Modernism, Egyptian Nationalism, and “other disorders of a revolutionary character”: H. D., Bryher, and Tutankhamun

Celena E. Kusch, University of South Carolina Upstate
Vol. 36, No. 1 (Spring 2017), 99-127

Expanding on connections between modernist and postcolonial studies, this paper calls overdue attention to Egyptian nationalism and independence as important cultural contexts for modernist production. The 1922 declaration of Egyptian independence and 1923 opening of King Tutankhamun’s tomb not only coincide historically with the 1922-1923 upwelling of modernist literature, they also make the politics of decolonization central to modernism’s narratives of national identity and modernity itself. Viewing this period through the lens of H. D.’s “Secret Name: Excavator’s Egypt (circa 1925 A. D.)” (1926), her unpublished sequel “Hesperia,” and Bryher’s travel writing published in Life and Letters Today, this paper draws on new archival evidence to retheorize these writers’ modernist responses to Egypt’s independence and to the archaeological disputes over the tomb. Offsetting the absence of contemporary Egyptian politicians in these literary texts, representations of a resistant Egyptian landscape, language, culture, and art reveal the fundamental challenge Egypt’s decolonization posed to American and British identity. For both writers, unsettling natural and cultural encounters impelled them to recognize the living, not ancient, Egypt and to embrace an anti-imperial transnationality.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]