Modern Literature

· @tasali · ELIT401, Week 2-1

How did Modernism come to be? How did the Woolfs affect the process?

Modernism is a reactionary movement where the meaning and what came with it were no longer in-place. The Woolf Family made it so that the modernism was far away from what it was when it had first surfaced.

The beginning of the twentieth century witnessed an international revolution in the arts, as a wide range of culture groups, aesthetic movements and individual writers and artists sought to extend and transform their relationship with and representation of reality. The word modernism represents the retrospective fusion of these very diverse aesthetic experiments into the comprehensive style or social and psychological temper of a modern age, typically dated between 1910 and 1930. In their now classic guide, Bradbury and McFarlane describe modernism as an art of a rapidly modernizing world, a world of rapid industrial development, advanced technology, urbanization, secularization and mass forms of social life, but also the art of a world from which many traditional certainties had departed, and a certain sort of Victorian confidence not only in the onward progress of mankind but in the very solidity and visibility of reality itself has evaporated (Bradbury and McFarlane, 1976: 57). This double condition results in a central contradiction: depending on context and perspective, modernism can be seen as a vigorous creative impulse to make it new, through a determined break with the stultifying artistic conventions of the immediate past and an embrace of the modern, or as a literature of crisis and dislocation, desperately insisting on the power of art to give shape to a world that has lost all order and stability. Because modernism connotes a cultural sensibility rather than a particular period in time, however, it is not simply interchangeable with strictly historical references such as the early twentieth century or the 1920s, even though it overlaps with them. The label high modernism refers specifically to the canonical account of Anglo-American literary experimentation between the world wars, characterized by a turn away from direct modes of representation towards greater abstraction and aesthetic impersonality and and self-reflexivity. Such aesthetic formalism is typically identified with the canonical figures of Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, as well as Joyce and Woolf. As a result of the insights of post-structuralist, feminist and post-colonial critics, however, the concept of modernism is now widely recognized to be open to much broader interpretation and redefinition than this reading previously acknowledged. See Bradbury and McFarlane, 1976; Faulkner, 1977; Levenson, 1984 and 1999; Eysteinsson, 1990; Kime Scott, 1990 and 1995; Nicholls, 1995; Goldman, 2004.

Virginia Woolf

The Bloomsbury Group

The Bloomsbury Group was an group of writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists who held informal discussions in Bloomsbury. This collective of friends and relatives lived, worked or studied near Bloomsbury in London during the first half of the twentieth century. Their work deeply influenced literature, aesthetics, criticism, and economics as well as modern attitudes towards feminism, pacifism, and sexuality. Its best known members were Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey.

“On or about December 1910, human nature change. All human relations shifted, and when human relations change there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics, and literature.”

— Virginia Woolf in Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown in 1924.

“What is the meaning of life? That was all; a simple question — one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark.”

— Virginia Woolf in To the Lighthouse in 1927.

Leslie Stephen was a historian and literary critic. His first wife, Harriet Marian, was the daughter of the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray. His second wife, Julia Prinsep Jackson, was the niece of the pioneering photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. With Julia, Leslie Stephen had four children: Vanessa, Thoby, Adrian and Virginia. Julia Jackson died young, and when Leslie Stephen died in 1904 the siblings moved to 46 Gordon Square, in Bloomsbury, where they began to receive guests at home.

Between 1850 and 1864, Leslie Stephen was a student, tutor, and a fellow at Cambridge. “I was a liberal after the fashion of those days: a follower of J. S. Mill… I read Comte, too, and became convinced among other things Noah’s flood was a fiction… Upon my stating in the summer of 1862 that I could no longer take part in the chapel services, I resigned my tutorship.”

Lytton Strachey and Virginia Woolf began their careers by writing reviews and literary essays for The Time Literary Supplement and The Spectator. A protracted discussion of literature and points of style fills their correspondence. Strachehad proposed marriage y was all of a heap because he to Virginia Woolf before writing the letter shown on the left.

He eventually withdrew the offer, and suggested to his friend Leonard Woolf that he pursue Virginia. Virginia and Leonard Woolf wrote a 6 June 1912 letter to Lytton announcing their engagement. Their engagement photograph was taken at Dalingridge Place, the Sussex home of Virginia’ half-brother, George Duckworth. The wedding took place on 10 August 1912, and Virginia sent Lytton a postcard from Alfoxton House, Holford, on their honeymoon.

The Hogarth Press

Printing was a hobby for the Woolfs, and it provided a diversion for Virginia when writing became too stressful. The couple bought a hand-press in 1917 for £19 (equivalent to about about £900 in 2012) and taught themselves how to use it.

The press was set up in the dining room of Hogarth House, where the Woolfs lived, lending its name to the publishing company they founded.

In July they published their first text, a book with one story written by Leonard and the other written by Virginia. Between 1917 and 1946 the Press published 527 titles.

“The history of men’s opposition to women’s emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that emancipation itself.”

“Thus, towards the end of the eighteenth century a change came about which, if I were rewriting history, I should describe more fully and think of greater importance than the Crusades or the Wars of the Roses. The middle-class woman began to write.”

“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

“Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size.”

“All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.”

“On all sides writers are attempting what they cannot achieve,” Woolf wrote in an essay titled Poetry, Fiction and the Future (reprinted as The Narrow Bridge of Art), forcing the form they use to contain a meaning which is strange to it (E III: 429). That meaning was a picture of existence newly shaped by the revelations of Darwin, Freud, and Einstein among others, and that in its disturbing implications prompted monstrous, hybrid, unmanageable emotions:

That the age the earth 3,000,000,000 years; that human life lasts but a second; that the capacity of the human mind is nevertheless boundless; that life is infinitely beautiful yet repulsive; that one’s fellow creatures are adorable but disgusting; that science and religion have between them destroyed belief; that all bonds of union are broken, yet some control must exist — it is in this atmosphere of doubt that and conflict that writers have now to create… (430)

Such bewildering ideas both stimulated and posed new problems for imaginative representation. Modern life could not be fully expressed in the form of lyric poetry, Woolf argues, which was unsuited to the rendering of everyday realities, nor that of the current novel, all too happy when portraying details and facts but awkward and self-conscious when attempting to convey a sense of the profundity of life and being. The novel of the future, she advocates, would need to combine the two, possessing something of the exaltation of poetry, but much of the ordinariness of prose (435):

It will make little use of the marvelous fact-recording power, which is one of the attributes of fiction. It will tell us very little about the houses, incomes, occupations of its characters; it will have little kinship with the sociological novel or novel of environment. With these limitations it will express the feelings and ideas of the characters closely and vividly, but from a different angle…. It will give the relations of man to Nature, to fate; his imagination; his dreams. But it will also give the sneer, the contrast, the question, the closeness and complexity of life. It will take the mold of that queer conglomeration of incongruous things — the modern mind. (435, 436)

The Duchess and the Jeweller: Freudian Analysis

Oliver Bacon was once poor street boy selling stolen dogs to wealthy women and cheap watches to higher prices.

His later success as a jeweler brings everything he would have wanted, but he remains unhappy. The reason seems to be his fixation on a particular life event that, according to Freud, should take place but should end. He calls it Oedipus Complex in which a boy will fall in love with his mother but will fail to acquire her thanks to help of a father figure.

His only way to deal with his complex seems to be The Duchess of Lambourne reminding him of his mother after they are married.

He also has inferiority complex where he is unable to believe that he is equally respectable as other aristocrats. He doesn’t welcome the duchess on his door even though he is doing nothing and literally counting the time as, to him, the more she waits the higher class he appears. Marrying the Duchess may help him overcome this.