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8 - The Modernist Short Story: Fractured Perspectives

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 November 2016

Claire Drewery
Affiliation:
Sheffield Hallam University
Dominic Head
Affiliation:
University of Nottingham
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Summary

The literary term ‘epiphany’, in its original inception in James Joyce's draft-novel Stephen Hero (c.1901–6), has become synonymous in critical accounts of modernism with the moment of transcendent insight, intensity of experience or revelation. In a literary movement in which a prevalent aesthetic aim was the representation of a reality beyond appearances and below material surfaces, the significant moment came to epitomize the endeavour to capture, however fleetingly, the ‘truth’ of subjective experience. It is noteworthy, however, that the version of Joyce's novel published in 1916 as A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man drops any overt reference to the epiphany, and its depiction is frequently problematized by elliptical, fragmented language. The revelatory moment, this chapter will claim, may thus be interpreted in terms of tension and contradiction as opposed to conveying a transcendent insight.

Whilst the epiphany first receives its name in Stephen Hero, it was to become a structural and aesthetic marker of modernism in general and of the short story form in particular. The moment of epiphany around which modernist short stories have traditionally been seen to pivot is closely associated with the oblique, experimental narrative styles that were distinct from the rich, descriptive canvas of Victorian realism. As modernist writers began to privilege impressionistic, ambiguous depictions of subjective consciousness over the didacticism, materialism and omniscient narration of literary realism, the breakdown of the serialized Victorian novel was superseded by an increased dissemination of short fiction through the literary magazines in which it was frequently published. The emergence of new periodicals such as The Yellow Book, The New Age, The Savoy and The Dome promoted the short story form, as well as various modernist movements, by publishing the work of authors whose work they viewed as avant-garde and experimental. The New Age, for instance, published the work of H. G. Wells and G. B. Shaw, as well as several examples of Katherine Mansfield's early work. It also had feminist affiliations with magazines such as The Freewoman (1911–12), The New Freewoman (1913) and The Egoist (1914–19), which later superseded The Freewoman and was presided over by Rebecca West and later Ezra Pound.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2016

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References

Drewery, Claire, Modernist Short Fiction by Women: The Liminal in Katherine Mansfield, Dorothy Richardson, May Sinclair and Virginia Woolf (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011).
Hanson, Clare, Short Stories and Short Fictions 1880–1980 (New York: St Martin's Press, 1985).
Jacobs, Joshua, ‘Joyce's Epiphanic Mode: Material Language and the Representation of Sexuality in Stephen Hero and Portrait ’, Twentieth Century Literature, 46 (2000), 1, pp. 20–33.Google Scholar
Klein, Scott W., The Fictions of James Joyce and Wyndham Lewis: Monsters of Nature and Design (Cambridge University Press, 1994).
Sacido, Jorge, ed., Modernism, Postmodernism and the Short Story in English (New York: Rodopi, 2012).

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