The volumes at hand deal with James Joyce among literary and biographical others, approaching his work and life within disparate contexts. Dennis Brown's Intertextual Dynamics within the Literary Group—Joyce, Lewis, Pound and Eliot: The Men of 1914, once past the unwieldy title, attempts to reinterpret English literary modernism [End Page 517] as a kind of "intertextual group-game" in which the works of the titular players inspired and influenced one another in a kind of massive historical and literary cross-pollination. Brown's major innovation here is to consider Wyndham Lewis the central figure in modernism's early development. He rightly sees Lewis in his roles as literary ringleader and novelist as a kind of rival to Joyce, a colleague and antagonist whose relationship to Joyce in prose mirrors Pound's to Eliot in poetry. Brown reads the history of modernism as a series of power shifts between the principal players, nominating Lewis, Pound, and then Joyce as the prime stylistic and literary-political movers from the 1910s to subsequent decades. He places the birth of modern literature in fine historic context in the early chapters, emphasizing the late Victorian roots of his innovative subjects and the importance of scientific models to their proclamations of artistic experimentation. Throughout Brown brings to light textual reflections among their works, always insisting, as they themselves often did, on Lewis's pivotal role in the artistic life of the times.
This search for textual similarities is both the strength and weakness of the book. Brown frequently treats the cross-references as an end to themselves rather than as the springboard for thematic argument. Moreover, while he has an uncanny eye (and ear) for repeated phrases and rhythmic allusions, his claims for influence fail to convince as often as they strike their mark. He often threatens his own efforts by overstating Lewis's stylistic effect on his peers. He counterpoints justly the stylistic innovations of Lewis's Wild Body stories with the relatively conservative Dubliners, and his analysis of echoes in The Waste Land from Lewis's prose experiment Enemy of the Stars is strikingly convincing. On the other hand, his discussion of Enemy's effect on the "Proteus" chapter of Ulysses stretches one's sense of what qualifies as ineluctable evidence, relying upon vaguely similar specimens of adjective-heavy and fragmented syntax to carry the weight of proven influence. At times Brown's choice of examples is also curious. For instance, while searching for traces of Vorticist diction in Eliot he ignores "Hysteria," the odd prose-poem of Eliot's that is closest to the psychomachic expressionism of Lewis's journal Blast. Similarly, Brown's identification of Samuel Beckett's and Lewis's styles is useful and provocative, but he makes the identification too easily, relying upon lists of enticing near-quotations from The Childermass that seem to portend Waiting for Godot rather than upon detailed argument.
Brown is most convincing when discussing the early decades of his subjects' work and when probing the allusive presence of Pound, Eliot, and Lewis in Finnegans Wake. Beyond the Wake Brown often strains to establish other than directly biographical allusions. He reads Eliot's later poetry lamentably frequently as personal allegory, finding in the Four Quartets and the four assassins of Murder in the Cathedral veiled figures of the authors themselves, in "Journey of the Magi" an elegy for lost "family" among the artistic fathers who had been present at the "birth of the modern."
Indeed, a nostalgia for biography often haunts the book to the exclusion of the textual dynamics promised by the title. Despite its introductory nod towards group psychological theory, Brown's book often reads as a collation of the standard biographies of the four principal subjects, and...