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A Summary and Analysis of James Joyce’s ‘The Boarding House’

‘The Boarding House’ is one of the 15 stories that make up James Joyce’s 1914 collection of short stories, Dubliners. As we’ve remarked before, Dubliners is now regarded as one of the landmark texts of modernist literature, but initially sales were poor, with just 379 copies being sold in the first year (famously, 120 of these were bought by Joyce himself). You can read ‘The Boarding House’ here before proceeding to our summary and analysis of the story.

In summary, ‘The Boarding House’ focuses on Mrs Mooney, a married woman who has separated from her violent husband, a butcher, and set up a boarding house on Hardwicke Street in Dublin. She has a steady stream of lodgers staying with her, especially men from Liverpool and the Isle of Man, and is known by many of her guests as The Madam on account of her imposing figure (and manner). Read the rest of this entry

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A Summary and Analysis of Virginia Woolf’s ‘Kew Gardens’

On one of Woolf’s earliest short stories

Written in 1917 around the same time she wrote ‘The Mark on the Wall’, ‘Kew Gardens’ is one of Virginia Woolf’s best-known short stories. Yet what the story means is far less well-known – if there is one ‘meaning’ that is ultimately knowable. A short summary and closer analysis of ‘Kew Gardens’ should help to provide a little clarity on what is a rather elusive and delicately symbolic story.

In summary, ‘Kew Gardens’ focuses on the titular gardens in London, on a hot July day. As so often with modernist literature, the focus here is on a moment or a series of moments, rather than a grand, unified narrative or plot. A husband and wife walk past the flower bed with their children, all of them lost in their own thoughts: the husband, Simon, thinks about a woman he’d asked to marry him fifteen years earlier (but whom he never did marry). He asks his wife, Eleanor, if she thinks of the past, and she tells him she remembers being kissed by an old lady with a wart on her nose, twenty years ago while she and a group of other girls were painting at the side of a lake. Read the rest of this entry

The Anxiety of the Thirties: Richard Aldington’s Life Quest

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads Richard Aldington’s Life Quest, the modernist long poem that time forgot

The standout modernist long poem of the 1920s was The Waste Land. T. S. Eliot’s poem redefined what modernism could do in poetry, influenced by James Joyce’s example of the ‘mythical method’ in his novel Ulysses and the various Symbolist and imagist experiments in French and English verse. It captured a moment and mood of post-war desolation and uncertainty, a world in ruin plagued by fears and anxieties, ennui and a lack of self-confidence. But what happened to the modernist long poem in the 1930s at another moment of anxiety and transition has been less well-covered by scholars and critics of modernism.

The thirties belong to W. H. Auden, and to a lesser extent those who moved in his orbit but were good, or very good, poets in their own right: Stephen Spender, Louis MacNeice, the ‘Pylon poets’. Curiously, Auden more or less began his poetic career with a highly unusual work, caught between Read the rest of this entry