Fragmentary Self



The decade 1914–24 represents the historic node of English literary Modernism. It also evidences a virtual paradigm shift in the presentation of self-experience — by consciously ‘artistic’ writers in particular. The ‘men of 1914’,2 following the lead of James, Conrad and the French Symbolists, initiated a dissociation of integral selfhood and, as we have seen, the war writers provided vivid socio-psychological evidence that, in extremis, the familiar Western egoic self was, quite literally, a sham. It was during the war years that Yeats’s exemplary career finally left behind the phantasies of fairyland and embraced the problems of radical self-deception and self-conflict. But the younger ‘men of 1914’ included some important women writers too: H.D., for example, May Sinclair, Dorothy Richardson and Virginia Woolf. Arguably, the new male emphasis on splitting, emotional confusion and anguished helplessness constituted a ‘feminisation’ of the masculinist ego: and it is fitting that much early Modernist experimentation was first published in the renamed New Freewoman. 3 Be that as it may, writers of both sexes began to explore inner space as never before, desperately trying to map the debris left by selfhood’s disintegration. The race was on to find new forms and a new language which could fittingly represent the new, ‘post-Copernican’ 4 self.


Literary Convention Moral Scheme Authentic Relationship Emotional Transformation Naked Woman 
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  1. 6.
    D. H. Lawrence, Women in Love (Penguin, 1981 ), p. 381.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    H. G. Wells, The New Machiavelli (Penguin, 1966 ), pp. 220–1.Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    Wyndham Lewis, Tarr (Penguin, 1982), p. 55.Google Scholar
  4. 20.
    Leon Edel, Stuff of Sleep and Dreams: Experiments in Literary Psychology (Chatto and Windus, 1982), p. 108.Google Scholar
  5. 22.
    James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (Faber, 1982; first published in 1939), p. 364.Google Scholar
  6. 37.
    See Robert Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory (Oxford University Press, 1975).Google Scholar
  7. 40.
    See Grover Smith, The Waste Land (Allen and Unwin, 1983), pp. xi and 12.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Dennis Brown 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Hatfield PolytechnicUK

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