Feminine writing and the problem of the self : an examination of Virginia Woolf's novels in the light of recent critical and psychoanalytic theories
Minow-Pinkney, Makiko (1985) Feminine writing and the problem of the self : an examination of Virginia Woolf's novels in the light of recent critical and psychoanalytic theories. PhD thesis, University of Warwick.
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Official URL: http://webcat.warwick.ac.uk/record=b1444542~S15
Central to my analysis of Woolf's work are five novels: Jacob's
Room, Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, Orlando, The Waves. These are
written in pursuit of Woolf's modernist project, but as I shall argue
below, her modernism was at the same time a feminist subversion of
conventions, and I will analyze the ways in which Woolf actually effects
this fusion of her concerns in her texts. I will concentrate on her
fiction in this thesis, an area of her work that has been, surprisingly,
comparatively underemphasized in the recent, intense revival of interest
in Woolf. Directed towards her centenary in 1982, the revival has at its
centre a 'family' industry which includes Quentin Bell's biography, the
publication of Woolf's innumerable letters and diaries, and previously
unpublished material. As a consequence of this extensive, new access to
Woolf's personal life, there has flourished a biographical and psychoanalytical
criticism, but this latter has tended to focus on her actual
mental illness rather than the possibilities of new readings of her
texts, a relative neglect which this thesis hopes, to a degree, to
remedy. The linkage of psychoanalysis and Woolf is not an arbitrary one,
since the Hogarth Press has been Freud's English publisher since 1921.
Leonard himself reviewed Freud's Psychopathology of Everyday Life.
Though she was never treated by Freudian psychoanalysts, Woolf did meet
Freud when he took refuge in England just before the war. It is not
until towards the end of the 1930s that we can be certain, from the
entries in her diary and her reading notebooks, that Woolf was actually
reading Freud. ' Yet we can sense the great impact of Freudian psychoanalysis
in her references to 'our psychoanalytical age'(CE II 142). She
wrote a review called 'Freudian Fiction', in which she showed her
dissatisfaction, not with Freud's own discoveries, nor with the principle
of their use in fiction, but with the way a particular novelist
(J. D. Beresford) had done so: 'It simplifies rather than complicates,
detracts rather enriches'(CW, 154). shall seek to heed this caveat in the studies that follow.
Contemporary feminism has, since the seventies, given impetus to
this prodigious revival of interest in Woolf; its recent major emphasis
has been the re-assessment of Woolf as a radical political thinker.
Feminist assessments of Woolf's aesthetics (E. Showalter, Sidney Jane
Kaplan) have often been on the whole negative, fundamentally continuous
with the criticism of her by the politically committed writers of the
1930's or of Scrutiny: Virginia Woolf as hypersensitive, as a sheltered
invalid lady unable to cope with a harsh 'reality'. A pioneer book by
Herbert Marder in 1968 stressed the crucial importance of feminism in
Woolf's art: 'far from being a mere excrescence on her work, feminism...
is essential to her conception of reality.' But the major shift in
evaluation was initiated by American feminists around Jane Marcus, who
aim to revolutionize the commonly accepted accounts of Woolf by
emphasizing the political dimensions of her writing.
These recent books
and articles have valuably uncovered previously unknown or repressed
aspects of Woolf, which offer the possibility of a new and fuller
comprehension of her literary endeavours. Yet, because these works are
eager to dispel the old image of ethereal aestheticism, they tend to
eschew fullscale dealings with Woolf's formal experimentation, that
series of works from Jacob's Room to The Waves which have conventionally
been regarded as quintessentially Woolfian, which have supported the
image of her work as beautiful, pure artefact, subjectivistic and
hypersensitive. What is needed now is to radicalize the reading of
precisely these novels and of the aesthetic behind them, and I have
sought to bring the resources of contemporary critical and psychoanalytic
theories upon them, stressing those aspects of theory which seem to me
most germane and illuminating for each particular novel.
I shall argue that Woolf's series of major experimental works, which
are traditionally assigned to a gender-free category of 'modernism', can be interpreted as a quest for what she refers to as a 'woman's sentence'
that would allow 'a woman [to] write exactly as she wishes to write',
and what I refer to, in my title and throughout this thesis, as 'feminine
writing'. Both modernism and literary feminism - projects which, as I
shall suggest below, are uniquely conjoined in Woolf - are a questioning
of a previously dominant mode of writing, and the crisis-of narrative
that they represent is also a crisis of the self. Lacanian psychoanalysis
illuminates this crisis of the subject by bringing Freud's work
into relation with structuralist theories of language, and allows us to
define feminine writing as a concern which addresses itself to the
position of mastery maintained in the order of discourse. The 'feminine'
can then be seen as the subversion of a mastery guaranteed by the
'Cartesian' subject or self which also sustains the narrative conventions
that Woolf's experimental novels so effectively interrogate. Far from
being a flight from social commitment into an arcane modernism, her
experimental texts can, I shall argue, best be seen as a feminist
subversion of the deepest formal principles - of the definitions of
narrative, writing, the self - of a patriarchal social order.
|Item Type:||Thesis or Dissertation (PhD)|
|Subjects:||P Language and Literature > PR English literature|
|Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH):||Woolf, Virginia, 1882-1941 -- Criticism and interpretation, Feminism and literature, Androgyny (Psychology) in literature, Self (Philosophy) in literature|
|Official Date:||April 1985|
|Institution:||University of Warwick|
|Theses Department:||Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies|
|Supervisor(s)/Advisor:||Rignall, John, 1942-|
|Extent:||iv, 311 leaves|
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