Tammy Clewell's recent collection, Modernism and Nostalgia: Bodies, Locations, Aesthetics, constitutes an important reminder for scholars of the period: we must not stop at the simple assumption that the modernists were either progressive or conservative, or that their views of the past were either cynical or romanticised. The essays included here are interested in a peculiarly modernist nostalgia, ‘a modern state of mind’ (2), which arises as a result of an endless reference to the past, ‘reveal[ing] how deeply rooted in the damaged, the old, the vanishing, and the lost were the variety of efforts to imagine and produce the new’ (6).
Modernism has been a frequent touchstone of the memory boom in literary criticism. In the past few years alone, we have seen the publication of Tammy Clewell's Mourning, Modernism, Postmodernism (2008), along with Patricia Rae's Modernism and Mourning (2007), Robert Hemmings's Modern Nostalgia: Siegfried Sassoon, Trauma and the Second World War (2008) and Gabrielle McIntire's Modernism, Memory, and Desire: T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf (2008). All of these authors are contributors to the present volume, a fact which testifies to the calibre of the researchers included in this fine collection.
Modernism and Nostalgia has three sections: ‘Bodies’, ‘Locations’ and ‘Aesthetics’. The ‘Bodies’ section explores nostalgia as a kind of illness and includes essays on Rebecca West, Siegfried Sassoon, T. S. Eliot and Elizabeth Bowen. There are essays on Katherine Mansfield, Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf, Arthur Symons, Thomas Burke, George Orwell and W. H. Auden in the ‘Location’ section, which examines nostalgia as dependent on particular places. Innovative textual representations of nostalgia are considered in the ‘Aesthetics’ section, which focuses on the writings of Rupert Brooke, Ezra Pound, E. M. Forster, James Joyce, Anthony Powell and Evelyn Waugh.
The collection traces the various states of longing exhibited by modernist writers, unified in a critical response to the past which sees little use in the selective remembering of Victorian nostalgia. As Clewell notes, the essays also speak across the book's divisions; indeed, valuable attention is paid to aesthetics – the linguistic or narrative construction of nostalgia – in most of the contributions, and each author adds to the collective and thoughtful unpacking of the relationship between modernism and nostalgia.