Maren Tova Linett (Ed.), the Cambridge Companion to Modernist Women Writers

By Kosturkov, Yordan | European English Messenger, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

Maren Tova Linett (Ed.), the Cambridge Companion to Modernist Women Writers


Kosturkov, Yordan, European English Messenger


Maren Tova Linett (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Modernist Women Writers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. 252 pp. ISBN: 9780521515054

Scholars of Modernist Studies recognise an increasing, marked interest in the subject area of Modernism. The trend is to pluralise Modernism, to revise its rubrics, to identify new features in an effort to understand this very unusual turn of the literature. In this effort, the temporal boundaries of Modernism have been moved and removed. As Modernism, in particular what is usually and controversially termed High Modernism, is associated with canon making, revision, rediscovery, reconceptualisation--therefore the Companion to Modernist Women Writers serves a much needed purpose.

Maren Tova Linett, a leading scholar of British and Irish Fiction Studies, has included the articles of twelve authors, presenting aspects of Modernist work by women writers. The editor had neither the ambition nor the desire to compile an all-inclusive volume. The concept was to include studies that are multiform, equally addressing American and British Modernist writers. It was my expectation, however, to find attempts in the Companion to actually revise, reshape, rediscover, or even bring to new life or into new light more authors like Evelyn Scott (absent even from the comprehensive lists in the Chronology Chart).

In the authoritative Preface to the Companion, Linett outlines its projected structure and content. She broadens the definition of Modernism, recognising its diversity, including studies on poetry and prose, on modernist writers of different race, ethnicity, religious beliefs etc. Some of the articles focus on particular subjects (for example "Magazines, Presses, and Salons in Women's Modernism" by Jayne Marek) and provide opportunities for a more detailed and elaborate vision of Modernism.

Bonnie Kime Scott's opening article "Transforming the Novel" traces the origin and progress of Modernism from the 1890s to the beginning of the Second World War. Scott maintains that "modernist women actively transformed the novel to reflect their unique perceptions of everyday life" (17). During the 1900-1909 period, the novel reflects the changes taking place in society (May Sinclair, Dorothy Richardson, Gertrude Stein); the next stage marks the transformation of feminist Modernism (drawing very interesting parallels with the work of Katherine Mansfield, and illustrating the change in the novels of Djuna Barnes, Rebecca West, Jean Rhys) and, finally, the 1930s--with new processes taking place--Elizabeth Bowen reflecting on the Irish Civil War, Zora Neale Hurston and Nella Larson, turning "modernist techniques towards question of race" (30).

In "Modernist Women Poets and the Problem of Form", Miranda Hickman considers the work of four poets--Mina Loy, H. D., Marianne Moore and Canadian P. K. Page- -and their employment of formal experiments, most usually foregrounded by "prominent male moderns" (34). Mina Loy's Futurism, H. D.'s Imagism, Marianne Moore's "generative relationship" (39) with the poetics and method of T. S. Eliot, Page's links with both Imagism and T. S. Eliot are originators of new concepts and experimental forms.

In "Women's Modernism and Performance" Penny Farfan outlines the "underrepresented accounts of the development of [women's] Modernism" (58) in playwriting, theatre production and performance. She uses as framework Djuna Barnes's famous performance of 1914, when the novelist, in her capacity as New York journalist subjected herself voluntarily to forcible feeding and described this act (performance) in her essay "How It Feels to Be Forcibly Fed". Dismissed at the time as stunt or performative journalism, Farfan proposes to consider it now from the point of view of theatrical discourse, a form of modern drama. Most of the dramatic performances which would belong to this experimentally justified form typically address political and social issues: the dramas of Ruth Snyder, Susan Glaspell, Elizabeth Robbins or Edna St. …

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