What did modern British and Irish literature have to do with French impressionist painting? And what did Henry James have to do with the legal dispute between John Ruskin and J.M.W. Whistler? Or Joseph Conrad with terrorism, the newspapers, and photojournalism? What links Walter Pater with Conrad's portrait of a genocidal maniac in Heart of Darkness? Adam Parkes argues that we must answer such questions if we are to appreciate the full impact of impressionist aesthetics on modern British and Irish writers. Complicating previous accounts of the influence of painting and philosophy on literary impressionism, A Sense of Shock shows why this writing needs to be read in its historical context. In the hands of such practitioners as Conrad, Ford, James, Moore, Pater, and Woolf, literary impressionism was shaped by its engagement with important social issues and political events that defined the modern age. As Parkes demonstrates, the formal and stylistic practices that distinguish impressionist writing were the result of dynamic and often provocative interactions between aesthetic and historical factors.
Ultimately, Parkes suggests, it was this incendiary combination of aesthetics and history that enabled impressionist writing to make a major impact on the literary culture of its time. This book will appeal to students and scholars of nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature, as well as the growing readerships for books that explore problems of literary history and interdisciplinarity.