Modernist literature is in essence, a rejection of 19th century conventions and traditions, and of their consensus between author and reader. Modernist writers saw themselves as gloriously avant-garde, disengaged from bourgeois values. They liked to disturb their readers by adopting complex and difficult new forms and styles. Joseph Conrad, Marcel Proust, and William Faulkner disrupted the accepted continuity of sequential development.

Meanwhile, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf experimented with new-fangled ways of tracing the flow of characters' thoughts in their stream of consciousness styles. When it came to poetry, Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot got rid of the commonsensical exposition of thoughts and replaced them with abstract collages of disconnected images and complex allusions.

Modernist literature toys with the conventions of time, space and human consciousness. It possesses an awareness or grasp of new anthropological and psychological theories. Its favoured techniques of juxtaposition and multiple points of view challenge the reader to reestablish a coherence of meaning from fragmentary forms. It prefers simultaneous to boring and standard linear, disjointed to unified, abstract to concrete. It stood for a revolt against middle-class morality, and a casual adoption of new political and social institutions. It gave birth to cutting edge artistic movements with ultra alarming names such as dadaism, surrealism, futurism, imagism and vorticism.

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