Modernism Novel: Beginning and Development

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      The novel which had been enjoying a supremacy for a long time, even out-rivalling poetry, still retained its hold in Modernism. The older novelists who wrote in the traditional manner, H. G. Wells, Galsworthy, Arnold Bennett, Conrad still retained their vogue and prestige and some of the new novelists of the rising generations were now continuing their tradition and wrote within the accepted norm. They kept to the story and characterisation in the traditional way, informed their novels with humour, romance, etc., and were strictly governed by the central purpose of interpretation and 'criticism of life'. Hugh Walpole, Compton Mackenzie and Rose Macaulay are the most outstanding writers of the traditional method. Their works appeared in the Pre-War years. But the most important novelists of the age were the 'experimentalists' who tried various hitherto unknown and entirely novel methods and techniques in their writings. The break-up of the old smooth tradition began when D.H. Lawrence published his Sons and Lovers in 1913.

Various foreign influences had for a long time been at work on the English novel and these completely changed the whole body and mind of the novel, beyond recognition.
Modernism Novel

      Various foreign influences had for a long time been at work on the English novel and these completely changed the whole body and mind of the novel, beyond recognition. One of these is the influence of the Russian masters of the novel. Their works opened a new world of fiction to the English readers and novelists. Many felt that in comparison with such works the English novel "appeared provincial and soulless, half blind to the psychological wonders of human personality" Thus Virginia Woolf in her essay on "The Russian Point of View praised their works highly and opined that their methods were the methods of the novels of the future. Again, in her essay, 'On Modern English Fiction she condemned the great English novelists as 'materialists' because of their pre occupation with the outside of life; "they write of unimportant things, they spend immense skill and immense industry in making the trivial and the transitory appear the true and the enduring. But Russian novelists in contrast are 'spiritualist in as much as their novels "reveal a new panorama of the human mind". The novelist, in her view must "expose himself to life" and yet he is detached from it.

      The second and the more potent influence is that of Freud's new science of psycho-analysis, which gave attention to the hitherto unsuspected regions of the subconscious mind and threw new light on it in the interpretation of human personality. These two combined together to revolutionise the technique and subject-matter of the novel. Thus an altogether new kind of novel was born in England and the two great practitioners of this new technique were James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.

      Joyce's Ulysses appeared in Paris in 1922 (the book being banned in England because of its alleged obscenity). In this novel Joyce traces 'the journey of a not very attractive though a very human hero (Leopold Bloom, a middle-aged Jew, kind, abused and unheroic, yet at the same time a modern Ulysses homing in a hostile world) through his wanderings in Dublin on a single day. The outer world is portrayed through the hero's consciousness, being "introduced into the flow of consciousness as a symbolic phantasmagoria." The novelist plays with the English language, "now with strange effectiveness, now merely with obscure pedantry and again with puckish humour". Nothing of the traditional novel was left in it. Plot, character, tragedy, comedy, and the conventional themes like love interest were no longer adequate to communicate this "stream of modern consciousness" in a mind.

      The novel had a tremendous impact, and gave a blow to the traditional kind. A more effective blow was dealt by Virginia Woolf, who criticised the traditional novelists in terms of unqualified disparagement, gave her own theory of the purpose and technique of the novel of the stream of consciousness and herself practised it with great skill and success in her own novels. Another exponent of this new kind is Dorothy Richardson, who in fact first claimed to have used the 'stream of consciousness' technique in her novels. In the nineteen-twenties the literary scene, in so far as the novel is concerned presented a rich and varied aspect. E. M. Foster, D. H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley are highly talented and popular novelists of the period.

      Other varieties of novels also followed. There were the war novels of Sinclair Lewis; Upton Sinclair, Madox Ford, Richard Aldington and the greatest of them, the famous American Ernest Hemingway, whose A Fare-well to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls have an international reputation. There were also the 'regional novels in the vein of Thomas Hardy, practised by Adrian Bell and A. G. Street. The novel of crime and detection (detective novel) too had its hey-day and brought money to the writers. Cecil Day Lewis, the poet became the outstanding detective story-teller under the pen-name of 'Nicholas Blake'.

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