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The Influence of Modernism of New Theories of the Self Essay

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This essay seeks to discuss the influence on modernism of new theories of the self, with reference to The life and Death of Harriet Frean and to relevant works of theory from the period. It is the purpose of this work to achieve this by conversing on memory, spiritual and physical dualism with final assertions on identity. Lastly the conclusion will emphasise the points made in the text.

Pete A. Y. Gunter’s comment, on French psychologist Pierre Janet, can be employed to describe the regressive memory theme in The Life and Death of Harriet Frean. Janet theorized that psychological reality maintains and develops tension. And suggests when this healthy apprehension is breached, a process of repression is experienced. Red Campion is symbolically used in the novel to represent this repression. Additionally French philosopher Henri Bergson’s theory of a stream of consciousness, where the ego combines the present mind state and former mind states, display May Sinclair’s narrative technique. Bergson developed the idea to demonstrate continuity between the present state and the entire experience of past state of mind: in this context these states are inseparable. Bergson later names this practice as memory. And it is Harriet’s memory or stream of consciousness that defines every aspect of her life.

These theories from the turn of the century are fundamental in this Modernist text. Moreover representations of a stream of consciousness are integral to literary Modernists of the time; such as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot and Marcel Proust for example.

During the early part of the twentieth century European social and political development continued to reshape itself in accordance to the momentous and rapid modern era. ...


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...ory of Harriet determined her family ideals and a selfless perception of life; eventually to her detriment. The pivotal occurrence in her youth was utilised by her mother to remodel her future. Harriet was to act beautifully from here on.

This socialisation by her parents critiques the psychic being and its potential for wanted behaviour. The reaction of Mr and Mrs Frean are internalised which then blossoms as a repression of emotions and a ‘tight’ lipped façade: resulting in the image of red campion being constantly referenced throughout the novel. This exposes the connection between inward feelings and outward performance.

This Modernist narration is a pastiche of psychological theories. Blending these ideas flower the structural basis for identity and the modern self. And it is an in depth discourse on the self which has been the focus of Sinclair’s work.



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