Modern and Contemporary Literature Research Seminar: New Approaches to Modernist Studies

Lunch and refreshments will be provided, so please do arrive any time from midday onwards to help yourself to these before the talks begin at 12:15pm

‘Imagination, Literary Ecology, and Modernism’
Professor Jennifer Gosetti-Ferencei (Johns Hopkins University)

Environmental literary criticism has for some decades examined literary works to analyse their representations of the environment, provoking interest in how literature, as it were, imagines the non-human world and our relationships to it. While Romantic literature and realist nature writing have been well-studied in this context, literary modernism has been neglected until recently. This talk will outline how, despite modernism’s many human-oriented, formalist or aesthetic preoccupations, modernist literature of the early 20th century may be newly interpreted in light of environmental or ecological themes, for example in its depictions of landscape, weather, animal and vegetal life, or environmental degradation. Examples will be drawn in particular from German-language modernists, including Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Rainer Maria Rilke, with briefer reference to works of English-language modernists such as Virginia Woolf and Wallace Stevens. It will be asked how these writers both inherit and transform earlier ecological orientations in literature with critical thematization of human consciousness, and how this can be situated within contemporary discussions of cultural ecology.

‘Cardiac Realism: The Affective Life of the Modern Novel’
Dr Doug Battersby (University of Bristol and Stanford University)

This paper examines a tradition of British novelists—Charlotte Brontë, Thomas Hardy, May Sinclair, and D. H. Lawrence—who turn to the heart to convey emphatically embodied understandings of emotion and subjectivity. Animated by a realist commitment to developing stylistic forms capable of capturing the actualities of human experience, these novelists objected to their more celebrated peers for what they perceived to be excessively cerebral representations of life, from Brontë’s famous complaints about Jane Austen’s neglect of “what throbs fast and full, […] what the blood rushes through,” to Lawrence’s curt dismissal of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) as “too mental” a novel. How might our histories of realism and modernism look different if we spotlight, not the familiar techniques for dramatising conscious introspection and ethical deliberation that define the achievement of Henry James and his heirs, but more corporeal strategies of affective description? Pairing two modernist novelists with the Victorian predecessors who profoundly influenced them, this paper looks to sketch an alternative genealogy of the modern novel representing alternative philosophical accounts of human experience in which bodily affect occupy a central place.