In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

BOOK REVIEWS so balanced and fair that he never makes any. There is one regret to register: Underhill does not discuss the poetry of Charles Tomlinson, whose interests and pre-occupations are clearly relevant to Underhill's book. Tomlinson, who explicitly puts himself in the tradition of European modernism, has produced a body of work that seriously challenges Underhill's characterization of modernism. It will not, I trust, be seen as a criticism that one would like the book to be one chapter longer than it is. Peter Mitchell ___________Grant MacEwan Community College Two Views of Modernism Leon Surette. The Birth of Modernism: Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, W. B. Yeats, and the Occult. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1993. xi + 320 pp. $34.95 John Gross, ed. The Modern Movement: A TLS Companion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993. xxiv + 310 pp. Paper $14.95 LEON SURETTE'S BOOK belongs to the genre of history of ideas. Literary criticism and analysis, although not quite forgotten, are not his major concern. Surette claims that Yeats, Pound, and, to a lesser extent, Eliot share "a set of ideas, attitudes, and concerns that are ubiquitous in modernism," and these he calls "the occult." He does not understand the term in its vulgar sense of table-rapping, sorcery, and similar sensational and fraudulent activities. It is a name for an ancient wisdom, a hidden tradition (hence "occult" in the proper Latin meaning of "concealed"), a synoptic belief system accessible only to initiates, a perennial philosophy (in Aldous Huxley's sense), an immutable stock of wisdom. Theosophy" is another word for it, if it is not restricted to the meaning given to it by the egregious Madame Blavatsky. The sources of this tradition reach back to antique civilizations, Greek, Indian, and others; according to Surette it was first studied in the Age of Enlightenment and is still very much with us, for instance "in the field of myth studies, for the occult movement regards myths as records of contacts between the human and the divine." In retracing the preoccupation with the occult, Surette engages in extensive source hunting and comes up with a host of names, some quite unfamiliar. Occult scholarship began with the eighteenth-century Abbé Barruel; it continued with the German classical philologist Friedrich Creuzer, the French historian Fabre d'Olivet (who invented the term 237 ELT 37:2 1994 theosophy in 1813), Gabriele Rossetti (father of Dante Gabriel), the occultist Joséphin Péladan, and others. Along the way of transmission reconstructed by Surette, we find Swedenborg, Blake, Richard Wagner, Nietzsche, and J. G. Frazer. The occult overlaps with established religions but is not identical with any of them. Occultism is "metaphysical speculation. . . about the nature of ultimate reality and of our relation to it. Typically nontheistic and monistic, it is also typically mystical." Surette is not an occultist himself; he is interested in occultism's impact on literary modernism, and this he finds to be real, seminal, and neglected by what he calls mainstream criticism because of its alleged impropriety. He maintains that other authors besides Yeats, Pound, and Eliot were influenced by occultism, e.g., Conrad, Joyce, Lawrence, Stevens, the French symbolistes and their followers; in fact, "modernism as a whole" was affected by it. I have some doubts about this because Surette's definition of modernism is less convincing than that of occultism . Is modernism a movement peculiar to English and French literatures or is there more to it? What about other literatures, the visual arts (casually alluded to by references to Kandinsky), music, theater, ballet? Remarkably enough, Yeate, Eliot, and Pound are not indigenously English. Where do the proper English writers of the beginning of this century belong, such as Hardy, whose later poetry is contemporary with early Pound and Eliot and middle Yeats, and the poets of World War I? It is also curious that Surette concentrates on poets and neglects novelists and dramatists. He is uneasy about Joyce whom he cannot see as other than a parodist of the occult, and he admits in an aside that Virginia Woolf is "anti-universal, insisting upon the personal and incommunicable ." Since "[m]odernism, the occult, psychology...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 237-242
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.