Monday, June 13, 2016

A Couple of Stories by Mansfield and Joyce

Modernism has always, it seems, had a bit of a gender problem. For decades, there was a critical double-standard that relegated women -- Richardson, Virginia Woolf, Rebecca West, Jean Rhys, and Katherine Mansfield -- to a second tier -- while enfolding men such as Joyce, Kafka, Forster, and Fitzgerald in canonical vestments.  Perhaps the only woman of the period to escape this phenomenon was Gertrude Stein -- but then, her modernism was quite unlike anyone else's, and she was at the center of an artistic circle filled with male writers and artists.  But now, at last, there does seem to be a correction, and many now see Virginia Woolf as the pre-eminent novelist of the period. Another beneficiary of our corrected hindsight is Katherine Mansfield, whose short stories are perhaps the finest of the entire Modernist movement, including one -- "Prelude" -- which became just the second publication of Virginia and Leonard Woolf's Hogarth Press. Mansfield, too, was a bit of an outsider, a New Zealander who never felt entirely at home in Britain. She had the misfortune of striking up a long, on-again, off-again relationship with John Middleton Murry, a man who never really grasped her genius but nevertheless made himself her literary guardian; her early death from tuberculosis in 1923 put Murry in charge of her estate, and he extensively censored her letters and journals when they were published.

Joyce, during his career, sought to establish himself as the great voice of Modernism, and something more, its representative. Although he did not originate the technique of "stream of consciousness," his "eiphanies" -- which began with Dubliners in 1914 -- recast the notion, and with Ulysses (1922) he had his greatest triumph. Here was a novel the action of which took place all in a single day (16 June), in a single town (Dublin), and wove its words through the streams of every street, tarrying amidst idle thoughts of one of its idlest characters, Leopold Bloom. Joyce's presence was felt throughout the period from the early twenties to the outbreak of WWII, and not simply through his books, but via his habit of putting forth sections of his "Work in Progress" in literary magazinesjournals, and chapbooks throughout this period. His final work, Finnegans Wake (note the absence of an apostrophe) was his densest, written in what one critic has called "the language of the night" -- polyglot, punning, and peristrephic.

To give but a few examples: In FW, Joyce coins the word "fadograph" -- of course this is "photograph," with the punning suggestion that it "fades" over time -- but it is also a pun on the Irish Gaelic word fádo, which means "long ago" (many Irish folktales start with this word). There are also any number of other collusions and collisions of language, ranging from the "hundred letter thunder word" (made up of the word for thunder in dozens of languages) to the endless acronymic variations on the letters HCE ("Here Comes Everybody," "Haveth Childers Everywhere," "Howth Castle and Environs," and many more). It's a work of genius, surely, but one so closely-woven and multi-layered that it can really only be digested in small doses.

1 comment:

  1. The Modernism period was a chance for all writers to take risks. At this point, even women were being accredited more and more for the work they were putting out. These two short stories were so impactful and simple, yet as I thought about them more and more, I realized their bigger pictures. In Joyce’s “Araby”, the narrator is juggling his love and desires for Mangan’s sister, who reflects his thoughts of Arabia and the bazaar he wants to go to alongside his schoolwork, his uncle, and the city of Dublin. The narrator romanticizes the bazaar for the entire story, yet gets there to find out that it is nothing like what he hoped, and ruins his hope for a future with the girl. When he is let down because of the bazaar, he realizes that this relationship with Mangan’s sister will never actually happen. A story, that could have been one of pure love-where he would get the girl and say he doesn’t need to give her any fancy things to prove his love, turned into a sad one, because he was totally defeated that he let his romanticized thoughts take over the reality of the situation. Love is difficult and people long for different experiences and places in life, and I think that is the main message of this modernist work. It is truthful and poetic and is one of my favorite things we have read for this course.
    In Katherine Mansfield’s “The Garden Party”, I immediately thought of how it was a mockery of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Much like Josephine, Laura is constantly questioning her place in the world and if she is really living the life she deserves and would want for herself. We get a lot of perspective throughout this short story, hearing the story unfold and also reading into Laura’s personal thoughts. Laura has a realization that working people are much kinder than the people she has known, and have many important things to worry about like caring for a family, and helping others. Laura’s main worries are what to wear, what party she is going to, etc. Her normal cares were all materialistic until she learns about life from these workmen. She views her family in a different light when they still hold a party after Mr. Scott’s death. She does not understand their ignorance but even still, is stuck in her old ways and gets excited over the party. She is human and immature, and Mansfield wants us to see this. The closeness in names and demeanor of Laura and Laurie is definitely on purpose, and it is very clear by the last lines of the story. They have very similar responses and behaviors to one another, yet they are divided because her brother Laurie does not know of what life outside being rich looks like, yet he understands how she must feel to have experienced that. Laura at this point may want to help others and make something of her life, which is something Mansfield may want readers to interpret through her very open-ended conclusion to the story.
    Both of these modernism pieces really opened my eyes to the changes taking place in writing so quickly during this time. People were opening up about real emotions and hitting home about the issues and inner emotions of people and that is so important. This era changed writing forever and paved the wait for future and made writers begin to speak about raw and real problems.