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Modernist Review #43: Inside and Outside Modernism: An Anatomy of 1922 and its Cultures

4 November 2022

Domonique Davies and Benjamin Bruce, University of Reading

In March this year we held a conference at the University of Reading to discuss the year 1922. The idea was to take a holistic approach to the year, looking at its history, literature and culture, and the papers that we received exceeded our expectations, discussing everything from cookery to concepts of blindness. However, it might be argued that to attempt to delineate a single year in all its fullness and contradiction is neither advisable nor possible. Billie Melman, in discussing the 1920s, for example, has written that ‘a decade […] is not a fact. It is an arbitrary measurement of time, retrospectively imposed upon […] the past by the tidy-minded student of history.’[1] How much more can this be said about a single year which will encompass all manner of ideas, forms and actions, some derived from the distant past, many recently born and a few that will appear on just a single occasion and have no subsequent relevance. Even if this places some formidable obstacles in the way of characterising just twelve short months, it does not mean that something of relevance cannot be surmised. It is important, though, to avoid the tidy mindedness of which Melman speaks and not place more value upon the banner headlines than the small print.

The year of 1922 has been described by Kevin Jackson as ‘annus mirabilis of literary modernism’[2] and by several other commentators as the moment of ‘high modernism’ when literature became more urban in its focus and was often opaque in its presentation. Yet, these epithets are often based on the publication in Paris of a little-known novel by an Irish expatriate, a long poem published by an American in a little magazine in London and a moderately successful novel by Virginia Woolf.[3] To the British public, the consequences of the previous year’s economic slump were probably of greater significance, as well as the October resignation of Lloyd George as Prime Minister. This, in turn, would lead to the end of the post-war coalition and Bonar Law’s election as the country’s new Conservative leader. If the citizenry were thinking about literature, they were more likely to concern themselves with ‘Sapper’’s newest novel, The Black Gang, his first since the hugely successful thriller Bulldog Drummond, or possibly Ethel M. Dell’s latest romance, Charles Rex. And it should be emphasised that over all of these matters, the Great War still cast its dark and forbidding shadow. The front page of the Times of Monday January 2nd 1922 carried an extensive list of ‘In Memoriam’ notices including one to ‘Captain James Sterling’ killed on the Western Front in 1915.[4] The dead were still very much in the minds of the living and the implications of the war were only now beginning to be considered. It was in 1922 that the final deliberations of the Committee of Inquiry into Shell-Shock, chaired by Lord Southborough were published.[5]

The study of a particular moment in history should then be an attempt to recover the complexity of that moment, including its aporia, and it is this line of thought that we hoped to capture in the conference. If 1922 has sometimes been reduced to a handful of incidents, and a few works of literature, this simplification has been seen as the result of modernist studies sloughing off the events and literature that do not speak to the modernist project. It was in 1922 that the last anthology of Georgian poetry was published. The poetry was often pastoral in intent and this anti-modern outlook has ensured it has been overlooked and downgraded until ‘the expression “Georgian Poetry” has almost become a term of abuse.’[6]

However, the contributors to our conference have admirably avoided these polarising forces in their papers, which are here elegantly introduced by Dr Beci Carver, one of our keynote speakers. They all work together to present the diversity of ideas and practices in this year and may just go some way to re-framing this most misunderstood of years.


Introduction, Beci Carver

The Trouble with Beverley Nichols: Publishing, Value and Popular Writing in 1922, Benjamin Bruce

‘Seeing is (Not) Knowing’: Blindness, Knowledge and Alternate Sensory Modalities in D.H. Lawrence’s ‘The Blind Man’, Charlotte Makepeace

Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room, and Epistemology, Angela Harris

Reading Through the Canon: A 1922 Snapshot of James Joyce’s Library, Emily Bell

The Crossword Puzzle and the Information Society, Adele Guyton

Modernism on the Road: Rural Touring in 1922, Emma West

The Modernist Bookshops of Charing Cross Road, Matthew Chambers

The RUSI Journal in 1922, Jacqui Grainger

Food Innovations: The Conditions of ‘Cookery’ in Good Housekeeping, Loren Evangelista Agaloos

What Did 1922 Mean for Wallace Stevens?, Domonique Davies


Image credit: Salvador Dali, ‘Cabaret Scene’, oil on canvas, 1922. Public domain.

Sources

[1] Melman, Billie, Women and the Popular Imagination in the Twenties: Flappers and Nymphs (London: Macmillan, 1988)

[2] Jackson, Kevin, Constellation of Genius: 1922: Modernism Year One (London: Hutchinson, 2012), 1.

[3] We refer here to James Joyce’s Ulysses published in Paris in February, T. S. Eliot’s long poem, The Waste Land and Virginia Woolf’s novel Jacob’s Room both published in October.

[4] ‘Births’, The Times, Monday January 2nd, 1922, Issue 42918, p. 1.

[5] ‘Shell Shock’, The Times, Thursday 10th August, 1922, p. 13

[6] Peter Childs, quoted in Meredith Martin, and Erin Kappeler, ‘The Georgian Poets and the Genteel Tradition’ in Chinitz, David, Gail McDonald, and Richard Boxal, A Companion to Modernist Poetry (Chichester: Wiley, 2014), 203.

 

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