First Love: The Affections of Modern Fiction

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University of Chicago Press, Jun 25, 1991 - Literary Criticism - 277 pages
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All of us remember our First Love. In this brilliant and often passionate book, Maria DiBattista shows that the yearning for the freshness of First Love, and the sadness of that yearning, are central to modern literature. DiBattista offers a sweeping and wholly original reinterpretation of modern fiction, allowing us to see the romantic affections that lie behind the seemingly most ironic of modernist texts.

DiBattista argues that modernity reinvented First Love as a myth of creative initiative, as its characteristic response to a pervasive sense of historical belatedness. Anxious that its own creations can never be more than diminished forms of mightier originals, modernity idolizes First Love as the beginning that can never be repeated. First Love hence epitomizes the dream of a new self-incarnation. From Turgenev's First Love to the formative works of Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, E. M. Forster, and Vladimir Nabokov, First Love confirms the birth of an artistic vocation. For modern men and women intent on becoming the original authors of their own lives, First Love becomes paradigmatic of those life-altering moments that transform the undifferentiated sequence of days into a fateful narrative.

DiBattista focuses on the enunciation of First Love in the fiction of Thomas Hardy, D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, and Samuel Beckett. In reading their works, DiBattista dramatically revises the accepted view of irony as the dominant tone of modernism. First Love constitutes, she shows, a new apprehension of the world characterized not by the frigid distances of irony but by a belief in the creative individual who may begin the world anew, as if for the first time.

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About the author (1991)

Maria DiBattista is professor of English and comparative literature at Princeton University.

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