Many a critic, determined to speak with clarity and certitude upon the dauntingly ambiguous subject of modern poetry in English—or upon modernism in general, for that matter—has found himself invoking the famous words of Virginia Woolf, who, in her 1924 lecture “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown,” claimed to know precisely when the modern era began. “On or about December, 1910,” she declared firmly, “human character changed.” Meaning what? Meaning that sometime around 1910, many men and women of intelligence and culture—traumatized by, among other things, the technological revolution, Darwin’s challenge to conventional notions about the sacredness and significance of the human condition, and Freud’s teachings on consciousness and sexuality—found themselves groping toward a somewhat different understanding of the nature of reality, a new means of responding...


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