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In an essay published in 1923, Aldous Huxley suggested that ‘of all the various poisons which modern civilization, by a process of autointoxication, brews quietly up within its own bowels, few are more deadly […] than that curious and appalling thing that is technically known as “pleasure”.’ By ‘pleasure’, Huxley here clearly meant something other than simple enjoyment. His use of inverted commas around the word and his description of pleasure as ‘curious and appalling’ signal a profound and significant unease, which I will argue can be fully understood only when considered in relation to Huxley's sense of the corruption of ‘pleasure’ by the forces of modernity as he perceived them in the early 1920s.
Huxley goes on to argue in this same essay that pleasure has become something other than the ‘real thing’, has become ‘organized distraction’, and to bemoan the emergence of ‘vast organizations that provide us with ready-made distractions’. Pleasure thus appears to have become for Huxley not simply negative, but something other than itself (not real), and an experience that is both inauthentic and slightly sinister (‘organized’ and ‘ready-made’). Huxley's profound suspicion about the nature of pleasure in the modern world means that an analysis of the structural and thematic role of the party in his fiction offers a particularly rich opportunity for a reconsideration of the broader arguments within his novels about the defining characteristics of modernity.
“Autonomy” is a powerfully resonant concept in a variety of contexts. In aesthetic theory it refers to a quality specific to art: its capacity to create meanings through its formal properties, and to generate ways of encountering the world that are distinct from other forms of social experience. Artistic autonomy implies that the creation and the judgment of artistic texts require a sensibility and an imagination separate from other sorts of knowledge or practice. In modernism, and in critical responses to modernism, to see artistic experience as separate from, and potentially superior to, other ways of experiencing the world involves focussing on the material and formal properties of the art object. It is the formal autonomy of the artwork that is emphasized for example in A.C. Bradley's Oxford Lectures on Poetry (1909) and Clive Bell's Art (1914). Critical discussion of modernist literary texts has been powerfully shaped by this idea of aesthetic autonomy, which continues to be important for many critics of modernism.
However, fascination with “autonomy” as the defining nature of artistic objects and aesthetic experience has been contested by critics who see it as denying to art its relation to historical and social experience. Perhaps the most polemical criticism is Peter Bürger's theoretical and critical study, Theory of the Avant-Garde (1974). Bürger argues that modern understanding of artistic “autonomy” is historically limited and historically limiting.
The novel is modernism's most vital and experimental genre. In this 2007 Companion leading critics explore the very significant pleasures of reading modernist novels, but also demonstrate how and why reading modernist fiction can be difficult. No one technique or style defines a novel as modernist. Instead, these essays explain the formal innovations, stylistic preferences and thematic concerns which unite modernist fiction. They also show how modernist novels relate to other forms of art, and to the social and cultural context from which they emerged. Alongside chapters on prominent novelists such as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, as well as lesser-known authors such as Dorothy Richardson and Djuna Barnes, themes such as genre and geography, time and consciousness are discussed in detail. With a chronology and guide to further reading, this is the most accessible and informative overview of the genre available.
The aim of this Cambridge Companion to the Modernist Novel is to assist readers of modernist fiction, whether they are experienced or new readers of this challenging and stimulating body of literary work. The image of a 'companion' here suggests a kind of comradeship: a sharing of experiences as well as the illumination and pleasure gained through a conversation involving different viewpoints and diverse enthusiasms. This volume seeks, in that sense, to be a good companion to the reader. But it also aspires to be a challenging companion, offering new perspectives, teasing out difficult ideas, and drawing on the rich comparative and critical insights that can be gained through scholarship and research. Its contributors are experts in their field, and bring to their accounts of key ideas and key authors an extensive and deep knowledge of the period and the texts of modernism. The organization of this volume is intended to give the reader the greatest possible benefit from this expertise, and thus to help him or her to gain significant insight into whichever modernist novels they are reading.
The idea of ‘modernism’
The focus of this Companion is the experience of reading English-language fictional narratives from the early years of the twentieth century. The second section of this volume is concerned explicitly with the challenges and the pleasures of reading the work of selected novelists who have been identified as key to modernist fiction. But in addition to such close readings of selected novels and novelists, some attention also needs to be given to the category that has shaped the analyses of these novels by the various contributors and also underpins the coherence of this volume: the category of ‘modernism’. This category is the focus of the five chapters within the first section of the Companion.
The years between 1945 and 1970 saw a significant increase in public funding for the arts. The Arts Council, the British Council, the British Film Institute and local authorities all invested increasingly in forms of creative production. This process of investment generated a series of complex questions about the relations between cultures and identities, with artists being asked to address an increasingly recalcitrant set of relationships between nation, region and metropolis. In order to capture the particular role of literature in this fraught engagement with questions of region, nation and identity, this chapter will begin with a discussion of the larger economic, political and cultural forces that made devolution such a pressing issue between 1945 and 1970. It will then consider the ways in which the cultural meanings of regionalism were theorised by key cultural figures of that period. Following an analysis of the role of cultural institutions in the creation and development of regional cultures, it will conclude with an analysis of specific aspects of literary production in Scotland, in Northern Ireland, in Wales and in English regions. In each case the aim will be to reach an understanding of the ways in which the literary imagination can respond to the linguistic and formal challenges of a reconfigured geographical and cultural identity.
This reconfiguration was characterised by Tom Nairn, in his reflection on the reinvigorated nationalisms operating within Britain since the war, as ‘The Break-Up of Britain’. Nairn argued that the movement towards devolution in this period was intimately connected to ‘the long-term, irreversible degeneration of the Anglo-British state’.
Lady Chatterley's Lover is famously, even notoriously, a book about sex. The novel is divided into three sections: the first seeks to register the nature and causes of psychic and social degradation; the second stages a series of sexual encounters between Lady Chatterley and the gamekeeper, Mellors; and the third considers the viability of their existence as a couple. Lawrence created three different versions of the novel, using a range of characters and circumstances to articulate its different forms of individual and social dysfunction, but the basic structure of degeneration, rebirth and consequent fragility remains intact throughout all of Lawrence's re-writing. What has less frequently been noted, however, is that Lady Chatterley's Lover is also a novel about work: about the alienation of industrial labour, the desperate compensatory quality of intellectual work, the inescapability of physical toil, and the imaginative and ideological work of narrative fiction. The novel begins with the observation that: 'The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work.'