Modernism was the most influential literary movement in England and America during the first half of the twentieth century. It encompassed such works as The Waste Land (1922), by T. S. Eliot, Ulysses (1922), by James Joyce, and The Great Gatsby (1925), by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Representing an unequivocal rejection of Victorian aesthetic standards, moral precepts, and literary techniques, Modernism was initiated during the opening decade of the century, a time of extensive experimentation in the arts. Writers of the movement embraced the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung and the anthropological relativism espoused by Sir James Frazer, and in their works the Modernists emphasized the psychological state of a character through the use of such devices as the interior monologue, or stream-of-consciousness narrative.
In English literature, manifestations of the modernist aesthetic in fiction range from the sexual explicitness of D. H. Lawrence to the formal experimentation of Virginia Woolf and the myth-based narrative of James Joyce. The disorienting effects of the era of modern warfare that began with the First World War gave rise to such American expressions of modernist concerns as the novels of John Dos Passos, whose Manhattan Transfer (1925) utilized montage-like effects to depict the chaos of modern urban life, and Ernest Hemingway, whose The Sun Also Rises (1926) portrayed the aimlessness of the "lost generation" of American expatriates in Europe during the postwar era. Similarly, The Great Gatsby is seen to epitomize the demoralization of American society and the end of innocence in American thought.
While sharing the novelists' preoccupation with themes of alienation and ambivalence, Modernist poetry is chiefly known for its dependence on concrete imagery and its rejection of traditional prosody. Considered a transitional figure in the development of modern poetry, W. B. Yeats rejected the rhetorical poetry that had gained prominence at the height of the Victorian era, favoring a personal aesthetic, natural rhythms, and spare style. American expatriate Ezra Pound, who with Richard Aldington and Hilda Dolittle founded the Imagist movement in poetry in 1910, favored concise language and free rhythms, and became a champion of avant-garde experimentalists of the era. The thematic preoccupations and technical innovations of Modernist poetry are seen to culminate in The Waste Land, Eliot's complex, erudite expression of modern malaise and disillusionment.
Winesburg, Ohio (short stories) 1919
The Bridge (poetry) 1930
Dos Passos, John
Manhattan Transfer (novel) 1925
U.S.A. (novels) 1930-36
Eliot, T. S.
"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (poetry) 1917
"Tradition and the Individual Talent" (prose) 1919
The Waste Land (poetry) 1922
Murder in the Cathedral (drama) 1935
Four Quartets (poetry) 1943
The Sound and the Fury (novel) 1929
Fitzgerald, F. Scott
The Great Gatsby (novel) 1925
Ford, Ford Madox
The Good Soldier (novel) 1915
The Sun Also Rises (novel) 1926
The Berlin Stories (short stories) 1935-49
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (novel) 1916
Ulysses (novel) 1922
Finnegans Wake (novel) 1939
Lawrence, D. H.
Sons and Lovers (novel) 1913
The Rainbow (novel) 1915
Women in Love (novel) 1920
Lady Chatterley's Lover (novel) 1928
The Cantos (poetry) 1925
Pilgrimage (novel) 1915-38
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (memoir) 1933
"Sunday Morning" (poetry) 1923
Mrs. Dalloway (novel) 1925
To the Lighthouse (novel) 1927
The Waves (novel) 1931
Yeats, William Butler
"Easter 1916" (poetry) 1916
"The Second Coming" (poetry) 1920
"Sailing to Byzantium" (poetry) 1928
Purgatory (drama) 1938
SOURCE: "Problems of Modernism," in The Snowflake on the Belfry: Dogma and Disquietude in the Critical Arena, Indiana University Press, 1994, pp. 24-43.
[In the following essay , Balakian considers the variety of meanings and...
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