Last updated: February 13, 2019
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Literary Renaissance

 

Literary modernism can be viewed as an attempt to address the internal or subjective side of experience. Whereas literary realism was an attempt to convincingly portray actual life in all of its details, modernism sought to integrate the emergence of  psychoanalytic theory and the unconscious to portray the inner-experience of life. As such modernism was concerned with “questions of ambiguity, relativity, and subjectivity, along with linguistic experimentation and formal experiments in disordered chronology and shifting points of view,”  all of which indicates an interest in exploring the “modernism of psychology and the elusive workings of the conscious and unconscious mind,” (Poplawski ix).

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Modernism sought to combine the subjective portrayal of experience with the depiction of contemporary settings and landscapes, (Harding). The modernist approach included a desire to move toward non-linear narrative, meta-fiction and experimental prose styles. Although Modernism embraced the ‘ordinary” and even the trivial as subject matter and setting, the move away from the grandiosity of Romanticism was never truly complete.

Writers such as Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, D.H Lawrence, and Earnest Hemingway adopted radically different narrative idioms, but each embraced a subjective mode in their writings. Some traces of Romanticism can be felt in the works of modernist writers who, in seeking to attune their works to the inner-psychic experience of humanity, asserted that “The human-as-transcendent is more anomalous, in that its historical manifestations are split between humanism and antihumanism. Deriding man for his frailties and yearning for something more rarefied is evident in certain forms of Romanticism,” (Sheehan 8) so it is possible to view the satirical or ironic themes of works such as Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” or Faulkners’ The Sound and The Fury” as not only social commentary, but articulations of a hoped-for Romanticism.

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Works Cited

Barrish, Phillip. American Literary Realism, Critical Theory, and Intellectual Prestige, 1880-      1995. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Borus, Daniel H. Writing Realism: Howells, James, and Norris in the Mass Market. Chapel Hill,            NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1989.

Harding, Desmond. Writing the City: Urban Visions ; Literary Modernism. New York:            Routledge, 2003.

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