Modernism in literature. A comprehensive Guide

Modernism in literature was a literary movement that originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and was characterized by a self-conscious separation from traditional ways of writing in both poetry and prose fiction. Modernist writers experimented with literary form and expression, as exemplified by Ezra Pound’s maxim to “Make it new.” Modernism was influenced by the social and cultural changes brought by industrialization, urbanization, capitalism, science, psychology, philosophy, and war. Modernist literature reflected a sense of disillusionment, fragmentation, alienation, and loss of faith in the foundations of Western society and culture.

Some of the main features of modernist literature are:

  • Experimentation with new techniques, such as stream of consciousness, free verse, collage, montage, fragmentation, nonlinear narrative, unreliable narrator, etc.
  • Individualism and subjectivism, as modernist writers explored the inner workings of the human mind, emotions, and perceptions, often from multiple or shifting perspectives.
  • Rejection of realism, naturalism, and conventional plot, character, and setting, as modernist writers sought to create new forms of expression that could capture the complexity and chaos of modern life.
  • Innovation and originality, as modernist writers broke away from the established literary traditions and conventions, and created their styles and genres.
  • Challenge and critique of the dominant ideologies, values, and norms of the modern society, such as nationalism, imperialism, colonialism, racism, sexism, classism, etc.

Some of the most influential and prominent modernist writers are:

  • James Joyce, wrote Ulysses (1922), a novel that follows the lives of three characters in Dublin on a single day, using various styles and techniques to represent their thoughts and experiences.
  • T.S. Eliot, wrote The Waste Land (1922), a long poem that depicts the spiritual and cultural decay of the modern world, using a collage of images, allusions, languages, and voices.
  • Virginia Woolf, wrote Mrs Dalloway (1925), a novel that portrays the inner lives of several characters in London on a single day, using the stream-of-consciousness technique to reveal their memories, feelings, and impressions.
  • William Faulkner, wrote The Sound and the Fury (1929), a novel that tells the story of the decline of a Southern family, using four different narrators with different perspectives and styles.
  • Franz Kafka, wrote The Trial (1925), a novel that depicts the absurd and nightmarish ordeal of a man who is arrested and prosecuted by a mysterious authority, without knowing the reason or the outcome.

These are just some examples of modernist literature, and there are many more writers and works that belong to this movement. If you want to learn more about modernism in literature, you can check out these sources: