By Jed Esty

This booklet describes an incredible literary tradition stuck within the act of turning into minor. In 1939, Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary, ''Civilisation has shrunk.'' Her phrases captured not just the onset of global warfare II, but in addition a longer-term reversal of nationwide fortune. the 1st accomplished account of modernism and imperialism in England, A Shrinking Island tracks the joint eclipse of modernist aesthetics and British strength from the literary experiments of the Thirties during the upward thrust of cultural reports within the 1950s.

Jed Esty explores the consequences of declining empire on modernist form--and at the very that means of Englishness. He levels from canonical figures (T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf) to influential midcentury intellectuals (J. M. Keynes and J.R.R. Tolkien), from cultural reports pioneers (Raymond Williams and E. P. Thompson) to postwar migrant writers (George Lamming and Doris Lessing). targeting writing that converts the capability power of the contracting British nation into the language of insular integrity, he argues that an anthropological ethos of cultural holism got here domestic to roost in late-imperial England. Esty's interpretation demanding situations well known myths concerning the demise of English literature. It portrays the survivors of the modernist new release now not as aesthetic dinosaurs, yet as members within the transition from empire to welfare country, from metropolitan paintings to nationwide tradition. blending literary feedback with postcolonial idea, his account of London modernism's end-stages and after-lives presents a clean tackle significant works whereas redrawing the traces among modernism and postmodernism.

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Extra resources for A Shrinking Island: Modernism and National Culture in England

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Four Quartets, with its prodigious complexity, both registers and enacts the turn from cosmopolitan aesthetics to national culture by which the high phase of English modernism came to its end. R. Tol- L AT E M O D E R N IS M 19 kien, and Charles Williams. Butts’s spiky pastoralism, Tolkien’s archive fever, and Williams’s pulp-fiction mythopoetics all represent a countermodernism gaining visibility and currency in the thirties as the fate of metropolitan modernity itself—especially in England—seems to hang in the balance.

Of course, to insist on a particularist definition of Englishness after empire is to flirt with a romanticized and absolutist national identity (a` la Enoch Powell). However, it is also to perform an ideological critique of universalist imperialism. This double effect challenges both English and postcolonial writing about England. The narrative of reverse colonization and reverse ethnography attached to postcolonial immigration in the fifties brings forth the grand historical irony, always hovering at the edge of this study, that England seems finally to be both beneficiary of, and subject to, the knowledge/power structures of British imperialism.

On the one hand, that Anglocentrism contained conservative and hierarchical elements of false national unity, forestalling the momentum of mass culture and social dissensus in the thirties. On the other, it also contained the potential for a more democratic cultural retotalization, one that partially fulfills the thwarted and radical avant-gardist ambition of reintegrating art into a more capacious concept of culture. Autoethnography and the Romance of Retrenchment Although the specter of national decline emerged in earlier decades, it was not until the thirties that the converging crises of economic disaster, imperial overextension, and totalitarian threat pointed to the inevitability of British contraction.

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