Re-covering modernism: Pulp modernism and the prejudice of form

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Patrick A. McCarthy - Committee Chair


This dissertation examines popular manifestations of literary modernism in order to show that while the traditional definition of modernism advances the idea that the movement was intended for a culturally elite echelon, in actuality it was open and available to a wide spectrum of audiences. I therefore consider the academic and critical construction of modernism by key critics and authors in contrast with the material production of literary modernism in forms as diverse as pulp magazines and paperbacks. Throughout the dissertation, I concern myself with both the original scene of modernism and its later reification into the academy in an effort to expand our definitions of the movement and to post-structurally bring forth hegemonic power dynamics at work in modernist canonization.The first chapter considers the reputation of H. L. Mencken and his Smart Set magazine in order to reveal the contradictory trend in modernism of simultaneously utilizing and disavowing the popular form; the second half of the same chapter expands the standard portrait of early 20 th century magazine publication, highlighting mass-publication magazines, such as the Smart Set and Golden Book, which were popular venues for modernist authors. In the second chapter, I find interrelationships between modernism and the pulp form, which, given the historical high/low binary, should be its polar opposite, but by underscoring modernist tensions, tropes, and shared authors, this comparison reveals a type of "pulp-modernism," interpreted and available to the masses through the forms of popular fiction. Finally, in the third chapter, I consider the rise of the paperback in the late 1940s and early 1950s in order to isolate popular elements of sensationalism at work in canonized modernist texts, which illuminates not only the textual instability of modernism, but the instability of a work's reception as well. In the latter part of the same chapter, I consider Faulkner's and Hemingway's struggle with popularity, and the contradiction between their modernist personas and their popular reception, and how these tensions arose in their work. Finally, I consider how post-New Negro Movement authors, such as Rudolph Fisher, George Schuyler, and Richard Wright, relied upon popular forms as a means to depict their liminal social status and to dismantle racial stereotypes.


Literature, Modern; Literature, American; Literature, English

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