THE MODERNIST ART OF FICTION









One possible way of approaching modernism is to place it within a
larger cultural framework, by establishing its position to other '-isms'
emerging at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth
century. This is what we tried to do in the previous chapter, by having a
look at the obvious interrelations between various trends whose main
characteristics are the innovation in form and the modification of the
worldview. Another approach, which we consider equally profitable and
rewarding, is to profit from the theoretical and analytical effort of the
modernist novelists themselves, whose essays may fully document our
interpretation of the modernist work. If the former approach essentially
encourages a view of modernism within a cultural context, the latter
provides the interpreter of modernism with a highly nuanced view from
inside modernism.
Given these two possibilities, this chapter will focus on the critical
contribution of some turn-of-the-century and twentieth-century novelists,
which is expected to cast proper light upon the artistic intentions and the
creative mechanisms involved by the modern novel as it distinguishes itself
from the nineteenth-century novelistic conventions. For grounding our
decision to devote a whole chapter to an 'inside' approach to modernism, we
shall start from a statement Woolf made in her essay 'The New Crusade'. We
specifically value it as it has given us, in a way, the indication one
sometimes needs as to what pathway to follow for an appropriate analysis of
a literary phenomenon which, even if turned into a canon by now, is still
prone to controversy.


[...] of all the makers poets are apt to be the least communicative
about their processes, and, perhaps, owing in part to the ordinary
nature of their material, have little or nothing that they choose to
discuss with outsiders. The best way of surprising their secrets is
very often to read their criticism.[1]


The students of modernism may maliciously find in this statement the
confirmation of their fear of modernism, as well as a comfortable
explanation for their being reluctant to come to grips with such difficult
pieces of writing as the modernists' novels. Why should one take the
trouble of reading such novels, if the modernists themselves are unwilling
to communicate? Why should one make an effort to sympathise with the
creating artist, if it is only an elite, if at all, that the modernist
addresses? Why should one try to identify the meaning of a world made of
such intricately woven ordinary words, if one is not even allowed to aspire
to the position of an insider?
Just like any instance of literary language, Woolf's words have a
certain degree of ambiguity, which could, no doubt, encourage hypothetical
questions like those we have formulated above. Yet, these same words may
generate a totally new perspective on modernism, according to which reader
and writer are part of the same creative act and contract, according to
which the reader is cherished and praised as an invaluable contributor to
meaning creation. It is no longer fear that one should feel when confronted
with the modernist writer and his experiment, but pride and satisfaction
that one has been drawn into the process of creation and consequently made
into the creator's peer.
There are several key terms in the above quotation whose disambiguation
and proper understanding are likely to give us the key of access to the
meaning of modernist fiction.
'Maker' represents, in ordinary speech, 'one that makes', meaning which
is far too general, and therefore vague, for Woolf to have chosen it in her
discussion of literature, unless she assigned to it a sense that would
fruitfully fit in her argument. As a synonym of 'creator' and 'author',
'maker' is the one who brings something new into being or existence.
"Written with an initial capital letter all three terms designate God or
the Supreme Being; without the capital they ascribe comparable but not
equivalent effects and powers to a
person. 'Maker' is likely to imply a close and immediate relationship
between the one who makes and the thing that is made and an ensuing
responsibility or concern for what is turned out.[...] In many of its human
applications (as in king maker, a maker of men, a maker of phrases) maker
suggests the use of appropriate material as an instrument through which one
gives form to one's ideas."[2]
The noun 'poet', which at first sight may pass unnoticed because of the
vulgar sense associated to it, i.e. 'one who writes poetry, a maker of
verses', acquires in Woolf's