The Modernist Review Issue #9

This issue of the Modernist Review is all about the creative power of contradictions. Many critics have discussed the tensions within modernism, what Jeff Wallace helpfully describes as a ‘push and pull, attraction and repulsion’. New Work in Modernist Studies has witnessed a renewed and profound interest in the productivity and play between seemingly opposed paradoxes; the points of departure, the nodes of connection and the manifold relationship between these that can illuminate new ideas and histories. This impulse for a multifaceted, open-ended enquiry runs through the five pieces of this issue.

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Book Review: Flann O’Brien: Contesting Legacies

Laura Ryan, University of Manchester

Ruben Borg, Paul Fagan and Werner Huber (eds.), Flann O’Brien: Contesting Legacies (Cork: Cork University Press, 2014)

Few 20th-century authors have experienced a critical renaissance as spectacular as Brian O’Nolan, who wrote under several pseudonyms during his life (Myles na gCopaleen, George Knowall, Brother Barnabus, Count O’Blather) but is best-known as Flann O’Brien, the nom de plume under which he composed his two most famous works: At Swim-Two-Birds (1939) and The Third Policemen (1967).  A proliferation of O’Nolan scholarship since 2000 has considered the Strabane-born author as variously a late modernist and an early postmodernist and aimed to widen the contexts within which he has been considered.  Yet the tendency within modernist studies and Irish literary studies to compare O’Nolan (largely unfavourably) with his exiled compatriots James Joyce and Samuel Beckett and to consider him a provincial author and a wasted talent has to some extent endured.

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Book Review: The European Avant-Gardes, 1905-1935: A Portable Guide

Robert Brazeau, University of Alberta

Sascha Bru, The European Avant-Gardes, 1905-1935: A Portable Guide (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018)

Sascha Bru’s  The European Avant-Gardes, 1905-1935: A Portable Guide offers a highly readable, consistently informative, and, it should be said, unerringly successful description of the rise to prominence (if that is the right word) of an ersatz group of artists and writers who set out to either make sense of, or fundamentally critique, a Europe that was undergoing considerable historical, cultural, geographical, economic, and, perhaps above all, political transformation in the early decades of the twentieth century.  Scholars who are relatively early on in their engagement with the avant-gardes could not ask for a better place to start their research, and those who have been working in and around this field for many years will find much that is new, edifying, and energising in Bru’s eclectic and expansive approach. I cannot imagine a reader of this book who will not learn a considerable amount about the field under consideration, and I cannot imagine a writer better than Bru, whose career to date has been steeped in a critical exposition of the avant-garde, to guide us through this tangled, multi-media, vaguely networked and always arresting field of inquiry.

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A Surrealist discourse on the Origins of Artistic Inspiration

Aoiffe Walsh, Royal Holloway, University of London

Following the 1936 London International Surrealist Exhibition, Sir Herbert Read collected a series of essays from select French and British contributors, publishing them in a book aptly titled Surrealism. Recalling the successes of the Exhibition, this book hoped to act as a new manifesto of sorts, one that homogenized the emerging Surrealism in Britain with the well-established French Surrealism. In the introduction chapter, Read claims that these collected texts present ‘English evidence’ of the Surrealist project in order to ‘unite it with the general theory of Surrealism, and to reaffirm on this wider basis the truths which other writers, above all Andre Breton, have already declared.’[1] However, instead of communicating a unified vision and purpose of Surrealism, practised harmoniously on either side of the Channel, in many ways Surrealism serves to accentuate their differences.

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Book Review: Publishing Modernist Fiction and Poetry

Josh Phillips, University of Glasgow

Lise Jaillant, ed. Publishing Modernist Fiction and Poetry (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press: 2019)

‘Modernism is not capitalism’s useful idiot,’ John Xiros Cooper argues in his contribution to Publishing Modernist Fiction and Poetry. Instead, ‘modernism and a fully deployed market society emerge from the same gene pool and are in fact one and the same’ (p. 91). This provocation serves as a good elevator pitch of sorts for Lise Jaillant’s edited collection, which makes a strong case for viewing Anglo-American modernism not as a purely literary phenomenon but as one with an inescapable material and commercial dimension. Jaillant notes in her introduction that, of late, scholars have displayed a renewed interest in the little modernist magazines that initially published the big modernist names, but that publishing houses remain ‘nearly invisible in New Modernist studies.’ Small wonder, then, that this volume represents the ‘first edited collection on book publishers that sold modernist texts to a wide range of readers across the Atlantic and elsewhere’ (p. 2).

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Book Review: T. S. Eliot’s Dialectical Imagination

Cécile Varry, Université de Paris

Jewel Spears Brooker, T. S. Eliot’s Dialectical Imagination (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018)

As Jewel Spears Brooker (Eckerd College, FL) notes in the introduction to this book, ‘we are in the dawn of a renaissance in Eliot studies’ (p. 3). This renaissance is due in no small part to the wealth of new material that Brooker herself has contributed to making publicly available as co-editor of two volumes of the Collected Prose[1], in addition to the on-going publication of Eliot’s letters (edited by John Haffenden) and the critical edition of the Poems (edited by Ricks & McCue, 2015). T. S. Eliot’s Dialectical Imagination is an excellent example of the new impulse in Eliot criticism, and has already earned a great deal of praise from Eliot scholars. It is the culmination of many years of reading, teaching and research, expanding on themes that Brooker had already started delineating in her now classic work Mastery and Escape: T. S. Eliot and the Dialectic of Modernism (1994). Her new book draws on canonical texts, for which she proposes original interpretations, as well as on less familiar materials. The structure reflects the ambition of Brooker’s critical enterprise. It sets out to trace both a dialectical movement and a biographical movement, without imposing one upon the other, or being unfaithful to the complex dynamics of individual poems. For a study of such scope and ambition, it is impressively consistent in its clarity, concision, and depth of analysis.

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Robert Herring and the Magic of Cinema

Polly Hember, Royal Holloway, University of London

‘It really is time we had a bit more cinema’, Robert Herring writes in the film journal Close Up in 1929, ‘[t]here hasn’t been much cinema yet, although men have been so busy making films for so long, and there will never be unless the magic of it is realised.’[1] The imploration for ‘more’ cinema, despite the fact it had been over three decades since the medium’s first screening in 1895, speaks to the difficult relationship between cinema, its past and its future. Cinema’s early reception and interpretation was accompanied with a curious tension regarding its definition, purpose and cultural status. Caught between silence and sound, between avant-garde art and commercial Hollywood, writing on film was often conflicted. Herring was a film critic and modernist author, writing for the Manchester Guardian and was editor of The London Mercury (1925 – 1927). He was a satellite of the enigmatic POOL group, who published the influential film journal Close Up. His essay ‘A New Cinema, Magic and the Avant Garde’ engages with the manifold anxieties around film’s birth and future whilst also illuminating the magical compulsion that cinema possesses, which he also viewed as its salvation.

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The Critic and the Kat: What Did Gilbert Seldes See in the Comics?

Stevie Watson, University of Manchester

Gilbert Seldes (1893-1970) is principally remembered for two reasons. The first is for his role as managing editor at famed modernist magazine The Dial from 1921 to 1924. In particular, he is remembered for his role in negotiating the first North American publication of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land in November 1922.[1] The second reason is for Seldes pioneering criticism of American popular culture. His essay ‘The Krazy Kat That Walks by Himself’, a celebration of George Herriman’s newspaper comic strip Krazy Kat (1913-1944), appeared in The Seven Lively Arts (1924) and is frequently cited as an early example of comics criticism.[2] Yet a close look at Seldes’ work in the early 1920s suggests these interests were not as distinct as they may first appear.

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Book Review: Katherine Mansfield and Periodical Culture.

Thomas J. Sojka, Boston University.

While Katherine Mansfield is perhaps best remembered for her short story collections, Bliss (1920) and The Garden Party (1922), Chris Mourant (University of Birmingham) brilliantly recaptures the author’s periodical legacy. Born in New Zealand in 1888, Mansfield moved to London in 1903, where she quickly made a name for herself writing for the foremost modernist magazines of the time – The New ̛̛̛AgeRhythmThe Athenaeum, and The Adelphi.[1] Mourant positions his monograph within the wider field of ‘modern periodical studies,’ made possible in part by digitisation projects, such as the Modernist Journals Project and Blue Mountain Project, recent work by Faye Hammill and Mark Hussey, and the publication of The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines (2009). Work attuned to print culture scholarship not only shapes our understanding of modernism, but also changes how we its read canonical writers. While previous work on Mansfield has considered her periodical writing, it has done so in a biographical context, which is to say examining, for instance, Mansfield’s relationship with her publisher, John Middleton Murry or rivalry with Beatrice Hastings, co-editor of The New Age. Responding to an increased scholarly interest in the print culture of twentieth-century Britain[2], Mourant demonstrates that our understandings of Mansfield as a writer are dependent upon setting her work within its original magazine and periodical print context.[3] Furthermore, in showcasing Mansfield’s multiple identities – based in her gender and colonial status – Mourant calls attention to the author’s precarious position within the metropolitan periodicals market.[4] But, rather than being placed at the margins of cultural authority, Mansfield was able integrate into the London literary scene by constructing different authorial identities, negotiating editorial expectations, and obscuring or erasing her national identity. Mourant’s work is important in that it brings Mansfield’s periodical writing to the fore, without which we could not understand her life and work more broadly.  

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