She’s a figure of transition between the late Victorian period and Modernism.
Her father had been one of the most important intellectuals of the late Victorian period. He was a critic, a write, a philosopher and he was a typical Victorian man: a figure of absolute authority as a father. Her mother was also a typical Victorian woman: completely dedicated to the domestic sphere.
One of the most important aspects of her biography is her psychological condition: she was fragile, she suffered from depression and she was terrified of becoming mad. Also, she was sexually assaulted when she was a girl and this fact leads to another important fact: her bisexuality (she had a passionate affair with Vita Sackville – West). It’s for Vita that she invented the story of Orlando: a man born during the Renaissance, an aristocrat who lives at the court of Queen Eliz I and who at some point becomes a woman.
After the death of both parents, Virginia Woolf and her siblings moved to Bloomsbury, a residential area with cultural institutions. Their house became the centre of aggregation of a variety of writers, thinkers, ...who created the Bloomsbury Group. The group was heterogeneous but was kept together by shared principles: the opposition to everything the Victorian period signified (what they saw as self-referentiality), and they knew that nothing could come out of that culture from the past.
Feminism: both the political movement (suffragettes) and the cultural movement (The New Woman) influenced Virginia Woolf.
From the literary point of view, we consider Virginia Woolf as an experimental writer, but when she started writing in 1910, her first novels were still traditional (late Victorian kind of Style). Gradually she developed into experimentalism, she began to have an interest in the new modernist writers such as Eliot and Joyce. In 1922 she published Jacob’s Room in which she changed completely her style.
She never forgot her early production. For example, Clarissa Dalloway had already appeared as a minor character in her 1st novel The Voyage out (1915).
She wrote 2 other important prose writings:
Feminist essay “A Room of One’s Own” (1929): it was intended as a series of lectures to the female students at the University of Cambridge. She deals with different problem s and the central one is why do we study only men in literature? She went to the English library and looked and the catalogue: she realized that more men than women wrote in the history of English. Her sociological explanation is that in order to write you need the free time, financial stability and a space in which to write. She tries to explain how exceptional women such as the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, George Eliot, managed to write and publish despite all the complications. She asks “What would have happened if Shakespeare had had a sister as brilliant as him?” She wouldn’t have had the same opportunity. She creates an invented biography of S.’s sister Judith. This woman fails every single time because of all economic, legal and social constrictions.
Critical essay “Modern Fiction” (1921): what should modern fiction really be? She identifies the most popular novelists of the present and she gives a few names of male authors who are considered to be authors of modern fiction. But according to her there’s a problem: their excessive realism. They are following the tradition of the Victorian Realistic Novel (Dickens, Hardy). This is a glorious tradition, but they are just repeating a formula. There is another problem: their representation of life is materialistic that is to say that their analysis stops at the surface of society or people. They are concerned with the body and not with the spirit. In the past there were great novelists (Fielding and Jane Austen) who were innovators according to their cultural condition. Modern Fiction should look at life as it really is. It should forget about solidity because reality is not solid, but it is mutable, fragmented and fluid. The same for the individual: we are dispersed and fragmented. So writers should forget about plot, a logical sequence of events, forget established genres and traditional themes. They should look within. Life is like an indistinct light where things are not clearly symmetrical. Then she concentrates on one writer: James Joyce. She provides some analyses of Ulysses: she considered its extreme realism excessive, but it has a complete transformative value. From the literary point of view Joyce was a transformer of English Fiction: he was spiritual. She also mentions non-English writers. It means she had a cosmopolitan background and that modern literature is international.
Other important aspects related to Virginia Woolf:
Androgyny: she believed that the mind of a genius was mixture of feminine and masculine qualities
Looking within: later she develops the TUNNELLING TECHNIQUE in Mrs Dalloway. She meant her own way of writing in order to explore the caves of the minds of her characters. In our brains there are caves where feelings, memories, thoughts and sensations are hidden. The modern writer is like a speleologist who goes deeper and brings up to the surface these hidden pieces of information. This technique uses some devices such as the INTERIOR MONOLOGUE and the FREE INDIRECT SPEECH.
Time: it is subjective and spiritual. Inside the concept of time, she introduces the MOMENT OF IMPORTANCE: a moment in which you understand something at the spiritual level. In her diaries she wrote often about these moments, which can be banal.
BEETWEEN THE ACTS (1941)
Questioning of Englishness.
By this point in time, Britain was at war with Nazi Germany and Virginia Woolf was deeply affected by the war because:
She was a pacifist.
She thought that war was created by the masculine mentality (related to the education men received).
Her own city was transformed into a battlefield.
She had to move out of London and move to the countryside.
All these events made her depression worse and worse and she committed suicide by drowning herself.
The novel was written in 1939 when World War 2 broke out and it’s written in the shadow of war. It was published posthumously.
Acts of a play – the novel is about a PAGEANT which is a theatrical entertainment.
World War 1 and World War 2.
A moment of peace and a moment of crisis.
It means a situation of transitiveness: being on the verge of something in the transformation.
There is no real plot, but just a basic narrative line. She avoids fixed genre. It’s chapter less, it’s one long sketch of narration. It is elusive, lyrical and full of allusions filled with moments of importance.
The actions take place in 1 day. It’s in the countryside somewhere in the midlands and the setting is an ancient house that goes back to the Middle Ages. It’s called Poyntz Hole and in its garden the action takes place. This is where the Oliver family lives and it’s the oldest and richest family in the area. It’s an idyllic English setting. This family is representative of the past and the tradition. They organise every year the village pageant where the rich, the poor all come, but there’s a clear class separation: the rich are the audience and the middle class are the performers.
Virginia Woolf looks at all varieties of themes: masculine, feminine and gay sexuality, differences in class, the Empire, politics, inter-personal relations (intellectual, sexual, emotional, friendship, love). She analyses the subtle mechanism that begins to move when love disappears. She also analyses the theme of violence associated to men.
The village Pageant is organised by an eccentric woman Mrs La Trobe, who’s an artist and dramatist.
When she started thinking of this novel, she wanted to call it “Poyntz Hole”. In her diary she wrote “I rejected, we substituted”: it’s a central idea because she doesn’t focus on one self, but she analyses all the characters equally. She concentrates on “We”, the collective. So the novel is a representation of a communal experience.
The village is much like Highbury, a microcosm that stands for the nation. It’s a community in the transition of periods in a state of transformation. We have the history of the past, the present and the future.
In the middle of all this, Virginia Woolf implants a reflection on “we”, the English. She takes the entire tradition of Englishness and puts it into the novel in order to criticize the sense of identification with something called England. She does it in an ironic way because normally pageants are celebratory events.
1st passage: pp. 48-51
She combines the actual narrative and what happens on the stage. We are readers but also spectators: there are 3 levels of spectatorship. This pageant is not a complete invention. There was a tradition on the 31st of May to have a pageant inspired by the history of England and was the festival of the Empire. Virginia Woolf goes back to all the images of Englishness: there are the idea of insularity, the idea of being separated from the continent (Shakespeare – Richard II), the idea of the sea (Shakespeare), the roses and the mythology of Merry England.
There is a chronological line of development but she complicates time. There are 2 different temporal levels: the OFFICIAL TIME OF THE NATION (divided into historical phases) and the TIME OF THE PRESENT “tick tick tick” = the machine is a device that has multiple functions and sometimes it’s a clock. It is a leitmotif which also means the technological progress and the continuity of history. There is an interconnection between the 2 temporal levels.
2nd passage: pp 52-53
Elizabethan period. “Dispersed are we” = leitmotif. From a unified audience to a subdivision. Virginia Woolf concentrates on what it means to be a unified We but also on the concept of the group falling apart. “For one moment”: Miss la Trobe wants to find the moment of importance, the deep meaning of the show. So the show is an instrument used to bring the audience to a moment of importance.
Miss La Trobe is insecure -> it’s the same insecurity that Virginia Woolf felt, insecurity of not being good enough, insecurity of the woman writer.
Then the camera shifts on Giles. The stone represents primitivism. The violence which is imaginary in the 1st paragraph becomes real in the 2nd because he kills the snake. NB: “action” = it was a political slogan for the right wing party (Fascism, National Socialism, Nazism). He defines himself as a coward because he’s not taking political action. Giles is probably sympathizer of Nazi-Fascism and his violent actions symbolize the violence against the others. So Virginia Woolf creates an idyllic place but even in this limited environment, the pressure of contemporary history is strong.
3rd passage: pp. 58-61
There’s a combination of serious and trivial topics. She uses the free indirect speech (Jane Austen’s strawberries). The woman on the stage is probably the personification of Reason. There’s the image of the Empire around the world and also the image of colonialism. England becomes richer thanks to exotic manufactures and what it exports Christianity. Then there’s a celebration of musical harmony.
4th passage: pp. 74-75
Victorian Age. From a caricature of a London bobby to a character proclaiming Victorian England and the British Empire. He becomes an allegoric representation of the British Empire and an embodiment of the role of t global policeman. He sums up the values and principles of the Victorian period: work, religion, Ireland famine, GB as a great power, anti-Victorian reference to conventions where everything was regulated, prosperity (wealth) and respectability (religion and moral). The list is ironic and critical.
5th passage: pp. 96-97, pp. 110-113
Conclusion of the pageant. All the characters come back on the stage and they have mirrors in their hands. They turn the mirrors towards the audience. Time stops in the present moment: we have reached the moment of importance. Virginia Woolf /Miss La Trobe wants the audience to see themselves. It’s about us, ourselves, even the reader. The message is addressed to both the reader and the spectators in the novel. The reaction of the audience: they don’t want to see themselves. They are angry.
Last speech: let’s speak simply and let’s think about ourselves. It’s an accusation of being liars, of not facing reality. We are responsible, we are guilty; history is us. Then the pageant concludes with more songs (Rule Britannia, ...) -> irony. The mirrors have shifted the message and have destroyed the illusion of the glorification of Englishness.
Virginia Woolf is denouncing the falsity of all nationalism. She denounces the danger: all these myths can feed the nationalism that has led us to World War 1 and World War 2. The novel is not only a literary experiment to see how she can describe a collective mind, but it has historical and political importance.
1 day novel, in central London, through the mind of the protagonist Clarissa, who’s the hostess of a party.
It contains many flashbacks to Clarissa’s past experiences.
She struggles between her need for privacy and her need for communication.
Past and present overlapping.
The novel was originally entitled “The Hours”, but she changes the title showing the change of her interest: emphasis on Clarissa. But in the structure of the novel, Virginia Woolf found a balance between Clarissa and the other characters.
The meat of the novel doesn’t lie in the sequence of the events. Clarissa doesn’t simply walk through London, while she walks she also imagines, remembers and she overlaps past and present. Her memories are part of what she sees now. The past is always involved.
Throughout Mrs Dalloway there’s the shift from the material world to the minds of the characters perceiving it. We remain in Clarissa’s mind all the way to the flower shop, but there will be an external point of view (ex. the guests at the party).
Clarissa thinks of herself as a character. When she looks in the mirror, she knows that her face is the result of putting pieces together and that they are different = like a jigsaw.
We can see her public self (perfect hostess) and her deeper self made up of her past experience and her present emotions. There is a continuous interplay between her public self and privacy.
She seems lively, but we can see her sense of failure, coldness and depression.
Elements of modernism: airplane, cars, London.
Septimus Smith is important: he suffers from a post-traumatic disorder (shell-shock). He speaks in metaphors and stammers. VW was concerned with the war. We can say that life and death merge (Septimus symbolizes war and death).
Virginia Woolf criticizes NATIONAL TRIUMPHALISM including COLONIALISM, PATRIOTISM, UPPER-CLASS MARRIEGE (which is compulsive and compulsory) & SOCIAL INDIFFERENCE, by focusing on sociability.
Continua a leggere:
- Successivo: T. S. ELIOT (1888-1965) - THE WASTE LAND
- Precedente: WILLIAM WORDSWORTH – I WANDERED LONLEY AS A CLOUD (1815)
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