Review by: Rachel Levin
By: Natasha Whitton
South Eastern Louisiana University

 6/01/01

A 20-C Inheritance: From Woolf to Murdoch and Winterson

Originally presented in part at the South Central Modern Language Association Conference, Fall 2000.

     As I sat down to think about this writing project, I was suddenly struck by its portentous meaning. We have come or we will come, depending on your perspective, to the end of the twentieth century in the next two months. In my studies, my particular field of specialization is this time period– its literature, history, science, technology, politics, cultural mores, etc. Now, it should presumably stop changing and stand unified in time. As scholars of literature, however, we naturally know that this is not the case. The long eighteenth century does not sit in contentment within its temporal borders nor did the study of the twentieth century modes and mores begin in 1901. After further consideration, I did manage a small sigh that at least now this canon should begin to take account of itself from a more retrospective aspect which is the purpose of this exploration.
     The past century has been one of tremendous innovation in the realm of British Literature as a whole, but particularly in the realm of British fiction. As the moderns began to react against that proper society of the Victorians, they became obsessed with traversing the boundaries of interior and exterior. I was recently at a conference at Texas A&M where Professor Victoria Rosner spoke at a faculty roundtable on a book project in which she will focus on the environment that the Bloomsbury Group occupied and their various forays into the visual arts and even furniture making. In one slide, she showed a Roger Fry harpsichord that looked perfectly acceptable for any parlor when the lid was closed but on raising it, the figure of a naked female was revealed, lounging with her body constrained by the available space which seems to capture the tentative raids on proper manners practiced by this group of innovators.
     It was this attitude that lead authors to eschew the traditional reliance on an omniscient narrator, the conventional order of chronology, and introduce stream of consciousness narratives. As these changes took place, British fiction authors began to venture into new genres and categories of knowledge, such as the realms of science and philosophy. The interdisciplinary quality of the work produced towards the latter end of this century is astounding in its depth and breadth. The loss of omniscience in narrative voice and chronological ordering of plot has opened a gateway into the world of the quantum.
     Many of these principles of change have been influenced by and in some cases have anticipated Einstein's theories of relativity and a new understanding of time. Since the world no longer operates in a linear fashion, it is understandable that the portrayal of time becomes equally elusive. At the beginning of the twentieth century, creative artists such as Ford Maddox Ford, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf transformed the face of narrative fiction. Even before the theories of Einstein were widely popularized, these artists understood the chaos of the twentieth century and the separation that technology had created in the hearts of humanity.

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