Main Purpose: Tired of 19th century predictability, authors and poets sought to employ dynamic but challenging techniques to better reflect the rapid technological, scientific and intellectual change occurring at the turn of the century.

Friedrich Nietzsche – Beyond Good and Evil (1886)

Nietzsche is all-too-often misrepresented as a sordid madman who prophesied the rise of Nazism. He could not have been further from that description. Beyond Good and Evil, in fact, argues with great optimism that civilization will overcome its own “weaknesses” and eventually prosper by virtue of its collective, unbridled will. Many authors and poets would channel such sentiment in their works, layering their work with complexity and references to antiquary texts. It inspired many to attempt “high art” instead of domestic social critiques.

Sigmund Freud – The Interpretation of Dreams (1899)

Freud’s pioneering work in psychoanalysis did more than just influence the field of psychology; The Interpretation of Dreams would forever change how authors and critics understand the world around them. Literature may not only be an expression of our formulated thoughts, but it may also be a raw representation of our subconscious desires. Not only would this alter how one reads literary works, but it would also prompt writers to subvert social norms to communicate ideas. Novels would now deal with touchy subjects like sex, violence, disease and death in ways previously unheard-of ways.

James Joyce – Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)

The novel of formation (also known as Bildungsroman) remained popular well into the 20th century, but Joyce experimented heavily with form and style in this semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age story about growing up a shy and precocious boy in late 19th century Ireland. While the naturalists sought to describe the world in precise, scientific detail, though, Joyce’s accounts of Stephen Daedalus’ childhood reflected the mind of the child, as did his fearful experiences with fire-and-brimstone priests as an adolescent and his experience learning the Humanities as a young adult. Consider the opening sentence and how literally places the reader directly into the mind of the child:

Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow…met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.

The problem with realist accounts is that they were selective; Joyce, on the other hand, described his childhood at the proverbial speed of life, foregoing structured form to demonstrate the malleability of his growth.

T.S. Eliot – The Waste Land (1923)

In an increasingly bleak world riddled by death and disease, it would do no justice to the manifold undercurrents of human suffering to write lofty poetry with stock symbolism and simplistic proclamations. Eliot’s nightmare vision contains dozens of allusions to everything from nursery rhymes to Hindu gods, told in unforgettable, forcefully-rhythmic episodes. Eliot meant for the poem to confound the reader, though. He wanted the reader to desperately seek a higher narrative by bridging together the present state of despair with the Biblical and artistic movements of the past.

Virginia Woolf – To The Lighthouse (1927)

Many authors would attempt stream of consciousness writing, but few–if any–would actually succeed as Woolf did in this deeply-personal meditation upon the life of her mother. Called Mrs.Ramsay in the novel, she holds a family together that owns an estate by the sea near a lighthouse, and the setting reflects the gradual disintegration of ideals and family after the first world war. Woolf’s novel is not as scattered as the continuous flow of language would suggest, however. In fact, she articulates a representation of time perhaps more lucid than any other work that came before it.


  1. “To assess the damage caused European colonial rule in nations all around the world while also reinvigorating these regions with a sense of linguistic and artistic identity”

    Then why are 3 out of the 5 books written by white Europeans?

  2. Second full day of my second visit to Cape Breton. I know being a vitosir gives one a perspective different from a full-time resident, but even so I trust (hope?) that Capers realize the great beauty you all have around you. This is an amazing place. Just sayin’.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s