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About this book

A wide-ranging collection of the key contextual documents which inform the Modernist period of Anglo-American literature. Documents are supported by substantial editorial material drawing connections to the major Modernist texts, and a full introduction outlining the key events, social and political movements, and cultural issues of the time.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
The field of modernist studies in literature has seen a succession of critical ‘revisions’, ‘re-mappings’, and ‘re-thinking’ across the past thirty years. Driven initially by pioneering feminist critics, critical response to literary texts from the first third of the twentieth century has gone through several phases of reassessment. During these phases, earlier critical opinion about the methods, politics, ambition, and even the key authors involved in modernism, has been comprehensively interrogated. More recently, compelling challenges have been made to the notion that there ever existed a single, monolithic, literary movement which might be called modernism. Critics including Peter Nicholls, Michael North, and Marjorie Perloff have instead seen modernisms as a more indicative term for the many competing modes and impulses which govern the diverse writings of both the more and the less well-known writers from this era of literature. In the course of this specific recent revision of the canon, early twentieth-century writing in English is deliberately set alongside, or seen in contrast to, broader movements of thought and literary experiment from Europe and beyond. Further work in the area has sought to link the literary ‘moment’ of modernism to similar ‘moments’ in the other arts, of sculpture, of painting, and of music.
Steven Matthews

1. Key Historical Events

Abstract
The military conflict which devastated Europe for four years from 1914 to 1918 began as a local war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia in July 1914, spread with a series of declarations of war by the major European imperial powers in early August, and soon sucked in 32 nations. The immediate cause of the war was the assassination of the heir-presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne by Gavrilo Princip, a Serb nationalist. But the near-immediate involvement of so much of Europe and the wider world in the conflict revealed the delicate and doomed balance which had been sustained for some time between competitive nationalisms, imperial ambitions, and economic competition between a range of states. All of these forces built a paranoia between nations resulting in a vast military and naval build-up from 1900, which eventually saw major countries drawn up into two opposing groups in Europe: the Triple Entente powers of Britain, Russia and France, and the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy. After wars in the Balkans in 1912–13, Serb determination to bring back areas of Austria-Hungary which had traditionally formed part of the Slav peoples grew. But with Russia determined to support Serbia in any conflict with the Austro-Hungarians, and with all the powers in each of the triple configurations of nations committed to mobilize their armies to support any of the others if threatened, any spark such as that caused by the assassination of Franz Ferdinand would inevitably and rapidly draw all the major powers into battle with one another.
Steven Matthews

2. Society, Politics and Class

Abstract
Politicians, economists, philosophers and social theorists who published their views on society and the inter-relationships between the social classes in the early part of the twentieth century, found it of necessity to engage with ideas which had been put forward in the nineteenth century. In Britain and America, this meant reassessing the work of, amongst others, John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Ruskin and William Morris. Mill had held in his On Liberty (1859) that the individual is sovereign, and that governments should only have power to prevent an individual exercising his will where it might lead to the harm of others. Spencer, a tremendously popular writer in the later nineteenth century in America and the UK, rejected the tenets of orthodox Christianity, and applied the evolutionary theories most cogently addressed by Charles Darwin both to individual psychology and to society as a whole. Both Mill and Spencer were crucial to liberal ideas on both sides of the Atlantic, including those formulated by William James and John Dewey (included here) in the US, and by L. T. Hobhouse and others, in Britain. Such ideas underpinned the range of social issues confronted by, and the reforms introduced by, the British Liberal Party, from its election in 1906 to the beginning of the First World War in 1914. These included protection of the poor through welfare relief, and through state benefits and pensions. Often against the Liberal Party’s own inclinations, this trend in social thought also meant engaging with the campaign for votes for women (Mill had been an early advocate of women’s rights), and with the issue of independence for Ireland. In the US, as in Britain, liberal thought also led to much debate about the necessity for state intervention in education.
Steven Matthews

3. Gender and Sexuality

Abstract
Issues of gender and sexuality had very much been a part of the literature of the fin-de-siècle. The 1890s had seen the emergence of the so-called ‘New Woman’ phenomenon, in which intelligent, liberated feminists were seen operating in strong roles in the public world. In contemporary novels, women were no longer the objects of the gaze in work by male authors, and female characters now explored the world through their own eyes. Elsewhere, the trial of Oscar Wilde in 1895 had focused attention upon homosexuality, and the perceived decadence of this alternative way of living was associated by conservative critics at the time with the sudden liberation of women. ‘Decadence’ was, of course, a key word at the time, and was often linked in the popular literate mind to ‘degeneration’, the term made current by Max Nordau’s notorious book of that title, which was first published in German in the year of the Wilde trial (see extract in Section 5).
Steven Matthews

4. Religion and Belief

Abstract
Despite the cheerful proclamation voiced by a madman in Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Gay Science (1882), a proclamation reiterated by others elsewhere in his work, that ‘God is dead’, the evidence for the particular breakdown of religious belief at the beginning of the twentieth century is clouded. Nietzsche’s target in this proclamation uttered through his personae was, of course, Christianity, but more particularly the whole moral and ethical system which Christianity entailed, in his view. Yet there is little truth to the claim, in terms of there having been an actual retreat from visibility amongst the various established churches of Britain and America in the first decades of the twentieth century. In the US, there seems to have been no fall in the numbers in church attendance across our period; in Britain in 1910 numbers attending Protestant denominational churches were actually 3 per cent higher than they had been in the 1860s, and membership of the Roman Catholic Church had doubled across the intervening time. The Christian church was a very visible part of everyday life, through its social clubs and work to alleviate poverty and deprivation in the big cities. During the First World War, inevitably, church attendance rose even further, and there was a huge growth in ‘alternative’ practices, such as spiritualism, as the bereaved sought to contact the lost soldiers.
Steven Matthews

5. Philosophy and Ideas

Abstract
It would be difficult to underestimate the significance of European philosophy for literary and intellectual circles at the beginning of the twentieth century. Many of the magazines and journals of the time carried articles discussing the importance of the ideas of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, or of the contemporary Frenchman Henri Bergson, alongside the latest episode from a novel we would now consider ‘modernist’, or the latest poems from H.D. or other Imagists. The English-speaking world was, it would be possible to say, transfixed by the challenge which continental philosophy, or historiography, often mounted to traditional and received ideas. These European thinkers were readily available by the 1910s in translation for those who had not already read their work in the original languages; they were often, as Nietzsche and Bergson were, available in popular form through cheap editions of their aphoristic sayings or most telling passages.
Steven Matthews

6. ‘High’ Culture

Abstract
Developments in the non-literary arts in the latter part of the nineteenth century were as important as those in the content of the novel and poetry which established the impetus towards the revolution in Anglo-American writing in the early 1910s. The interrogation of visual representation, which began in French painting from the early 1860s, introduced a challenging of traditional perspective, and also heralded an introduction of contemporary, and oddly-juxtapositioned, content. This painting very much looks forward to later representations (both painterly and literary) that deliberately jumble up standard perception, and reposition the centre of consciousness of the artwork. Think of Éduoard Manet’s huge rendition, in very flat colours, of the strangely elongated limbs of the naked prostitute in his Olympia of 1863, or the disorientatingly-foregrounded figure of the woman in the pool of his Déjeuner sur l’Herbe of the same year. In both cases, the viewer is challenged to reconsider her or his own sense of perspective and the nature of perception, as well as her or his understanding of the ‘proper’ content of ‘high’ art and of the ordering of social hierarchies. Such pictures are calculated in their affront. The challenge presented by Manet is then carried forward in visual art by the Impressionist painters, with their urgency to capture sights in the instant of time, however that instant might violate the formal framing of the picture; and thence, as we see below, to the further challenge of the post-impressionist artists, who take this logic one step further and abandon ‘natural’ use of colour, or use of perspective within the picture at all.
Steven Matthews

7. ‘Popular’ Culture

Abstract
In an influential study, After the Great Divide (1986), Andreas Huyssen argued that modernist art was radicalized and defined by its resistance to ‘mass culture’, the kinds of popular art being enjoyed by the vast majority of the population in this era. Much subsequent criticism, both that on individual authors, and that surveying the modernist literary period more broadly, have, however, placed their emphasis upon the fact that there is no such thing as a ‘great divide’ at this point. Writers, like many others, were after all eager to be present at, and were often influenced by, popular song, dance, movies, vaudeville and Music Hall. To take but one example — one of the most seemingly austere of the modernists, T. S. Eliot, attended tea dances in London with his first wife; he enjoyed the latest movies, but more particularly the vaudeville entertainments with which he was familiar in his youth, and their British equivalent, the Music Halls. He wrote an elegiac piece on one of the most famous of the music-hall performers, ‘Marie Lloyd’ (1923). He read detective fiction, and knew the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle well enough to be able to quote from them at length at parties. His own work shows the influence of vaudeville ‘turns’, especially the unfinished experimental drama Sweeney Agonistes (1927). But the first section of The Waste Land is punctuated by several popular songs of the time, adding to its uncertain and wildly unstable tonality.
Steven Matthews

8. Literary Production and Reception

Abstract
In the early years of the twentieth century, publishing underwent a technical revolution. The arrival of rotary presses and Linotype machines, together, crucially, with the cheap and ready availability of paper, meant that the cost and the speed of newspaper, journal and book production changed rapidly. This led to the publication of mass-circulation newspapers such as Lord Northcliffe’s Daily Mail and mass-market magazines such as Strand and Tit-bits (read on the lavatory by Joyce’s protagonist Leopold Bloom in Ulysses) in Britain; and the Ladies Home Journal, Cosmopolitan and Vanity Fair in the US. In terms of books, there was a drastic fall in the price of the novel, which led to a broader book-buying readership, able to ‘keep up’ with the latest bestsellers, and a sudden flood of inexpensive editions of classic literary works from publishing houses such as J. M. Dent (the ‘Everyman’ and ‘Temple Classics’ series), and Grant Richards (the ‘World’s Classics’). The broad allusiveness of modernist writing, its perpetual reference to texts from earlier literary moments, owes a debt in part to the sudden availability, at prices all could afford, of editions, including translations, of classical poetry, drama and fiction, with handy contextualizing introductions by experts in their respective fields, including Ernest Rhys, Arthur Symons, A. C. Swinburne, and others.
Steven Matthews

9. Empire, Race and Postcolonialism

Abstract
The last twenty-five years of the nineteenth century, and the years before the First World War of the twentieth, saw a rapid expansion by the major European powers and by the USA of colonial territorial holdings across the globe. Britain increased its already wide influence by over a further 4 million square miles, mainly in Africa and into Burma; France by over 3.5 million square miles; Germany by over 1 million, and so on. America acquired over 100,000 square miles, largely in Asia. The impulse towards this rampant and often bloody colonization was largely commercial, but also complicatedly political: the need to open new markets for trade, and also the need to obtain more raw materials on the one hand; the need to prevent other nations acquiring potentially valuable goods and resources on the other. Out of this imperial impulse, as several contemporary commentators cited in various parts of this book realized, arose the tangled web of alliances and forces which led to the catastrophic and accelerated breakdown of international relations which brought about the First World War in 1914.
Steven Matthews

10. Science and Technology

Abstract
The years 1880–1920 saw major breakthroughs in several areas of scientific inquiry, which had an immediate effect, once fully realized, on various aspects of humans’ perception and their sense of their relation to the world. Just as in other areas of inquiry included in this book, such as philosophy, or concepts of society, these breakthroughs in themselves did much to question long-held presumptions about the laws and systems which govern life.
Steven Matthews
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