Modernist Women Writers and Spirituality: A Piercing Darkness
Chapter: Directing Modernist Spirituality: Evelyn Underhill, the Subliminal Consciousness and Spiritual Direction
Contributor: Jamie Callison
Editors: Elizabeth Anderson, Andrew Radford, Andrew, and Heather Walton
Publisher: Palgrave MacMillan
Book Description: Concentrating on female modernists specifically, this volume examines spiritual issues and their connections to gender during the modernist period. Scholarly inquiry surrounding women writers and their relation to what Wassily Kandinsky famously hoped would be an ‘Epoch of the Great Spiritual’ has generated myriad contexts for closer analysis including: feminist theology, literary and religious history, psychoanalysis, queer and trauma theory. This book considers canonical authors such as Virginia Woolf while also attending to critically overlooked or poorly understood figures such as H.D., Mary Butts, Rose Macaulay, Evelyn Underhill, Christopher St. John and Dion Fortune. With wide-ranging topics such as the formally innovative poetry of Stevie Smith and Hope Mirrlees to Evelyn Underhill’s mystical treatises and correspondence, this collection of essays aims to grant voices to the mostly forgotten female voices of the modernist period, showing how spirituality played a vital role in their lives and writing.
Chapter Description: Outlining an alternative trajectory for modernist spirituality to that traced in Pericles Lewis’s Religious Experience and the Modernist Novel (2010), I argue that modernist religious thought, far from playing heir to the long march of secularization, was in fact conditioned by a late-nineteenth-century cultural crisis that issued in a range of religious experiments and renewals, one of which was Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness (1911); a text that brought together not only mystical traditions and scientific discoveries , but also used this interdisciplinary remit to counter existing secularizing perspectives. An important dimension of Underhill’s work was its collaborative nature; it offers, I argue, not access to rarefied enlightenment, but rather a bold attempt to navigate a treacherous religious landscape.
A collection of breathtaking range and variety, this book includes provocative new readings among its original chapters which pore over, interrogate, and establish the fact that modernist women writers were genuinely invested in spiritual quests. Founded on an emerging, impressive body of new research (often archival), this book makes a fresh, original, and substantial contribution to the study of the topos of spirituality as understood and practiced by modernist women writers. I strongly recommend it.