Ulysses, “The Waste Land”, Jacob’s Room: a year of radical experiments changed the course of literature.
By John Mullan
In the spring 1922 issue of the avant-garde American literary journal Little Review, Ezra Pound published a calendar for a modern era. The months were renamed after Greek and Roman deities, under the heading “Year 1 p.s.U”. Readers in tune with literary innovations knew that those letters stood for “post scriptum Ulysses”, or “after the writing of Ulysses”.
With the publication of James Joyce’s novel in February 1922, on the author’s 40th birthday, a new age had begun. Pound (his most famous slogan: “Make It New”) was a great one for announcing, or demanding, literary revolutions; this time history would vindicate him.
A century on, 1922 still looks like the year literature changed, when modernism came into its own. It was the year not only of Ulysses, but also “The Waste Land”, by the 34-year-old TS Eliot, first published in October. The great novel of modernism was followed by its greatest single poem. These would be enough to mark 1922 as a watershed. But in this year too, Virginia Woolf, the same age as Joyce, published Jacob’s Room, her first radically experimental novel, and began writing Mrs Dalloway.
Pound, who was living in Paris, was embarking on his magnum opus, “The Cantos”. It was he who creatively edited the early drafts of “The Waste Land”, telling Eliot what to cut from the copious first drafts of the poem. Thus Eliot’s dedication of the poem to him, quoting Dante: “Il miglior fabbro” (“the better maker”).