Modernism and the Ideology of History: Literature, Politics, and the Past

Modernism and the Ideology of History: Literature, Politics, and the Past

Modernism and the Ideology of History: Literature, Politics, and the Past

Modernism and the Ideology of History: Literature, Politics, and the Past


Louise Williams explores the cyclical nature of historical memory in the work of five major Modernists: Yeats, Pound, Eliot, Ford and Lawrence. These Modernists, Williams argues, started their careers with historical assumptions derived from the nineteenth century. But their views on the universal structure of history, the abandonment of progress and the adoption of a cyclical sense of the past, were the result of the important conflicts and changes within the Modernist period. This wide ranging and inter-disciplinary study will be essential reading for anyone interested in modernist writing.


Edwardian Britain, despite a century's distance with which to judge it, remains an enigmatic period for the historian. As early as 1935 George Dangerfield challenged the simplistic myth of “the Edwardian garden party, ” the “golden afternoon” before the deluge remembered through the tarnished lenses of those who had experienced the First World War. Dangerfield found the story of Britain between 1910 and 1914 to be “a far more curious drama” than that of a country “dancing its way into war, to a sound of lawn-mowers and ragtime, to the hum of bees and the popping of champagne corks. ” Rather, the period as he described it was one of confrontation and conflict, tension and transition.

For Dangerfield above all the drama revolved around the fact that “true pre-war Liberalism” “was killed, or killed itself, in 1913. ” A similar murder was committed in the intellectual history of the period. Among one group of thinkers in particular a “strange death” occurred in their concept of history. On or about the year 1913 the idea of progress died.

Fortunately, death is not the only story in Edwardian Britain. And it is possible to view the age not simply as the sunset of the preceding century, but also as the dawn of much that we consider modern. As Dangerfield himself acknowledged, the “extra vagant behavior of the post-warde cade, which most of us thought to be the effect of war had really begun before the War. The War hastened everything – in politics, in economics, in behavior – but it started nothing. ” The emergence of the Labour Party, the foundation of the Welfare State, even the origins of fascism have been the emphasis of historical studies of the pre-war period as much as has been the demise of the Victorian era.

Birth was evident in the literary history of the age as well. Modernism, the characteristic literary movement of the first half of the twentieth century, had its origin in the years immediately preceding the First World War. Those features of literature that are associated with the “high” Modernism of British writers in the 1920s and 1930s, such . . .

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