modernism in literature and modernistic writers

Modernism in literature


Literature has ever since inception had its main objectives as being the provision of entertainment, instructions as well as enlightenment to the target readers, observers as well as hearers of the particular pieces. In analyzing the ‘history of literature’ we focus on the development of literature in form of poetry or even prose aimed at also establishing development in communication as well as in literary techniques within particular pieces of literature. It is, however, worth noting that not all materials in written form constitute what is called literature. Nevertheless, the history of literature have undergone through great evolutionary stages but the modern period in literature history dates back to the eighteenth century and began in Europe with the enlightened thinkers. This is actually in line with views of critics of development of literature whose position is that the enlightened thinkers of the eighteen century in Europe a should be credited with the development of modern literature and not as otherwise would be argued. This paper, therefore, conquers with the foregoing notion as developed by the critics, as there is much evidence to qualify the proposition.

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It should be noted that literature from Europe in the 18th century has a greater reference in understanding the history of literature. Main characteristic to modernism was the embrace of self-conscious distinction between traditional forms of literature especially in verses as well as in poems (Davis, 2006, p. 1-15; ‘Jalic Inc’. 2000 – 2013, para 1). Among other historical shocks that have been viewed to have had great influence in the revolution of literature from the traditional modes of expression to the modernized systems was the first world war. It made scholars and philosophers to reconsider and to reassess the societal assumptions with such renowned personalities as Freud Sigmund questioning the rationality of human beings through the horrors witnessed in the war. As a major modernist writer, James Joyce wrote a novel in 1922 titled Ulysses, which focused on the life of Bloom Leopold. His work is viewed to be an epitome of the modernism approach in literature fiction. Instead of use of narration as an artistic feature, Joyce’s works instituted a means through which ordering, giving shape, ordering as well as establishing general significance in works of literature would be realized. Modernism is said to exhibit great cohesion between different artistic genres as well as across different geographical regions. Self-consciousness, as well as deliberate action, informed and inform people embracing the modernism in literature. In an almost similar notion with romanticism, modernism embraces the strength of inner/self consciousness. Nevertheless, in contrast to the romantic world of literature, modernism takes little care on the natural environment, personal being as well as the major historical structures. It is because of the structure of the modern world, which is portrayed and perceived as being impersonal, capitalist as well as antagonistic towards the impulse of arts. The world war is therefore shown to have had great influence in determining such mechanisms through which the modern day contemporary worlds of arts is perceived. The western civilization, in particular, was the main target of the war and as such, the influence was inevitably spilled over to such fields as the arts field. Yugoslav Princip’s assassination of Austria’s Ferdinand is shown to have been the actual trigger to the war. The battle for supremacy between the first world countries, which had great power, made the war inevitable and therefore strategic alliances formed to make up the opposing sides. The war was first of its kind by the involvement of different countries as alliances and blocks through which they fought their allies. Among notable effects of the war in Europe was the need to have the map redrawn after dismantling of some of the countries. Besides, major imperial powers and empires such as Germany, Ottoman, Russia as well as Austro-Hungarian were dismantled hence leaving a great mark on the global history. This therefore explains how the modern era preconceptions of nature, as well as the modern welfare, got eroded during the war. Besides, it should be noted that such adverse effects were recouped by the subsequent world war within the same generation.

Among great modernism literature writers were Woolf, Kafka, Proust and Joyce James. Literature shows the influence of such novelists’ work amongst themselves as well as towards the contemporary world in the time and later times as we read today. It is through literature that we learn the influence of Proust’s work in modernism in the early years of the 20th century towards the making of such other great modernism novelist like Woolf. Woolf  invested in studying much works by the novelist until his death in 1922 and was more cautious of her works than all other novelists of the time. She compared her works with such of Proust and developed theoretical frameworks about tradition as well as influence. In efforts to establish a female tradition in literature, she wrote the famous quote that “we think back through our mothers if we are women,” (Lewis, nd, p. 78) showing the influence of generational influence in literature from the past forms of literature and the modernist literature. Much is therefore shown on the influence of Proust’s works of literature towards Woolf’s fiction modernism works.

Thomas Mann is equally a well-renowned modernism writer whose literature encompassed matters off social, personal, political as well as philosophical aspects as influenced by the literature developed after the enlightenment era within Europe. His major works reveals an interlink between sexual, social, spiritual, political as well as natural and in fact shows an ambivalent interplay between intellectual detachment as well as an urgent emotional attachment. He, therefore, adopted an ironic style in his writings, which successfully expressed emotional as well as ambivalence in literature. His modern fiction explored history from the inner perspective and shows the interaction between political/ideological structures as well as the individual consciousness (‘German literature’, nd, para 1-3).

James Joyce was equally a celebrated figure in modern literature and the influence of his works is evident in modern fiction. In his writing, Joyce interlinked stream of consciousness, mythical parallelism, absurdist drama as well as other modern literary stylistic devises and the effect is evident in modern fiction. The impact of the global war was no least sparing to his works of literature as is shown through his writing and exiles after the outbreak of the war in early years of 20th century (Domestico and Lewis, 2010, para 1-5). Ulysses, among his other works of literature puts him in the light of modern literature in 1922.

Modernism was equally characterized by reforms in the education sector within Europe, which necessitated all sorts of literature to be produced. Writers were therefore streamlined to a particular system and such writers who failed to align in such a system found themselves alienated in a world of solitude. Among all the artists, the poets got full advantage to the modernism and embraced imagery in their works for the foregoing social political as well as economic status. Through the works of literature, the nineteenth-century poets as Eliot critically analyzed modernism and effectively represented the world in pieces of literature among which are highly celebrated even today. Literature, arts as well as architecture radically broke from the conventional way of expression and the effect quickly spread over. The works of Kafka represented modernism as an attempt to break from the realist movement where the realists held art as a reality which lacked subconscious or spirituality (“Franz Kafka as Modernist”, nd, para 1-3). He is remembered in introducing ‘Kafkaesque’ as an adjective in modern literature to have an illusion to a social system, which is somewhat inhuman, impersonal as well as bureaucratic.

The late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century saw the rise of ‘romanticism’, which in its simplest form is distinct form the literature that proceeded the enlightenment period that followed it. The major distinction between the two was that while romanticism embraced the specific role played by instinct, spirit, emotion as well as the soul in literature, the enlightenment period literature had a special focus on a scientific approach to all human dilemmas and endeavors, which is literary detached from the person.

Despite the initial influence, that romanticism had on renowned English poets of the time, the influence slowly diffused to be felt throughout Europe with both arts and humanities feeling it. The society was therefore directly impacted where romanticism changed the manner in which individual persons within the society permanently changed on the perceptions on emotions, institutional structure as well as the relational fiber. The impact has therefore been carried down the ages to be translated as ageless, as well as a recurrent phenomenon. Romanticism strictly adhered to individualism and the personalized attributes in emotions, instinct as well as spirit while the enlightenment period in the 18th century sidelined individualism and had a preference to experimentation on scientific perspectives (Smith, 2011, para 1-5).

Enlightenment period was the historic period which preceded the romanticism period and its through a thorough understanding of the main features of this historic era that one can appreciate the distinctive features that defines the romanticism period. Unlike with romanticism, the enlightenment period was characterized by reason and logic where supporters of the ideology supposed that understanding the human society was much easy through the scientific perspective. People as well as their relations, institutions, roles as well as general societal framework would be easily understood through the adoption of the scientific perspective.

In the history of literature, romanticism emphasized on the objectivity of literature and it was in itself a defining feature of the historical attribute. In Europe for instance, it was more valuable to build on the physical infrastructure over the new resources, capital as well as techniques, which would aid in scientific experimentation in the era of enlightenment. In this regard, subjective emotions mattered less towards contemplating on nature as well as in creating individual impulses as the romanticism would latter allude to. Economic as well as political themes took centre stage in the literary works of the historic period. Personal thoughts as well as individual feelings were equally well represented within the philosophical writings of the age. In fact, the position of the romantics was that through close attention in literary works of the ordinary objects, literature had the capacity to change the common perceptions of objects, experiences, emotions and quotidian objects into extraordinary. Shelley in ‘Defence’ furthered the notions of romanticism through his position that emotions as well as human relations are the basic building blocks upon which human life holds. Through an imagery of a machine, which comprises of various parts, the position of Shelley was that unlike how different parts constitute the whole machine and are often not aware of the other constituent parts, human lives are built on love. Love, on the other hand, is shown through literature to be an identification of ourselves as represented by others through action as well as thought. The live of human beings revolve around esteeming other people’s lives as an equal to oneself and so considering their pleasures and pains as one would consider his/her own. In individualism, romanticism holds to the essence of self as well as social quest where personal deep feelings, quests for connection, transcendence and the self-awareness in a context of many people are the defining feature. Unlike with experimentation with enlightenment era, emotions and personal feelings cannot be customized through creation of specific plans to realize it. In a rather more comprehensive definition to romanticism by Trilling as well as Bloom, they view it as a health restoring as well as a revival to instinctual life, which is contrasted to working of a machine as well as scientifically based progression. The literal perspective of romanticism was to have people appreciate own inward strength uphold personal trust as well as the personal intuition (Kreis, 2000, para 1-7). Externally the notion directed people to appreciate external world through which the interactions of human beings and the nature could be critically observed, interpreted and cerebrated through innate lessons derived. The variations in shift of attention from within to the nature surrounding us would make us appreciate more the works of literature.

The inception of romanticism challenged the notions and positions developed in the enlightenment period literature perspectives, which ascribed to essence of logic and scientific experiments to build up on knowledge better society as well as success. New models of modern literature therefore ensued and little or no essence was upheld for the traditional formulae previously used. The perceptions and intuition held by the romanticism supporters explains the pace at which the notion spread across Europe as well as in America. The industrial revolution was credited to have revolutionized the manner in which people thought, related with each other, worked as well as how people felt. This therefore had the implication of having people mechanize own feelings and perceptions, a notion which romanticism tried to fight through instigating that people would imagine, dream again fanaticize and consciously experience the touch of literature. The English poets were however, the initial artists who rode on the notions of romanticism though later the other genres followed suit. In those countries where the notion of romanticism was being introduced through visual arts, music as well as poems, a new dimension of imagination was being structured where emotional structures of the human life and society would regain its rightful position. It is worth noting that many centuries down the line, the notions of romanticism remain relevant and engraved within people’s minds even in the contemporary modern world.


In conclusion, therefore, the influence of cultural shocks as were experienced in the 18th century is wholly criticized to have brought bought the observable dynamics in the modern literature, which ensued in the late 18th century, and the early years of 20th century. Great revolutionist novelists adopted the influence of the European revolution in literature as shown by the enlightenment period. The period is characterized by literature which main emphasis was on experimentation as against individualism as was explained by emphasis on human internal traits in emotions, spirituality as well as identification with the nature. The enlightenment notion from started from Europe in the 18th century and spread over to other locations globally. Its emphasis was on creating a predefined structure through which scientific systems in which testing and understanding human character was possible as against defining it merely on human attributes. Nevertheless, Romanticism in literature embraced the specific role played by instinct, spirit, emotion as well as the soul in literature. This therefore constitutes the arguments on the influences of the two schools of thought towards the contemporary modern literature as we have it today. The effect of both the schools of thought is evident in pieces of literature including poems and novels. This effect can be better analyzed through the works of literature by modernism novelists such as Woolf, Proust, James Joyce as well as Franz Kafka as previously discussed. Besides, the discussion above supports the position of critiques in literature that hold to the position that modern literature dates back to the eighteenth century in Europe during the enlightenment period.




Davis D. A., 2006. World war I, literary modernism, and the U.S. south. Available at:<>[Accessed 17 December, 2013].

Domestico A. and Lewis P., 2010. James Joyce. Available at:<>[Accessed 17 December, 2013]

“Franz Kafka as Modernist”, nd. Kafka’s life. Available at:<>[Accessed 17 December, 2013].

‘German literature’, nd. Thomas Mann. Available at:<>[Accessed 17 December, 2013].

‘Jalic Inc’. 2000 – 2013. Modernism. Available at:<>[Accessed 17 December, 2013].

Kreis S., 2000. The Romantic era: lectures on modern European intellectual history. Available at:<>[Accessed 17 December, 2013].

Lewis P., nd. Proust, Woolf, and modern fiction. The Romanic Review, 99(1): 77-86

Smith N., 2011. Overview of Romanticism in Literature. Article Myriad. Available at:<>[Accessed 17 December, 2013].


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