to bring any bedding and blankets we could spare … We were given a room over the main gateway in which there was a portcullis and an owl's nest, but at least we got a room. Nobody else did — because although some thirty or forty invitations had been issued, there were not as a matter of fact more than three or four bedrooms available … Later on we realized that the sanitary equipment … dated from the seventeenth century … and such as there was indoors, was accessible only through the Girls Dormitory [sc. the nickname given to the large bedroom used by the women guests]. Consequently the wintry countryside next morning was dotted with wandering melancholy, preoccupied, men guests … I remember that party as an extraordinary lark — but shot, at the close, with red intimations of a coming tragedy … When we were not dancing or romping we were waxing the floor or rehearsing a play vamped up by A. E. W. Mason, Crane, myself and others.

One of the festive highlights was the performance of this 'vamped up' play, a Gothic burlesque based on the story of an ancient giant who haunted Brede Place in halves, having been sawn in two by the men of . . .

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