MODERNISM—DETACHED AND RESTRAINED AND UPPER-CLASS. Paula Marantz Cohen quotes Virginia Woolf that: “Mrs. Browning could no more conceal herself than she could control herself, a sign no doubt of imperfection in an artist….” Remember that Virginia Woolf associated lack of control with the lower classes. Marantz Cohen also gives another reason for Woolf’s criticisms. She draws attention to some other harsh words that Woolf had for Barrett Browning: “bad taste, tortured ingenuity, floundering, scrambling, and confused impetuosity.” Marantz Cohen points out that these words described “Victorian ‘excess’…which was radically at odds with the modernist aesthetic of detachment, deliberation and restraint.”

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  1. Jonathan Becker says:

    it’s interesting (and ironic) that virginia woolf’s put-downs of elizabeth barrett browning would be tinged with a kind of “classism.” woolf wasn’t any more “upper class” than browning. in fact, they came from quite similar backgrounds. they were essentially “just plain folks” middle class british citizens, with tenuous ties to the gentry and even more tenuous ties to the aristocracy. maybe woolf liked to put on airs to a greater extent than browning. if so, then more’s the pity. because there really is something to be said for the detached aesthetic of modernism, apart from any “classism” it may have possessed. the modernist aesthetic of detachment, deliberation, and restraint should be an inspiration to all of us. (people of any “class” can be and are detached, as well as those enlightened individuals who don’t think of people in terms of “social class” at all.) modernism can (and should) go hand in hand with the most thoroughgoing egalitarianism.

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