The Aeroplane as a Modernist Symbol: Aviation in the Works of H.G. Wells, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, and John Dos Passos
Haji Amran, Rinni Marliyana
Date: 8 May 2015
University of Exeter
PhD in English
This thesis investigates the rise of aviation and its influence on modernist literature in the first half of the twentieth century, arguing that the emergence of heavier-than-air flight facilitated experimentation and innovation in modernist writing in order to capture the new experience of flight and its impact on the modern world. ...
This thesis investigates the rise of aviation and its influence on modernist literature in the first half of the twentieth century, arguing that the emergence of heavier-than-air flight facilitated experimentation and innovation in modernist writing in order to capture the new experience of flight and its impact on the modern world. Previous critical discussions largely focus on militarist and nationalist ideas and beliefs regarding the uses of the aeroplane, and in doing so overlook the diversity of attitudes and approaches towards aviation that had greater influence on modernist thought. Through a historicist reading of a selection of modernist texts, this study extends scholarly debates by linking alternative views of aviation and modernist literary and narrative experimentation. I begin my study by exploring how H.G. Wells’s calls for the establishment of a world government (necessitated by the emergence of aviation) led to an increasingly assertive and urgent tone in his later writings. His works serve as a useful starting point to read the more experimental, modernist prose forms that follow in his wake. While Wells’s texts were affected on a pragmatic level, those of the modernists were affected in a more imaginative, perceptual, and sensory way, which highlights the deeper extent to which aviation influenced modernist thought. For Virginia Woolf, the all-encompassing aerial view offered a new way of seeing the connections between living things, leading to an expanded narrative scope in her later writings. For William Faulkner, flight as aerial performance and spectacle was a liberating experience and became a metaphor for escape from an increasingly capitalistic and creativity-deprived world. John Dos Passos, in contrast, saw the effects of air travel as harmful to the human senses and perceptions of the world around, leading him to incorporate aspects of flight into his fast-paced, multi-modal narratives in order to convey and critique the disorienting and alienating experience of flight. Collectively, these chapters show that as much as the aeroplane was capable of causing mass destruction, it was also constructive in the way that it enabled these new ways of thinking, and it is this complex and paradoxical nature, this thesis proposes, that makes the aeroplane an important modernist symbol.
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