Illegitimate Freedom : Informality in Modernist Literature, 1900–1940 book cover
1st Edition

Illegitimate Freedom
Informality in Modernist Literature, 1900–1940

ISBN 9780367444624
Published October 26, 2021 by Routledge
180 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Illegitimate Freedom: Informality in Modernist Literature, 1900 - 1940 is the first study of informality in modernist literature. Differentiating informality from intimacy in its introduction, the book discusses the informal in relation with sensory experience, aesthetic presentation, ethical deliberation or action, and social attitudes within modernist works. It examines these works for particular nuances of the word "informality" in each of its chapters in the following thematic sequence: informality that offers humour, interpretive freedom, and promiscuity as counters to self-absorption in works by Virginia Woolf; rebuttals to male priorities in liberalism through "feminine informality" in several short stories by Katherine Mansfield; contempt for colloquialism and intimacy, tinged with class-anxieties and crises of attitude, in T. S. Eliot’s poetry; resistance to disgust in James Joyce’s novels; and the fusion of irreverence, protest, and praise in W. H. Auden’s writings before 1940. The book’s conclusion considers the risks of informality through a discussion of what it calls "inverted dignity." The theoretical aspects of the book offer insights into Lockean liberalism, the ethical dimensions of what Hélène Cixous termed "feminine writing," relations of sublimity and domesticity, Sigmund Freud’s arguments on humour and melancholia, and recent affect theory’s—as well as Immanuel Kant’s and Friedrich Nietzsche’s—views on disgust, linking these with modernism. This wide range of engagement makes this study relevant for those interested in literary studies, critical theory, and philosophy.

Table of Contents


1. Introduction: Informality as Illegitimate Freedom 

2. Chapter One: "Intoxicated Sense": Humour and Promiscuity in Woolf’s To the

Lighthouse and Orlando

3. Chapter Two: Marking Absence: Mansfield’s Feminine Informality vs. Lockean


4. Chapter Three: Eliotic Contempt

5. Chapter Four: Joyce’s Challenges to Disgust

6. Chapter Five: "Inverted Hypocrisy": Auden’s Informal Pedagogy

7. Conclusion: An Openness to Misreading: The Risks of Informality

Works Cited


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Gaurav Majumdar is Professor of English at Whitman College. His publications include the book Migrant Form: Anti-Colonial Aesthetics in Joyce, Rushdie, and Ray.


"Cool modernism has always been the most informal. In Illegitimate Freedom: Informality in Modernist Literature, 1900-1940, Gaurav Majumdar brilliantly limns this informality as a crucial philosophic, ethical and even geopolitical issue. On the one hand, modernist informality celebrates new forms of intimacy: informal styles are ripostes to the Lockean western liberal consensus, one-upping canonical ideas of freedom and of (informal, rule-breaking) individual choice. On the other, engaging with the new critique of planetary modernisms, Majumdar also shows how the modernists’ informality is key to their political impact. Ranging from Mansfield to W.H Auden, both supremely ‘informal’ writers, the book centers on the ostentatious informality of Woolf, Joyce and Eliot. Gracefully written, coolly informal: Gaurav Majumdar here reveals to us one feature of modernism we should never take for granted. This is a thought-provoking and exciting reappraisal."

Enda Duffy, Professor, English, UC Santa Barbara