1st Edition

The Uses of Obscurity The Fiction of Early Modernism

By Allon White Copyright 1981

    Originally published in 1981, this book examines why and how textual difficulty became a norm of modernist literature and questions how we can begin to account for the forms of obscurity and difficulty which developed in the late 19th Century and which became so important to modernism. The author argues that the decline of realism entailed the growth of ‘symptomatic’ or ‘subtextual’ reading which tended to treat fiction as compromised autobiography. This kind of reading left the author dangerously isolated and exposed in the midst of a newly sophisticated public. Within this general cultural perspective, the book traces the private anxieties that led George Meredith, Joseph Conrad and Henry James to conceal themselves within their complex and resistant fictions. It discusses opacity in the texts themselves – embarrassment and shame in Meredith; ‘engimas’ in Conrad; and the fear of vulgarity and knowledge in Henry James.

    1. Obscurity and Enlightenment 2. Obscure Writing and Private Life, 1880-1914 3. Truth and Impurity 4. ‘Godiva’ to the Gossips: Meredith and the Language of Shame 5. Conrad and the Rhetoric of Enigma 6. ‘The Deterrent Fact’: Vulgarity and Obscurity in James.


    Allon White

    ‘The outcome is a criticism which is pleasantly unpretentious, yet well able to handle sophisticated theory…’ Jeremy Lane, The Yearbook of English Studies, Vol 15.

    ‘White has given the reader abundant food and numerous directions for thought.’ Eugene Hollahan, Studies in the Novel, Vol 14, No. 3.