The 20th Century European Novel: War and Experimental Fiction


December 17, 2013

A period of great innovation and experimentation resulted from the carnage of the two great world wars of the 20th Century, coupled with the rise of Modernism. The old culture, based on Enlightenment optimism and the 19th century’s belief in progress, was invalidated by the destruction, and new ways of understanding the new world had to be invented. Terry Doody’s class, “The 20th Century European Novel: The Rise Of Modernism In Literature” examines that extremely creative period through the lens of  such seminal books as Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front”, Nemirovsky’s “Suite Francaise”, Bely’s “Petersburg”, Pasternak’s “Dr Zhivago”, Colette’s “Cheri” and the “Last of Cheri”, Hrabl’s “I Served the King of England”, Saramago’s “Baltasar and Blimunda”, Kertesz’s “Fateless”, and Calvino’s “Invisible Cities”. We visited with Dr. Doody to find out more about this intriguing class. 

WIH Reporter: What is important for us to know about the works you have chosen for your class? For instance, tell us a little about “Suite Francaise”.

Doody:  Irene Nemirovsky was born a Russian Jew. Her family moved to France, she became a novelist, and in 1942 she was put to death by the Nazis. That year she also published the first two movements of her “Suite Francaise”, which deals with the German occupation, the animosity between the classes in France, and the delicate question of her heroine’s attraction to the German officer assigned to the house she lives in with her mother-in-law. Nemirovsky’s sense of her character’s moral integrity is unforgettable.

So is the reaction of Imre Kertesz’s narrator to his experience in the camps. Although these two novels are fairly traditional, others such as “Petersburg” and “I Served the King of England” are experiments their authors found necessary in representing the enormities of the Russian Revolution and the Third Reich.

WIH Reporter:   How do the authors and works you have chosen for your class show the effect that war, destruction, and turmoil have on artistic innovation and creativity? 

DoodyWar and experimental fiction are not the strange bedfellows they seem to be. All war stories are anti-war. Great novels are written as though to set the record straight. The important fiction of twentieth-century Europe embodies both of these imperatives.

For more information about Dr. Doody’s 12-week class beginning on February 6th, 2014 at 1:00 pm, click here.