Prof. Amardeep Singh (“Deep”)

Spring 2007

Lehigh University


Office: 221 Drown Hall


Office hours: Wednesdays, generally by appointment (email is best)



Blackboard site:, or



Brief Description


This course explores in depth literature of the early 20th century, a revolutionary era in literary history. Politics around the world was transformed by the rise of Communism and Fascism; two devastating World Wars occurred; relations between men and women entered a new era following the advent of psychoanalysis; and the world saw the rise of a new musical form (jazz) as well as the advent of cinema. Most importantly, it was during this era that every conventional notion about literature -- how to tell a story, write a poem, or put on a play -- was turned on its head. We'll look at important works from some of the key players in the modernist scene, especially in England and France, and read background materials that help define modernism, explain its goals, and consider its lasting impact on contemporary literary style.


Required Texts


1. Virginia Woolf Reader by Virginia Woolf
2. To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf
3. Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats, by W.B. Yeats
4. Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein, by Gertrude Stein
5. The Book of Salt, by Monique Truong
6. Regeneration, by Pat Barker
7. Collected Fictions, by Jorge Luis Borges
8. Complete Stories, by Franz Kafka


English 385

Spring 2007


Tentative Syllabus

(NOTE: Readings and paper deadlines are likely to change slightly. Check your email regularly, and don’t be afraid to ask if you have any confusion.)


January 16        INTRODUCTION

                                    Imagism: Pound, H.D.


January 18        Manifestoes (about 40 pages worth of reading; photocopies handed out)

                                    F.T. Marinetti, excerpt from Futurist Manifesto

                                    Andre Breton, excerpt from Surrealist Manifesto

                                    Amy Lowell, excerpt from “Tendencies in Modernist Poetry

                                    Guillaume Apollinaire, Excerpt from “Cubist Painters”


January 23        From the Woolf Reader: Five short stories (121-188)

                        Due: Short reading (2 pages) of one of the stories


January 25        From the Woolf Reader: Essays (189-291; key essays include “Modern

                        Fiction and “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown”)


January 30        Woolf, To the Lighthouse

February 1       To the Lighthouse

                                    “A Sketch of the Past” in Woolf Reader (3-40)


February 6       To the Lighthouse

February 8       To the Lighthouse

                                    Excerpt from Joyce, Ulysses


February 13     Due: Paper on Woolf: 5 pages

February 15     Monique Truong, Book of Salt (relates to Gertrude Stein)


February 20     Book of Salt

February 22     Book of Salt


February 27     Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons

March 1           More readings in Stein. Stein and Picasso (discussion of art)


March 7           SPRING BREAK

March 9           SPRING BREAK


March 14         Due: Paper on Stein and Truong (5 pages)

March 16         Yeats (selection from the Collected Poems to be announced)


[Possible trip to Philadelphia Museum of Art Saturday, March 18]


March 21         Yeats

March 23         Yeats

                        Due: Close reading of a Yeats poem due (2-3 pages)


March 28         Pat Barker, Regeneration

                        Poems of Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen

March 30         Regeneration


April 3              Regeneration

April 5              Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions (specific stories to be announced)


April 10            Borges

April 12            Borges

                        Due: Short paper on Borges (2-3 pages)


April 17            Franz Kafka, Collected Stories (specific stories to be announced)

April 19            Kafka


April 24            Kafka

April 26            LAST DAY OF CLASSES: T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land


Final paper due: Friday, May 4 – on the stories of Borges and Kafka (10 pages)


Opening Notes/Lecture


I should begin with a warning: some of the readings in this class are going to be difficult. I am going to make an effort to give you the tools to understand them, and we’re going to spend time working on difficult passages in class. I’m also not going to overload you with long readings.


There are two main ways to explain the difficulty. First, I’m someone who believes there’s value in working with difficult material. You’re challenged to try and find things in a novel or a short story that aren’t there on the surface. While the readings aren’t going to be long, I am going to ask you to take your time reading things, and even look over difficult passages twice or three times. That is really the best way to comprehend Virginia Woolf or Franz Kafka.


But perhaps more importantly, a sense of difficulty – or at least, difference from existing norms and conventions – was exactly what these writers were after. The modernist era  was full of experimentation and attempts to push literature to a new level. Specifically, the modernist writers were rebelling against novelistic realism, which was dominant in the late 19th century. If a realist novel often has a stable cast of characters, one main protagonist, and a conventional plot that ends with people getting married, the modernists aimed to test the possibility of novels with multiple points of view, or main characters who might die half way through the text. If in realism the novelist had to explain exactly how character A relates to character B (and the two characters must meet, and have a meaningful interaction), in modernism, there’s always the possibility that Character A and Character B don’t ever meet. (Mrs. Dalloway) Certain things can remain unexplained.


The difference isn’t just in the structure of the novel – or poetry – it also goes to the level of the sentence itself. The modernist movement is best known for the invention of the Stream of Consciousness technique. This is strongly associated with Virginia Woolf. though she didn’t personally invent it, she did in many ways perfect it. We’ll say more about how this works when we get into Woolf, but for now we can say that Stream of Consciousness consists of freely moving from point-of-view to point-of-view and from present to past – without the usual narrative markers. In stream of consciousness writing, the point of view of the omniscient narrator (the person telling the story) might blend into the point of view or voice of the characters in that story. The goal isn’t to throw the reader off or cause confusion, but to reveal something about how people think: my voice is different from yours, but isn’t it possible there’s some overlap?



Chronologically, the peak era of modernism was 1910-1945. Why this period in particular is not an easy question to answer. There are some important historical changes in the air, and also some defining events. Modernist writers were responding to these, though not necessarily all of them, nor were all of the developments of equal importance to all writers. In fact, what we’ll find is that each writer we’ll look at has a very particular set of interests that she or he is interested in. Almost no one attempted to take on all of the historical transformations that were occurring. (The one exception might be James Joyce, whose Ulysses is in some sense a broad synthesis of everything happening. But Ulysses is some 800 pages long, and so difficult it requires a class unto itself.)



            Psychoanalysis/sexuality: transformation in the idea of the self. Psychoanalysis

            had a    surprisingly large impact on writers, much more than we might expect

            given the relative separation of psychology from literature today. In the early

            1900s, Freud’s theories of the unconscious and his approach to interpreting

            dreams gave writers a whole new concept of the psyche to think about. Though

            Freud isn’t directly referenced in Woolf or Joyce or Kafka, it’s clear that his

            theories have influenced their work.


One theme you’ll see in much modernist writing (especially with men)  is a certain sense of pessimism or alienation. Things aren’t holding together exactly right: society has gone from a stable system to one where the meaning of things isn’t really assured. In some sense, some of the male modernists were actually a bit conservative in their approach to social values, though they were very still interested in experimenting with literary form.


Though we won’t be reading much of the more scandalous products of modernism, it’s also important to note that modernism was also an era where serious literary authors attempted to break Victorian concepts of morality, and be frank and explicit about sexuality. Joyce in particular pushed the boundaries of what could be considered decent. But this was also the era when D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover was banned. Radclyffe Hall’s novel The Well of Loneliness was also banned for a direct description of a lesbian relationship. And controversial books and plays that weren’t banned sometimes caused riots – something that’s hard to imagine today. The Irish writer, J.M. Synge, had to deal with a riot of theater goers in Dublin when his play mentioned women’s petticoats. And Igor Stravinsky’s modernist ballet, The Rites of Spring, cause its audience to riot at its premier as well at the atonal music and violent dance steps, which were very unlike traditional ballet.


Marxism: international communism leads to transformation in the idea of what kind of world could be possible. Radical utopianism goes from something people talk about in drawing rooms to something revolutionary armies tried to implement for real.


Fascism/Nazism and World War II: The kind of artistic exploration that was happening in between the two world wars came to an end after the end of World War II. After that war, artists seem to adopt a different outlook (and by the 1960s, “postmodernism” would be in full gear). Most of the modernists in fact didn’t live to see the end of World War II (Yeats, Joyce, and Woolf were all dead), so in some ways World War II is a good ending-point for modernism because so many of the pre-war generation are dead.

            People have often said that Kafka is a particularly good writer for thinking about totalitarian governments. Though he wrote his stories well before World War II, growing up as a Jew in Czechoslovakia, he experienced persecution on a daily basis.


World Wars: The First World War actually didn’t have much to do with ideological questions of Communism or Fascism. But it did have a major impact on every modernist writer we’re looking at in this course, partly because

            Virginia Woolf

Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sasson (war poets)—talked about in Pat Barker’s novel


Colonialism/imperialism: This was also the period during which the great European colonial powers began to disintegrate. Ireland became independent in 1921, and then India in 1947. In this class, the questions about colonialism will come up when we discuss Yeats, who is an interesting figure because he’s undeniably proud of Irish culture and asserts his Irishness. But he’s also deeply ambivalent about the nationalist movement in Ireland (the “Republicans”), and some of his most famous poems are criticisms of the Irish political scene, particularly the use of terroristic violence. He also was very disappointed that the predominantly Catholic Republicans were so hostile to modern art and freethinking – Yeats was an Anglican.

Aside from Yeats, there isn’t much reference to colonialism in the major authors in this course, though some of the issues involved will be in Monique Truong’s Book of Salt. 



            Other technological transformations:

                        Telephone: Instantaneous communication

Radio: Instantaneous communication on a mass-scale (makes newspapers slightly obsolete)

                        Cinema: Changes the understanding of “reality” in a certain way

                        Light bulb/electricity

                        Automobile: Changes the shape of the city.



Our center of focus is literature written in England, though we’re also going to branch off into some writers who were doing similar things in other parts of the world. In past versions of this course I’ve really emphasized the Britishness, and taught books that didn’t go over well in the interest of giving students a sense of completion. In this course, I’m trying something difference, and only teaching books and writers I’m personally very passionate about – without worrying too much about whether they’re British or not. This allows us to look at the great Czech writer Franz Kafka and the great Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges. Both are extremely important figures in the modernist short story.


But they found this wasn’t so easy to do; many writers actually ended up discovering they were interested in the legacy of the past after all. Some of the most famous poets of modernism ended up partially rejecting their initial “modern” posture in favor of an embrace of literary tradition. Yeats and T.S. Eliot


In some cases, you can learn as much or more from contemporary interpretations of the era as you can from reading the works directly. So we have two novels – Monique Truong’s Book of Salt (about Gertrude Stein and her social circle) and Pat Barker’s Regeneration that have been written in the past twenty years. I like Monique Truong’s book because it puts a very unconventional face on one of the most popular modernists of the era, Gertrude Stein. Like T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and H.D., Gertrude Stein was an American writer who really found her voice while living abroad. In Stein’s case the place to be was Paris (for the others, it was London). This is a novel that is in some sense a study of Stein and her partner, Alice B. Toklas – but it’s told from the point of view of Stein’s cook. The novel was published three years ago, and I’m putting it in because I think it will help us understand who Gertrude Stein was, and what she was after in her poetry. [Stein’s poetry is probably the most difficult thing on our syllabus]

            I’m also assigning Pat Barker’s Regeneration for a similar reason. Like The Book of Salt, Regeneration is based on exhaustive documentary research on a group of real people who all lived through World War I – especially the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. The novel tells you more in some ways than just reading the poems alone would. We’ll also be looking at Owen and Sassoon’s poetry as we’re reading the book (though in this case the poetry is much more user-friendly than Stein’s).