Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Beginning with The Voyage Out, her first novel, Woolf devoted all of her literary talent to exposing and ending oppression, whether the oppression of an individual or of a nation. In her attempts to discover and explain the origins, dynamics, and necessities of personality, furthermore, she moved to the forefront of modern fiction with such experimental narrative structures as those of Jacob’s Room (1922), Mrs. Dalioway (1925), and The Waves. In novel after novel, too, Woolf suggests that women must make a conscious decision to break with tradition and the roles delegated to them by a male-dominated society. Katherine Hilbery, in Night and Day (1919), Woolf’s second novel, is on the verge of making such a break when her story ends.

In none of her novels does Woolf portray a harmonious relationship between a man and a woman, even though she frequently suggests that such a resolution of gender conflicts should be possible. Psychological androgyny, as she suggests most clearly in Orlando: A Biography (1928), is required for such a harmonizing resolution to take place. Yet none of Woolf’s characters fully realizes such a state of mind and then finds a partner of equal enlightenment. Indeed, where the compatibility of genders is concerned Woolf ends her last novel and her writing career on essentially the same note as she began it in The Voyage Out. On the last page of her last novel...

(The entire section is 449 words.)