The manifesto in Britain and Ireland, 1878-1939 : a genealogy
This thesis represents a genre study of the literary-artistic manifesto in Britain and Ireland during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It traces the development of the manifesto from James MacNeill Whistler’s pronouncements on art and art critics in his trial against John Ruskin in 1878 to Wyndham Lewis’s ‘Enemy’ polemics in the 1920s. The most common type of manifesto is the short public declaration issued by an individual or group, usually for the dual purpose of generating publicity and attempting to influence future events. In addition, however, the genre is characterized by its hybridity: it can appear not only as the quasi-political tract favoured by the historical avant-garde, but also as a poem, preface, public lecture, circular letter, or virtually any other form of discourse. This generic diversity is a principal concern of the present thesis, and the acknowledgement of this aspect of the manifesto, paired with the focus on Britain and Ireland as opposed to mainland Europe, serves to distinguish it from earlier studies. Specific examples of the manifesto appear in chapters two to four. They begin with the Aestheticist performances of Whistler and Oscar Wilde, followed by the nationalist revivals in Scotland and Ireland at the fin-de-siècle, and concluding with the relationship between the manifesto and High Modernism. The larger picture that emerges through these examples is of a strain of manifesto that originates with Whistler and is carried, to a greater and lesser extent, through the writings of Wilde, Yeats, Pound, and Lewis. This sub-species is defined by its oppositional and often masculinist tendencies, its egotism, and its elitist philosophy. It aggressively advertises its own exclusiveness, rather than attempting to win converts in the traditional style of the revolutionary manifesto.