Woolf’s atom, Eliot’s catalyst, and Richardson’s waves of light: science and modernism in 1919
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Being Modern: The Cultural Impact of Science in the Early Twentieth Century
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This chapter stages an argument about the importance of the ways in which three modernist writers engaged with scientific ideas and deployed explicitly scientific metaphors in the year 1919. It offers new insights into the extent to which, at this particular historical moment, the theorisation and the creation of what was understood as ‘modern’ writing happened in the interstices between science and literature. The writers discussed are T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Richardson, and the analysis of their texts engages with the metaphor of ‘the atom’, and ‘the catalyst’ and the idea of ‘waves of light’. Focussing on one single year, the chapter maps with some precision networks of transmission between scientific and literary writings through attention to journals, little magazines, and a range of literary and scientific publications from that year, as well as drawing on diaries, letters and other forms of historical evidence.