Modernism and Colonialism

British and Irish Literature, 1899–1939

Modernism and Colonialism

Book Pages: 344 Illustrations: Published: October 2007

Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

This collection of essays by renowned literary scholars offers a sustained and comprehensive account of the relation of British and Irish literary modernism to colonialism. Bringing postcolonial studies into dialogue with modernist studies, the contributors move beyond depoliticized appreciations of modernist aesthetics as well as the dismissal of literary modernism as irredeemably complicit in the evils of colonialism. They demonstrate that the modernists were not unapologetic supporters of empire. Many were avowedly and vociferously opposed to colonialism, and all of the writers considered in this volume were concerned with the political and cultural significance of colonialism, including its negative consequences for both the colonizer and the colonized.

Ranging over poetry, fiction, and criticism, the essays provide fresh appraisals of Joseph Conrad, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, Wyndham Lewis, E. M. Forster, W. B. Yeats, James Joyce, Elizabeth Bowen, Hugh MacDiarmid, and Evelyn Waugh, as well as Robert Louis Stevenson and H. Rider Haggard. The essays that bookend the collection connect the modernists to their Victorian precursors, to postwar literary critics, and to postcolonial poets. The rest treat major works written or published between 1899 and 1939, the boom years of literary modernism and the period during which the British empire reached its greatest geographic expanse. Among the essays are explorations of how primitivism figured in the fiction of Lawrence and Lewis; how, in Ulysses, Joyce used modernist techniques toward anticolonial ends; and how British imperialism inspired Conrad, Woolf, and Eliot to seek new aesthetic forms appropriate to the sense of dislocation they associated with empire.

Contributors. Nicholas Allen, Rita Barnard, Richard Begam, Nicholas Daly, Maria DiBattista, Ian Duncan, Jed Esty, Andrzej Gąsiorek, Declan Kiberd, Brian May, Michael Valdez Moses, Jahan Ramazani, Vincent Sherry


“A comprehensive collection on the relationship between modernist aesthetics and the political realities of colonialism . . . Impressive.” — Timothy Sutton, English Literature in Transition

“Begam and Moses have produced a strongly coherent volume, one in which modernism is frequently read as a critique of Western complacencies. The most interesting and challenging contributions, however, focus on authors, such as Elizabeth Bowen and Evelyn Waugh, whose affiliations and formal innovations do not fit this paradigm so comfortably.” — Forum for Modern Language Studies

“Erudite, imaginative, and largely persuasive, these critics append bibliographies to their essays that attest to the recent proliferation of modernist and postcolonial studies. Their contributions should stimulate further scholarship. Recommended.” — M. S. Vogeler, Choice

“The editors are to be commended not only for persuading such an exciting and well-regarded group of scholars to contribute to this collection but also for structuring the collection so wisely. The essays range widely enough among topics of study to underscore the diverse ways in which modernists and modernist texts engaged with colonial questions, but a genuine, seemingly effortless dialogue unfolds among the essays.” — Paige Reynolds, Journal of British Studies

“The essays range broadly not only in scope, but also in their responses to the coincidence of the high point of colonialism and modernism. . . . [The essays] provide an impressive array of arguments in favour of a continuing critical engagement with the relations between modernism and colonialism.” — Coilin Parsons, Review of English Studies

Modernism and Colonialism is a terrific book—timely, intelligent, capacious, and a pleasure to read.” — Douglas Mao, coeditor of Bad Modernisms

Modernism and Colonialism will have a real impact on the fields of postcolonial studies and British modernism. It succeeds in treating colonialism as a condition of possibility for a vibrant British-transnational modernism.” — Simon During, author of Modern Enchantments: The Cultural Power of Secular Magic

“The subject of this collection—the relation between modernism, understood especially in terms of formal innovation and self-reflexivity, and the historical phenomenon of British colonialism and of resistance to colonialism—is an important and timely one that has received remarkably little attention.” — Derek Attridge, author of The Singularity of Literature


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Richard Begam is Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is the author of Samuel Beckett and the End of Modernity.

Michael Valdez Moses is Associate Professor of English at Duke University. He is the author of The Novel and the Globalization of Culture.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction / Richard Begam and Michael Valdez Moses 1

Part 1: Victorian Backgrounds

1. Colonialism and Popular Literature at the Fin de Siecle / Nicholas Daly 19

Part 2: Modern British Literature

2. Disorientalism: Conrad and the Imperial Origins of Modernist Aesthetics / Michael Valdez Moses 43

3. Virginia Woolf’s Colony and the Adolescence of Modernist Fiction / Jed Esty 70

4. War, “Primitivism,” and the Future of “the West”: Reflections on D.H. Lawrence and Wyndham Lewis / Andrzej Agsiorek 91

5. T.S. Eliot, Late Empire, and Decadence / Vincent Sherry 111

6. Romancing the Stump: Modernism and Colonialism to Forster’s A Passage to India / Brian May 136

7. “A tangle of modernism and barbarity”: Evelyn Waugh’s Black Mischief / Rita Barnard 162

Part 3: Ireland and Scotland

8. Joyce’s Trojan Horse: Ulysses and the Aesthetics of Decolonization / Richard Begam 185

9. Yeats, Spengler, and A Vision after Empire / Nicholas Allen 209

10. Elizabeth Bowen’s Troubled Modernism / Maria DiBattista 226

11. “Upon the thistle they’re impaled”: Hugh MacDiarmid’s Modernist Nationalism / Ian Duncan 246

Part 4: Toward the Postcolonial

12. Postcolonial Modernism? / Declan Kiberd 269

13. Modernist Bricolage, Postcolonial Hybridity / Jahan Ramazani 288

Contributors 315

Index 319
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4038-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4019-5
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