“[T]o bury Euclid deep in the living flesh”
Modernist writers loudly proclaimed their difference from their Victorian forebears, whom they pronounced conventional, moralizing, and sentimental. Yet the formalizing impulse of Victorian art was a crucial precursor to a set of similar tendencies in early modernism. Because, for the moderns, that formalism had a different ethical inflection, it’s easy to overlook the continuing importance of the Victorian notion of form to work in literature and art. That mathematical conception of form continues to matter, especially within literary criticism, and literary critics need to understand the history of this formalism in order to understand the stakes we still attach to it.
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