Public Programmes, Department for Continuing Education

Contemporary British Fiction

Modernist techniques and themes
Free indirect style When the narrator describes a character’s thoughts or feelings and takes on the character’s speech patterns. This is different from when the narrator directly or indirectly reports the character’s thoughts in inverted commas (direct report) or by using phrases such as ‘he felt like’ or ‘she thought that’ (indirect report). Direct report: The day was sunny and beautiful. She thought to herself, ‘Oh, I have never, ever been so happy and peaceful and felt so much that everything was wonderful!’ Indirect report: The day was sunny and beautiful. She thought to herself that she had never been so happy or peaceful or felt so much that everything was wonderful. Free indirect style: The day was sunny and beautiful. Oh, she had never, ever been so happy and peaceful. Everything was wonderful! The effect of free indirect style is that the reader feels closer to the character even though the character does not address the reader directly. Interiority A character’s internal thoughts, feelings, and idiosyncratic perspective on the world. In realism, the narrator describes these thoughts and feelings through direct or indirect report (see above). In modernism, narrators use different techniques, such as free indirect style, to give us a closer, more intimate view of the character’s mind. Impressionism Representation through subjective sensory impressions rather than mimesis. Modernist texts sometimes linger on visual, auditory, or textual details to convey a character’s or narrator’s ‘sense’ of world, rather than their logical understanding of it. Epiphany A sudden awakening or awareness. Although the term was used by James Joyce, it also relates to moments of profound awareness in the work of other modernist writers, such as Virginia Woolf or Katherine
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© University of Oxford, 2007

Public Programmes, Department for Continuing Education

Contemporary British Fiction

Mansfield. In the modernist sense, epiphany is not necessarily about comprehending information, or about spiritual revelation. Epiphany is often less clear but more profound than this. We might not fully understand what a character’s epiphany involves, either because the character him/herself doesn’t fully understand it, or because the narrator doesn’t explain it to us. Often, a modernist story or moment turns on an epiphany; epiphany doesn’t have to be related to the plot, and the build-up to epiphany can also take the place of plot. Fragmentation A major theme in modernist fiction. Modernist writers rejected the unified, linear world represented by realism, and instead represented the often fragmented nature of experience. In some texts, such as Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, fragmentation is represented in a neutral or positive way—as an exploration of the mind’s movements, or the diffuse ‘luminous halo’ of life. In others, such as T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, fragmentation is a theme conveying the alienation, chaos, and disconnection of modern experience.

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© University of Oxford, 2007

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