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Modernity and Modernism in Literature

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 4386 words Published: 4th Sep 2017

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1.2. Modernity and Modernism

The first seeds to modernist literature were implanted with the emergence of modernity. Modernity is a post traditional or post-medieval historical period that characterized a radical shift away from traditions. It is the epoch marking the rise of the age of reason which began with the Enlightenment (About 1687 to 1789).

Scientists such as Immanuel Kant, René Descartes and most importantly Isaac Newton believed that through science the world could be saved and that through reason they can establish a foundation of universal truth. Modernity was also brought to light by political leaders such as Niccolò Machiavelli who believed that peace could be established with reason resulting major movements such as Capitalism, Industrialism and Urbanization.

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Post Modernity as a theory evolved around criticizing modernity and what modernity stands for, it criticizes industrialization and the effects that last one had on the peasants in the fields and the workers in factories, and the power capitalists had over the people.(Barret 17-18). In other words, postmodern refers to a time of interfused styles, mixed cultural layers, oddly merging traditions and multi-cultural pluralism. (Bradbury WII)

Modernism as described by Barth is a term that describes the modernist movement; it was a revolt against the conservative values of realism. Modernism is often understood through the work of authors who were productive after the turn of the twentieth century. Writers such as T.S Eliot, Ezra Pounds and James Joyce allowed it to be historically and politically understood in their literary works. (Childs 5)

1.2.1 Modernist literature

Modern literature is a literature that flourished in the new capitalist art market during a period of time where writers were no longer pointed when it comes to what they write neither by the church nor by monarchies. They also no longer had to answer to the old system of artistic patronage; to the contrary, they signified their allegiance to all what is new. (Hutchens-Suggs 20).

The First World War showed artists how ridiculous life could be, Life was not fair to Europeans and continued to be with the Second World War taking the lives of over 50 million person and damaging the understructure of Europe unsling it from what was generally referred to as the “Belle Époque” . Later on and when the flames of war finally came to end, this period was seen as a period of calm before the storm. (Ara Mergian CNN.com- November 9, 2014

The modernist artistic movement is an intellectual movement that broke aesthetic and social boundaries. It appeared in the early 20th century and aimed to uncover invisible systems and unconscious codes or rules by explaining various phenomena using attractive and coherent style in writing, painting, sculpture and all artistic and creative performances (Barret 22).

Modernists referred to themselves as “avant-garde”, they were rebellious against restrictions, had a futuristic vision and no limitation when challenging social values.

1.2.2 Modernist Aesthetics and Criticism

To some, Modernist art is old and even finished, but that isn’t completely true since it was once very progressive, bringing a new art for a new age under of the cape of a social and economical revolution that swept over the, new back then, urban and industrial Europe(Barret P 20).

One of the most important specifications of modernism was that it abolished the idea of beauty as the ideal of art (Atkins 56). Malcom Brudbury said “One of the defining features of modernism has been the breaking down of traditional frontier of matters of literary and cultural concern” ( p114). Artists dropped subject matters as essentials and writers changed their presented works as rapidly as the intellectual life was changing. Poets likewise sought to account for the rapid changes. Due to its difficulties, modernist poetry is hard to enjoy having a wider and less comprehensive sense (Marry Warner 1 & 2)

Artists eliminated the need to have an artwork be different from ordinary objects; they made an unofficial statement that beauty has no established scale to be acknowledged. Douglas Crimp (1990) argued that the demise was brought about by the invention of photography which allowed the reproduction of images mechanically including art images stripping away from the artwork its uniqueness. Other critics see that aestitic revolutions of modernism are formed by the expansion of the comprehensive system of globalized world open to outer cultures and regions (Child 31).

1.3 JAMES JOYCE (1882 – 1941)

James Joyce was, and still is, a major figure of modernism. The famous writer was born on the 2nd of February 1882 at 41 Brington Square West in Rathgar and was named James Augustin Joyce after his great grandfather and grandfather (Noris 59). James was born to a Catholic family but he had always been a rebellion, he rebelled against his father who encouraged him into becoming a priest and choose, or might have been destined to, become a literature’s crooked genius (Philips 191). He subsequently studied languages and philosophy at Clongowes Wood and Belvedere Colleges.

Coming from a middle-class family, James was brilliant; Hildegard Tristman considered him to be “A writer who lost his brain to forgetting” (Tristman 230). Needless were notebooks, his memory was so good that he could retrieve any information he heard or read at any moment.

The name Joyce is derived from the French word “joyeux” and James was supposed to hold the holly spirit of joy. He mostly referred to himself as “James Joyceless”,”a Joy of Evil” and as “Joyce in the wilderness” (Ellmann 12).

Growing-up, James was a well-behaved, slim little boy with a set of blue eyes and a pale face. Doing his Jesuit masters, James didn’t feel at ease with their teaching techniques but later on in his life when he was asked by August Suter about what he retained from his years in Jetsuit he replied :”I have learned to arrange things in such a way that they become easy to survey and to judge” (Ellmann 27).He got from Jesuits his hairy platonic idealism and the grounded Aristotelian realism as the question of his Catholic faith was raised by father Daly who indicated that his religious and spiritual manifestations were mysterious(Philip P4)

Joyce was head of his class at Clongowes, his memory was absolute, and he was a good athlete too, playing Rugby and Cricket. The fascinating boy came back home with several cups (P 30). James was keen of music and all sorts of art that he took Piano lessons as well.

The family had serious financial problems and that did impel James to move closer to Dublin. John Joyce, James’ father, sold many properties of his in order to provide a better life for his children. The caring father with a pension of £132 a year struggled to provide comestible, pay school tuitions for the children and to keep a roof over their heads after moving to “The Lionville house” at Carysford Avenue, Blackrock. The stress caused by the economical difficulties affected James starting from his teen-years that some indicated a flair of drama in his personality and that’s when he attained a reputation for being spiritual and conscious of everything happening around him. At Belever, Joyce acquired Italian as a third language to go with Latin and French pursuing to read European literature at the expense of his own grades.

In 1897 and by love for art and need to help his family, James participated in the Intermediate Examinations and received an exhibition of £30 a year and £3 prize for best English composition in his grade in Ireland (P 51).

In the fall of 1898 James attended University College, Dublin from wich he graduated in 1902. During this time, Dublin was a town with many important pillars of literature such as William Butler Yeat, Lady Augusta Gregory, James Clarence and George Moore walking its street. James was influenced by all these writers especially Yeats whom he met privately in early October 1902 on the streets of Dublin and had a deepened conversation with. That strongly showed on his statement of method and intention and the way in which he strongly defended all what is temporary and modern.

On April 1900 Ibsen’s New Drama by James A Joyce was published on the Fortnightly Review and after that, James was no longer an Irishman, he was European.

Graduating from U.C Dublin, James main focus was to travel; his targeted city was Paris were he didn’t reside easily. At that time, his fame and readership were not particularly widespread (Goldman 84). To stay there was a pointless move so, so he went home for Christmas and then decided to stay when he knew of his mother’s health issues. His mother died on August 13th, 1903. After this tragedy, Joyce focused more on making reviews for the Irish Homestead magazine and during this time he met Nora Barnacle and the two moved to Pola in late 1094 where he occupied a teaching position at Berlitz school. The next few years were difficult for James who suffered from financial problems and a major drinking problem too. After that he became disconnected from the people around him. Eventually Joyce, Nora and their child settled into a new life in Paris where he finally was able publish Ulysses but continued to have problems, this time health problems especially with his sightedness (Ellman 225-229). Difficulties continued to cross John’s path as his relationship with publishing houses delayed Dubliners from emerging for a decade. Better days were yet to come as he gained an award from the Royal Literary Found in 1915 followed with the publication of A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man in 1916. His work as a whole, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake predominately served to change the face of novels; they represented a playful mixture of English and other languages and novels completely free from the limitations of normal consciousness.

James was a relentlessly autobiographical writer, a man who never doubted himself and in August 1929 his self-esteem extended even more as he was praised by George Moore who wrote to John Elton, ‘He (Joyce) was distinguished, courteous, respectful, and I was the same’. During their short encounter in London Moore said, ‘I have been only a revolutionary, while you have been a heroic revolutionary, for you had no money’ (Ellman 617).

On January 1935, James moved along with his entourage back to Paris. He didn’t feel as blind as Homer, nor as exiled as Dante having as many friends as he did. They moved again to southern France but eventually settled again in Zurich. On January 9th 1941 James was hospitalized, the doctor assured him that he didn’t have cancer and that he needed an immediate surgery which George, his father offered to pay for saying ‘we’ll manage Somehow or other’ (Welcker 53). The surgery was successful as he recovered consciousness but at one O’clock in the morning he relapsed into coma. At 2:15 on January 13,1941, one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century died leaving behind a considerable amount of scholarly interesting works(Cope, Cope 2).


James Joyce’s Dubliners is a collection of stories that aims to portray middle class life in Dublin, Ireland in the early twentieth century. It is a set of 15 short stories published in 1914 where Joyce made to appear the literary portrait of an entire society glimpsing into the lives of different social classes and exploring what it means to be Irish (Joyce VI).

Moments of sudden insights arise frequently throughout Dubliners, it have been described and analyzed by critics as a series of fifteen epiphanies coupled with frustrating and enlighten characters with significant and illuminating experiences that are trapped in a city where nothing ever changes. Dubliners stories spotted the paralysis in the Irish society and how helpless in their daily life those individuals are; thanks to Joyce’ artistic vision which simplified the image of Dublin. (Carter & Mc Raf 165)

Nothing would explain Joyce’s purpose in writing Dubliners more than his own words:

My intention was to write a chapter of the moral history of my country and I chose Dublin for the scene because the city seemed to me the centre of the paralysis. I have tried to present it to the indifferent public under four of its aspects: childhood, adolescence, maturity and public life. The stories are arranged in this order. I have written it for the most part in a style of scrupulous meanness and with the conviction that he is a very bold man who dares to alter in the presentment, still more to deform, whatever he has seen and heard. (Gillie 94)

1.4.1 Epiphany in James’s Dubliners

An epiphany is:

1_an illuminating realization or discovery, often resulting in a personal feeling of elation, awe, or wonder; it’s a state of Nirvana, a complete cessation of suffering, and a blissfull state attained through realization of sunyata, simply an enlightened and heightened experience.

2_ a Christian feast celebrated on the 7th of January (Oxford 127)

Epiphany in James’ dictionary is a religious term that refers to the revelation of the infant Jesus to the Magi in the season of time of the Christian church year; he considered it to be a structural device. (Cope-Cope 4)

The stories of Dubliners are distinctive to the reader by the sudden insight about the plot and characters who are kept from seeing who they really are. At the first look, the reader might think that the characters, those Dubliners, are taking their journey in a rhythmic way, he might think, hope them to achieve the expectable, but suddenly, a dramatic alternation occurs. Father Flin and Eveline are probably the best examples to this. Father Flin ended up as a spiritually crippled man Unable to cope with his life choices; Eveline was too afraid to escape her miserable life that she missed the opportunity to start over in a new country with the man she loved.

James takes us into deep Dublin, showing us versions of citizens who happened to have a bleared vision of their city, families, and of themselves. The last story of the fifteen stories collection ‘The Dead’ represents both the synthesis and climax of ‘Dubliners’. The story took place on January sixth, which is the Christian feast of epiphany, at Kate and Julia Morkan’s house. This story focuses on Gabriel Conroy from beginning to end throughout his encounter with the party gests who, one by one, ended up revealing his weakness; even his short encounter with the made Lilly turned in to a revealing scene of his lack of sympathy.

1.4.2 The Dead

The Dead is one of the finest short stories in English literature. Written by James Joyce, it is known as the most famous and emotionally affecting story of his collection of fifteen stories ‘Dubliners’. The story was a late addition long enough to be a novella.

The Dead includes much believable dialogue and had a more positive tone and is often referred to as an exception to the generalization made about Dubliners. The Dead also anticipates Joyce’s move away From the short story and toward the novel, Joyce wrote no other short story after it He had it substantially completed by the 6th of September 1916.

This story serves as a final chorus of the book presenting holiday life, the celebrating of Christmas. The Dead is in a way a story of the dead people ghosts who return in envy of the living. (Kelleher 414)

“The Dead” is a fitting conclusion to the stories collected in Dubliners; it could be seen as another capacity within the Joycean oeuvre, James let Symbolism flow freely throughout his short story and utilizes his main characters and objects to impress upon his readers and show them the real crippled condition of the Dublin he saw and the Dublin that negated him.

Critical Reception of The Dead

The nineteenth-century novel explored the external world, whereas the modern novel has dedicated itself to the inner world of the human consciousness (Fletcher 246)

The modern epoch has found in critical reception both a mirror with which it could examine the many vices and perversions that define it and an obscure tapestry of almost fundamentalist punishments that are entirely alien to it. The twentieth century novelist James Joyce is a vivid example of modern writers who managed to not only engage with the world but to reform it as well.

The tradition bound culture has a dangerous capacity for stifling rather than nourishing the life instinct. Like most of his contemporary writers, Joyce’s story in The Dead anticipates the traumatic moment of self-discovery by a series of images that convey the protagonist’s unacknowledged estrangement from nature (Sullivan P4)

Writers make images vivid in any number of ways, James imagination was trained to be a compiler of aspects. The Dead’s scenes take place at night, when things aren’t usually so clear (Phillips 198) Ghosts are present in the character of Michael Furey who was in love with Gretta and died in Galway, Gabriel knew that, and all over the sudden perceived the tormenting truth; he has always had a competitor who had been capable of greater love than he could ever be.

2.1 Psychoanalytic Theory in The Dead

Psychoanalysis is to be understood in its wider meaning to include all “psycho-dynamic” theories and therapies, regardless as to whether they emanate from Freud or Jung or elsewhere. Although the Freudian professional organizations regard the term ‘psychoanalysis’ as one which refers solely to their own theory and practices, and although the Jungians and Adlerians call themselves analytical and individual psychologists respectively in the hope of differentiating themselves from the Freudians, these distinctions have never caught on even among the well-informed laity, which has always been more impressed by the similarities of the schools than by their differences (Rycroft 08)

Freudian. Psychoanalytic theory is basically historical; it treats learning as cumulative, so that early experiences influence later experiences.

2.2 The Irish case

“The general history of a nation may fitly preface the personal memoranda of a solitary captive”

( John Mitchel, Jail Journal. Dublin 1918).

The Irish Question is a phrase used to describe Irish nationalism and the calls for Irish independence. It encompasses issues such as religion, the Irish-British politics and land ownership (Amato & Demi & Petrone P3). The 20th century marked the end of the British colonial project in Ireland leaving the country with an outdated agricultural system and a weak industrial economy. The English informal colonization created a nation that is neither native Irish nor wholly British. (Duke 18)

The Irish are descended from the Celtic people who originally inhabited the Island and who are old Catholics, while the English descended minorities were protestant. A sense of belonging and national solidarity arises among the natives and this resulted into a typical of national consciousness about the imperial ascendency the British Empire had on Ireland.

In 1536, Henry VIII decided to conquer Ireland and he was proclaimed King of Ireland in 1541. The Irish Catholics rebelled against the British crown and ruled over Ireland (1642-1649) until Oliver Cromwel, the English military and political leader, the man known as the protector of England, re-conquered Ireland in1653 and ruled over it with the King’s blessing. (Amado & Demi & Petrone P5 & 6). Therefore, in the course of the century there were several movements reclaiming Britain to return the Irish lands its real possessors and France offered military help. The English Prime Minister Pitt was frightened by the idea of having the Irish lands uses as a structural military base against the English soil and persuaded the Irish Parliament to agree to its own abolition. In the course of centuries Ireland witnessed ups and downs in its relation with the British crown starting from The Union with Britain (1801-1912) to the Home Rule Bill of 1912 which was suspended for the war.

In 1920 English Parliament passed the Government of Ireland Act establishing separate domestic legislatures for the north and south and in1949 Ireland finally

broke the link with Britain Commonwealth and became an independent republic (Ibid 17). Modern Ireland and from the early 1970 faced many challenges that were mainly related to religion. The Catholics did not feel safe in Ireland; forming The Civil Rights Association they were attacked by Protestants in 1968 and 1969. The IRA (Irish Republican Army) got involved right after the RUC failed to stop the anarchy. The IRA troops split into two wings: The officials whose first duty was to establish peace; and The Provisional who declared war on Britain; that last one responded by taking over Northern Ireland in 1972. IRA replied by bombing Westminster Hall and London; assassinating Lord Mountbatten and MP Airey Neave in 1979 and attempting to blow the Grand Hotel while Mr. Thatcher is a denizen of it.

In 1985 the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed, both sides agreed to collaborate and work together fighting terrorism establishing a new, and hopefully, a lasting peaceful state of coexistence.

1.2.1 Emigration, Exile and contemporary Ireland

There is the personal element in exile, an element that muffles and beclouds the work’s effects, the insistent self-dramatizations as another factor, a major one. (Peter 627)

The Irish society like any other society had many great problems that dwelt deeply in everyday life. Unemployment and poverty reached their peak in the late interwar period.

The failure of the potato crop in the mid 1840 effected several areas leaving behind according to Sir William Wild; the father of the well-known emigrant Oscar “a poor, weak, old, lame, sick, blind, dumb, imbecile and insane population” (Fitzpatrick I).

The Irish emigration from the Irish lands had everything to do with the potato famine economy and the exploitation of labor in the fields. By the 1900’s Northern Ireland was suffering from stagnation, its population was overwhelmed by famine, immigration, hopelessness, paralysis in all forms. Alcohol was another massive problem according to Larry Harrison who stated that “North Irish study group contained a significantly higher proportion of heavy drinkers” and that’s why the Irish man was and still widely known and stereotyped as a heavy consumer of alcoholic drinks.(P 59)

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The disoriented Anglo-Irishry of after 1922 aimed to reconstruct the consciousness of nineteenth-century Irish people who felt as if all their dreams and life goals are thrown in the deep St George channel. For the majority f the Irish middle class, being abroad was a common thing, they traveled to all parts of Europe but Britain was often their first destination. Emigration as a concept must include the middle-class or petit bourgeois (Foster P 283) who found in places such as London the solid soil and deep settled state they needed to form a literary career. Britain was, and everyone agreed, a Modernist wonderland.

1.2.2 Who is Gabriel Conroy?

It has often been pointed that James’ “self-consciousness” was found and showed over years of writing various and confusing fictional phenomenon we call the novel today. The Edwardian Irishman promoted the movement of «Imagism» as a new rhythmic practice which employ the language of common speech and have complete freedom in subject matter. Joyce took his style to a new and highly experimental level by inventing, dreaming and creating new characters so that he would ultimately get modern and unique plots. Gabriel Conroy is one of his most controversial Characters ever; a man that represents a variety well known and present in the Irish society. (Gillie 90)

Gabriel Conroy is the main character in Joyce’s short story The Dead. The man has the portray of an educated intellectual Irish gentleman but when looking beyond and analyzing the events of the night we notice that he is nothing more than a privileged brat with very low self-esteem and tremulous self-respect. The man had a fatuous self-righteousness that was present as a result to the imaginatively records of Joyce’s literary and dramatic revision of themes and context. ( Shelly Jr 134)

2.2.4 Paralysis in The Dead

For it is well known that one of the oldest and most persistent clichés of Joycean criticism has been to associate the Dublin of Joyce’s oeuvre with the one inhabited by his Dubliners.

Garry Leonard voiced reservations as to the implications made by James and asked a very accurate Question: “If Dublin is the center of paralysis, what is the periphery?” (Leonard P320)


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