The Great War and the Language of Modernism

The Great War and the Language of Modernism

by Vincent B. Sherry, Vincent Sherry
     
 

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With the expressions "Lost Generation" and "The Men of 1914," the major authors of modernism designated the overwhelming effect the First World War exerted on their era. Literary critics have long employed the same phrases in an attempt to place a radically experimental, specifically modernist writing in its formative, historical setting. What real basis did that…  See more details below

Overview


With the expressions "Lost Generation" and "The Men of 1914," the major authors of modernism designated the overwhelming effect the First World War exerted on their era. Literary critics have long employed the same phrases in an attempt to place a radically experimental, specifically modernist writing in its formative, historical setting. What real basis did that Great War provide for the verbal inventiveness of modernist poetry and fiction? Does the literature we bring under this heading respond directly to that provocation, and, if so, what historical memories or revelations can be heard to stir in these words?

Vincent Sherry reopens these long unanswered questions by focusing attention on the public culture of the English war. He reads the discourses through which the Liberal party constructed its cause, its Great Campaign. A breakdown in the established language of liberal modernity--the idioms of public reason and civic rationality--marked the sizable crisis this event represents in the mainstream traditions of post-Reformation Europe. If modernist writing characteristically attempts to challenge the standard values of Enlightenment rationalism, this study recovers the historical cultural setting of its most substantial and daring opportunity. And this moment was the occasion for great artistic innovations in the work of Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound.

Combining the records of political journalism and popular intellectual culture with abundant visual illustration, Vincent Sherry provides the framework for new interpretations of the major texts of Woolf, Eliot, and Pound. With its relocation of the verbal imagination of modernism in the context of the English war, The Great War and the Language of Modernism restores the historical content and depth of this literature, revealing its most daunting import.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Sherry makes a dazzling case.... It is still all too rare for critics to read Modernist literature in the context of its historical period, and Sherry's work in that direction is to be warmly welcomed."--Times Literary Supplement

"'Armed force,' notes Vincent Sherry at the beginning of his powerful and learned revisionist study, 'appears in Liberal tradition as the chief type of unreason.' Yet in 1914, the Liberal Establishment in England found a way of justifying World War I as nothing short of an ethical enterprise--the defense of 'civilization' itself against the forces of irrationalism, anarchy, and decay. Indeed, Sherry argues, once we understand the Great War as inherently the War of Liberal Rationalism, literary modernism can be understood as the reaction to that Rationalism, especially to the rationalist, mentalist conception of language. In a series of daring and sometimes controversial readings, especially of Eliot, Pound, and Woolf, Sherry shows how this process worked itself out in the Modernist masterpieces of the period. His is a sobering account and one that has startling implications for our own historical moment."--Marjorie Perloff, Stanford University

"The story of English liberalism is usually narrated with reference to works of literature that eschew stylistic experimentation--works that tell the story themselves. Vincent Sherry does something more dazzling. By focusing on the language of liberalism, he shows how Pound, Eliot, and Woolf responded to the disintegration of liberal values by imitating, exaggerating, and parodying that disintegration within the linguistic texture of their own work. This is historical criticism turned into a high-wire performance: language is pushed to the proscenium, and we are made to feel the historicity of precise turns in syntax, grammar, and diction."--James Longenbach, University of Rochester

"Sherry's book offers a learned, elegant, intricate, and intriguing argument about the collapse of liberal languages of rationality under the pressure of WW I, so that he can suggest a set of historical pressures on the emerging of modernist efforts to decompose and recompose prevailing models for determining social values. The result is an extraordinary weaving of the historian's skills with the modes of attention fostered by literary criticism." --Charles Altieri, University of California, Berkeley

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780195101768
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
04/28/2003
Pages:
416
Product dimensions:
9.40(w) x 6.30(h) x 1.20(d)
Lexile:
1450L (what's this?)

Meet the Author

Vincent Sherry is Professor of English at Villanova University. He is the author of The Uncommon Tongue: The Poetry and Criticism of Geoffrey Hill, Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, and Radical Modernism, and James Joyce: Ulysses.

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