Woolf, Virginia (Short Story Criticism)
Virginia Woolf 1882-1941
(Born Adeline Virginia Stephen; also wrote under the pseudonym Radclyffe Hall) English novelist, critic, essayist, short story writer, diarist, autobiographer, and biographer.
The following entry provides an overview of Woolf's life and works of short fiction.
Recognized as one of the major figures of modern literature, Woolf is highly regarded both for her innovative fiction techniques and insightful contributions to literary criticism. In her short fiction, she explored such themes as the elusive nature of storytelling and character study, the nature of truth and reality, and the role of women in society. Like her novels, these highly individualized, stylistic works are noted for their subjective explorations and detailed poetic narratives that capture ordinary experience while depicting the workings and perceptions of the human mind. Written in an elliptical and impressionistic style, Woolf's brief, apparently plotless stories are considered to have significantly influenced the development of modern short fiction.
Woolf was born into a talented and distinguished literary family in London in 1882, the third of four children of Sir Leslie Stephen, a prominent literary scholar, and his second wife, Julia. Virginia's parents maintained friendships with figures of the Victorian intellectual aristocracy, often hosting visits from such eminent writers as Thomas Hardy, George Meredith, and Henry James. Virginia and her sister, Vanessa, did not receive a formal education, but access to their father's extensive library provided a rich source for their private learning. In 1895 the Stephens' comfortable existence was disrupted by the sudden, tragic death of their beloved mother, Julia. Virginia's subsequent mental breakdown was the first of several that troubled her throughout her life. After her father's death in 1904, Woolf, along with her sister, and two brothers, Thoby and Adrian, moved to the Bloomsbury district of London. It was there they met weekly with several of Thoby's Cambridge associates to discuss the arts and together formed what is now known as the Bloomsbury Group. Within this circle of friends that included, among others, John Maynard Keynes, Clive Bell, Vita Sackville-West, and Lytton Strachey, Woolf was exposed to a variety of modern theories on art and literature that deeply affected the development of her own ideas. Also during this time, she published her first essays and reviews, a practice she continued throughout her life. In 1912 she married Leonard Woolf, a writer and socialist political figure, also among the Bloomsbury circle, whose stabilizing influence on Virginia is considered to have nurtured her literary career. Nevertheless, in 1913, after completing her first novel, The Voyage Out (1915), she collapsed from mental exhaustion, and the ensuing breakdown, her most severe, lasted several years.
In 1917, following Virginia's recovery the proceeding year, she and Leonard founded the Hogarth Press—a business venture which was intended partly as a release from the anxiety she experienced when writing, and which subsequently kept her from having to send her work to an outside publisher. By 1924 Hogarth had grown into a successful and respected business, publishing all of Virginia's writings as well as the early works of such writers as Katherine Mansfield, T. S. Eliot, and Sigmund Freud. During the period 1922 to 1941, Virginia immersed herself in writing fiction, completing the critically acclaimed novels Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), and The Waves (1931), which form the foundation of her literary reputation. In addition, her nonfiction works from this time, particularly A Room of One's Own (1929) and Three Guineas (1938), established her as an important contributor to modern critical and feminist writing. Yet, despite these successes, Woolf feared the onslaught of another breakdown—from which, she believed, it would be impossible to recover—and in 1941, she took her own life by drowning. The posthumous publication of many of Woolf's essays, short stories, journals, diaries, and letters attest to an abiding interest in her career.
Major Works of Short Fiction
In her short fiction Woolf typically focused on minute physical detail and experimented with stream-of-consciousness techniques, interior monologue, and symbolism to capture the subjective workings of human thought. “Kew Gardens” typifies her lyrical portrayal of varied narrative perspectives through the interior monologue of an omniscient narrator. In this seemingly plotless story, Woolf creates the atmosphere of an afternoon at London's Kew Gardens by fusing the shifting points of view of several people with those of a snail, insects, flowers, and even such inanimate objects as buses and airplanes. In “Mark on the Wall” she employs interior monologue to impart the musings of a narrator who, in speculating about a small detail on a wall, ponders a variety of topics, including personal reminiscence, history, and nature. Every rumination returns to the mark only to stray anew into reverie, as each of the narrator's seemingly meandering thoughts builds upon one another to create an intricate discourse on the nature of reality and truth. Themes in Woolf's short fiction are intrinsically fused with narrative form. Similar to Joyce's short stories, in which epiphany is frequently an essential element, Woolf's short fiction often depends on “moments of being” to delineate themes. Whereas Joyce's notion of epiphany focuses on the power of a single event to reveal truth, Woolf's “moments of being” encompass various incursions into time and place. In “Moments of Being: ‘Slater's Pins Have No Points,’” the protagonist, Fanny Wilmot, searches for a lost pin while she simultaneously attempts to gain insight into the personality of her elderly piano teacher, Julia Craye. In the brief time she searches for the pin, Fanny juxtaposes thoughts about Julia's past with the present and speculates on Julia's happiness. The narrative returns after each rumination about Julia's life to Fanny's search for the pin until, finally, at the instant when Fanny finds the pin, she experiences the revelation that Julia is indeed happy.
Woolf's fascination with the elusive nature of storytelling, as well as the inherent difficulty of knowing character, provided subject matter for several of her short stories. In “An Unwritten Novel” she explored this theme through the capricious mind of the narrator as she rides a train with a stranger, observing details of the unknown woman's appearance and behavior to construct a story surrounding her life. At the end of the tale the narrator is stunned to realize that her conclusions are utterly incorrect. In this and in several other stories, Woolf overturned conventional Edwardian precepts that relied on observable details to discern veracity and illustrated the unknowable nature of truth and character. In both her fiction and nonfiction Woolf was devoted to raising the social consciousness of readers. Her disarming and often humorous feminist works are informed with pointed criticism of sexism, as well as praise for neglected women writers. For example, “A Society” highlights ten years in the lives of a group of women who meet regularly to question conventions of art, literature, scholarship, law, and military achievement in a male-dominated society. One of the group's vows is to forego having children until they have resolved their questions. However, when one woman, Castilia, becomes pregnant, a new resolution is adopted to allow only the unchaste into their society, and Castilia is appointed president. The story's ironic stance, humor, and extensive use of allusion to the Bible and mythology serve, for several critics, to elevate it above the level of polemic.
Like her contemporary James Joyce, with whom she is often compared, critics argue that Woolf revolted against the traditional narrative methods of her time and experimented with stream-of-consciousness prose and interior monologue. They note that she first introduced many of these formal experiments in short stories that often present “moments of being”—instances of intense sensibility during which disparate thoughts and events culminate in a flash of insight. Recent critical studies of Woolf's short fiction have investigated the symbolism of mirrors and glass in her work, traced revisions of her stories, assessed the influence of Thomas Browne and Bertrand Russell on her fiction, and explored aspects of her alleged anti-Semitism. Commentators have discussed her as a lesbian writer, and have emphasized parallels between her lesbian-themed stories with those of Gertrude Stein. Most critics acknowledge that Woolf's short stories frequently served as experimental studies in which ideas for her longer works of fiction originated and developed. Yet many commentators have contended that Woolf's experiments with poetic style, her psychological focus, and her subjective point of view expanded the limits of time and perception within the framework of the short story, influencing and contributing significantly to the development of modern short fiction.
*The Mark on the Wall 1917
Kew Gardens 1919
Monday or Tuesday 1921
A Haunted House, and Other Short Stories 1944
Mrs. Dalloway's Party: A Short Story Sequence 1973
The Complete Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf 1985
The Voyage Out (novel) 1915
Night and Day (novel) 1919
Jacob's Room (novel) 1922
Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown (criticism) 1924
The Common Reader (criticism) 1925
Mrs. Dalloway (novel) 1925
To the Lighthouse (novel) 1927
Orlando: A Biography (novel) 1928
A Room of One's Own (essays) 1929
The Waves (novel) 1931
The Common Reader: Second Series (criticism) 1932
Flush: A Biography (biography) 1933
The Years (novel) 1937
Three Guineas (essays) 1938
Roger Fry: A Biography (biography) 1940
Between the Acts (novel) 1941
The Death of the Moth, and Other Essays (essays) 1942
The Moment, and Other Essays (essays) 1947
The Captain's Death Bed, and Other Essays...
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SOURCE: Kurtz, Marilyn. “Glass Breaking: Later Fiction.” In Virginia Woolf: Reflections and Reverberations, pp. 115-23. New York: Peter Lang, 1990.
[In the following excerpt, Kurtz considers the symbolism of windows and mirrors in Woolf's later short fiction.]
Windows and mirrors play as compelling a part in the later fiction of Virginia Woolf as they do in the earlier works. Even the short stories are infused with images of glass, for here, as in the novels, Virginia Woolf makes explorations into personal identity and the human condition through vehicles of glass in a quest for meaning.
Because of their power to separate and divide (as the self split from its image in the mirror or the external and internal division at a window), mirrors and windows are often used by Virginia Woolf as barriers or distancing devices. On the other hand, they are, paradoxically, symbols of unification since revelations or epiphanic “moments of being” take place at these transparent vantage points. In this sense the frame of the mirror or window is used by Virginia Woolf to create a holding pattern—to capture, for a moment, that which otherwise becomes caught up in the transitoriness of life, in the fleeting condition of mortality.
Before looking at Virginia Woolf's final apocalyptic vision through broken glass in her last novel, Between the Acts, it will be interesting...
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SOURCE: Narey, Wayne. “Virginia Woolf's ‘The Mark on the Wall’: An Einsteinian View of Art.” Studies in Short Fiction 29, no. 1 (winter 1992): 35-42.
[In the following essay, Narey views “The Mark on the Wall” as an “artistic manifesto” of time and perspective influenced by the theories of Albert Einstein.]
James Naremore's study of Virginia Woolf, The World without a Self, refers to her short story “The Mark on the Wall” as “a sketch in which the protagonist indulges in what appears to be a Freudian daydream” (58-59). The Freudian aspect of the story comes from the free-associative quality of the protagonist's thoughts, the only “action” in a tale in which the daydreamer never moves from her chair. While Naremore's observation is valid, another contemporary of Woolf makes his presence more strongly felt in the story. With “The Mark on the Wall” Woolf offers an artistic manifesto of an emerging concept of time and perspective, a manifesto, in this story at least, perhaps influenced by the theories of Albert Einstein and his new views of the universe.1
The Einsteinian papers of 1905 and 1915 literally altered past perceptions of time and space; Einstein was but one of those extraordinary intellects and artists of the early decades of the twentieth century who thrust their visions upon the world like mental coups. It is a generalization,...
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SOURCE: Clements, Susan. “The Point of ‘Slater's Pins’: Misrecognition and the Narrative Closet.” Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 13, no. 1 (spring 1994): 15-26.
[In the following essay, Clements regards “Slater's Pins Have No Points” as an “emblematic representation” of difficulties faced by lesbian writers and focuses “on the destructive and ultimately self-effacing practice of misrecognition.”]
“Chloe liked Olivia,” I read. And then it struck me how immense a change was there. Chloe liked Olivia perhaps for the first time in literature.
—Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own1
Ideology “acts” or “functions” in such a way that it … “transforms” the individuals into subjects … by that very precise operation I have called interpellation or hailing. … By this … he becomes a subject. Why? Because he has recognized that the hail was “really” addressed to him, and that “it was really him who was hailed.”
—Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”2
Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer.
—Virginia Woolf, “Professions for Women”3...
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SOURCE: Cyr, Marc D. “A Conflict of Closure in Virginia Woolf's ‘A Mark on the Wall.’” Studies in Short Fiction 33, no. 2 (spring 1996): 197-205.
[In the following essay, Cyr explores the meaning of the mark in “The Mark on the Wall” and debates the sense of closure in the story.]
Virginia Woolf's “The Mark on the Wall” concludes with the identification of that mark as a snail, this after several pages of digressions—on history, reality, society, art, writing, and life itself—incited by the flimsy ruse of an ontological inquiry. Readers have reacted variously to this revelation: As T. E. Apter notes, some, like M. C. Bradbrook, have found it “exasperating” (54), while others have found the “cruelly disappointing” (Guiguet 217) or “trivial” (Apter 54) or “insignificant” (Gorsky 51) nature of the mark to be important to understanding that Woolf is proposing that objective reality is less important than the world of perceptions internal to each individual, a line of thought that leads ultimately to the idea that what the mark is “really doesn't matter” (Lumpkin 29), or the ironic Doppelgänger to this idea, that “The writer deflates herself comically when the mark is revealed as a snail …” (Gordon 167).
I suspect, however, that if there is a joke here, it is on us, that Woolf, like Mary Carmichael in A Room of One's Own, “is...
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SOURCE: Newman, Herta. “Stories about Storymaking.” In Virginia Woolf and Mrs. Brown: Toward a Realism of Uncertainty, pp. 17-29. New York: Garland Publishing, 1996.
[In the following essay, Newman assesses Woolf's success as a storyteller, concluding that her stories “fail to satisfy the reader's desire for certainty.”]
But what are stories? Toys I twist, bubbles I blow, one ring passes through another. Sometimes I begin to doubt if there are stories.1
Virginia Woolf's stories have not generally received the acclaim accorded to her novels and essays. Yet she is an inveterate storyteller, and it is in her stories that she deploys most dramatically the evasive strategy that informs her fiction. Her novels abound in stories and sketches that should enliven description, illuminate character, and underscore the play of chance and conflict. Stories are marshalled to advance the progress of critical discussion, to strengthen argument, and to conjure the elusive concepts that defy analysis. Indeed, the story may well be Woolf's standard recourse in the face of verbal incapacity. Yet when we examine them closely we cannot help but notice that these efforts seldom succeed. Woolf's stories fail, egregiously, to fulfill the expectations they excite. The arguments they mount are apt to founder, the characters they present remain unknown and the...
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SOURCE: Greene, Sally. “Brownean Motion in ‘Solid Objects.’” Virginia Woolf Miscellany, no. 50 (fall 1997): 2-3.
[In the following essay, Greene assesses the influence of Thomas Browne on Woolf's fiction, particularly “The Mark on the Wall.”]
As Woolf refashioned her early empirical realism into a modernist practice, her work began to reflect a deeper engagement with the Renaissance, including the works of an old friend, Sir Thomas Browne. While she was finishing Night and Day (1919), she was embarking on a new direction in short fiction. “The Mark on the Wall” and other stories collected in Monday or Tuesday (1921) reflect, in their impressionistic fragmentation, her new position that “inconclusive stories are legitimate.” Although that statement comes from a review of a collection by Chekhov,1 it is a conclusion she was also gleaning from Browne.
In September 1919, she remarks that while “making way with my new experiment” in prose style—an experiment that culminated in Jacob's Room (1922)—she “came up against Sir Thomas Browne, & found I hadn't read him since I used to dip & duck & be bored & somehow enchanted hundreds of years ago.” She “had to break off, send for his books … & start little stories” (Diary [The Diary of Virginia Woolf] 1: 297). “Solid Objects,” a story begun...
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SOURCE: Séllei, Nóra. “The Snail and The Times: Three Stories ‘Dancing in Unity.’” Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies 3, no. 2 (1997): 189-98.
[In the following essay, Séllei finds thematic and stylistic similarities in “The Mark on the Wall,” “Kew Gardens,” and “An Unwritten Novel.”]
“[Y]esterday I … arrived at some idea of a new form for a new novel. Suppose one thing should open out of another—as in ‘An Unwritten Novel’—only not for 10 pages but 200 or so—doesn't that give the looseness and lightness I want; doesn't that get closer and yet keep form and speed, and enclose everything?” asks Virginia Woolf in her diary in January 1920, and adds “conceive ‘Mark on the Wall,’ ‘K[ew]. G[ardens].’ and ‘Unwritten Novel’ taking hands and dancing in unity. What the unity shall be I have yet to discover; the theme is a blank to me; but I see immense possibilities in the form” (WD [A Writer's Diary: Being Extracts from the Diary of Virginia Woolf] 42). Regarding this diary entry as a starting point for the analysis of these three short fictional texts by Woolf, in this paper I will try and find an answer to the following questions: What kind of form did Woolf find in these short pieces? What are the common characteristics in the narrative strategies which make these pieces experimental and pointing in the direction of the...
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SOURCE: Blackmer, Corinne E. “Lesbian Modernism in the Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein.” In Virginia Woolf: Lesbian Readings, edited by Eileen Barrett and Patricia Cramer, pp. 78-93. New York: New York University Press, 1997.
[In the following essay, Blackmer analyzes the lesbian-themed short stories of Woolf and Gertrude Stein to gain insight into their “distinctive approaches to creating lesbian modernist literature.”]
To the extent that lesbians have been associated with the obscure, the neglected, and the marginal, there is something quintessentially “lesbian” about bringing the shorter fictions of Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein into critical focus. Although her accomplishment in this genre equals that of her contemporary James Joyce, Woolf has not been highly appreciated for her short stories. The standard format for a critical study of Woolf remains, as Avrom Fleishman notes, “a series of chapters on the nine longer fictions, one after another” (“Forms” 44). When mentioned at all, her short stories tend to be regarded not as innovative achievements in themselves, but rather as experiments in themes and techniques developed more fully in the novels. Her short stories occupy, in the hierarchy of Woolfian genres, a marginalized lesbian position analogous to that held by her treatment of desire between women in mainstream Woolf criticism.
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SOURCE: Lackey, Michael. “The Gender of Atheism in Virginia Woolf's ‘A Simple Melody.’” Studies in Short Fiction 35, no. 1 (winter 1998): 49-63.
[In the following essay, Lackey perceives “A Simple Melody” to be a transitional work in Woolf's short fiction oeuvre and examines her portrayal of male atheism in the story.]
Posthumously published, the 1925 short story “A Simple Melody” is one of the most pivotal works in Virginia Woolf's corpus, signaling a decisive break with her first four novels, yet anticipating the central issues of her last five. Typical of Woolf's fiction, the story features a main character who is an atheist, a man who, like Woolf, mocks those who believe in God: “To believe in God indeed!” says George Carslake, “When every rational power protested against the crazy and craven idiocy of such a saying!” (203).1 While it is quite normal for early Woolf to make her protagonist an atheist (Rachel Vinrace, Mary Datchet, Katharine Hilbery, Clarissa Dalloway, Mrs. Ramsay), “A Simple Melody” is unique because it represents Woolf's first effort to give her reader a sympathetic portrait of a male atheist. There are, to be sure, male atheists in Woolf's early novels (Terence Hewet, St. John Hirst, Jacob Flanders, Timmy Durrant, Fraser), but in all instances, Woolf gives her readers significant reasons for not sympathizing with...
(The entire section is 6463 words.)
SOURCE: Oxindine, Annette. “Sexing the Epiphany in ‘Moments of Being,’ Woolf's Nice Little Story about Sapphism.” Journal of the Short Story in English, no. 31 (autumn 1998): 51-61.
[In the following essay, Oxindine links the homoerotic and epiphanic moments in “Slater's Pins Have No Points.”]
You remember there is a very fine instinct wireless telepathy nothing to it—in women—the darlings—which fizzles up pretenses, and I know what you mean though you don't say it …
—Virginia Woolf to Violet Dickinson, 1903
Critical avoidance of the lesbian intimacy at the conclusion of Virginia Woolf's “Moments of Being: ‘Slater's Pins Have No Points’” has been noted by Avrom Fleishman in his own hesitant focus on the story's homoerotic ending. In an essay examining form in Woolf's short fiction, Fleishman reluctantly concedes that the “crass” subject of homosexuality must be addressed if his analysis of the story's circular structure is to be complete:
… the elderly piano teacher kisses her young pupil on the lips, at the precise moment of her vision of Julia's being. It seems crass to labor the point, but this intuition of homosexuality is part of the total vision of Julia's being.
It should come as no surprise that...
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SOURCE: Tremper, Ellen. “Prologue: ‘The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn’ and Wordsworth's Guide to the Lakes.” In “Who Lived at Alfoxton?”: Virginia Woolf and English Romanticism, pp. 35-61. Cranbury, N.J.: Bucknell University Press, 1998.
[In the following essay, Tremper investigates the influence of William Wordsworth's Guide to the Lakes on Woolf's “The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn.”]
Here are the poets from whom we descend by way of the mind.
—Between the Acts
Virginia Woolf's relations with her father, Leslie Stephen, were exceptional. Beyond overseeing her education at home, he felt for her an “elective affinity,” unique among his children. She was the one with the literary promise, visible when she was only five or six. She was the one to whom he opened his large library, granting her liberty to roam there at will—an unusual privilege during the Victorian age for a daughter.1 And later, when he was dying, she was the one whose help he sought in editing his last book.
She repaid his love and intellectual admiration by becoming a writer whose work visibly bore the imprint of her father's interest in history, his aesthetic values, and his ideas. But Leslie Stephen's influence did not mark his daughter's writing directly. Rather it was mediated by the...
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SOURCE: Rosenfeld, Natania. “Incongruities; or, The Politics of Character: Departures.” In Outsiders Together: Virginia and Leonard Woolf, pp. 81-95. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000.
[In the following essay, Rosenfeld juxtaposes the style and themes of the two pieces collected in Two Stories: “The Mark on the Wall,” and Leonard Woolf's “Three Jews.”]
Five years after their [Virginia and Leonard Woolf's] marriage, in 1917, the newly founded Hogarth Press issued its first publication. The Woolfs saw their press as an opportunity for creative and intellectual freedom, and as a respite from mental labor. It would enable Virginia to publish what she chose—and thus, more easily, write what she chose—and provide a forum for avant-garde writers whom more conservative publishers might turn away. Its first production was a pamphlet-size volume containing a short story by each member of the couple.
Two Stories encapsulates the fraught dialectic of imagination and sociological fact that informed the Woolfs' marriage as well as their fiction. Leonard's story, “Three Jews,” is so laden by its theme of sociological destiny as to imply the impossibility of imaginative transcendence; its central character is a grave-digger, and the story ends with a figurative burial that might be read as Leonard's self-burial as Jewish writer. Hermione Lee calls...
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SOURCE: Benzel, Kathryn N. “Woolf's Early Experimentation with Consciousness: ‘Kew Gardens,’ Typescript to Publication, 1917-1919.”1 In Virginia Woolf: Turning the Centuries, edited by Ann Ardis and Bonnie Kime Scott, pp. 192-99. New York: Pace University Press, 2000.
[In the following essay, Benzel speculates about the origin, creation, and revision of “Kew Gardens.”]
In Michael Cunningham's novel The Hours, he describes a park that his character Virginia Woolf envisions in a dream:
It seems, suddenly, that she is not in her bed but in a park; a park impossibly verdant, green beyond green—a Platonic vision of a park, at once homely and the seat of mystery, implying as parks do that while the old woman in the shawl dozes on the slatted bench something alive and ancient, something neither kind nor unkind, exulting only in continuance, knits together the green world of farms and meadows, forests and parks. Virginia moves through the park without quite walking; she floats through it, a feather of perception, unbodied. … Virginia moves through the park as if impelled by a cushion of air; she is beginning to understand that. … It is the true idea of the park, and it is nothing so simple as beautiful.
In an uncanny way this description, 80 years later, gets to the heart of the...
(The entire section is 3526 words.)
SOURCE: de Gay, Jane. “An Unfinished Story: The Freshwater Drafts of ‘The Searchlight.’” In Virginia Woolf: Turning the Centuries, edited by Ann Ardis and Bonnie Kime Scott, pp. 207-15. New York: Pace University Press, 2000.
[In the following essay, de Gay traces the revision of “The Searchlight” into “A Scene from the Past,” and contends that the final version deserves more critical attention than it has been given.]
This paper will focus on a collection of drafts relating to Woolf's short story “The Searchlight,” which differ significantly from the version published by Leonard Woolf in A Haunted House (1943). Unlike the published version, which is set in London in the 1930s, these drafts describe a scene at Freshwater on the Isle of Wight in the 1860s amongst the circle of Woolf's great-aunt, the Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. Although the recent publication of one of the drafts in the Virginia Woolf Bulletin (no. 1, 1999) may herald a reappraisal, the Freshwater narrative has generally been regarded as an unsatisfactory experiment which Woolf abandoned in favor of the version which appeared in A Haunted House. This paper will question that view by arguing that Woolf did not dispense with the Freshwater version: on the contrary, she was developing it into a story in its own right, under the new title, “A Scene from the Past,” when she...
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SOURCE: Westman, Karin E. “The First Orlando: The Laugh of the Comic Spirit in Virginia Woolf's ‘Friendships Gallery.’” Twentieth-Century Literature 47, no. 1 (spring 2001): 39-71.
[In the following essay, Westman maintains that “Friendships Gallery” best represents Woolf's development of a “new ‘art’ of biography that could negotiate the tension between fact and fiction” and identifies the story as the roots of her novel Orlando.]
The Comic Spirit laughed meanwhile.
—“Friendships Gallery” (284)
If Orlando (1928) has typically been read as the literary consequence of Woolf's call for a new “art” of biography that could negotiate the tension between fact and fiction—between the “granite” and the “rainbow” of life, as Woolf's metaphor figures it in her review essay “The New Biography” (1927)—the early biographical sketch “Friendships Gallery” questions Orlando's pride of place in that critical narrative.1 The laughter of the Comic Spirit in “Friendships Gallery” is a harbinger of the revisionary spirit that runs through Virginia Woolf's early essays and prose fiction and into her later work. Its text bound in violet leather and typed with purple ink, Woolf's gift to her childhood friend Violet Dickinson is the direct antecedent to the later...
(The entire section is 12130 words.)
SOURCE: Besnault-Levita, Anne. “What ‘It’ Is About: The Implicit in Virginia Woolf's Short Fictions.” Journal of the Short Story in English, no. 40 (spring 2003): 135-47.
[In the following essay, Besnault-Levita analyzes Woolf's use of the pronoun “it” in her short fiction and explores “the implicit theories of meaning and interpretation behind the implicit as they are put to the test by Woolf's fictional prose.”]
How does “it” mean, what is “it” about and what does “it” reveal about the ethics of Virginia Woolf's poetics of the implicit, and therefore of fiction, are the three questions I would like to raise in this paper. My starting point will be the recurring use, in many short stories, of the indefinite pronoun “it”, that haunting black mark on the white wall of the texts whose metalinguistic function challenges some of our common assumptions about the implicit as a linguistic and literary concept. In other words, I would like to examine the implicit theories of meaning and interpretation behind the implicit as they are put to the test by Woolf's fictional prose.
On first consideration, the use of the pronoun “it” in Virginia Woolf's short fictions has nothing to do with the notions of linguistic presupposition, cultural presupposition or pragmatic implicatures, nor does it seem to refer to the common definition of the implicit as what is...
(The entire section is 5102 words.)
SOURCE: Schröder, Leena Kore. “Tales of Abjection and Miscegenation: Virginia Woolf's and Leonard Woolf's ‘Jewish’ Stories.” Twentieth-Century Literature 49, no. 3 (fall 2003): 298-327.
[In the following essay, Schröder explores elements of anti-Semitism in Woolf's short story “The Duchess and the Jeweller” and Leonard Woolf's “Three Jews.”]
There can be no straightforward account of attitudes toward Jewishness in the work of Virginia Woolf. This is a woman who lived happily married to a Jew and whose private references to Leonard as “my Jew” are marital jokes (Diary [The Diary of Virginia Woolf] 1: 11), yet whose diaries regularly efface the individual Jew and reduce him or her to an identity that is generalized and conceptual rather than unique. She reads a French novel, Et Cie, “by a Jew,” not by Jean-Richard Bloch (1: 134); Roger Fry's daughter Pamela marries “her Roumanian Jew,” not Micu Diamand (2: 188); it is only a “young Jewess [who] was attacked in bed at 4 last Sunday morning by a mad husband with a razor,” not Mrs. Sybil Starr (3: 268). Such labeling comes easily to Woolf, and even when names are ascribed, the Jewish tag is quickly tied on: Bruno Walter was a man whose name certainly could not easily be forgotten, but in her diary record of their meeting Woolf remembers him as “a swarthy, fattish, man. … Not at all the ‘great...
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SOURCE: Henry, Holly. “Maps, Globes, and ‘Solid Objects.’” In Virginia Woolf and the Discourse of Science: The Aesthetics of Astronomy, pp. 71-92. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
[In the following excerpt, Henry investigates the influence of Bertrand Russell's theories of material phenomena on her “Solid Objects.”]
BERTRAND RUSSELL AND WOOLF'S “MULTIFORM ARTWORK”
In her short fiction experiments like “Solid Objects,” “Kew Gardens,” and “The Mark on the Wall,” Woolf explored the questions that Russell and Whitehead were working out in their own theories regarding what can be known of the material world. Ann Banfield, in a carefully researched and comprehensive study of Russell and the Cambridge debates regarding theories of knowledge of the material world, points out that along with G. E. Moore, “Russell and Whitehead define[d] the contours of philosophy as Bloomsbury understood it” (The Phantom Table 7). Russell examined the interface between humans, objects and events, and the parameters within which material phenomena might be articulated. Banfield comments, “The theory begins with an analysis of the common-sense world. Objects are reduced to ‘sense-data’ separable from sensations and observing subjects to ‘perspectives’” (The Phantom Table 1).
Alfred North Whitehead's The Concept of...
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SOURCE: Levy, Heather. “‘These Ghost Figures of Distorted Passion’: Becoming Privy to Working-Class Desire in ‘The Watering Place’ and ‘The Ladies Lavatory.’” Modern Fiction Studies 50, no. 1 (spring 2004): 31-57.
[In the following essay, Levy argues that “The Watering Place,” “The Ladies Lavatory,” and “The Cook” reveal Woolf's exploration of the “fricative interrelationships between class, lesbian desire, and the occupation of public and private space.”]
The bodies and minds of working-class women are elided in most of Virginia Woolf's earliest shorter fiction and then only partially or unflatteringly staged in most of her middle and final shorter fiction. Only in rare moments of resistance in the unpublished A13d version of “The Cook,” in “Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street,” in “The New Dress,” and in “The Shooting Party” do they manage stirring moments of strategic resistance or at least a partial articulation of their ideas and desires, rather than recalcitrant episodes of reported speech. Yet Virginia Woolf was interested in both the bodies and minds of working-class women. This interest boils over into prurient absorption in one of her many appraisals of the character of her cook, Nelly Boxall:
Of course, one is right about Nelly—right that she is, in bad moods almost insufferably mean, selfish & spiteful;...
(The entire section is 11728 words.)
Abbott, Reginald. “What Miss Kilman's Petticoat Means: Virginia Woolf, Shopping, and Spectacle.” Modern Fiction Studies 38, no. 1 (spring 1992): 193-216.
Offers a consumer/commodity perspective on Woolf's short fiction.
Banfield, Ann. “Time Passes: Virginia Woolf, Post-Impressionism, and Cambridge Time.” Poetics Today 24, no. 3 (fall 2003): 471-516.
Argues that Woolf's literary impressionism developed through her short stories.
Bishop, Edward. “‘Kew Gardens’ and Jacob's Room: Pursuing ‘It’ and the ‘Greek Spirit.’” In Virginia Woolf, pp. 32-48. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991.
Provides a stylistic analysis of “Kew Gardens” and finds parallels between the story and the novel Jacob's Room.
Burgan, Mary. “The ‘Feminine’ Short Story: Recuperating the Moment.” Style 27, no. 3 (fall 1993): 380-87.
Considers Woolf's place within the tradition of the female short story writers.
Deppman, Hsiu-Chuang. “Rereading the Mirror Image: Looking-Glasses, Gender, and Mimeticism in Virginia Woolf's Writing.” Journal of Narrative Theory 31, no. 1 (winter 2001): 31-64.
Explores Woolf's use of the mirror in several of her stories.
(The entire section is 653 words.)