Modernism took place in the early twentieth century. The transition period was 188-1910, which Bonnie Kime Scott considers important, and the main period is from 1910-1940 (Kime 2007, 12). Modernism is the movement away from the traditional forms in order to express the changing way of life. Pericles Lewis says,“the word refers to the tendency of the early twentieth century to break away from traditional verse forms, narrative techniques, and generic conventions in order to seek new methods of representation appropriate to life in an urban, industrial, mass-oriented age” (XVII). Modernists were looking for a new way of expressing themselves through their art, whether it is painting, theater, or literature. They did not completely discount the traditional, but instead, wanted to find ways to express the changing ideas of the twentieth century. According to Pericles, changes in style included the movement in poetry to free verse, the movement in art to abstract representation, and the taking down of the fourth wall in theater (3). Christopher Reed says that modernism brought about the avant-garde, and the modernist avant-garde was in opposition to the home (2). Also, Modernism moved away from the idea as art as a function, but rather just be art.
The modernists were responding in many ways to the changes around them, or as Lewis says, “to display what was distinctively modern about the times in which they were living” (11). New technological innovations changed the lives of many people. Due to the rail system, there was a standardization of time. It seems that the superimposed nature of time on hourly basis can begin to push people away from a leisurely life to a more scheduled and rigid lifestyle. The industrial revolution shifted the population to the cities rather than the country. Also, the empire building of all the European, and later America, would be in the background of the modernists’ minds. According to Lewis, modernists’ political views were varied, but many tended toward the extreme (16).
Less recent events such as the American and French revolutions’ ideas of liberalism influenced the modernists’ view of politics. Even the Russian Revolution of 1917, which was poorly planned and eventually all reforms fell to the wayside, had an effect on the political mindset of the modernist. Lewis says that world wars and disastrous attempts at liberalism made the modernist rebel against liberalism (12).
Bloomsbury modernism was in line with the mainstream ideas of modernism. Reed says that the ideas of the Bloomsbury group were never “outside of the mainstream cultural forms they challenge, but co-exist in a more complicated— less heroic—dynamic strongly inflected by the dominant culture’s effort to neutralize challenges to its authority.
The most interesting part the reading the be the articles on gender, and the movement away from the Victorian ideal of women to a freer and more empowered woman. Bonnie Kime Scott says that though gender in modernism is an issue for both women and men, “women write about it more, perhaps because gender is more imposed upon them, more disqualifying” ( Kime 1990, 3). Women at the time were still outsiders, and their work then was considered with much less merit. Now however, one of the most well known modernist (at least to me) is a woman, Virginia Woolf.
On a side note, the mention of Sylvia Beach reminded me of my trip to Paris to the new Shakespeare and Company bookstore which was opened under the same name and same principles after her bookstore was closed. It made find the whole article a little bit more interesting.
(below: writer's nook in the new Shakespeare and company bookstore).