If there is one truism that has dominated the study of late modernism, it is that British literature experienced an “outward turn” during the 1930s. Compared to the stream-of-consciousness narration and linguistic experimentation that characterized Ulysses, Mrs. Dalloway, and other high modernist masterpieces, late modernism’s literary style has always seemed much more grounded in a discernible social world. Between the deprivations of the slump, the rise of fascism, and the impending threat of another world war, late modernists, so the story goes, had found it necessary to “turn the reader’s and writer’s attention outwards from himself to the world,” as Stephen Spender (1935: 205) observed.

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Thomas S. Davis’s Extinct Scene does not seek to contest the received understanding that late modernism was turning outward, but it does propose examining more closely what late modernists were turning toward. After...

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