Victorian and Twentieth-Century Literature - Introduction to Victorian and Twentieth-Century Literature Heesok Chang Unlike the preceding three volumes

Victorian and Twentieth-Century Literature - Introduction...

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Unlike the preceding three volumes in this Companion to British Literature – the Medieval, Early Modern, and Long Eighteenth Century – the current one attempts to cover at least two distinct periods: the Victorian and the Twentieth Century. To make 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 era is succeeded – or some might say, overthrown – by the Modern. But modernism is not capacious enough to encompass the various kinds of literary art that emerged in Britain following World War II, the postmodern and the postcolonial, for example. We could follow the lead of recent scholars and expand the modernist period beyond the “high” to include the “late” and arguably the “post” as well. But this conceptual as well as temporal expansion does not take in the vital British literature 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 to call the period stretching from the middle of the last century to the early decades of the new millennium, from the breakup of Britain’s empire to the devolution of Scotland, 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, but the national culture is anything but. It is difficult imagining the contemporary equivalent of Eminent Victorians (1918) emerging in the next few years. Who would the emblematic figures of this “period” be? The Beatles, Maggie Thatcher, Salman Rushdie, and David Beckham, perhaps? But this selection – or any selection, even a tendentious one like Strachey’s – would probably not provide fodder for a cultural gestalt in the way that Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Thomas Arnold, and General Gordon did. Introduction to Victorian and Twentieth-Century Literature Heesok Chang
xxxii Volume IV: Victorian and Twentieth-Century Literature Given 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? One binding premise of this diverse collection is not surprisingly change itself. I do not mean any old change, but irreversible, all-encompassing, and unremitting change of an historically unprecedented kind. In one way or another, the scholarly inquiries advanced here take stock of the social upheavals set in motion by the Industrial Revolution, by an advanced capitalist modernity in which, as Marx put it, “all that is solid melts into air.” This memorable phrase from The Communist Manifesto provides the title for Marshall Berman’s oft-cited book about “the experience of modernity.”

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