“The Shortcomings of Timetables”: Greenwich, Modernism, and the Limits of Modernity


The 1884 Prime Meridian Conference was a signal moment in the history of modernity, establishing a seamless space-time map and rendering the Greenwich Royal Observatory an international symbol of British imperial power. In this essay, I consider the representation of Greenwich Time at key moments in three canonical modernist texts: Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, James Joyce’s Ulysses, and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. Exposing the linkage of Greenwich Mean Time to regimes of power, knowledge, and commerce, these modernists sought to dislocate narrative temporality from its enlistment in the imperial project of world standard time.