Modernism and Mass Politics: Joyce, Woolf, Eliot, Yeats

By Michael Tratner | Go to book overview

Epilogue

By the end of the 1930's, modernism and collectivism both became uncertain of themselves. Mass movements succeeded and yet did not bring utopia or even much in the way of revolution. The vast expansion of the voting population in England had the paradoxical result of causing the Conservative Party to win most of the election's from 1922 to 1940. Ireland gained its independence and developed a government that seemed distressingly bourgeois to those who had hoped for more complete change. At the same time, the examples of Stalin and Hitler suggested that collectivism could lead to something even worse than capitalism.

In the works of modernists (and other writers) in the late thirties, there was a sense of doubt that any revolution was ever going to occur. Joyce's and Woolf's last works are radical, perhaps desperate arguments against the rhetoric of cultural unity that brought Fascist's to power in Europe and Conservatives to power in England. In Woolf Between the Acts, the writer La Trobe tries to show the people in a small English village that they are "orts, scraps and fragments"; La Trobe and Woolf want to counter the "Merry England" rhetoric of village unity, of England as an ancient, unified race ready to go to war against other unified races such as the Germans. 1 This novel directly opposes Yeats's 1938 poem "Under Ben Bulben," which expresses an equally desperate desire for war to get rid of the distracting fragmentation of the modern mind:

Send war in our time, O Lord!
Know that when all words are said

-241-

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