100 years later… Celebrating the centenary of the canon

2022 marks an important year when it comes to celebrating the 100th year publication anniversary of some of the most famous works in the literary canon. There is no doubt that many of these award-winning books have never left our shelves, are consistently available in our local bookshops, and continue to be published as special edition copies by publishers. If you have yet to pick up even one of these famous four, then I would highly recommend you do so. 1922 was evidently a period for writers to create such renowned stories that, by constantly being recycled, prove that good literature can effortlessly stand the test of time.


The first book on this list, known by all, is James Joyce’s Ulysses. This infamous novel was originally serialised in The Little Review from 1918 to 1920, and quickly became the canon for the modernist movement. The story follows Leopold Bloom for a single day, 16th of June 1904, as he goes about his business in Dublin performing ordinary tasks, such as buying soap and going to the pub. Despite the simple plot, the third person omniscient narrator allows Joyce to use a stream of consciousness technique which, combined with witticisms, literary and historical allusions, creates a complex structure and style that label it as one of the greatest works in the literary market. Furthermore, the author took Homer’s Odyssey as inspiration, thereby the eighteen chapters corresponding to a book from the classical work, highlighting its satire as the text is written like a classic epic. Hence the title Ulysses.

Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha is the next book on this list. This 1922 novel only became influential in the western world from the 1960s; a fact that nevertheless fails to undermine its notoriety. This famous story recapitulates the spiritual journey of self-discovery of the main character, Siddhartha, whose name suggests the Gautama Buddha himself. We experience Hesse’s Hindu protagonist as he matures from an impetuous child into a wise young adult by discarding a life of privilege to seek spiritual fulfilment and a deeper meaning to life. The people he encounters are crucial to teaching him various aspects of the beings on our planet, which help to guide him on his path towards asceticism. It is a truly inspiring novel from the Indian author, and one that explores the discovery of religious enlightenment through a lyrical and elegant writing style.

Another work published 100 years ago that was highly influential in the modernist movement was The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot. A combination of literary and cultural allusions from the western canon, Eliot’s poem alternates between satirical and prophecy-style voices, making abrupt and unexpected changes to the speaker, setting, and time. Each section introduces a range of themes, from loss to mortality, and highlights the disillusionment of the post-war generation. Effectively, Eliot analyses the disease of modern time through an unusual style which uses stream of consciousness to combine different lyrical traditions and genres. By using a variety of modernist techniques, such as imagism, and fluctuating verse forms, the poet encapsulates the fragmented experience of contemporary life.

Last in this list, but certainly not least, is Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room. Despite being her third novel, Jacob’s Room is essential in marking Woolf as a ground-breaking novelist. The story follows Jacob Flanders, a man who struggles to reconcile his love of classical culture with the turbulent realities of modern society, particularly the turmoil of World War I. The author focuses on the psychological realm of her characters by presenting Jacob through the women’s perspectives, relying on much internal monologue and the letters written to his mother to capture his nature. Therefore, by structuring the narrative in this way, Woolf challenges the notion of ever truly knowing and understanding the characters with whom the readers are engaging. Evidently, we can draw similarities between Woolf and her peers: this bildungsroman reflects the philosophical thought and profound consideration of the meaning of modern life. These themes are not only present in many major texts published in 1922, but continue to influence and be the source of inspiration to many published authors within the last century.


Featured imageSuzy Hazelwood on Pexels

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Our YouTube Channel