The Whirling Girlish’s Modernist Lit Picks

Just some of the great artists and thinkers that contributed to the modernist literature movement between 1914 and 1945.

Amy Lowell

amy lowell

An affluent New Englander, Lowell grew up in an intellectual environment. Self-taught, she began her career as a writer. When Ezra Pound abandoned the imagist movement for vorticism, Lowell took over and edited several imagist anthologies. It is said that Lowell depended on her companionship with actress Ada Dwyer to compose her many moving appreciations of female beauty. It is because of feminists that Lowell’s work is often “rediscovered”, much like the work of several neglected women authors from that time period.

Venus Transiens

Tell me,

Was Venus more beautiful

Than you are,

When she topped

The crinkling waves,

Drifting shoreward

On her plaited shell?

Was Botticelli’s vision

Fairer than mine;

And were the painted rosebuds

He tossed his lady,

Of better worth

Than the words I blow about you

Gertrude Stein

gertrude stein

A radical experimentor, thinker and mentor during the Modernist Era. Upon leading the expatriate movement of American writers to Paris, Stein mentored great names such as Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Stein’s longtime lover, Susan B. Toklas, first appeared in 1909 and was present for the great discussions which took place in Stein’s “salon style” den. She also acted as Stein’s muse, inspiring works such as The Autobiography of Susan B. Toklas, written by Stein.

Excerpts from Tender Buttons:

Nothing Elegant

A charm a single charm is doubtful. If the red is rose and there is a gate surrounding it, if insides is let in and there places change then certainly something is upright. It is earnest.

A Purse

A purse was not green, it was not straw color, it was hardly seen and it had a long use and the chain, the chain was never missing, it was not misplaced, it showed that it was open, that is all that it showed.

Peeled Pencil, Choke

Rub her choke.

Sherwood Anderson

Sherwood Anderson

It was not until he was middle aged that Anderson left his career as a successful businessman to pursue his passion for writing. His simple prose features stories of characters with often limited resources. Many of his short stories touch upon issues which criticize conventional society. His greatest work is arguably considered to be Winesburg, Ohio.

Excerpts from Winesburg, Ohio:



 Katherine Anne Porter

katherine anne porter

Porter became a respected lame in the literary community as a result of her stories capturing the essence of characters living in the west. Much of her writing includes descriptions of people battling inner turmoil, perhaps a result of her several failed romantic relationships. Her voice is known for stories which are personal versus political.

Excerpts from Flowering Judas:

“But she cannot help feeling that she has been betrayed irreparably by the disunion between her way of living and her feeling of what life should be, and at times she is almost contented to rest in this sense of grievance as a private store of consolation. Sometimes she wishes to run away, but she stays.”

“She was born Roman Catholic, and in spite of her fear of being seen by someone who might make a scandal of it, she slips now and again into some crumbling little church, kneels on the chilly stone, and says a Hail Mary on the gold rosary she brought in Tehuantepec. “

“Nobody touches her, but all praise her gray eyes, and the soft, round under lip which promises gayety, yet is always grave, nearly always firmly closed: and they cannot understand why she is in Mexico.”

Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston

Native of Eatonville, Florida, Hurston is responsible from some of the greatest pieces of work from the Modernist Era, and was a key member of the Harlem Renaissance. Her witty humor, incomparable self-confidence and empowering tone are what lead her to become one of the most popular members of the literary community during that time. She worked with several influential names including queer writer, Langston Hughes. Her writings often painted pictures of what it is like to be a woman. She often shied away from becoming too overly political in her work.

The Gilded Six Bits

Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker was a New York City girl with a career that began in publishing with the Conde Nast company writing for The New Yorker. Much of her work focuses on the realities of loneliness, emptiness, and phoniness. Her acerbic tone gained her a dynamic reputation among her peers and readers.

General Review of the Sex Situation

Woman want monogamy,

Man delights novelty.

Love is woman’s moon and sun;

Man has other forms of fun.

Woman lives but in her lord;

Count to ten, and man is bored.

With this the gist and sum of it,

What earthly good can come of it?

Genevieve Taggard

Genevieve Taggard

Genevieve Taggard and Muriel Parker are considered two of the most consistently political of the American Modernist writers between the wars. Taggard did not shy away from controversial topics that were often considered taboo during her career as a writer.

With Child

 Now I am slow and placid, fond of sun,

Like a sleek beast, or a worn one,

No slim and languid girl—not glad

With the windy trip I once had,

But velvet-footed, musing of my own,

Torpid, mellow, stupid as stone.


You cleft me with your beauty’s pulse, and now

Your pulse has taken body. Care not how

The old grace goes, how heavy I am grown,

Big with this loneliness, how you alone

Ponder our love. Touch me feet and feel

How earth tingles, teeming at my heel!

Earth’s urge, not mine,– my little death, not hers;

And the pure beauty yearns and stirs.


It does not heed out ecstasies, it turns

With secrets of its own, its own concerns,

Toward a windy world of its own, toward stark

And solidary places. In the dark

Defiant even now, it tugs and moans

To be untangled from these mother’s bones.

(Photos courtesy of Google Images)








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