The New Modernist Novel

Literary Criticism and the Task of Reading

Elizabeth Pender

Hardback (Forthcoming)

Reconsiders the historical connections between modernism and close reading and argues that new modernist fiction can bring with it new modes of reading

  • Brings close reading into the new modernist studies
  • Considers the changing meanings of reading among contemporary critics of modernist fiction and among mid-century critics
  • Offers sustained readings of three new modernist novels: Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood, John Rodker’s Adolphe 1920, and Mina Loy’s Insel
  • Considers how these novels present their literary, cultural, and social contexts to close reading
  • Extends the book’s questions to Samuel Beckett’s Comment c’est/How It Is and Jean Rhys’s short stories

The new modernist studies have recognised a range of writers, many of whom are now receiving new attention in criticism and teaching. Yet if an older modernist studies was developed for a different, narrower selection of literary works, how can its tools be brought to this new, widened canon? This book considers how close reading may change as the discipline’s subjects of study change. The chapters ask first how modernism was being read around 1930 and at mid-century, and then what close reading might look like now for three new modernist novels — Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood, John Rodker’s Adolphe 1920, and Mina Loy’s Insel. These novels tend to deflect strategies of reading that were interdependent with the establishment of a more familiar canon of modernist literature at mid-century. Reading this new modernist fiction closely offers a way to open up modernism to other voices.


1. The New Modernist Novel

2. The Task of Reading and the Tasks of Criticism

3. Telling the Story of the Night Wood

4. Adolphe 1920 in Modernism

5. Insel and Literary Value

Epilogue: Vocabularies


Elizabeth Pender’s splendid close readings show how the novels of Barnes, Loy and Rodker express an oblique relation to the "canonical" modernism from which they emerged. Prizing style above structure and using allusion to create poetic density rather than to celebrate tradition, these "new modernists" propose exciting new ways to read twentieth-century fiction.

Peter Nicholls, New York University
Elizabeth Pender has taught English Literature at the Universities of Sydney and Cambridge. With Cathryn Setz, she co-edited Shattered Objects: Djuna Barnes’s Modernism (2019). Her articles have appeared in Modernism/modernity and Critical Quarterly.

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