The World Broke in Two : Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster, and the Year That Changed Literature
by Bill Goldstein

Overview -

A Lambda Literary Awards Finalist
Named one of the best books of 2017 by NPR's Book Concierge

A revelatory narrative of the intersecting lives and works of revered authors Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, E. M.  Read more...

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More About The World Broke in Two by Bill Goldstein

A Lambda Literary Awards Finalist
Named one of the best books of 2017 by NPR's Book Concierge

A revelatory narrative of the intersecting lives and works of revered authors Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster and D. H. Lawrence during 1922, the birth year of modernism

The World Broke in Two tells the fascinating story of the intellectual and personal journeys four legendary writers, Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster, and D. H. Lawrence, make over the course of one pivotal year. As 1922 begins, all four are literally at a loss for words, confronting an uncertain creative future despite success in the past. The literary ground is shifting, as Ulysses is published in February and Proust's In Search of Lost Time begins to be published in England in the autumn. Yet, dismal as their prospects seemed in January, by the end of the year Woolf has started Mrs. Dalloway, Forster has, for the first time in nearly a decade, returned to work on the novel that will become A Passage to India, Lawrence has written Kangaroo, his unjustly neglected and most autobiographical novel, and Eliot has finished--and published to acclaim--"The Waste Land."

As Willa Cather put it, "The world broke in two in 1922 or thereabouts," and what these writers were struggling with that year was in fact the invention of modernism. Based on original research, Bill Goldstein's The World Broke in Two captures both the literary breakthroughs and the intense personal dramas of these beloved writers as they strive for greatness.

  • ISBN-13: 9780805094022
  • ISBN-10: 0805094024
  • Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
  • Publish Date: August 2017
  • Page Count: 368
  • Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds

Related Categories

Books > Literary Criticism > English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh
Books > Literary Criticism > Books & Reading
Books > Biography & Autobiography > Literary Figures

BookPage Reviews

Well Read: A modern quartet

1922 is widely regarded as the year that literary modernism came of age. Bookended by the publication of Ulysses and “The Waste Land,” it was dubbed “the year 1 p.s.U” (year one, post scriptum Ulysses) by Ezra Pound, and Willa Cather would later reflect that “the world broke in two in 1922 or thereabouts.” Cather’s phrase provides the title for Bill Goldstein’s accomplished, captivating look at that seminal year through the lens of the interconnecting lives of four literary icons. The World Broke in Two explores how those 12 months would prove decisive in the lives and careers of Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence and E.M. Forster, each of whom would begin to approach the world anew and produce or conceive a book that has become an essential part of the modernist canon.

As 1922 unfolded, great literature was born.

Goldstein sets a somber stage: England less than four years after the end of the devastating First World War was, in Forster’s words, “a sad person who has folded her hands and stands waiting.” Each of these writers—well acquainted with one another in the small village that was London’s literary community—combated his or her own malaise. As the year began, Woolf was stricken by influenza, an illness which, coupled with the lukewarm reception of her last novel, hampered the progress of her writing. Eliot, mired in his tedious job as a banker and struggling to keep his marriage to his emotionally unstable wife intact, suffered a breakdown (and influenza, too) and for a time sought psychiatric care in Switzerland. Persona non grata in his native land of England, Lawrence had been living in Italy since 1919, but was itching to move on to new frontiers. Forster, the eldest of the quartet, who had not published a novel since Howards End in 1910, had gone to India as personal secretary to the Maharaja of Dewas and returned home to England that winter, melancholy and bereft.

As 1922 unfolded, great literature was born. Eliot completed “The Waste Land” and contentiously sought a proper home—and adequate payment—for what he knew was his masterpiece. Peripatetic Lawrence took a rather circuitous route to New Mexico by way of Australia, the source for his novel, Kangaroo, which Goldstein deems a neglected work. Ignited in part by reading Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, which first began appearing in English translation in that fateful year as well, Woolf started writing her luminous, ruminative Mrs. Dalloway. And Forster shed his Edwardian mantle to begin work on A Passage to India, a work he had abandoned years before and returned to after his second trip to the subcontinent and the recent tragedy of his rekindled passion for an Egyptian man, the love of his life.

Goldstein’s research into these (somewhat) intertwined lives is impressively rich and nuanced, and his 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.


This article was originally published in the August 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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