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Blasted Literature

Victorian Political Fiction and the Shock of Modernism

Deaglán Ó Donghaile

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Dynamite novels meet highbrow modernism via the impact of terrorism

Between 1880 and 1915, a range of writers exploited terrorism's political shocks for their own artistic ends. Drawing on late-Victorian 'dynamite novels' by authors including Robert Louis Stevenson, Tom Greer and Robert Thynne, radical journals and papers, such as The Irish People, The Torch, Anarchy and Freiheit, and modernist writing from H.G. Wells and Joseph Conrad to the compulsively militant modernism of Wyndham Lewis and the Vorticists, Ó Donghaile maps the political and aesthetic connections that bind the shilling shocker closely to modernism.

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Introduction: Shock, Politics, Literature
1. Robert Louis Stevenson, Henry James and the City of Encounters
2. Imperialism and the Late Victorian Dynamite Novel
3. Exploiting the Apostles of Destruction: Anarchism, Modernism and the Penny Dreadful
4. 'The Doctrine of Dynamite': Anarchist Literature and Terrorist Violence
5. Shock Modernism: Blast and the Radical Politics of Vorticism
Conclusion: Literature and 'the resources of civilization'

About the Author

Deaglán Ó Donghaile is Senior Lecturer in English Literature and Cultural History at Liverpool John Moores University


Blasted Literature provocatively shows how modernism's "shock of the new" did not simply explode upon the literary scene in the early-twentieth century but evolved steadily in the pages of penny dreadfuls, popular fiction, and avant-garde periodicals during the three decades prior to the War. Ó Donghaile convincingly demonstrates the inextricability of aesthetics and imperial politics in the turn-of-the-century metropolis.

- Joseph McLaughlin, Ohio University

A remarkable study of the complex circuits of influence between political terror, popular fiction and early modernism, ranging from the nineteenth-century dynamite novel to the shock tactics of Vorticist aesthetics. Theoretically sophisticated and historically nuanced, this rich and compelling book brings fresh insight to our understanding of the fin-de-siècle and its legacies.

- David Glover, University of Southampton

At a time when the terrorist has once again become a crucial figure in the contemporary imaginary, this study provides a valuable historical perspective. Tracking the traffic between aesthetic shocks and real explosions from Robert Louis Stevenson to Vorticism, the book promises to send tremors through literary history.

- Nicholas Daly, University College Dublin
...a valuable and very readable book.
- Tim Armstrong, Royal Holloway, Victoriographies Vol 5 No 1

O'Donghaile’s expansive range of material, from popular fiction to manifestos of modernist aesthetes, from radical political journalism to fiction by Henry James, is brought together in productive and interesting ways to continue to revise the rigidly hierarchical and separatist categorising of literature according to the scales of a symbolic capital that is still culturally overdetermined.

- Fionnuala Dillane, University College Dublin, Irish Studies Review

Blasted Literature opens up a vista of writing, thinking, worrying, and glorying in political violence whose potency has been largely forgotten; its revival in this study is enormously welcome.

- Sarah Cole, Columbia University, Victorian Studies, Vol. 56, No. 2

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