|Stylistic origins||19th century Europe|
|Cultural origins||Industrial Revolution|
|The "Lost Generation" described writers in the Montparnasse Quartier in Paris.|
Literary modernism, or modernist literature, has its origins in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, mainly in Europe and North America. Modernism is characterized by a self-conscious break with traditional styles of poetry and verse. Modernists experimented with literary form and expression, adhering to Ezra Pound's maxim to "Make it new." The modernist literary movement was driven by a conscious desire to overturn traditional modes of representation and express the new sensibilities of their time. The horrors of the First World War saw the prevailing assumptions about society reassessed. Thinkers such as Sigmund Freud questioned the rationality of mankind.
In the 1880s a strand of thinking began to assert that it was necessary to push aside previous norms entirely, instead of merely revising past knowledge in light of contemporary techniques. Influential in the early days of Modernism were the theories of Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), and Ernst Mach (1838–1916). Mach argued, beginning in the 1880s with The Science of Mechanics (1883), that the mind had a fundamental structure, and that subjective experience was based on the interplay of parts of the mind. Freud's first major work was Studies on Hysteria (with Josef Breuer) (1895). According to Freud's ideas, all subjective reality was based on the play of basic drives and instincts, through which the outside world was perceived. As a philosopher of science Ernst Mach was a major influence on logical positivism, and through his criticism of Isaac Newton, a forerunner of Einstein's theory of relativity. According to these ideas of Mach, the relations of objects in nature were not guaranteed but known only through a sort of mental shorthand. This represented a break with the past, in that previously it was believed that external and absolute reality could impress itself, as it were, on an individual, as, for example, in John Locke's (1632–1704) empiricism, which saw the mind beginning as a tabula rasa (An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1690). Freud's description of subjective states, involving an unconscious mind full of primal impulses, and counterbalancing self-imposed restrictions, was combined by Carl Jung (1875–1961) with the idea of the collective unconscious, with which the conscious mind fought or embraced. While Charles Darwin's work remade the aristotelian concept of "man, the animal" in the public mind, Jung suggested that human impulses toward breaking social norms were not the product of childishness, or ignorance, but rather derived from the essential nature of the human animal.
Friedrich Nietzsche was another major precursor of modernism[need quotation to verify] with a philosophy in which psychological drives, specifically the 'Will to power', were more important than facts, or things. Henri Bergson (1859–1941), on the other hand, emphasized the difference between scientific, clock time and the direct, subjective, human experience of time His work on time and consciousness "had a great influence on twentieth-century novelists," especially those modernists who used the stream of consciousness technique, such as Dorothy Richardson, Pointed Roofs (1915), James Joyce, Ulysses (1922) and Virginia Woolf (1882–1941) Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927). Also important in Bergson's philosophy was the idea of élan vital, the life force, which "brings about the creative evolution of everything" His philosophy also placed a high value on intuition, though without rejecting the importance of the intellect. These various thinkers were united by a distrust of Victorian positivism and certainty. Modernism as a literary movement can be seen also, as a reaction to industrialization, urbanization and new technologies.
Important literary precursors of Modernism were: Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821–81) (Crime and Punishment (1866), The Brothers Karamazov (1880)); Walt Whitman (1819–92) (Leaves of Grass) (1855–91); Charles Baudelaire (1821–67) (Les Fleurs du mal), Rimbaud (1854–91) (Illuminations, 1874); August Strindberg (1849–1912), especially his later plays, including, the trilogy To Damascus 1898–1901, A Dream Play (1902), The Ghost Sonata (1907).
At the beginning some modernists fostered a utopian spirit, stimulated by innovations in anthropology, psychology, philosophy, political theory, physics and psychoanalysis. The poets of the Imagist movement, founded by Ezra Pound in 1912 , as a new poetic style gave Modernism its early start in the 20th century, were characterized by a positive spirit, rejecting the sentiment and discursiveness typical of Romantic and Victorian periods for poetry that favoured a precision of imagery, brevity and Free verse. This idealism, however, ended, with the outbreak of World War I, and writers created more cynical works that reflected a prevailing sense of disillusionment. Many modernist writers also shared a mistrust of institutions of power such as government and religion, and rejected the notion of absolute truths. Later modernist works, such as T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land (1922), were increasingly self-aware, introspective, and often explored the darker aspects of human nature. 
Origins of Modernist literature 
Modernist literature attempts to take into account changing ideas about reality developed by Darwin, Mach, Freud, Einstein, Nietzsche, Bergson and others. From this developed innovative literary techniques such as stream-of-consciousness, interior monologue, as well as the use of multiple points-of-view. This can reflect doubts about the philosophical basis of realism, or alternatively an expansion of our understanding of what is meant by realism. So that, for example the use of stream-of-consciousness, or interior monologue reflects the need for greater psychological realism. World War I, and the disillusionment that followed, further shaped modernist views of human nature.
It is of course debatable when the modernist literary movement began, though some have chosen 1910 as roughly marking the beginning and quote novelist Virginia Woolf, who declared that human nature underwent a fundamental change "on or about December 1910."  But modernism was already stirring at least by 1902, with a work such as Joseph Conrad's (1857-1924) Heart of Darkness, while Alfred Jarry's (1873-1907) absurdist play, Ubu Roi appeared, even earlier, in 1896. Modernists broke the implicit contract with the general public that artists were the interpreters and representatives of bourgeois culture and ideas. Among early modernist non-literary landmarks is the atonal ending of Arnold Schoenberg's Second String Quartet in 1908, the Expressionist paintings of Wassily Kandinsky starting in 1903 and culminating with his first abstract painting and the founding of the Expressionist Blue Rider group in Munich in 1911, and the rise of fauvism and the inventions of cubism from the studios of Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and others in the years between 1900 and 1910.
Some important early modernist writers (and selected works) are: Marcel Proust (1871-1922): Du Cote de chez Swann (1913), the first volume of Remembrance of Things Past (1913–27); Franz Kafka The Metamorphosis (1915), The Trial (1925), The Castle (1926); Dorothy Richardson: Pointed Roofs (1915), the first volume of Pilgrimage (1915-1938; post. 1967); Andrei Bely (1880-1934): Petersburg (1913); Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918): Alcools (1913); Georg Trakl (1887-1914): Poems (1913); Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926): The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (1910), Sonnets to Orpheus (1922), Duino Elegies (1922); Gottfried Benn (1886-1956): Morgue and other Poems (1912); Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936): Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921); D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930): Sons and Lovers (1913),The Rainbow (1915); Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957): Tarr (1918); W. B. Yeats (1865-1939): The Green Helmet (1910), Wild Swans at Coole (1917); Eugene O'Neill (1888-1953): Anna Christie (1920), The Emperor Jones (1920); Karel Čapek (1890-1938): R.U.R. (1920); T. S. Eliot (1888-1965): "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (1916), The Waste Land (1922), Four Quartets (1935–42); Ezra Pound (1885-1972): Ripostes (1912), The Cantos, published variously over the period 1917-1964, Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920); James Joyce (1882-1941), Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), Ulysses (1922).
James Joyce was a major modernist writer whose strategies in his novel Ulysses (1922) for depicting the events in the life of his protagonist, Leopold Bloom, have come to epitomize modernism's approach to fiction. The poet T.S. Eliot described these qualities in 1923, noting that Joyce's technique is "a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history.... Instead of narrative method, we may now use the mythical method. It is, I seriously believe, a step toward making the modern world possible for art." Eliot's own modernist poem The Waste Land (1922) mirrors "the futility and anarchy" in its own way, in its fragmented structure, and the absence of an obvious central, unifying narrative. This is in fact a rhetorical technique to convey the poem's theme: "The decay and fragmentation of Western Culture". The poem, despite the absence of a linear narrative, does have a structure: this is provided by both fertility symbolism derived from anthropology, and other elements such as the use of quotations and juxtaposition.
Modernist literature addressed similar aesthetic problems as contemporary Modernist art, and Gertrude Stein's abstract writings, for example, have been compared to the fragmentary and multi-perspective Cubist paintings of her friend Pablo Picasso. The questioning spirit of modernism, as part of a necessary search for ways to make sense of a broken world, can be also seen in a different form in the marxist, Scottish nationalist poet Hugh MacDiarmid's A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (1926). In this poem MacDiarmid applies Eliot's techniques to respond to the question of nationalism, using comedy, parody, in an optimistic (though no less hopeless) form of modernism in which the artist as "hero" seeks to embrace complexity and locate new meanings.
Continuation: 1920s and 1930s 
Significant modernist works continued to be created in the 1920s and 1930s, including further novels by Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, Robert Musil, and Dorothy Richardson. The American modernist dramatist Eugene O'Neill's career began in 1914, but his major works appeared in the 1920s and 1930s and early 1940s. Two other significant modernist dramatists writing in the 1920s and 1930s were Bertolt Brecht and Federico García Lorca. D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover was published in 1928, while another important landmark for the history of the modern novel came with the publication of William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury in 1929. In the 1930s, in addition to further major works by Faulkner, Samuel Beckett's published his first major work, the novel Murphy (1938), while in 1932 John Cowper Powys published A Glastonbury Romance, the same year as Hermann Broch's The Sleepwalkers (Broch). Then in 1939 James Joyce's Finnegans Wake appeared. It was in this year that another Irish modernist, W. B. Yeats, died. In poetry T. S. Eliot, e.e. cummings, and Wallace Stevens continued writing from the 1920s until the 1950s. While modernist poetry in English is often viewed as an American phenomenon, with leading exponents including Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, H.D., and Louis Zukofsky, there were important British modernist poets, including David Jones, Hugh MacDiarmid, Basil Bunting, and W. H. Auden. European modernist poets include Federico García Lorca, Anna Akhmatova, Constantine Cavafy, and Paul Valéry.
Modernist literature after 1939 
Though The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature sees modernism ending by c.1939, with regard to British and American literature, "When (if) modernism petered out and postmodernism began has been contested almost as hotly as when the transition from Victorianism to modernism occurred". Hermann Broch's The Death of Virgil was published in 1945 and Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus in 1947. In fact many modernists lived into the 1950s and 1960, including Wallace Stevens, Gottfried Benn, T. S. Eliot, Anna Akhmatova, William Faulkner, Dorothy Richardson, John Cowper Powys, and Ezra Pound. T. S. Eliot published two plays in the 1950s, while Basil Bunting, born in 1901, published his most important modernist poem Briggflatts in 1965. Then there is Samuel Beckett, born in 1906, who produced works from the 1940s until the 1980s, including Waiting for Godot (1953), Happy Days (1961), Rockaby (1981). While Beckett is a writer with roots in the expressionist tradition of modernism, there are those who see him as a post-modernist 
Characteristics of Modernity/Modernism 
Formal/Stylistic characteristics 
Juxtaposition, irony, comparisons, and satire are important elements found in modernist writing. Modernist authors use impressionism and other devices to emphasize the subjectivity of reality, and they see omniscient narration and fixed narrative points of view as providing a false sense of objectivity. They also employ discontinuous narratives and fragmented plot structures. Modernist works are also often reflexive and draw attention to their own role as creator. Juxtaposition is used for example in a way to represent something that would be oftentimes unseen, for example, a cat and a mouse as best friends. Irony and satire are important tools used by the modernist writer to comment on society.
Thematic characteristics 
For the first-time reader, modernist writing can seem frustrating to understand because of the use of a fragmented style and a lack of conciseness. Furthermore the plot, characters and themes of the text are not always presented in a linear way. The goal of modernist literature is also not particularly focused on catering to one particular audience in a formal way. In addition modernist literature often forcefully opposes, or gives an alternative opinion, on a social concept. Common concerns of modernism are: the breaking down of social norms, rejection of standard social ideas, and traditional thoughts and expectations, rejection of religion and anger against the effects of the world wars. As well, modernists tend to reject history, social systems, and emphasize alienation in modern urban and industrial societies.
Modernist writers 
See also 
- History of modern literature
- Postmodern literature
- Late modernism
- American modernism
- Contemporary French literature
- 20th century in literature
- Experimental literature
- Modernist poetry
- Modernist poetry in English
- History of theatre
- Theatre of the Absurd
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- Collinson, 132.
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- Eliot, T. S. (November 1923). "'Ulysses,' Order and Myth. Rev. of Ulysses by James Joyce". The Dial.
- Bloomsbury Guides to English Literature: The Twentieth Century, ed. Linda R. Williams. London: Bloomsbury, 1992,p.311.
- Bloomsbury Guides p.311
- Dubnick, Randa K. (1984). The Structure of Obscurity: Gertrude Stein, Language, and Cubism. Champaign: University of Illinois Press. pp. 16–20. ISBN 0-252-00909-6.
- Kevin J. H. Dettmar "Modernism". David Scott Kastan. Oxford University Press 2005. <http://www.oxfordreference.com 27 October 2011
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- The Cambridge Companion to Irish Literature, ed. John Wilson Foster. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
- Barry, Peter (2002). Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. UK: Manchester University Press. p. 82. ISBN 0719062683.
- Baym, Nina. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007. Print.
- Bryne, CJ. "Understanding Modernism and PostModernism" Writing.com
- Goldman, Jonathan. Modernism Is the Literature of Celebrity. Austin: U of Texas P, 2011. Print.
- "Modernism in Literature: What Is Modernism?" Bright Hub 23 March 2011. <>.
- "Some Characteristics of Modernism in Literature" Fakultet for Sprog Og Erhvervskommunikation - Handelshøjskolen I Århus. 23 March 2011
- Modernist literature at the Open Directory Project
- Absurdist Monthly Review - The Writers Magazine of The New Absurdist Movement
- Picturing Literary Modernism Photographs of artistic and literary Americans at home and abroad throughout the Modernist period from the collection of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University[dead link]