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Esame di Cultura e letteratura inglese docente Prof. V. Polopoli



Victorian novels must be considered as responses to the time of change, which were

ambivalent, because some writers felt they needed to engage against society, and others to

retreat from it and find a refuge in a stable past.

The Sense of Presence.

The nineteenth century Britain was the high of the social realist novels and major Victorian

writers like Dickens, Eliot, Disraeli, and Gaskell, who diagnosed the condition of England

in their works. Now the term “the Condition of England novels” is used to refer to a body of

narrative fiction, also known as Industrial novels, Social Travels, or Social Problem Novels,

published in Victorian England. Conditions of England novels are directly engaged with the

social and political issues and with a specific concern about the social consequences of the

industrial revolution in England. That’s why these novels are also called Industrial Novels,

in which is strong the sense of the presence, all marked by social realistic descriptions.

These novels have some features in common, such as: criticism of the effects of

industrialism; the exploitation of children in factories, the abuse of child labour and the

miserable conditions of industrial working class.

“Condition of England” novels: Mary Barton and North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell;

Dombey and Son, Hard times, Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens;

Coningsby and Sybil by Benjamin Disraeli.

The Sense of the Past. “We who have lived before the railway were made, belong to another

world [...] railroads start a new era, and we of a certain age belong to the new time and the

old one.” This sense of division, of belonging to two ages was strongly felt by some

novelists who are concerned with the recent past of their society but also with their personal

past. The sense of the past as a sense of the self: the bildungsroman.

Some writers to escape looked back to the past, but this idea cannot be understood from a

chronological point of view, since it’s personal, it’s a dimension where memories and

nostalgia were the protagonists.

In an age of rapid change, the individual had to re-orientate himself in relation to both past

and present. The result of this introspective tendency is an exploration of the continuities

and discontinuities inside of the self, often with autobiographical tone. The personal past is

presented to find new meanings. That’s why many novels dealing with this sense of the past

are bildungsroman, novels of formation or education, following the development of the

individual towards maturity. Memories play an important role, with the influence of

Wordsworth. They dealt with selfhood in a context of cultural crisis.

Examples of the “Fiction of the Self”: Cranford by Gaskell; Middlemarch, The Mill on

the Floss, by Eliot; Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre by Bronte’s sisters; David

Copperfield, Great Expectations, by Dickens.

Charles Dickens 1812-1870. No single category can contain Dickens. He is the greatest

Victorian novelist: his novels offer a unique interpretation of the age, testifying England’s

shift from a rural country to an industrial one. In the 40 years of his writing life he registered

changing England in the succession of his books with wonderful vividness. Dickens

satisfied Victorian readers’ demand for realist fiction. He set his novels in contemporary

England. In his works, he focused on social problems and denounced the evils of

industrialization, describing the squalor of the slums and children’s condition. His novels

are usually defined as social novels or ‘humanitarian novels’ but he wasn’t a social reformer,

because he didn’t advocate any change

Pickwick Papers, first novel. Dickens’s Pickwick Papers initiates a new era, immortalizing a

stage-coaching England that was passing away and he presented the individual and private

man as hero. Pickwick, far from the aristocratic hero, typical of the historical novels, full of

war heroism, is an anti-aristocratic hero, meaning his virtue, his heroism, is private and

domestic. There is an elevation of the private man and of his private life to honour in

literature. Dickens dealt with the old values of the old world with irreverence, comic energy,

and vitality, and that’s what gives power to his language. Pickwick was plump.

Our mutual friend, last novel. This novel has to do with the precariousness of urban living.

There is an evolution of fiction and time from the first to the last novel. Dickens remains an

urban novelist, because he writes in an urban kind of way, since in the city we consume

impression in a rapid and quick way, because what we perceive is what is real. In a city

images and appearances are important, as a result, Dickens’ style is exaggerated, marked by

comical exuberant. The description of his characters is always rich in detail, because they

are analysed from and external point of view. His descriptions through physical appearances

give readers the idea of a round character. He doesn’t create types (universal) but

individuals. He is the first novelist to place children at the centre of his fiction.

Entertainment and amusement are the main aim of his novels. He mingers human and


George Eliot (1819-1880) pen name of Mary Anne Evans. Domestic realism marked her

novels: art as a necessary commitment to the real. She was a novelist of the past and

Victorian Age is largely absent from her fiction. Her aesthetic of realism is based on

scientific method, observation, and experiments.

Dickens and Eliot are opposites. The first one is the great popular entertainer, the second

one was the voice of higher culture, she was complexed, a great intellectual, a positivist who

accepted scientific laws to explain the universe. She’s the novelist historian, sociologist. She

observes society in a scientific way and believes on the influence of the environment.

History is a science, by analysing it she is able to see different methods that interact.

She set the novel in the past and she observes a period far from the present because for her

through distance is possible to achieve realism and objectivity. The search for coherence and

stability inside the self becomes an important task for her, because she analyses the

individual when he is confronted with the discontinuities of the worlds, and their effects on

the characters.

Bronte’s sisters. Emily, Charlotte, Anne.

They gave romantic voice to Victorian age. Their novels are romantic and imaginative and

the supernatural is an important aspect. They are also social, not because they dealt with

social problems, but because they were conscious of writing regional novels, in which

there’s an awareness of life far from the city. In their novels there is always a strong conflict

inside the characters, thus making them psychological, dealing with the private and personal

life of the individual. Also, they are characterized by a particular conception of time and

space, and we find important experiments with time, full of backwards and flashback.

Introducing Modernism

“On or about December 1910 human character changed…” Virginia Woolf.

The reference of this sentence is the shift in human relationships. The change was not

sudden, so Woolf is provocative in giving us a precise date, but took place in British society,

closely linked to political, social, and historical events. Indeed, the enthusiasm, the faith in

progress, that had characterized the previous age, were slowly replaced by disillusionment.

It’s also true that scientists, philosophers, and thinkers in general, destroyed the predictable,

stable universe of the Victorian era. In the past, the idea of history and humanity moved

towards a linear progress, accepted by everybody. However, something changed, and some

thinkers started attacking this idea of linear progress. The roots of Modernism are also

present in the thoughts of these thinkers. Wagner criticised contemporary civilization,

saying that progress means individualism. German philosophers Nietzsche, Schopenhauer

were also influential with their pessimistic ideas. In the field of political science, Marx

argued that modern capitalist system is against freedom, and egalitarian values.


In the last two decades of the 19 century the system of Victorian values had end and the

pervasive feeling was of general loss. The positivistic faith in progress and science declined.

Nothing seemed to be certain and even science and religion seemed to offer little security.

As a result, a new view of man and universe emerged. Individuals lost their coordinates,

their certainties and felt like stranger in a world that was unknowable. They couldn’t

recognise reality around them, because it lost its objectivity and knowability.

This period of anxiety runs from 1876 to 1915 and is known as Modernism, characterized

by crisis, both real and symbolic. This affected the consciousness of the individual,

penetrating their souls. The causes for dissatisfaction were many in the collapse of all

established values.

Modernism historical context

The effect of WWI on the individual consciousness were traumatic and produced despair

fear, uncertainty. Also, the emancipation of women and feminism took place, with the

Suffragette Movement. In 1920, the economic collapse happened, and the Wall Street

Crash in 1929. Finally, there was the emergence of Fascism and the WWII.

In the creation of this context, war was the event that changed the world definitely. It was a

terrible break and rapture with the past and tradition. It changed the world and humanity,

destroying the psychological side of the individual. There is a strong sense of discontinuity

between before and after the war and a lack of solid points of reference. Broadly speaking,

modernists arts gave voice to these traumas.

Modernism in its broadest definition is modern thought, character, or practice. Specifically,

the term describes the modernist movement, its set of cultural tendencies and array of

th th

associated cultural movements arising in Western society in the late 19 and early 20

centuries. At first labelled “avant-garde”, modernism encouraged the re-examination of

every aspect of existence, trying to grasp a new meaning. There are different expressions of

conveying this idea of modernism in different fields, such as futurism etc;

“All that is solid melts into air.” Solid has to be understood in both a literary and

metaphorical way. In the field of arts, as a response to this sense of general tension and

confusion, modernists rejected the old traditional style, that of the past, thus giving

emphasis to the idea of experimentation and innovation. The most paradigmatic feature is its

rejection of tradition.

The imagist poet Ezra Pound (1885-1972) expressed the aspirations of modernism: his

famous injunction “make it new!” is the motto of modernists and conveys their desire for

novelty, renovation, innovation. Modernist experiments rejected traditional methods of

representation and traditional (literary) forms. He moved from America to England. He was

also the most important figure of the imagist movement, which emphasised clarity of

expression, simplicity, going against Romanticism.

Far from traditions: Picasso’s les demoiselles d’Avignon

Since now the world has lost its unity, art has to represent fragmentation. Reality changed

and accordingly, art changed. There are five women, but not in a traditional sense.

Modernism rejects the ideas of Enlightenment. Modernists were conscious of these changes,

which is very important to understand their works. The five figures are not represented in a

classic but in a modernist way; they are constructed simultaneously from different, multiple

perspectives. There is not an objective world to be represented. There is not a single point of

view. Cubism fragments the wold into parts of atoms.

Formal experiments affected also literature, it has to do with the questions of how to live

within a new context. Individuals were in search of new paths. They asked themselves how

they could cope with reality. This is the reason why modernist art is self-conscious.

Traditional English Novel remains anchored to the world of middle-class throughout the

th th

18 and 19 century. The novelist shared his world with his audience and the characters,

sharing also the code of behaviour, which was public and agreed by all. During this period

the traditional form of the novel is no longer appropriate to deal with the modern world.

Modernist fiction is marked by a departure from representation of verisimilitude. The idea

of existence of an objective reality, or truth is displaced for ever.

Novelists rejected the idea of the stable ego, and they aren’t interested in the material

representation of the character, but in their private inner life, in what they feel. Due to the

impossibility of depicting an objective world, the modernist turned to the interior

consciousness of individuals, that is of their characters.

Modernist (literary) experimentation is to be seen as a response to a general sense of

discontent and dissatisfaction that affected the period. The sense of living through a period

of momentous social, political, and cultural upheaval can be seen as a key motivating factor

in the modernist insistence on an equivalent momentous upheaval in aesthetic practice.

Modernism(s) is marked by a strong literary, aesthetic and epistemological rejection of the

conventions, assumptions, procedures, and perceptions of the classical and realist art of the

th th

18 and 19 centuries. This rejection is expressed by a range of related art movements such

as impressionism, imagism, symbolism, futurism, and impressionism, vorticism.

Modernism refers to the broad movement in Western arts and literature that gathered pace


from the last two decades of the 19 century, and is characterized by a deliberate rejection of

tradition. In literature between the years 1880s and 1930s a new discourse on the art of

fiction emerged which reshaped the fictional form itself. The true protagonist of Modernism

is man, an individual with his personal and private life. Modernists are not interested in

describing people from their external life.

Science and modernism.

The first set of new ideas was introduced by:

 Freud (1856-1930) investigated the inner realm of the psyche. His theory of the

unconscious was revolutionary. He stated that individuals are motivated by irrational

forces. Ideas inside our mind flow and they are governed by three associations, which

are always personal. We cannot share our personal associations with anybody

because they’re trapped inside our mind.

 Jung (1875-1961) theorized the concept of “collective unconscious” of mankind, in

which he recognised the importance of myth. According to him, in the dimension of

the unconscious, as individuals we share something, what he calls ‘myths’.

 Einstein (1879-1955) his theory of relativity discarded the concept of time and

space. He showed how time and space are not objective dimension but subjective.

This means that both man and the universe lost their objectivity, and were no longer

knowable. The relative status of the human means that individuals lose their

epistemological certainty.

 Bergson (1859-1941) with his conception of ‘la durèe’ or inner time that eludes

conventional clock time. According to Humanism, time is linear and moves towards

progress and is objective, expressed through clock. He instead refers to the inner time

of individuals, which is psychological and contains memories, perceptions, feelings,

traumas. This idea marks a sharp distinction between the public and the private. As

public individuals we share the same time, but as for our inner perception of time, it

depends on our history, which is always personal. Our inner time is not organized

according to a logical or chronological order, but it’s unstoppable, and keeps on

flowing, taking different directions. Our minds cannot control or stop it. In this

continuous flowing of time, Bergson points out la durèe, time as a stream which

doesn’t belong to conventional time but to our consciousness. The stream of


Modernist Art of Fiction

For Henry James the aim of the novel is to represent the novelist’s direct impression of

life: the only reason for the existence of a novel is that it does attempt to represent life; a

novel has to have the odour of life. The novel has to catch the strange, irregular rhythm of

life. His modernist novels move towards abstraction and in order to reach his aim the

novelist needs freedom. Openness and flexibility are the key words.

In The Portrait of a Lady he writes: «the house of fiction has not one window, but a million

possible windows. These apertures, of dissimilar shape and size, hand so, all together, over

the human scene, over life. They are but windows, mere holes in a dead wall, disconnected

but one seeing more where the other sees less, one seeing black where the other sees white,

one seeing big where the other sees small. The spreading field, the human scene, is the

“choice of subject”; the pierced aperture is the “literary form”. » There are many windows

which represent many different points of view. But where is the truth? There is no Truth, but

truths, which is life, truth in its essence. In this way the engagement with the real is more

real than realism.

Plot: Isabel Archer, originally from Albany, New York, is invited by her maternal aunt,

Lydia Touchett, to visit Lydia's rich husband, Daniel, at his estate near London, following

the death of Isabel's father. There, Isabel meets her uncle, her friendly invalid cousin Ralph

Touchett, and the Touchetts' robust neighbor, Lord Warburton. Isabel later declines

Warburton's sudden proposal of marriage. She also rejects the hand of Caspar Goodwood,

the charismatic son and heir of a wealthy Boston mill owner. Although Isabel is drawn to

Caspar, her commitment to her independence precludes such a marriage, which she feels

would demand the sacrifice of her freedom. The elder Touchett grows ill and, at the request

of his son, leaves much of his estate to Isabel upon his death. With her large legacy, Isabel

travels the Continent and meets an American expatriate, Gilbert Osmond, in Florence.

Although Isabel had previously rejected both Warburton and Goodwood, she accepts

Osmond's proposal of marriage, unaware that it has been actively promoted by the

accomplished but untrustworthy Madame Merle, another American expatriate, whom Isabel

had met at the Touchetts' estate. Isabel and Osmond settle in Rome, but their marriage

rapidly sours due to Osmond's overwhelming egotism and lack of genuine affection for his

wife. Isabel grows fond of Pansy, Osmond's presumed daughter by his first marriage, and

wants to grant her wish to marry Edward Rosier, a young art collector. The snobbish

Osmond would prefer that Pansy accept the proposal of Warburton, who had previously

proposed to Isabel. Isabel suspects, however, that Warburton may just be feigning interest in

Pansy to get close to Isabel again, and the conflict creates even more strain within the

unhappy marriage.

Isabel then learns that Ralph is dying at his estate in England and prepares to go to him for

his final hours, but Osmond selfishly opposes this plan. Meanwhile, Isabel learns from her

sister-in-law that Pansy is the daughter of Madame Merle, who had had an adulterous

relationship with Osmond for several years. Isabel pays a final visit to Pansy, who

desperately begs her to return someday, which Isabel reluctantly promises to do. She then

leaves, without telling her spiteful husband, to comfort the dying Ralph in England, where

she remains until his death. Goodwood encounters her at Ralph's estate, and begs her to

leave Osmond and come away with him. He passionately embraces and kisses her, but

Isabel flees. Goodwood seeks her out the next day but is told she has set off again for Rome.

The ending is ambiguous, and the reader is left to imagine whether Isabel returned to

Osmond to suffer out her marriage in noble tragedy (perhaps for Pansy's sake), or she is

going to rescue Pansy and leave Osmond.

Major themes: James's first idea for The Portrait of a Lady was simple: a young American

woman confronting her destiny, whatever it might be. Only then did he begin to form a plot

to bring out the character of his central figure. This was the uncompromising story of the

free-spirited Isabel losing her freedom, despite (or because of) suddenly coming into a great

deal of money and getting "ground in the very mill of the conventional". It’s a

rather existentialist novel as Isabel is very committed to living with the consequences of her

choice with both integrity and a sort of stubbornness.

Theory as practice

The history of Modernist novel is essentially a formal one. It reconfigured two central

preoccupations of Victorian fictions:

 Characters: the deconstruction of the concept of the self.

 Realism: Modernist novels’ realism is not traditional. They want to represent the real

life in its immediacy.

The idea of time and the conception of character are reconfigured. Time is inhabited by

characters in a different way from the traditional chronological organization. We have what

is called spatialization, time becomes space, because a character can inhabit at the same

time past and present, since in psychological terms, there is no distinction between them.

As a result, from a formal point of view, a novel doesn’t need a plot, whose development is

organized in a chronological order. There is a personal dimension in which characters live

free from the conventions of time and space, as they are traditionally described.

The characteristics of the Modernist Novel:

 The novelist rejected omniscient narration and experimented new methods to portray

the individual consciousness; the point of view shifted from the external world to the

internal world of a character’s mind. The analysis of a character’s consciousness was

influenced by the theories about the simultaneous existence of different levels of sub-

consciousness where past experience is retained in the present.

 The impersonality of the author is an important feature of novelist writing, because

the novelist disappears behind his fiction. Narrative omniscience is replaced with

other modes of narrative, which emphasised the liminality of the boundaries between

external reality and the inner world of character. The self is deconstructed through the

theories of memories.

 It challenges unity, uses fragmentation, disjunctions, multiple perspectives on reality

and multiple points of view.

 Disruption of chronology: simultaneity, fluid notion of time.

 Fragmentation and discontinuity: the interior monologue, distortion of time.

 Epiphanies and moments of beings as structural concepts.

 Interior monologue is the strategy used to represent the stream of consciousness.

It often stands for all method of self-revelation. It recreates the character

consciousness without any interfering agency. The character’s thoughts freely flow,

they are presented imitating as much as possible the character’s inner mind style.

 There is no traditional syntax or punctuation.

Life like a stream

The term ‘stream of consciousness’ was coined by William James to describe the nature of

mental life ‘from within’. For him, thought contains no constant elements of any kind be

they sensations or ideas. Every perception was relative and contextualized, every thought

occurs in a modified way by every previous thought. States of minds were never repeated.

Thought was constantly changing.

James Joyce (1882-1941)

The term ‘Joycean’ means obscurity and the reference is immediately to Ulysses, because it

resists interpretation and meaning. Obscurity is the product of richness of form and contents.

The fact that he stands at the centre of the movements cannot be divided from the fact that

he is the writer of the margins, of the periphery. He was conscious of this being a voice

coming from the margins. Irishness is perhaps one of the most important feature of his

writings and life, since they are closely linked.

He leaves the city when he is twenty-two, as a voluntary exile because he considers it the

centre of a paralysis, from a cultural, political, economic point of view. He feels in Dublin a

very repressive atmosphere, in contrast to the atmosphere of the modern capitals of Europe.

He says that his country is affected by a strong sense of closeness. Other Dubliners do not

rebel against this situation, they are unable to react. He says that Dubliners are servants of

two masters: the church and the British empire. That’s why he decided to move to Europe,

becoming a cosmopolitan writer.

As for his works, we can say that his heart remains in Dublin. His exile is a physical going

but not an emotional one. Dublin and Ireland remain the set of all his works. The feeling

toward his land is ambiguous.

His life. Born in Dublin in 1882, the eldest child in an increasingly impoverished catholic

family, Joyce self-consciously wrestled with questions of poverty, class, faith, and the

nation. He attended University College Dublin in 1899-1902, where he studied modern

languages. In 1904 he left Dublin for Europe and would spend the rest of his life on the

continent, living in Pola, Zurich, Paris, Trieste, but with the outbreak of the war, Joyce

returned to Zurich, where he died in 1941. James Joyce’s key points:

 A writer from the margins;

 Irishness: a love-hate obsession with his country remained to the end;

 A cosmopolitan writer; he moved to Europe.

 The culture of the “commonplace”; he is obsessed with what is ordinary, normal.

 Art is true to itself when it deals with truth; According to Joyce, the artist disappears

behind and beyond his texts. Art is true when it deals with things as they are, without

altering them and the artist must be invisible.

He has been the first writer of English literature to portrait what we can call mass-culture,

being able to give a cosmic dimension and a timeless one to the representation of a

commonplace event in a commonplace place of a commonplace character. As for Dubliner,

we can also find this idea of commonplace, but he is able to dissociate himself from the

content itself.

A Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man. It’s the first published novel by the Irish

modernist writer Joyce. It was serialized in the modernist magazine, the Egoist, between

1914 and 1915. It deals with the protagonist’s desire to be an artist, even though he finds

this task really difficult. The text follows the development of the artist, which is not physical

but also intellectual, and it’s a bildungsroman. The artist is a catholic Irish man called

Stephen Daedalus. It’s about his struggles against the restrictions, such as religion,

nationalism, language, that his land imposed on him. He devotes his life to arts, but he is a

victim of incomprehension on the part of his compatriots and that’s why, like Joyce, he

leaves his country, moving to Paris. The text is semi-autobiographical, Stephen is a fictional

projection of Joyce. The name Daedalus links the character to a mythological hero and to

his story. His son, Icarus, flies too close to the sun and he fails. The name has to do with the

idea of ambition frustrated.

The stream of consciousness technique: from the baby talk of the opening, to the high-

minded aesthetic discussion towards the end, Joyce’s language play mimics Stephen’s

phonetic, linguistic, and intellectual growth.

The Portrait announces one of the most significant formal innovation of the modernist

writing, which can be described as the authorial retreat from the text. Joyce beings the

process of removing himself from his own works, in this way the authorial voice is

banished. It’s a narrative strategy according to which Joyce controls everything and gives

the idea of his disappearance. It’s as if the text speaks and acts autonomously.

He moves from traditional realism to a narrative style shaped by the interior life of the

characters. In fact, the narrative focuses on the consciousness of the character and if in the

text there are different characters, we find different voices. The reader is plunged into the

idea of character’s thoughts.

The interior monologue creates the separation between the author and his text. The artist

like the God of the creation, remains within beyond and behind the text. From this point of

view, we can say that the Portrait is unstable, since there are different voices, and readers

have not a unique and monolithic picture of the protagonist. We have different voices

according also to the age of the character.

The Portrait insists on the authorial absence, later what Ulysses does is to evade fixed

meanings. Language becomes autonomous and in order to depict reality faithfully there

must be a relationship between form and content, subject matter, and style. So, Joyce’s

narrative cannot be realistic unless characters and people do not speak for themselves, and

that’s the theory defined as the Uncle Charles.

His exile. Although he self-consciously decided to go away from his homeland, Joyce’s

imaginative exile would never be accomplished. Dublin remains the unvarying location of

his fiction. Throughout his fiction he was a writer simultaneously in his exile and at home.

When, later, Joyce was asked if he would ever return to Ireland he replied: “have I ever


Dubliners. The text is a collection of fictitious story, published in 1914, but written before,

and these stories are thematically unified and chronologically arranged. The text is balanced.

They share something as for the themes and also, they respect a chronological order. There

is an inner structure according to which the stories are grouped into different subgroups:

childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and public life. The Dead, the last story, stands apart

from this order. All the stories can be read separately with an inner structure. The setting is

Dublin, which must be understood not just as the geographical setting, but also an emotional

and psychological one. The story depicts everyday events and deals with middleclass

people. “Life we must accept as we see it before our eyes, men and women as we see them in

the real world”; and that meant making art out of “the dreary sameness of existence”.

Its 15 stories function perfectly well in isolation, but reading each as part of a whole creates

unique effects. Their themes, concerns and meanings overlap and reverberate. They are

ordered so that the book charts life “under”, as Joyce explained, “four of its aspects:

childhood, adolescence, maturity and public life”. From this grounding, a range of

experience is explored: love, marriage, employment, politics, religion, and death.

Since he wants to depict things as they are, both Dublin and Dubliners are represented as

unheroic. Everything is presented in stark realism, without decoration, alteration, since

Joyce wants to convey the realistic impression of the city. He wants readers to have their

conclusion regarding the city and Dubliners. He doesn’t want to influence our ideas or

judgments. Joyce’s Dublin is natural and ordinary. His aim is to present Dublin to the world

and to offer a moral history of his country. But moral doesn’t mean ethical judgment or

ethical evaluation, it refers to the behaviour of Dubliners, their way of life, their thoughts,

their feelings.

Joyce called these stories “epiclets”. He wrote them in Dublin, Zurich, Pola, Rome, and

Trieste between 1903 and 1907, but publishers’ concerns about their content meant

Dubliners didn’t appear until 1914. Discussing the stories in letters, Joyce wrote that “My

intention was to write a chapter of the moral history of my country and I chose Dublin for

the scene because that city seemed to me the centre of paralysis.”

The idea of paralysis is the main theme, pervasive throughout the text and presented in

multiple variations: disillusionment, death. All the stories are stories of deep loneliness,

fractured marriages, frustrations. The characters are desperate and left on the margins. For

him, paralysis is the inability to live meaningfully, it represents a moral failure. It affects all

his characters and the city itself. The book has the characteristically modern ambition to tell

things the way they really are. The paralysis that emerges throughout the stories is more

complex than simple inertia because it evokes tones of resignation, despair, loneliness,

solitude, abandonment and at the end, what emerges is a comprehensive portrait of Dublin,

of its citizens and a network of interrelationships, within a community and inside a structure

which is very balanced and also planned. Coherence is an important feature of the text.

Absences are part of what Joyce referred to as the style of “scrupulous meanness” with

which he wrote Dubliners, meaning the frugality he applies to language, image, and

emotion. The Joyceans short stories are immediately recognisable as a sub-genre in which

the directness of the prose and the suggestive ellipsis (what he doesn’t want to tell us, the

poetic tone of the text) of poetry are blended.

Ulysses was written in 1922. Why do we regard Ulysses (with its plethora of arcane

references and allusions and its impenetrable phrases) as the centrepiece of Modernism?

Joyce creates compelling characters; we are sympathetic with Bloom. What happens in the

text resembles our diurnal activities with our obsessions, frustrations, and fixations.

Ulysses gives significance to the small tribulations of modern life that recall our lives. His

life is normal, not heroic, just like everyone’s life. Ulysses is an epic, is a modern and

complex allegory of the Odyssey. But as for its meaning, we can say that it hasn’t got a

fixed meaning and to work out what the text means is an impossible task. But above all, it’s

an irrelevant task, we should just enjoy the reading of the text. The text is confusing by

design, because he wants us to struggle against the text, challenging our ability to make

sense of it.

Usually readers try to understand the text by making parallels with the Odyssey and it has

been Joyce himself who has established this connection. So, Bloom is Ulysses and Steven

Daedalus his son, Telemachus. The meaning of Ulysses also lies in the gap between

Odyssey by Omer and Ulysses by Joyce, which can be defined as tragic and comic at the

same time. In the Odyssey we have a mythic world marked by greatness, force, power, great

values. In Joyce’s work we can find a degraded, fractured modern reality.

It’s also true that reading the text we have the impressions that the true protagonist is the

language itself, because language and form rise above content. The meaning of the text lies

in its language, in its rich inclusiveness, and in its verbal exuberance. The language used by

Joyce is dynamic, alive. The language is rich in puns, paradoxes, juxtaposition, symbols.

Joyce transforms the language from a mode of communication into an endless play. The

idea of playfulness is important for the text. Joyce has brought the interior monologue to

perfection. He transforms the ordinary events of one day into a significant form: he makes

experiments with both form and language, which are elevated above the content and the

original idea of plot is eliminated. He developed an aesthetic theory as far as it was possible:

there was no further road that way.

Joyce achieves abstraction from his creation using the interior monologue and the coloured

narrative but from “Oeulus” on any consistency of style is entirely renounced: the result is a

complex pastiche. The book’s meaning, if the it has a meaning at all, lies elsewhere, that’s

why we can say that the power of the book is universal, cosmic. th

The novel traces the day of three main characters, on a single day, Thursday, 6 jane 1904.

 Daedalus is the frustrated artist, he is a young man with intellectual ambition from

the Portrait.

 Bloom is the modern Odysseus. He is the central character. Both Bloom and

Daedalus wake up at 8, have breakfast, then Bloom leaves home where he returns at

2 in the following morning. During these hours he wanders around Dublin. He

attends a funeral, he has misadventures and he meets Daedalus.

 Finally, there is Mrs Bloom. The final chapter is dedicated to her and in particular it

inhabits her mind. She is a voluptuous singer and when her husband is away, she has

an afternoon of adultery with her music director.

Reading Ulysses raises questions about the relationships between an author’s life and work.

Daedalus, the major character in the Portrait, and one of the 3 major figures in Ulysses is

based on Joyce’s life. We must ask whether we can read portrait or Ulysses as if it were

possible for Joyce to re-create his life in fiction and to stand objectively detached from the

emotional bonds that tie him to the represented experience of his own life.

Joyce used the Odyssey as a structural framework for his book. Joyce’s text is divided into

18 chapters, each of which corresponds to an episode of the Odyssey, but the order is not the

same. The point of the parallel is that it enables Joyce to give his book a symbolic meaning,

but above all, a permanent structure In fact, the use of myth as a point of reference, gives

unity and coherence to his text and to the chaos of modern and urban existence as it is

presented by Joyce. Broadly speaking, the use of the mythical method becomes sort of a

men’s feature of the modernist writers. Joyce instead of the narrative method, which is

linear and chronological arranged, he uses the mythical method, which gives a universal

dimension to the text. This correspondence based on the myth creates a sort of network

because it brings characters together. The three characters are cut off from each other, and

the myth gives them unity. The mythical method also gives unity to random fragments, at

the same time the use of the myth satirizes the modern world. In his wandering, Bloom has

nothing heroic and doesn’t do anything heroic. Molly, unlike the true Penelope, commits

adultery. Bloom is the anti-hero, the common man, his life reflects the traumas and

frustrations of the modern world. Joyce’s use of the mythical method is a way of giving a

significance and a shape to the men’s panorama of anarchy, which is contemporary history

and the world. The thoughts and actions of all three are interwoven with Dublin’s life in a

single life. Dublin can be understood as another character of the text.

Molly’s dialogue

What we read is what happens inside her mind. The character remains silent, she lies on a

bed and she start thinking. Thoughts move between past and present. Molly’s monologue is

an extreme form of stream of consciousness, we are inside her mind and we are able to

catch the essence of her thoughts. It’s evident that there is the prominence of language as

language. What Joyce does is to push the reader through waves of thoughts, which are in

process, never complete. Because of the lack of punctuation, we have to catch our breath

against the tide of the text. It drives the reader into a polyphony of images, sounds, places,

people, fantasies, sexual acts.

The text has its own life, and goes on according to its internal rhythm. These images are

overwhelming, the text never stops. The boundaries between the thoughts are liquified, they

disappear. Molly Bloom is a singer and we feel that the text has been turned into a song.

Joyce makes us penetrate into the consciousness of Molly Bloom. They know anything of

her, there are several layers of yes, different interpretations:

 Yes, of private pleasure towards the husband and the lover;

 Yes, which recognises the veracity of a thing remembered (when we remember

something it is as if by saying yes, we are making proof);

 The final yes, which represents the end of all resistance, is a yes to life, an

affirmation to life. It also means freedom on her side, because she says yes as a

woman and not as a wife.

The language is alive and resourceful, clearly dynamic. In Dublin, language, and content

match. In Ulysses, language is autonomous. By presenting characters in this way, he allows

his readers to know aspects of them that previous novelist would have silenced.

On first looking at the text: evident deviations from usual narrative language: no

punctuation; no paragraphs; incorrect spelling; no apparent logical connections; an extreme

example of interior monologue.

The content of Molly’s half-conscious thoughts:

 From the present (night);

 To the immediate future (following day);

 A specific episode in the past (16 years ago, the time of Leopold’s marriage


 Her past youth in Gibraltar;

 Memories are intertwined and seem to melt into each other at the end.

Molly lies in bed and she think of her day. Various scenes and memories of her life, present,

but above all, past life, crowd her mind. In particular, she thinks about her husband. The

extract begins with her thinking about nature and this seems to reveal her positive attitude

toward life. Her thoughts seem to be a sort of hymn to nature. There are several words

connected to nature: she evokes colours, shapes, sounds.

Then her reflections turn to atheism and religion, and she distances herself from atheism,

rejecting those who don’t believe in God.

Now we have the first yes. She now remembers when she was with her husband and she

think of how she got him to propose to her. Then we have a series of yes, she goes back in

the past. Then she thinks of her past in Gibraltar where her father was a soldier. The exotic

atmosphere of Gibraltar is described in a confusing way. Then she says, “how he kissed me

under the Moorish wall…” the reference is not for Bloom because it’s mixed with memories

of kissing other men.

The word flower(s) repeated at least 8 times in the passage: all sorts of shapes and smells

and colours and fields of oats and hat, primroses, violets, rhododendrons, fig trees, rose

gardens, jessamine, geraniums, cactuses. They are connected to the house, herself, all

women, nature, Gibraltar. They all convey the idea of life, people who love and appreciate

nature and are overwhelmed by passion. Molly is in harmony with nature. Through these

images of nature and life she thinks of the essence of her own life, of what she has lived

with passion, giving a positive idea of life and the text becomes a living thing. Even her

memories are positive, we have these young girls with coloured costumes, the idea of

handsome men.

The Dead is the last and the longest story in Dubliners, the one in which the main themes of

the collection (paralysis, stagnation, decay) reach their climax. The main theme is death,

which runs throughout the story. The text. There is a horse who runs around for no reason,

meaning the futility of life is a reference to death. Moral lesson in his mind: a sense of glory

is linked to someone who dies young. These tears are the symbol of his new awareness, now

he is aware of something new: revelation and epiphany.

Idea of vagueness: region is a state of being, a state of mind. He moves towards this

dimension because of a process of self-revelation. He looks at himself and he discovers

another man as in a mirror. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world:

the solid world itself, which this dead had one time lived in, was dissolving and dwindling.

A world which cannot be touched, so it's grey, indefinite. The solid world is one of

mediocracy. He realises his own limits and his identity slowly disappears. From this point

on, there is a state of being that goes beyond the real; Gabriel has no coherent identity. The

snow covers everything. Gabriel's ego dissolves, he feels humiliated (he has been rejected

by his wife). The image of the snow also conveys the idea of paralysis, and becomes a

symbol of solitude, isolation, silence, alienation from society. There is a sort of dialogue

between Gabriel's consciousness and unconsciousness.

Realistic style. Joyce was obsessed with the idea of common place. In this case, even if the

style remains realistic, he moves away from realism to go towards a more intimate tone,

which is also required by the theme.

Context. At the beginning appears a name: Lily, which is the name of a funeral flower,

symbol of death. There are different levels of death:

 There are the “dear departed” (really dead) such as Gabriel's murderer or Michael

Furey (Greta's first lover).

 The moribund such as Julia and Kate, the two old ladies who are Gabriel's aunts, the

remind the final grasp to life.

 Gabriel. Age is not a requisite for inclusion in this classes. Even if you are not old,

you may belong to the moribund. Death doesn't depend on the age. There are people

who are spiritual and emotionally dead.

 Living dead. Those who remain alive but fail to live because they haven't understood

the true essence of life, they live as ghosts, their lives are wasted.

 The true protagonists of the story are those people who are alive but don't live.

Plot. Gabriel is a journalist, who one night goes with his wife to the Christmas party

organised every year at the home of his aunt Julia. The high point of the party is the

Gabriel's well-received speech, applauded by everyone. He feels satisfied. But before

leaving the party, Gretta hears an old Irish song and it reminds her of a young man called

Michael who had been in love with her when she was younger and who had died because of

tuberculosis at the age of 17.

When the couple go back to their hotel, their feelings are completely different. Gabriel is

happy and satisfied and filled with desire for his wife. Gretta's thoughts go back to the

memory of his young love. Gabriel is consumed with physical passion; his wife is far away

from him. Once in their room at the hotel his wife falls asleep, Gabriel remains awake. He

thinks of the events of the night, he watches his wife with pity. Now he feels far away from

his wife too. Looking at the snow outside the window he thinks of the futility of the lives

that surrounds him and the futility of his own life.


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Riassunto per l'esame di cultura e letteratura inglese e della prof. Polopoli, basato su appunti personali del publisher e studio autonomo del libro consigliato dal docente Storia della Letteratura Inglese, Bertinetti. Scarica il file in PDF!

Trattasi degli appunti presi a lezione. All'interno è possibile trovare: Victorian Age (Dickens, Bronte, George Eliot), Modernism (Joyce, T.S. Eliot), Post-Modernism (Fowles, Spark, Rushdie).

Corso di laurea: Corso di laurea in scienze della mediazione linguistica (RAGUSA)
Università: Catania - Unict
A.A.: 2018-2019

I contenuti di questa pagina costituiscono rielaborazioni personali del Publisher morreale.9 di informazioni apprese con la frequenza delle lezioni di Cultura e letteratura inglese e studio autonomo di eventuali libri di riferimento in preparazione dell'esame finale o della tesi. Non devono intendersi come materiale ufficiale dell'università Catania - Unict o del prof Polopoli Valeria.

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