Tag Archives: Modernism

World War I and the rise of Modernism

After World War I, many novels used characters that related their wartime experiences in a post-war time frame.
This reflects the change of the thoughts and feelings from pre-war sentiments towards modernity. In Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and As I Lay Dying (1930), we have two characters, Septimus and Darl, that have both returned from the war and have gone towards madness in silence. This is also reflected in In Our Time (1925) through the terse style of Hemingway, which is indicative of the reporting of the events of war. This shows that many of the generation that went through this war period became hardened and lost individuals due to it.

Whose Body? (1923) and Mrs. Dalloway both embody the post-war rise of highly concentrated and urban centers that is found in London. This is done in Mrs. Dalloway through the shared experiences found in the fast-paced change in focalization in this work and the shift from scientific deductive methods in traditional detective novels towards an intuitive detective method in Whose Body?.

The Common Reader.. Woolf

“The writer seems constrained, not by his own free will, but by some powerful and unscrupulous tyrant who has him in thrall, to provide a plot, to provide comedy, tragedy, love interest, and air of probability embalming the whole so impeccable that if all his figures are to come to life they would find themselves dressed down to the last button of their coats in the fashion of the hour. The tyrant is obeyed; the novel is done to a turn. But sometimes, more and more often as time goes by, we suspect a momentary doubt, a spasm of rebellion, as the pages fill themselves in the customary way” (149).

Woolf, Virginia. The Common Reader. New York. Hartcourt Inc. 1925. Print.

This applies to many writers who are constrained by their own free will. I feel like the tyrant(s) is censorship along with publishing companies since it limits them to write what they truly desire. They want to see the writers provide plots, comedy, tragedy, love interest etc. into their writing since people who work for the publishing companies assume that is what everyone wants to read. Writers tend to obey the tyrant by pleasing them with these impeccable novels, short stories and poems. Soon after this period of modernism began and we see authors begin to rebel against the typical love interest/tragic/comedy stories and decides to make something filled with tragedy instead of comedy. Authors want to break free from tradition and start writing at their own free will.

James’ Impressionism

“The only effectual way to lay it to rest is to emphasize the analogy to which I just alluded–to insist on the fact that as the picture is reality, so the novel is history. That is the only general description (which does is justice) that we may give the novel. But history is allowed to represent life; it is not, any more than painting, expected to apologize.”

James, Henry. “The Art of Fiction” in Partial Portraits. London; New York: MacMillan & Co. pg. 379

James’ analogy between pictorial art and fiction is a fascinating theme that has added so much to modern fiction. The mere process of using one’s art to comment on his own medium seems to be a common feature of modernism. James’ thoughts on writing the novel take me back to Picasso and Warhol, painters who, through their own work, asked, “What constitutes as art?” changing the purpose of painting thereafter. Since then, art has become much more self-indulgent, and the beauty of art is in the variety of impressions that different painters are able to display through their respective lenses of creativity. In the past, when painting had many more utilitarian purposes, art was meant to appease those who paid for it. For example, painters like Rembrandt who portrayed nobility still altered the reality of the portraits, but they did so in order to portray what the noblemen wished to look like. Likewise, when historians have portrayed reality in the past, they have also done so in order to appease those in power. James wishes to highlight that the novel, like modern painting, has the feature of freedom, and that is beautiful. The freedom to create a work that is solely from one’s imagination, one’s impression of reality, is the Art of Fiction.