Modernism and Cultural Conflict 1880-1922 by Ann L. Ardis (review)
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Reviews Ann L. Ardis. Modernism and Cultural Conflict 1880-1922. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), ix + 187 pp. Ann Ardis is probably best known in Victorian studies circles for her 1990 book, New Woman, New Novels: Feminism andEarly Modernism. Together with Linda Dowling's much earlier article, "The Decadent and the New Woman in thel890s," Ardis's book helped to set the stage for what would become a major critical revaluation of New Woman fiction and drama. New Woman, New Novels can be credited with helping to inaugurate not only several new critical assessments but also reprints of key New Woman texts and other research and teaching tools (e.g., Nelson's A New Woman Reader). What Modernism and Cultural Conflid 1880-1922 has in common with New Woman, New Novels is its interrogation of received literary historical periods. The texts and writers Ardis examines typically straddle Victorian,fin-de-siecle and modernist studies as these fields are traditionally defined. In her new book, Ardis coins the term "turn-of-the-twentieth-century studies" (4, 1 74 andpassim) to describe the temporal field she is excavating. This term serves as a corrective both to modernist scholars who typically focus on postWorld War I literary production and to scholars of the '"long nineteenth century' (1780-1914)" who fail to recognize the genuine "newness" that enters the field sometime around 1 880. This is a newness which was even then marked linguistically — from the New Woman and the New Journalism to the New Spirit conjured by Havelock Ellis in 1 890 — evoking something of the sometimes anxious and forced, sometimes youthful and excited, always combative quality of cultural life in Britain during this period. The forty-some years highlighted in the tide of Ardis's new book mark a period of incredible cultural foment, the.fin or end of some things and the consolidation of others: the end of a radical idealism associated with Guild Socialism, the consolidation of Fabian pragmatism and governmentality (as Ardis discusses in chapter five); the end of Edward Carpenter style "simplicity of living," the consolidation of professionalism; but also what one might describe as the end of a short-lived vernacular British high modernism (as represented by Whyndam Lewis, the subject, with D. H. Lawrence, of chapter three), and the consolidation of something else. Presumably 1922 serves as the end point of Ardis's study because this was the year that saw the consolidation of a very particular form of international English-language literary modernism, represented by the publication of two monumental modernist texts: T. S. Eliot's The Waste Und Victorian Review (2003)105 Reviews and James Joyce's Ulysses. It is also the year that is the focus of Michael North's recent book, Reading 1922: A Return to the Scene of the Modern. I mention North's book here because in Modernism and Cultural Conflict it serves as the exemplar of a field Ardis calls "the new modernist studies," a field in which she places her own work. I must confess that there is something about this term that makes me uncomfortable, even though — if pressed — this is probably how I would define my own research area. Let me try to tease out what it is about "the new modernist studies" that I think misrepresents, somewhat, the very significant accomplishments of Modernism and Cultural Conflict. First, to risk a theoretical cliché, "modernism" and "modernist" are terms many scholars in the area, including me, use under erasure. This is because it is a term we have inherited (its meanings determined mostly by critics working in the early 1960s) which provides a useful shorthand for a certain literary historical period and a certain aesthetic. The problem is that the term in its canonical sense has outlived its usefulness; it now closes as many doors as it opens. And the doors it closes are exactly the ones that Ardis wants to open. In effect we are emerging from a forty-year hegemony of high modernist studies and it is scholars like Ardis who are working to reconstruct a more detailed and nuanced picture of cultural life from about 1880 to the Second World War. The terms "modernism...


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