Virginia Wolf

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Virginia Woolf, the woman as a writer “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” In 1878, Leslie Stephen and Julia Jackson Duckworth married for the second time. Four years later, on the 26th of March at 22 Hyde Park Gate London, Adeline Virginia Stephen was born. She was the third of their four children. Leslie Stephen began his career as a clergyman but soon became atheist and took up journalism. He and Julia did their best in order to provide their children with a home of wealth and comfort. Virginia denied the formal education allowed to males and still she was able to take advantage of her father`s abundant library and observe his writing talent. She was surrounded by intellectual conversation: the same year Virginia was born, for instance, her father began editing the huge Dictionary of National Biography. The emotional side of the children was brought out by the more delicate member of the family, Virginia`s mother. Anyway both parents were very strong personalities and many years Virginia felt overshadowed by them. During her lifetime Virginia suffered three major mental breakdowns and she would die during a fourth. In all likelihood, the compulsive drive to work that she enharited from her parents, combined with her naturally fragile state, primarily contributed to these breakdowns. Yet other factors were also important. Her first breakdown happened shortly following the death of her mother in 1895, which Virginia later described as “the greatest disaster that could have happened”. It is said that Virginia felt guilt after having chosen her father as her favourite parent. In any case, her father`s duties after their mother`s death, caused a rift between her and Virginia. Virginia fell sick soon after Stella, her sister`s death. The same year, Virginia began writing her first diary. In the next seven years, Virginia`s decision to write increased and her admiration for women grew. She managed to educated herself and greatly admired women such as Madge Vaughan, daughter of John Addington Symonds, who wrote novels and would later appear in Mrs. Dalloway, as Sally Seton. Her admiration for strong women was combined with a growing dislike for male domination in society, Virginia`s feelings were influenced by her relationship to her stepbrother, George Duckworth, who was fourteen when Virginia was born. In the last year of life, Virginia wrote to a friend telling the shame she felt when, at the age of six, she was fondled by George. Similar incidents happened other times too throughout her childhood until Virginia was in her early twenties. In 1904 her father died, shortly after finishing the Dictionary and receiving a knighthood. Though freed from his shadow, Virginia was overcome by the event and this was the time when she suffered her second mental breakdown, combined with scarlet fever. During the next four years, Virginia would begin work on her first novel, The Voyage Out(1915). In 1909, she accepted a marriage proposal from Strachey but he later broke off the engagement. In the same year she received a legacy of 2 500 pounds, which would later allow her to live independently. In 1911, Leonard Woolf, another Bloomsbury Group, returned from Celyon, and they got married in 1912. Woolf was the stable presence that Virginia needed in order to control her moods and steady her talent. He gave their home a musical atmosphere. Virginia totally trusted his literary judgement. Their marriage was viewed as a partenership and that`s why some suggested that their sexual relationship was nonexistent. As she grew older, Virginia felt ill more frequently and she would often take respite in rest homes and in the care of her husband. In 1917, Leonard founded the Hogarth Press in order to

publish their books. He was hoping that Virginia could bestow the care on the press that she would have bestowed on children. Doctors advised her not to become pregnant after her third serious breakdown in 1913. The press provided her with an early look at Joyce`s Ulysses and aided authors such as Forster, Freud, Isherwood, Mansfield, Tolstoy and Chekov. But in 1983 she sold her half interest. “Before her death, Virginia published an extraordinary amount of groundbreaking material. She was a renowned member of the Bloomsbury Group and a leading writer of the modernist movement with her use of innovative literary techniques. In contrast to the majority of literature written before the early 1900s, which emphasized plot and detailed descriptions of characters and settings, Woolf`s writing thoroughly explores the concepts of time, memory and consciousness. The plot is generated by the characters` inner lives, not by the external world. In March 1941, Woolf left suicide notes for her husband and sister and drowned herself in a nearby river. She feared her madness was returning and that she would not be able to continue writing, and she wished to spare her loved ones”. Despite her many illness, Woolf remained productive. She had a great and intense power of concentration which would allow her to work ten to twelve hours writing. Her most notable works include: Night and Day, The Mark on the Wall, Jacob`s Room, Monday or Tuesday, Mrs . Dalloway, To The Lighthouse, Orlando, A Room of One`s Own, The Waves, The Years and Between the Acts. Her work comprises: five volumes of collected essays and review, two biographies, two libertarian books, a volume of selections from her diary, nine novels and a volume of short stories. Virginia Woolf`s generation was influenced by the ideas of the Russian literature and Freud`s psychoanalysis, French Post-Impressionist painting and G.B. Moore`s philosophy. In this context, the author felt that he had to redefine reality as the source of fiction. In Modern Fiction (1919) Virginia Woolf complains that “the materialist writers”, such as Wells, Bennett and Galsworthy “write of unimportant things; they spend immense skill and immense industry making the trivial”, but inspite their efforts, “life escapes”. These writers wrote in a wrong way: they began with houses and expected the reader to deduce the human beings that lived there. They were not interested in character in itself, but in something outside the book. In Modern Fiction, Virginia Woolf rebels against the powerful and unscrupulous tyrant demanding the fiction writer to provide plot, comedy, tragedy, etc. but this preoccupation is, in fact, much older, as her Diary and notebooks prove. As far back, in 1908, she wrote, during a visit to Italy: “ As for writing- I want to express beauty, too- but beauty(symmetry) of life and the world, in action. Conflict?-is that it? If there is action in painting, it is only to exhibit lines; but with the end of beauty in view. Isn`t there a different kind of beauty? No conflict. I attain a different kind of beauty, achieve a symmetry, by means of infinite discords, showing all the traces of the mind`s passage through the world; achieve in the end some kind of whole made of shivering fragments; to me this seems the habitual process; the flight of the mind.” According to Virginia Woolf, the novelist must depict reality because reality is what any human being is interested in. A diary entry of 18 October 1918 sustains her opinion on the matter: “My theory is that for some reason the human mind is always seeking what it conceives to be the centre of things; sometimes one may call it reality, again truth, again life- I don`t know what to call it.” ( The Diary of V. Woolf 1915-1919, vol 1, Penguin Books, 1977, Ed. Anne Olivier Bell, p. 205)

The task of the writer is to find this reality and to communicate it to the reader. Virginia Wolf`s diary, notebooks, essays and novels reveal the fact that for her reality is, above all, the inner reality. Fiction must be a recreation of the complexities of experience. “This interest seems to have been born, to a certain extent, under the influence of the Bloomsbury Group. The mentor of the group, the professor of philosophy G.E. Moore, was interested in “states of mind” seen as timeless states of contemplation, largely unattached to “before” and “after”. To this one can add the influence of Roger Fry and Clive Bell`s theory of “significant form” in art. According to this theory, a form was significant if behind it one could catch a sense of ultimate reality. These ideas can be related to Virginia Woolf`s emphasis on time as an almost subjective phenomenon, to her analysis of states of mind or to her moments of illumination. She searched the external fluctuations of life to find illuminations of the meaning of personal life and of what life actually is to the psyche. To do that, she had to do this knowing that an ordinary mind on an ordinary day “receives a myriad impressions- trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent falls differently from of old; the moment of importance comes not here but there; so that, if a writer were a free man and not a slave, if he could write what he chose, not what he must, if he could base his work upon his feelings and not upon convention, there would be no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest or catastrophe in the accepted style.” (Modern Fiction, in The Common Reader, p. 159) There is an objection against plot and action in the traditional sense which are reflected in Virginia Woolf`s novels. They cancelled these conventional elements, rendering, instead, everyday life as it is refracted in the character`s consciousness. Her novels give a strong sense of a mind engaged in continuous soliloquy. From here we can infer the actions the character performs. These novels are based on a stream of moments of perception or vision, moments which are essential to her work because they contribute to the unity of form in her fiction, the presentation of her themes, as well as to the poetic quality characteristic of the author. These moments of perception determine the structure from the one used by her predecessors, as the asserts in Modern Fiction: “Let us record the athoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in which they fall, let us trace the pattern, however disconnected and incoherent in appearance, which each sight or incident scores upon the consciousness. Let us not take it for granted that life exists more fully in what is commonly thought big than in what is commonly thought small”.( Ibidem, p.155) In her attempt to record the “atoms” of experience, Virginia Woolf adopts different experimental devices. For example she gives up omniscient narration and employs the subjective consciousness in order to render a multiple impression of life as it is lived. She uses on the contrast between exterior/objective and intrios/subjective time and presents inner life by means of the free association of ideas and involuntary memory. The significance of exterior events is intentionaly diminished and the characters` response are by far more important to the novelist. Virginia Woolf`s novels are remarkable because of their sensibility and lyricism rather that their stream of consciousness devices. “These devices, nevertheless, are obviously present, for instance, objects to calling her method stream of consciousness, for though it depicts internal, subjective, awareness, thoughts and feelings, it never abandons syntax or punctuation and rarely tries to represent the subconscious”.

Not only has consciousness the role of apprehending the flux of life, but is also concerned with poetic intimations. Her novels are psychological and poetical as well. The poetic quality is something that she quickly enjoyed and appreciated in other writers, too. Virginia Woolf`s limited range of characters is explained by Claire Spragne: “ She wrote almost exclusively about one class of people, almost one might say one type of individual, and that a class or type whose experience is largely vicarious, whose contacts with actuality have been for one reason, or another incomplete, unsatisfactory or inhibited. Made up of poets, metaphysicians, botanists, water-colorists, the world of Mrs. Woolf is a kind of superior Bohemia, as acutely refined and aristocratic in its way as the world of H. James, except that its inhabitants concentrate on their sensations and impressions rather than on their problems of conduct”. Joan Bennett says that Virginia Woolf`s characters belong to a limited range of intellectual types, made up of disinterested scholars, like Mr. Ramsay, artists, women of tact and sensibility, with a gift for harmony, like Mrs. Ramsay or Mrs. Dalloway, all of them being sensitive or intelligent, or both. She doesn`t want to define an identity or reality, but she tries to make us “discover it by living in the minds of her characters” and in this way she emphasizes “the fluidity of human personality rather than its flexity” ( Joan Bennett, Virginia Woolf, Her Art as a Novelist, Cambridge, 1964, p.31). Such characters are sensitive and introspective, they are strongly aware of their impressions and feelings and this gave them a remarkable complexity. They are also aware of the moment as it passes, and the moment experienced is related to the physical world of the character, but also to the past, through the links of assosiaciation. This feature appears at many of the major Woolfian characters. The awareness in the characters is also connected to a major theme in Virginia Woolf`s work: the meaning of things or life, the search for a pattern of meaning in the flux of myriad impressions. Though her characters keep asking questions like: “What is like/reality?”, “Where am I going?”, “Who am I?”, Virginia Woolf never actually gives an answer. She is aware of the fact that “ the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark”. In Virginia Woolf`s vision the experience as such is more important than the revelation itself, what is revealed. This is why, the author relies more and more on the use of such moments of illumination. Her work becomes increasingly dramatic and she employs less and less narrative summary, achieving unity by thematic and formal means. Mrs. Dalloway is Virginia Woolf`s first fully experimental novel. It employs the same strategy as James Joyce`s Ulysses: the action of the novel shows the protagonist on one day, from morning till evening: Clarissa Dalloway, opens the window in the morning looks out, goes to the florist`s crossing part of London, returns home, meets a few people: her husband, Miss Kilman, Peter Walsh, fixes her dress and gives a party in the evening. This day is presented hour by hour, the time being marked by the chimes of Big Ben. This rather skimpy line of action in the present is paralleled with a very rich inner life, made up of the characters` response to various stimuli and bringing to the fore not only their feelings towards present, but particularly their feelings and memories of the past. “Within this narrow frame, by means of the contacts Clarissa makes and the memories they evoke in her and she in others, her life story from girlhood to her present age of fifty is gradually unfolded” ( J. Bennett, op.cit., p.99) The theme of the novel is that of one personality affecting and being affected by the others. We see Clarissa reflected in the mind of her husband Richard, of Peter Walsh, her suitor of 30 years,

of Miss Kilman, her daughter`s tutor, etc. and we get the memories of various people, including Clarissa herself, concerning certain important moments in her life. The movement forwards and backwards in time is realised by means of modernistic narrative devices of stream of consciousness. The author relies on two main points of consciousness: Clarissa and the couple Lucrezia and Septimus Warren Smith using the indirect interior monologue. Other persons crossing their way are also allowed their own monologues, in-so-far as they contribute to illuminating the protagonist. The omniscient point of view is kept at a minimum. It is only employed in order to report the characters` movements : “crossing the streets”, “she had reached the gates” or introduce their third person interior monologues: “she thought”, “he remembered”. So the use of the characters` point of view allows the frequent and rapid shifts between present and past, between clock time and subjective time. The reporting consciousness is in a constant state of flux which the novelist attempts to present as such. “To present inner life s simultaneous with outer life, Virginia Woolf employs many cinematic devices, of which space and time, montage is one of the most frequent. These devices are one of the ways in which V. Woolf confers her novel unity. The various characters, or rather their consciousness are linked by spatial erceptions of an external event: the prime minister`s car, the sky-writing plane, the pattern of the clouds, that provides a transition from one mind to another. What they perceive in common binds the characters together, even if they never actually meet: the case of Clarissa and Septimus”. Another uniting factor is the moment of time: when Big Ben strikes, the author moves from one character to another, on the very simple pretext that the clock is heard by each character. Big Ben, in fact has the role of a symbolistic image, a device characteristic for the lyrical novel. W. Troy notices the “deliberate use of recurrent images to identify the consciousness of each of the characters” and considers Big Ben in Mrs. Dalloway to be Virginia Woolf`s first use of “an enlarged image, a symbol that is fixed, constant, one that become a standard or centre of reference, setting the contrast between one with Virginia Woolf and the lighthouse in the later novel works in a similar way”. ( In Cl. Sprange, op. cit., pp.31-32). The recurrent use of certain images is paralleled by the repetition of certain words or phrases, which thus gradually become metaphorical: wave, sea, love, moment, life, feel, party, “Fear no more”. “Mrs. Dalloway makes ample use of moments of revelation, the characters themselves being aware of such moments and of their power. Septimus puts down his revelations on slips of paper, while Clarissa obviously enjoys “her secret deposit of exquisite moments”. Such moments sometimes lead to her recapturating the past, the recapture being generally caused by a communal place act: her doing her hair, for instance, or by an external stimulus: the atmosphere of the present days of her youth at Bourton. Thus, the action of the novel takes place on two different time levels: the present day in London, when the 50-year-old Clarissa gives a party, and the summer at Bourton 30years before, when she was courted by Peter Walsh, but finally accepted Richard Dalloway. Clock-time, indicated by the recurring chimes of Big Ben, is the time of conventional existence, of exterior behaviour. This is contrasted to subjective time, by which at any given time the character may be living in the present, past of an imaginary future. The inner duration, the duration of consciousness, is the level of authentic, spontaneous feelings. The past, as called back in Clarissa`s mind, does not obliterate the present moment and feelings and the memories of the past”. In an article on “Robinson Crusoe” in The Second Common Reader, Virginia Woolf wrote about the reader and the writer fiction:

“Our first task, and it is often formidable enough, is to master his perspective. Until we know how the novelist orders his world, the ornaments of that world, which the critics press upon us, the adventures of the writer, to which biographers draw attention, are superfluous possessions of which we can make no use. “From the conviction about the incompleteness of our knowledge of one another; and from the certainty here communicated that our fellow-beings do nevertheless arouse in us profound and valued feelings, springs V.W`s individual art of creating human beings. The method is cumulative, and it is therefore impossible to isolate from her books a portrait which epitomizes a particular character, either by means of description or dramatization. It is sympathy rather than judgement that she invokes, her personages are apprehended rather than comprehended. Increasingly, the writer eliminates herself from her books, the illusion of the all-seeing eye is replaced by the illusion that we are seeing by glimpses, with our own imperfect vision. Far more, however, is set before our eyes in the books than in normal experience. Not only are we given the impression made upon other minds, but also the impressions received and formulated by the divers persons whose lives are interwoven for us and from the pattern of the book”. After 1919 the aspects of life in which V.W could: “believe with conviction” ceased to include the clearly definable human character so the people in her later books frequently express her own unwillingness to circumscribe human beings within the compass of a character. Mrs. Dalloway, for instance: “She would not say of anyone in the world now that they were this or that”. Like many other novelists, Virginia Woolf can only fully communicate the experience of a limited number of human types. Some great novelists have a wider, some a narrower range than hers. She preferred to focus her vision of human beings upon the indefinable, fluid personality, rather than on the definite settled character. She liked to concentrate upon those kinds of people into whose minds she could most fully enter and through whose eyes she could imagine herself looking out upon the world. Talking about central characters she limits herself to one large social class, the class of those who have incomes and earn salaries. Around the centre she creates the other typical Londoners in Mrs. Dalloway which are often created with the same insight and sureness of touch as the central characters but with less fullness. Then there are the women with a gift for creating harmony, women of exquisite tact and sensibility like Mrs. Dalloway, or those who work for a cause, like Lady Burton. The presence of the second important character, the shell-shocked Septimus, is a way of introducing another group of characters, a darker side of life and a more profound sense of the historic background the novel is set against. The characters of the novel may be divided into two groups: Clarissa, Richard, Peter Walsh and their friends on the one hand. Septimus and Lucrezia Warren Smith on the other. The connection between the two groups is provided by formal means and by Dr. Bradshaw, who announces Smith`s death at Clarissa`s party. Clarissa and Septimus do not know each other, but a link between them is subtly established. This is achieved, first of all, by the use of space and time: we see both of them in London, on the same summer day, perceiving the same images and sounds. Moreover, Septimus is meant to be Clarissa`a double: “Septimus and Clarissa are linked in their isolating inability to love, though they feel more intensely than other characters. They are consoled in their awareness of the isolation of others and in the value of their integrity that must be protected from the soul-forcers, be they lovers or psychiatrists.” (S. Rosenbaum, English Literature and British Philosophy, The Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971, p.320) They share the same attitude to life, which they both love and fear. Before war, Septimus used to read Shakespeare and Darwin, and was interested in the

history of civilization and was “anxious to improve himself”. In his idealism, he volunteered to go to the front “ to save an England that consisted almost entirely of Shakespear`s plays and Miss Isabel Pole in a green dress walking in a square”. He shared the conviction that a young man has nothing to fear. After the war Septimus begins questioning the meaning of the world and though, in his insane he still pleads for the necessity of universal love. He is dominated by feelings of fear, loneliness, alienation and a sense of guilt for having “committed an appaling crime”. Everything has a different meaning for him now: life, beauty, Shakespeare, Dante. In Septimus` post-war experiences, consciousness is often obstructed. The truth that Septimus had discovered after the war leads him to despair and reluctance to live any longer or to perpetuate the human species: “One cannot bring children into a world like this. One cannot perpetuate suffering or increase the breed of these lustful animals, who have no lasting emotions, but only whims and vanities…”With such knowledge and feelings the only thing left for the brave fighter and survivor of war to do is to commit suicide. It would have been better if he had died during the war, leaving everything behind. The Shakespearean quotation:” Fear no more…”is obsessively present in the minds of both Clarissa and Septimus`s irrationality and madness. At the end of the novel, when Dr. Bradshaw brings the news of Septimus` suicide to Clarissa`s party, Clarissa lives a moment of identification with the man: “ She felt somehow very like himthe young man who had killed himself. She felt glad he had done it; thrown it away while they went on living”. Paradoxically, Clarissa`s identification with Septimus emphasizes life and makes her no longer fear death. Besides the moments of intensified consciousness are other human experiences of which she has a peculiar understanding. Romantic, passionate love is seldom in the foreground because she feels more interested with the relation between friends or between husband and wife, for example Mr. and Mrs. Dalloway.

Ruja Călina Diana Master an I, sem. II, Tipuri de modernitate în spațiul anglofon și francofon

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