Antiauthoritarian representation of reality within two of Virginia Woolf's novels

Thesis (M.A.) 2008 85 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature


Table of contents

1 Introduction

2 Virginia Woolf’s concept of reality
2.1 New literary strategies
2.1.1 Multiperspectivity Bakhtin’s Dialogism The dialogic subject Woolf in dialogue with the world Dialogue within the novel
2.1.2 Poetry
2.2 Impact on the reader
2.2.1 Horizon of expectation
2.2.2 New narrative strategies to liberate the reader?

3 To the Lighthouse
3.1 Coherence
3.2 Connection of the scenes
3.3 Concentration on the mind
3.4 Moments of Unity
3.5 Dynamic reality
3.6 The dialogue between Lily and Mrs Ramsay
3.7 Characters as narrators
3.8 Multiperspectivity to create objectivity?
3.9 Poetry within the novel
3.9.1 Inadequacy of language to express emotions
3.9.2 Metaphors Water/Sea Light Journey
3.9.3 Music and rhythm
3.10 The role of the reader

4 Between the Acts
4.1 Uniting structure
4.2 The permeable mind
4.3 The dynamic voice
4.4 Polyphony
4.5 Between acts
4.6 Poetry
4.6.1 Metaphors Water Light A leader Silence Mirror Modes Others
4.7 A play in a play
4.7.1 Fears of the artist
4.7.2 Oscillation between fiction and reality
4.8 Advising the reader


Works cited

1 Introduction

“Catch me if you can” was the invitation Virginia Woolf tried to meet in various ways during her career as a writer. This invitation had been uttered by a character in Woolf’s essay Mr Bennet and Mrs Brown[1], where she expresses her intention to catch reality within her novels. The discussion of representation of reality has a long tradition. Before Virginia Woolf began to think about the concept of reality, the Edwardians tried to transfer reality to their novels by presenting detailed descriptions of the outer world. When the modern writers emerged, they turned their backs on the traditional novel and adopted the current interest in psychology into their works by concentrating on the individual mind. In this context, Virginia Woolf’s thoughts and theories are very interesting as she criticised both, the Edwardians as well as some modern writers. That is, she was neither convinced by the technique of the Edwardians, nor by the way her contemporaries approached the psychological representation of reality. She felt disappointed by the former mainly because of their detailed description of the outer world which she regarded as superfluous, and blamed the latter for their monological, unrestricted representation of the mind. Although Woolf supported the modern tradition to concentrate on the mind rather than on plot, she had an aesthetical claim which was incompatible with the erratic stream of consciousness technique. Additionally, she questioned the objectivity of a monological representation and searched for new ways to catch and represent reality. The problem was thus, how to convert her intentions into her writing.

The following work will therefore aim at representing Virginia Woolf’s theoretical concept of reality, and its representation within two of her novels, the earlier and highly experimental novel To the Lighthouse, and her last, Between the Acts, where she is sure to have found her own style. A representation of her theory about reality shall lead into the discussion of her innovative literary concept. With a chapter about multiperspectivity, I then want to point out the advantages of the omission of the authoritarian narrator in favour of a polyphony. This discussion will proceed to the importance of dialogue between the different perspectives, as well as between author and reader. In the proximate part, I will go on to discuss a further aspect of communication, that is, its impact on the individual because communication can be employed to build up one’s opinion and to establish ones identity. This shall be further underlined by subsequently mentioning the importance of dialogue within Woolf’s life. Next, I will complete the discussion of Virginia Woolf’s new literary style by explaining her reasons to include poetry into her prose, namely, to catch the essence of reality by evading everything which is superfluous. The theoretical part shall then be concluded with an outline of the consequences of Woolf’s new literary style on the reader. I want to propose the thesis that Virginia Woolf attempted to liberate the reader from an unreflective writing and to sensitise him to his part in the author – reader relationship. Finally, part two will discuss Woolf’s application of her strategies to two of her novels. It will become obvious that To the Lighthouse emphasises the concentration on the mind, as well as the multiperspective representation of characters. Additionally, we will discuss the adaptation of poetry, especially when it comes to emotions, and the emphasis on the inadequacy of language to express them. With her last novel, Between the Acts, the concentration is not exclusively on the mind but rather on its permeable character in respect to the outer world. Moreover, the novel is much more poetic, partly due to the play in the play. Additionally, we will see that Between the Acts kind of summarises Virginia Woolf’s theories by simultaneously questioning the function of literature and art.

2 Virginia Woolf’s concept of reality

The handling of reality within Virginia Woolf’s novels can be subdivided into three different levels. The first refers to the attribution of reality within the ideas and emotions of the mind. The second deals with the semantically expression of her theories about the subjective nature of reality, and the third, resulting from the former, is concerned with the syntactical and stylistically realization.

Starting with the attribution of reality, let us refer to the quotation “My name is Brown. Catch me if you can”. It has been uttered by Mrs Brown, a character in Virginia Woolf’s well-known essay Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown. It expresses the lifelong search of Virginia Woolf to catch something for her novels which she is not sure how to name it: "life or spirit, truth or reality, this, the essential thing" (Virginia Woolf 1994a, p. 160). She does not want to create real characters but to catch the essence of reality and to present it through the eyes of her characters because she is convinced to find it within the ideas and emotions of the mind on an ordinary day. By initially concentrating on the inner world, she neglects the outer, which becomes reduced to an initiator of the inner. Thus, she focuses on the mind in trivial everyday situations (“an ordinary mind on an ordinary day,“ (Virginia Woolf 1994a, p. 160) and on the representation of its reactions to the influences of the outer world. That is, Woolf concentrates on the inner world and follows the unstructured and unpredictable thoughts and emotions as they occur during the day:

“Let us record the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in which they fall. Let us trace the pattern, however disconnected and incoherent in appearance, which each sight or incident scores upon the consciousness. Let us not take it for granted that life exists more in what is commonly thought big than in what is commonly thought small,” (Virginia Woolf 1995, p. 33).

Nünning reasons from it that Woolf is aware that human beings spend a lot of time, just dreaming, sleeping and letting their thoughts stream (“Woolf [hat] das Bewußtsein als passiv bzw. als tabula rasa konzipierte,” Nünning 1990, p. 36) in the way that she “geht von einem wesentlich komplexeren Zusammenhang aus und betont die dynamische und selbstständige Komponente alles Bewusstseinsprozesse“ (Ibid.). It is within these moments where she thinks to find truth: "Yet it is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top" (Woolf, Shiach 1996, p. 40). Hence, Woolf is in need for a new literary style to realize her ideas. Being aware of the altering character of the mind (“Clearly the mind is always altering its focus, and bringing the world into different perspectives“, Woolf, Shiach 1996, p. 127) she concludes that life can only be caught within written texts if they are able to follow the mind when “it explodes and gives birth to all kinds of other ideas” (Woolf, Shiach 1996, p. 132). Additionally, focusing on the individual mind, Woolf becomes aware of the subjectivity and complexity of reality, in the way, that she perceives the many selves of a characters. She describes this complexity rather as a states of consciousness, not alone as caused by the differences between human beings (“But my present reflection is that people have any number of states of consciousness”, D III 27.4.1925, 12). Wishing however to overcome that subjectivity, Woolf has to find new ways to create an objective picture of reality although focussing on the mind.

2.1 New literary strategies

Now, that Virginia Woolf’s new literary intentions were no longer compatible with the old literary traditions[2], which were to "provide a plot, to provide comedy, tragedy, love interest, and an air of probability" (Virginia Woolf 1994a, p. 160), she starts thinking about alternatives.[3] For Virginia Woolf feels too restricted by the old rules, she looks for a new literary freedom:

“So that a writer were a free man and not a slave, if he could write what he chose, not what he must, if he could base his work upon his own feeling and not upon convention, there would be no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest or catastrophe in the accepted style, (Virginia Woolf 1994a, p. 160).

Thus, Virginia Woolf refuses to portray time, plot, or characters in the expected and traditional way. Instead, she utilizes trivial incidents from everyday life, which serve as accidental initiators of new thoughts („Bei Virginia Woolf haben die äußeren Vorgänge überhaupt ihre Vorherrschaft eingebüßt, sie dienen zur Auslösung und Deutung der inneren, Auerbach 1946, p. 479)[4]. In this way, Woolf frees herself from the old literary traditions through a “disruption of hierarchical syntax and of linear time and plot, [a] decentring of the knowing and rational subject” (Felski 1995, p. 26). She wants to re- create the processes of the mind in its complete shape and at the same time to represent life itself. Therefore she is “wary of writing from any limited or fixed theory that would simplify and distance us from actual experience" (Marsh 1998, p. 188).

2.1.1 Multiperspectivity

Virginia Woolf distances herself from the ‘egoistical’[5] and monological representation which her contemporaries used in combination with the stream of consciousness technique[6]. In her opinion, it only offers the reader a restricted inside into a single figure’s mind and thus, deprives him from a broader view („[it] tended to imprison the reader inside an individual ego," Naremore 1973, p. 63)[7]. However, in any case, we can assume that Woolf was aware that life is too complex to be communicated from only one perspective. She feels restricted by the traditional techniques in the expression of what she regards as essential:

“Is it due to the method that we feel neither jovial nor magnanimous, but centred in a self which, in spite of its tremor of susceptibility, never embraces or creates what is outside itself and beyond? Does the emphasis laid, perhaps didactically, upon indecency, contribute to the effect of something angular and isolated?“ (Virginia Woolf 1994a, p. 162).

As a consequence, she first of all disempowers the authoritarian, omniscient narrator by reducing him to an undefined voice which is sometimes even indistinguishable from the voice s of the characters. To supplant such traditional formulations like “Point of view” Richter (1970) refers to the subjective “voice” of the characters as well as of the narrator. However, he does not refer to the spoken voice but to the inner voice which cannot be exactly defined but which tries to transport feelings. It has the tone of the interior monologue but it is more than that. It is not the verbalized consciousness but the verbalized being of the characters by giving voice to the moment and transcending the self. It is this “no one’s voice” like Virginia Woolf calls it in Between the Acts (BA: 211). To achieve this impersonal impression, Woolf uses different stylistic means such as phrases like “he thought,“ “it seemed to her”, “one felt“ so that the reader cannot always define from what direction the voice comes. It changes constantly by coming from within the characters, the surrounding or from above. Richter further differentiates between three different subjective voices. The first one comes from the interiour monologue of the characters when a character talks to himself. The second voice is that which is sometimes mistakenly taken for the narrator, an indefinable consciousness that exists above the characters a “namenloser Geist” (Auerbach 1946, p. 475). It differs from the traditional narrator in several ways: It does not describe the character and gives no facts about him but rather asks questions and suggests impressions. The third voice, similar to the previous, does not exist above the character’s but is able to reach back into time and memory. And finally there are of course the voices of the characters which intermingle sometimes indistinguishable with the other voices just mentioned. The blending of the different types of voices becomes more complex with the progress from novel to novel. Thus, by creating “voices” instead of one or more narrators, Virginia Woolf prepares the way for an equality of angles by turning from a monological representation of a single character’s mind to the representation of a plurality of minds, that is multiperspectivity.

Nünning and Nünning (2000) try to access this complex and also very vaguely used topic of multiperspectivity (or Polyperspectivity), by establishing a scheme to analyse multiperspective texts. First of all they define multiperspective narration as a technique that presents the happenings through several versions or perspectives[8]. Thereby, they differentiate three different attributes or combinations of attributes:

(1) „Erzählungen, in denen es zwei oder mehrere Erzählinstanzen auf der extradiegetischen und/oder der intradiegetischen Erzählebene gibt, die dasselbe Geschehen jeweils von ihrem Standpunkt aus in unterschiedlicher Weise schildern;
(2) Erzählungen, in denen dasselbe Geschehen alternierend oder nacheinander aus der Sicht bzw. dem Blickwinkel von zwei oder mehreren Fokalisierungsinstanzen bzw. Reflektorfiguren wiedergegeben wird;
(3) Erzählungen mit einer montage- bzw. collagehaften Erzählstruktur, bei der personale Perspektiven desselben Geschehens aus der Sicht unterschiedlicher Erzähl- und/oder Fokalisierungsinstanzen durch andere Textsorten ergänzt oder ersetzt werden“ (Nünning, Nünning 2000, p. 18).

Based on these categories, they conclude that multiperspectivity becomes first significant when the text presents a variety of versions of the same happening or, as one could add, of the same person:

„interpretatorisch signifikantes Phänomen wird Multiperspektivität vielmehr erst dann, wenn mehrere Versionen desselben Geschehens (verstanden als Sammelbegriff für die Gesamtheit aller Phänomene auf der Ebene der erzählten Welt) erzählt werden“ (Ibid. p. 18-19).

In a second step, Nünning and Nünning (Ibid.) differentiate three different forms of multiperspectivity within narrated texts: First, multiperspectively narrated texts which are narrated by two or more narrative authorities (“Erzählinstanzen”), second, multiperspectively focalising texts which are narrated through the perspective of reflector figures (“Reflektorfiguren”), and third, multiperspectively structured texts which include a patchwork of different types of texts. Concentrating on narrative authorities and reflector figures, there can be made further distinctions: Multiperspectively narrated text can be narrated either by intra- or by extradiegetic narrators who are either biperspective or polyperspective as well. The same is true for multiperspectively focalising texts[9]. Then, Nünning and Nünning (Ibid.) structure the semantical and syntactical dimension of multiperspectivity as they regard it as an important factor for the interpretation of novels. The first differentiation here has to be made between the perspective of a character (“Figurenperspektive”) and the perspective of a narrator (“Erzählerperspektive”). The perspective of the character is defined by (a) its information, (b) the psychological disposition, and (c) the ideological orientation.

Thus, “Figurenperspektive bezeichnet [...] die Beschaffenheit des Eigenschaftsspektrums einer Figur bzw. das System aller Voraussetzungen, das ihr subjektives Wirklichkeitsmodell konstituiert“ (Nünning, Nünning 2000, p. 49). In other words, the emphasis on the individual perspective underlines the subjective character of perception, attitude, and the way of thinking and feeling about conventional values and norms[10]. Secondly, the ‘perspective of the narrator’ means the feature of the narrator abstracted from the text by the reader. However, this can only be analysed if the narrator is an explicit one who can be noticed as a personified narrator, commenting and analysing the plot. Finally, the relation of the individual perspectives towards each other can be distinguished. That is, Nünning and Nünning (Ibid.) distinguish between an additive, correlative and contradictory multiperspective narration. In the first case, the perspectives complete each other in the way that in the end they create a comprehensive picture on a theme or character. In the second case, the different perspectives condition and qualify each other in that they only complete one another punctually and partially. In the last case, the contradictory or incompatible multiperspective narration, the different perspectives are completely different and incompatible in that they cannot be synthesised. In this way, the individual perspectives of the characters evolve into a heterogeneous version. In this way the modern conviction - that each happening is perceived individually – is expressed through this multiperspective structure. In a last step, it is possible to comprise the individual perspectives under either a closed or an open structure of perspectives. The closed perspective structure means a convergence of perspectives into a common vanishing point (“Fluchtpunkt”, Nünning, Nünning 2000, p. 60) which implies an additive or correlative multiperspective narration. In contrast, the open perspective structure is characterized by the lack of such a vanishing point. That is, the dynamic centrifugal forces dominate in contrast to the centripetal organization of the individual perspectives and create a “real polyphony”[11]. Referring to Bakhtin (2004), this differentiation can be called either monologic or dialogic. Within a monological multiperspectivity, the variety of perspectives is characterized by a dominant voice and they all finally result into a comprising picture. Whereas the dialogic multiperspectivity typically consist of many perspectives which comment and qualify each other. Bakhtin regards this as the real polyphony which can be found in novels where different perspectives qualif each other without one having an authorian weight[12] . Bakhtin’s Dialogism

“Dialogism” became known as a theory developed by Michael Bakhtin, a Russian philosopher, who neither defined it explicitly, nor even used the term himself. Moreover, he applied his concept about the dialogic nature of language to many different fields, which makes it, on the one hand, difficult to relate it to a special area, on the other hand, this openness allows a flexible adaptation of his theory.

Generally, Bakhtin’s Dialogism is based on the assumption that the semantical perception of language is not pure but each word has different connotations: Every language user associates with a specific word something (slightly) different than someone else. Between speakers of the same culture and with the same historical background, this differentiation is not very great, which is why we speak in this case of a “speech community”. However, as words are repeatedly used by different people in different contexts, Bakhtin (2004) concludes that, while talking, we ‘cite’ other people as they have already used the term before us. Therefore, a language user can always be regarded as an interlocutor:

“[…] no living word relates to its object in a singular way: between the word and its object, between the word and the speaking subject, there exists an elastic environment of other, alien words about the same object, the same theme, and this is an environment that is often difficult to penetrate. It is precisely in the process of living interaction with this specific environment that the word may be individualised and given stylistic shape (p. 276).

As a consequence, a text can be regarded as a statement in a dialogue, in a way that it constitutes the utterance of an author addressed to a reader or an audience. In this sense, every text is part of a dialogue and in this way at the same time a contribution to it. This further implies that each written or spoken text is automatically addressed to a perceptor. As a consequence, while writing, an author will always have an addressee in mind to whom he directs his utterance or text[13]. The dialogic subject

Neukirchen (1999) takes up Bakhtins theory from a slightly different perspective by concentrating on the dialogic subject. That means that he does not look at the relationship between an addresser and an addressee but on the significance of this interaction for the individual. However, he understands the individual not as independent of society because he sees interdependence between the two:

„Weder dem Einzelnen noch der Gesellschaft soll die alleinige Macht gebühren, vielmehr soll die Persönlichkeit als Agens zwischen Einzelnem und Gesellschaft, zwischen Ich und Welt in der Form eines Dialoges begriffen werde. Das Subjekt ist dabei für Bakhtin sowohl im räumlichen, als auch im zeitlichen Sinn einmalig, aber es ist nicht autonom“ (p. 23).

Thus, Neukirchen understands personality or identity as being formed through a dialogue between the self and the world. He claims that dialogue is important for the development of identity and that the individual gains his or her identity through the interaction with the others. In this way, he defines alteration as the important factor because through the friction with “the other” we can form and distinguish our identity. There will always be friction between the different individuals with their individual perception of reality but Neukirchen regards this tension as essential:

„zwar reiben sich die Figuren an der sie umgebenden Gesellschaft, doch können sie nicht von ihr lassen - im Gegenteil, sie bedürfen ihrer, um sich selbst finden zu können“ (Neukirchen 1999, p. 18).

That is, only through the dialogue with the other, by experiencing the difference, the individual can perceive its personality, its individuality[14]. Thus, through dialogue with the other, the individual, the I, perceives both its subjectivity and its objectivity („Somit erfährt sich das Ich im Dialog mit dem anderen gleichzeitig als Subjekt und als Objekt“ Neukirchen 1999, p. 23). Through human interaction, through the interaction with the other, the “I” becomes an “I.“ In this sense, interaction is a process during which the “I” can develop, or in short, “I” become “I” through “You.“[15] In other words, Neukirchen assumes that Bakhtin’s dialogism means the constitution of the subject during a process in which it keeps questioning and, in a second step, developing itself. In this sense, the principal of alteration becomes the basis for the “I” in a tensed but important dialogue[16]. This can be related to the creation of characters in the sense like Neukirchen points out that the identity of the fugures resolves through their interaction: “entsteht die Identität der Figuren Virginia Woold als einer Interaktion, der Interaktion zwischen dem Ich und der Virtuellen Perspektive des anderen’ im Verlauf der Suche das einer Identität ohne Selbstentfremdung“ (Neukirchen 1999, p. 18)

Finally, Neukirchen underlines the importance of Bakhtin's theories for the analysis of Virginia Woolf by saying that his theories go in the same direction as Woolf’s because like her, Bakhtin approves the variety and complexity of human life which has to be connected to an understanding of the self and the world (cf Neukirchen 1999, p. 22). Woolf in dialogue with the world

Dialogue was an important part in Woolf’s life. Being a member of the Bloomsbury group, an avant-guard group of academic friends, she was not only influenced by revo- lutionary thoughts about literature and art, but its communicative nature influenced her thinking and arguing and set the dialogic foundation of her work. In this respect, Rosenberg (1995) is convinced that communication with others helped Woolf to form her own opinion and, at the same time, to get a greater variety of opinions and perspec- tives on the different topics:

“As a member of the Bloomsbury group, she made conversation an important part of her life, an activity that helped her sort out her ideas and perceptions as well as the thinking of her companions” (Rosenberg 1995, p. 68).

In addition, the other members of the group described Woolf as a “Suchende, die sich bewußt in die Gedankenwelten ihrer Gesprächspartner hineindenkt” (Neukirchen 1999, p. 33). She used dialogue to deal with her thoughts and to learn about different perspectives the others had on an issue. Woolf aimed at overcoming the egoistical self or, as it has already been termed: to transcend the self. By applying this dialogic strategy of her thoughts to her novels, she was able to distance herself from her own opinion and was free to present different perspectives. This is expressed by Neukirchen who speaks of “Virginia Woolf’s existentielles Bedürfnis nach Austausch und Vermittlung“[...]. Hinzu kommt ihr persönlicher Anspruch, über das eigene Ich hinausgehen zu wollen, um in der Suche nach gleichgewichtigen Beziehungen das ’damned egositical self’ zu überwinden, das sie in den Werken von James Joyce und D.H. Lawrence als so störend empfindet. Sie führt den Gedanken der Auseinandersetzung auch in den Prozess des Schreibens an sich mit ein, in dem sie sich in ihren Einträgen als Schreibende und als zukünftige Lesende zugleich inszeniert. Ihr älteres, lesendes Ich wird von ihr zu einer wohlwollenden begütigenden Stimme fiktionalisiert, die souverän über dem gerade schreibenden Ich steht [...]. Auf diese Weise gestaltet Virginia Woolf mit künstlerischen Mitteln einen Dialog, und gewinnt so zu sich eine Distanz, die ihr ein unbeschwertes Urteil sowie eine freiere Inszenierung ihrer selbst erlaubt“ (Neukirchen 1999, p. 33).

Thus, in the same way as Woolf used communication to criticise literature, she regarded writing as a communicative process, (“The writer is also always a reader who is in dialogue with a precursor”, Rosenberg 1995, p. 56). Dialogue within the novel

Rosenberg (Ibid.) underlines this adaptation of communicative strategies into Virginia Woolf’s text and sums up that “Dialogue becomes part of Woolf's rhetoric, allowing opposing ideas to exist simultaneously beside each other and creating unity through contradictions in her "conversations" with herself, (Rosenberg 1995, p. 56).

Thus, following Rosenberg, multiperspectivity is created through a kind of dialogue, an interaction between the different reciprocally completing or contradicting perspectives, resulting from the tension between the different subjective constructs of reality, in order to overcome a monologic and restricted presentation of the characters. In other words, through dialogue, the different perspectives of the characters interact and create a polyphony, different to the monologue established by other modern writers. In this respect Herman (1989) supports Rosenberg in the way that both emphasise that ‘dialogue’ or ‘communication’ is not to be understood literally:

"The dialogic names the discursive relation between two subjects, understood as a dialogue in which the subject constitutes itself without the annihilation or assimilation of the other. This dialogue posits itself as a struggle between the two subjects' respective discourses,“ (Herrmann 1989, p. 6).

In this sense, dialogue means not a direct communication between characters but between opposing ideas, presented through or inherent by the characters (cf Rosenberg 1995, p. 58). Herrmann (1989) adds that the dialogue constitutes rather the structure of a relation than a content:

“Intersubjectivety logically precedes subjectivity and that a dialogic relation posits an other as another subject, the dialogic remains the structure of a relation rather than a content, (p. 13).

Generally speaking, ‘dialogue’ does not necessarily mean that the characters communicate through direct speech with each other. That is, dialogue rather designates the relationship between the different perspectives than a communicative interaction. In this way, for Woolf as an author, this polyphony means an advantage in the way that it offers her the freedom of not having to espouse a special point of view but to be able to play with different opinions and to agree or disagree with them as she likes:

“Conversation allows Woolf to interact with her own ideas, to agree and disagree with herself, and to allow her thinking about a text to be fluid without obligating herself to a view she knows might eventually change,” (Rosenberg 1995, p. 62).

Thus, the dialogic multiperspectivity creates, through the contrastive representation of perspectives a complex, miscellaneous and contradictory perception of reality (cf Nünning, Nünning 2000, p. 12).

To sum up, the characters are no longer presented by an authorial narrator but through each other’s eyes. Consequently, the reader learns about a character through the subjective perceptions of the others[17]. This is a very central technique of Virginia Woolf which can be repeatedly found in her novels as Parson (2007) underlines:

"central to Woolf's method of characterisation, by which a figure is illuminated by the external perceptions of others as much as their own internal consciousness,“ (p. 76).[18]

Above all, the multiperspectivity demonstrates the subjectivity of reality because as we will later see in the novels, every character has its own perceptions about the others and life itself. That is, life, or reality, can be regarded from as many different perspectives as there are eyes to contemplate it. It becomes clear that each characters has his own perception of reality and therefore, his own construct of reality. This is underlined by Surkamp (2003) who defines multiperspectivity as a variety of subjective perceptions of the fictional world in the way that each character possesses his own construct of reality which influences the perception about the other characters or, on the intertextual level, the perception the reader gets through the eyes of a character about another:

„So kommt es in multiperspektivischen Texten zu einer Vielzahl unterschiedlicher Ansichten der fiktionalen Wirklichkeit, wobei jede individuelle Ansicht den Status eines subjektiven Konstrukts hat" (Surkamp 2003, p. 56).

In this way, Woolf evades a monological and restricted representation and manages to transcend the self. This leads us to the conclusion that the multiperspective representation of a character is a central stylistic means in Woolfs writing. It allows her to escape the monologic representation. Dialogic multiperspectivity leads to a broader view on a character and, in this way, allows the author to create a much more comprehensive picture of the character and, at the same time, to come as close as possible to the essence of reality and to represent the complexity of life.

2.1.2 Poetry

In her essay The Narrow Bridge of Art (1960) Virginia Woolf expresses her idea of a new novel: it will be written still in prose but with poetic elements. In this way, it will distance itself from life by presenting rather an outline than details (“stand further back from life [and] it will give, as poetry does , the outline rather than the detail”, p. 18). That is, the new novel will not give explicit descriptions of the environment but rather limit itself to express the ideas and emotions of the characters in a filtered way (“the feelings and ideas of the characters closely and vividly, but from a different angle”, p. 18). Thus, “it will resemble poetry in this that it will give not only or mainly people’s relationships to each other and their activities together, as the novel has hitherto done, but it will give the relation of the mind to general ideas and its soliloquy in solitude” (pp. 18-19).

This is based on Woolf’s conviction that life consists mostly in our emotional reactions towards the simple and beautiful things of nature. Thereby, human beings spend a lot of time on their own, dreaming, and thinking. Consequently, Woolf does not pay much attention to the relationships of her characters but rather their emotions and ideas in these moments, when they are privately and undisguised through social conventions. In Woolf’s words:

“We have come to forget that a larger and important part of life consists in our emotions toward such things as roses and nightingales, the dawn, the sunset, life, death, and fate; we forget that we spend much time sleeping, dreaming, thinking, reading, alone; we are not entirely occupied in personal relations” (p.19).

In this respect, she distances herself from the psychological novelists who present the characters only in relations with each other. That means, as Woolf wants to convey the private side of life within her works, the form of the novel has to change or rather be completed by stylistically means from poetry (“The novel or the variety of the novel which will be written in time to come will take on some of the attributes of poetry”, p. 19). The variety of novel she wants to create will represent the relationship between man and nature, fate, imagination and dreams. However, it will also depict contrasts, questions and the complexity of life. Therefore, Virginia Woolf takes over techniques from poetry because it excludes everything from outside which is superfluous and which hinders the view on the real essence of being. This is expressed by Jackson (1994) who states that “The poets, on the other hand, leave practically everything out and so include everything that matters. In a manner of speaking, they arrive at everything by means of nothing” (p. 119).

By a technique she calls the tunnelling technique, Virginia Woolf achieves a concentration on the essence of things: Transforming emotions into images, she is able to transport them into her novels and, thus, to the reader without having to describe them pedestrianly. She rather creates images which demand from the reader to call on his own experiences and, in this way, to fill them with his own emotions. By this method, the metaphors might even serve better to that aim as words could do. This assumption is based on the fact that Woolf is aware of the restrictedness of words when it comes to emotions. Emotions are transported to the reader through images and it is therefore not necessary for Woolf to describe them verbally. The advantage of this strategy is expressed by Richter (1970) who explains that those picturing modes are primitive modes because the messages are unconsciously perceived by the reader as they are imploring basic instinct areas. In other words, images result from the dreaming land because in this area, emotions are directly translated into images. In this way, they are “able to compress vast areas of feelings, to suggest latent aspects of experience,“ (p. 180):

“Because their meaning lies very close to the unconscious, and because a particular image or symbol may vary in meaning for the individual, they are of all the subjective modes the least susceptible to analysis.“ (Richter 1970, p. 180).

In this way, e.g. colours, transport particular emotions to the reader because we respond to colours as ‘cool’ or ‘warm’ (cf Richter 1970, p. 105). The concentration on the inner world and the translation of feelings into images means thus, that the outer world not only serves as initiator of the inner world but also provides objects which become metaphors. Thus, to transport feelings, resulting from the inner world of the characters, to the reader, the author has to make use of the outer world (“In other words, the external world acts as metaphor for us: our feelings are “like” something, and we use an image as their objective correlative”, Richter 1970, p. 181). However, if we step back and include the reader in our contemplation it becomes obvious that it is actually the reader who has to catch the essence of the characters. This is because the text offers only fragmented perceptions on the character in focus. It then becomes the task of the reader to combine those fragments in order to create a comprehensive picture and to catch the essence of e.g. “Mrs Brown”. Thus, only the reader can really accomplish the task to catch her. Therefore, in the following part we will focus on the reader and discuss the impact of the new literary strategies on the reader.

2.2 Impact on the reader

“Literature is written to engage its reader, since reading is a process of interaction (Rosenberg 1995, p. 57).

By her new way of writing, Woolf influences the reader and causes a corresponding change in his access to modern literature. As she does not intent to present a ‘real’ character but to let the reader see reality through the eyes of her characters ("For Woolf, a 'real character' does not mean one who is 'life-like' but one who makes us see things through his eyes”, Bradshaw 2006, p. 492), Woolf disempowers the omniscient narrator and, in this way, forces the reader to become active himself (“Writing as conversation implies an interaction between the writer and reader, between the speaker and audience, Rosenberg 1995, p. 56). His notion of the text is thus different as he cannot relay on an authoritarian author anymore but has to build up his own opinion by means of thoughts and impressions which he can get from the subjective opinion of the characters. In other words, by reframing from the omniscient authorial narrator, Virginia Woolf transfers the authority of meaning construction onto the reader. He thus becomes an “authoritarian reader” in the way, that he has to draw conclusions, find connections, evaluate the characters and the occurrences and, by this, close the gaps on his own. That is, he is forced to call on his personal experiences and to value and judge the opposing ideas of the text against his “horizon” (cf. 2.2.1 “Horizon of expectation”). Thus, the reader himself is the authority which creates meaning. It means to him a creative and interpretative role as the meaning of the text is not in the text but has to be created by the reader.

When Woolf theorizes about the reader, she has a special construct in her mind which she calls the Common Reader. She introduces this concept in her collection of essays under the same name. The Common Reader, or, as Woolf also names him, the ‘naive reader’, is a reader who is neither literary educated nor a critic. However, she attests him an instinct talent to create the meaning of a text for himself:

“The common reader […] differs from the critic and the scholar. He is worse educated, and nature has not gifted him so generously. He reads for his own pleasure rather than to impart knowledge or correct the opinions of others. Above all, he is guided by an instinct to create for himself, out of whatever odds and ends he can come by, some kind of whole - a portrait of a man, a sketch of an age, a theory of the art of writing", (Virginia Woolf 1994b, p. 19).

Nonetheless, the Common Reader[19] is not a real person but a strategic construct. While writing, he is imaginatively used by the author as an addressee. With him, Virginia Woolf explains how a text functions and how it is constructed and thus, makes him a rhetorical function, a metaphor, in her writing process:

“However, the Common Reader is more than an ideal reader or a persona that Woolf uses to address her audience: the Common Reader is a metaphor for how texts operate and how knowledge is constructed” (Rosenberg 1995, p. 55).


[1] Woolf 1950, p. 90

[2] “[Classical stylistic means became] a design which more and more ceases to resemble the vision in [her] mind,“ Virginia Woolf 1994a, p. 160.

[3] “Is life like this? Must novels be like this?”, (Virginia Woolf 1994a, p. 160)

[4] „[V.W.] hält sich an kleine, unscheinbare, beliebig herausgegriffene Vorgänge [...]. Große Veränderun- gen, äußere Wendepunkte des Lebens oder gar Katastrophen kommen nicht vor, und auch sonst in dem Leuchtturmroman werden sie nur schnell, ohne Vorbereitung und Zusammenhang, beiläufig und gleichsam nur informatorisch erwähnt (Auerbach 1946, p. 487)

[5] Naremore 1973, p. 63

[6] I am aware of the difficulty to define this term. Thus, when I speak of the „stream of consciousness technique,“ I refer to its ongoing way as e.g. applied by Miriam Henderson, without any restrictions.

[7] It is therefore important not to equate the stream of consciousness technique used monologically by many modern writers with Woolf’s dialogical narrative technique but to underline the distinctions which exist between the two

[8] The discussion within philosophy about perspectives has culminated in the so-called ‘Perspectivism’ "der Auffassung, dass alle Erkenntnis von der Perspektive des erkennenden Subjekts bedingt sein, was die Möglichkeit einer subjektunkabhängigen und allgemeingültigen Wahrheit ausschließt. Wenn 'Welt' für den Menschen nur von seinem individuellen Standort aus verstehbar und erkennbar ist, dann ist die Perspektive des wahrnehmenden Subjekts die alles entscheidende Bezugsgröße" (Nünning, Nünning 2000, p. 9).

[9] I consciously omit the differentiation of the multiperspective structured text because it is not important for my analysis here.

[10] cf Nünning, Nünning 2000, p. 49

[11] cf Nünning, Nünning 2000, p. 61

[12] “[Ohne dass es zu einer] wechselseitigen Relativierung gleichwertiger Perspektiven […] kommt, ohne daß eine hierarchisch übergeordnet und verbindliche Stimme oder ein gemeinsamer Flucht- bzw. Inte- grationspunkt sichtbar würde“ (Nünning, Nünning 2000, p. 61).

[13]This ideas has been expressed by Bakhtin who says that “All rhetorical forms, monologic in their compositional structure, are oriented toward the listener and his answer. This orientation toward the listener is usually considered the basic constitutive feature of rhetorical discourse. It is highly significant for rhetoric that this relationship toward the concrete listener, taking him into account, is a relationship that enters into the very internal construction of rhetorical discourse. This orientation toward an answer is open, blatant and concrete,” Bakhtin 2004, p. 280.

[14] “allein im Bewusstsein des Fremden, in der Bewußtwerdung des Widersprüchlichen, das nicht verein- nahmt und nicht nivelliert wird, kann das Ich zum ich werden“ (Neukirchen 1999, p. 23).

[15] Neukirchen 1999, p. 34

[16] cf Neukirchen 1999, p. 23

[17] This is stressed by Parson who affirms that “[The presentation of] the thoughts and perceptions not of one consciousness but of several, [is] a technique that escapes the singular interior monologues […] to render both the separateness of individual minds", Parson 2007, p. 76.

[18] The same notions has been expresse by Auerbach who states that it is "Wesentlich für das Vorgehen in der Art Virginia Woolfs [...], daß es sich nicht nur um ein Subjekt handelt, dessen Bewusstseinsein- drücke wiedergegeben werden, sondern um viele, häufig wechselnde Subjekte..." Auerbach 1946, p. 477.

[19] The Common Reader is opposed the “Patron”, another concept which Woolf explains in her essay “Pa- tron and Crocus”: The patron is a person the writer should carefully chose as "instigator and inspirer of what is written" (Virginia Woolf 1994c, p. 212). This means, a person because of whom the author chooses to write. For Woolf this means that "to know whom to write for is to know how to write" (p. 214). The patron is a kind of audience but an audience that differs from the reader. He does not deter- mine what the author writes about but how. The patron is like a constant factor in the writing process, a thread, whereas an audience might be changing and diverse. Hence, it is important for the author to chose the right patron. In this sense, the writer is not only speaking to someone else but because of someone else.


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Antiauthoritarian Virginia Woolf



Title: Antiauthoritarian representation of reality within two of Virginia Woolf's novels