Redefining the Modern: Essays on Literature and Society in Honor of Joseph Wiesenfarth

Redefining the Modern: Essays on Literature and Society in Honor of Joseph Wiesenfarth

Redefining the Modern: Essays on Literature and Society in Honor of Joseph Wiesenfarth

Redefining the Modern: Essays on Literature and Society in Honor of Joseph Wiesenfarth

Synopsis

Redefining the Modern spans nearly a century and a half in a series of essays that capture the crucial shifts and transformations marking the change from the Victorian to the Modern period. At the center of the collection is the understanding that literature responds to, as well as initiates, social, intellectual, and sometimes political change. It also recognizes that historical categories, like genres, need to be realigned. The diverse material ranges from Jane Austen's laughter to female detectives and black fiction. It coheres, however, through its focus on the interaction of language and society and the way language and culture maintain a persistent and dynamic exchange. Rather than deny links between one period and another, this collection argues for continuity and development, emphasizing revision and renewal rather than rejection and refusal. No longer do critics accept fierce divides or unbridgeable paths between the work of the Victorians and moderns. Recent approaches to the period, reflecting gender, cultural studies, and new historicism, provide fresh means of assessment. Central to this reconception is the recognition that if the Victorians invented us, we, in turn, have invented the Victorians. How we have done so is precisely the focus of this collection.

Excerpt

This miscellany of essays, ranging in time from Jane Austen to Margaret Drabble and Richard Wright, is a tribute of friends, colleagues, and students of Joseph Wiesenfarth. His interests as a teacher and scholar are characterized by his focus on significant links between nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature and society and especially those forty years or so often referred to as the period of transition from Victorian to Modern (1880–1920). Several essays in this anthology illuminate this period, especially Joseph Kestner’s ‘’The New Woman and the Female Detective,’’ which focuses our attention on two little-known novels by the author of The Woman Who Did, Grant Allen. These novels highlight feminist and other ideas of recent concern: Miss Cayley’s Adven tures and Hilda Wade—the latter completed by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Reflecting the greatly revived interested today in Oscar Wilde, James Nelson’s ‘’The Honey of Romance: Oscar Wilde as Poet and Novelist,’’ reads both the poetry and The Picture of Dorian Gray from the perspective of the turn-of the-century controversy between romanticism and naturalism, offering an interpretation of the novel and, in particular, its memorable dénouement, which will strike the reader as completely wrongheaded or absolutely right. Linking both Victorian and Modern Literature, James R. Kincaid’s sardonic, witty, and amusing ‘’God Disappeared: Sing Tra, La, La, Tra, La La,’’ is a shrewd commentary on the Victorians’ sense of ‘’God’’ (as well as the moderns). Kincaid is adroit and disarming at his task of placing his subjects in critical perspective, frequently introducing homely allusions and juxtaposing startling combinations (such as Aristotle with Clarence Thomas). Kincaid’s approach is well illustrated in his ‘’Valuable Summary’’ and his sole footnote explaining why his essay lacks footnotes!

Like Kincaid, Thomas H. Schaub, Max Saunders, and Ira B. Nadel further illuminate their readers about the close relationship between Victorian and modern literature. Schaub’s essay on Richard Wright’s Native Son, replete with diagrammatic representations . . .

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