‘Ulysses, Order, and Myth' is T S Eliot’s review of Ulysses by James Joyce, in which Eliot heralds the end of the novel form and anticipates the future of modern literature. It was printed in the November 1923 issue of The Dial, a modernist literary journal, a year after Ulysses was first published in Paris.
In the review Eliot recognises just how significant Joyce’s work would be for modern literature. He declares Ulysses to be ‘the most important expression which the present age has found’, ‘from which none of us can escape’.
Like fellow modernist Virginia Woolf, Eliot accepts that the writer must adopt new methods to capture modern consciousness. Part of what makes Ulysses so important for Eliot, therefore, is its radical departure from the traditional novel form. It is not a novel, ‘because the novel is a form which will no longer serve’. Joyce, ‘being “in advance” of [his] time’, has ‘felt a conscious or probably unconscious dissatisfaction with the form’.
Eliot draws attention to Joyce’s application of mythology to a modern, everyday subject, ‘manipulating a continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity’. Other writers must follow this method, he argues. For Eliot, myth provides the writer with a stable frame through which to view and analyse the modern world. It is ‘a way of controlling, or ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history’. In the same year as he wrote this review Eliot published The Waste Land, a depiction of post-war society that draws heavily on mythology and historic literary sources such as Dante’s Inferno.
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