Tracing Modernist Time “Back through our Mothers”

Bronwen Maher Durocher, Fordham University


Responding to the idea that the innovative approach to time in modernist literature should be understood as a masculine response to the Great “literary war,” bibliographies and anthologies of women’s writing about war extended to women writers of the period what Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis described as a rejection of literary culture of the previous century. Expanding upon the foundational work of queer and feminist scholars like Bonnie Kime Scott, Elaine Showalter, Rita Felski, and Marianne DeKoven, as well as newer publications from Allison Pease, Celia Marshik, and Maria Bucur, this dissertation not only refocuses our approach to the modernist experiments with time to make much more of temporal values that fall under the aegis of Virginia Woolf’s “ordinary mind on an ordinary day” rather than Ezra Pound’s injunction to “make it new,” but also rearranges modernisms’ historical coordinates to account for a wider constellation of texts. Using the precedent Rita Felski’s Doing Time (2000), Rebecca Walkowitz and Douglas Mao’s Bad Modernisms (2006), and Susan Friedman’s Planetary Modernisms (2015) have set before me, this project defines literary modernism or modernisms as not relegated to a definitive time period or to that which responds to the Great “literary war,” but rather any work that draws attention to a shift from a representation of stability and order in time to one that reflects a dissatisfaction with the ordered, stable world’s vision of time. Thus, this dissertation pairs readings of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (1928) with Jane Austen’s Persuasion (1817), Jean Rhys’s Good Morning Midnight (1939) with Emily Dickinson’s “Good Morning, Midnight” (1862), and Nella Larsen’s Quicksand (1928) with George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1872) in order to prove that women writers had already begun uncoupling narrative and lyric from action a century before the modernists were to try it. Unweaving the tightly knit sequence of time in modernist novels by women, then, builds upon what women writers in the nineteenth century had already done and had already done well: they pushed against linear time, unsettled the mechanics of progression, and extended the vision of time in women’s lives beyond the resolution of marriage.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature|Gender studies|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Durocher, Bronwen Maher, "Tracing Modernist Time “Back through our Mothers”" (2023). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI30489437.