Dubliners

Modernists and the metropolis: the character of the city in Woolf's "Kew Gardens" and Joyce's "Dubliners" College

‘[T]he modern period […] begins really with the late nineteenth [century], when the sense of the passing of a major phase of English history was already in the air.’ Indeed, when we discuss ‘modern’ in terms of literature this tends to be a reference to modernism, which was a reaction in writing to sudden and rapid changes occurring across Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century; change most concentrated in metropolitan cities. Many in the modern period felt these rapid changes in technology, industrialism and social mobility to be negative, seeing the city as desolate and isolating, as demonstrated in Hornes’ reference to ‘crook-backed chimney pots’ and ‘broken-windowed houses.’ Modernist writers like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, whose work I will discuss in this essay, attempted to encapsulate these changes through their writing with a departure from traditional forms and linearity; experimenting with more fractured and disarrayed style to reflect the changing world. Where the previous generations of writers had used the city as ‘the backdrop against which these writers’ characters acted out their lives,’ the city for the modernists played a more foregrounded role. Modernists such as Joyce and Woolf represented...

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