Descent to the Underworld in Literature, Painting, and Film, 1895-1950

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The study presents the most comprehensive analysis of the descent to the underworld in Modernism. The work shows that the nekyia was the single most important myth for the Modernists writing between 1895 and 1946. It focuses on ‘necrotypes’, symbolic images typically found in association with descent to the underworld. It also takes an interdisciplinary approach to the subject, with chapters on the nekyia in film, science, psychology, and painting. It pays careful attention to the multicultural sources for the myth – Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian, Celtic, Norse, and Native American.

“This is a courageous and broadly-sweeping study of many key literary and artistic figures of a crucial half century of creativity in Europe, England, Ireland and the United States . . . . Smith’s study is not simply a survey, but a study in depth, in descent, and in a kind of scholarship that is remarkably free of the current horizontal jargon of literary theory. . . . The book’s interdisciplinary flavor makes such a study an excellent resource not only I showing the confluence of various disciplines but a model for how interdisciplinary studies can be used to see the larger whole of work rather than the narrow confines of a particular agenda.” – Dennis Patrick Slattery

Table of Contents

Table of contents (preliminary):
Introduction: Reductio Elementa
1. Quintet in a Minor Key: Strindberg’s Inferno Crisis; Conrad’s “Taste of Hell”; Lowry’s Day of the Dead; Alain-Fournier; Hermann Hesse
2. The Lyrical Nekyia: Yeats and the “Cocks of Hades”; Metaphors of Poesis in Wallace Stevens; Rilke’s “Door of the Dead”; Mina Loy – “An Older Ophelia on Lethe”; Marguerite Yourcenar’s Fires
3. T. S. Eliot and the Marital Nekyia: The Waste Land; Later Poems; Four Quartets
4. Marcel Proust’s Musical Nekyia: Swann’s Way; Within a Budding Grove; The Guermantes Way; Cities of the Plain; The Captive; The Fugitive
5. D.H. Lawrence and the Erotic Nekyia: Early Works; The Rainbow; Women I Love; The Plumed Serpent; Last Works
6. James Joyce: Overlord of the Wonderwearlds: Dubliners; Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; Ulysses – “Underdarkneath the Night”; Finnegans Wake
7. Thomas Mann and the “Cult of the Sepulchre”: Early Works; The Magic Mountain; Joseph and His Brothers; Doctor Faustus
8. Hermann Broch’s “Realm of Shadows”: The Death of Virgil; The Guiltless
9. Robert Musil: Young Törless; Claudine’s Katabasis; Homo’s Holiday
10. Re-Visioning the Elysian Fields: The New Physics; Modernist painting’Modernist Films; Thanatology; The Psychological Nekyia
11. Conclusion: Nekyia as Poesis; Hades and Hermeneutics; the Myth of Modernism
Works cited; Index

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