Modern Literature I


The text you have here originated as a sequence of 8 talks delivered at Beijing University, Beijing Normal University, and Beihang University in the fall of 2013. Despite the overall title, they’re not by any means meant to offer a comprehensive survey of the period in question. What I wanted to do, rather, was to focus on what I perceived as key topics or concepts that might be said to dominate 19th and early 20th century cultural history. In treating these, I had 2 larger objectives. First, I wanted to show the payoff from an interdisciplinary approach that looked at a given topic from a variety of perspectives, each showing how that topic got developed within a particular field. Second, I wanted to propose a larger narrative that would span the entire period. In many recent & current studies, I felt, a sense of that larger narrative was often in danger of being lost. To retrieve it, we need to ask all the hard questions about relationships between forces and circumstances, and specifically about causal connectives, that informed so many of the great 19th century historical projects. To ask these questions doesn’t of course imply certainty about the answers. But it does imply that to propose answers seems meaningful, insofar as it allows us to arrive at a sense of structure we wouldn’t otherwise have.

Acknowledgements and Credits

In preparing and delivering these talks, I’ve incurred many obligations which I’d like to mention briefly here. First, my warm thanks to the organizers at the different Beijing universities whose encouragement and arrangements made these talks possible: to Gao Fengfeng at Beijing University most of all, but also Jiang Hong at Beijing Normal and (Anna) Min Song at Beihang. Much of the larger narrative scheme was worked out as a result of discussions with Huang Chun about her work on Arnold, Ruskin, & J.S. Mill. In a more general way, I owe a lot to the advice and support I received from Su Weixing during the fall of 2012. I also wish to thank the audiences (faculty and students alike) for their thoughtful questions during the Q & A sessions that followed these talks, questions that often prompted me to rethink and to present my material in a slightly different way in the text given here. I’m no less grateful for their unfailingly warm welcome.

In their original presentation, and in their present form, these talks required technical expertise from people much more adept than myself. I especially want to thank Sam Gingher and Mujin Kim in the U.S., and Shou Chenlin in China, for all they did to work out the problems with Powerpoint & the musical excerpts. Without their help, live presentation wouldn’t have been possible. My thanks also to Brook Liu (Liu Shui) and Sophie Suo for a helpful assist. For the website, I’m immensely grateful to Tina Stenger. Her imaginative treatment of the material has opened up a whole new range of expressive possibilities.

A number of the talks also drew on expertise in fields with which I’m only distantly familiar. For support in these matters I want to thank Tim Ehlen and Sam Gingher for enlightenment about the Beethoven, Chopin, & Brahms passages, Frederick Noyes for his architectural knowledge about the Crystal Palace and its modern successors, my sister, Jean, for background on Moretto (relevant to Walter Pater), and Vicki Mahaffey for much helpful advice about material (biographical & otherwise) on the working methods of James Joyce.

In a different vein, I owe the photos of Home House and Wynn House (both in London) to the hospitality of A.J. Stuart Smith, manager of Home House, and to the custodian of Wynn House, who generously made possible my time at these two landmarks of Georgian architecture.

Finally, for assistance in innumerable ways beyond those mentioned here, I’m grateful, as always, to Cara Ryan.

References to Powerpoint (PPT) slides within the text take the following form: PPT 2:1 = PPT 2 (i.e., the 2nd PPT set of the PPT attachments), slide 1.

References to works cited in the text:

Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit. Tr. A.V. Miller (Oxford: Clarendon Pr., 1977)

The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, ed. Pierro Sraffa & M.H. Dobb Cambridge UP, 1951)

Lord Byron, The Complete Poetical Works vol. V: Don Juan, ed. Jerome McGann (Oxford: Clarendon Pr., 1986)

The Works of John Ruskin, ed. E.T. Cook & Alexander Wedderburn. [Library Edition] (London: George Allen, 1903-12)

Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments. Tr. Howard Hong & Edna Hong. vol. 1: Text (Princeton UP, 1992)

Herman Melville, Pierre. Ed. Harrison Hayford et al. (Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1971)

Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit. Ed. Harvey Sucksmith (Oxford: Clarendon Pr., 1979)


J.A.M. Whistler, The Gentle Art of Making Enemies. Rpt. New York: Dover, 1967

The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, ed. Ian Small. Vol. IV: Criticism, ed. Josephine Guy (Oxford: Clarendon Pr., 2007)

The Works of Walter Pater. [Library Edition] (London: Macmillan, 1910)


Henry James, The Golden Bowl. [New York Edition] 2 vols. (London & New York: Scribner, 1909)


T.S. Eliot, Collected Poems 1909-1962 (New York: Harcourt, Brace 1970)

James Joyce, Ulysses. [The Corrected Text] Ed. Hans Walter Gabler et al. (New York: Random House, 1986)


Marcel Proust, A la recherche du temps perdu. Ed. Jean-Yves Tadié et al. (Bibliothèque de la Pléiade) 4 vols. (Paris: Gallimard, 1987-89)