Studium anglistiky na KAA UPOL

(44) Modernist Experiments in Fiction.

(S. Crane, G. Stein, S. Anderson, W. Faulkner, J. Dos Passos, and E. Hemingway).


A m e r i c a n  M o d e r n i s m

[See "Background for Topics 41-44..."]


S t e p h e n  C r a n e

[see C. under ‘40 Am. Realists…’]


G e r t r u d e  S t e i n

[see S. under ‘41 Modernism…’]


S h e r w o o d  A n d e r s o n  ( 1 8 7 6 – 1 9 4 1 )

L i f e :

- b. in OH, settled in Clyde = imaginatively transformed into Winesburg

- received little formal education, appreciated the oral tradition, and his father’s story-telling

- became a successful businessman x but: once disappeared from his office, and appeared confused several days later somewhere else

- repudiated the business world, and became obsessed with the experience of a sudden self-discovery (epiphany)

W o r k :

- depended on an inspiration unable to direct: struggled with a logical succession of time, and tended to present all together as in a dream

- never wrote a book with a strict structure and development (except for his Winesburg): wrote as a flash of lightning revealing a life without changing it

F i c t i o n :

Winesburg, Ohio (1919):

< structurally indebted to Turgenev, E. L. Masters’s Spoon River Anthology, G. Stein’s Three Lives, and J. Joyce’s Dubliners: experimental both in technique and aesthetics

- a series of 23 tales unified by the setting, tone, and the central character of George Willard

- the “Book of the Grotesque” = the characters experience the small town no more as a source of virtue and moral strength x but: a source of a small-town paralysis, and a kind of living death

- W. = a town of solitary persons (= grotesques), incapable of expressing themselves, and becoming emotional cripples

- G. W. = attracts most of the characters seeking help x but: cannot help them for his youth

- concl.: suggests that after leaving the town he will become the voice of all the inarticulate men and women in all the forgotten towns

(a) explores the loneliness of the modern world as manifested in the cultural, social, and spiritual impoverishment of the small-town Am.

(b) attempts to break down the walls dividing one person from another

(c) celebrates the small-town life in the lost days of good will and innocence

- criticized as a morbidly sexual work

> “Adventure”, “Hands”, “Introduction”, “Tandy”, “The Strength of God”, “The Teacher”, “The Untold Lie”, & oth.

> enormously infl. the development of the Am. short story: W. Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses; E. Hemingway’s In Our Time; and J. Toomer’s Cane

Poor White (1920): an aspiring Midwestern inventor realises his industrial genius x but: destroys the environment

Dark Laughter (1925): < G. Stein: his most experimental novel

Beyond Desire (1932)

N o n - f i c t i o n :

Perhaps Women (1931) and Puzzled America (1935): coll. of essays on the Am. industrial and rural conditions


W i l l i a m  F a u l k n e r  ( 1 8 9 7 – 1 9 6 2 )

L i f e :

- b. W. Falkner in MS: later changed the spelling to Faulkner

- grew up with the legends and stories about his ancestors, the family, and the past

- left his high school without a degree: distressed by his childhood love marrying another, she later divorced, and married him

- tried to enlist in the army x but: too small

- enlisted with the Royal Air Force in Canada > returned full of dramatic tales of his adventures in the skies

- enrolled as a veteran and special student at the Uni of MS, contrib. poems and short stories to uni periodicals, and left again without a degree

- underwent a series various jobs

- New Orleans: met S. Anderson, discussed books, and A. encouraged him to turn to prose

W o r k :

- conc. with ‘the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself’

- dealt with a single imaginary country x but: explored the whole of human experience

- deeply appreciated the Am. South, and the South’s history

- generally consid. the greatest 20th c. Am. fiction writer

- received the Nobel Prize

P o e t r y :

< the Romantics (J. Keats), Victorians (A. Tennyson), Aesthetes / Decadents (C. A. Swinburne), and his contemporaries (T. S. Eliot)

- highly derivative, in the pastoral mode

- most of his earliest writing

The Marble Faun (1924):

- a slim vol. of poetry, publ. with the help of his Oxford friend, critic, ed., agent, and publicist

- the title: from N. Hawthorne’s romance of that name

F i c t i o n :

Soldier’s Pay (1926):

- his 1st novel, publ. with the help of S. Anderson

- the homecoming of a dying air force veteran

Mosquitoes (1937):

- a sophisticated New Orleans lit. crowd on a yachting trip

Sartoris (1929):

- the history of several generations of a distinguished MS family

(a) establ. his setting of the mythical Yoknapatawpha county

(b) establ. his characters to work with throughout the whole career

(c) establ. his special themes of the complexities of familial, sexual, social, and racial identities, and of the burden of the past

(d) realised the native soil worth writing about: claimed he would never live long enough to exhaust it

- the Yoknapatawpha county (the capital Jefferson) = based on the Lafayette County in MS, the setting for 15 out of his 20 novels

The Sound and the Fury (1929):

- the economic and emotional deterioration of the Compson family

- 4 magnificent chapters: each presents a different consciousness with a different conception of time and language

- 4 the narrators: 3 brothers, incl. an idiot, a suicide, and a business failure; and a black servant in the last chapter with the traditionally omniscient POV

- the brothers mourn the loss of their sister, each for different reason

- examines the disintegration of the family and the private obsessions of the brothers

- compared to J. Joyce’s Ulysses: his modernist approach, stream of consciousness, and dense symbolism

As I Lay Dying (1930):

- the poor white family’s efforts to fulfil the mother’s wish to be buried in her hometown

- the multiple perspectives of 15 ‘interior monologues’

- presents the consciousness of each individual family member during the 6 day long mourning procession behind the wagon with the coffin

- moves btw horror x comedy

Sanctuary (1931):

- a ‘flapper’ character gets involved with criminals, drugs, and prostitution

Light in August (1932):

- passion, racism, and relig. fanaticism

- presents parallel destinies of 2 wandering orphans

- a pregnant country girl searches for her lover x a presumed murderer, eventually shot and castrated

Absalom, Absalom! (1936):

- a family history of a poor white man

- his dream of finding a dynasty in MS ends up in the ruin of almost everyone involved

The Unvanquished (1938):

- a coll. of stories conc. the Sartoris family

Pylon (1935):

- a non-Yoknapatawpha novel

- the adventures of aeroplane pilots (grew out of his flying lessons)

Wild Palms (1939):

- a non-Yoknapatawpha novel

- 2 stories in alternating chapters

- the doomed lovers x a convict caught in a flood

‘The Snopes Trilogy’:

- incl. The Hamlet (1940), The Town (1957), and The Mansion (1959)

- ad The Hamlet: a rising family of poor whites

> “Spotted Horses”, one of the short stories he often incorporated in novels, many dealt with the characters appearing in the novels

> ad The Town and The Mansion: more episodic

Go Down, Moses (1942):

- a racially mixed McCaslin family

> “The Bear”, an incorporated story: Ike McCaslin’s growing up, learning nature, and trying to come to terms with the modern age

Intruder in the Dust (1948):

- a black man’s surprising innocence in a murder trial makes him a ‘tyrant over the whole country’s white conscience’

The Fable (1954):

- a dense allegory set during the false armistice in 1918

- a story from the WW I = an allegory for Christ’s suffering and crucifixion for the mankind

- won him the Pulitzer Prize


J o h n  D o s  P a s s o s  ( 1 8 9 6 – 1 9 7 0 )

L i f e :

- an illegitimate son of an Am. mother and a Portug. father

- extensively travelled and received education in Eur. due to his father’s generous financial support

- volunteered in Fr. and Ita. in the WW I > inspired his novels

- became a free-lance journalist, aspiring artist, and political activist

- youth: sympathised with communism, helped to found the communist journal New Masses x middle age: disenchanted by the communist strong-arm tactics under the deepening Great Depression, became an anticommunist

- extensively travelled throughout his whole life > inspired his travel books and essays from Portug., Sp., and Brazil

= a metaphor for the rootlessness of the modern technological society

W o r k :

- wrote poetry, modernist plays, and travel books

- interested in lit. aestheticism and reform politics

- conc. with the transformation of Am. society from a predominantly rural, agricultural, and traditional society into an increasingly urban, industrial, commercial, secular, and disoriented one

One Man's Initiation, 1917 (1920) and Three Soldiers (1921):

- his own experience of the WW I

- the disillusioning impact of the war on the young sensitive Am. soldiers

Manhattan Transfer (1925):

- the impact of the WW I on the emerging urban and technological civilisation

- his characteristic tone: an intermixture of protest and despair x irrepressible hope

- a film-based composition technique working with flashes, cut-backs, and speed

- narrative shifts and jumps with an absence of transitions = the stark contrasts and abrupt changes of urban life

< reminiscent of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, E. Pound’s Cantos, and H. Crane’s The Bridge

U.S.A. (1937):

- a trilogy incl. The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919 (1932), and The Big Money (1936)

- an intermixture of lit. aestheticism x reformist politics

- a combination of innovative language and technique x a detailed survey of the contemp. history and politics

- a vast sweep of settings and characters from the pre-war y. to 1936: farmhands and factory labourers, hoboes and vagabonds, advertising executives and Hollywood actresses, entrepreneurs and financiers

- the central conflict: the conflict btw the ‘two nations’ = a small group of the rich and powerful successfully manipulating a large group of the poor and sometimes hopeless

- incl. individual stories of 11 major characters and the supplemental devices:

(a) ‘Newsreel: headlines and snippets of articles from newsps, lines from slogans, mottoes, and pop. songs; pieces from public reports, and political oratory

(b) ‘Camera Eye’: subjective feelings, sometimes lyrical, sometimes elegiac, sometimes satiric, sometimes angry, and sometimes threatening

(c) 27 biographical sketches of prominent public figures: the politician Woodrow Wilson, the inventor Thomas Edison, the financier J. P. Morgan, & oth.

The Living Thoughts of Tom Paine (1940), The Ground We Stand On (1941), and The Head and Heart of Thomas Jefferson (1954):

- the Am. history

- in a corrupt world the US remain the best hope for individual liberty and human progress

District of Columbia (1952), a trilogy:

> The Adventures of a Young Man (1952): disillusionment with the Sp. Civil War

> Number One (1943): political corruption

> The Grand Design (1949): a satire on the New Deal bureaucracy

Mid- Century (1961):

- an attack on the power of financiers and labour unions

- an attempt to revive the style and methods of his U.S.A.


E r n e s t  H e m i n g w a y

[see H. under ‘47 The Lost Generation…’]


Baym, Nina, ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995.

Bercovitch, Sacvan, ed. The Cambridge History of American  Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Cunliffe, Marcus. The Literature of the United States. London: Penguin, 1991.

Lauter, Paul, ed. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Lexington: D. C. Heath, 1994.

McQuade, Donald, gen.ed. The Harper American Literature. New York: Harper & Collins, 1996.

Ruland, Richard, Malcolm Bradbury. Od  puritanismu k postmodernismu. Praha: Mladá fronta, 1997.

Vančura, Zdeněk, ed. Slovník spisovatelů: Spojené státy americké. Praha: Odeon, 1979.

Other Sources

Flajšar, Jiří. Semináře: Americká literatura 2. ZS 2004/05.


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