Modernism, Conrad, Virginia Woolf, Eliot



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J. CONRAD (1857-1924)
Russian, made many journeys, also with the English merchant navy (1890 Congo), love for solitude. Man reveals his inner self only after the impact with unforeseen events. Sea: isolation (social, psychological), escape. Symbolism: Nature reveals man’s state of mind. Oblique narrative: Frame (realistic), picture (inner narration, with several viewpoints). No chronological order but temporal shifts. The double: presence of an alter-ego who reflects the hidden side of man’s personality.
Heart of darkness
Frame: Marlow tells his friends on the Thames his adventures in Africa. Kurtz: a learned man, sent by the Company for civilization and freedom, he has become a kind of God for the natives. He is like Marlow but he stayed for a long time in Congo, so he has changed (alter-ego). Marlow sees only savagery and solitude: nature is being polluted and destroyed, and the natives are kept together with chains like animals, they are apathic (how can they be considered enemies, criminals? They are helpless.).
Conrad was a precursor for his general psychological investigation (conflicts, alter-ego), the shifts of point of view (more than one reality, external and internal), solitude.
It refers to new literary forms and interest in mental processes, use of the stream of consciousness technique, Consciousness is different from memory or intelligence because it contains both rational awareness and preconsciousness beyond communication. Iceberg: two levels, the speech level, can be communicated, and the pre-speech level, irrational and not communicable. Inner time:flashback and flashforwards, the story within a story, metaphors, similes… Interior monologue: the instrument that translates the stream of c. into words, reflects the disconnected and chaotic sequences of thoughts.
VIRGINIA WOOLF (1882-1941)
Denied education in University because of Victorian prejudices. Love for the house near the sea. Mother’s death reveals her psychological frailty (many mental collapse and attempted suicides). 1941: she committed suicide.
Features: balance: the character’s speculation and the realistic situations and events, their inner mental activity and the outer facts. Traditional features: she maintained a certain essential structure, this avoided the danger of leading the novel towards dissolution. Innovative technique: it took second place, no traditional plot and direct dialogue but the interior monologue, no interest in the character’s external life but in the life of their mind. Moments of being, like Joyce’s epiphanies, are moment of high intensity and perception, the mind itself.
Characters: he innermost working of their minds offers the modern novelist the means to describe and reveal the experience of life.
Time: Compression of time and of mental processes: to shift back and forth in time and intermingle past, present and future; the subject remains fixed in space and his consciousness moves; time remains fixed and it is the spatial element that changes.
Experimental novel: Stream of consciousness: Woolf (indirect method: indirect interior monologue, which introduces mental activity with verbal clauses), Joyce (direct method: direct interior monologue reported faithfully from the very mind of the character (Mr Bloom), without any verbal clause or conjunction, often avoiding punctuation.
Mrs Dalloway: The entire actions are centred on Mrs Dalloway and her minds. It is trough her thoughts, her feelings and recollections, presented no longer in linear progression, but in alternation of flashbacks and present actions, that the action effectively develops. Out for flowers: moment of being: the strike of Big Ben makes her thinking about time, about life and her instinctive love for it.
To the lighthouse: Plot: A very complex novel about a journey to the lighthouse, delayed for years. It is also her most successful experiment. Structure: 1)The window, 1 day; 2)time passes, 10 years; 3)to the lighthouse, 1 day. Themes: The quest, the alternation of light and darkness in life (like the typical beams of the lighthouse). Symbols: the sea is both the symbol of life itself and the symbol of the inexorable flowing of time; the lighthouse and the journey are two important unifying symbols between the initial and the final scenes in the novel.
The brown stocking: external event: the characters are making the stockings, there is an alternation of direct and indirect speech, internal event: in the second part there is a long mental parenthesis in which the time is compressed, there are described her thoughts. Association if ideas, like psycoanalisis.
Father and Children reach the lighthouse: The Ramsays are finally reaching the lighthouse, on the boat with mr Ramsay there are two of his children, James and Cam, and old mr Macalister. In the first part there is a description of Mr Ramsay, then the reaching of the lighthouse, but there is no longer enthusiasm in the journey.
Shakespeare’s sister: about women’s emancipation, Virginia Woolf imagines the sister of S., with his same gift and education, during the Elizabethan reign. She criticizes trough irony the Bishop’s affirmation: “Cats do not go to heaven, women cannot write the plays of shakespeare.”. She would probably be discriminated and obliged to mend the stockings.
T.S. ELIOT 1888-1965
Harvard (M.A. degree), Paris (Symbolism), Germany (philosophy), Oxford & Cambridge (Ezra Pound, imagism). 1927: Religious conversion, conclusion of a long spiritual journey from the abyss of despair to the peace of faith.
Prufrock and other observation (1917): the poem is a symbolic commentary on a world which has no beliefs, no illusions, no qualities.
Wasteland (1922): the beginning of modern poetry (unconscious, psychological aspects, free verse, quotations), the failure of modern man to find a reason or spirituality in life, complex association of images and characters (belonging to myth), picture about modern desolation, spiritual aridity of man without God, even the language shows the complexity of modern age.
The Hollow Man: a blind search for something that may fill the emptiness of modern life, very pessimistic.
The Ariel Poems (1927-30), The journey of the Magi: the Magi represents the poet’s state of mind just before the illumination of Faith had completed its action; the Ariel Poems express the poet’s hope, the torment deriving from his limits will purify his soul.
Ash Wednesday (1930): the poem is about repentance and regeneration, trough the lines of this “religious poem” he realizes that suffering must be accepted with resignation because it is the way to salvation.
Four Quartets (1936-42): this collection is simply the conclusion of his journey from scepticism to regeneration and salvation. Themes: relationship between time and eternity, presence of God in human life. Each composition is named after a place for special significance for the poet, centred on a season. The poems are linked by their structure.
Murder in the Cathedral (1935): death of the archbishop Thomas Beckett, the religiosity is seen as the noblest form of life.
Themes: modern man’s alienation from society (no spirituality), time versus eternity, the question of personal identity, the problem of faith in modern civilization, the sense that present is inferior to the past (past given by quotations), the fear of living, the moral, spiritual and sentimental emptiness of our time.
Features: poetry to express not the poet’s own sentiments, but other people’s feelings, he advocated the complete objective impersonality (Flaubert) of art against the romantic conception of poetic subjectivism; poetry must communicate something, even before being understood, first of all trough rhythm and musicality; to convey emotion without a direct statement but, indirectly, trough something suggesting one’s own feeling (objective correlative = to communicate emotion, sensations not lyrically but by external images); importance of tradition since past and present co-exist in man, he wrote a sort of universal poetry, in which the individual poet is an active member of tradition, and tradition is continually enriched and transformed by each poet (use of universal symbols trough quotations); imagism; free verse; poetic aspects of the sordidness, ugliness and sterility of a modern metropolis (Baudelaire); images of everyday life, the poetic and the squalid; Paradoxes (Metaphysical poets), Dante (expressed everything in the way of emotion)
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
The love song (suggest something romantic, but missing) of J. A. Prufrock (ridiculous name, ordinary life) talks about the condition of failure and inertia of modern man. P. is unable to choose, there are many questions he ask himself without answer. Symbol of modern man who achieves nothing in life and has lost his identity. Structure: made up of quotations sentences, fragments, it has no logical development, no linear track, it flows with no purpose. Mixture of poetic and non-poetic images. First quotation from Inferno, as Guido wants to reveal his truth to humanity trough Dante, P. speaks directly to the reader\himself, both they share hell: real one and modern psychological one. P reveals urban degradation, the trivialization of art, the deep sense of inertia trough the ordinary routine activities and images, trough his personal decay (getting old without any decision) he express human spiritual decay, P. is not a hero, a prophet as Hamlet who faced the doubt and then decided for revenge, Real life destroys his inner illusions. Intertextuality: to pass trough past texts and take what the authors offer to make something original: Lazarus is used to reveal the mystery of the underworld, the fool to express the truth trough an apparently non-sense language, The mermaids to drive man to insanity and then to death.
The Waste Land
It marks the beginning of modern poetry. The most influential: no subjectivism, no introspection, no poetic images but free verse, impersonality and objective correlative. And the most influenced: quotations from literary, cultural, anthropological , religious sources, which are contained, translated and manipulated, into an original poetic text (Bible, Dante, Elizabethan and Jakobean drama, Metaphysical poetry, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Sanscrit texts), the importance of tradition: the poet is the link of the long chain of tradition.
Themes: contrast between the contemporary in his squalid aspects and the past, mythic or historical; emptiness and sterility of modern life, due to a lack of spirituality (the water): natural (desert), social (difficulty to communicate with each other (quotations from foreign languages makes the reading difficult, so Eliot provided the text with notes to explicate the meaning).
Structure: a sequence of images with no plot, sometimes ambiguous, apparently unconnected and open to various interpretations. Divided in 5 sections: The burial of the dead (dealing with the coming of a spring in a sterile land), A game of chess, The fire sermon (reinforcing the theme of squalor and introducing Tiresias, the blind spectator, whom Eliot himself considered the most important character in the poem), Death by water, What the thunder said. They all have the same vision of a nightmarish world inhabited by people that are spiritually dead, since their lack of faith has turned their lives into a sterile, arid waste land.
Features: the lack of explicit links between the episodes described, free verse, alternation of lyrical and narrative passages, quotation from 6 foreign languages, the need of a wide cultural background in the reader to understand the allusions, the religious symbolism, the stream of consciousness technique in interior monologues, specific references to places and times which are transformed into universal symbols.
Unreal City: Parody of love, the characters are a typist and a carbuncular young house agent’s clerk. Tiresias is the symbol of the past in contrast to the degradation of the present. In the relationship there is no spiritual love, but a sense of indifference, of sterility and apathy, there are non romantic, grotesque description of the modern metropolis and of the two lovers.

James Joyce
Joyce was an Irishman, and he was born in 1882 in Dublin. He was son of John Stanislaus Joyce, that had a good job and a reasonable economic position. James’s father is a big influence in his work, thanks to his many faults: in fact John Joyce started to lose a lot of work, and his family was kicked down by the social ladder.
In 1888 Joyce was sent away to the Clonglowes Wood College, a Chatholic schhol of Jesuits that were very important to hi sfuture culture and to his earlier chapters, like we can see in “A Portrait of the artist as a Young Man”.
Among the important influence in his childhood was that of Irish nationalist politics, especially the tragedy of Parnell, the Protestant leader of the Irish Home Rule. After Parnell’s death, in 1891, Joyce’s father, detached from Irish extremism, and took little interest in Irish nazionalist movement. Joyce, deafeated and disappointed, detached from Irish extremism and nazionalist literary movement.It must be said that, for this indifference, Joyce’s works had immense difficulty to be printed in Ireland.
Joyce was a brilliant student, he won a lot of scolarship, but grow up in himself a rebellion against the religious and social conventions; in 1890 he came under the Ibsen’s influence in which he admired the intellectual honesty and his choice of exile.
In 1898 Joyce entered in University College, a Catholic Institution, where he studied modern languages; in 1902, having take his degree, Joyce make a trip to Paris, where he met a lot ofexpatriate Irish nationalist; he made a second trip to Paris, but was cut short by mother’s death.
So he turned in Ireland where he established for a long period, and where he start to drink (together with father) and to go with prostitutes.
In 1904 Joyce’s life had a progress: he met Nora Barnacle, his longlife companion, and left with her ireland for a voluntary exile on the Continent. Nora Barnacle was a simple country girl that met Joyce in a motel where she worked to escape from his father that was a drunkman. Their realationship was happy and enduring.
In the same year the couple left Ireland, and wnet to Pula, in Istria, where Joyce attempted for english teacher; then they moved to Trieste (where he started to write “Dubliners” and “A Portrait of the Young Artist as a Young Man”) and to Rome that he found uninspiring. Then he returned to Trieste where met his future pupil, Ettore Schmitz (Italo Svevo), that was still an unknown writer. Finally in 1914 was published Dubliners that wasn’t very successfully in commercial terms, but that attracted interest of some critics: in the same year he published “A Portrait of the Young Artist as a Young Man” in the periodical “The Egoiste”.
With the outbreak of the First World War he moved to Zurich, where he worked for his new novel, Ulysses. In 1920 he moved to Paris, that was the european intellectual capital, where he had a lot of successe for his works, and he was able to push his technical experimentation to the limit, with Finnegans Wake, published in 1939. With the outbreak of Second World War he returned to Zurich where he died in 1941.
• Dubliners (1914) : It’s a collection of fifteen short stories of everyday life in Dublin, linked by the common theme of the decay and the stagnation of the city’s life.
• A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) : Here we can see the growth in maturity of Joyce and his dedication to art; here the style is less realist than Dubliners, and it’s a rehanding of autobiographical material. The central figure is Stephan Dedalus (Stephan was the first Christian martyr, while Dedalus succedeed to escape from the labirint creasting two wings).
• Ulysses (1922) : generally regarded like the Joyce’s masterpiece.
• Finnegans Wake (1939) : It’s the last work, more complex than Ulysses, in which Joyce talk about one night in the life of a Dublin publican.
• Stephen Hero (1944) : An incomplete work published after his death in 1944.
Features and Themes
The importance of Joyce is that he had renewed the literature. His books are very different from the tradition. Joyce uses the technique of the manipulation of time and he doesn't respect the chronological order; he uses the association of ideas and flashback. In his stories there isn't only one point of view, but he expresses the points of view of many characters. He became famous with his neologism and his "exploration" of the language, but he always uses the same theme: the dryness of his time.
• Joyce’s conception of artist is too much near to that of Italian Realist: in fact he tought that the writer must be invisible in his works, and he haven’t to express his own viewpoint;
• Joyce rejected Irish life “in toto”, and at the same time he set all his novels in Dublin, the city in which he was grow up;
• He spent neraly of his adult life in voluntary exile (Trieste, Paris, Zurich), becoming the most cosmopolitan of Irish writers and becoming open to other intellectual traditions;
• Like the other European writers of the time he was deeply influenced by the modern culture, especially in Freudian phsycoanalisys, that was affecting all the art (Picasso, Svevo);
• Other two important features in Joyce are the realism and the symbolism;
• As a result of experimentation, he created a new kind of dream language, that was the mixture of non-existent words, existing words and inventive word combination; sintax is disordered, punctuation non-existent.
One of the most important works of this period is Dubliners, made up by fifteen stories, in which Joyce talk about stories of everyday life in Dublin. There is a realistic technique, very far for the last Joyce of Finning Wakes, the plot is linear and the language is that of everyday life.
All the stories were written in 1905, except The Dead that was written in 1907, and are arranged into four sections, each of which represent one stage in life: childhood, adolescence, maturity, public life, an epilogue (The Dead).
The style of the book is essentially realistic, with large descriptions of details and remarkable moments of sudden insight: this moments are called by Joyce like Epiphanies.
The original meaning of epiphany is the showing of jesus child to the Magi, but Joyce use this term to call a sudden revelation, something that was hidden in one mind and that suddenly surface and that start a long painful mental labour.
One of the best example of epiphany is The Dead, that is the last stories in Dubliners, and it’s the stories that forms the climax to the theme of decay and stagnation and spiritual paralisys of Dublin.
The Dead
In this story Joyce’s technique passes from realism and objectivity to symbolism and interior monologue. The first part Is set in Morkan sisters’ house for the evening of the epiphany. They represent irish mediocrity. The second part Gabriel and Gretta Conroy are in the hotel, where she reveals him her past love and Gabriel starts an interior reflection about the futility of irish lives.
The most known Joyce’s work is Ulysses. We can put this work in an ideal second period of Joyce’s literature, in which he developed the language, rejecting logical sequences and conventional syntax, but the themes are the same of Dubliners (here too there are two dubliners as principal characters, and Joyce wanted to demonstrate the paralisys of Dublin).
The stories is centred arouns three principal character, and for each one there is dedicated an ideal part.
The principal character of the first part is Stephen Dedalus, the Joycean alter ego. He took the name of the first Catholic martyr and of the legendary Greek artificer, Dedalus. Stephen is a young man with intellectual ambitions, it’s the enemy of his own country and a martyr to art. Stephen desyres to convert the Irishman to the cult of beauty inherited from the Greeks.
The second part of Ulysses is dominated by Leopold Bloom, the ulysses of the title, that wandered in Dublin like Ulysses wandered in Mediterranean, encountering adventures like can compared to the adventure of Ulysses.
The third part is dominated by Molly Bloom, the Leopoldo’s wife, that can be compared to Ulysses’s wife Penelope, just as Stephen Dedalus can be comapred to Telemachus.
Bloom day is projected against the story of Ulysses, and each scene in the book is related to a specific episode of the Odyssey. In the first part of the book Dedalus, come back home from Paris, set off to find his friend and "spiritual father" Bloom, who is in search of a "spiritual son". When the two friends meet, Bloom "adopt" Dedalus and offers to take him home and give him shelter. At home Molly Bloom waits for them, like Penelope, thinking of her past and present life, with a mental, interior monologue. This "river of words" called "stream of consciousness" ends with the words "yes", like a total, non-judgemental, acceptance of life.
Parallel with the Odyssey
The parallel with Odyssey is developed in all the chapter (18) in which the book is divided. Each chapter in fact correspond to one of the episodes of Odyssey. For Example The first chapter, called Telemachus, it echoes the theme of the first book of Odyssey.
Born in Bengal, in the british empire. Suffered sense of anxiety over the expectations of his parents. Moved to London, Paris, Spain…contrast with his family: very rich / his interest for poor people. Was a journalist. Interested in social aspect of life – social themes in his works.
Utopia tradition with Plato, Thomas More, Swift, Bacon – turned to dystopia – gloomy vision of failure.
animal farm (1944), 1984 (1948-9), down and out in paris and London, homage to catalonia (civil war – positive and negative effects on orwell).
Animal farm: + testo del discorso del porco (tutto come prima)
A political fable in the form of an allegory. Ref. to Russian revolution, allegorical names: marx, stalin, Trotsky. It’s a satire on totalitarism. Importance of the 7 commandments.
Themes: struggle between humans and animals (war against any form of exploitation), the danger of propaganda, danger of personality cult, manipulation of the masses, control of language as a political instrument (commandments)
Language: clear and precise instrument of communication – no experimentalism. Political language.
dystopian novel, probably inspired by the presence of wiston Churchill (last name of the protagonist), written after ww2.
Importance of the rebellion by wiston smith, an intellectual.
Destruction of words is seen as the dissolving of thinking and of human’s identity, capacity of judgement. Standard way of thinking. Pessimism expressed by orwell. New speak against old speek.
Big brother is the boss who always controls you obsessively, with the thought police. External pain of the character is the expression of an inner sorrow. Symbolic importance of the mirror (identity) and of the ministry of truth (the imposed truth). Loss of memory and identity. Autobiographic references (war).