Tag Archives: literature

Social Criticism (Katherine Mansfield)

‘[P]olitical awareness or social criticism do not directly express themselves in [Mansfield’s] stories’ (Elizabeth Bowen, quoted in Aestheticism and Modernism, p.97). Discuss Bowen’s assertion with reference to at least two of Mansfield’s stories.

Katherine Mansfield was long considered to be, primarily, an aesthetic writer due to an appreciation of the formal qualities of her work and a recognition of the ‘lack of direct social or political mission’ in her writing.[1] Indeed, Mansfield herself held the view that ‘it is not the business of the artist to grind an axe’ or to ‘try to transform the world’.[2] However, some critics have suggested that her stories deserve to be read increasingly as engaging with political and social issues and, though Mansfield does not overtly embrace such issues, her works can be read as commenting on such topics as gender and class relations.

For the purpose of this essay I will consider two of Mansfield’s short stories, ‘Bliss’ and ‘The Garden Party’. I aim to show how ‘Bliss’ illustrates the aesthetic qualities of Mansfield’s writing and asserts Bowen’s view that political awareness and social criticism are not directly expressed in her stories. I will show how the traditionally accepted notion of the ideal woman as sexually disinterested, heterosexual and maternal are challenged in ‘Bliss’ by Mansfield’s use of such artistic techniques as language, imagery, symbolism and free indirect speech rather than by explicit comment.

I will then consider ‘The Garden Party’ and intend to show how Mansfield’s use of sociolect, contrast, satire and imagery directly contributes to the exposure of the ‘harshness of class differences’[3] and offers a challenge to traditional class representations and prejudice, thus offering some challenge to Bowen’s assertion that social criticism is not directly expressed in Mansfield’ stories. I aim to show how the issues of social class pervade in ‘The Garden Party’ in a more direct way than the issues of gender pervade in ‘Bliss’.

The opening paragraphs of ‘Bliss’ describe Bertha’s feelings of pleasure. The ‘little shower of sparks’ that she felt in ‘every finger and toe’ is ostensibly, through the beauty of the language and the imagery of the bright afternoon sunshine, describing her elation at experiencing a ‘divine day’ and ‘might seem relatively innocuous’.[4] However, the language could be interpreted as erotic, suggesting the bliss of sexual passion. The choice of words associated with heat (‘bright’, ‘sun’ and ‘burned’) adds to the passion and energy of the scene. The emphasis is on encouraging the reader to engage with the text to allow her/him the pleasure of interpretation. Indeed, Mansfield appears to encourage reader participation by producing an ‘interactive’ work of art.

As Bertha prepares to arrange the fruit for the party, Mansfield’s imagery appeals to the senses of the reader. The fruit may represent sensuality and desire. Indeed, it has not been purchased purely to be eaten but as a display of opulence, beauty and luxury. The colours and textures evoke sensations of indulgence as the apples are described as ‘strawberry pink’ and the yellow pears as ‘smooth as silk’. Strawberries and silk are often associated with desire and extravagance. The ‘silver bloom’ could be interpreted as feminine desire, silver, typically representing femininity and the bloom suggesting the blossoming of Bertha’s sensuality. The phrases ‘seemed to melt’ and ‘float in the air’ invoke imagery of passion, suggesting ‘erotic and sexual feelings’ for a responsive reader[5]. Through the precise observation of detail and colour, Mansfield has revealed one of ‘many moments of encoded sexual pleasure’[6] to introduce, indirectly, Bertha as a sensual and sexual woman. 

The pear tree, in ‘Bliss’ provides a link with the previous sensuous beauty of the fruit, but as a living thing with not a ‘single bud or a faded petal’ it becomes symbolic of Bertha’s feelings of bliss. The similarity of the word ‘pear’ with the name ‘Pearl’ may suggest that it is actually Pearl that is the focus of Bertha’s happiness. Readers are invited to interpret Mansfield’s symbolist techniques as representative of Bertha’s sexual desire for another woman. Indeed, the pear tree is described as ‘silver now, in the light of poor dear Eddie’s moon’ which suggests it is gendered feminine. However, the phallic association as it grew ‘taller and taller as they gazed’ implies a masculine gender. This ambiguity may suggest an uncertainty between Bertha’s heterosexuality and homosexuality.

‘Bliss’, written with a third person narrator but focalised through Bertha, allows the reader access to the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist. With regard to Pearl, we learn that Bertha had ‘fallen in love with her’, a direct comment by the narrator that we can associate with Bertha’s choice of phrase. This focalisation gives initial credibility to the statement and suggests a possible potential lesbian relationship but the immediate qualification of ‘as she always did fall in love’ takes some of the directness from the narrator’s assertion. The comment can no longer to be taken at face value, but seems somewhat dismissive as if it is merely a contemporary popular phrase to describe a new friendship. In addition, Bertha’s realisation that Pearl has similar feelings, ‘But, Bertha knew, suddenly’ is not quite as direct as it at first may seem as a degree of irony, in the reader being more aware of Bertha’s error than Bertha is, makes a more indirect comment on her sexuality. It makes Bertha’s directness seem erroneous. Mansfield perhaps did not want to make direct comment on such a taboo issue but rather suggested its possible existence. 

The name ‘Bertha’ may evoke an image of a mad woman in an attic who is the antipathy of the traditional mother figure. A square peg in the round hole of motherhood and femininity. Though it is impossible to state whether the character of Bertha Young has been influenced by Bertha Mason, the suggestion that she has to be ‘drunk and disorderly’ to express her feelings in society does forge some link to Bronte’s ‘mad’ character who some critics have suggested was labelled as ‘mad’ purely because she did not conform to society’s expectations. The opening paragraphs of ‘Bliss’ suggest that Bertha yearns to be free from the feminine constraints of such a society where ‘if you are over thirty’ you cannot ‘run instead of walk’. This yearning is enhanced by Mansfield’s use of free indirect speech and stream of consciousness techniques. Phrases like ‘bowl a hoop’ suggest Bertha’s choice of expression, not the narrator’s and we are encouraged to see Bertha as childlike and self-gratifying, not maternal and responsible. The jumble of thoughts beginning ‘Oh, is there no way’ and ending ‘like a rare, rare fiddle’ indicates Bertha’s rejection of society’s constraints by showing her thoughts as running out of control. We are not encouraged to view Bertha as maternal as ‘Little B’ is not the primary focus of her thoughts, and is actually not considered until after the fruit has been arranged.

I now wish to concentrate on a later short story of Mansfield’s ‘The Garden Party’. Like ‘Bliss’ the story is concentrated around a particular social event and we ‘join’ the event in mid action. I hope to show that the issue of social class pervades this story in a more direct way than issues of gender pervade in ‘Bliss’. Mansfield exposes class differences’ in ‘The Garden party by use of sociolect, contrasts, satire and imagery and provides a less subtle, more didactic approach than ‘Bliss’. 

The opening sentences of ‘The Garden Party’ present an upper class family preparing for a garden party. The words ‘ideal’ and ‘perfect’ and conversation about the importance of the weather and flowers, suggest language and concerns associated with higher social groups. Mrs Sheridan comments ‘my dear child’ which is typical of genteel family language. Sociolect is therefore used to indicate the social status of the speaker. In contrast, one of the workmen comments that the marquee needs to be located somewhere ‘where it’ll give you a bang slap in the eye’. Slang language is used to indicate his working class status to a readership that may associate non-standard English with inferiority. Mansfield makes a clear distinction between the classes in her choice of idiom for her characters.

The reader is introduced to members of the gentry and their concern with the trivialities of life such as which flowers to impress others with. The contrast in the fifth sentence which informs us that the gardener had ‘been up since dawn’ and was engaged in manual work of ‘mowing’ and ‘sweeping’ makes a clear class distinction between the idle life of the gentry and the people who work for them. The ‘concerns’ of the gentry are presented as nothing more serious than party planning whereas the lower class have serious concerns about a man killed. The contrast in subject matter is a clear intention to represent the gentry as far removed from the realities of life and suffering and to present them as selfish and uncaring. When Mrs Sheridan is informed of the death, she responds with ‘Not in the garden?’ Contrasts are further evident throughout the story. The ‘hundreds, yes, literally hundreds’ of roses and the beauty of the ‘broad, gleaming leaves’ of the karakas are contrasted with the garden patches of the working classes where ‘there was nothing but cabbage stalks’. Interestingly, Mrs Sheridan instructs Laura ‘don’t be so extravagant’ in her desire to cancel the party but she fails to see the extravagance of her own desire to ‘have enough canna lilies’. The contrast in Mrs Sheridan’s actual extravagance and her inappropriate use of the word helps to portray her as self centred and heartless and the reader can hardly avoid forming a dislike of the class that she represents.

Mansfield’s use of satire in describing the ‘shreds of smoke’ coming from the workmen’s cottages, compared to the gentry’s ‘silvery plumes’ acknowledges the existence of class prejudice and makes it appear ridiculous, challenging the very notion of class assumptions. This, almost comical, representation of class differences provides a direct expression of social criticism and challenges Bowen’s assertion. However, Mansfield ensures that the reader is left in no doubt as to the ridiculous nature of class prejudice when she offers a direct challenge to the assumption made by Jose that the dead workman was drunk. Laura immediately and ‘furiously’ replies with ‘Drunk! Who said he was drunk?’

Laura is introduced to the reader ‘holding her piece of bread and butter’ as she puts on an act of severity ‘copying her mother’s voice’ in dealing with the ‘men’. The image is of a silly young woman, conscious of her behaviour, trying (and failing) to act according to learned class expectations. Conversely, the image presented of the ‘tallest of the men’ is of a man at ease as he ‘knocked back his straw hat and smiled’. Significantly, Mansfield physically positions the tall man as looking ‘down’ on Laura, indicating that despite his lower class, he is not inferior. Mansfield is making a direct statement on the relationship of the classes to each other and reversing the previously assumed position of superiority afforded to the higher classes.

Mansfield uses the character of Laura to directly challenge class prejudice. It is Laura who feels ‘empathy with those outside her class’[7] as we witness her concern about ‘what the band would sound like to that poor woman’. It is Laura who challenges the behaviour of the previous generation ‘but we can’t possibly have a garden party with a dead man just outside the front gate’. Despite her efforts, the garden party does still take place but her ‘fight’ against prejudice is not altogether lost as we are encouraged to view Mrs Sheridan as disparaging, ‘I can’t understand how they keep alive in those poky little holes’ and concerned with appearances ‘ Darling Laura, how well you look’. 

I hope to have shown how the social issues of gender and class have been expressed in two of Mansfield’s stories. Although neither story is didactic in its approach to social and political concerns I hope to have shown how, in both stories, Mansfield’s ‘social vision was inseparable from her aesthetic practices’[8]. The issues of gender and class relations are ‘conspicuous in all her writing’ [9] but are expressed more or less directly in different works. Of the two stories, it is ‘Bliss’ which requires greater interpretation by the reader who is left to ‘intuit the themes of her stories’[10]. In comparison, ‘The Garden Party’ is more ‘obvious’ in its social criticism as through more direct techniques Mansfield ensures that the ‘reader is constantly reminded of class distinctions’.[11]


Brown, R. D. and Gupta, S. (eds) (2005) Aestheticism and Modernism: debates in Twentieth-Century Literature 1900-1960, London: Routledge in association with the Open University.

Gupta, S. and Johnson, D. (eds) (2005) A Twentieth-Century Literature Reader, Texts and Debates, London: Routledge in association with the Open University

Mansfield, K. (2002) Selected Stories, ed. and intro. By A Smith, Oxford World’s Classics, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Open University A300 course material – CD1 Katherine Mansfield

[1] Brown and Gupta, 2005, p. 97

[2] Brown and Gupta, 2005, p. 99

[3] Brown and Gupta, 2005, p. 98

[4] Gupta and Johnson, 2005, p. 39

[5] Gupta and Johnson, 2005, p. 42

[6] Gupta and Johnson, 2005, p. 30

[7] Brown and Gupta, 2005, p. 94

[8] O’Sullivan speaking on CD1, Band 6

[9] Brown and Gupta, 2005, p. 113

[10] Brown and Gupta, 2005, p. 94

[11] Mansfield, 2002, p. xxvii


An update on my progress

All photos above are my own, taken at Monk’s House

As you know, my aim in writing this blog was to learn about, and share ‘all things Virginia’. Here is an update on my progress to mark the end of 2015 and the start of 2016.

Well, over the last four months, I have learned a lot about Virginia and where she lived, and with whom. I have learned about what she wrote, where she wrote, how she felt, and about the uncertainties she had about her writing. I have learned about her bereavements, her illness and her relationships. I know that she was highly educated, widely travelled, wealthy and abused.

I have learned about her friends, the Bloomsberries, and what they did. I know a bit about abstract art, famous novels and the Dictionary of National Biography. My learning has got me well and truly side-tracked until I now know snippets about Tennyson and the Freshwater Circle, and about the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. My blog has also led me to consider Ophelia and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. I can also say that I even know about her car and about the food that she ate and the servants that she had.

But, I have a long way to go. There are many many unread novels and non fiction; essays and diaries. I need to consider Modernism and Feminism, Victorian etiquette, the Omega workshops, events of the time and more places of interest and who knows where else my learning will take me.

Thank you very much for reading.


Aestheticism and Instrumentalism (Eliot and Brecht)


My essay and the diary I was keeping at the time. Out of interest my essay was marked at 87%.

Eliot’s modernism is primarily led by aesthetic considerations while Brecht’s is driven by his political agenda.’ To what extent do you agree with this statement? Discuss with reference to Life of Galileo and at least two poems from Prufrock and Other Observations. 

The idea that literature should reflect or even intervene in modern social and political concerns was challenged by many modernists, who emphasised the aesthetic dimension of their work. But, as Brecht’s views indicate, an interest in relating quite consciously to the social, political and ideological currents of the time was also a powerful source of energy for certain twentieth-century modernists.[1]

Walder’s comments explore the juxtapositions of aesthetic and instrumental considerations in modernist writing and may suggest that some writers place a higher emphasis on one of these positions. But, as Gupta states, texts generally do not fall neatly into either of these categories. No writers with ‘primarily aesthetic principles were indifferent to social and political realities’ and similarly, ‘primarily instrumentalist’ writers were not ‘indifferent to aesthetic criteria’.[2] However, I hope to show that Eliot’s modernism was primarily led by aesthetic considerations whilst Brecht was driven by his political agenda.

For the purpose of this essay I will consider ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ and ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’ in order to illustrate how Eliot’s modernist poetic structure rejected the traditional conventions of the late nineteenth century and raised questions about reality and the ‘truth’ by its self conscious style and technique. I intend to illustrate how the mundane is made aesthetically pleasing, and how Eliot’s modernism aesthetically imparts a sense of fragmentation and personal individuality and a concern with understanding the self and the meaning of life. I will then consider Life of Galileo and show how Brecht’s modernism is used to encourage social change by use of the effects of alienation and the epic theatre. I will show how Brecht is influenced by Marxist views, his work reflecting the doctrine that individuals are conditioned by their social circumstances and can change if their circumstances change, and how the play encourages audience engagement by providing links to contemporary society. Finally I will consider the techniques used by Brecht to persuade the viewer to reflect on the degree of responsibility that the scientist has to the world.

Realist writings aimed to convince the reader that real life was being represented and indeed, George Eliot in her novel, Middlemarch actually sort to convince us of this reality by subtitling her novel, ‘A Study of Provincial Life’. Eliot however, in ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ invites us to expect a poem about love but we soon experience a conflict between our expectations and the content of the poem as this is ‘not in any obvious way a love song.’[3] Unlike the novel, this is puzzling and raises questions about the ‘truth’ but is perhaps also suggestive of a general uncertainty about the world. Eliot is perhaps using this confusion to reflect the myriad of possible human responses to the representation of reality. His modernism, by rejecting realist techniques, may encourage the individual thought that realism sought to curb but does not overtly channel those thoughts in a particular direction.

The dreary setting is transformed into something beautiful as the ‘yellow smoke’ (p. 3) is likened to a cat with all its connotations of feline grace. This ‘grace’ is confirmed in the fourth stanza as the smoke ‘slides along the street’ (p. 3). The transformation of an ordinary topic into an ‘aesthetically pleasing’ work juxtaposes the beauty of language with the environment and suggests that the ordinary can be transformed by language.[4] Eliot’s modernism uses poetic language to transform the mundane into pleasing imagery in order to unite the dull and commonplace with the beauty of poetry. Eliot’s emphasis on the beauty of language shows how he is led by aesthetic considerations, though of course, poetry as a genre is more suited to such considerations.

The rhyme scheme of the first stanza of this poem (a a b c c d d e e f g h) is irregular and consists of half rhymes, such as ‘hotels, shells’ (p. 3). The line lengths follow no standard pattern or metre. The number of lines per stanza varies widely from just two, to the longer stanzas which all contain twelve lines. The result contributes to a sense of informality, fragmentation and confusion, and adds to a sense of rambling thoughts. The ‘yellow fog’ of the evening gives way to ‘the taking of a toast and tea’ and to the worry of a ‘bald spot’ and the contemplation of the ‘universe’ (p. 4). This diverse sequence of thoughts is not unlike the stream of consciousness technique associated with Virginia Woolf and highlights an emphasis on inner random thoughts, which she considered more realistic than the presentation of thoughts in a linear progression, whilst also suggesting that all certainty and regularity has disappeared. Eliot’s modernism shows a primary concern with innovative use of technique and not with political persuasion. 

Eliot uses punctuation, as a form of Symbolism, to convey a more precise expression of something that is difficult to express by language alone. In ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ the use of ellipses, ‘To lead you to an overwhelming question . . . ’ encourages the reader to stop and ponder what this question might be (p. 3). The ellipses in question actually seem to hint at the poet persona’s inability to express his feelings; there are no words to adequately articulate his awe of the universe and he finds it ‘impossible to say just what I mean!’ (p. 6). This searching is emphasised by the frustrated and rhetorical question ‘Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’ (p. 3). The indentation of several lines ‘And how should I begin?’ (p. 5) and ‘that is not it, at all’ (p. 6) stresses the yearning questioning of the poet persona and the inability to reach any answers. A feeling of something being unanswerable pervades the poem and, indeed, there are fourteen uses of the question mark. This punctuation throughout adds to a sense of human powerlessness and searching to successfully understand the meaning of life. Overall, the poet’s use of fluid punctuation with frequent use of caesura and enjambement draws attention to the construction of the poem as a work of art and invites consideration of its aesthetic qualities.

In ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’ symbolism is evident in the depiction of the street lamp. Its personification ensures that it is seen as a more active presence than the passive presence of the poet persona and we are encouraged to consider an inanimate object with the human capacity for thought and speech. Similarly, we can consider humans as automatons acting mechanically. Indeed, the poem suggests this reversal in ‘so the hand of the child, automatic, / Slipped out and pocketed a toy that was running along the quay,’ (p. 16). The human is portrayed as the automaton and it is the inanimate toy that is personified by ‘running’. The reality of the street setting contrasts with this obvious unreality to suggest that the ‘man-made’ element of society may control an individual who therefore loses some degree of freedom in his life. Eliot’s modernism, by upsetting reality in this way, draws attention to an individual’s position in society but primarily highlights a new aesthetic approach.

A characteristic theme of modernist poetry was time and its passing and artificiality. In ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’ each stanza begins with an announcement, ‘twelve o’clock’, ‘half-past one’ (p. 15). Eliot’s work shows a ‘somewhat agonized consciousness of the passing of time’.[5] The announcement of time pervades the poem and its repetition highlights its presence. Though we are encouraged to focus on this passing of time we are also drawn to its artificiality as the time is announced by a street lamp, ‘The lamp said, /’four o’clock,’’ (p. 17). As well as inviting us to view happenings in the present time, ‘the cat which flattens itself in the gutter’ (p. 16), the poem also encourages a reflection on past times, ‘Memory!/You have the key’ (p. 17). We are therefore aware of the existence of current clocked time alongside remembered times which promotes a feeling of disorientation. Time, split into minutes and hours, is an unnatural concept, which is only a valid phenomenon in the present, and ceases to exist as one remembers the past. This striking of the clock reminds the reader of human mortality and of the transience of human existence and aesthetically provides an underlying structure to the poem. 

Rorrison, in his commentary to Life of Galileo states that:

For Brecht the traditional, or dramatic theatre was a place where the audience were absorbed into a comforting illusion which played on their emotions and left them drained, but with a sense of satisfaction which predisposed them to accept the world as they found it. What he himself was looking for was a theatre that would help to change the world.[6]

Brecht’s development of the ‘alienation’ effect and of ‘epic’ theatre served Brecht’s political agenda by discouraging an audience from empathising with the characters on stage, leaving viewers emotionally uninvolved and free to reflect on what they have seen rather than be encouraged to accept a predetermined view. Alienation refers to those effects that prevent us from identifying too closely with characters and epic suggests an emphasis on narrative rather than dramatic action and ‘appeals less to the feelings than to the spectator’s reason’.[7]

In Life of Galileo we are immediately distanced from the action on stage as the play opens with an explanatory headline and ditty which informs the audience of Galileo’s scientific intentions. This ditty, sung by a chorus in Losey’s film version of the play, draws attention to the artificiality of the scene. The audience is not invited into a ‘realistic’ setting but is made aware of the stage as a constructed art which encourages a detached interpretation. Though the title of the play should suggest, to an informed audience, the nature of the plot, this additional information removes any last suspense that an audience might feel. The result is a focus on narrative and context rather than on dramatic experience.

The creation of Galileo as a character also serves to ensure that the reader does not instinctively endear him/herself to Brecht’s protagonist. We are invited to witness the initial intimate scene showing Galileo ‘washing down to the waist’ (p. 5) and can therefore identify with him in an everyday context, despite his being one of the ‘most important scientists in history’.[8] Galileo is presented as enthusiastic in his teaching, ‘let’s examine it’ (p. 6) and Brecht’s use of technical jargon such as ‘armillary sphere’ and Galileo’s insistence on using the technical term ‘describing a circle’ (p. 5) ensures that we are made aware of Galileo’s scientific brilliance. However, Brecht does not present the scientist as faultless. Instead, he allows Galileo to be deceitful and cruel. Galileo shows no guilt as he presents the telescope as his own invention ‘with deep joy’ (p. 20) and he shows no remorse for breaking off his daughter’s engagement. Brecht’s modernism contributes to his political agenda by encouraging the audience to form their own views on the morality of the scientist.

The theories of Marxism suggest that the nature of mankind is determined by an individual’s social conditions and that people will change if their conditions change. Brecht believed that literature could ‘change society and the way people think.’[9] In scene 8 of Life of Galileo, the Little Monk explains to Galileo how his parents’ religious view of life is essential to their understanding of the world and that any change to this would upset their ‘feeling of stability’       (p. 65). Galileo’s rejection of the Monk’s plea to keep the ‘peasants’ ignorant and his insistence that the enlightened could go on to ‘develop the virtues of happiness and prosperity’ (p. 66) despite the upheaval to their social understanding, endorses Brecht’s view that people react to differing conditions. Though the Monk is saddened by the potential plight of his parents, Brecht refrains from engaging the audience’s emotion by ensuring that we are left with an image of the Monk absorbed in a new manuscript eager for further scientific knowledge. The Monk clearly does not relish, for himself, the ignorance he desires for his parents. This contradiction encourages the audience to consider the pros and cons of upsetting the political status quo.

Brecht’s play ‘remains the most searching examination of the ethics of science that has been written for the stage’.[10] Galileo’s finding that ‘there is no difference between heaven and earth’ (p. 24) had enormous implications for society in the early seventeenth century but to a twentieth century audience, Galileo’s findings are accepted facts. In scene 15, an audience in the 1930s would be aware of the infancy of aircraft and the very real possibility of the benefits of commercial air travel. Andrea’s comments that ‘people can’t fly through the air on a stick’ (p. 113) would have amused viewers who were aware of such scientific advance. However, this known benefit of science is contradicted by the scene’s opening ditty that urges caution in using scientific knowledge ‘lest it be a flame to fall/Downward to consume us all’ (p. 110). Brecht’s reference to the possible consequences of the atom bomb serves as a contemporary reminder to the audience of the responsibility that scientists have to the world and lead us to question whether indeed, Galileo was right to continue with his research or whether accepting the Church’s desire for status quo would have been the more responsible option.

The scope of this essay has considered works from two very different genres. By its nature, poetry is a medium more suited to the expression of aesthetic considerations and drama to political comment and the primary considerations of the writers in question may be influenced by or reflected in the genre of choice. However, I hope to have shown how Eliot’s modernism which shows ‘aesthetic and poetic daring’[11] by rejecting traditional poetic structures and themes, explores the differing notions of reality and truth and encourages an inner reflection on human awareness. Eliot’s modernism and its ‘fresh and invigorating’ form which is not constrained by rhyme and punctuation, and which challenges our understanding of the ‘truth’, creates a sense of fluidity away from the constraints of previous traditions of writing. A new way of writing and a new way of seeing the world, perhaps. The result is the creation of poetry which draws attention to its construction in order to encourage reflection on inner thoughts and impart a consideration of man’s changing position within society without seeking to change it. Brecht’s writing on the other hand, with his choice of historical subject matter, encourages a new contemplation of the political implications of scientific advancement and seeks to initiate change. Although the play does not answer any questions on the ethics of science, at least it raises them for the audience to consider. Brecht’s use of alienation and epic theatre was primarily to influence his audience in order to ‘upset people into changing the way they saw things’ and his furtherance of Marxist doctrines served his political agenda.[12] In order to initiate political change Brecht sought to ‘make the spectator into an actor who would complete the unfinished play’.[13]


Brecht, B. (1994) Life of Galileo, trans. by J. Willett, with Commentary and Notes by H. Rorrison, Methuen Student Editions, London: Methuen.

Brown, R. D. and Gupta, S. (eds) (2005) Aestheticism and Modernism: debates in Twentieth-Century Literature 1900-1960, London: Routledge in association with the Open University.

Eliot, T.S. ([1917] 2001) Prufrock and Other Observations, London: Faber & Faber.

Gupta, S. and Johnson, D. (eds) (2005) A Twentieth-Century Literature Reader, Texts and Debates, London: Routledge in association with the Open University

Open University A300 course material – CD2 (readings by T S Eliot)

Open University A300 course material – DVD2 (Galileo, directed by J Losey)

[1] Walder in Brown and Gupta, 2005, p. 326

[2] Brown and Gupta, 2005, p. 225

[3] Brown and Gupta, 2005, p. 232

[4] Brown and Gupta, 2005, p. 232

[5] Brown and Gupta, 2005, p. 253

[6] Brecht, (1994), p. xxxv

[7] Gupta and Johnson, 2005, p. 129

[8] Brown and Gupta, 2005, p. 324

[9] Quote taken from A300 tutorial handout by Dr. M Denby

[10] Brecht, (1994), p. xli

[11] Brown and Gupta, 2005, p. 272

[12] Brown and Gupta, 2005, p. 327

[13] Brown and Gupta, 2005, p. 327

Hello and Welcome to my Literature Blog

Virginia Woolf – one of the greatest writers of all time


I am a literature graduate, a book lover and a wanabee novelist. I am fascinated by Virginia Woolf, both as an author and as an individual and though I know a fair bit about her life and works already, I want to learn more. So, I am going to teach myself ‘all things Virginia’ by keeping my blog. You are very welcome to learn with me or to teach me or to share information.

I intend to read all of Virginia’s novels (may take a while) and non-fiction as well as her biographies, essays and diaries. I also intend to learn more about the other members of the Bloomsbury Group and the times in which they lived.

I would love to visit a few places such as Monk’s House, Charleston and Sissinghurst and maybe see Talland House in St Ives and walk the Cornwall coastal routes that Virginia walked with her father. From our home in Yorkshire and with busy working lives, it is quite a trek to the South of the country but I  will keep you updated on my progress and will take plenty of photographs.

So, I will be considering the texts, the people, the places and the times. Hopefully I will get side tracked with all sorts of interesting things; academic stuff, recipes and a whole host of snippets to get a real feel for Virginia’s world….

Where to start?