Modernist Literature: An Introduction

By Mary Ann Gillies; Aurelea Mahood | Go to book overview

Introduction

After Victoria

As Lucy Tantamount dryly observes to Walter Bidlake in Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point (1928), ‘Living modernly’s living quickly.’1 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.’2 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.3

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.’4 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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Modernist Literature: An Introduction
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vi
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - The Short Story and the New Woman 22
  • Chapter 2 - Poetry—technology and War 61
  • Chapter 3 - The Novel and Modern Fashions 97
  • Chapter 4 - Documenting the Politics of Engagement 131
  • A Literary Coda - In the Midst of War 161
  • Bibliography - Primary Sources 198
  • Index 208
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