Modern Literature



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The Great War of 1914-18 and the huge number of deaths it caused shattered people’s faith in society and its institutions. This was a reason for Modernist to analyze the unique experience of the individual by exploring the inner world of the individual himself. The Modernist novel shattered most of the previous conventions, and they wrote as there was an absence of values given by a sense of emptiness and ambiguity.
In every novel, there is a direct presentation of characters’ thoughts, feelings, and memories. Moreover, the plot is not linear anymore. This kind of structure gives the sense of ‘duration’ of the narration.
The development of the Modernist novel was deeply influenced by the new theories of Freud who proposed the theory of human consciousness multi-layered, involving different level of experience and memory. Therefore, perception of reality is fundamentally subjective.
The technique of free association and wordplay forms an important part of James Joyce’s Ulysses.
In addition to this, a French philosopher, Bergson, also influenced the Modernist movement. He elaborated a philosophical position in contrast with the scientific materialism and positivism. He also argued that time could not be measured because it is a flow, a ‘duration’ and not a series of points.
Important during this period is the use of the ‘stream of consciousness’ introduced by William James and which deeply influenced the narrative method. Consciousness is something that flows and it comprehends the entire range of an individual’s mental activity. Therefore, they could introduce new techniques of writing:
- Direct interior monologue which refers to the direct presentation of character’s stream of consciousness without the guiding of a narrator or author;
- Indirect interior monologue that refers to the indirect presentation of a character’s thoughts filtered through the voice of an anonymous third-person narrator.
Woolf and Joyce differ in their approaches to the question of how to represent stream of consciousness. Joyce is fundamentally concerned with the possibilities, and limitations, of language in all its modes and forms.
James Joyce was born in Dublin in 1882, and having an extraordinary academic ability he went to Paris to study medicine. But he changed his mind and he started writing poems and prose. Then he met Nora Barnacle and he moved with her first to Pola and and to Trieste. Joyce became English teacher and he first published a collection of poetry. In 1914 he published Dubliners. During WWI, he moved to Switzerland with his family and wrote A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, his first autobiographical novel, in 1916, and later in 1918 he wrote Exiles which was declared obscene and banned in Britain and in America but it was published in Paris. During this period he always wrote Ulysses, his masterpiece. Finnegans Wake was the novel in which he truly developed his own polylinguistic vocabulary and got far away from rules.
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – both indirect and direct interior monologue. The writer almost disappears and the readers find themselves directly inside a character’s mind.
EPIPHANY: climax of intensity in the narration. It is a sudden revelation in which the soul of the commonest object seems to us radiant. It is a moment in which a sudden spiritual awareness awakening is experienced, when ordinary thoughts and feelings come together to produce a sudden awareness.
The Dead – it begins during an after-Christmas dinner at the house of two unmarried sisters who are also aunts of the protagonist, Gabriel Conroy. He goes to the party with his wife Gretta and the house becomes the best representation of Ireland and its tradition in which every guest represents a different generation, religious belief and political tendencies. Gabriel gives a speech and he feels good, then while he is on his way to the hotel he thinks of the best moments of his marriage and still feels love and desire for Gretta. At the same time she is crying because a song she heard at the party made her thinking of her first love Michael Furey who she thinks killed himself for her. She stops and time seems to stop too. So, she has her Epiphany, while Gabriel is watching her from down the steps. She tells her husband the story. In that moment, while Gretta is finally sleeping, Gabriel had his Epiphany looking outside at the show that is covering everything and he thins of the insignificance of even the most intense moments of existence which face like all the rest into oblivion.
The story can be considered realistic and at the same time symbolic. Joyce gives us a picture of the character’s inner thoughts and feelings, using the indirect interior monologue.
Ulysses – Joyce’s masterpiece. Published in 1922, it represents a high point of Modernism.
Not much happens, it is basically the story of one day during which Leopold Bloom gets up, walks around Dublin, meets many people along the way including Stephen Dedalus with whom he visits a brothel and gets drunk. And then he goes home and lies with his wife Molly. Joyce reproduces a parody of the epic traveling of Ulysses through Bloom’s wandering. He follows the Homeric model.
18 episodes – problems, conflicts, triumphs and tragedies of the classical world are the same of the modern world. The modern man is not perfect, he is not the hero.
Joyce uses the interior monologue simulates the working of consciousness including incomplete sentences, thoughts not connected, sudden changes of tenses… -> increased sense of realism – he preserves everything goes through mind. Symbolic system – it includes many different cultures and it was not accept when it was first published -> encyclopedic novel.
Ulysses = Leopold Bloom -- Telemachus = Stephen Dedalus -- Penelope = Molly Bloom
Finnegans Wake – published in 1939. It is like a dream-sequence. The real protagonist is language , because Joyce mixed different languages altogether ma made up words, using word games and multilingual expressions – in some words are packed the sense of at least two words, the meaning of his words is never final.
Virginia WOOLF
Virginia Woolf wan born in London in 1882. She came from an aristocratic family, therefore from a highly educated and intellectual family environment which greatly influence her in her approaching to writing and art in general. Her mother’s and two years later her step-sister’s deaths caused her mental instability. She used to hear voices in her head and have migraine attacks. After her father died, she moved to Bloomsbury where she founded a circle of intellectuals and where she met her husband Leonard Woolf. Later he founded the Hogart Press to publish her works. After she published many important writings she died drowning herself in a river in 1941.
It always feels like the reader is entering in the characters’ inner world. Time is often dilated and a single moment can last for a very long time. She uses the indirect interior monologue to represent the gap between chronological and interior time. Woolf wants to impress the characters who experience these events in their subjectivity and this made her a heroine for many feminist. She does not use the tradition narration voice, but she takes different points of view from her characters and she “speaks” with their minds, showing their thoughts and feeling as the occur. A narrator sometime gives to this thought a logical order and grammatical sequence.
MOMENTS OF BEING are the moments of intensity, perception or vision which illuminate our lives.
Mrs. Dalloway – one day in the central London. Clarissa Dalloway organizes a party for her husband, a politician, and during the day she experiences many changes of moods and memories. We see her also through the other character’s eyes and thoughts like the man she once loved who suddenly comes back from India, her friend, and her daughter. At the same time, like a parallel life, there is Septimus Smith who had a nervous disorder because of the bad experiences in war, and he goes to two famous doctors who don’t understand his disease though so they can’t help him. At the end of the day he kills himself, and Clarissa gets the new at her party where one of the doctors was invited. She understands Septimus and she feels like him and somehow she is glad that he committed suicide because thanks to him she could truly understand life.