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Jade Munslow Ong

Jade Munslow Ong is Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Salford. She is author of Olive Schreiner and African Modernism: Allegory, Empire and Postcolonial Writing (Routledge, 2018), and has published articles in the Journal of Postcolonial Writing and Journal of Commonwealth Literature. She is Principal Investigator on an AHRC-funded research project, South African Modernism 1880-2020 (with Andrew van der Vlies); and is also working on a co-authored book with Matthew Whittle entitled Global Literatures and the Environment: Twenty-First Century Perspectives (forthcoming with Routledge).

‘A Naturalist, A Symbolist and a South African Allegorist: Bloomsbury Modernisms at the fin de siècle’

Bloomsbury’s fame as a uniquely privileged site of modernist innovation is largely based on the art, writing, relationships and philosophies of the Bloomsbury Group at their peak in the 1920s and 1930s. Yet 40 years prior, Bloomsbury also played host to a less well-defined circle of (proto-)modernist writers and radicals. When South African writer, Olive Schreiner, was based in England between 1881 and 1889, she expressed the intention to find ‘rooms in the heart of Bloomsbury & that might do me good’ (Letter to Havelock Ellis, 17 December 1884). Though not, ultimately, in residence there, Schreiner still spent much time in the area as sometime member of a socialist/feminist reading group that met at the British Museum, the Men and Women’s Club at UCL, and the Fellowship of the New Life at 29 Doughty Street. Schreiner’s literary networks in this period also included various London-based writers, some of whom, such as Margaret Harkness and Amy Levy, were fellow attendees at these groups.  Other friendships and connections included Symbolist poets, Arthur Symons and Philip Bourke Marston, as well as George Moore and George Meredith, who authored Naturalist and New Woman novels.


This chapter will analyse the formal strategies used to explore alternative sexual expressions and freedoms, socialism and feminism in Harkness’s novel Out of Work (1888), Levy’s poetry collection A London Plane Tree and Other Verse (1889), and Schreiner’s short story collection Dreams (1890). Though divergent in their philosophies, interests and opinions, all of these writers shared personal, textual and political connections, and developed unique experimental forms associated with Naturalism (Harkness), Symbolism (Levy) and allegory (Schreiner) to express progressive positions. Close examination of their literary works will reveal how they collaborated and innovated in ways that cultivated a diversity of subject and cultural positions, and promoted the co-existence of radical and new ideas and forms that mark them as key forerunners in the development of British and South African modernisms. Their similarities as much as their differences therefore help to establish the allegorical forms of South African modernisms as separate from the Symbolist and Naturalist forms of early British modernisms, and yet reveal the importance of cross-cultural connections, reciprocity, conversation, and communities of exchange, in the co-determined, yet distinct, emerging modernisms of the fin de siècle.

Bloomsbury ModernismsJade Munslow Ong
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