Masculine Romance, Cultural Capital and Crisis
One of the key ways of defining what has come to be known as literary modernism is as an epistemological crisis. At its simplest, epistemology refers to the knowledge of the world that can be gained through written language. For the avant-garde writers of the early twentieth century, who often made it their business to reconstruct their immediate forebears as hopelessly naïve, the idea that language — written or spoken — can articulate anything substantial about the nature of reality, was old-fashioned and simplistic. Modernism, on this basis, can certainly be partially understood as a loss of faith in the expressive adequacy of the word. Examples of this crisis abound in what we have come to call modernist fiction — in the works of Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, E. M. Forster, D. H. Lawrence and Joseph Conrad. The labyrinthine complexities of Henry James’s late prose (in texts such as The Turn of the Screw, 1898 for example) are, in the authorized version of literary history, its immediate precursor; and the equally complex writings of Pater are the ghost at the modernist feast.
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