Goldstein, Bill. “The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster and the Year that Changed Literature”, Henry Holt, 2017.
The lives of authors Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster and D. H. Lawrence intersect in 1922, the year that modernism was born. For me, this is a very special book simply because it is about four authors who have been my favorites for so very long.
As 1922 begins, all four writers find themselves with nothing to say. They realize that they are facing very uncertain future even after having been so successful. With the publications of two major novels, “Ulysses” by James Joyce and the first English publication of Marcel Proust’s “in Search of Lost Time”, there is a tremendous upheaval in what is being read and what is being written. In that same year, Woolf began writing “Mrs. Dalloway”, Foster was writing again for the first time in ten years, Lawrence wrote “Kangaroo” and Eliot has published “The Waste Land.” The new trend forced the writers to deal with the movement of modernism. Bill Goldstein shows us the personal dramas these writers felt as they had to work harder than ever before to remain popular.
All four writers were challenged that year “to invent the language of the future.” Change was taking place everywhere in the world and this of course affected literature. Undoubtedly the war had something to do with the change.
Goldstein gives separate chapters for each author but he also writes about the connections between them. Joyce was the main force for change and this was not such a good time for the four writers who were dealing with their own problems. Woolf was having both physical and mental health problems and Foster was coming to terms with his homosexuality. Eliot was having nervous breakdowns and his wife was not well and Lawrence who wanted to be left alone was traveling almost the entire year. He was also dealing with censorship and the fact that a psychiatrist labeled him as a homosexual who wrote erotica as a way to deal with his own sexuality.
In the early years of the twentieth century, there were battles about the censorship of Joyce and Lawrence and in 1922, Lawrence’s publisher fought back and the case for censoring “Women in Love” was lost. It was this case that opened the door a bit but not completely.
Goldstein brings history, literature, and psychology together to accent the times and of course this aids us in understanding both the authors and the dawn of a new literary age.
The title of the book comes from Willa Cather who said that the world broke in two in 1922. The devastation of WWI caused us to look forward and to leave the past behind in the ashes of the war. If I understand correctly, Goldstein tells us that the inspiration for the new literature was based upon the reception given to Proust and Joyce and it came at a time when it was much needed. We get a wonderful picture of how modernist writing was being created. However, this is not a book that one can read quickly. It is so filled with ideas that it is necessary to think about what is written here. I was totally captivated reading about the “overlapping neuroses, illnesses, and inspirations” of the four writers.