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This report is taken from PN Review 213, Volume 40 Number 1, September - October 2013.

1913: Breakouts across Borders Boyd Tonkin
The year before the deluge that many had imagined but virtually no one seriously expected, 1913 has often figured in the European mind as a before-the-fall idyll: a waltz on the brink of the abyss. With the centenary of the Great War's outbreak almost upon us, anniversary reappraisals have begun to peel away the layers of sentimental hindsight and judge the year as history's usual mess of contradictions. Our forebears could not see what horrors lay around the corner because, at least until the diplomatic breakdown of July 1914, they simply didn't. Strip away the myth of predestination and we can contemplate a Europe in which, as before and since, impulses towards mutual understanding and exchange vied with suspicion and insularity.

Economic historians argue that, by 1913, the globalisation of trade had reached a level that would not be matched again until decades after the Second World War. In culture, too, the flow of traffic had perceptibly quickened. Forms, schools, ideas crossed porous intellectual borders. Many younger writers not only cherished the ideal of a multi-lingual republic of letters, but helped to put it into practice. 1913 proved a year of decisive breakthroughs for at least three of the authors who would shape the course of twentieth-century fiction: D.H. Lawrence in England; Marcel Proust in France; and Franz Kafka in Bohemia, until 1918 still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Each writer, so often viewed as a founder and pioneer of modern literary language in English, French and German respectively, ...


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