Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Technology and 20th Century Brit Lit

The novels we have read together this semester have covered different decades and social classes, and have crossed continents. Yet no matter the time or place, each of these novels (with the possible exception of Molloy) has had something to say about the increasing mechanization of Western society. In The Waves, there were trains. In The Golden Notebook, there were nuclear bombs. In Crash, there was... the whole book! In Never Let Me Go, it had gone a step further to the mechanization of actual human bodies. (If anybody wants to comment with good examples from Women in Love, Voyage in the Dark, and Loving, you would be my best friend.)

The Industrial Age changed the face of Britain forever, perhaps more so than in any other nation. It resulted in colonial expansion, a rising middle-class, and social turmoil. If literature is any indication, it seems that ever since, the Brits have been struggling to reconcile technology with the organic. In none of the novels I mentioned above was technology a positive presence. It can be destructive - of civilizations as in TGB or of intimacy as in Crash and The Waves. In all cases, mechanization leads to the degradation of the human. But all these imagined universes are dependent on technology, sometimes for their very survival. It's as if these books are trying to tell us we've made a deal with the devil.


  1. Women in Love features the collieries and their sooty pollution, the ground-into the earth laborers, the mechanical precision and rigidity of Gerald. Voyage in the Dark presents something more like late-industrial society, no clear examples of mechanization. It does present a clearly capitalist society, and women's bodies (among other things) are thoroughly commodified (among other things). In Loving, mechanization, like the war, seems to be something external, something outside the magic circle. This is somewhat strange, because the world outside the magic circle is the unfamiliar one of unprecedented mechanical, dehumanizing war, but in fairy tales generically outside the circle of magic is ordinary, familiar experience. Interesting how Loving seems to invert this trope somehow? Pre-mechanical no less artificial than hyper-mechanical?

    1. Is it worth noting that the weather vein/arrow in Loving, the only thing that could even remotely be called a machine (at least to my remembrance), is broken when we first see it? And yet, even when broken, because of the way it pointed it could have tipped someone with the right information off about the affair between the wife and the Captain. So, even when broken, technology still intrudes upon the peace of the magic circle?

      Women in Love also had Loerke, the artist who wants to turn machinery into art, who believes that "There is not only no need for our places of work to be ugly, but their ugliness ruins the work, in the end" (Women In Love, 424).

  2. One thing that comes to mind when I think of Molloy is the instance with the Bicycle. I would view that as a type of technology. What is most interesting to me about that scene is that he just comes across the Bicycle and assumes that it is his. This could indicate a passive view of technology in the sense that it is just available for claiming without being a big deal. It could also be viewed as something that has been consistent because the bicycle looks the same as it has for a while even though it most likely is not the same bicycle.

  3. I completely forgot about the collieries in Women in Love, gracias. The idea that Vincent alludes to, that commodification and mechanization are linked in these novels, is very interesting to me. I suppose I was drawing that same link in my original post, but I didn't see the assumption then.


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