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AFTER THE VICTORIANS


Mihajlo Ravić, 17.4.2010

Two main facts about 20th century English literary history can be confidently asserted: one is
the revolution in poetic taste and practice which resulted in the rejection of the view of poetry
represented by Palgrave’s Golden Treasury (first published in 1864 and used as a school
textbook in Britain well into the 1930’s) in favor of one which saw poetry as at the same time
more symbolist and more cerebral, and the other is the change in the themes and function of
the English novel.

The poetic revolution was an Anglo-American achievement. T.S.Eliot, who settled in England
before the First World War while still a young man and afterward exchanged his American
for British citizenship, and Ezra Pound, the literary gadfly whose stay in England in 1912
stung so many poets and critics into new activity, were in large measure its leaders, but much
of the theoretical ammunition was supplied by T.E Hulme. Hulme wanted dicipline,
precision, “the exact curve of the thing“, “dry hardness“, classicism. “I object even to the
best of the romanticics“, he wrote in his essay “Romanticism and Classicism“... “I object to
the slopiness which doesn’t consider that a poem is a poem unless it is moaning or whining
about something or other.“ he wrote....

The Imagist movement, deriving from Hulme and Pound (who soon lost interest) and others,
demanded clear and precise images, elimination of every word „that did not contribute to the
presentation,“ and a rhythm freed from the artificial demands of metrical regularity.
The French Symbolists had taken a similar view of metrical regularity and it was their
invention of vers libre that was adopted by the Imagists. The Symbolists wanted to be
precise in order to be properly suggestive; precision, individuality, “the exact curve of
the thing“ and maximum symbolic projection of meaning were seen as going together.
But Imagism even with this symbolist extension was only a brief stopping place for the new
poetic movement. The turn away from the Tennysonian elegiac mode to the more complex
and intelectual poems of Donne, the insistance that intellect and emotion should work
together in poetry and that one should seek to recover the “unfied sensibility“ of the
metaphysical poets which had been lost to English poetry since the latter part of the 17th
century, the proclamation of the absolute difference “between art and the event“—all this is
seen in Eliot’s criticism as it can be seen working in his poetry. “Poetry is not a turning
loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality; but
an escape from personality,“ Eliot wrote in his essay „Tradition and the Individual
Talent“ (1917), one of the most influential critical essays of the century. It was in many
respects the manifesto of the new poetic theory and practice.
Eliot’s long poem „The Waste Land“ (1922) was the first major example of the new poetry,
and its remains a watershed in both English and American history.

W.Butler Yeats (1865-1939)


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W.Butler Yeats (1865-1939) epitomizes the history of English poetry in his lifetime. He
began under the influence of Spenser, Shelley, Rossetti, and the esthetic movement of the late
19th century; at the Rhymers’Club in London he met with Lionel Johnson, Ernest Dowson,
Richard Le Gallienne, and others, and together they cursed “Grey Truth“ and sought beauty.
But Yeats was Irish and Irish influences were also working on him- the Irish national
movement in Dublin and popular Irish folklore and folk speech he found in Sligo where he
used to go to visit his grandparents. London brought him into touch with the younger English
poets; Dublin introduced him to Irish literary nationalism; and Sligo kept him in touch with
the folk imagination.
His reading of Blake combined with other impulses to encourage his mystical interest, and
soon he was seeking truth and order in every kind of unorthodox speculation, from theosophy
to neo-Platonism. Eventually Yeats made contact with what has been called the tradition of
heterodox mysticism, which has had a long history in Europe, and has an agrred set of
symbols found in Neo-Platonism, Cabalism an theosophy and other systems which Yeats
explored with relish, but all the time he kept one foot in Ireland... The dreamy and exotic
poetry of his earliest phase was punctuated by simple poems in the Irish folk tradition; Sligo
kept both the London and Dublin elements in Yeats under some control. His plays usually
treat Irish legends; they also reflect his fascination with mysticism and spiritualism. The
Countess Cathleen (1892), The Land of Heart's Desire (1894), Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902),
The King's Threshold (1904), and Deirdre (1907) are among the best known. Yeats is one of
the few writers whose greatest works were written after the award of the Nobel Prize.
Whereas he received the Prize chiefly for his dramatic works, his significance today rests on
his lyric achievement. His poetry, especially the volumes The Wild Swans at Coole (1919),
Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921), The Tower (1928), The Winding Stair and Other
Poems (1933), and Last Poems and Plays (1940), made him one of the outstanding and most
influential twentieth-century poets writing in English.

T.S.ELIOT (1888-1965)

Poet, critic, and editor, was born Thomas Stearns Eliot in St. Louis, Missouri, he learned
from Laforgue as well as from Rimbaud and Verlaine and from the Jacobean dramatists as
well as from Donne.

(I) “The Waste Land“ (1922)-Taking as its underlying pattern the grail myth as interpreted
by Jessy Weston, Sir James Frazer, and others, and weaving the themes of barrenness, decay
and death, and the quest for life and resurrection which he found in these anthropological
sources with with the Christian story and with Buddhist and other oriental analogies, and
incorporating into the poem both examples and symbols of the faliure of modern civilization-
scenes of desolation, moral squalor, and social emptiness- which are in turn symbolically
related to the antropological and religious themes, Eliot endeavored to project a complete
view of civilization, of human history and human faliure, and of the perennial quest for
salvation. No modern poem has received so much comment and explication. It requires it, for
in spite of brilliant and memorable passages, the structure and total pattern of the work, as
well as the significance of many references and incidents, are not intelligible without outside
information abouth what was Eliot trying to do...
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(II) The whole problem of obscurity in modern poetry was raised in its most acute form
by the publication of this poem. That the modern poet, acutely aware of the complexities
and contradictions of the civilization in which he lives is forced by the conditions of his time
to create or re-create his own myths and to draw on his own perhaps highly unusal reading for
refrence and allusion, is a commonplace.

(III) It is one thing, however, to explain why any poet of integrity and originality must, in
certain circumstances, be in some degree obscure; it another to see that obscurity as beneficial
rather than harmful. Eliot’s obscurity arises from his use of material known only to him, from
associations operating in his own mind as a result of „odd reading“ ... On the whole, “The
Waste Land“ does open up as poetry if we come to it with the explanations of the
explicators, but there are passages do not, such as the conclusion, which remains an
incoherent collection of phrases and quotations, while the Sanskrit blessing at the end
(„Shantih shantih shantih“) has no poetic force beacuse we cannont read back Eliot’s
explanation into the words with any conviction; for all we know, the words might mean
anything at all, or any other unknown words might have the meaning Eliot says they
have...“The Waste Land“ is considerd to be one of the most important poems of the 20th
century.

20th Century
(I) The English novel was, as we have seen, essentially bourgeois in its origins, and
throughout the 18th and 19th centuries it was solidly anchored ina s social world.
The fact of social class was not only taken for granted but even depended on by
English novelists; it provided humor and atmosphere and local color as well as
motivation for self-advancment. The heroine of Richardson’s Pamela was a
servant girl who married into the squirearchy; and though this fairy tale pattern was
not a common one in English fiction, it simply exaggerated a feature that was
common, namely pattering of the plot in terms of gain or loss of social status or
fortune. Even Hardy in “Tess“ projected his meaning through such public social
symbols. Fortune, status, and marital position were all important for the Victorian as
for the 18th Century novel.

(II) The Novelist’s world was an assured one, however much he might critize or wish to
reform it. The view of what was significant in human affairs on which he based his
selection of events to constitute the plot was a view shared with his readers. His
standard of significance was public and agreed; whatever was important in a
character’s fictional life was registered by public symbols as social, financial, or
institutional change....

MODERNISM.....

20th Century Novel


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(I) The loss of the confident sense of a common world, of a public view of what was
significant in human action, which was reflected in the move toward private
association in poetry, had an effect on both the themes and the technique of fiction...

“What is meant by reality?“ Virginia Woolf once asked and replied :“It
would seem to be something very erratic, very undependable- now to be
found in a dusty road, now in a scarp of newspaper in the street, now in a
daffodil in the sun. It lights up a group in a room and stamps some casual
saying...“

This is related to Jamce Joyce’s view of the “epiphany“- the sudden realization that some
quite ordinary incident or situation or object encountered in daily experience has an
intense symbolic meaning. The construction of a plot pattern based on such subtle and
private interpretations of the significant in human affairs would necessarily take the novel
out of the public arena of value in which it had hitherto moved. The novelist would then
either have the problem of making convincing to the raeder, while he reads, his (the
novelist’s) own principle of selection and sense of significance, which might involve various
kinds of technical innovations and subtleties, some of them imported from lyrical poetry
(which is what Virginia Woolf did); or of presenting a world which did not depend of any
single criterion of significance at all but in which everything interprenetrated everything else
and the same event of character became important or trivial as the author’s view and way of
presentation kept shifting (James Joyce was almost alone in adopting this method).

(II) New concepts of time and, influenced of or at least akin to William James’ view of
„specious present“ which doesn’t really exist but which represents the continuous
flow of the “already“ into the „not yet“, of retrospect into anticipation, and Henry
Bergson’s concept of durée, of time as flow and duration rather than as a series of points
moving chronologically forward, also influenced the 20th century novelist, particularly in his
handling of plot structure. If time could not be proprely conceived of as a series of moments
moving forward in a steady progress, then the traditional conception of plot, which generally
involved taking the hero through a sequence of testing circumstances in chronological order,
would cease to satisfy.
(III) Further, new psychological ideas emphasized the multiplicity of consciousness
and subconsciousness in which past experience was retained and by whose
retention the whole of personality was colored and determined.

(IV) Marcel Proust in France had explored ways of presenting the past as contained
in the present, and more and more the new concept of time came together with the
new concept of consciousness to develop a new view of character. The truth about a
character is the sum of is whole emotional experiences, and that sum is always there,
prevading and indeed constituing his consciousness. It is not therefore necessary to
take a character through a series of testing circumstances to reveal the whole human
truth about him; the proper exploration of his consciousness at any given moment or
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in a very short space of time (say a single day) could reveal all his history and all his
potentialities. For on this view a man IS his history; nothing is lost, and his reaction
to every new event is conditioned by the sum of his reactions to all earlier events.
Thus retropsect is of the very stuff of present consciousness, and need to be formally
introduced by set pieces of retrospect or by reported memory introduced by some
such phrase as “this reminded him of... “ or “he recalled that...“. Development
depthwise rather than lengthwise becomes the logical technique.

(V) Henry James in particular had brought a new precision and complexity into the
description of states of mind. But it was not until the 1920’s that the full impact of
the three factors just discussed- the apparent collapse of a public standard of
significance, new notions of time, and new notions of consciousness- made itself felt
on the technique and the themes of fiction.

The stream of consciousness


...The isolation of the individual consciousness steadily became the most important
psychological fact in a world from which public value seemed to have departed and where
every individual was seen to be prisoner of his unique stream of consciousness.

a) Our response to every new event is conditioned by our private past: Mrs.Daloway in
Virginia Woolf’s novel of that name opens her front door to go out into the London
streets and as she does so is aware with one part of her mind of a similar feeling on
opening the French window onto the lawn in the house she had lived in as agirl. The
gestures we make to other people are bound to be in some degree misread, for other
people will read them from the other side, from “their“ side, and will not see them as
they appear to us, who projected them out of our isolated consciousness. So the
difference between the private stream of consciousness and the public gesture is
emphasized again and again in Joyce’s “Ulysses“(1922) where we see the true state of
Stephen’s or Bloom’s consciousness side by side with the quite different public
conversation they become involved in; the two are wroufht and presented together, thus
stressing the inevitable loneliness of men.

b) If the characteristic theme of the 18th and 19th century novel was the relation between
geniality and morality, that of the 20th century is the relation between lonliness and love.
How is love possible when we are all, wheter we know it or not, the prisoners of our
private selves? How is even communication possible? To those who raised this question
in this way, society as a whole seemed to provide simply a collection of empty gestures
and institutions which had no real meaning and could provide no real basis for
communication between individuals. As E.M. Forster put it, “the great society“ is
always the enemy; only “the little society“, the intimate group of real friends who have
somehow managed to break down the walls of individuality that separate them, is worth
anything- or is really possible as a true society. The great society becomes a
contradiction in terms.
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c) To D.H.Lawrence (1885-1930), the mystical awareness of the core of otherness in the


other person is the basis of a true sex relationship- not Whitmanesque merging, which he
thought disgusting even if it were possible

d) To Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) the testing time comes when a man finds himself in a
situation where the normal public codes which he has hitherto professed do not work, are
not relevant or even real, and he either finds strenfgth and recovery out of self-
knowledge and lonliness, or goes down to destruction in the heart of darkness. (There is
also for Conard third way: if a character is sufficiently unimaginative not to realize that
he is in a new and challenging situation, and goes on doggedly applying the convential
code, like Captain M’Whirr in “Typhoon“ he may with luck win through- not to new
knowledge, of which such a character is incapable, but to survival.)

1. Psychological novel
-Work of fiction in which the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of the characters are of
equal or greater interest than is the external action of the narrative. In a psychological novel
the emotional reactions and internal states of the characters are influenced by and in turn
trigger external events in a meaningful symbiosis. This emphasis on the inner life of
characters is a fundamental element of a vast body of fiction: William Shakespeare's Hamlet
is perhaps the prime early example of it in dramatic form. Although an overtly psychological
approach is found among the earliest English novels, such as Samuel Richardson's Pamela
(1740), which is told from the heroine's point of view, and Laurence Sterne's introspective
first-person narrative Tristram Shandy (1759-67), the psychological novel reached its full
potential only in the 20th century. Its development coincided with the growth of psychology
and the discoveries of Sigmund Freud, but it was not necessarily a result of this. The
penetrating insight into psychological complexities and unconscious motivations
characteristic of the works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy, the detailed recording of
external events' impingement on individual consciousness as practiced by Henry James, the
associative memories of Marcel Proust, the stream-of-consciousness technique of James Joyce
and William Faulkner, and the continuous flow of experience of Virginia Woolf were each
arrived at independently.
The psychological novel, as the name suggests, aims at revealing its characters' inner selves.
As far as style is concerned, many psychological novels entail interior monologue and stream
of consciousness. These are literary techniques facilitate the reader direct access to the inner
most thoughts of characters.
The Catcher in the Rye (1951) by J. D. Salinger
The Catcher in the Rye (1951) written by American writer J. D. Salinger is one famous
instance of a psychological novel. The novel is narrated by a 16-year-old boy Holden
Caulfield who has just flunked out of his 3rd prep school. He is unwilling to remain at school
until the end of the term. So, he runs away to New York City and drifts around the city for
two days. At last, drawn by the love and affection for his younger sister Phoebe, he returns
home. He reveals his idealism to Phoebe by telling that he would like to be "the catcher in the
rye" meaning the defender of childhood innocence who would stand in a field of rye where so
many children are playing.
2. What is stream of consciousness?
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Stream of Consciousness is a literary technique which was pioneered by Dorthy Richardson,


Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce. Stream of consciousness is characterized by a flow of
thoughts and images, which may not always appear to have a coherent structure or cohesion.
The plot line may weave in and out of time and place, carrying the reader through the life
span of a character or further along a timeline to incorporate the lives (and thoughts) of
characters from other time periods.

Writers who create stream-of-consciousness works of literature focus on the emotional and
psychological processes that are taking place in the minds of one or more characters.
Important character traits are revealed through an exploration of what is going on in the mind.
Stream of consciousness in Woolf
Woolf presents a collage of internal realities, moving rapidly from one character to the next. Because
of this difference, Woolf's reader is allowed to compare the widely differing versions of reality
presented by the different characters. By using this technique, Joyce and Woolf seem to be exhibiting
that a subjective and internal reality is more importante than any sort of external or societal forces.
[Also, = Además, the technique allows them] to achieve an extremely detatched relationship to their
writings. By describing every thought which passes through the minds of their characters, they never
emphasize which thoughts are important and which are not. Such evaluation is left for the reader to
decide. Accordingly, the author's judgments on specific thoughts, ideas, and themes are often quite
subtle and difficult to discern.

Notes
“ To The Lighthose“
1. There are certain female figures who come to mind more frequently than others.
Often, for me, they are writers--women who broke down barriers and expressed
themselves with such irrepressible passion and intellectual vigor. Not all of those most
memorable women had a very easy time of it though. And, for many writers--men and
women--it's the inner demons that are the worst. How do we avoid the voices?
2. Some take medication; some drink; some have tried other means to overcome the
many maladies of a writer's life. Virginia Woolf ran from her inner voices--she ended
them when she killed herself on March 28, 1941. Woolf was a feminist and a
modernist writer--known for her compelling stream-of-consciousness style.
Overview
Virginia Woolf's hypersensitive approach to characters' perceptions and her finely
detailed interior monologues rendered in near-poetic prose have been imitated by a
century of mostly female writers.
a) “To The whole first part of the novel takes place during the second half of a day
as the Ramsay family, along with their academic and artistic friends staying with
them at their summer home, consider a trip to an island with a lighthouse. But
even this scrap of plot serves only a symbolic purpose. We spend hours in the
heads of the characters as they ponder their relations with each other, and the
relation of social organizer and mother of eight Mrs Ramsay with her renowned
philosopher husband. The most momentous event, which changes everything, is
dispatched by Woolf in a parenthetical remark, as though she is embarrassed to
raise such a nasty issue as death and people's tawdry emotions toward it.
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b) In a strange interlude called "Time Passes" the point of view shifts from the
characters to...well, it's hard to tell. The house's point of view? The world's?
Time's?
c) Ten years later the surviving family returns to the house and completes the boat
trip to the lighthouse. Again we see everything through the consciousness of the
characters. Because of a greater focus on the adolescents, this section is less
intellectual, though precious enough.
d) I have read critics who say that between Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse,
Woolf refined her stream-of-consciousness approach to give each character
greater definition. But to me they still pretty well all sound the same. Which is
how I imagine Woolf herself would sound. And they are even less interesting than
the characters in Mrs Dalloway. I really could not care less about the minor
intrigues among these lifeless, self-absorbed intellectual drudges.
Again though, let me point out that Woolf is quite brilliant in capturing elusive
perceptions and thought. One wonders if her sensibility might not have made her a
greater poet where the need for three-dimensional characters, intriguing narrative and
passion for life are not required to such a degree. However, I realize I'm likely in a
minority, as established literary opinion ranks her as a great novelist and To the
Lighthouse is supposedly her most popular novel.
“Stream of consciousness in modern novels“
Virginia Woolf, for instance, is primarily interested in the visionary aspect of human
experience, and what leads up to it. James Joyce has a fundamentally comedic view of
humankind, the distance between what we think and feel, and what really happens in our lives
and interactions with others: the heroic versus the mundane. Faulkner has a primarily tragic
view of life--the noble and heroic versus the animalistic and narrow-minded, with the latter
tending to overcome the former.

Among the techniques used by the authors to display the stream of consciousness of
characters in the story are DIRECT and INDIRECT INTERIOR MONOLOGUE,
OMNISCIENT DESCRIPTION, and PROSE SOLILOQUY. Direct interior monologue is the
character speaking as they think. Indirect interior monologue is that in which the author
illustrates the characters'' thoughts as they occur. The omniscient description is a facet of the
omniscient author viewpoint in narration, wherein the author tells of his subject-characters''
thoughts. Prose soliloquy is the inner dialogue of a character, but presupposes an (at least
potential) listener in the consciousness of the one thinking.

One of the difficulties of capturing this kind of consciousness in the linear form of writing is
the essentially nonlinear nature of thought. Thought flows; irrelevant (apparently) associations
intrude; pictures that are difficult to describe appear. Life happens. Writing is ALWAYS a
selection (more or less deliberate) of what happens or could have happened. Nowhere does
this become more apparent to both writer and reader than in stream-of-consciousness writing.
The stream-of-consciousness writers do this by using symbolism and imagery, and try to
bring unity by confining their characters in time, place, person, etc. It is only as you read this
book that you realize the difficulty of the task they set themselves and their incredible mastery
in creating that helps us relive and experience the consciousness in their writings.
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