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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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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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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Book Review: Modernist Lives

Dr Anne Reus, Sheffield Hallam University.

Claire Battershill, Modernist Lives: Biography and Autobiography at Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press (London: Bloomsbury, 2018)

Claire Battershill’s Modernist Lives moves the discussion of biography in the 1920s and 30s into the Hogarth Press Archives, not only shedding light on the Press’s commercial operation, but expanding our knowledge of Modernist life-writing and its contexts in the process. Combining literary studies and book history, Battershill presents a literary history of life-writing that challenges our tendencies to equate the Hogarth Press with Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury, and showcases the eclecticness of form that characterizes contemporary life-writing.

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Review: Crone Music by Beatrice Gibson

‘This is the rhythm of my life / My life / Oh yeah / The rhythm of my life’.

Jade Elizabeth French, Queen Mary University of London

Can you help but move to a pure piece of 90s disco? That’s a question that is surprisingly thrown up at the end of Beatrice Gibson’s video piece I Hope I’m Loud When I’m Dead. On the screen, a woman and masked child stand in a hall of mirrors, throwing their bodies around the room as Corona’s classic plays. As it starts up, a sofa big enough for three begins to wobble with foot tapping and, in my case, full on shoulder rolling. This moment turns what could have been building up to a potentially clichéd art house moment – a woman applying and smearing red lipstick, a masked figure dancing in the dark – into a suddenly playful, poignant and fun ending. Mother and son throw themselves about the mirrored room with such silliness and abandon that the film’s exploration of fear ends with a triumphant kick on the side of life.

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Review: The Music of Dada

Cole Collins

Peter Dayan, The Music of Dada: A Lesson in Intermediality for Our Times (London and New York, NY: Routledge, 2019)

In the beginning there was music. At the heart of Dada’s wild and visually stimulating melee was music and performance, however, as many have noted, reliable evidence of these works have long since been lost. This raises two issues and questions for scholars of Dada music and performance: firstly, what to do when evidence is scant? Secondly, what to do when the evidence is largely based on testimonials? In the twenty-first century, we have become used to (perhaps even reliant on) an over-saturation of documentation; every event can be recorded by anyone who has a smartphone. Alex Potts asks the question of what to do with the undocumented or the uncapturable aspects of art. He writes: 

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Book Review: At the Mercy of Their Clothes: Modernism, The Middlebrow, and British Garment Culture by Celia Marshik

Helen Saunders

The Bloomsbury Group had a thing for fancy dress. In 1912, Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell dressed as ‘Gaugin pictures’ at an event at London’s Crosby Hall and were accused of being ‘practically naked’[1] by an outraged guest. In the 1920s, Lytton Strachey would dress as an Admiral at parties when, during the First World War, he had in fact been a conscientious objector. In 1930, the entire Group went to an Alice in Wonderland themed event, Woolf as the March Hare. Anecdotes and curiosities such as these turn up again and again in the pages of Celia Marshik’s (Stony Brook University) rich, expansive and thoroughly enjoyable At the Mercy of Their Clothes: Modernism, The Middlebrow, and British Garment Culture (2016).

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