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Expert Modernists, Matricide, and Modern Culture: Woolf, Forster, Joyce (review)

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 45, Number 1, Fall 2007
pp. 173-176 | 10.1353/jjq.0.0047

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Expert Modernists, Matricide, and Modern Culture is chock full of insights about imploded Victorian domesticity, models of consumption and desire, and the ways in which modernism connected all three. With chapters on Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, and James Joyce, Lois Cucullu suggests that the transformation of the "domestic woman and the household spaces she managed" (5) is vital to the project of the modernist aesthetic, that modernism was not an exclusively male province or an "anti-woman" phenomenon, and that modernists participated in the creation and enfranchisement of an expert class of literary artists and readers who redefined not just the novel but also culture itself.

As she connects these dots, Cucullu constructs an intricate argument. Fundamental to her analysis is the idea that literary modernists devised an aesthetically distinct (and difficult) style to establish themselves as authorities on culture—and to create a class of reader-followers, a cultural bourgeoisie, to receive the message that social strictures regarding domestic identity and governance might be re-imagined. Cucullu sees literary modernists as "cultural capitalists who used the marketplace to advance aesthetic innovations that carry with them new narratives of consciousness and identity" as they advocated emancipation from domestic ideology (33).

In her initial chapters, Cucullu productively marries Marxism to feminism, tracing the economic and epistemic forces that diluted the Victorian domestic ideal. She then offers Woolf as exemplar of, rather than exception to, the modernist ethos and the link she spies between domestic politics and literary style. When, in 1917, Woolf (and her husband Leonard) moved a printing press into the drawing room and founded the Hogarth Press, they transfigured the space that traditionally signified middle-class domesticity and unceremoniously dislodged the "Angel in the House" (31)—a full fourteen years before Woolf wrote of killing her in the essay "Professions for Women."1 "The founding of the press," Cucullu argues, "is an act at least as lethal as the angel's figural strangulation and, in effect, is more empowering" (31). After all, it provided Woolf the method of production not just to disseminate the proof of her expert status as a modernist—established through the mechanism of style—but also to create an audience of expert readers for her work. In her novels, Cucullu suggests, Woolf continues to develop this new paradigm of "angel replaced with androgynous artist and expert" (56). In Mrs.Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, Woolf's aesthetic allows her to reappropriate and to distance herself from the drawing rooms of Clarissa Dalloway and Mrs. Ramsay by converting their households into "aesthetic exhibitions of Victorian reliquary" (56).2

Cucullu advances her argument through her discussion of Forster, positioning him contentiously as "modernism's ultimate insider" (93) and suggesting that works such as Howard's End attempt to replace the "gendered spheres of public and private" with a "naturalized male culture set in a pastoral landscape that blatantly incorporates traditional hierarchies of property and propriety" (93).3 Cucullu cites Forster's often overlooked speech to a Cambridge audience in October 1910, "The Feminine Note in Literature," as evidence that he, like Woolf, claimed a new authority over the novel but, unlike her, blamed its shortcomings on the nineteenth-century "feminization" of the form, which, in his view, exhibited too much emotion and not enough logic.4 Forster's work, Cucullu finds, disdains bourgeois female empowerment and instead displaces the potential power of female figures set free from Victorian domestic ideology onto male characters, whose virility will liberate both them and the nation. Howard's End, more than even Maurice (which Forster suppressed during his lifetime), Cucullu argues, "effectively and publicly answers the dilemma of Forster's modernism—who shall inherit England—by producing a cultural model for an educated elite of experts" (119).5

Cucullu's chapter on Joyce begins by establishing him as a cosmopolitan and apolitical figure, challenging contemporary postcolonial critics who have re-imagined a more politicized Joyce apart from the humanism that characterized the first fifty-odd years of his critical history. Cucullu instead identifies a middle ground, suggesting that Joyce "advanced neither a political agenda nor a nationalist cause. Much like Woolf, he chose cultural emancipation and expert accreditation over political...



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