In Forms of Modern British Fiction six individualistic and strongminded critics delineate the "age of modernism" in British fiction. Dating the age and the movement from later Hardy works through the deaths of Joyce and Woolf, they present British fiction as a cohesive, self-contained unit of literary history.
Hardy appears as the first of the modern British novelists, Lawrence as the central, and Joyce and Woolf as the last. The writers and the modern movement are framed by precursors, such as Galsworthy, and by successors, Durrell, Beckett, and Henry Green—the postmoderns. The pattern of the essays suggests a growing self-consciousness on the part of twentieth-century writers as they seek not only to refine their predecessors but also to deny (and sometimes obliterate) them. The moderns thus deny the novel itself, a genre once firmly rooted in history and forms of social life. Their works do not assume that comfortable mimetic relationship between the fictive realities of art and life.
Consequently, there has now evolved a poetics of the novel that is virtually identifiable with modern fiction, a poetics still highly problematical in its attempt to denote a medium in whose name eclectic innovativeness and incessant revitalizing are proclaimed. Forms of Modern British Fiction refines and advances the discussion of the modern novel and the world it and we inhabit.
Alan Warren Friedman is Professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin.