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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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7 Olive Garnett and the Utopian Lure of Community: From Tolstoyan Togetherness to Anglo-Russian Aesthetics (Martina Ciceri)


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7 Olive Garnett and the Utopian Lure of Community: From Tolstoyan Togetherness to Anglo-Russian Aesthetics


The great upsurge in communal experiments that took place in late Victorian England offered new interpretations of the well-established notion of utopia. It is probably a less known fact that most of these experiments were largely informed by Russian utopianisms, particularly by Lev Tolstoy’s spiritualism and by the Russian émigrés’ revolutionary ideology. This essay investigates the interconnections between utopianism and communities, conceived as both social and literary clusters, in order to shed light on how these unique forms of collaborations concurred in forging a distinctive Anglo-Russian cosmopolitanism. While Tolstoyan communities offer a clear instance of Anglo-Russian utopian experiments in communal life, Olive Garnett and Stepniak’s literary group interpreted the lure of community in terms of literary exchanges, thereby standing as an experimental literary workshop, where a proper Anglo-Russian aesthetics is negotiated, as Olive Garnett’s novel In Russia’s Night (1918) demonstrates.

The culture of consensus that hallmarked Victorian Britain, alongside the latest economic and technological development, brought about significant and irreversible transformations in British fin-de-siècle society. As Eric Hobsbawm claims, in fact, rapidly growing metropolises and the identity crisis of the middle class triggered to an extent the dissolution of human bonds, giving way to individualistic stances and practices.1 International mobility did nothing but increase these issues, calling attention to a widespread feeling of deracination and dislocation within the modern...

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