chapter  4
36 Pages

The British Avant-Garde: Edith Sitwell (1887-1964) and the Women of Wheels - Nancy Cunard (1896-1965), Iris Tree (1897-1968) and Helen Rootham (d. 1938)

Inthedevelopmentsoftwentieth-centurywomenpoets,theavant-garde demonstrateanewboldnessinfloutingorsubvertingliteraryconventions. Theyinvestigatetheoperationsofconsciousness,eschewordisplacetraditional literaryeffectsandtransgresstheboundariesofgenre.Theyqualifyforthe language-centredmodelofmodernismandaredistinguishedfromthe'Female Modernists'or'Thirties'poetsinthefollowingsectionswhosepoetryis specificallywoman-centred,orexplicitlyengagedwithsocialandgender politics,butisstylisticallylessadventurous.Inseparating'avant-garde'and 'female'modernisms,however,itwouldbeaswrongtosuggestthattheformer groupdidnotevokeafemaleconsciousnessasitwouldbetoimplythatthe politicalcommitmentofthefemalemodernistsoverwhelmedstylisticconcerns. Althoughtheavant-gardewritersespousedthe'impersonality'ofhigh modernistpoetics,theirmotivationforoverridingliteraryconventionswas oftenassociatedwithbreakingintoorawayfrommale-dominatedtraditions. Theirobvious,sometimesostentatious,intellectualitywasfuelledby oppositiontothe'feminine'ratherthanbyculturalelitism.SuzanneClark identifieswomenasbothlosersanddriversinaliteraryclimatewhichvalued objectivity,impersonalityand'intellection':1

anti-sentimentalityintoacontemptuoustreatmentofwomen,whohadtostruggle bothinternallyandexternallywiththatcontempt...[and]thesewomenseized themomenttoescapefromcategoriesofgender.2