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Dirty Books: Modernism and the Toilet

From: MFS Modern Fiction Studies
Volume 58, Number 2, Summer 2012
pp. 191-213 | 10.1353/mfs.2012.0020



This article considers the response of European modernism to the invention of flush toilets and public restrooms in the first decades of the twentieth century, arguing that modernist writers such as James Joyce and Jean Rhys subverted dominant attitudes toward privacy, propriety, and femininity via images of women using toilets and restrooms. It considers Ulysses and Good Morning, Midnight within the context of debates surrounding women, cleanliness, and public urban space. It also argues that modernist and avant-garde art can be characterized by its representations of dirt and excrement, for which it was often censored or banned.

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