Standing at the Precipice: Restrained Modernism in the Fiction of E.M. Forster, Nella Larsen, and Elizabeth Bowen
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In the field of literary modernism, value has been assigned most often to texts that display a certain kind of innovation: aggressive, destructive, and difficult. Other, quieter texts have been relegated to the periphery of the modernist canon. This dissertation, contributing to the work of the New Modernist Studies, argues for an expansion of how critics define innovation and, by extension, modernism. Through close reading and thorough analysis of critical reception, I explore a <“>restrained<”> modernism in the stories and novels of E.M. Forster, Nella Larsen, and Elizabeth Bowen, demonstrating how their innovation proceeds from and depends on their performance of clarity and their deconstruction of traditional forms from within. These three authors strategically deploy familiar traditions like the female bildungsroman, social satire, and the tragic mulatta tale in order to explore the queer agency of restrained subjectivities trapped inside. Forster, Larsen, and Bowen defy critical accusations of timidity, conservativism, and failure, critiquing the totalizing identity categories of nation, race, sexuality, and gender and suggesting the quiet yet radical power of a literary--and modernist--restraint.