Cultural critique and canon formation, 1910-1937. A study in modernism and cultural memory

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Patterson, Ian 

This thesis argues that one of the tasks of literary history is to identify and challenge the processes by which writers who were once highly valued come to be forgotten and excluded from the canon. I investigate the work and cultural milieu of three such writers: Douglas Goldring, John Rodker and Mary Butts. The first chapter sets the terms of the argument, and presents the grounds for a reconfiguration of the conventional historical view of modernism. The second examines the early work of Douglas Goldring: his achievements as editor of The Tramp are related to its cultural and historical situation; I then turn to the history of conscientious objection in the First World War in order to explore the politics of his 1917 novel The Fortune, and to provide historical material necessary for the later reading of Rodker's Memoirs of Other Fronts. This leads on to a discussion of some of his subsequent political novels and plays. In the third and fourth chapters, I analyse the work of John Rodker, from his adolescence in the East End of London to his maturity, first in relation to modernist dance and theatrical experiments in London during the first war, and later to avant-garde writing in England and France in the 1920s, particularly as it draws upon psycho-analysis. The fifth chapter examines the novels of Mary Butts, particularly Ashe of Rings, which is read as a war-novel, but one which makes constructive use of her interest in the occult. What this category meant during that period is also investigated, which allows me to formulate a broader argument that situates her work within a tradition that takes fantasy seriously, while remaining critical of the conceptual framework of psycho-analysis. I follow this up by showing the later importance of unconscious anti-semitism to her capacity to elaborate an ecological nationalism. The final chapter examines anti-semitism and satire in the relationship between Rodker and Wyndham Lewis, and offers a further explanatory justification for the argument of the thesis.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge