James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds and Modernist Writing

James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds and Modernist Writing

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James Joyce's 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man' and Flann O'Brien's 'At Swim-Two-Birds' and Modernist Writing


The Twentieth Century found literature with a considerably different attitude and frame-of-mind than had the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Two hundred years is, of course, a long time to allow change within genres, but after the fairly gradual progression of the novel as a form, its change in the hands of modernism happened rapidly in comparison. Explaining how texts within the framework of modernist writing are “different” require laying out from what they are different, how, and why. A direct cause of, and coinciding with, literature’s abruptly changing face was the Industrial Revolution and its subsequent changes upon the world. The largely realist approach to literature had served its course in widening the scope of the literary audience to classes other than the ruling—mostly to the rising middle class with its increasing leisure time and importance as a market. This, hand-in-hand with the new ways of exploring, changing, viewing, and recording the world, signaled that a change was bound to occur in art, particularly in the literary arts. Victorian writers began to express their distaste with class systems and their fears of science but overall kept a fairly straight-forwardly linear approach to narrative. Those fears of science and how people interpreted its discoveries, combined with the decreasing necessity of near-journalistic novel-writing because of telegraphs and cameras, the dwindling power of Britain as an empire, and wars with deadlier outcomes than ever before stripped away many of the charms of realist writing. The change that had begun in the Victorian age led to the more drastic ...


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...ames. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2004.

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O'brien, Flann. At Swim-Two-Birds. Normal: Dalkey Archive P, 2005.

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Schutte, William M., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.

Watt, Ian. The Rise of the Novel. London: Pimlico, 2000.

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