- Fiction: The 1930s to the 1960s
The wealth of material available this year on modern fiction writers clearly indicates that scholars remain interested in the figures germane to this period. John Steinbeck, Richard Wright, Flannery O’Connor, Margaret Mitchell, Vladimir Nabokov, and Djuna Barnes are the focus of book-length critical studies, for instance, and Ray Bradbury, J. D. Salinger, Raymond Chandler, and Dashiell Hammett are the subjects of biographical commentary. Thomas Wolfe receives a chapbook acknowledging his interest in the American West, Jack Kerouac inspires a book-length study of his forays into Mexico, and H. P. Lovecraft and Bradbury are honored with critical editions of their stories. Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, and Nabokov, among others, are featured in numerous individual essays. Popular topics addressed in critical debate include the 1918 influenza pandemic, the pulp paperback, the Federal Writers’ Project, ethical issues, film studies, gender, religion, intertextuality, queer studies, Marxism, Fascism, cubism, cosmopolitanism, and the aesthetics of trash.
Focusing on “the crucial role played by the imagination in the development of cosmopolitan emotions and the role played by emotions in the development of cosmopolitan imaginations,” Alexa Weik Von Mossner’s Cosmopolitan Minds: Literature, Emotion, and the Transnational Imagination (Texas) studies five expatriate writers who actually [End Page 279] traveled to such locales as Asia, Africa, and Europe: Pearl S. Buck, Kay Boyle, William Gardner Smith, Paul Bowles, and Richard Wright. According to Von Mossner, these transnational authors “explored the uses and hazards of physical dislocation and the sometimes violent shifts in understanding that result from an affective encounter with previously unknown people and places—shifts that lead to a troubled sense of belonging and often to new, cosmopolitan solidarities.” She grounds her examination in cognitive research, especially the studies of neuroscientists Joseph LeDoux and Antonio Damasio, philosophers Martha Nussbaum and Robert Solomon, cognitive psychologists Keith Oatley and Nico Frijda, and theorist Patrick Colm Hogan (specifically his “perceptual account of emotion”), before devoting a chapter each to Boyle, Buck, Smith, Wright, and Bowles and literary works that “involve a romantic emplotment of cosmopolitanism” yet offer “a different aspect of emotional literary engagements across borders.” In Boyle’s work, for instance, Von Mossner explores “the role of empathy and sympathy,” while in Smith’s novels she “considers the importance of sensitivity and empathic guilt” and in Bowles “the role of disgust, horror, and fascination.” All five writers share in common a reliance “on the prototype of the romantic tragicomedy.”
In “‘Wood for the Coffins Ran Out’: Modernism and the Shadowed Afterlife of the Influenza Pandemic” (MoMo 21: 937–60) Elizabeth Outka sets out to insightfully “initiate (though not exhaust) the discussion of influenza and modernism.” Because the 1918 pandemic occurred during World War I, “it became the shadowed twin to the war” despite the fact that the death toll from influenza exceeded the number of American battle deaths from all 20th-century wars combined. Outka offers background into the history of the pandemic, considers why the topic has been absent from modernist discourse, and analyzes four texts that might be read differently when examined in light of the flu. Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider, Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land paint portraits of “the astonished and guilt-stricken survivor” as well as consider two linked themes: “the sense of a permeable threshold between the living and the dead” and “a flirtation with resurrection.” As Outka demonstrates, the influenza pandemic “adds a new dimension to the history of modernist mourning”; helps account for traditional modernist themes, including anxiety, fragmentation, death, and alienation; and “requires a shift in modernist discussions of the corpse.” [End Page 280]
In American Pulp: How Paperbacks Brought Modernism to Main Street (Princeton) Paula Rabinowitz studies the significance of the pulp paperbacks published in the United States between the post-World War I era and the early 1960s and the evolution of what Rabinowitz terms “demotic reading, an experience of literature that traverses many social distinctions.” Mass market paperbacks “lured readers” of various backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations “with provocative covers at an affordable price into a...