We live in a world of persistent change, where the past is dead and the present is dying…and so to be modern is not only to live now, but to live now in a certain way…life is something we are constantly re-inventing.Malcolm Bradbury, 1971
After just over seven years the end is in sight. This week I have commenced my final semester of my Bachelor of Arts. It is hard to believe that come the end of June it will be finished…unless I decide to take the plunge and do Honours. I am still thinking about that one. This final semester sees me doing the last courses in History and English Literature. After studying Australian Literature, the Canon, Gothic and Speculative Fiction, Adaptations and Children’s literature, I am wrapping up the English Lit major with a study of Modernism.
What is Modernism?
Before this week I didn’t know much about modernism at all, except for artists like Picasso and Dali. Modernism was the label for the kind of art I often called interesting. I didn’t study art past year 8, (a lack of talent, I believe) so I don’t know much about the various art movements. I’ve heard of famous artists, of course, but I’ve never really investigated their work, although I did enjoy the sculptures on display at the Dali at d’Arenburg exhibition in South Australia. I particularly liked the clocks.
We have just started to delve into the modernist movement and it seems to be one of those terms that is difficult to define. Some of the key words, though, are alienation, disillusionment, experimentation, dehumanisation and the metropolis. Emerging during the late 19th century, modernism is often seen as being both influenced and as a response to changes in society brought about by industrialisation, modernisation and the devastation of World War One.
Modernism…is the one art that responds to the scenario of our chaos…of the destruction of civilisation and reason in the First World War…of capitalism and constant industrial acceleration…it is the literature of technology.Malcolm Bradbury & James McFarlane, 1991
Modernist literature is often challenging to read, and without any understanding of the modernist movement, it can be even downright incomprehensible. One of our readings this week described how modernism
divides its audience aristocratically into two groups – those who understand it and those who do not, those trained in and acquiescent to its techniques and premises, and those who found it not only incomprehensible but hostile.Malcolm Bradbury & James McFarlane, 1991
My first experience reading a modernist text was in high school when we read The Great Gatsby. I didn’t know it was a modernist text at the time, and if I found it incomprehensible then I wasn’t probably too fazed by that as most of the literature we had to study at school was incomprehensible anyway. The next experience that stands out in my mind is reading Mrs Dalloway after watching the movie The Hours. While I quite enjoyed the movie, I struggled a bit with Mrs Dalloway. Hopefully, by the end of this semester I shall be able to have another go at Mrs Dalloway and understand it this time.
As we try to come to grips with modernism we shall be reading…
- Various short stories by Virgina Woolf, Thomas Hardy, DH Lawrence, Aldous Huxley and Wyndham Lewis
- Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- To the North by Elizabeth Bowen
- To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
- Dubliners by James Joyce
- Poetry by T. S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, W.H. Auden, Wilfrid Owen and Siegfried Sassoon
It will be a very interesting and challenging course and by the end I hope that I will be able to say more about the modernist movement than just interesting.
#Book Snap Sunday is a weekly book related meme hosted by Sharon from Gum Trees and Galaxies. All booklovers are welcome to post a snap and join in the fun.
Malcolm Bradbury, The Social Context of Modern English Literature, 1971.
Malcolm Bradbury & James McFarlane, Modernism 1890-1930, 1991.