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3: The Twentieth Century and Beyond

  • Page ID
    • 3.1: Modernism and Postmodernism as Literary Movements
      Modernism as a literary movement was influenced by thinkers who questioned the certainties that had provided support for traditional modes of social organization, religion, morality, and human identity, or the self. Modernism rebelled against traditional literary forms and subjects. Modernists subverted basic conventions of prose fiction by breaking up narrative continuity, violating traditional syntax, and disrupting the coherence of narration—through the use of stream-of-consciousness.
    • 3.2: Historical Context
      The Victorian idea of human perfectibility, the sense that we are in the best of all worlds in the best of all ways, briefly persisted after the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. The accession of Edward VII ushered in the Edwardian Age, deemed a golden age that would see the fruition of scientific and technological advancements. The Edwardian Age, followed briefly by the Georgian Age, however, proved transitional as the hopes of a new world soon gave way to the grim realities of World War I.
    • 3.3: T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)
      Thomas Stearns Eliot was born into a large, upper-middle-class family in St. Louis, Missouri. His poetry expressed a parallel search for stability and personal, spiritual, and cultural meaning and coherence. As a modernist, his experiments in form, sound, and imagery used fragmentation and multi-vocalism along with the mythic method that gave shape to apparent chaos and spiritual meaning to apparent vacuity.
    • 3.4: Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)
      From her childhood on, Woolf mingled with the many famous authors who were her father’s acquaintances, including Thomas Hardy and Henry James. After her father’s death, Woolf lived in Bloomsbury where she joined a highly intellectual group of writers and artists that came to be known as the Bloomsbury Group. The resistance to patriarchy also informed her rejection of such expected roles for women as the subservient wife and mother. This belief became the foundation of many of her literary works.
    • 3.5: Anita Desai (1937 - )
      Born in British India, Anita Desai’s parents were Dhiren Mazumdar, an Indian businessman, and Antoinette Nim, a German. After she graduated, Desai worked at the German Cultural Institute. She continued her writing, publishing her first novel, Cry, the Peacock, in 1963. Desai gained recognition as a writer of profound psychological insight on the displaced and the alienated. She has taught at various prestigious universities around the world, and is professor emeritus at MIT.
    • 3.6: Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)
      Joseph Conrad was born in Russian-controlled Ukraine. Starting in 1874, Conrad became a seaman for ten years. In 1890, Conrad asked his aunt to get him a command of a steamship up the Congo. His experiences in the Belgian Congo culminates into Heart of Darkness (1902). The novel evokes uncertainty, of polarities and opposites, of values and principles, and of characters. The novel’s narrative technique builds on this twentieth century sense of uncertainty, meaninglessness, and alienation.
    • 3.7: James Joyce (1882-1941)
      James Joyce was born in Dublin into a middle-class, Catholic family. Although he lived on the Continent, Joyce’s writing consistently drew from his life in Dublin. His own intellectual and artistic growth shaped and gave focus to his work, as did conflicts arising from Joyce’s views on Roman Catholicism and Irish self-governance. In Ulysses, the use of symbolism ultimately casts doubt on a concrete, logical sense of history, casts doubt on linear time so that reality becomes protean.

    Thumbnail: James Joyce in Zürich, in 1915. (Public Domain; Alex Ehrenzweig via Wikipedia)

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