Mortality and Form in Late Modernist Literature
This wide-ranging study of the late poetry and prose of Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, and Wyndham Lewis brings together works from the 1930s and 1940s — writing composed by authors self-consciously entering middle to old age and living through years when civilization seemed intent on tearing itself to pieces for the second time in their adult lives. Profoundly revising their earlier work, these artists ask how their writing might prove significant in a time that Woolf describes, in a diary entry from 1938, as “1914 but without even the illusion of 1914. All slipping consciously into a pit.” This late-modern writing explores mortality, the frailties of culture, the potential consolations and culpabilities of aesthetic form. It is at times horrifying or objectionable, at others deeply moving, and differently beautiful from the work produced by these writers when they were writing the texts for which they became famous.