Concluding Woolf Blog Series

This series of blogs set out to examine Virginia Woolf’s ideology of character and to examine the relationship between her stylistic construction of it and the tropes of her literary predecessors. It has shown that the two groups differed on a key number of issues, and that although Woolf consciously set herself in opposition to Edwardian convention, she did so not out of a desire to be contrary or to fight the established literary order, but to correct the grievous mistakes she saw recurring again and again within the pages of the novel. The conflict revolved around the issue of realistic portrayal, of capturing the true nature of life as well as one could. Central to this was the difference that the two groups held about the nature of life and of perception; Woolf was a child of the early twenty first century, a writer infused with subtlety and subjectivity, unwilling to reduce her subject manner in an attempt to tame it.

 

Instead, she combined indirect free speech, narrative obfuscation and with fleeting snapshots of characters in a multitudinous web of perceptions and possibility. By doing so, she gave her reader the freedom and the incentive to participate in the formation of each and every character, to throw of their shackles as mindless consumers and emerge, blinking, from the dark dungeons of convention into a bold new world of light and colour, a world of imagination and relevance.

 

The implications for this are wide ranging and significant. It stems the lust for Woolf’s novels to be seen as something new and unheralded, as avant garde pioneers cleverly tracking their way through unknown seas. Many of Woolf’s deviations from the Edwardians were innovations but the desire to see them as a genesis for a new form, “a new name” for a series of books that will “supplant” the term “novel”. This is one of the most misinterpreted and misquoted of Woolf’s many utterances, and one that has tragically led so many to rush beneath the surface of her remarkable achievement in the search for something that simply isn’t there, nor ever claimed to be so. Woolf’s diaries and letters are littered with mentions like this, and too many are understood to mean that the focus of her prose was to be new. The originality of much of her work is almost incidental: if authors before her had used the techniques that she felt depicted life then she would have adopted them without a moment’s pause. In fact, she was accepting of many classical writers, and of George Eliot she remarked that “greatness is here we can have no doubt.” Her opposition to the Edwardians was not born out of any petty desire to be the first or to create for creation’s sake but instead nobly held aloft by a burning desire to capture life in her words.

 

Reading Woolf in this way alleviates her work, in part at least, from interpretations that are too keen to stress biographical and contextual information, works like that of Louise DeSalvo, that attempt to depict Woolf as little more than a helpless passenger in her own literary creation, a servant of the past and of measures beyond her control or understanding. This dissertation has performed a thoroughly Woolfian action in unravelling such notions and instead proposing a subjective mesh of ideas as an alternative, one which is flexible and adaptive to other ideas. Outside factors undoubtedly effected Woolf and her work, but at the heart of every experiment, lingering in the blossoming soul of every image there is a driving desire to create something exceptional, a desire to be revolutionary and remarkable, a desire to tend to her beloved child, the novel, and set it back upon the right path again. If nothing else, this dissertation hopes to have revealed a part of that spirit, and to have given one of the 20th century’s novelist’s most influential novelists a little agency again.


May 16, 2018

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