Picturing Modernity: Modernism and Graphic Narrative

Olivia Badoi, Fordham University


"Picturing Modernity: Modernism and Graphic Narrative" is first and foremost a project of recuperation, as it seeks to bring the all-but-forgotten genre of the woodcut book back into the public eye. The woodcut book—a form that proliferated throughout the United States and Europe roughly between 1917 and 1951—crosses the lines of genre to include long-form narrative fiction, historical nonfiction, and poetry. Composed entirely of woodcuts or wood engravings, the woodcut book resides at the intersection of visual art and literature. From this overlooked, yet generative hybrid position, the woodcut book can help us re-examine the categories of visual and literary modernisms, as well as the relationship between them. As a transnational study, “Picturing Modernity” places special emphasis on visual dialogues, exchanges, and negotiations between artists in the United States, Western and Central Europe, and, in doing so, identifies moments of shared artistic process and aesthetics in different cultural environments. “Picturing Modernity” examines woodcut books by Lynd Ward, Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf, Helen West Heller, and Helena Bochořáková-Dittrichová, which participate in what I have termed arboreal modernism, a transnational phenomenon which takes the arboreal as both subject and material. These artists craft woodcut books of narrative and poetry which showcase a multivalent and complex interdependence between humans and trees. Moreover, as their name suggests, these books are made from arboreal materials—they are printed by an ancient technique of carving images on to wood and printing them on paper. Drawing upon archives at the Library of Congress and Georgetown University, my research has thus far uncovered an unknown book of woodcut poems, and an unpublished woodcut manuscript, both by women artists. But more than a project of recuperation, "Picturing Modernity" seeks to redefine what constitutes the "modernist novel." In doing so, this project stands as a major intervention in both literary and art historical studies.

Subject Area

Art history|American literature|British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Badoi, Olivia, "Picturing Modernity: Modernism and Graphic Narrative" (2018). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10936641.