Can you suggest a book for Graduate Studies in Modern British Literature?  Areas: Nietzsche, Impressionism, First-Wave, War (shock and human loss), Marxism, Stream of Consciousness (SOC related to...

Can you suggest a book for Graduate Studies in Modern British Literature? 

Areas: Nietzsche, Impressionism, First-Wave, War (shock and human loss), Marxism, Stream of Consciousness (SOC related to Perception & Time) 

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

                             To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf.

This novel is written in stream-of-consciousness, the literary technique which represents the whole mind of an individual, rather than simply conscious thought; furthermore, rather than merely being used solely for one character, Woolf employs this technique with several characters, whose natures demand to be seen simultaneously from opposite points of view. That is, Woolf has the reader perceive the world as it is apparent to Mrs. Ramsay, Lily Briscoe, James, Andrew, and the rest of the characters. The author achieves this presentation of the world from different perspectives by shifting from one point of view to another and altering narrative chronology.

Thus, with stream-of-consciousness for several characters, the pull of the outside world is mitigated by the pull and lure of inner worlds, those lures and threats "that search the characters more fatally from within" as Eudora Wealty writes. Interestingly, then, the inner world is more mysterious and riskier than the external one. Indeed, this stream-of-consciousness technique provides a unique vision, in which life is much like the sea. In Chapter IX, for instance, Lily Briscoe observes Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey "being in love," and thinks as she observes Mrs. Ramsey sitting in a window with James, life, from being made up of little separate incidents which one lived one by one, became curles and whole like a wave which bore one up with it and threw one down with it, there, with a dash on the beach.

Further, Welty asserts that the words of the character Lily Briscoe best describe Woolf's novel:

Beautiful and bright...and feathery and evanescent on the surface...but beneath the fabric must be clamped together with bolts of iron...a thing you could ruffle with your breath; and a thing you could not dislodge with a team of horses."

Certainly a novel concerned with the nature of reality, Welty feels it is itself "a vision of reality." So, an argument could be made that the novel itself is an act of consciousness.


One aspect of the literary technique of stream-of-consciousness is free association, and this is what Virginia Woolf utilizes for her characterization. In Chapter IX, for example, as Lily paints, she observes Mrs. Ramsey more, associating ideas:

What was the spirit in her, the essential thing, by which, had you found a crumpled glove in the corner of a sofa, you would have known it, from its twisted finger, here indisputably? She was like a bird for speed, an arrow for directness.

This subjective reality of desires and emotions in life rather than rational thought is, perhaps, Woolf's strongest theme in To the Lighthouse. The accomplishment of presenting this theme is what gives this novel such a radical, intriguing scope that places it among seminal literary works. 

hopekate | Student

Thank you for your response, mwestwood. I agree that Virginia Woolf is an excellent text for a course in Modern British Literature. I'm writing a paper about her use of space in The Mark on the Wall and in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Conrad's interest in the Congo stemmed from a childhood desire to explore the empty space (Africa) on his map, and Woolf's text uses the white wall as an empty canvas to explore the inner thoughts of the narrator. 

The instructional text on Modernism we used in the course was confusing at best. I would appreciate any recommendations for texts or books that provide an in-depth, frill-free approach to Modernism.