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“New fields are opening and new laborers are working in them,” proclaimed Charlotte Perkins Gilman in 1911. In the early years of the twentieth century, practitioners of the arts saw a world of expanding possibilities. Gilman's metaphor, simultaneously nostalgic for rural authenticity and energized by modern productivity, captures a moment of self-conscious transition during which writers and artists sought to break with tradition and open “new fields” of artistic endeavor. Indeed Gilman (1860-1935) and her younger British contemporary Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) each wrote about the new ways fiction could represent life. Gilman wrote that “[t]he art of fiction is being re-born in these days. Life is discovered to be longer, wider, deeper, richer, than these monotonous players of one tune would have us believe.” Woolf said much the same thing, if in more poetic language, when she wrote that “[l]ife is not a series of gig-lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end . . . We are not pleading merely for courage and sincerity; we are suggesting that the proper stuff of fiction is a little other than custom would have us believe it.”
Women played a central role in literary modernism, theorizing, debating, writing, and publishing the critical and imaginative work that resulted in a new literary culture during the early twentieth century. This volume provides a thorough overview of the main genres, the important issues, and the key figures in women's writing during the years 1890–1945. The essays treat the work of Woolf, Stein, Cather, H. D. Barnes, Hurston, and many others in detail; they also explore women's salons, little magazines, activism, photography, film criticism, and dance. Written especially for this Companion, these lively essays introduce students and scholars to the vibrant field of women's modernism.
In the previous chapters I have focused on the thematic and political functions of Jewishness in key modernist texts. In this concluding chapter I describe additional functions of Jewishness that occur on a metatextual level as the authors enlist their representations of Jews to shape their particular versions of modernism. The Jews in these texts serve as models, foils, and scapegoats for aspects of the authors' artistic approaches. Focusing on these metatextual processes reinforces and sharpens the argument, conveyed throughout this study, that feminist modernism relies on Jewishness for its own self-fashioning.
For Jean Rhys and Sylvia Townsend Warner, the metatextual functions of Jewishness arise more or less directly from their sympathetic thematic enlistment of their Jewish figures. For Djuna Barnes, Nightwood 's somewhat grotesque evocation of Jewishness serves as a ground for an ambivalent metatextual response. For Dorothy Richardson and Virginia Woolf, a metatextual Jewishness that is distinct from their thematic treatment of Jews gathers powerful implications for their modernist projects. This chapter briefly revisits the work of Rhys, Warner, and Barnes before teasing out these implications in Richardson and Woolf.
As I argue in chapter 1, Rhys and Warner use their Jewish characters as models for disinterested art, opposing them to the financial interest that dominates the commercialized world of publishing. These characters are not idealized: Serge arrogantly assumes the Martiniquean woman wants sex and later he fails to show up to bid Sasha farewell; Minna is greedy for attention and unscrupulous in her revolutionary activities.
Modernism, Feminism, and Jewishness explores the aesthetic and political roles performed by Jewish characters in women's fiction between the World Wars. Focusing mainly on British modernism, it argues that female authors enlist a multifaceted vision of Jewishness to help them shape fictions that are thematically daring and formally experimental. Maren Linett analyzes the meanings and motifs that Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Dorothy Richardson, and Djuna Barnes associate with Jewishness. The writers' simultaneous identification with and distancing from Jews produced complex portrayals in which Jews serve at times as models for the authors' art, and at times as foils against which their writing is defined. By examining the political and literary power of Semitic discourse for these key women authors, Linett fills a significant gap in the account of the cultural and literary forces that shaped modernism.
In Virginia Woolf's The Years (1937), Eleanor Pargiter describes her philanthropic work with a poor Jewish family, the Levys. She tells her younger sister Milly that “ ‘Mrs. Levy had her rent ready, for a wonder. … Lily helps her. Lily's got a job at a tailor's in Shoreditch. She came in all covered with pearls and things. They do love finery, Jews’ ” (Years 31). Eleanor's description trades in mild turn-of-the-century stereotypes: the Jewish daughter works for a tailor; she dutifully contributes to the rent; and she ostentatiously displays what little wealth she has. But the stereotypes are uninteresting compared with Milly's response to her sister's narrative. “ ‘Jews?’ said Milly. She seemed to consider the taste of the Jews; and then to dismiss it.” With this response Woolf's text leaves the mundane level of stereotype and presents a compelling moment of half-expressed meaning. Milly knows the Levys are Jews; she has heard about them before. But she nevertheless responds to Eleanor's generalization by repeating the word “Jews” interrogatively. Considering “the taste of the Jews” may literally mean considering Jews' taste in “finery.” But Milly also seems to be considering the taste of the word or category “Jews.” The text hints here that there is something more to consider than Eleanor's vacuous generalization: some intrinsic quality of Jewness, its essence in the sense of an extract, a concentrated form of a scent or flavor.
When the historian J. A. Hobson caricatured Jews as “homo economicus” in his 1891 study Problems of Poverty, he provided a pithy label for the ubiquitous stereotype of the obsessively wealth-seeking Jew. Many eighteenth- and nineteenth-century authors, such as Maria Edgeworth, Charles Dickens, and Anthony Trollope, drew upon this stereotype to explore and protest the increasing commercialization of their cultures. Anglo-American modernist authors, on the other hand, with the notable exception of Edith Wharton, tended to eschew the literary progeny of Shylock, the greedy Jewish financiers and swindlers through whom the earlier authors voiced their disgust with the excesses of industrial capitalism. (This is not to say, as will become clear, that the prototype of Shylock was irrelevant to their characterizations.) Their reluctance was due perhaps not so much to their understanding that the stereotype was spurious or unethical, but to their concern that as a stock figure it suggested the Victorian and Edwardian realism against which they defined themselves.
However, the alleged financial power of Jews did come close to home for early twentieth-century writers because it had become linked with the accusation that Jews controlled publishing houses and the press. William Brustein notes that “[a]s the nineteenth century unfolded, economic anti-Semites would … charge that Jews inordinately controlled the major means of production.”
In his analysis of antisemitism and modernity, Zygmunt Bauman writes that Jews, more than other groups, were “vulnerable to the impact of new tensions and contradictions which the social upheavals of the modernizing revolution could not fail to generate. For most members of society, the advent of modernity meant the destruction of order and security; and … Jews were perceived as standing close to the center of the destructive process.” Bauman is referring to modernity more broadly, but his points apply well to interwar British and American culture. In the first half of the twentieth century, Jews were often viewed as moderns par excellence. Like modernity itself, they were seen as cosmopolitan, rootless, and urban. They were perceived as instrumental to whatever social-financial system seemed especially modern, whether mass market capitalism or revolutionary socialism. In his study of Freud, Germanness, and Jewishness, Peter Gay proposes that antisemitism was motivated by a fear of modernity:
Whatever else it was, German anti-Semitism was a way of confronting – or, rather, not confronting – the pressures of contemporary life […]: specialization, mechanization, the crowding in of impulses and the speeding up of existence, the burgeoning threats posed by Godless morality, Socialist revolution, and cultural nihilism; anti-Semitism was, in short, an irrational protest against the modern world.”
Christian theological discourses about Judaism have long associated Jews with the body while identifying Christians with the spirit. As the previous chapters make clear, this association is integral to stereotypes of Jewish materiality and financial acuity as well as to supersessionist models of Christian theology. In her seminal study Faith and Fratricide (1974), Rosemary Ruether describes the larger context and philosophical underpinnings of this anti-Judaic claim. Ruether explains that while Hellenistic Jewish philosophers such as Philo worked to spiritualize and universalize Judaic ritual practices, they did not therefore devalue the Torah that commanded those practices. Jewish Hellenistic Midrash, Ruether shows, “sought rather to invest the letter with a spiritual and ethical significance that would make it meaningful to those who had learned to think of truth in philosophical terms.” Jewish Hellenistic thought did accept Platonic dualism about the body and the soul, but it did not reject the body, instead considering it a valuable house for the spirit. “For Philo, it is as wrong to abandon the letter of the Torah for a ‘purely spiritual religion’ that imagines it can dispense with the outward observance, as it would be for a man to imagine that he can live purely in the soul while abandoning the body.” In Ruether's view, it is when this Platonic dualism is “fused” with another sort of dualism that everything associated with the body is dismissed:
This Platonic dualism between the body and the soul, the material and spiritual “worlds,” had governed Philonic exegesis. However, when this spiritualizing exegesis is fused with the messianic dualism between “this age” and the “age to come,” identifying the Church with the eschatological community of the Resurrection, Philo's spiritualizing exegesis, intended to vindicate the inward meaning of Jewish law, is now used to “prove” the radical supersession of Jewish law. Judaism is identified with all that is “old” and “carnal,” while Christianity is spiritual and eschatological “newness.” Judaism is the outward, temporal, and perishable which existed only as a shadow of the inward and eternal covenant of true Being that has now dawned through the power of the Resurrection.
Imagined Jewishness sustains an elastic relationship to time. Within feminist modernism it can represent modernity, as it does in Summer Will Show (1936) and Between the Acts (1941); it can represent the past, and continuity with that past, as it does in Nightwood (1936) and Pilgrimage (1915–1967). And it can serve a further kind of temporal inquiry, as when Djuna Barnes and Jean Rhys use Jewishness to explore the phenomenology of timelessness. As I demonstrate in this chapter, Jewishness in Nightwood and in both Voyage in the Dark (1934) and Good Morning, Midnight (1939) comes to signal the timelessness attendant on psychological trauma.
Trauma gives rise to a sense of timelessness by distorting people's perception of time and continuity. A traumatic experience is “remembered” differently from ordinary events, in that it cannot be placed in time or located within a coherent sequence. One distinctive and defining quality of traumatic memories, therefore, is that they are temporally elusive. Cathy Caruth describes their position outside of time: “The history that a flashback tells – as psychiatry, psychoanalysis, and neurobiology equally suggest – is, therefore, a history that literally has no place, neither in the past, in which it was not fully experienced, nor in the present, in which its precise images and enactments are not fully understood.”