Study Guide

Modernism Timeline

How It All Went Down

1890: William James publishes his book Principles of Psychology

This book seriously influences Modernist writers' style and subject matter—it's the text that introduced the world to the idea of the stream of consciousness. Yeah. It's a biggie.

1897: Sigmund Freud publishes Studies in Hysteria with Josef Breuer, launching the age of psychoanalysis.

Sigmund Freud's contribution to modern thought is massive, massive, massive. And no, we're not just talking about Freudian slips.

Freud introduced the notion that our conscious minds are only the tip of the mental iceberg, and that beneath the surface, hidden fears and traumas guide our thinking and our behavior. Writers of the period found this idea fertile ground for exploration… and they still do today.

1900: Freud publishes Interpretation of Dreams.

In this famous work, Freud argued that dreams, which had long been viewed as meaningless, were in fact a portal in to the innermost regions of ourselves. Cue a collective Modernist "Woot!" and the sound of countless pens scribbling in countless dream diaries.

1905: Albert Einstein develops his Special Theory of Relativity, which was followed in 1915 by the General Theory of Relativity.

No biggie: in these theories Einstein just questions the existence of an absolute of time and space. Yeah, you got that right. In the space of five years, scientists cast doubt upon dreams, the mind, time and space. Is it any wonder that people were feeling a little unhinged?

1908: Gertrude Stein publishes her first book, Three Lives

This may be the most critically acclaimed of her works. And no, it ain't easy reading.

1913: Igor Stravinsky and Vaslav Nijinsky's Rite of Spring premieres in Paris, France.

A riot ensues.

1914: World War I, dubbed "the war to end all wars," begins.

That same year, James Joyce publishes his collection of short stories, Dubliners. Ezra Pound publishes his manifesto and anthology, Des Imagistes.

1915: Franz Kafka's short novel The Metamorphosis is published…

... and cockroaches get a whole lot creepier. That same year, Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons appears… and buttons get a whole lot more Avant-garde.

1916: James Joyce publishes Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Two groundbreaking works of literature in two years? No pressure, aspiring writers. None at all.

1917: U.S. enters World War I

Also, the Bolshevik Revolution breaks out in Russia, putting an end to Russia's Silver Age of Literary and Artistic Modernism, T.S. Eliot publishes "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," and W.B. Yeats publishes The Wild Swans at Coole.

1918: Bits and pieces of James Joyce's novel, Ulysses appear in a U.S. literary journal, The Little Review.

This gets the journal's publishers in big trouble: their entire printing of the issues containing these parts of the novel are seized and destroyed by the U.S. Postal Service on the grounds that they contained obscenity. Controversial not only for its famed dirty bits but for its innovative form, the book was first published as a whole in 1922, in Paris.

Oh, and the Spanish Influenza epidemic kills millions worldwide. It is estimated that ten times as many people died of the flu than were killed in WWI. In fact, half of U.S. soldiers who perished in Europe died of the flu.

1919: Kafka's short story, "In the Penal Colony," is published.

Although the story had actually been written five years before, it appeared only belatedly, like most of F.K.'s work.

1920: WWI ends.

Also, Pound publishes "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley."

1921: the Irish Free State (now called the Republic of Ireland) is founded.

Key figures of Irish literature responded strongly to this event, which, on a national level, spawned the Irish Civil War (1922-23).

1922: A banner year for the production of high-modernist literature.

T.S. Eliot publishes The Waste Land and James Joyce's complete Ulysses appears in Paris.

1923: Yeats wins the Nobel Prize for Literature

Also: Wallace Stevens' Harmonium appears and William Carlos William's collection Spring and All is published.

1924: Ernest Hemingway's book of short stories, In Our Time is published.

1925: Huge year for the Modernists: a bunch of super-important works were published, including:

Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, Franz Kafka's The Trial, and W.B. Yeats' A Vision. In another category altogether, Adolf Hitler's notorious tract Mein Kampf is also published.

1926: Ernest Hemingway's novel The Sun Also Rises appears.

... and millions of artistic Americans immediately start planning their trips to run with the bulls in Pamplona.

1927: Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse is published.

Also, Franz Kafka's novel Amerika is released.

1928: D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover appears in Italy.

Like Joyce's Ulysses, this novel would be called obscene. A complete and uncensored version of the book was not legally published in either England or the United States until after a court in the 1950s declared the book had literary merit, and was therefore not pornography. Also, W. B. Yeats' The Tower is published and Virginia Woolf's gender bending short work of speculative fiction Orlando appears.

1929: The New York Stock Market crashes, leading swiftly to the Great Depression

This is a big year for literature, too: William Faulkner's novel The Sound and the Fury is published, and so is Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms.

Woolf's essay, A Room of One's Own is published. The book is actually made up of material Woolf presented on the subject of Women in Literature.

1930: T.S. Eliot publishes Ash Wednesday.

Hart Crane's book length poem, The Bridge, also appears. And Robert Musil, an Austrian novelist, publishes volume one of three of his novel The Man Without Qualities, reportedly the greatest novel no one has read.