Henri Bergson and British Modernism

Henri Bergson and British Modernism

Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Henri Bergson and British Modernism
    Book Description:

    Focusing on the work of T.E. Hulme, the Men of 1914, the Bloomsbury Group, T.S. Eliot, and John Middleton Murry, Gillies convincingly demonstrates that Bergson's theories underlie the literary aesthetics of the period that forms the intellectual basis of modern literature. She then turns her critical eye to five major modernist writers - T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Dorothy Richardson, and Joseph Conrad - and provides insightful and detailed Bergsonian readings of their major works.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6613-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-7)

    Henri Bergson was a leading intellectual force in the early years of this century. His ideas were common currency, in the academic as well as the fashionable societies throughout Europe and North America. It is surprising, then, that his influence on Anglo-American writers has been studied at length only recently – by Paul Douglass, inBergson, Eliot & American Literature(1986), and Tom Quirk, inBergson and American Culture(1990). These two authors establish quite convincingly that Bergson had an important role to play in the development of writers such as Faulkner, Eliot, Gather, and Stevens. Bergson’s place in American Modernism...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Henri Bergson: Antecedents, Philosophy, and Context
    (pp. 8-27)

    This chapter deals with Bergson’s philosophical antecedents, his philosophy, and his fall from popularity in the aftermath of World War I. The section on philosophical antecedents emphasizes Bergson’s French heritage, to help explain why he articulated a metaphysical philosophy in an era dominated by Positivism. The section on Bergson’s philosophy focuses on the three themes outlined in the introduction: Bergson’s vision of the world, what constitutes the self, and the nature of art.

    Many of Bergson’s critics underscore his enduring debt to the French spiritualist philosophers prominent in the academies of the midnineteenth century. Bergson is seen as heir to...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Bergson and British Culture
    (pp. 28-38)

    “In or about December, 1910, human character changed” (“Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown,” 320). Virginia Woolf s remark, referring specifically to the first Post-Impressionist exhibition that opened 8 November 1910, accurately captures the enormous changes in English life that marked the years immediately prior to the World War 1. These changes contrasted sharply with the insularity and feeling of cultural, even moral, superiority that had characterized the Britisher's sense of self in the latter years of Victoria’s reign. As Samuel Hynes says, “No doubt a connection exists between England’s imperial expansion at that time and the intensity of national insularity...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Charting Bergson’s Theories of a Modernist Aesthetics
    (pp. 39-77)

    Many books have been written on the difficult topic of modern literature. Some very good books, such as Michael Levenson’s AGenealogy of Modernism,restrict their focus to a narrow segment of Modernism, rendering an impressively thorough and coherent account of one as pect of it. Other equally good books, such as W.Y. Tindall’sForces in Modern British Literature 1885-1956,cast a broader gaze on the period and offer a more comprehensive, though less detailed, account of Modernism. This present study does not examine Modernism in a comprehensive way, nor does it trace only one or two variations of Modernism....

  9. CHAPTER 4 T.S. Eliot: The Poet
    (pp. 78-106)

    Much of Eliot’s poetry concerns itself with the clash between the rational mind’s assertion that life is a fiction created by humans and the emotion’s insistence that such a picture of life is insufficient. Throughout the verse, the terms assume different faces and different degrees of prominence; however, from his early poems toFour Quartets,Eliot creates an uneasy union of the two views. He handles the two in a way similar to Bergson’s handling of them and, not surprisingly, employs many of the ideas absorbed from his study of Bergsonian philosophy. It is important to remember that although Eliot’s...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Virginia Woolf: Bergsonian Experiments in Representation and Conciousness
    (pp. 107-131)

    Despite Leonard Woolf’s claim that Virginia Woolf had not read Bergson’s work nor even such secondary sources as her sister-in-law Karin Stephen’s book on Bergson,¹ a survey of Woolf criticism reveals that many critics have noted a Bergsonian strain in her work. French critics were among the first to note the connection between the two. One of the earliest commentaries was Floris Delattre’s article “La durée bergsonienne dans le roman de Virginia Woolf” published in 1932, which suggested that Bergson’s work had had an impact on Woolf. Several English-speaking critics noted the possibility of Bergson’s influence on Woolf, beginning with...

  11. CHAPTER SIX James Joyce: Fiction as the Flux of Experience
    (pp. 132-150)

    Wyndham Lewis, James Joyce’s contemporary, who devoted much ofTime and Western Manto a discussion of Joyce’s Bergsonian tendencies, concludes:“Mr. Joyce is very strictly of the school of Bergson-Einstein-Stein-Proust. He is of the great time-school they represent”(Time,89). He says of Joyce’sUlysses,in particular, “I regardUlyssesas atime-book;and by that I mean that it lays emphasis upon ... the self-conscious time-sense, that has now been erected into a universal philosophy”(Time,84). While Lewis’s attack on Bergson is complex in origin, he is nonetheless accurate when he points out Joyce’s affinity with Bergson’s time...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Dorothy Richardson: The Subjective Experience of Time
    (pp. 151-165)

    Although Dorothy Richardson has attracted more attention in the last ten years, particularly from feminist critics as they question and redraw literary boundaries,¹ Robert Humphrey’s description of Richardson’s position in modern literature is in many senses still accurate: “Unlike most originators of artistic genres, the twentieth-century pioneer in stream-of-consciousness remains the least well known of the important stream-of-consciousness writers” (Humphrey, 9). Another of Richardson’s biographers makes this same point, when he says that she “changed the course of the modern novel, only to become one of the great unread” (Rosenberg,1).

    One of the major reasons cited for her low profile...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT Joseph Conrad: Bergsonian Ideas of Memory and Comedy
    (pp. 166-185)

    Although Joseph Conrad has been linked with Bergson’s philosophy on a number of occasions,¹ the degree to which his works reflect and embody central Bergsonian ideas remains understudied and underappreciated. Unlike those novelists already examined in this study Conrad’s central debt to Bergson is not linked to his ideas about time. Furthermore, despite the psychological presentation of many of his characters, Conrad does not borrow Bergson’s ideas about the self, for he stops short of direct representations of self and never really eliminates the barrier between subject and object that Bergsonian ideas about representation of the self would require. Two...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 186-188)

    The preceding chapters have set out the case for Bergson’s role in the evolution of British Modernism. The first part of the book, chapters 1 to 3, illustrates the philosopher’s prominence in British intellectual and social life during the first decades of this century. The second part, chapters 4 to 8, provides close readings of major modernist writers whose works testify to their interaction with Bergson’s theories. Let me conclude this study by taking a step back from the immediacy of the project in order to make two observations.

    The first centres on the relevancy of Bergson to today’s questions....

  15. Notes
    (pp. 189-200)
  16. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 201-208)
  17. Index
    (pp. 209-212)