Modernist Literature: An Introduction

Modernist Literature: An Introduction

Modernist Literature: An Introduction

Modernist Literature: An Introduction


This engaging textbook provides a critical assessment of British modernist literature produced between 1900 and 1945. Each chapter focuses on a single decade, a distinct genre and a specific theme: the 1900s - the short story - gender and sexuality; the 1910s - poetry - war, technology and propaganda; the 1920s - the novel - new modes of literary expression; the 1930s - the documentary - political engagement. A final chapter covers the 1940s and beyond looking at new literary and artistic movements and 'other' modernisms. Covering canonical texts and lesser-known works, Modernist Literature introduces students to current debates in Modernism and a range of literature in its historical and aesthetic contexts. Features:
• Examines four distinct genres - the short story, poetry, novel and documentary - decade-by-decade.
• Combines close readings with cultural and political analyses of British modernism.
• Includes a Chronology and Further Readings with each chapter.


As Lucy Tantamount dryly observes to Walter Bidlake in Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point (1928), ‘Living modernly’s living quickly.’ The scene is not simply an example of disaffected banter between a pair of lovers; it is a skirmish between opposing viewpoints. In Lucy’s estimation, Walter is anything but up-to-date. She is of the opinion that Walter thinks in ‘an absurdly unmodern way about everything.’ He does not understand that

[y]ou can’t cart a wagon-load of ideals and romanticisms with
you these days. When you travel by aeroplane, you must leave
your heavy baggage behind. The good old-fashioned soul was
all right when we lived slowly. But it’s too ponderous nowa
days. There’s no room for it in the aeroplane.

With its attention to speed and rejection of the past, Lucy’s jeering declaration is striking for at least two reasons. First, it suggests the highly self-conscious perception of time and space characteristic of twentieth-century literature and culture. Second, it captures the sense that speed—in particular, the speed with which change takes place—is a fundamental characteristic of modern life. Or as Lucy puts it while also extending the aeroplane metaphor, ‘If you like speed, if you want to cover the ground, you can’t have luggage. The thing is to know what you want and to be ready to pay for it. I know exactly what I want; so I sacrifice the luggage.’ She is prepared to sacrifice the weight of past conventions in order to explore new ground. These glib remarks made by one of Huxley’s characters on the subjects of technology, fashion, and change are but one example of the early twentieth century’s preoccupation and fascination with the aesthetics of change and the art of modern living.

That said, however, any attempt to determine what distinguishes the literature of the early twentieth century from other eras cannot of course limit itself to a review of dialogue in a select sample of the period’s novels. In its examination of the first four decades of the twentieth century, this textbook combines Lucy’s commitment to ‘living modernly’ and ‘living quickly.’ It assesses the delicate interplay between the aesthetic and material conditions of literary production over a forty-year span as further transfigured by evolving literary and cultural values. Each chapter looks at a different genre and maps the expression of the modern in the given genre while simultaneously attending to matters of relevance to both form and content.

As the twentieth century progressed, the drive to embrace the modern note signalled in Pound’s succinct call to ‘make it new’ embedded . . .

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