Reading Modernist Literature (…And Failing)

Currently, I am doing a unit on Modernism at university and thought I should share my preliminary issues with Modernist literature. Perhaps others have wisdom into my thoughts!

My first foray into Modernist literature was at the age of 17, being dragged through Mrs Dalloway by an English teacher who was both uninspiring and exhibited astonishing favouritism to certain people in the class. Thus, everything we said was wrong (unless we were one of two favourites- I certainly was not!) and she skipped over what I can now see as the point of it all. 

The way I understand it, Modernism is designed to be deliberately obtuse. The whole point of it is to throw the English language on it’s head and break all the rules. Symbolism, sexuality and broken taboos were the thing to do. This was utterly lost on my teacher, who picked up on ONE symbol and ripped it to shreds. 

Thus, modernism was destroyed for me. My feelings on Virginia Woolf have been formed on my own. I don’t like the woman and I really don’t like her work, so you can imagine my apprehension at doing a unit entirely devoted to Modernist literature and to the woman herself. 

So here I find myself again reading Mrs Dalloway. I do hope to have my mind changed in some way about Modernist literature as a whole. I have a great professor this time who definitely knows her stuff, so fingers crossed! 

Do you like modernist literature? How do you find it to read? Do you hate Virginia Woolf as much as me? 


2 thoughts on “Reading Modernist Literature (…And Failing)

  1. I liked Mrs Dalloway,although not so much as to call it one of the best I’ve ever read.
    I liked how Woolf used that stream of consciousness to show us that appearance can be deceitful.The theme of appearance v/s reality is already hinted at when everybody fails to decipher what is written in the sky by the plane.
    Later we see Peter Walsh turning to Septimus and her girlfriend and reflecting how a wonderful couple they make.But shortly after,we see that Septimus is almost crazy and her girlfriend is having a hard time with him.

    I also loved the bouts of humour in the book which were very sarcastic in tone,as exemplified by this extract:
    ”Sitting at little tables round vases….with their air of false composure,for they were not used to so many courses at dinner; and confidence,for they were able to pay for it; and strain,for they had been running about London all day shopping,sightseeing”

    One of my favourite scenes must be when the physical demands of the present world coincides with the stream of consciousness.For instance Elizabeth is lost in her thoughts,but will be asked,quite suddenly,by the bus receiver to tell where she intends to go – all of this is told to us via Elizabeth’s own stream of consciousness!

    It however required much concentration from me and I was happy when I finished it.It was a very nice read,but very exhausting and peculiar!

    • Thank you for commenting!
      I must say, I’m definitely enjoying Dalloway more this time around. Maybe it comes with maturity and more of an interest in some of the topics explored in this text (mostly shell shock).
      The words are definitely very different and special in this book. There’s been a few phrases that I’ve absolutely adored this time around… “What a lark! What a plunge!”

      There are definitely merits in the stream of conciousness thing. I’m impressed by Woolf’s ability to capture the mind of a person lost in their own thoughts- it definitely happens to me a lot!

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