The Great War and the Language of Modernism

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  • 9780195178180
  • 9780198026204
With the expressions "Lost Generation" and "The Men of 1914," the major authors of modernism designated the overwhelming effect the First World War exerted on their era. Literary critics have long employed the same phrases in an attempt to place a radically experimental, specifically modernist writing in its formative, historical setting. What real basis did that Great War provide for the verbal inventiveness of modernist poetry and fiction? Does the literature we bring under this heading respond directly to that provocation, and, if so, what historical memories or revelations can be heard to stir in these words?Vincent Sherry reopens these long unanswered questions by focusing attention on the public culture of the English war. He reads the discourses through which the Liberal party constructed its cause, its Great Campaign. A breakdown in the established language of liberal modernity--the idioms of public reason and civic rationality--marked the sizable crisis this event represents in the mainstream traditions of post-Reformation Europe. If modernist writing characteristically attempts to challenge the standard values of Enlightenment rationalism, this study recovers the historical cultural setting of its most substantial and daring opportunity. And this moment was the occasion for great artistic innovations in the work of Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound.Combining the records of political journalism and popular intellectual culture with abundant visual illustration, Vincent Sherry provides the framework for new interpretations of the major texts of Woolf, Eliot, and Pound. With its relocation of the verbal imagination of modernism in the context of the English war, The Great War and the Language of Modernism restores the historical content and depth of this literature, revealing its most daunting import.
  • Oxford University Press; April 2003
  • ISBN 9780198026204
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  • Title: The Great War and the Language of Modernism
  • Author: Vincent Sherry
  • Imprint: Oxford University Press
Subject categories
ISBNs
  • 9780195178180
  • 9780198026204

In The Press

"The central strength of this book arises from Sherry's prodigious talents as a close reader. He has done a great service in carefully reading how the language of Liberal reason was enlisted to support the War As well, he convincingly describes the 'vacuous generality' that accompanied liberal justifications and censorship The returns for understanding a work like Pound's `Propertius' are substantialSherry has written an excellent book."--English Literature in Transition
"Vincent Sherry restores key works by Eliot, Pound and Woolf to their original intellectual context, in particular, the highly charged political situation in war time LondonSherry's treatment of this fascinating subject marks a notable achievement."--Modernism/modernity
"The Great War and the Language of Modernism is a demonstrably intelligent book written by a careful scholarDoes it add a new level to the discourse on war and modernism and Virginia Woolf? Yesand it offers us a new way of seeing Eliot and Pound as well."--Woolf Annual
"Sherry makes clear, through new and powerful readings of the authors of modernism, that much still needs to be said. ...This study embeds the literature more firmly in historical and political events, teasing out the earliest and most telling aspects of modernism." Rated "Essential" and named "Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2004"
"Sherry is impressive in advancing his sweeping and grand narrative through a series of close, finely observed readings that bring to light little-noted but important political and historic references that give many well-known poems and fictions their artistic as well as topical urgency." -- Modern Philology
"Sherry makes a dazzling case...It is still all too rare for critics to read Modernist literature in the context of its historical period, and Sherry's work in that direction is to be warmly welcomed."--Times Literary Supplement
"[A] very good book...The central strength of the book arises from Sherry's prodigious talents as a close reader. He has done a great service in carefully reading how the language of Liberal reason was enlisted to support the War...Sherry has written an excellent book, one that describes an aspect of modern writing that has homologies with, and achieves some of its aesthetic heft from, Liberal wartime speech."--English Literature in Transition 1880-1920
"The Great War and the Language of Modernism is a demonstrably intelligent book written by a careful scholar. Does it add a new level to the discourse on war and modernism and Virginia Woolf? Yes...[and] it offers us a new way of seeing Eliot and Pound as well."--Woolf Studies Annual
"'Armed force,' notes Vincent Sherry at the beginning of his powerful and learned revisionist study, 'appears in Liberal tradition as the chief type of unreason.' Yet in 1914, the Liberal Establishment in England found a way of justifying World War I as nothing short of an ethical enterprise--the defense of 'civilization' itself against the forces of irrationalism, anarchy, and decay. Indeed, Sherry argues, once we understand the Great War as inherently the War of Liberal Rationalism, literary modernism can be understood as the reaction to that Rationalism, especially to the rationalist, mentalist conception of language. In a series of daring and sometimes controversial readings, especially of Eliot, Pound, and Woolf, Sherry shows how this process worked itself out in the Modernist masterpieces of the period. His is a sobering account and one that has startling implications for our own historical moment."--Marjorie Perloff, Stanford University
"The story of English liberalism is usually narrated with reference to works of literature that eschew stylistic experimentation--works that tell the story themselves. Vincent Sherry does something more dazzling. By focusing on the language of liberalism, he shows how Pound, Eliot, and Woolf responded to the disintegration of liberal values by imitating, exaggerating, and parodying that disintegration within the linguistic texture of their own work. This is historical criticism turned into a high-wire performance: language is pushed to the proscenium, and we are made to feel the historicity of precise turns in syntax, grammar, and diction."--James Longenbach, University of Rochester
"its thesis [is] a fascinating one . . . Sherry makes a dazzling case . . . it is still all too rare for critics to read Modernist literature in its historical period, and Sherry's work in that direction is to be warmly welcomed. . . . his literary criticism is often illuminating."--Times Literary Supplement
"Sherry's book offers a learned, elegant, intricate, and intriguing argument about the collapse of liberal languages of rationality under the pressure of WW I, so that he can suggest a set of historical pressures on the emerging of modernist efforts to decompose and recompose prevailing models for determining social values. The result is an extraordinary weaving of the historian's skills with the modes of attention fostered by literary criticism." --Charles Altieri, University of California, Berkeley

About The Author

Vincent Sherry is Professor of English at Villanova University. He is the author of The Uncommon Tongue: The Poetry and Criticism of Geoffrey Hill, Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, and Radical Modernism, and James Joyce: Ulysses.

Subject categories
ISBNs
  • 9780195178180
  • 9780198026204