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The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster and the Year That Changed Literature Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 15, 2017
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“Fresh . . . significant . . . comprehensive and exuberant . . . entirely full of life.” ―The New York Times Book Review
“Bill Goldstein beautifully explains why 1922 was a watershed period for English literature . . . A very important work to understand English literature, especially Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, and E. M. Forster.” ―The Washington Book Review
“Fascinating, superbly researched . . . a beautiful mosaic . . . The book is a joy.” ―USA Today
“A fascinating and engrossing tale . . . This is Goldstein’s own personal triumph: he creates an original, moving and at times wryly amusing account of four literary demi-gods during the course of these few months that shaped a new direction in English literature, incorporating a wealth of detail which builds, layer upon layer, until the picture is satisfyingly complete.” ―Times Literary Supplement
“Gossipy, accessible and fascinating.” ―People
“An indispensable guide to four legendary writers who were largely responsible for the creation of modern literature . . . [Goldstein] presents these illuminating portraits with some masterly craftsmanship of his own . . . At the end, The World Broke in Two is invaluable.” ―The National Book Review
“An extensively researched, extraordinarily fine-grained and lucid literary history rich in biographical discoveries…Goldstein’s ardently detailed, many-faceted story of a pivotal literary year illuminates all that these tormented visionaries had to overcome to ‘make the modern happen.’” ―Booklist
“[An] accomplished, captivating look at that seminal year through the lens of the interconnecting lives of four literary icons…Impressively rich and nuanced…[Goldstein’s] evenhanded passion for each of his subjects plays out in an elegant narrative. In our own fractured, impatient age, the poignant and arresting stories of these four genius writers evoke nostalgia for a time when precision and introspection were the guiding principles of literature. The World Broke in Two beautifully captures a seismic moment of cultural rupture that, despite its shock and awe, left something new and exciting in its path.” ―BookPage
“The ingenious conceit of Goldstein’s book is to follow, using excerpts from both their correspondence and their diaries, the intertwined personal and literary lives of four writers―Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster, and Eliot himself―as the three seismic shocks of those publications ripple through their lives, and their work…In letting these four writers speak in their own words―their own witty, gossipy, often waspish words―Goldstein neatly avoids a dutiful chronicling of anything so weighty and abstruse as The Rise of Modernism. Cannily, he sacrifices historical sweep and gravitas for something much more grounded and intimate. In his hands, these literary lions prove surprisingly―and bracingly―catty.” ―NPR
"Engaging and very well researched....Goldstein’s insightful and graceful prose reveals four authors during troubled moments of their careers, and he is fortunate in having a trove of writings from which to draw....This year-in-the-life chronicle gives us a remarkable look at the gestation of literature." ―Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Candy for those who have a taste for literary history…Goldstein splits his focus between the writers’ work and their intertwined lives, offering drama, cultural insight and a good dose of pure fun.” ―The Forward
“An extensively annotated account of how four major authors invented modernism in 1922…The intimate peek into the lives, rivalries, and heartbreaks of these celebrated writers sustains an entertaining story about how great literature is made, and will please scholars and hardcore fans alike.” ―Publishers Weekly
“What a masterpiece this book is! So captivating, so original, so full of energy, insights and analysis! Bill Goldstein's brilliant work will be read with great pleasure not only by those who think they already know his famous subjects, but by all readers who love history and biography.” ―Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals and The Bully Pulpit
“The World Broke in Two is more fun to read than it has any right to be. Its subject – the overlapping neuroses, illnesses, and inspirations of four 20th Century greats – would seem familiar territory. But Bill Goldstein is such a companionable writer and his narrative is so full of telling detail that we encounter each of these writers anew. The result is a book that anyone interested in the vicissitudes of the writing life– then or now – will read with hunger. Like all good accounts of writing, it draws us back to the books themselves.” ―Adam Haslett, author of Imagine Me Gone
“The World Broke in Two is a gem of collective – and interwoven – biography. Like the great modernists of fiction, Bill Goldstein pays keen imaginative attention to simultaneity; he surveys the literary landscape, and these four great peaks upon it, as if he were the pilot flying that famous airplane over Mrs.Dalloway. The reader is made to see the writers – paused, burgeoning, and on the brink – in strong relationship to one another. The result is a view and vision we've not had before.” ―Thomas Mallon, author of Yours Ever: People and Their Letters
“The year 1922 was indeed “a grrrreat littttterary period,” as Ezra Pound wrote to T. S. Eliot, and as Bill Goldstein demonstrates in this stunningly written, riveting day-by-day account of how four of the world's most beloved writers created their greatest works. He provides new insight into the relationships among writers we thought we knew. How heartening this book will be to readers and to writers – it was to me – to realize that even Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster, and D. H. Lawrence experienced self-doubts, envy, and all kinds of other challenges, and that they simply had to plow through them and get their work done. The World Broke in Two brilliantly illuminates the adventure that is the creative process.” ―Sherill Tippins, author of February House and Inside the Dream Palace:The Life and Times of New York's Legendary Chelsea Hotel
“Bill Goldstein, a wizard of words, has gifted us with a magical brew. Profoundly researched and filled with stunning connections, The World Broke in Two is brilliant, compelling, incisive. It transforms our understanding of modern literature, and the creative relationships of Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, D.H.Lawrence, and E.M. Forster. Everyone interested in history, literature, life will enjoy and benefit from this dazzling work.” ―Blanche Wiesen Cook, author, Eleanor Roosevelt, Volumes I, II, and III.
“This is a brilliant book about the birth of modernism, one which taught me something on every page. I never knew what a life-changing influence Proust had on Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster – or how everyone struggled with money, especially T. S. Eliot. This beautifully written book reveals how artistic innovation occurs in the real world of gossip, love affairs, poverty and class differences. You will feel – and be! – much smarter after you read it.” ―Edmund White, author of Proust
“[Bill Goldstein] makes a solid case for 1922 as the climacteric in which the modern era began―modern, that is to say, in the sense of literary and artistic modernism…[he] writes assuredly and well of the work of his chosen four exemplars…he brings fresh eyes to all of them…engaging.” ―Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Bill Goldstein, the founding editor of the books site of The New York Times on the Web, reviews books and interviews authors for NBC's "Weekend Today in New York." He is also curator of public programs at Roosevelt House, the public policy institute of New York's Hunter College. He received a PH.D in English from City University of New York Graduate Center in 2010, and is the recipient of writing fellowships at MacDowell, Yaddo, Ucross and elsewhere.
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As a writer, I will focus this review on the benefits that reading this book might bring to those who write, want to write, or who are fascinated about the creative process and want to find out more about it.
The four famous writers discussed in this book, Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, and E.M. Forster all had different ways that they approached the writing process. Bill Goldstein describes in depth the process for each of these writers. For example, Virginia Woolf found two hours every morning, “the sacred morning hours…Phrase tossing can only be done then.” She found walking and journal writing extremely helpful for her writing. “She kept to both as regularly as possible, believing, as she put it in 1919, “the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments.” Identifying the right time and place to write was a critical decision for each of the four and they all chose a different pattern for their writing endeavors.
The sharing of ideas while reading and discussing each other’s work was a second theme about the creative process that surfaced. I have spoken to many writers who find great benefit in joining writer’s groups to do the same thing that was done by authors in the 1920’s. An example of how reading each other’s work at times was helpful describes how E.M. Forster learned from Virginia Woolf. The following passage describes him writing to her about the copy of her book Jacob’s Room she had given him.
“It was an ‘amazing success,’ he told her, and his mind was occupied with ‘wondering what developments, both of style and form, might come out of it.’ He had read it, in other words, as a novelist thinking about the use it might be to him.”
A third theme related to the creative process dealt with how each of the four worked to overcome sometimes debilitating physical and mental challenges. For example, “T.S. Eliot marked the end of 1921 in Lausanne, Switzerland, continuing to recover from a nervous breakdown so severe in October he had taken three months’ leave of absence from his job at Lloyds Bank…Financial uncertainty, an unhappy marriage, and a stultifying anxiety over the lack of time his job at Lloyds left to write had sculpted what Virginia Woolf called the ‘grim marble’ of Elliot’s face into puffy hollows.” One of the ways he overcame this was by leaving his job at Lloyd’s in 1925 after the successful publication of The Wasteland, a move that was encouraged by many of his literary colleagues.
If you love literature that fact alone will make this book a joy to read as you learn about four literary greats while enjoying a story that has dozens of twists and turns. As I have outlined, there is also much to be learned about the writing process for those who write or want to write. Bill Goldstein has written a valuable and useful book. I highly recommend it.
1. Virginia Woolf (1882-suicide in March 1941). Miss Woolf began the year sick in bed with pneumonia. That dread disease was sweeping Great Britain and the world. Virginia would produce her novel Mrs Dalloway in 1925 but serious work on it started in this pivotal year. Woolf was influenced in her writing style by Marcel Proust. The French recluse who died in 1922 had just seen his long novel "In Remembrance of Things Past" translated into English. Woolf also read Ulysses by James Joyce but did not like it. As the grand doyenne of the Bloomsbury set she knew Eliot and Forster considering them as her friends. Joyce saw Ulysses printed by the Hogarth Press owned by Virginia and Leonard Woolf.
2. D.H. Lawrence (185-1930) The peripatetic and tubercular Lawrence and his wife Frieda spent most of the year in Taos New Mexico. They had been invited to that desert area by Mabel Dodge the wealthy America woman and lover of literature. Earlier in the year they lived in Italy, Ceylon and Australia. Lawrence published Kangaroo an autobiographical novel based on his time in Australia.
3. Edward Morgan Foster (1879-1970) He had not published a novel since Howard's End in 1920. This year was a difficult one for the mother dominated repressed homosexual. Foster's gay love Mohammed died and he left India to return to Cambridge. Foster's claim to fame this year was his novel A Passage from India (title taken from a poetic line by Walt Whitman) This would be his last novel in a long life.
3. Thomas Stearns Eliot-(1888-1954) St. Louis born poet who was working at a bank when the year began. His emotionally fragile wife and he suffered from health problems; Eliot had suffered a nervous breakdown and spent time recuperating in Switzerland. This year he would published his great poem "The Wasteland."
Goldstein tells of problems the authors had with publishers and firms in getting their works published. The book is best read by those who are already familiar with the works of the four authors who are studied. This reviewer will always remember 1922 as the birth year of my sainted mother!