Modernism #1: What are the origins of Modernism?

Edouard Manet, ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergere’, 1882 (source)

Modernism is “an omnibus term for a number of tendencies in the arts which were prominent in the first half of the 20th century”. So says the Oxford Companion to Literature. In truth, though, like most artistic movements, Modernism is harder to pin down than that: it has no clear beginning or endBut while some critics argue, a little contentiously, that it began hundreds of years ago (the novelist and literary theorist Gabriel Josipovici, for example, thinks it began with the first volume of Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote in 1605) it is generally accepted that Modernism’s roots can be found in France in the second half of the 19th century. Gustave Flaubert’s 1856 novel Madame Bovary and Charles Baudelaire’s 1857 poetry collection Les Fleurs du mal (The flowers of evil) are often named as the texts that set it all in motion.

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