The Imagists, among them Ezra Pound, sought to boil language down to its absolute essence. To achieve that effect required minimalist language, a lessening of structural rules and a kind of directness that Victorian and Romantic poetry seriously lacked. Dreaminess or Pastoral poetry were utterly abandoned in favor of this new, cold, some might say mechanized poetics. Imagist poetry was almost always short, unrhymed, and noticeably sparse in terms of adjectives and adverbs.
At some points, the line between poetry and natural language became blurred. This was a sharp departure from the ornamental, verbose style of the Victorian era. Gone also were the preoccupations with beauty and nature. Potential subjects for poetry were now limitless, and poets took full advantage of this new freedom.
No Modernist poet has garnered more praise and attention than Thomas Stearns Eliot. Born in Missouri, T. Eliot would eventually settle in England, where he would produce some of the greatest poetry and criticism of the last century. Eliot picked up where the Imagists left off, while adding some of his own peculiar aesthetics to the mix. His principal contribution to twentieth century verse was a return to highly intellectual, allusive poetry.
What are characteristics of Modernist literature, fiction in particular?
He looked backwards for inspiration, but he was not nostalgic or romantic about the past. Yet even when his poetic voice sounds very colloquial, there is a current underneath, which hides secondary meanings.
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It is this layering of meanings and contrasting of styles that mark Modernist poetry in general and T. Eliot in particular. It is no overstatement to say that Eliot was the pioneer of the ironic mode in poetry; that is, deceptive appearances hiding difficult truths. In American Literature, the group of writers and thinkers known as the Lost Generation has become synonymous with Modernism. In the wake of the First World War, several American artists chose to live abroad as they pursued their creative impulses.
Scott Fitzgerald, and the painter Waldo Pierce, among others.
The term itself refers to the spiritual and existential hangover left by four years of unimaginably destructive warfare. The artists of the Lost Generation struggled to find some meaning in the world in the wake of chaos. For Hemingway, this meant the abandonment of all ornamental language. His novels are famous for their extremely spare, blunt, simple sentences and emotions that play out right on the surface of things. There is an irony to this bluntness, however, as his characters often have hidden agendas, hidden sometimes even from themselves, which serve to guide their actions.
All truth became relative, conditional, and in flux. The War demonstrated that no guiding spirit rules the events of the world, and that absolute destruction was kept in check by only the tiniest of margins. The novel was by no means immune from the self-conscious, reflective impulses of the new century. Modernism introduced a new kind of narration to the novel, one that would fundamentally change the entire essence of novel writing. At the same time, the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud had come into mainstream acceptance.
Experimentation with genre and form was yet another defining characteristic of Modernist literature. Perhaps the most representative example of this experimental mode is T. Literary critics often single out The Waste Land as the definitive sample of Modernist literature. In it, one is confronted by biblical-sounding verse forms, quasi-conversational interludes, dense and frequent references which frustrate even the most well-read readers, and sections that resemble prose more than poetry. At the same time, Eliot fully displays all the conventions which one expects in Modernist literature.
There is the occupation with self and inwardness, the loss of traditional structures to buttress the ego against shocking realities, and a fluid nature to truth and knowledge. The cynicism and alienation of the first flowering of Modernist literature could not persist. By mid-century, indeed by the Second World War, there was already a strong reaction against the pretentions of the Moderns.
Artists of this newer generation pursued a more democratic, pluralistic mode for poetry and the novel. There was optimism for the first time in a long time. Commercialism, publicity, and the popular audience were finally embraced, not shunned. Alienation became boring. True, the influence of Modernist literature continues to be quite astonishing. The Modern poet-critics changed the way people think about artists and creative pursuits. The Modern novelists changed the way many people perceive truth and reality.
These changes are indeed profound, and cannot easily be replaced by new schemas. Do not reprint it without permission. Hundreds of thousands of people of all classes and ranks of society jostle past one another; are they not all human beings with the same characteristics and potentialities…? And yet they rush past one another as if they had nothing in common or were in no way associated with one another…The greater the number of people that are packed into a tiny space, the more repulsive and offensive becomes the brutal indifference, the unfeeling concentration of each person on his private affairs.
The city is a key motif in modernist literature. Numerous novels and poems reflect the ways in which cities generate states of shock, exhilaration, alienation, anonymity, confusion or thrill.
The idea of the isolated, questioning self belongs to the modern urban centre, not the provincial margins, a subject famously explored by the 19th-century French poet Charles Baudelaire. The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd.
Selective, intelligent, scrutinising to infer, he was a detective, reading the urban landscape for clues. The tale concerns a nameless narrator, sitting in a London coffee shop and watching the crowds, until he is drawn to pursue a stranger, an oddly dressed old man with a compelling face suggestive of 'the type and genius of deep crime'. Between and , London was the largest city in the world, and its labyrinthine geography and disorientating fogs were suited to fictions about the opacities of modern life.
Robert Louis Stevenson 's novella, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde , acquires menace and mystery from a hybrid setting — a London-resembling Edinburgh — where mornings are overcast with dark fog, and the main action takes place against the 'great field of lamps of a nocturnal city'.
Travelling with Sherlock Holmes to an appointment that will set the plot in train, Dr Watson soon loses his bearings, perplexed by 'a dense drizzly fog which lay low over the great city,' the 'yellow glare from the shop-windows' and 'something eerie and ghostlike in the endless procession of faces'. Usage terms Public Domain.
Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent amplifies slipperiness in a disorientating detective plot set against a bewilderingly liquid London. Attempting to discover the truth behind a terrorist plot to blow up the Greenwich Observatory, the assistant commissioner leaves his office to find 'His descent into the street was like the descent into a slimy aquarium from which the water had been run off'.
What is Modernism?
Conrad's London is persistently amphibious or aquatic, fluid not solid — an apt location for a novel that experiments with form by jumbling the order of its chapters, so that readers encounter Stevie blown up into fragments in a chapter before he helps his mother move house. Conrad's watery, seasick landscape, together with Doyle's and Stevenson's disorientating fogs, presents the capital as unsettlingly mobile and animate. That representation is refreshed in E M Forster 's Howards End , similarly ambivalent about a city in flux. Naturally, London means different things to different characters: it is home, to the Schlegel sisters, of culture and humanity, but, for precarious clerk Leonard Bast, it remains a place of deprivation and desperation.
Leonard's ancestors, Forster tells us, were agricultural workers, and Leonard himself belongs more authentically to a rural past than an urban present. Moreover, Howards End itself, the ancestral family home which gives the book its title and its moral centre, is menaced by the encroaching city. Forster Estate.
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You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work. Under the brown fog of a winter dawn, A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many, I had not thought death had undone so many. Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled, And each man fixed his eyes before his feet. At one level, The Waste Land describes a mundane phenomenon.
Workers commuted by foot into the City of London in such numbers that rush-hour street etiquette required them to travel on the right and in the same direction as other pedestrians. Yet the commuting crowds, to which Eliot, a bank clerk, belonged, seemed both everyday and 'unreal'.
The short story according to Woolf
Anonymity and uniformity suggest an automatism verging on the uncanny — with resonances, too, of that other vast 'crowd' which had so recently marched to their deaths on the battlefields of the First World War. As for Conrad, Doyle and Stevenson, so for Eliot the city is a place of both excitement and estrangement. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further.
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London's vastness, its aura of being at the centre of the world, its economic and cultural importance, seems to produce anxiety, ambivalence and doubt. Paradoxically, being on the margins offered James Joyce greater scope to document the pleasures of city life.
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