The Edinburgh Companion to Twentieth-Century Literatures in English

The Edinburgh Companion to Twentieth-Century Literatures in English

The Edinburgh Companion to Twentieth-Century Literatures in English

The Edinburgh Companion to Twentieth-Century Literatures in English


An imaginatively constructed new literary history of the twentieth century.This companion with a difference sets a controversial new agenda for literary -historical analysis. Far from the usual forced march through the decades, genres and national literatures, this reference work for the new century cuts across familiar categories, focusing instead on literary 'hot spots': Freud's Vienna and Conrad's Congo in 1899, Chicago and London in 1912, the Somme in July 1916, Dublin, London and Harlem in 1922, and so on, down to Bradford and Berlin in 1989 (the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the new digital media), Stockholm in 1993 (Toni Morrison's Nobel Prize) and September 11, 2001. The Companion • reanimates twentieth-century literary history
• gives unique insight into the literary imagination via the focus on pivotal times and places
• provides an unprecedented view of literatures in English in global contexts from Berlin to Bradford, Florence to Flanders, Lagos to Liverpool, Madrid to Melbourne, and San Francisco to Stockholm
• offers illuminating analyses of authors and texts from across the century
• brings together expert contributors from around the world.


Brian McHale and Randall Stevenson

Stories of the Street

One dream in particular … he would find himself alone in a long street in the middle of the
night … This street stretched as far as one could see. It had on either side lamp-posts which
burned with a steady staring illumination, long rows of lamp-posts that converged in the far
thest distance.

(Mackenzie 1983: 45)

Repeatedly endured by Compton Mackenzie’s hero in Sinister Street (1913–14), this dream seems to recur for the central characters in Thomas Pynchon’s V. (1963), disturbed by the prospect of an

abstracted Street … [of] mercury-vapor lamps, receding in an asymmetric V to the east where
it’s dark … the street of the 20th Century, at whose far end or turning – we hope – is some
sense of home or safety. (Pynchon 1973: 2, 303)

Visions of a dark, ‘abstracted street’, dotted with pools of clear illumination, turn up significantly often in the half-century separating Sinister Street and V. They figure in the regularly spaced, talkative streetlamps described in T. S. Eliot’s ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’ (1917), for example, and perhaps in the ‘series of gig-lamps symmetrically arranged’ Virginia Woolf mentions a few years later in her essay on ‘Modern Fiction’ (1919/1925; Woolf 1986–94: 4: 160). Graham Greene’s It’s a Battlefield (1934) likewise envisages a ‘battlefield’ indefinite in dimensions and area, and ‘made up of nothing except small numberless circlets commensurate with such ranges of vision as the mist might allow at each spot’ (Greene 1980: 5). Further down the century, William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) continues to describe ‘clusters and constellations of data’ in cyberspace as ‘Like city lights, receding’ (Gibson 1984: 67).

Looking back now, from the ‘far end, or turning’ Pynchon anticipated, the recurrence of such dreams and images seems one of many symptoms of fragmentation, of fracturing of vision or illumination, so central to the century just completed, and so distinctive in its art. For Mackenzie, doodling the names of First World War battlefields in the margins of his manuscript while finishing Sinister Street, or for Pynchon, following the century’s experience as far as the Second World War and Suez in V. – or for a great many other writers – such . . .

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