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Title: A supreme fire of thought and spirit : modernist patterns of cultural renewal in First World War Britain
Author: Jackson, Paul
Awarding Body: Oxford Brookes University
Current Institution: Oxford Brookes University
Date of Award: 2007
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This thesis seeks to analyse a highly diverse range of intellectuals operating in Britain during the First World War through a "maximalist" model of modernism. This ideal type identifies modernist qualities in radical politics, religious faith, spirituality and philosophy, as well as aesthetic innovation. From this perspective, it demonstrates a gap in the exploration of the modernist dynamic of the British intelligentsia during the First World War in the current secondary literature. Further, it offers an ideal type of modernism that characterises the phenomenon as thought marked by a radical confrontation with an intetpretation of modernity as decadence. The first three chapters of the study explore this phenomenon through a wide-ranging textual recovery of various wartime debates published in the avant-garde journal The New Age. The first chapter offers a survey of the philosophical and political modernism articulated by A. R. Orage, the editor of The New Age, which took the form of a fusion of Nietzsche with the neo-Marxist ideology guild socialism. The second chapter offers further textual recovery of other guild socialist ideologues who published in The New Age, including S. G. Hobson, G. D. H. Cole, Ivor Brown and A. J. Penty. The final chapter on The New Age completes this textual recovery and examines essays published by other contributors, including the promotion of Nietzsche by Oscar Levy and A. E. R., alongside the modernist thinking of figures such as Herbert Read, T. E. Hulme, Ezra Pound, Janko Lavrin, and Ramiro de Maeztu. Following this in depth survey of The New Age, the study examines the wartime writings of H. G. Wells, focusing on how the war led him to propose his own modernist religion as a solution to wartime modernity's alleged decadence. Having located modernist qualities in Wells' wartime non-fiction and fiction, chapter five explores the ideas of May Sinclair, who not only proposed a new variant of philosophical idealism that fused mysticism and new developments in psychoanalysis, but articulated this philosophy in her wartime novels, especially The Tree of Heaven. The final chapter examines three British war poets, Isaac Rosenberg, Siegfried Sassoon and Rupert Brooke, arguing that each developed their own idiosyncratic confrontation with a decadent modernity during the war. This analysis examines both their poetry and their wider attitudes and responses to the conflagration. The study concludes by arguing that modernist cultural production in Britain chimed with wider European patterns in wartime and postwar culture and ideology. Further, drawing on cultural anthropology, it stresses that significant aspects of European culture were thrown into a profound state of liminality by the First World War, resulting in myriad attempts by modernists either to revitalise modernity through radical ideologies and cultural production, or to forward ideas that used a profound sense of cultural decline and fragmentation to explore the deeper significances of living in a decadent modernity. Further, it suggests that the "maximalist" definition of modernism forwarded by the thesis could be used to explore other instances of modernist cultural production articulated during the first half of the twentieth century.
Supervisor: Griffin, R. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral