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Groups, Coteries, Circles and Guilds

Modernist Aesthetics and the Utopian Lure of Community

Edited By Laura Scuriatti

In the first half of the twentieth century, artists, intellectuals, writers, thinkers and patrons in Europe and the United States created a large number of artistic communities, circles, groups and movements with the aim of providing alternatives to the increasingly conflictual political and intellectual climate; the works and artistic practices of many of these groups were marked by an ethos of collaboration, based on a collective understanding of artistic production, and on the nurturing and exercise of sociability and conviviality. Collaboration, sociability, friendship and collective artistic efforts represented the utopian aspects of the radical experiments carried out by avant-garde and modernist artists; they were also the counterparts of the period’s obsession with the notion of genius and the cult of the artist. This book offers studies of under-researched (and often consciously provincial) avant-garde and modernist groups and authors. Their progressive aims are here read as particular forms of utopia based on the ethics and aesthetics of community.

The essays in this volume analyse the significance (and failures) of literary coteries as spaces of aesthetic and political freedom. They explore the internationalist and interdisciplinary practices of the Porza Group, the abstrakten hannover and the anthroposophical group Aenigma; the utopian efforts of the artists’ communities at Dornach (Switzerland) and Farley Farm, in England; the political and aesthetic implications of collaborative practices of cultural mediation, criticism and translation within the Bloomsbury group, the «Young American Critics», and of single individuals in relation to networks and avant-garde coteries, such as Mina Loy, the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven and Djuna Barnes. The volume offers an evaluation of the roots and ethos of sociability in the Enlightenment, as the basis of modernist utopias of community; it also reflects on the problematic notion of individual authorship within artistic groups, as in the case of the early-modernist Finnish author Algot Untola, who created around forty fictitious author-names.

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2 Bridges over the Atlantic: Exploring Utopia in Women’s Modernism (Francesca Chiappini)


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2 Bridges over the Atlantic: Exploring Utopia in Women’s Modernism


Defining the varieties of the communities of modernist women, whether they were permanent or occasional, whether they were actual – located in specific places – or just virtual, is a challenging effort. The networks that emerge in such an attempt design a fascinating and dynamic map, where patterns of interaction complicate the meaning of the word ‘community’, and draw attention to the autobiographical, fictional and speculative aspects. This polyhedric notion of community emerges not only in the writings of specific authors, but also in the pages of small magazines, which create situations of dialogue and exchange. This chapter explores how fictional narratives can be useful to map the several facets of building community in women’s modernism, and to assess whether fiction-writing in itself can be considered as a way of building community rather than one of narrating community. As case studies, I investigate the writings of two friends and fellow modernist authors Djuna Barnes and ‘the Baroness’ Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.


Women’s modernism is a highly dynamic environment, consisting of a plethora of community networks, exchanges and debates. Studies over the last century have thoroughly explored this kaleidoscopic literary and artistic phenomenon. Even to identify ‘women’s modernism’ has proved a problematic practice from the outset: the phrase itself includes experiences so divergent that it becomes hard to think of a common theoretical paradigm.


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