In a modern age of rising democracy, fading empire and two world wars, Britain’s hereditary aristocracy found itself pushed from the center to the margins of the nation’s affairs. Widely remarked by commentators at the time, this radical redrawing of the social and political map provoked a newly intensified fascination with the aristocracy among modern writers. Undone by history, the British aristocracy and its Anglo-Irish cousins were remade by literary modernism.
“Modernism and the Aristocracy: Monsters of English Privilege” is about the results of that remaking. The book traces the literary consequences of the modernist preoccupation with aristocracy in the works of Elizabeth Bowen, Ford Madox Ford, Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence, Evelyn Waugh, Rebecca West and others writing in Britain and Ireland in the first half of the 20th century. Combining an historical focus on the decades between the world wars with close attention to the verbal textures and formal structures of literary texts, the book asks: What did the decline of the British aristocracy do for modernist writers? What imaginative and creative opportunities did the historical fate of the aristocracy precipitate in writers of the new democratic age?
Exploring a range of feelings, affects, and attitudes that modernist authors associated with the aristocracy in the inter-war period—from stupidity, boredom, and nostalgia to sophistication, cruelty and kindness—the book also asks what impact this subject-matter has on the form and style of modernist texts, and why the results have appealed to readers then and now. As it tackles those questions, the book argues for a reawakening of curiosity about connections between class, status and literature in the modernist period.
The book is written by Adam Parkes, professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences’ English department.