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British Literature

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ASSIGNMENT

MODERNIST SHORT STORY

Submitted By:
Steffy Johnson
11/PELA/026

INTRODUCTION
Modernist literature is the literary expression of the tendencies of Modernism, especially High modernism. Modernistic art and literature normally revolved around the idea of individualism, mistrust of institutions mainly government and religion, and the disbelief of any absolute truths. Modernism as a literary movement reached its height in Europe between 1900 and the middle 1920s. Modernist literature addressed to aesthetic problems and can be viewed largely in terms of its formal, stylistic and semantic movement away from Romanticism, examining subject matter that is traditionally mundane. It often features a marked pessimism, a clear rejection of the optimism apparent in Victorian literature. It attempted to move from the bonds of Realist literature and to introduce concepts such as disjointed timelines. Modernism as a literary movement is seen, in large part, as a reaction to the emergence of city life as a central force in society. Furthermore, an early attention to the object as freestanding became in later Modernism a preoccupation with form. Modernist writers were more acutely conscious of the objectivity of their surroundings.
The most prominent modernist authors are: T. S. Eliot, W. B. Yeats, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster, Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Conrad, Franz Kafka, Knut Hamsun, Gertrude Stein, Mikhail Bulgakov, MarcelProust, John Steinbeck, Ezra Pound, Katherine Anne Porter, Rainer Maria Rilke, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Robert Frost, Boris Pasternak, Sherwood Anderson and a lot of others. Modern short stories only occasionally consist of an exposition. It usually comprises of an abrupt beginning, with the story starting in the middle of the action. The plots of short stories also have a climax, crisis, or turning-point. The endings of many modern short stories are abrupt and open and may or may not have a moral or practical lesson.
The features of the modernist short stories are that it challenges the nineteenth century conventions of plot, narration, character, and language. In terms of plot it can be seen as a sense of a telling of a story with a beginning, middle and end that ceases to be dominant and the main essence of the modern short story is to portray the individual moment, scene, or person in isolation from the outside stream of life .In the narrative technique of the modern short story, the authority of the narrator is questioned. In terms of the characters, the story focuses on the inward, personal and subjective experience of individuals. The language employed, presents a unity or totality of impression a patterning of symbols, multiplicity of voices, indirect language, stream of consciousness are all techniques employed by modern writers.
Among the many problems facing a writer of short stories are the pressure of time, and the need to sketch characters quickly and yet to make them credible. Also a good short story writer must make the reader feel that the characters have some independent existence of their own. The short story writer must make both the characters and their situation interesting but yet not incredible for the reader. The writer must also not let the tension relax and yet without exaggeration or over-emphasis, must give the appearance that the situation being dealt with is over-contrived. The teller of the short story must persuade the reader that life is a series of highly-wrought incidents. The writer must also ensure that the endings have a point enough to convey significance, in order for the reader to react after reading a short story.

VIRGINIA WOOLF AS A MODERNIST SHORT STORY WRITER
Virginia Woolf wrote short fiction throughout her career, from her early unpublished experiments with narrative voice and characterization in stories such as ‘Phyllis and Rosamund’ (1906) and ‘The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn’ (1906). The short story was the medium through which Woolf set about transforming narrative fiction and adapting it to the task of conveying the texture of human consciousness. Woolf’s fiction, consistently displays a spirit that is serene, tolerant, humane and civilized. She also takes care not to present a dramatic struggle among her characters instead she always refers to the sensations of her leading characters to fundamental problems of conduct like the joys and sorrows, the mystery of the meaning of life with which they are all intensely preoccupied. Woolf’s central concern was with the relationship between the way the mind experiences reality and the way the writer conveys that experience in narrative form.
Woolf’s short story The Searchlight was bound into the two periods in Woolf’s life, the mid-late 1920s and the mid-late 1930s, when, in her writing, she was considering the question of memory, her childhood and her mother’s life most intensely. In Woolf’s short story The Searchlight, she has employed modernist techniques. The story opens to a scene, where a group of friends are enjoying a drink at an outdoor cafe in London one night. The time is just before the start of World War II, this fact is known to the reader because of the air raid search lights that are flashing across the sky, testing their capability in a soon to come war. The lead figure in the conversation is a rather elderly financially comfortable lady Mrs. Ivimey and the beam of lights flashing overhead motivates, her to tell the story of her great-grand father, who when a boy, lived in an isolated tower, and one day turned his telescope from the skies to the earth. Mrs. Ivimey, narrates her tale by miming the act of peering through an imaginary telescope, looks back in time to glimpse a crucial moment which marks the beginning of her life,). Woolf uses the central motif, the searchlight to show the shift of travelling from the past to present and vice versa, this is a clear example of her employment of the stream of consciousness technique,which is a modernist concept. The telescope is thus understood as a device that allows for a simultaneous co-existence of the past and present.
The story, turns on what has brought not only writing but the very self into being. Woolf’s ‘telescope story’ is connected to her own fascination with relations of distance and proximity and between human experience and the dimensions of time and space. In the early twentieth-century, Woolf had a fascination with telescopic vision, astronomy and the popularization of science and this can be seen reflected through the centrality of Victorian science and scientific knowledge that blends in this short story. The “near and far” with which Woolf is concerned in the story, and the interplay between distance and proximity, are profoundly linked to her relationship with the Victorian past.
Woolf constructs her scene-making, as a way of “marking the past” as she writes, in “Sketch of the Past”: “A scene always comes to the top; arranged, representative. This confirms me in my instinctive notion – it is irrational, it will not stand argument, that we are sealed vessels afloat upon what it is convenient to call reality; at some moments, without a reason, without an effort, the sealing matter cracks; in floods reality; that is a scene – for they would not survive entire so many ruinous years unless they were made of something permanent; that is a proof of their “reality”.” (Woolf 2002: 145) Woolf differed from other feminine fiction writers of the time as she filtered and canalized the stream of consciousness by selecting, distilling and then projecting the short story by a very personal style, with a blend of sensations and conscious and subconscious thoughts that gave a vivid illusion of mental experience.

D.H.LAWRENCE AS A MODERNIST SHORT STORY WRITER
The real virtue of D.H.Lawrence’s work is more readily appreciable in the best of his short stories .John Strachey, a Marxist calls Lawrence “the one copious and vital writer which England has produced since the war; the one man who still wrote as if he knew it was worthwhile to write. “Lawrence has the ability to invest simple episodes with an added level of symbolic meaning. Lawrence’s short stories are occasionally experimental in style but are not so marked in their style. A common theme of many of Lawrence’s short stories is the usual Lawrentian subject of personal relationships and these are examined in many different conventions and classes of society ranging from working-class life of the English Midlands before and during the First World War to the middle and upper-class society of post-war Germany, Austria and Mexico in the 1920s.
Many of Lawrence’s early stories are centred on the Nottinghamshire mining districts of his childhood, but the best of them, notably Odour of Chrysanthemums and Daughters of the Vicar, these stories are much more than sketches of working class life. The Odour of Chrysanthemums is rated as Lawrence’s masterpiece.
The usual Lawrentian contrast between nature and industry is well made in the opening section of the short story Odour of Chrysanthemums in a straightforward narrative. The story slowly reveals the key character traits of its protagonist, Elizabeth Bates, the pregnant wife of a collier living in the English village of Underwood. Elizabeth endures one long night in which she must come to terms with her relationship with her husband, Walter, when he dies in a mining accident. D.H.Lawrence’s depiction of Elizabeth and Walter’s marriage through death reinforces the modernist concept of self awareness and identity. The chrysanthemums, which bloom a little while in the fall and then die, are symbolic in this story of the fragility of one’s inner lives. In this story, Elizabeth Bates suddenly discovers that inside herself she is a person, with unique thoughts and passions and fears and that her husband was just as much of an individual as she, but one whom she never really sought to know beneath the surface. Their marriage had been dead long before her husband lost his life that night in the mine
Lawrence also brings out social taboos, in the story which further reflects the related impacts of modernism on the social structure. Moreover, from a modernist perspective of marriage, Elizabeth’s silence and indifferent calm, suggest the “impossibility of connection between man and wife” , as highlighted by the example of her reaction to the vase of flowers that is clumsily knocked onto the floor, leaving nothing tangible behind, just an odor. The chrysanthemums symbolize a spot of beauty unrecognized by the prejudiced Elizabeth, just as she never appreciated what she could have had with her husband Walter until it was too late.
Lawrence demonstrates how to integrate important elements in an opening and how a skilful writing can plant ideas that foreshadow later events and themes. Lawrence depends on four distinctive devices to unify his story: the use of time as a structural element, the metaphorical purpose of the chrysanthemums, the intimate sense of family life and the mature character of Elizabeth. He also relies on descriptive principles that inform the rest of the story. These principles introduce the setting and time, hint at a theme, and present the main character and lay the groundwork for the structural elements of their narratives. Lawrence's first sentence creates a visual and aural sense of the setting:
A "small locomotive engine, Number 4, came clanking, stumbling down from Selston with seven full wagons."
This sluggish train encapsulates Elizabeth, the central woman of the tale’s physical and emotional environment from a modernist perspective. Like the train, she is "clanking" and "stumbling" through life, trapped between on one side of machinery and industrialization and the other of nature. Lawrence introduces the main character in relationship to the setting and the story concludes by coming full circle. Another distinctive feature of Lawrence’s story is that the end of the story is in the seeds of the beginning. The images, themes, time, place and key emotional attributes presented in the story create an atmosphere for the central conflict.
CONCLUSION
The modernist period saw a revolution in fictional practice; it was a highly self conscious form that focused on the nature of story writing itself. The modernism model challenged pre-existing socio-cultural norms and was exemplified by the discussion of social relationships in early twentieth century literature. Short stories in the modern era take on the task of dis-affirmation and the fiction of this period presented life usually as a fragmented one.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Hunter Adrian. The Cambridge Introduction to the Short Story in English. New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Print
Slade Tony. D.H.Lawrence.London: Evans Brothers Limited, 1969.Print
Muller Herbert. Modern Fiction A Study of Values.USA: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1937.Print
Marcus Laura. “In the Circle of the Lens”: Woolf’s “Telescope” Story, Scene-making and Memory.Web.5august2012

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