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(18) The Birth of Modernism at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century.

(V. Woolf, K. Mansfield, E. M. Forster, F. M. Ford, and E. Bowen).


T h e  T w e n t i e t h  C e n t u r y

[see "Background for Topics 12-27..."]


‘ B l o o m s b u r y  G r o u p ’

- named for the unfashionable London district of Bloomsbury

= an informal group of the Woolfs’ lit. and artistic friends gathering in their house

- incl. Lytton Strachey (1880 – 1932, a biographer), John Maynard Keynes (1883 – 1946, an economist), Roger Fry (1866 – 1934, an art critic), Duncan Grant (1885 – 1978, a painter), E. M. Forster, Vanessa Bell (1879 – 1961, V. Woolf’s sister and a painter), and Clive Bell (1881 – 1964, Vanessa’s husband and an art critic)

- shared ‘a taste for discussion in pursuit of truth and a contempt for conventional ways of thinking and feeling, contempt for conventional morals’

- the prime ‘Bloomsbury’ texts:

> L. Strachey’s Eminent Victorians (1918): a coll. of succinct biographies of Cardinal Manning (1808 – 92, an E Cath. Cardinal), Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910, a pioneering nurse), T. Arnold, and General Charles Gordon (1833 – 85, a Br. army officer)

> R. Fry’s Vision and Design (1920)

- their intelligence in conversation equalled their frankness, notably on sexual topics (the sexual life of Bloomsbury provided ample material for discussion)


V i r g i n i a  W o o l f

[see W. under ‘17 Modernism’]


K a t h e r i n e  M a n s f i e l d  ( 1 8 8 8 – 1 9 2 3 )

L i f e :

- b. Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp in New Zealand

- received higher education in London, went back to NZ x but: 2 y. later left again for London and never returned

- involved in a number of love affairs, married suddenly, and left the man the same evening

- got pregnant by another man, went to Ger. to await the birth x but: miscarried [see her In a German Pension]

- involved with both John Middleton Murry (1889 – 1957, a critic) and the magazine Rhythm he ed., divorced, and married him

- temporary befriended with D. H. Lawrence and his wife x but: came to be hated by him

- died of tuberculosis

W o r k :

= successful

- stimulated V. Woolf’s jealousy rather than critical generosity x but: both developed the post-impressionist principle of suggestiveness and rhythm from a distinctively feminine POV

= proceeded through a variety of lit. styles x but: at her best in the last y. of her life

- worked determinedly on a small scale, wrote carefully pointed and delicately elusive short stories

- combined incident, image, symbol, and structure

<=> comparable with x yet: interestingly different from J. Joyce’s method in his Dubliners

- suggested a pervasive atmosphere through establ. a series of evanescent sensations: creaks, yawns, cries, bird-calls, etc.

Early period:

- experimented with different pen names before eventually adopted that of Katherine Mansfield

- wrote poems, sketches, and short stories

- criticised the narrowness of middle-class life in NZ (at that time a country in the shadow of the Br. Empire)

Middle period:

- experimented with technique

- refined her art to perfect the short story of insights into certain kinds of experience achieved through precision of style and imagery, and a symbolic patterning of incidents

In a German Pension (1911):

= her 1st publ. book

< her own experience of Ger.

- incl. carefully observed sketches full of ironic detail expressing her dislike of Teutonic manners and mannerisms

Late period:

< the death of her much-loved younger brother in WW I sent her imagination back to their childhood day in NZ

- recalled the landscapes and flora of NZ and reworked her NZ experiences: “The Aloe”

- aimed to explore the mysterious ‘diversity of life…Death included.’

Bliss, and Other Stories (1920)

The Garden Party and Other Stories (1922):

> the succinct narratives ensured her the place of a master of the modern short story

“The Garden Party”:

< her own experience of NZ: a fatal street accident of a neighbour from a poor quarter nearby almost spoilt the festive atmosphere of her mother’s party in their house

x but: endows the girl protagonist’s with a sensibility subtler and finer than anything she appears to have felt herself at the time

“The Daughters of the Late Colonel”:

= a restrained comedy on the surface x but: a potential tragedy with its sense of wasted lives

- uses the technique of suggestion x rather than explicit development

- achieves the meaning through the atmosphere, the accumulation of small strokes, each of them seemingly but a piece of realistic detail

- manipulates time by the effective use of unobtrusive flashbacks

“Miss Brill”, “Prelude”, “At the Bay”, “The Doll’s House”, “Something Childish but Very Natural”


E ( d w a r d )  M ( o r g a n )  F o r s t e r  ( 1 8 7 9 – 1 9 7 0 )

L i f e :

- travelled Gr. and Ita.:

(a) Gr. and Ita. peasant life: contrasted with the stuffy and repressed life of middle-class En.

(b) Gr. mythology and Ita. Renaissance art: sough the ‘spontaneity of consciousness’ (M. Arnold) in personal relationships amid the complexities and distortions of modern life

- tutored E in Ger., travelled extensively Ind.

- associated with the ‘Bloomsbury Group’

- cast a critical and reforming eye on the abuses of the world: an independent liberal suspicious of political slogans and catchwords

W o r k :

- wrote 6 novels, short stories, and critical, autobiog., and descriptive prose

- intermixed a sharp, observant, and sometimes bitter social comedy x a didactic insistence on the virtues of tolerance and human decency

- conc.: personal relationships in the Edwardian middle-class, the ‘little society’ we make for ourselves with our friends

Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905):

= his 1st novel

- conc.: the tragicomic conflicts btw the refined E gentility x the coarse Ita. vitality

The Longest Journey (1907):

- conc.: the differences btw living x dead relationships

< experienced the tribulations of a day boy at a boarding school

- incl. an incidental satire of E public school education and E notions of respectability

A Room with a View (1908):

- conc.: the nature of love

- Ita. = a liberating agent, suggested by the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827, a German composer)

- E visitors to Florence and their smugness, comfortable pretentiousness, and emotional repression x the Ita. freedom of spirit

Howards End (1910):

- conc.: the relation btw the kinds of reality people get involved in living, btw inward feeling x outward action

- the terse epigraph, ‘Only connect!’: a subject to a narrative play, forms and unforms a series of connections btw characters, and btw antipathetic cultures of business and the intellect

x but: aware of its being more easily said than done

- incl. an awkward section analysing L. van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 (1898) in terms of dancing gnomes

A Passage to India (1924):

= his last novel and his most searching and complex exploration of the possibilities and limitations of human relationships

- conc.: the relations btw the Br. x the Ind. under the Br. Raj (= Hindu for ‘reign’)

- set ‘out of time’ and deliberately free from specific political reference

x but: a distinctly less generous picture of the Raj than that of R. Kipling

- the Br. = an élite isolated by its sense of superiority and by sticking to the petty snobberies of ‘home’

- climax: a hiatus = a considered narrative gap, with the assault either happening or not happening or enacted by sb else than the man later accused of it

= this disjuncture enhances oth. disjunctures, silences, and assaults on the reader’s consciousness

- F.: orig. meant ‘as a little bridge btw East and West’ x but: his ‘sense of truth forbids anything so comfortable’

- the central question, ‘whether or not it is possible to be friends with an E man’: debated by 3 Ind. in the 2nd chapter, “Mosque”, and followed by a practical demonstration of the difficulties

- concl.: ‘Why can’t we be friends now?’ – ‘No, not yet.’

Maurice (1914, 1971 posthum. on the author’s insistence):

< Edward Carpenter (1844 – 1929, a libertarian philos.)

- conc.: a definition and justification of a homosexual love

x but: in fact rather a nostalgic evocation of his undergraduate friendship with C.

=> a brave attempt to question contemp. taboos x but: as a work of art not successful

Aspects of the Novel (1927):

- conc.: the techniques of fiction

=> a minor classic of criticism


F o r d  M a d o x  F o r d  ( 1 8 7 3 – 1 9 3 9 )

L i f e :

- b. Ford Hermann Hueffer

W o r k :

- founded The English Review (1908) publ.:

(a) establ. writers: T. Hardy, A. Bennett, H. G. Wells, H. James, & oth.

(b) new writers: the 1st to publ. poems by D. H. Lawrence, & oth.

- founded The Transatlantic Review (1920s) publ. modern(ist) lit.

The Inheritors (1901) and Romance (1903): in collab. with J. Conrad

The Fifth Queen (1907 – 8): a decoratively ornate trilogy of historical novels; conc.: Catherine Howard (1520/-25 – 42, the beheaded wife of Henry VIII [1491 – 1547, reign 1509 – 47])

The Critical Attitude (1911):

= a series of polemical essays on the state of the novel

- orig. publ. in The English Review

- contrasts the ‘loose, amorphous, genial and easy-going’ Br. novel of Henry Fielding (1707 – 54, author of Tom Jones (1749)], C. Dickens, W. M. Thackeray, A. Trollope, & oth. x the tighter and more self-consciously artful Fr. novel

- praises H. James and J. Conrad for their ‘great attention to their Art’

The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion (1915):

= his fictional masterpiece

- provisionally entitled The Saddest Story x but: The Good Soldier a doubtlessly more appropriate title for a novel to appear in wartime

- a pre-Modernist technique:

(a) Conradian shifts in time and perceptions of betrayal

(b) Jamesian conc. with the subtleties of overlapping relationships and emotions

x but: the ambiguous Am. relater John Dowell at times reveals a knowing awareness of the arbitrary nature of is narration

Parade’s End (1924 – 28):

= a post-war tetralogy incl. Some Do Not… (1924), No More Parades (1925), A Man Could Stand Up (1926), and Last Post (1928)

- conc.: the gradual break-up of the traditional squirearchical values

- continues his exploration behind the disciplined and gentlemanly façade of the characters

- the protagonist = an unhappy lover, a largely unsuccessful soldier, and neurotic survivor after the war’s end

- begins his post-war career as a restorer of antiques x but: still tries to make sense of the battered old world, now essentially fragmented

Also wrote: a biography of his grandfather (1896) Ford Madox Brown (1821 – 93, a painter)


E l i z a b e t h  B o w e n  ( 1 8 9 9 – 1 9 7 3 )

L i f e :

- b. and spent her childhood in Ir. (Bowen’s Court) x but: settled in En.

W o r k :

The Last September (1929):

= her early novel

- conc.: the tensions in the history of her landed family, the divided loyalties of the increasingly dispossessed Protestant Ascendancy in Ir.

The Death of the Heart (1938):

= her most Jamesian novel

- set in the En. of 1930s

- conc.: the loss of innocence in the face of shallow sophistication and the glamour of metropolitan values

Bowen’s Court (1942):

= her memoir

- conc.: the life in Ir. <=> her The Last September

Look at all those Roses (1941) and The Demon Lover (1945):

= coll. of short stories

The Heat of the Day (1949):

= her masterpiece novel

- conc.: London and Londoners changing, adjusting, and adapting under the impact of the Blitz

- an upper-class Ir. woman’s perception of the Br. ‘Home Front’

- a finely tuned stylistic tact in deploying and using detail: the lovers meet in the ‘heady autumn of the first London air raids’, and Stella puts down her failure to notice the limp of the invalid Robert ‘to the general rocking of London and one’s own mind’, etc.

= symbolic meanings: R.’s disability, the urban unease, the strangeness, the headiness

- concl.: R. turns out to be an enemy spy, a betrayer both of an allegiance to Br. and of the partly bemused, partly detached S. herself

x the Anglo-Ir. S. and her soldier son maintain the allegiance to Br.

The Little Girls (1964):

= her penultimate novel

- conc.: the sometimes painful difference btw the perceptions of children x adults


Abrams, Meyer Howard, ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.

Barnard, Robert. Stručné dějiny anglické literatury. Praha: Brána, 1997.

Sanders, Andrew. The Short Oxford History of English Literature. New York: Clarendon Press, 1994.

Other Sources

Práger, Libor. Semináře: Britská literatura 2. ZS 2004/05.


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