The Surprising Times of the Modernist Novel
This project looks at representations of the daily newspaper in the modernist novel, focusing on the newspaper's frequent role as the agent of shock, surprise, or discontinuity. My central contention is that time in modernist novels is not, as some have asserted, simultaneous. Moments of stoppage and sudden recognition predominate in the modern novel, and its uneven temporality challenges accepted accounts of how novel and newspaper readers imagine the nation based on simultaneous time. In answer to two lines of recent questions in modernist criticism: one about the role of shock and the other about the relationship of modernism to nation, this dissertation illuminates the alternative communities produced by non-simultaneous, surprising time in the modern novel.
I begin with a brief discussion of Virginia Woolf's Between the Acts (1939), a novelistic testament to the constancy of British village life against the shock of war that figures the newspaper as part of that shock. I then turn to Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent (1907), which contests the ground the novel has ceded to New Journalism by itself staging some of the New Journalism's terroristic assaults on readers. Chapter two looks at James Joyce's Dubliners (1914) and Ulysses (1922), works that offer a version of nationalism that makes other times instead of other places simultaneous, undermining the imperial simultaneity of Greenwich Mean Time. My last chapter considers the Newsreels of John Dos Passos's U.S.A. trilogy, which I will argue index Dos Passos's increasing resistance to the rising tide of public relations. I argue that U.S.A. valorizes a common, anonymous American body over a corporate Americanism symbolized by simultaneous consumption. My coda considers Jennifer Egan's Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad (2011), drawing a comparison between newspapers in the early twentieth century and social media in the early twenty-first.