Violence and Modernism:
Ibsen, Joyce, and Woolf

William A. Johnsen

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"A unique and important book. Our understanding of literary modernism, which we think we know so well, is transformed by these analyses of the anthropological insights that it holds for readers."--Andrew J. McKenna, Loyola University


Employing Northrop Frye and René Girard as his theoretical foundation, Johnsen reinterprets the works of three canonical modernists--Ibsen, Joyce, and Woolf--to argue for their commitment to analyzing collective violence as a defining motive in literary modernism.

Johnsen shows how Frye’s vision of a movement from mythic to ironic heroes parallels Girard’s view of a society increasingly demythologized, and increasingly concerned with scapegoats and victims. He points to important similarities between these theoretical visions and a growing concern for weaker subjects across literary history, especially with the move into the modern period. Ibsen, Joyce, and Woolf, he argues, each wrestled with the powerful rituals of self-sacrifice that society requires in the modern world—with their strategies and consequences.

Using this focus, Johnsen addresses Ibsen’s controversial criticism of the democratic majority, Joyce’s inflammatory rejection of physical-force nationalism, and Woolf’s curious refusal of feminist anger as kindred responses to modern affirmations of collective violence, not merely paralleling the insights of Frye and Girard but extending and refining them.


William A. Johnsen is professor of English at Michigan State University and the author of several articles on European authors and theory.

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"Johnsen weaves together his reading of Joyce and Girard most fruitfully, offering his readers a new appreciation of the notion of the modern within Joyce's Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." ELT

"Readers will find Johnsen's readings of such texts such as Joyce's 'The Dead' original and insightful." Woolf Studies Annual

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