English 250

Research Seminar: Modernism and the End of Europe: 1914-45

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Spring 2011 Blanton, Dan
W 3-6 214 Haviland

Other Readings and Media

Beckett, S.: Watt; Conrad, J.: Under Western Eyes; Eliot, T. S.: Selected Poems; Ford, F. M.: Parade's End; Jones, D.: In Parenthesis; Lewis, W.: Tarr: The 1918 Edition; Woolf, V.: Jacob's Room; Woolf, V.: Between the Acts; Yeats, W. B.: Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats


In the summer of 1914, despite a century's talk of revolution, most of the major powers of Europe were titular monarchies (and most of the titular monarchs were cousins). Despite decades of rapid industrialization, most of the continent's economies remained primarily agrarian, while most of its societies retained vestiges of an older system of pre-modern estates.

By 1918-19, these monarchs (and their monarchies) were largely gone, semi-feudal Russia had become the Soviet Union (triggering a wave of revolutions across Central Europe and waves of panic further west), the Carthaginian peace of Versailles had rearranged the continental map (and economic system), and the United States had arrived as the broker of European power. By 1945, the US and USSR had effectively divided the continent between them, paradoxically laying the groundwork for what we now recognize as a globalized economic and political system.

We are accustomed to thinking of this as an era of precarious peace measured between two cataclysmic wars. But it has been suggested that we might as easily and usefully think of the decades between 1914 and 1945 as a period of continuous conflict, a transitional epoch on par with (perhaps indeed the completion of) the advent of modernity centuries earlier--"the Thirty Years' War of the twentieth century," as one historian puts it--ending in a new (and tense) Peace of Westphalia in our time: the thing we call the Cold War.

We are also accustomed to thinking of this as the moment of modernism: the years of l'entre deux guerres. But is it possible to read modernism as the 'war poetry' of a larger and continuous war, itself perhaps a war by other means? Or indeed as the cultural logic of a larger historical transition from a vestigial to an emergent political and economic order? These will be our large and guiding questions as we survey some of the period's more familiar figures and texts (along with a few less familiar), mostly produced in Britain between and during the wars. We will read fiction, poetry, a handful of memoirs, and a few apparently non-literary documents as well, each seeking in its way to reckon a moment of transition, revolution, and total conflict. We will attend to the larger historical concepts through which the period thinks itself, but ask also what terms to describe it might be available only in retrospect.

Possible primary texts include (whole or in part): W. H. Auden, The Orators (1932); Samuel Beckett, Watt (c. 1944; 1953); Edmund Blunden, Undertones of War (1928); Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes (1911); T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land (1922); Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier (1915); Parade's End (1924-28); Robert Graves, Good-Bye to All That (1929); Henry James, The Sense of the Past (1916); David Jones, In Parenthesis (1937); T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1922); Wyndham Lewis, Tarr (1918); Blasting and Bombardiering (1937); Mina Loy, Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose (1925); Wilfred Owen, Selected Poems; Siegfried Sassoon, Selected Poems; Virginia Woolf, Jacob's Room (1922); Between the Acts (1941); W. B. Yeats, The Wild Swans at Coole (1919).

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