Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mrs. Dalloway, Mrs. Brown, and Modernist Fiction

I was interested in Virginia Woolf’s explanations of Modernist interests in “Modern Fiction” and “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown,” since I had been wondering what contemporary writers exactly that the Modernists were working against in their time. I was surprised that so much emphasis was put on H.G. Wells, since he’s primarily associated with his early sci-fi novels now. I figured Woolf was focusing on some of his other works in her discussions, though I wasn’t sure if that would include his novels like Ann Veronica (which addressed the difficulties of suffragists and women trying to live independently) or not, though I guess it did (though that novel wasn’t really utopian, she may have still thought of it as materialistic, since Wells did generally seem to be more about big ideas than characters).

It was a bit surprising to me to find Woolf putting so much emphasis on characterization, since the more experimental interests of most of her stories made me think that wasn’t as much of an interest of hers, though Mrs. Dalloway obviously featured a wide range of perspectives. “Mr. Bennett and Mts. Brown” and Trotter’s essay ended up primarily making me wonder about how the Modernist movement’s interests varied with the short story in relation to the novel. I know the short story was often seen as a promising new form for writers no longer interested in the novel at that time, but I’m not sure how that affected interest in characterization.

It certainly still seemed to be of interest for Katherine Mansfield, but I don’t know if her approach to the short story was more typical for many Modernists at that time, or if many of those writers wrote more in the style of Woolf’s Monday or Tuesday stories (I also wondered whether more specific forms like the novella, novelette, or flash fiction were being considered yet at all, due to how long or short Woolf’s and Mansfield’s stories could be, but I figured that those categories may have just come later on). I also found it interesting that Trotter included writers like Faulkner, Fitzgerald and Hemingway in his discussion of the Modernist novel, since I hadn’t really been thinking so much about the American side of the Modernist movement, and they were writers I was generally a bit more familiar with than the British writers. Though I know a few of their short stories, they seem to vary a bit as well in their character interests, since Hemingway seemed to focus a bit more on moments, like Woolf (at least with stories like “Hills Like White Elephants”), while the others seemed more interested in particular cultural climates (Jazz Age, post-Civil War, etc), so I don’t know if they, or British short story writers like Lawrence, would ultimately satisfy Woolf’s “Mrs. Brown” criteria for characterization, or if that idea of characterization is really just an exclusively “Female Modernist” one, as Trotter seems to suggest. I also don’t know how exactly Forster would figure in here, since Trotter’s references to the descriptions of German-English relations in Mansfield and others (91) sounded a bit like Howards End, though I don’t know if those writers had considered that themselves.

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