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Chapter 3 - ‘The Insolence of Empire’: The Fall of the House of Europe and Emerging American Ascendancy in The Golden Bowl and The Waste Land

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 June 2021

Joe Cleary
Affiliation:
Yale University, Connecticut
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Summary

This chapter reads The Golden Bowl and The Waste Land as semaphores for the felt weakening of twentieth-century British and European ascendancy. James’s exquisitely managed novel and Eliot’s encyclopedic poem are not just documents of disintegration, but new totalizations on new architectonic principles. In their respective treatments of shattering, salvage and re-composition, they point to new world orders still only partially emerging into view during the decades immediately after World War I. American wealth and the transfer of art from Europe to America is The Golden Bowl’s subject; The Waste Land is concerned with the collapse of European culture and coherence. However, as James became 'the master' of the English novel and Eliot 'the Pope of Russell Square' American attempts to manage what Europe could no longer do became as evident in cultural as in political fields. After World War II, the United States would proudly reclaim these émigré writers and establish new 'Great Books' and “World Literature' courses to reflect its ambitions as the Cold War era’s major superpower.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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