Through a close, comparative consideration of three novels, Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, Djuna Barnes' Nightwood and Ingeborg Bachmann's Malina, this project examines the evolving form and function of the fairy tale in modernist literature and underscores the centrality of imagination to modernist forms of fiction that explore aesthetic, social and political issues such as the failure of language, spiritual bankruptcy and the construction of memory.
In chapter one, I argue that Woolf, Barnes and Bachmann's invocation of the fairy tale can be read as a mode of the Fantastic and one that insists on the mutability of symbolic structures and the imagination's intimate tie to language. Such a reading goes beyond an understanding of the fairy tale as a moment of singular allusion to an emphasis on the fairy tale's role in the modern artist's ambivalent drive for aesthetic recompense; a technique used by the authors to reveal how the processes of imagination can sometimes be stained with the monumentalizing ideology of patriarchy, fascism and primitivism.
In chapter two, I focus on the ways in which the fairy tale performs, resists and encapsulates various aspects of the reader's reality, history and memory by manipulating time within the novel; a method that challenges the terror of loss through arresting metaphors of past time and functions as an uncanny space for untold memory in fiction.
And in chapter three, I argue that this re-visioning of time invited by the fairytale subsequently cultivates a uniquely liminal space and a fantastic constellation of figures whose grotesque manifestations invoke the aesthetics of transgression, tension and violence in addition to the modernist hope for liberation, transformation, and transcendence.
Understood in this way, the study of the fairy tale allusion in modernist literature evolves into a meditation on the fairy tale, specifically, and oral culture, more generally, as a modality and on its alignment with the grotesque and the public square as the attempt by the artist to re-envision not just what it says, but what the fairy tale can do.