Modernism and Post-Modernism: A Reductionist Approach

Reductionism is a philosophical approach to the understanding of complex, holistic entities by breaking them down into their fundamental core elements. Once the elements of the concept are understood, than so can the entire concept. The Modernist and Postmodernist era, though literary periods are examples of such abstract concepts. Both of these eras are polar opposites in many aspects, however when broken down reductively into their most bare and archetypal characteristics of form and content the two eras share more themes than one would expect. With this considered, the categorization of subsequent works to either era are left ambiguous. This categorization to either Post Modernism or Modernism depends completely upon the ways which the work interacts with these archetypal themes. Douglas Glover’s “Woman Gored by Bison Lives” is an example of a work which could fit into either era of literature. Post-Modernism however is the stronger association due to the way which the work adheres to Post-Modernist usage of these themes. Both eras share interchangeable themes such as realism, distortions of chronologic story lines and ‘connecting the dots’ of story-lines (non-exhaustive). However, the way which Glover’s narrative interacts with thematic variations seen in the Post-Modernist era is the defining factor of relativity. For example; realism is a theme which was pioneered within the Modernist era, however extensions of realism originated in the Post-Modernist era and allowed Post-Modernists to interact with the theme differently than did Modernists.

Realism is unarguably one of the more important features of Modernist and Post-Modernist era literature, due to the fact that no other attempted such a thing. The context of history would not have condoned these candid topics in earlier eras. The utilization of realism allowed for Modernists and Post-Modernists alike to touch upon unwelcoming, unpopular or touchy subjects within the socio-literary sphere. In regards to Glover’s narrative realism is used as it would have been used in Modernism, but extensions of this theme of realism set the final boundary of Post-Modernist motive. Glover utilizes realism to depict sexual events within the work, but particularly death is depicted grotesquely; realistically as it would be. Susan’s death is a realist portrayal of death itself. There is no happy ending or ‘medical miracle’, Susan dies as she would have. The moment of Susan’s death is depicted realistically, intensified by instances of gruesome visual and auditory imagery, “Her lungs begin to fill up, her breathing grows shallower. She makes a horrible bubbling sound in her chest, which I suppose is what they used to mean by the phrase ‘death rattle’” (Glover, 188). The events which lead up to Susan’s final death passage as the rising action attach the reader to Susan and the protagonist, and the realist portrayal of the protagonists heart breaking during Susan’s final days incites a melancholic response. “I miss you already I say, “It hurts so much I can hardly stand it.” “What’s the worst thing?” she asks. “I’m afraid that when you die it will be awful, that you’ll choke or vomit and be terrified.” (Glover, 185). This is standard usage of realism that one should expect to observe interchangeably within Modernist and Post-Modernist literature. Extensions of realism however emanate within the narrative, and this is what categorizes the work as Post-Modernist era rather than that of Modernist. One of these ‘extensions’ of realism manifests itself with the broadening of the literary canon; marginalization. This extension emphasizes the inclusion of all demographics, the ‘straying away’ from limited ethnicities/races/genders seen exclusively in past eras of literature. Glover includes a homosexual union between Susan and the protagonist, which does not conform to this literary demographic norm. This additionally serves as an attack on societal constructs of traditionalism entailing love and marriage. Another extension of realism emerging out of Post-Modernism is the theme of ‘non-eroticism’. This extension depicts styles of eroticism which see intercourse as troublesome, desperate and non-mutually satisfactory. This is contrary to the lustful and overt displays of mutual affection seen in Modernism, see Hilda Doolittle’s “Leda’ for example. In Glover’s work, the act of intercourse between the two women is described as “desperate” (Glover, 175) and is done in the need of “solace” (Glover, 175). This relationship is being depicted as non-lustful and realistically as an escape from obligation in the women’s lives. The protagonist is having an affair with Susan in spite of her husband, Danny. This is emphasized when the strewn clothing of the women is oddly referred to as “manacled” (Glover, 175) at the ankles; a symbolization of captivity in terms of being obliged to conform to normative relationship values.

Traditionally, literature from outside of the Modernist and Post-Modernist era included a chronological development of events in a given story line. Modernist literature grew extremely experimental in its workings of content and form and put an end to these linear storylines, which characteristically carried over to the Post-Modern era. Much like angst-ridden teenagers, the two eras choose not to conform to what is expected. This disruption of chronology is observable in Modernist works such as Faulkner’s “The Sound and The Fury” or T.S Eliot’s “The Waste Land”. The modernist era utilized de-linearization to further obscure works, while on the other hand the Post-Modernist era aimed to de-linearize chronology in hopes of painting a fuller picture by the end. Glover‘s narrative for example is divided into three sections, all of which are non-chronological. The first section is predominantly a description of the protagonist’s lesbian mistress Susan and an excerpt from a day that they shared with Susan’s daughter Gabriella in Batoche where they witnessed a woman get gored by a bison is also supplemented. This transitions to the second portion of the narrative, which opens shockingly with “Susan dies” (Glover, 181). This section is comprised by the process of which Susan passes, to an excerpt from a day Susan, Danny, the Protagonist and Gabriella spent at the zoo. Lastly, the third excerpt is about the protagonist going to visit Gabriella in Medicine Hat. The chronology of the work is distorted, but not for the same reason as Modernist works were obscuring their chronology. This narrative is a subjective response of our narrator to the death of her significant other whom she loved wholeheartedly, and such responses were advocated and accepted by Post-Modernists. This subjective response to Susan’s death could also be why the story-line is distorted chronologically as well, perhaps the protagonist was recollecting events separately due to gaps in consciousness.

Finally, the theme of “connecting the dots” within Post-Modernist literature. This element of the era proposes that the whole work must be read in order to see connect it as a holistic entity. This theme also suggests that literature can push you emotionally in whichever way it intends to. Firstly, the narrative itself is to be conceptualized holistically after the full work has been read. If the reader were to choose to stop reading halfway through the work, it would be far too obscure to bring together a coherent comprehension. The prominent de-linearization of the storyline plays a major role in the expectation which Post-Modernist writers placed upon their readers to read the entire work. If steps to bring together the work aren’t taken, than the understanding of the work will not take form. This theme also suggests that literature can and will push you into a direction of emotion if it intends to do so. In the case of Glover’s work, the first section of the work is light and fluffy; like the calm before the storm. The second section moves us into a direction of melancholy as we find out Susan has died, and the section provides both the moment of Susan’s death and additional events leading up to the passing. The final section though seems to be inconclusive, which is another characteristic of Post-Modernist literature; inconclusively terminating the story. It is observable that the process of this novel intends to touch on sentimentality within the last two sections. There is also an influence of realism to some degree in the intention of provoking emotions. Simply, the method of depiction that the author adopts to portray a melancholic and candid subject delegates just how much emotion will be compromised. Modernism used a theme along the lines of “connecting the dots”, but this version was extremely obscure and lead much of the period’s literature to incoherence. Modernism intends to be obscure, experimental and therefore is much more difficult to analyze accurately than that of Post-Modernism, which displaces events in a certain way so that the literature plays upon unconscious emotion and needs to be pieced together to paint the big picture.

To conclude, the categorization of a work in either Modernism or Post-Modernism depends largely upon how the work interacts in accordance to fundamental themes of both eras. Realism runs amok within both Modernist and Post-Modernist eras. Though, there is a clear border between methods of usage. Post-Modernist realism has more to do with incorporating realism in terms of its sub-ordinate extensions of the theme, whereas Modernism incorporates the theme of realism to depict all types of realism. Works within Modernism contain these extensions of realism when analyzed through the lens of a Post-Modernist, but the primordial usage of the theme within Modernism is to pervade the crude theme of realism in the grand scheme of things. Secondly, distorted time lines within Modernist and Post-Modernist works are overtly identifiable. Again, these themes are utilized within both eras but have to be categorized on the basis of content within the work. In works such as T.S Eliot’s “The Waste Land”, there is an extremely obscured time-line. In fact, it is almost too obscure to come up with a feasible interpretation of the events. This is because Modernism utilized distortion to further obscure their stories true meaning, as James Joyce did in such works as “Dubliners” where he takes on the Catholic Church through sublimity. Post-Modernism however aims to distort time-lines in an effort to connect chronology in a different way. The goal of this incorporation is to paint a full picture by the end of the reading. Thirdly, the usage of “connecting the dots”, where the reader is expected by Post-Modernists to finish the work completely in order to reveal the full content of the work. Modernism uses a variation of this theme, where it intends to be obscure for either symbolism or sublimity, which is different than the intentions of that of Post-Modernism. This ‘differentiation’ culture which seems to have spawned in the Modernist period carried over to the Post-Modernist period, which is extremely important to the development of the ’anti’ ideology in Post-Modernism. Post-Modernism then, attacks both itself and the Modernist era by varying from themes developed within the Modernist era, acting as a ‘one-upping’ of the Modernist’s work.


Glover, Douglas. “Woman Gored by Bison Lives.” A Guide to Animal Behavior. Fredericton: Goose Lane, 1991. 175-89. Print.

Trilling’s “Adversary Culture” in Modernist Literature

The era of modernism, or times of “high art”, were labelled by literary critic Lionel Trilling an “adversary culture” in his staple book Beyond Culture. This term on the surface presents itself ironically, as it the entity is comprised of two contradictory terms. Adversary can be understood as anything inciting/evoking a conflict involving people, places or concepts, and Culture is the coming together of beliefs, values and most importantly arts in any given societal group. If we combine these polar opposites, we arrive at “adversary culture” a culture (a coming together) of writers in the modernist era whom were engaging in conflicts associated with societal or cultural norms, constructs or values. There is a need for consideration though on the premise of what these “conflicts” in regards to culture were. Evident conflicts within modernist literature such as classism, religion, sexuality, and feminism rest evident in works by T.S Eliot, Hilda Doolittle and James Joyce. The scope of research will examine these conflicts within T.S Eliot’s The Waste Land, James Joyce’s Dubliners and Hilda Doolittle’s Leda through analysis of deeper meaning in the works.

Classism, a conflict which arises in T.S Eliot’s The Waste Land, particularly within the first section “The Burial of the Dead” and the second section “A Game of Chess” is extremely convoluted due to the advanced nature of Eliot’s vocabulary. Classism is understood as anything concerning the social hierarchy led by the upper-class, followed by the middle-class and working-class. “The Burial of the Dead” and “A Game of Chess” differ in the ways that they present these socially constructed classes. “The Burial of the Dead” brings to attention the suffering and gaunt state of the middle and working-class. On the surface, the title of the work suggests that something deceased is to be buried, which could have implications upon the middle/working class being dead, and being buried underneath the oppression of the bourgeois. While describing “Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyant” (43), one of the cards which the clairvoyant describes is the “one-eyed merchant” (52) whom possesses a “card,/Which is blank” (52-53) which he “carries on his back” (53). This signifies classism, due to the nature that it may be interpreted. This merchant, a presumable member of the middle/working class carries around a blank card on his back, which illustrates the strenuous insignificance/nothingness that this class member possesses in the grand scheme of things through the eyes of the oppressive bourgeois. Most significant to classism though is the “Unreal city” (60) passage. This “crowd” (62) that “flowed over London Bridge” (62) are the frail members of the middle/working class making their way to “King William Street” (66), the industrial/financial district in London at nine in the morning to begin their day, “With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine” (68). The narrator personifies these people as dead, “I had not thought death had undone so many” (63) which again serves the purpose of classism, implying that the members of classes below the bourgeois have essentially died by acting as their slaves, doing grunt-work for major corporations, capitalism at its finest. A more abstract instance of classism is found when the narrator approaches one of these people, and begins questioning him about a ‘corpse’, “That corpse you planted last year in your garden,/Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?/Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?/O keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,/Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!” (71-75).The motif of the buried corpse represents the manifestation of the underclasses anger towards the bourgeois, and the possibility of it sprouting/blooming into a revolution. This anger is disturbed by a “sudden frost” (73); and since winter in the first stanza was illustrated as “forgetful” (6), this sudden frost is associated to distractions provided by the bourgeois in an effort to mask the degree to which members of the underclasses are oppressed. The dog that will dig up the buried corpse represents a ‘hero’ figure, the salvation of the lower-class brought on by an instinctive member, whom will “dig it up again” (75), and initiate a revolution, “again” (75) is applied to cater to the French Revolution.

As mentioned previously, “The Burial of the Dead” and “A Game of Chess” differ in the ways they present classes, where “The Burial of the Dead” represents the suffering of lower-class individuals brought on by the bourgeois and “A game of chess particularizes the death of London in terms of three of its classes of citizens: upper, middle and working class” (Spurr, 59). This section however seems to be narrated by both sides of the social class spectrum, with the first being one of privilege, “The “closed car” (136) and the chess game indicate a certain level of privilege/placing this couple in the upper middle class” (Spurr, 59) and the second being from the lower-class. The aristocratic woman whom is indulged/surrounded by materialistic things grows increasingly paranoid and hysterical, and she seems to be communicating with a man whom she is in a relationship with in an extremely neurotic manner, “Stay with me./Speak to me./What are you thinking of?” (111-113). This alludes to the toxic relationship between the lower and upper class, where the bourgeois is paranoid of the lower class sparking an uprising. The second portion of the section is set through the eyes of the proletariat, and a group of friends are at the pub at last call, “Hurry up please its time” (141). The first speaker is inconsiderate, and downplays her friend because of the way her teeth look and suggests she needs to fix them before her husband returns “Now Albert’s coming back/He’ll want to know what you done with that money he gave you/To get yourself some teeth” (142-144). We find out that Albert has “been in the army four years” (148) and the first speaker implies that he will leave her if she does not change her appearance. This harsh portrayal is different in the way that the aristocratic woman is illustrated surrounded by material goods and in good health (not mentally though), whereas the member of the lower class s depicted having rotting teeth and five children. This implies a classist comparison, where bourgeois members are ever-prosperous, surrounded by material wealth and lower class members are left rotting away physically and metaphorically impoverished.

Hilda Doolittle, or ‘H.D’ was an imagistic poet within the modernist era. Her poem Leda, is a poem which re-enacts the rape of Leda, mother of Helen by Zeus in the form of a swan which is derived from ancient Greek mythology. Gender is the main conflict evident here, as this was written during a time of mass oppression to women, and the conflict can be understood along the lines of first-wave feminism as the avocation of equal rights amongst men and women. To provide further context, critics “sought to expose H.D’s lack of literary ‘greatness’, comparing her ‘Leda’ unfavorably to Yeats’ ‘Leda and the Swan’, asking H.D’s poem to meet criteria derived from Yeats’ poem” (Hickman, 12), which emphasizes the down-playing of a woman’s work brought on by these patriarchal reviewers in contrast to a man’s. We begin the work by immediately creating the setting as, “the slow river/Meets the tide” (1-2), a state of tranquility, which is disrupted by the “Red swan” (3) who “lifts his Red wings” (3). This is indicative of a disruptive, angry force that has just presented itself as a ‘red alert’; a man disrupting the calm, tranquil and peaceful scene. Leda “focuses on the male figure and presents the rapist as attractive, however the poem recognizes female vulnerability and stresses the predatory nature of Leda’s attacker which is masked by his sexual appeal” (Graham, 116). Based on the notion of this swan possessing a “darker beak” (4) which foreshadows the attackers intentions, we would assume that the swan is subject to evil aspirations. This is contradicted immensely when H.D used words such as “soft breast” (6) and “warm quivering” (33) to describe the attacker. This is done to “draw attention to the sexual violence against women that is presented casually in Greek myth” (Graham, 116), which is significant to gender conflict since H.D is presenting the rape of Leda in a different, more erotic manner by choice. Since Yeats provided us with a more forceful, violent account of the rape, H.D seems to be changing the way that the rape is presented. This on its own signifies cultural conflict, as H.D manipulated the poetic perspective of an extremely renowned poet (Yeats) to one of a woman, and to do this as a woman in the way that H.D did is spectacular. The most interesting way that H.D arises gender within her poem however is the representation of women as flowers, “flowers represent women, as they often do in H.D’s poetry” (Graham, 116). This personification takes place during the rape, as the “warm quivering/of the Red swan’s breast” (34) is still taking place, and the Leda “lies ‘beneath’ the ‘red swan wings’, rendered invisible and powerless” (Graham, 116). Leda is presented as a “gold day-lily” (29), which personifies our protagonist as beautiful but also “Stresses the impact of rape on women” (Graham, 116) by representing the docile and beautiful nature of womankind being taken advantage of by sexual attackers, or in the grand scheme of things, the patriarchy. This represents gender conflict because it brings about new perspectives from a woman upon her oppression by the patriarchy when all she is trying to do is relax by the “slow River” (1) that “Meets the tide” (1).

James Joyce, a prominent figure in the realist movement in the modernist era in his novel, Dubliners portray life realistically set in Dublin at the turn of the early twentieth century. Realism influenced the work of Joyce in ways which were very conflictive to social values of his time, which is evident within the novel when he challenges religion and sexuality. In terms on content, two particular stories stand out in premise of these conflicts, “The Sisters” and “An Encounter”. “The Sisters” is a narrative taken from the point of view of a boy whom has been extremely integrated into the Irish Catholic Church, and there are questions as to what the role of the priest who took him under his wing really was, a molester or an influence in his choice to become clergy at some point in the future. In “The Sisters”, “Joyce wars with religion, not to mention the conventions of emotional, especially sexual, repression adhered to by his forefathers” (Fussell, 583-585) which is an example of the “acculturation of the anti-cultural” under the influence of modernism in literature” (Escoffier, 160). This anti-cultural portrayal of Catholicism is distinguishable during the passage where our protagonist is drifting off into sleep and is paralyzed by Father Flynn’s dead face. Particularly, the narrator says that he “drew the blankets over my head and tried to think of Christmas.” (Joyce, 3). This is done by Joyce to convey a defence mechanism known universally in children that transpires when they are faced with terror, hiding under the blankets and going to a happy place. This indicates that the priest has committed a traumatic act (presumably sexual assault) upon the child, and he is taking safety measures to act as an aversive behavior. This is conflictive due to the fact that it represents Joyce’s narrator hiding from the priest, which symbolizes the church/clergy and implies that the Catholic Church is one to be feared for good reason. This theory of molestation is strengthened when the dead priest’s lips are “moist with spittle” (Joyce, 3) which implies the priest has an appetitive desire upon seeing the narrator. The narrator again seems immersed within the Irish Catholic Church, and as a result “learns more about the Catholic doctrine and the gravity of sin from the sick priest” (Mata, 158). However what does the word “sick” represent in this sense? Is it a representation of the ill-minded priest (Joyce, 10) enacting in despicable acts with the boy, or is this to be taken literally? This subjects religion to conflict due to the questionable nature of the clergy’s intentions with young boys, where traditionally priests were not to engage in coitus with anyone but their wife, let alone a small boy. A final example of the conflictive nature Joyce brings about religion is when the narrator is kneeling beside the older woman praying beside the “coffined” (6) priest. The narrator describes the womans prayers as “mutterings” (6) which “distract” (6) him. This is significant to cultural conflict because the narrator is equating holy prayers to distracting mutterings, implicating that the old lady’s prayers are insignificant to him, and distract him from mourning. This could also imply that the narrator is distancing himself away from traditional Catholicism methods and offering his condolences in a different matter, disengagement which implies a separation of ideals. From the same passage, the narrator seems to ponder his faith, but not due to the surface details of the old woman praying next to him, “what distracts him are not these physical details themselves but their suggestion of the way this old irish catholic woman’s life has gone” (Beck, 59). This is conflictive because is suggests that the woman’s life has gone to waste by association in the long-term to the catholic church, and is clearly something he does not desire for himself when he uses distasteful words to describe her appearance, “clumsily” (6), “trodden” (6), “muttering” (6).

“The Sisters” does a fabulous job of representing the conflictive nature of Joyce’s writing in regard to organized religion, and also lays down sexual undertones which are additionally conflictive. However, “An Encounter” is the best representation of Joyce’s representation of a sexuality conflict unique to his time when two young boys are faced with a pedophile in a field. This realist portrayal of sexual nature in Dublin at the time is “a growing estrangement from mass society” (Singal, 8) due to the fact that sexual attacks on children were “repressed by their forefathers” (Fussell, 585) when in reality they were explicit and overt. This conflictive sexual portrayal is articulated both when the man leaves to masturbate after speaking about “hands” (Joyce, 18) and “nice soft hair” (Joyce, 18) of young girls and also when the “queer old josser” (Joyce, 18) returns to where the two boys are sitting and states that he would engage in a “nice warm whipping” (Joyce, 19) when a young boy acts too kind. This proposes an odd tone, and suggests a paedophilic nature in members of Dublin society in the early twentieth century, which is conflictive because it was a time of religious devotion and where the sexual assault of children was far from a quality virtue.

To conclude, modernism, in regards to Trilling’s “adversary culture ”“should be properly be seen as a culture- a constellation of related ideas, beliefs, values and modes of perception” (Singal, 7), where this culture is made up of “twentieth-century artists/artistic theorists who has decided to declare war on the received, the philistine, the bourgeois and the sentimental” (Fussell, 583). T.S Eliot’s The Waste Land represents conflict of classes because Eliot guides our attention to the socially constructed divisions of mass society and how it affects members of each class differently, where the bourgeoisie seem to suffer from neuroticism which is much outweighed by the anguished representation of the lower-class physically and emotionally. Hilda Doolittle utilizes gender in Leda to contribute additional conflict within the period by changing the perspective of a sexual assault from that of a man to one of a woman, and by doing so also creates a conflict in pretense to what we know about mythology based on what we have been offered in literature. James Joyce combats religion and sexuality within the twentieth century in his novel Dubliners where underlying sexual features of Catholicism are arisen and so are indications of perverted sexuality within Dublin at that time. Interestingly enough, these conflicts are uniquely seen in generality within the autobiographies of each of these authors. In this regard, “adversary culture” can be considered an accumulation of authors/artists whom battled conflicts significant and unique which influenced their lives personally, which implies that there is an intention to combat contemporary social issues that have impacted them. In the words of Lionel Trilling, “adversary intention, the actual subversive intention characterizes modern writing” (Trilling, XII).

Beck, Warren. Joyce’s Dubliners: Substance, Vision and Art. Durham: Duke UP, 1969. Print.

An interesting point that Beck makes is in regards to the way the narrator in “The Sisters” analyzes the effects of Catholicism on the lives of people in the long term is “what distracts him is not these details themselves but their suggestion of the way this old irish catholic woman’s life has gone” (Beck, 59) which is significant to the adversary culture because it entices the young narrator whom is immersed in Catholicism to ponder and contemplate his association to religion in the long run. This means that the young boy is already beginning to push away and distance himself from the religion, a conflictive action in the eyes of the church.


Escoffier, Jeffery. American Homo: Community and Perversity. Berkley: U of California, 1998. Print.

Escoffier makes a good point when he implies that Trilling initially “introduced the notion of an adversary culture in his dismay with his students willingness to engage in/ “the acculturation of the anti-cultural” under the influence of modernism in literature” (Escoffier, 160). This has implications upon Modernist literature being resilient to culture in the way that it battles it, shown in Dubliners; particularly “An Encounter”, “Araby” and “Eveline”.

Fussell, Paul. “Modernism, Adversary Culture, and Edmund Blunden.” The Sewanee Review 94.4 (1986): 583-601. JSTOR. Web. 2 Nov. 2016.

This article by Paul Fussell gives an excellent definition of what it means to be a true modernist in his own words, “A modernist is a late nineteenth- or twentieth-century artist/artistic theorist who has decided to declare war on the received, the philistine, the bourgeois, the sentimental, and the democratic” (Fussell, 583) which right off of the bat sets modernism up as an adversary culture. Fussell clarifies also that James Joyce and D.H Lawrence together battled religion, which will be demonstrated in my analysis of religious conflict in Dubliners. A quote which was included within the work by Trilling himself states that “The modern self is characterized by certain habits of indignant perception” (Fussell, 585) which is equitable to a modernist possessing a perception guided by anger, conflict.

Graham, Sarah. “Hymen and Trilogy.” Ed. Polina Mackay. The Cambridge Companion to H.D. Ed. Nephie J. Christodoulides. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. 116. Print.

Graham analyzes Leda and suggests that the work “draws attention to the sexual violence against women that is presented casually in Greek myth” (Graham, 116). This encompasses what H.D.’s main objective of this work was, and makes an interesting observation to how “flowers represent women” (Graham, 116) within H.D’s works which symbolizes core beauty which transcends the conflictive nature of gender.

Hickman, Miranda B. “‘Uncanonically Seated’: H.D. and Literary Canons.” Ed. Polina Mackay. The Cambridge Companion to H.D. Ed. Nephie J. Christodoulides. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. 12. Print.

Hickman provides contextual information on premise of how H.D’s Leda was received by literary critics in contrast to how Yeats’ Leda and the Swan. These critics “sought to expose H.D’s lack of literary ‘greatness’, comparing her ‘Leda’ unfavorably to Yeats’ ‘Leda and the Swan’, asking H.D’s poem to meet criteria derived from Yeats’ poem” (Hickman, 12). This represents the intentions that H.D. possessed when she was writing this changed account of the event, and this is conflictive in nature due to how she presented the perspective differently than did Yeats, very significant to early wave feminism and gender.

Mata, Francisco José Hernández. “JAMES JOYCE, ROMAN CATHOLICISM AND ITS PRESENCE IN DUBLINERS.” Repertorio Americano.17 (2004): 154-61. ProQuest.Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

Mata suggests that the young narrator seen in “The Sisters” in James Joyce’s Dubliners has learned “more about the Catholic doctrine and the gravity of sin from the sick priest” (Mata, 158). This notion of a “sick” priest teaching “the gravity of sin” to the young narrator suggests that there is room for an abstract and a literal interpretation. Literally, the priest was sick and it resulted in his untimely death however metaphorically this “sick” priest may have also engaged in distasteful and morally wrong actions with our narrator.



Singal, Daniel Joseph. “Towards a Definition of American Modernism.” American Quarterly 39.1 (1987): 7-26. The John Hopkins University Press. Web.

Singal does a good job here of suggesting that modernism “should be properly be seen as a culture- a constellation of related ideas, beliefs, values and modes of perception” (Singal, 7) which adds onto the notion of modernism being an adversary culture. Another insight from Lionel Trilling proposes that modernism is also “a growing estrangement from mass society” (Singal, 8) which emphasizes again that modernism should be seen as a culture built on the escape of culture.

Spurr, Barry. “Religions East and West in The Waste Land.” The Cambridge Companion to The Waste Land. Ed. Gabrielle McIntire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. 54-69. Print.

Spurr in his essay titled “Religions East and West in The Wasteland” makes a few points in response to classism within T.S Eliot’s The Waste Land. He states that the section, “A game of chess particularizes the death of London in terms of three of it’s classes of citizens: upper, middle and working class” (Spurr, 59), where we can see the transcendence of different suffering unique to different social classes. Most interestingly though is how he interprets the place of privilege in the opening speaker in the section, “The “closed car” (136) and the chess game indicate a certain level of privilege/placing this couple in the upper middle class” (Spurr, 59) which aids in our association of which side of the social hierarchy begins the section.

Trilling, Lionel. Beyond Culture: Essays on Literature and Learning. New York: Viking, 1965. Print.

The official work where Lionel Trilling labels modern literature an “adversary culture” also contains an insight as to how modern artists/authors intended on the disruption and distance away from mass culture, “adversary intention, the actual subversive intention characterizes modern writing” (Trilling, XII). Subversive intention is otherwise understood as disruption in culture found in literature characterizes writing in the era. This is significant especially in regards to conflict culture where an artist has to intend on disrupting popular culture in an effort to contribute to the adversary culture.

Sublime Nature in Wordsworth: Romantic Ecology

Sublime Nature in Wordsworth: Romantic Ecology

“Wordsworth’s association of nature with deep individual feeling and an amorphously transcendental spirituality, in opposition to modern social and economic life in the city, remains his greatest environmental legacy today” (Bennet, 207). William Wordsworth or the “poet laureate” of the romantic era was criticized more often than not due to this opposition of urbanized lifestyle. Nature, to Wordsworth was the mirrored presence of God. This spirituality that Wordsworth’s possesses in regards to nature suggests that “Nature could be a vital restorative power to all who had suffered a breakdown of their faith” (Lacey, 58). This ventures into the domain of Romantic ecology, which can be understood as a searching/yearning for metaphorical symbols in nature that replace those of religion in terms of major associations like identity. In a nutshell, romantic ecology is useful for the association of one’s identity and holistic meaning in relation to traditional religion, one which was subjective to the person experiencing it. Romanticism in this regard presents itself as a response to sublimity in nature, where sights and images are so awe-inducing that it instates a sense of fear and identity crisis. On this note, focused upon will be three of Wordsworth’s poems involving the sublime in nature; The world is too much with us, My heart leaps up and I wandered lonely as a cloud in relation to their place in romantic ecology, in tandem with the poem’s usage of sublime nature.


The World is Too Much with Us is an Italian sonnet that Wordsworth used as a critique in response to the Industrial Revolution and traditional social values/norms that were upheld by the people of the romantic era. This is due to the fact that people of the romantic period possessed a serious infatuation with things materialistic and distanced themselves from nature through means of urbanization, industrialization and even colonialism. Essentially this is Wordsworth’s way of stressing the importance of integrating affiliations to the immediate surroundings of nature to his reader. These sprouting branches of capitalism to Wordsworth incited a “Getting and spending” (2) culture, which “infected British society with greed and unrealizable desire, creating a society of individuals now ‘out of tune’ with nature (2, 8)” (Mason, 27) which Wordsworth insinuates lays waste to “our powers” (2). We take what is natural for granted, only to find happiness in what is monetary and materialistic and all the while lose our connectedness with nature. Romantic Ecology is distinguishable here, due to the nature in which it presents itself since it is done as a way to coerce a doomed society bent on exploiting natural resources for compensation. This is exactly what Wordsworth aimed to do with the work, to change the notion of “improvement” in nature, where improvement is the tending of land to bring about selfishly a profit (Mason, 27). Wordsworth is also attempting to communicate/level with the members of romantic society to come to terms with the fact that nature is in our immediate surroundings, and it would be ideal to revert back to simpler times where nature was held in high regard and was identified as the physical manifestation of god’s creations. Since sublime nature is the combination of both fear-inducing and bring about feelings of vulnerability and weakness, “nature guides the mind to a “sense sublime/Of something more deeply interfused” (Kelley, 130). This is evident when vulnerability and fear are interfused together when Wordsworth describes the sea and the wind, “This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon/The winds that will be howling at all hours” (5-6). The wind “howling” can be equated to the howling of some angry or lonesome creature in an effort to induce this feeling of fear and vulnerability. It is argued that “Wordsworth was drawn into the concept of the sublime because it described the emotional and imaginative impressions that nature effected on the individual” (Mason, 28), and this imaginative, emotional impact that nature has provided Wordsworth is evident in his lyrical poetry, along such works as My heart leaps up.


My heart leaps up is an example of this emotional impact felt by Wordsworth, which pervades evidently within his lyrical poetry. This is because lyrical poetry is done to associate personal emotions and feelings which a significant stimulus (nature in Wordsworth’s case) had provided the observer. His affiliation with his private divine (nature) is evident here, as he states that he has and always will be one with nature. Consider the title of the work “My heart leaps up”, does this entail a feeling of happiness and warming? What conclusions would you make in regards to a person’s heart “leaping up” if nature was the premise? Physiologically you may want to consult a doctor, but metaphorically Wordsworth is in bliss when faced with nature in its true form. Wordsworth is emphasizing once again his devotion to nature, stating that the sight of “A Rainbow in the sky” (2) is something that has evoked a heart-warming sensation since his “life began” (3) and will continue when until he “grows old” (5). He wishes for this sensation to continue, for if not he wishes death (6). In the final three lines, Wordsworth states “The Child is Father of the Man” (7), which alludes to the wise and youthful spirit of Wordsworth being essential for life-lessons in relation to nature to older adults or perhaps even in a grander-scheme of things, the progression of industrialization in society. Finally, when he wishes all his days to be “Bound each to each by natural piety” (9) he is stating his desire to identify with his affiliation to his own religion, “the signature of the Creator” (Lacey, 73) on nature. Romantic ecology is apparent here, especially in the seventh line, “Child is the Father of the Man” (7) where he suggests that it is crucial to demonstrate to folks from older generation cohorts why nature is so important, including the sublime in nature illustrated by the awe-inspiring “Rainbow” (1) that Wordsworth notes here. Overall, My heart leaps up is an exemplary representation of the sublime in nature however it is extremely underrated and overlooked by critics. A more famous rendition of the value of affiliation to nature is presented to us with I wandered lonely as a cloud.


Arguably one of the greatest works of Wordsworth’s contribution to romantic ecology and the sublime in nature comes in a simple four stanza articulation that contains a rhyming couplet at the end of each. I wandered lonely as a cloud in a nutshell is a positive mood shift in one of Wordsworth’s lonesome moods which switches to infatuation in response to a sight which he had the opportunity to on-look which left a residual feeling of happiness as he reflected on the sight later on in the day as he relaxed. This is an example of Romantic ecology on its own, as Wordsworth recognized that the daffodils “fluttering and dancing in the wind” (6) were meaningful to him, and presented itself as a symbol of freedom and beauty in nature which also significantly freed him from his mood. The narrator of this poem experiences sublime nature from a first-person point of view in the form of a cloud, but switches back to Wordsworth’s account towards the final stanza. Initially, the cloud is “wandering” (1) through the “vales and Hills” (2) solitarily. The word “lonely” can be equated to feelings of sadness and despair, and interestingly enough it has been said that clouds are not only representative of cosmology, but also “of inner states” (Jacobus, 11). This implies that since Wordsworth’s cloud represents his somber mind-state, than the cloud is presumably darker, where dark clouds “indicate tempestuous events or passions” (Jacobus, 11). What are these inner conflicts which Wordsworth faces preceding glimpses of the daffodils? It is said that clouds to the people of the romantic period were “a metaphor for mobility and transformation” (Jacobus, 10) which aids in this conflict resolution and it suggests that although Wordsworth’s mood state was initially somber, through the notion of mobility and transport he is eagerly moved to a better state of mind, well-being and higher thinking. Upon witnessing these daffodils, Wordsworth is able to drag himself out of the somber mindset he has been casted in, and articulates something much bigger than ourselves with the daffodils being “Continuous as the stars shine” (7) and “Twinkling/Stretching in never-ending line” (8-9), an allusion to space, time and the universe where “The physical universe is the pure signature of the Creator and forms of nature are “symbols of eternity”. (Lacey, 73). This is way out of Wordsworth’s time, he has literally transcended generations to philosophically consider nature’s role in the universe and how it surrounds all that we know. The poem than fizzles out with a reflection that Wordsworth has much later (chronologically) about what he saw.  “I gazed-and gazed-but little thought/What wealth the show to me had brought” (17-18) are staple features of Wordsworth’s ideology in regards to this work. This instance of the sublime in nature had been a significant impact on Wordsworth, to which he finds himself recollecting later on when he is back at home. He determines that through any mood, “vacant or in pensive” (20) these beautiful moments in nature “flash upon that inward eye” (21) and fills his heart with joy, leaving his emotions to “dance with the daffodils” (24). Romantic ecology is evident here again, as Wordsworth has these conceptions about nature being a higher power before anyone in his time really could understand what a higher-power was, “because we recognize in his cloud landscapes of how there is always more than the mind can grasp in nature” (Jacobus, 11).

To conclude, there is a need for emphasis when it comes to the importance of the sublime and the role of romantic ecology in Wordsworth’s work. He is both a pioneer environmentalism and conservationism, and provided a connectedness between people whom had a falling out with traditional religious views and god, since being in the presence of nature to Wordsworth was the same as being in the presence of god. I wander lonely as a cloud possesses sublime imagery of nature, but also a psychological element counter-part. Sublime Nature in this sense is able to alleviate stress, loneliness and despair for not just the time being but for a residual amount of time. My heart leaps up presents Wordsworth as a lover of nature in the past and a disciple of nature in the future, and desires that his days be “Bound each-to-each in natural piety” (8) which means to ensure his days are affiliated with those of a higher-power/force within nature. The world is too much with us may seem like a simple rebuttal to the industrial revolution on the surface, however is also a suggestion of a coerced path in humanity where we need to establish nature as a high-virtue and a privilege, not an exploitable resource. If you combine those three take-away messages, you will end up with Wordsworth suggesting that nature is responsible for positive mood changes, an association to a higher power and a same page understanding of grounding in relation to nature’s place in society. This seems like a parallel to organized religion, where there is a worshiped higher-power, a sense of good feeling after worship and debates on the place of religion contemporarily. This is in fact the form of romantic ecology, where traditional religious fall-outs may be integrated into a different form of religion, nature.


Annotated Bibliography

Bennet, Andrew, ed. William Wordsworth in Context. Comp. Scott Hess. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2015. Print.

An essay produced by Scott Hess in William Wordsworth in Context on the premise of nature and the land’s impact on Wordsworth’s poetry concluded that ““Wordsworth’s association of nature with deep individual feeling and an amorphously transcendental spirituality, in opposition to modern social and economic life in the city, remains his greatest environmental legacy today” (Bennet, 207). This notion of rustic lifestyle enacted by Wordsworth (in Lake District) was very influential on his poetry involving sublime nature, and is a great greeting summation of the focus essay.

Jacobus, Mary. Romantic Things: A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud. London: University of Chicago Press, 2012. Print

Jacobus provides an exemplary analysis of cloud landscapes within Wordsworth’s literature. She argues that clouds reflect “inner states” (Jacobus, 11) and how a somber mood could indicate that the cloud is darker, where dark clouds indicate “tempestuous events or passions” (Jacobus, 11). She also argues that clouds for the people of the romantic era could be equated to a motive for mobility or transportation, which can be linked to Wordsworth’s inner mood being transported into a happier place upon witnessing the sublime in nature.

Kelley, Theresa M. “Wordsworth, Kant, and the Romantic Sublime.” Philological Quarterly 63.1 (1984): 130. ProQuest. Web. 23 Nov. 2016.

Kelley argues that the Kantian and Wordsworthian concerns of the sublime are quite similar, being that nature has an “illimitable magnitude” (Kelley, 130) in the mind. However, one quote that reared a significance on the way which is Wordsworth transports the mind into a “sense sublime of something more deeply interfused” (Kelley, 131) is the link between the fear and vulnerability which is felt while encountering sublime nature. In this way, fear and vulnerability are fused together as one and induce a notion of sublimity in nature due to an awe-inducing sight.

Lacey, Norman. Wordsworth’s View of Nature. Hamden: Archon, 1965. Print.

In his book Wordsworth’s View of Nature, Lacey provides many different aspects of how Wordsworth perceived nature in different works including Lyrical Ballads and The Prelude, however what was most interesting were Wordsworth’s views of nature on basis of some of his shorter works, like the ones covered in the focus essay. It is argued that Wordsworth “was in touch with the Creator of man and of nature/from which came all his delight, and his knowledge of nature” (Lacey, 65) and that nature was “the signature of the Creator” (Lacey, 73). This adds to the effects of romantic ecology within Wordsworth’s poetry, lyrics and sonnets because nature seems to take the form of organized religion, which he is a disciple to, which is also illustrated when Lacey states “Nature could be a vital restorative power to all who had suffered a breakdown of their faith” (Lacey, 58).

Mason, Emma. The Cambridge Introduction to William Wordsworth. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print.

Mason provides an analysis of the “getting and spending” culture which pervaded British society in The world is too much with us and how Wordsworth used it as fuel to rebuttal the industrial revolution. “Improvement” is what the romantics referred to in relation to “the tending of land to bring in profit” (Mason, 27) and it is indicated that Wordsworth was of high opposition (even appauled) on basis of destroying natural resources as a means of providing monetary prowess. This is what Wordsworth “aimed to do with the work, to change the notion of “improvement” in nature, where improvement is the tending of land to bring about selfishly a profit (Mason, 27).