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Things and nothings: Henry Green and the late modernist banal


Milthorpe, NE, Things and nothings: Henry Green and the late modernist banal, Novel: A Forum on Fiction, 50, (1) pp. 97-111. ISSN 1945-8509 (2017) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2017 Novel, Inc.

DOI: doi:10.1215/00295132-3854315


The tension between precisions and generalities that catches scholars seeking to define the character of literary modernism fruitfully animates the work of novelist Henry Green. Green takes as his subject matter the ordinary stuff of life—commonplace language, routine experiences, unremarkable relationships—transforming dullness into novelistic event. Two novels demonstrate Green's extraordinary effects achieved through and with the banal, the boring, the vague, and the everyday: Party Going (1939) and Nothing (1951). In Party Going, a group of people stranded at a train station wait with their luggage, order drinks, and lose and find various members of their party. In its attention to the bathetic quotidian, Party Going animates a range of late modernist anxieties about time, leisure, and subjective experience that manifest in the novel's fretful leveling of objects and experiences using the repeated, vague signifier things. Later, in Nothing, a group of socialites—a young couple, their parents, who were former lovers, and the parents’ lovers—have conversations in restaurants and pubs. Nothing dramatizes the inane nature of polite conversation, in which "-thing" is used as a block, as though to empty a conversation of significant information. The multiple subjects and objects embraced by the vague term things suggests that Green's fiction is preoccupied with the "utter contingency of everything (and every thing)" in the modernist period, as Douglas Mao notes. In these novels’ recourse to the any, some, every, or no things of the quotidian, Green explores the potential difference, remarkable sameness, and fuzzy difficulty of late modernist style.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:Modernist Literature, Twentieth-Century Literature, Henry Green, affect/emotion
Research Division:Language, Communication and Culture
Research Group:Literary studies
Research Field:British and Irish literature
Objective Division:Culture and Society
Objective Group:Communication
Objective Field:Literature
UTAS Author:Milthorpe, NE (Dr Naomi Milthorpe)
ID Code:117222
Year Published:2017
Deposited By:Office of the School of Humanities
Deposited On:2017-06-04
Last Modified:2018-05-07

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