www.marilenabeltramini.it |  Site map | Search  | Advanced search
[Forum]  [Wiki]  [Blog] [SW 2005/06] [SW 2006/07]    [login]
Home  » Learning Paths » T.S. Eliot and Modernism in Poetry and Fiction
Study Areas
    » class
    » 2A
    » 3A
    » 4A
    » 5C
    » 5D
    » teacher
Acciarino - Modernism
[author: Teresa Acciarino - postdate: 2007-12-17]


Modernism is a cultural movement developed during the first three decades of the 20ieth century.

It describes a serious of innovation in culture, literature (poetry, fiction, drama), art and music.


It is a cosmopolitan and innovating movement and it modifies the previous artistic and literary  tradition of the Victorian Age and Aesthetic movement.

Modernism thought they did not suffice in the 20ieth century because they did not have material and so they searched to express the new condition of man.


Many concepts like God, religion, family, father, were put into to questions.

There are many factors that contributed to the development of Modernism:

  • Darwin's theories
  • II industrial revolution and consequently questions about raw materials search and
  • First World War
  • Crisis of liberal democracy
  • Capitalism and sciences
  •  End of Victorian Age
  • Nietzsche metaphor "God is dead" and the religious crisis that followed: fear of man's isolation (only himself: dramatic monologue)
  • Einstein's relativity
  • Bergson
  • Freud - Jung

From the Victorian Age to Modernism, there is a shift from a rigid orthodox code to a new way of seeing reality; there was no a set of values, neither social nor personal to which a writer may refer to. Consequently they left their characters to speak for themselves, to present their own version of reality to offer the reader an alternative point of view. The multi-perspective expresses also the freedom of the reader to understand. Because of the presence of different points of view, there is not an only reality but as many as the different ways of thinking. In other words there are many realities, one for each person that perceives it

Differently from the Victorian age, in Modernism the idea of author as an instance controlling narration does no longer exist.

The principle of authority is considered obsolete, as a matter of fact there is a shift (eclipsing of narrator and impersonality of poetry) that maks the reader free to understand. (the role of reader has changed, he may co-operate)


Not only morality and social philosophy had become relative; the very basic traditional science were shown to rest on false assumption.

In 1906, Einstein's "General Theory of Relativity" said that space and time did not exist as separate, absolute phenomena, but changed according to the point of view of the observer.

Bergson and James also rejected the conventional idea of time; they argued that it is an illusion to think that is organizes events in a certain sequence.

Past and future (as memory and anticipation) exist together with the present in people's minds; they fuse together and run into a stream of consciousness that constitutes a person's mind and determines his thinking.

The rational part of the mind tries to organize this stream, that is no rational. Freud studied the importance of irrationality in determining people's actions and Jung studied primitive memory which  preserved in each individual about his own race.

Yeats elaborated a prose work "A Vision" in which he formulated a complete symbolical system.


The symbolist poets influence the writers of the Aesthetic Movement (1890s) - art should represent beauty. Previous poetry was sentimental, elegiac and after that pastoral. It expressed a regret for a world which would not return, and the sentiments and impressions of the poet and its rejection of critical reason.

The most important representative of Aestheticism was Oscar Wilde who changed the idea of art; he created a gap between tradition and a new revolutionary kind of poetry. His motto of "Arts for art sake" explains his solution because he understood that Art can't  stop time which is compared to a river. The aesthetic movement seems to provide a solution where everything seems to cohere to create a great sensation. Oscar Wilde turned the aspects of the Victorian Age upside down. He criticized the idea of literature that has the role to teach.

In  Modernism this concept evolved as in a dynamical transformation: in V. Woolf it became the moment of being and in Joyce an epiphany.


A new poetry was necessary and it was  T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, and W.B Yeats they who produced it. The development began in England with the critical writings of T.E. Hulme, who condemned the Romantic idea of art self-expression of the artist; he believes that it should be impersonal (neoclassicism, a return to the pre-romantic idea of man).


Pound founded the Imagist Movement that wanted poetic language to be dry and hard, with clear and precise images that are a medium between what happens and what poet feels.

With Modernism, literarature moved its focus to what is inner, inside in man; it emphasised the subject, the individual, the human being and the essence of  man's nature. The consequences area personal and inner research was now connected to a new investigation on myth and anthropology. Moreover the new atmosphere and sensitivity  focussed on an inner side, a stream of consciousness.

People had to find himself within a personal research (Joyce and in art Bloom); rain and water may represent the objective correlative for the situation of the modern man. In V. Woolf it is the inner side of conscience.


Innovation is to be found in the Western cultural tradition.

Tradition is necessary to be innovative: there is a new way to consider man fusing together past, present and future.


Modernism in fiction presents a new approach to telling:

  1. plot (storyline) is reduced to the minimum
  2. feelings collide in the conscience of a character
  3. a new vision of time
  4. no author's point of view as sure reference
  5. eclipse of narrator à internal monologue (adoption of different points of view), the narrator is not omniscient
  6. inter-textuality (this word was coined by Jiulia Kristeva in 1966)


Modernism is movement seemingly addressing elitarian people; it is experimentalism is  difficult for people that have no culture. This aspect is different in  Post-modern conventions that reject an eliterian vision and focuses also on low class production and on media.


Eliot's mythical method

Eliot sees myth and ritual (the use of anthropological material) as a potential means of ordering and transforming into significance contemporary experience. The technical function of myth seems to have been even more important to him than their symbolic meaning. Eliot's own technique for presenting, the "immense panorama" is different from Joyce's. By compression and allusion he condenses it where Joyce expands the moment almost to infinitude.


Eliot's objective correlative

It is the only way to express emotions in the form of art; in other words, a set of object, situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.

It needs of balance and coalescence of form and matter.



In 1890, the first edition of Fraser's essay was indicative of the new interest in mythology and pre-history which arose, in one way, out of the symbolist movement, and in another, from the theories of Darwin