Frank Kermode's The Genesis of Secrecy has the following quote:

One motive of... modernism was the desire to break with a tradition of writing supposed to have been based on a mistaken or dishonest desire to eliminate the oracular by simple plausibility in the registration of a real world, and by connivance with vulgar notions of cause and closure - to make false sense by means of a false realism.

First, some definitions. He defines modernism as Joyce, T.S. Eliot and such, so there's no real issue here. By oracular he means the knowledge that there are latent meanings in the text and that the author knows and creates these meanings, though Kermode suggests that the interpretations may extend beyond the author's intent. What this means is that Kermode claims that modernism is a return to expecting latent meanings away from some school or tradition that denied it.

My question is what could that school or tradition be?

It can't be the romantics, because they seem to be filled with the oracular. Is he commenting on Edwardian literature? I am not very familiar with it, but I lump Yeats in that era and he seems steeped in the idea of interpretation. Could he be referring to that era in different countries? Or is he referring to Milton, Pope and that group of authors or whatever was occurring in Europe at that same time?

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    You're thinking about poetry (Milton, Pope, Yeats, etc.). You should be thinking about novels. In particular, look at George Eliot's manifestos about realism, in "The Natural History of German Life", and in "Adam Bede," shortly into chapter XVII. – Peter Shor Mar 28 at 15:23
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    The other famous 19th century British realist novelist, besides George Eliot, is Thomas Hardy. There must have been a number of minor ones who are not read much nowadays, but I can't find a list of them on the web. And there were also a number of famous realist novelists in France and Germany as well (it seems to have started there, and George Eliot imported it into England). – Peter Shor Mar 28 at 15:45
  • Yes, of course. Even when I was fully steeped in literature I seemed to have had a blind spot when it comes to the novelists of the period. Thanks. – Dennis Fleming Mar 28 at 17:07

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