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Early modernism and the English short story, 1890-1920

March Russell, Paul Andrew (1998) Early modernism and the English short story, 1890-1920. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94629) (KAR id:94629)

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The following themes are explored: the proliferation of the short story in relation to nascent modernism; the ideological preconditions for formal change, specifically a crisis within “Englishness”; and lastly, the growth of modernism in response to the unadaptability of dominant literary modes to cultural unrest. Despite a recent recourse to critical theory, short story criticism remains principally formalist in approach, and therefore reasserts the preferences of its original theorists. The emphasis upon symmetrical design can be traced back to the late Victorian ideology of vitalism. Fears of cultural degeneration mediate the apparent displacement of an organic ideal, defined in terms of autonomy, purity and instinct, and internalised through the pastoral iconography associated with England. The call for symmetry within early short story criticism colludes with this ideal, but also denies the actuality of an urban, technocratic and atomistic society. Symmetry, in that sense, explains the popularisation of the short story since it conspires with the lifelike attachment between word and object, and distantiation of alterity, which underpin the dominant genres of realism and romance. The literary market, though, was being divided by the internecine struggle between those two genres with the result that the novel was stalemated, by association, as an aesthetic product. Early modernism is comparatively progressive by centring absence and ambiguity within a critical encounter with alterity, whilst retaining a residual desire for cultural renewal. Early modernists adopt the short story not just for its innate emphasis upon ellipsis and paradox, but for its metaphorical association with the scientific changes, which were disrupting the organic ideal. Modernism foregrounds the manufactured nature of the short story, and therefore the transparency of symmetry. The interrogation of symmetry, however, exposes early modernism’s own residual organicism, and anticipates its eventual dissolution. The modernist short story, though, presages the transformation of the novel.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Ayers, David S.
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94629
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: Literature
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 06 Oct 2022 11:55 UTC
Last Modified: 21 Nov 2023 15:45 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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