A Shrinking Island: Modernism and National Culture in by Jed Esty

By Jed Esty

This booklet describes an enormous literary tradition stuck within the act of changing into minor. In 1939, Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary, ''Civilisation has shrunk.'' Her phrases captured not just the onset of worldwide struggle II, but additionally a longer-term reversal of nationwide fortune. the 1st finished account of modernism and imperialism in England, A Shrinking Island tracks the joint eclipse of modernist aesthetics and British strength from the literary experiments of the Thirties throughout the upward push of cultural reports within the 1950s.

Jed Esty explores the consequences of declining empire on modernist form--and at the very which means of Englishness. He levels from canonical figures (T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf) to influential midcentury intellectuals (J. M. Keynes and J.R.R. Tolkien), from cultural experiences pioneers (Raymond Williams and E. P. Thompson) to postwar migrant writers (George Lamming and Doris Lessing). concentrating on writing that converts the aptitude strength of the contracting British kingdom into the language of insular integrity, he argues that an anthropological ethos of cultural holism got here domestic to roost in late-imperial England. Esty's interpretation demanding situations renowned myths in regards to the demise of English literature. It portrays the survivors of the modernist iteration now not as aesthetic dinosaurs, yet as individuals within the transition from empire to welfare nation, from metropolitan paintings to nationwide tradition. blending literary feedback with postcolonial concept, his account of London modernism's end-stages and after-lives offers a clean tackle significant works whereas redrawing the traces among modernism and postmodernism.

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The purpose of this sketch is not to enter into the historiographical debates on the undecidable question of when the decisive “end” or “beginning of the end” of British imperialism occurred but to set the broader context of cultural change that defines the anthropological turn both in and around late modernist literature. 54 The most important structural changes in the contraction of London’s imperial ambit took place long before the official retreat of British imperialism in the 1960s. Although victory in World War I did increase the size of the British empire (by adding German holdings in Africa and the Pacific), the Irish Home Rule crisis of 1912–16 signaled the beginning of twentieth-century decolonization.

In other words, metropolitan perception subsumes the lost value of territorial coherence while registering the epistemological privilege associated with modernity’s borderless spaces. The meaningful traditions of the old European nations had given way to massive multicultural empires. For E. M. ”20 The mixed cultural effects of imperialism in the modernist era were further complicated by the uncertain historical status of empire itself. The problem of “meaning loss” at the core reaches its crisis point during high modernism in part because the already epistemologically unstable met- M O D E R N I S M A ND M E T R O P O L I TA N P E R C E P TI O N 29 ropole/periphery relation was becoming, in the years after 1900, more and more politically unstable.

Few critics have taken account of this antiquarian, distinctly unmodernist genre, but its sudden prominence points up key dimensions of English modernism’s closing chapter. Modernist interest in folk-dramatic forms no doubt reflects at some level the need to establish alternative public ceremonies to the corporatist rituals of fascist Europe (and to mass cultural forms at home), but this renewed interest in native and Anglocentric rituals also takes shape within the broader logic of the anthropological turn.

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