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Even More Modernists: Pound, Stein, and Mansfield

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  • 0:01 Modernist Literature
  • 1:02 Ezra Pound
  • 2:19 Gertrude Stein
  • 3:22 Katherine Mansfield
  • 4:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, explore a few major figures in modernist literature who helped define the 20th century, including Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and Katherine Mansfield. Test your understanding of these figures with a brief quiz.

Modernist Literature

How do we define something as being modern? When exactly did the modern world begin? According to English novelist Virginia Woolf, the modern world began on or about December 1910. Okay, now obviously the answer isn't quite that simple. But as Woolf pointed out the world was changing in the early 20th century. New technologies, new ideas and industrial global wars changed the way that people saw the world, and this hit the arts in a major way, leading to the development of modernism, a rejection of traditional artistic rules and rise in individual experimentation.

In literature, this meant breaking from the traditional expectations about plot, structure, rhyme and verse, and experimenting with new ways to capture the attitudes and experiences of people in the 20th century. Out with the old, in with the new. In with the modern.

Ezra Pound

To express the attitudes of the modern age, intellectuals had to reject the conventions of the past and look to new experimental theories. That's where we find Ezra Pound, expatriate American modernist poet of the 20th century. Pound was one of the most influential writers of modernist literature and captured the attitude of this movement with his often-quoted mantra: 'Make it new!'

How do you turn something into a modernist work? Make it new!

Pound himself was most associated with developing the modernist style of imagism, a literary movement focused on the precision of imagery and clear, sharp language. Imagist poetry was also noted for its free verse, the lack of consistent meter or rhyme pattern. Focusing instead on more natural rhythms. This was a sharp contrast to the flowery, strictly regulated poetry of the late 19th century. Pound is credited as being one of the first major developers of modernist poetry, drawing inspiration from nontraditional sources, such as ancient Chinese poetry, rather than European classics.

Gertrude Stein

Another influential writer to embrace the new modernist attitude was Gertrude Stein, American modernist novelist and poet of the early 20th century. Stein was a passionate writer, experimenting with bringing new ideas into novels, plays, short stories and poems. Her work is characterized by a playful, conversational and humorous tone that emulates the rambling of the mind, which in literature is called the 'stream of consciousness.'

Listen to this quote from one of Stein's writings: 'When I sleep I sleep and do not dream because it is as well that I am what I seem when I am in my bed and dream.'

Can you see how rather than a strict structure, the sentence feels as if it was written as it was imagined, reflecting that stream of consciousness? That's Stein's style. Streaming, humorous and pointedly rejecting traditional ideas of literature.

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