Professional Study: The Modernist Novel

Autor: prof. Andrei Elena
Colegiul Economic Buzău

The turn-of-the-century writers, whose works record the passage from the realist to the psychologically-oriented novel, agree that, if there should be a change in point of novel writing, this change should reside in a shift of focus from the description of the outer world to the representation of the inner world. This shift of interest is accompanied by an increased concern with the mechanisms of the art of writing.
What gives the extent of a writer’s value is the power of seeing. The novelist is a keen observer endowed with imagination. To reach the status of the artist, the novelist should be in perfect control of the medium, of language and of form. Henry James theoretically expresses and practically proves by his novels that the novel represents a structure. Character, incident, narrator, point of view, plot are relevant only to the extent to which they contribute to the interpretation of the novel as a whole. As a critic, he sees fiction as art only in the unity of form and content.
The inseparability of form and content prevents the reader from judging the work of art by any other standards than the artistic ones. The rest of values (ideological, ethical, political or economic) present in the work, likely to produce various reactions on the part of the reader, of acceptance or rejection, should be subordinated to the artistic value. Conrad insists that art should be judged only by aesthetic standards.
In modernism the outer world is not important because it is socially conditioned; the individual is censored and cannot express himself freely. The modernists pay attention to the inner world, sometimes unknown to the individual himself, more complex, far richer than outer world, but more difficult to express. What is language good at? Language is our best instrument of knowing and our instrument of ordering the surrounding reality and it is what helps us put order in the reality. Language is also capable of expressing consciousness, the mind, which is complex and extremely disordered.
Modernists came up with the so-called techniques to reveal consciousness or consciousness revealing techniques. In a third-person narrative context, the various techniques used to investigate the mind, bring readers into contact with the characters’ thoughts, feelings, emotions and sensations.
‘In the eighteenth and nineteenth century novels characters were allowed the freedom to express their thoughts and feelings in the form of the quoted monologue only after elaborate introductions on the part of the omniscient narrators. The narrator’s and the character’s voice were felt as clearly distinct.'(1)
In modernist novels, the separation line between the narrator’s discourse and the character’s inner discourse is wiped off. The entry into the character’s mind is smooth and almost imperceptible, marked grammatically by the change of person and tense and stylistically by adopting the character’s idiom. The narrated monologue being a form of rendering the character’s thoughts under the guise of the narrator’s words, the plunge into the character’s mind is far from being abrupt. (fragment)