The Cambridge Introduction to Virginia Woolf (Cambridge Introductions to Literature)

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While Hunter points out the significant differences between their social and historical backgrounds, he joins James Kelman and Chinua Achebe in Chapter 12 by virtue of their common belief in the importance of cultural self-determination and their rejection of absolutism, whether in Scotland or in Nigeria.

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Since the anthologies on the list of bibliographic references on page date from the years to , those wishing to find some new titles are bound to be disappointed. On the other hand, the omission of volumes of short stories that have been discussed in various chapters of the book is really perplexing.

No objection is to be made to the inclusion of titles that are still far from being out of fashion because they remain landmark works in criticism of the short story. Yet again, as in the case of the anthologies, one suspects that at least several worthy publications of this kind must have appeared since One of the greatest achievements of the author of this thought-provoking book lies in his ability to stimulate a well-informed response to a fictional genre which, in spite of its popularity, is still too often misunderstood and plagued by misconceptions.

Thus, we owe thanks to Adrian Hunter for sharing with us his knowledge and his love of the short story. The voices spoke in sequence against a background of everyday objects, a set for living that consisted of a room, plates, cups, table napkins, a flower pot — a still life such as her sister Vanessa Bell or Duncan Grant might have painted. Instead, she painted them in words which recorded the changing sunlight as it crept across their several surfaces and forms, defining their nature. Its particular combination of disembod- ied dialogues, alternating with a garden world of nature, made its own contribution to The Waves.

But in her search for what human beings have in common, Woolf substituted soliloquy, the interior voice of drama, for dialogue.


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The effect of setting the voices against a nature emptied of human presence was to isolate and simplify them. Yet Woolf was as interested in what her characters had in common as in their isolated forms. Even at the egotistical stage of the nursery, they exist largely in interaction: when Jinny kisses Louis, Bernard attempts to console the weeping Susan. Escaping together, they glimpse the different world and time of Elvedon, where archetypal gardeners forever sweep the leaves and a lady sits writing between the two long windows. Later the children share their experiences of school and, for two of the boys, university.

The central episodes of the book consist of communal occasions: the farewell dinner before Percival leaves for India, and the reunion supper at Hampton Court, creating eddies of movement and reflection within the characters. Woolf was always fascinated by the relation of the individual to the group.

The Waves aspired to the condition of poetry or drama, yet unlike most drama it uses speech not to differentiate the speakers, but to unite them through a common style, even though each reverts to private sequences of imagery. Such verb tenses are more often used in poetry than in common speech. One effect of this is to detach the characters from their desires and actions so that, as James. It is possible to read the characters as six different versions of a single self. Among them, similarities are as significant as differences, and are not tied to gender: Jinny and Neville are linked through their restless desire for new lovers, new encounters, while Bernard and Susan are linked by their desire to create and perpetuate, and their search for roots; Rhoda and Louis are tormented by a sense of social inadequacy and of alienation.

One result of the focus on what is shared, and what is fundamental, is a sense of the monolithic, the statuesque that is potentially at odds with the movement of the novel through time. The book is poetic in its simplifications and repeti- tions, but also shares in the immediacy, the absence of process, of lyric poetry.

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Bernard displays the greatest versatility, acting out different roles, recording the responses of the others, and so narrating his own story and sometimes theirs. Its simplifications demand a different kind of history, perhaps on an altogether vaster scale. The social life of restaurants, private visits and parties belongs as decisively to the twentieth century as does the underground or the gilt chair on which Jinny perches. But the race that he runs is cut short when his horse stumbles, and he is thrown to his death. In his book Quack, Quack! To read Between the Acts is to realise just how serious the questions posed comparatively light-heartedly in Orlando would eventually become: is there.

The pageant in Between the Acts, with its many costume changes, invites a reconsideration of these questions within a desperately, yet also comically, foreshortened scenario, for the pageant is performed on an afternoon in June , a matter of weeks only before England declared war on Germany on 3 September for the second time in twenty-five years.

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Their clothes, of course. But I meant ourselves. But ourselves — do we change? Between the Acts adapts a way of writing with amused affection about domestic or village life that was popular during the s and was practised by E. Her investigation had begun somewhat formally, since the early drafts alternated fiction with discursive analyses of the meaning of the events portrayed in the fiction.

The Years opens with an examination of the hidden underside of Victorian family life, a subject glanced at in Freshwater, and examined rather more seriously in Flush But whereas Flush leaves the implications of the society it portrays to be picked up by the reader, the earliest version of The Years is explicitly didactic. Fiction is here used to recreate the lives of the mothers and grandmothers of her audience, its purpose becoming apparent in the discur- sive analyses that follow.

Woolf depicts the frustration and disappointment of young girls whose opportunities to exercise their talents, or to meet and. Mitchell Leaska, in his edition of The Pargiters, has pointed out the way in which the very name of the family denotes whitewashing or concealment, since pargeting involves placing a layer of decorative plaster over an external surface, a kind of literal cover-up.

In middle age the heroine, Eleanor, is finally released from her duties to her father and delightedly takes posses- sion of her own life at last, free to travel to India, to lunch or dine where and with whom she likes. The Years echoes and enlarges upon the movement first outlined in To the.

Both in To the Lighthouse and The Years, the First World War lies across the centre of the book, as the great divide between past and present, though the transition is marked rather differently in The Years. Kitty gives a party in the spring of , and at the end of it catches the overnight train back to her country home in the north. The journey itself is used to convey some- thing of the experience of historical change: There was a perpetual faint vibration.

She seemed to be passing from one world to another; this was the moment of transition. The years changed things; destroyed things; heaped things up — worries and bothers; here they were again. Fragments of talk kept coming back to her; sights came before her.

All their clothes are the same, she thought; all their lives are the same. And which is right? Which is wrong? She turned again. The train rushed on. The sound had deepened; it had become a continuous roar. How could she sleep? How could she prevent herself from thinking?


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Now where are we? Where is the train at this moment? Now, she murmured, shutting her eyes,. And she resigned herself to the charge of the train, whose roar now became dulled and distant. It travels faster than she wishes, as do our lives in time, but she must resign herself to its momentum. The war brings changes: the old patriarch, Abel Pargiter, dies, freeing his daughter Eleanor from her long self-sacrifice.

The Victorian household with its intimate but increasingly uneasy relations with the servants on whom it depended is now replaced by single lives or unconventional marriages, such as that of Maggie and Renny, which Eleanor, with a momentary pang of envy, recognises as happy Y, p. During the section an air raid takes place as Eleanor, Sara, Nicholas, Maggie and Renny discuss over dinner the brave new world that will dawn when the war is over.

New freedoms have been promised particularly for women many of whom would be granted the vote in ; yet enjoying freedom and independence is not always as easy as it seems. The discussions of the new world hoped for after the war highlight the problems that Woolf encountered in the course of writing this novel. She had begun it in the voice of the lecturer addressing an audience of young women, and in the earliest draft fiction and opinion, in the form of essays, had co-existed.

Events on the world stage during the s increasingly persuaded Woolf of the urgency of her critique of patriarchy. Woolf was by instinct a pacifist. By a further and darker parallel, how was England to fight Hitler without losing its higher moral ground, without meeting weapons with weapons? This question became peculiarly pressing once it was known that Hitler was systematically perse- cuting the German Jews, and what the cost of non-intervention might mean for them.

Both questions trouble the arguments of Three Guineas. The Jews, whose situation she here links with women, are a disturbing presence in her last two novels. The Years also sets a value on the position of the outsider: as a category, it includes not only North and Sara, but also Nicholas and Mr Abrahamson, the Jew in the bath. The novel offers a critique of the notion of history as the lives of great men, as well as of the narrative values that it generated, stories in which will and intention determine action and event, but to avoid these pitfalls Woolf also had to reduce the weight of her own opinions within the text, as well as the motivation of her characters and the clear outlines of their individual lives.

Woolf invested all her intensest beliefs and ideas about society in it, only to decide that she must pull her punches: that as fiction, it should not have a palpable design upon the reader but should rather whisper its truths — it was ulti- mately to do so through a series of highly charged allusions to particular topical events. The process of revision involved massive cutting, reducing the force of some of the characters Elvira became Sara, the plainer and shorter name reflecting further parings , and abandoning a number of discussions on topics such as the motives of social workers or the use of birth-control devices, which would have interested modern readers.

The contrast between their faces and their voices was astonishing; it was impossible to find one word for the whole.

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But Eleanor was not sure that they were thinking of the same thing. These are the voices of the next generation, the children who, in a world of social justice, should inherit the earth. Though their upper-middle- class audience listen attentively — and we as readers mentally listen to the syllables as they are written on the page — they can make no more sense than we can of what they hear. The Years is a novel that recognises that experience may teach us nothing, and that class, like race or gender, creates barriers which are not easily surmountable, even though individuals long for and believe in the possibility of a world where such barriers no longer exist.

The Years ends with an incomprehensible song in an unrecognisable language, yet it has rhythm and rhyme, primitive aspects of language that became increasingly fascinating to Woolf. Pageants of English history seem to have been popular in the late s, both in fact and fiction: E. The pageant reduces English history to a sequence of familiar, and therefore essentially comic, plots; within it, history becomes identified with its usual modes of representation, its several stylised discourses.