A year or so after the war…it cannot be said that it is war…it cannot be said that it is war, it cannot be said that it is peace, it can be said it is postwar.
While I was working on my master’s degree at Monmouth University, my favorite course was Dr. Kristin Bluemel’s seminar on intermodernism. Not surprisingly, intermodernism is a term coined by Dr. Bluemel for the, arguably, pretty neglected years between between the two world wars (although Intermodernism cannot only be defined by time).
During this time, novels, memoirs, and essays are being written by writers as varied as George Orwell, Storm Jameson, Dorothy Richardson, Stevie Smith, and Stella Gibbons. Virginia Woolf certainly could, and I would argue, be claimed as an intermodernist writer (we read Three Guineas, and I used it to write my seminar paper, working towards defining an intermodern sex-gender system using Woolf alongside Phyllis Bottome’s anti-fascist, feminist, novel The Mortal Storm).
Bluemel began writing about and attempting to define what Intermodernism is in her 2004 book George Orwell & the Radical Eccentrics: Intermodernism in Literary London. She also edits The Space Between, an academic journal dedicated to the literature and culture of the years between the wars.
In her book, and during our seminars, she argued the writers of this time period fashioned their work and reflected on the emotions of a nation in the aftermath of World War I. Readers of Woolf certainly see this influence in Three Guineas and, especially, Mrs. Dalloway.
Intermodernist writing was often focused on the working and middle classes, socialist and/or “radical” political leanings, and a more “middlebrow” writing style. Often, these writers are somehow “othered” based on their sexuality, ethnicity, or lack of class privilege.
In George Orwell & The Radical Eccentrics, Bluemel argues that these writers are “grounded in the experiences of England’s working-class and ‘working middle-class’ cultures” which do not fit into the same categories that popularized, privileged writers like W.H. Auden, T.S. Eliot, and James Joyce do (Bluemel 2). Their writing attends to politics, whether the domestic life in Woolf or Bottome’s novels, the working class of Orwell’s The Road To Wigan Pier, or the caste system of Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable.
Critics have struggled to place many of these writers within the canon. Many, like Woolf, share some aspects of the modernist aesthetic, but cannot truly be prescribed to that label. Intermodernism isn’t quite just a time period that begins and ends between the wars, but more a style of socially conscious writing and discourse shared amongst writers of varying ethnicities, genders, levels of privilege, and politics. Many of these writers, Woolf included, have drifted in and out of the canon, fates after their death attached to those outside of academia.
Bluemel continues the discussion of this fascinating literary period in the new anthology she edited Intermodernism: Literary Culture in Mid-Twentieth-Century Britain, which brings together leading scholars on the period to further discuss the merits of the period. If the Blogging Woolf community is interested, I have plenty more to say about Intermodernism.