A history of the modernist novel

What are characteristics of Modernist literature, fiction in particular?
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And what exactly is happening in that last scene with the woman and the dog…?


Jean Rhys, Good Morning, Midnight - Rhys, who was born in Dominica, specializes in writing about women down and out in Paris and London, drifting from one drink to the next. Her stream of consciousness, punctuated by ellipses and slipping from one time frame from to another, is animated by black humor and lively observations about popular music, fashion, cinema, and what it means to be an outsider.

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man - A late reflection on modernism, Invisible Man channels Kafka and Dostoyevsky in its fierce commentary on race and politics in America. Alternately surreal, symbolic, and naturalistic, the novel has the quality of a waking nightmare. They talk, exchange hats, and meet some other peculiar characters.

Modernism remains as relevant as ever. Subscribers: to set up your digital access click here. To subscribe, click here. Simply close and relaunch your preferred browser to log-in. If you have questions or need assistance setting up your account please email pw pubservice. More from pw. The Most Anticipated Books of Fall PW Picks: Books of the Week.

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It has long been a term of art in theater and performance studies, where scholars have examined the history of theatrical architecture as well as the relation of imagined setting to actual places of performance.

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A number of essays in this cluster take up this question, exploring settings that materialize sedimented histories of injustice and asking how these might be transfigured by the forms of literature, sculpture, and the stage. As a nexus of space and time, the idea of setting necessitates the thinking of relations—between individuals and groups, humans and nonhumans, objects and memories, performers and audiences. To conceive of setting as an enabling force is to think of it in terms of reciprocally embedded subjects and environments.

If Bakhtin and Foucault are the first thinkers one might consult in order to devise an account of modernist setting, we have found equally rich conceptual resources in the work of mid-century theorists Erving Goffman and D. For Winnicott, too, setting is understood as a sphere of ritualized interaction, although conceived within a narrower scope.

Yet for all its importance, alternatives to the city abound, especially in Southern and postcolonial modernisms.

The Modernist Novel

Even in texts known for their representation of urbanity, alternative settings exert a significant pull. The Proustian seaside is at once a queer stage for looking and being seen, and a site that inspires a new, impersonal sensory regime—a mode of vision that blurs lines, drawing objects into cloudy assemblages. In each of these examples, setting takes on a life of its own, becoming a central subject of the work. On the other hand, many twentieth-century authors expressed hostility towards what they saw as a mistaken notion that the way to convey a character was by describing the house in which she lived.

If the reader, viewer, or listener is similarly disoriented, it is because modernism frequently troubles expected perceptual hierarchies, dissolving the line between portrait and landscape, figure and ground, ambient noise and melody. The modernist everyday makes strange the ordinary stuff with which realism had already filled fiction—stuff that now increasingly gleams with variegated textures, geometric forms, and perceptual intensities.

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There are levels of represented reality in even the most resolutely anti-mimetic novel. By the end of the rst volume, the man implausibly known as Beauty of the Brigades has abandoned Europe for humble service in the Chasseurs dAfrique in Algiers. In solitary connement, Wilde recalled reading Paters Renaissance twenty years earlier during his rst term at Oxford in Scogan continued, the great Knockespotch, who delivered us from the dreary tyranny of the realistic novel. Is it because they come late that we nd such a pervasive aura of failure in their work?

How exactly does setting—usually understood as a background and thus by definition not of primary interest—come into view? In both cases, we find a turn towards what is not, or is only weakly, perceptible.


A History of the Modernist Novel reassesses the modernist canon and produces a wealth of new comparative analyses that radically revise the novel's history. Cambridge Core - English Literature - A History of the Modernist Novel - edited by Gregory Castle.

If milieu is primarily known today as a realist concept, its importance to modernism is less recognized. Yet we suggest that one direction in which modernist setting develops is toward an expanded idea of milieu, which spreads into a variety of atmospheric phenomena.

Alternatively, as Hornby shows, we find strange affinities between the air that surrounds us and the new medium of film. In a more tactile sense, in a variety of practices, from lace making and painting to etching and carpentry, ground is the foundation or substratum on which other parts are overlaid. Just as it amplifies the atmospheric sense of milieu, modernism brings ground to the fore, reversing or confounding conventional habits of attention.

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In the case of twentieth-century theater, as Martin Puchner has shown, this foregrounding takes the form of a return. If, historically, a stage raised off the ground freed the performance to evoke any place at all, the modernist tendency to flatten the raised stage implies an embrace of ground and thus of site-specificity.

In varied ways, the essays in this cluster present setting as a force that scatters and releases as readily as it frames and contains.

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To think about modernist setting in terms of ground and milieu is to reflect on diverse variants of materiality—earth and air, smell and sight, underground and atmosphere—and their shaping effects on forms of life. Attending to setting alerts us to the larger networks in which we are embedded and the environments in which we are held.