The origins of British modernism: A study of literary theory and practice from Walter Pater and Ezra Pound

Wallace, Brendan (1998) The origins of British modernism: A study of literary theory and practice from Walter Pater and Ezra Pound. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis deals with the development of Anglo-American Modernism in London in the early twentieth century. It begins by depicting the economic and social position of the artist in the early nineteenth century, and agrees with Raymond Williams and E.P. Thompson that the changing relationship between the artist and the market was responsible for what we call Romanticism. I then go on to argue that Romanticism explored the problems of artistic creation at a time when it seemed that aesthetic values were being sidelined in favour of materialism or utilitarianism, and that this raised the spectre of aesthetic relativism. I then argue that these central problems were essentially the same as the problems facing the first generation of British Modernists, and that this can be shown by studying the transitional figure of Pater. By tracing Pater's vacillations between objectivism and relativism (in terms of the 'early' and 'later' Pater), we can identify two strands of modernist thought: one which emphasises a materialist, relativist aesthetic, and another Idealist, Neo-Platonic element that more obviously derives from Romanticism. Following both of these elements into the twentieth century, I then demonstrate that W.B. Yeats belongs to this latter tradition, and that by the late 1890s he had formulated an Idealist metaphysic, which saw poetry as consisting of temporal 'moments' in which a spatial Neo- Platonic metaphysical universe could be glimpsed. Under the influence of Nietzsche and Synge, Yeats went on to modernise his diction and emphasise 'hardness' and 'precision' in his verse, a process that was beginning by 1902. I then show that Ezra Pound followed in Yeats's footsteps in this respect, that his early poetry also deals with the Neo-Romantic 'moment', and that Pound 'modernised' his poetry under the influence of Yeats. I then discuss the theorising of T.E. Hulme and argue that this follows in the footsteps of the 'early' relativist Pater. Hulme's earliest poetry posits a non-metaphysical aesthetic, which, nevertheless, resembles Yeats's in its emphasis on precise descriptions of poetic vision. Hulme, however, found this world view emotionally unacceptable (on the grounds that materialism is deterministic, and leads to aesthetic and moral relativism), and so (just as with Pater), as soon as he has stated his materialist poetic, he attempts to get beyond it, and affirm aesthetic value, and free will. His project, is, therefore, an attempt to create an objectivist but non-metaphysical way of thinking. Neo-Classicism and Anti-Humanism are his attempts to do this. I then show that the 'Forgotten School' of Imagism develops out of this way of thinking, and that this school (contrary to what the poets involved claimed at the time), has little to do with Pound's later school of 'Imagisme'. 'Imagisme' develops instead, out of Yeatsian Symbolism, and consists of Pound's attempts to 'modernise' his own poetry (following Yeats) and work out a form that will structure the epic poem he was already planning. To Pound, the work of Richard Aldington and H.D. (nominally the other Imagistes) was of less importance than his relationship to Yeats. Finally I explore the influence of Bergson on the early work of Wyndham Lewis, and show that Lewis's Vorticism is his attempt to work beyond what he saw as the basic flaws of Bergsonism, whereas for Pound, it was, again, an attempt to find a solution to his problem of poetic form.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Anglo-American modernism, literature.
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Supervisor's Name: Supervisor, not known
Date of Award: 1998
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1998-71297
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 10 May 2019 10:49
Last Modified: 25 Oct 2022 10:40
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.71297

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