Victorian and Twentieth-Century Literature - Introduction...

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Unlike the preceding three volumes in thisCompanion to British Literature– theMedieval, Early Modern, and Long Eighteenth Century – the current one attemptsto cover at least two distinct periods: the Victorian and the Twentieth Century. Tomake matters more difficult, the second of these hardly counts as a single period;it is less an epoch than a placeholder. In terms of periodization, the Victorian erais succeeded – or some might say, overthrown – by the Modern. But modernism isnot capacious enough to encompass the various kinds of literary art that emergedin Britain following World War II, the postmodern and the postcolonial, forexample. We could follow the lead of recent scholars and expand the modernistperiod beyond the “high” to include the “late” and arguably the “post” as well. Butthis conceptual as well as temporal expansion does not take in the vital Britishliterature written from the 1970s onward, an historical era distinct from the“postwar” that critics refer to, for now, as the “contemporary” (see English 2006).Of course, all periods are designated after they have finished, including the Victo-rian, which was very much a modernist creation. Yet it is unlikely we will come tocall the period stretching from the middle of the last century to the early decadesof the new millennium, from the breakup of Britain’s empire to the devolution ofScotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, “Elizabethan.” And this despite the Victo-rian longevity of the Windsor monarch’s reign. The queen is one and the same, butthe national culture is anything but. It is difficult imagining the contemporaryequivalent ofEminent Victorians(1918) emerging in the next few years. Who wouldthe emblematic figures of this “period” be? The Beatles, Maggie Thatcher, SalmanRushdie, and David Beckham, perhaps? But this selection – or any selection, evena tendentious one like Strachey’s – would probably not provide fodder for a culturalgestalt in the way that Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Thomas Arnold,and General Gordon did.Introduction to Victorian andTwentieth-Century LiteratureHeesok Chang
xxxiiVolume IV: Victorian and Twentieth-Century LiteratureGiven the myriad changes to British culture and society in the past 200 years,what then might serve as a common narrative frame for this volume of essays? Onebinding premise of this diverse collection is not surprisingly change itself. I do notmean any old change, but irreversible, all-encompassing, and unremitting change ofan historically unprecedented kind. In one way or another, the scholarly inquiriesadvanced here take stock of the social upheavals set in motion by the IndustrialRevolution, by an advanced capitalist modernity in which, as Marx put it, “all thatis solid melts into air.” This memorable phrase fromThe Communist Manifestoprovidesthe title for Marshall Berman’s oft-cited book about “the experience of modernity.”

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