Ms. Trần Phương Hồng

Virginia Woolf – one of the modernist literature figures

Group’s members: Nguyễn Thị Mỹ Ngân Trần Thị Thanh Tâm Hoàng Thị Phượng Liên Lê Thị Kim Ngọc Course: English literature 1

Class: 2B07

Ho Chi Minh City, May 2009

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Nguyễn Thị Mỹ Ngân Trần Thị Thanh Tâm Hoàng Thị Phượng Liên Lê Thị Kim Ngọc Course: English literature 1 Superviser: Trần Phương Hồng May 12, 2009 Adeline Virginia Woolf (25 January 1882 – 28 March 1941) was an English novelist and essayist, regarded as one of the foremost modernist literary figures of the twentieth century. Her writing often explores the concepts of time, memory, and people’s inner consciousness, and is remarkable for its humanity and depth of perception.

1.Early life:
Virginia Woolf was born Adeline Virginia Stephen in London in 1882. Her father, Sir Leslie Stephen, was a notable author, critic and mountaineer. Her mother, a famous beauty, Julia Prinsep Stephen, served as a model for Pre-Raphaelite painters. She was educated by her parents in their literate and well-connected household at 22 Hyde Park Gate, Kensington. The sudden death of her mother in 1895, when Virginia was 13, and that of her half sister Stella two years later, led to the first of Virginia's several nervous breakdowns. Her breakdowns and subsequent recurring depressive periods were also induced by the sexual abuse she was subjected to by her half-brother.

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The death of her father in 1904 provoked her most alarming collapse. She moved to a house at 46 Gordon Square in Bloomsbury. Following studies at King's College London, Woolf came to know Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, Saxon Sydney-Turner, Duncan Grant, and Leonard Woolf, who together formed the nucleus of the intellectual circle known as the Bloomsbury Group. Virginia Stephen married writer Leonard Woolf in 1912, referring to him during their engagement as a "penniless Jew." The couple shared a close bond and also collaborated professionally. In 1922, Virginia met the writer and gardener Vita Sackville-West. After a tentative start, they began a sexual relationship that lasted through most of the 1920s. After their affair ended, the two women remained friends until Woolf's death in 1941.

On 28 March 1941, at the apparent onset of a period of depression, she put on her overcoat, filled its pockets with stones, then walked into the River Ouse near her home and drowned herself.

Novels: The Voyage Out (1915), Night and Day (1919), Jacob's Room (1922), Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), Orlando (1928), The Waves (1931), Between the Acts (1941)… Short story collections: The New Dress (1924), A Haunted House and Other Short Stories (1944)… Biographies: Orlando A

Biography (1928), Roger Fry: A Biography (1940). Non-fiction books: A Room of One's Own (1929), On Being Ill (1930)

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Modern thinking
Virginia Woolf is known as an experimenter and innovator in novel writing. To the Lighthouse, The Waves, Orlando and A Room of One’s Own are four of the greatest literary achievements of the twentieth century and the author's most popular works. When our group first began to read these books, we found them very confusing, and wanted to throw the books against the wall. We, however, ignored the frustration and kept reading. Surprisingly we blithely fell in love with Woolf’s writing and modern thinking. Woolf contributed to the development of the stream-of-consciousness narrative technique, which, unlike traditional linear narration, records thoughts in the order in which they arise without bringing them in a rational or chronological context. Woolf concentrates on an “unconscious level” of mental experience of the characters. With the techniques of the interior monologue - each character is shown to be two different people - the exterior they show the world, and their interior thoughts, its tripartite structure [one day/bridge section, 'Time Passes' covering a period of years/one day], and above all for its stream of consciousness - makes the flow of thoughts on the page seem utterly natural, To the Lighthouse becomes an important contribution to the development of the British modernism. In Orlando, she often breaks up narrative continuity. The narrator frequently breaks the flow of the story to explain things from her point of view. For example, when Orlando cheats on Queen Elizabeth with a young girl, the narrator implores the reader to consider the context of his actions: "It was Orlando's fault perhaps; yet after all, are we to blame of him? The age was the Elizabethan; their morals were not ours..."(Woolf 31). The narrator is dismissive of Orlando's actions, excusing him because of circumstances of the time. Throughout the novel, she purposely intervenes to shape the reader's opinion of her subject. Thus, Woolf uses the narrator to challenge the truth of biography.

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Symbols are very important in Woolf’s writings. She seems to have dedicated a large amount of her time and thought determining the nature and scope of symbols. However, Woolf takes a fresh, almost revolutionary approach to symbolism. She deliberately obscures the pathway between signifier and signified and disconcerts the reader by taking old images and using them in a new context. An illustration for this point is that water is traditionally an image of life and procreation. In The Waves, she presents the ocean as a symbol of procreation and life-giving energy. But the image is truly subverted in Orlando where the river freezes and, life and death are intermixed. Woolf not only uses unconventional transitions in her writings but uses imagery, symbolism, and poetic elements to replace the plot setting. This technique reaches its extreme in The Wave and To The Lighthouse. Her successful works are all suffused with poetry and enclosed in it. Although her works are not considered poems, they are often characterized as poetic; it will have something of the exaltation of poetry, but much of the ordinariness of prose. Her language has compressed and become dense with images that pass through in her character's minds are rarely seized from any particular background of concrete experience. Woolf rejects the "materialism" of many early twentieth-century writers. Her fiction deals with the problem of self-identity, personal relationships, and the significance of time, change, and memory on the individual. Some of her most highly regarded nonfiction writings are topical and occasional essays treating such subjects as war and peace, feminism, life and death, sex and class issues, her own travels, and observations of the contemporary scene. She seems to come closer to life. She addresses social and feminist concerns in greatest depth in A Room of One's Own discussing the cultural and economic pressures that hinder women's scholarly pursuits with its famous dictum, "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." Woolf is a pioneer of feminism.

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Overall, Virginia Woolf is a talented author that included many literary devices in her writing. She defines "modern" writing in large part by its break with tradition. Her works are modern and express characters in a way no other writer had done before.

Some significant characters in Woolf’s works
5.To the Lighthouse
For so long, that women’s sacrifice in love and family have been neglected. Yet, in the context of twentieth century, Woolf explores changing gender roles through the character – Mrs. Ramsay - the lovely star of the Ramsay family, and the heart of the novel in terms of beauty, responsibility and manner. Wife of a philosopher, mother of eight, Woolf casts the fifty-year-old woman as a protector and supporter of men; to Mrs. Ramsay, if men were going to fight wars, negotiate treaties, and control finance, women should be supportive and understanding of their “husband’s labours”. The novel begins with Mrs. Ramsay politely saying “yes” to her son James. Throughout “The Window” Mrs Ramsay is painted as a courteous woman with the “whole of the other sex under her protection”, providing reassurance to James, Charles Tansley, and her husband. Repeatedly, she tells James he will get what he most desires – to sail out to the lighthouse. Despite her husband and Tansley’s rational, but negative assessment of the inclement weather, she’s seen soothing James, stroking his hair, and helping him cut pictures from magazines, reassuring him that he will see the Lighthouse, saying “But it may be fine…will be fine”, “Perhaps it will be fine tomorrow” (Woolf 1). In addition, Mrs. Ramsay buoys Tansley’s fragile male libido. After asking the young philosopher and guest at the lodge to accompany her as she runs a “dull errand” to visit a sick woman, she revives him by sharing a story of another young philosopher implying “the greatness of man’s intellect” and the “subjection of all wives”. For husband, “the greatest metaphysician of the time”, Mrs. Ramsey uses her sympathetic skills to repair his bruised psyche, especially in Chapter VII – The Window,

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that he “too lived in… over the world” (Woolf 20). While knitting, she assures him without doubt, “by her laugh, her poise, her competence” (Woolf 20), that he is a genius, that he has not lived a barren life, rather has created a life and home “made full of life”. Like James and Tansley, she is able to make Mr. Ramsay feel restored and renewed. Mrs Ramsay also represents one woman’s attempt to fulfill a societal role, being kind and tolerant. She is equally kind to each guest, even those who do not deserve or appreciate. Before heading into town, for example, she insists on asking Augustus Carmichael, whom seems not to like her, if she can bring him anything to make his stay more comfortable. Similarly, she tolerates the insufferable behavior of Charles Tansley threatening to undo the delicate work she has done toward making a pleasant and inviting home. Ultimately, at the close of “The Window,” Mrs. Ramsay satisfies her husband's desire by expressing her love without saying the words that is difficult to say; and brings together disparate things into a whole (Lily and other characters find themselves grasping for this unity after Mrs. Ramsay's death). Mrs. Ramsay’s careful thoughts and skillful actions highlight a woman’s capacity for intelligence and strength to do her best living in a society that traditionally devalues women.

6.The waves
Bernard is friendly, garrulous, and in many ways the glue that holds the group of friends together. He is the least snobbish of the group, willing to talk to anyone as an equal. Bernard wants to become a novelist, though his hopes go unfulfilled. By the end of the novel, however, he achieves the greatest insight into the lives of other characters. Bernard has a lot of good qualities."I have little aptitude for reflection. I require the concrete in everything. It is so only that I lay hands upon the world. A good phrase, however,

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seems to me to have an independent existence. Yet I think it is likely that the best are made in solitude."(Woolf 68) Bernard is deeply concerned with language, and one of his first apparent traits is his obsession with “making phrases.” This activity is a means of both impressing and helping others, as in the case of Susan early in the novel. As a child, Bernard sees language as a way to mediate and control reality, to turn random events into a chain of meaning. When he leaves for school, for example, Bernard makes phrases as a way to remain in control of his emotions. Later, he begins to turn his phrases into stories, transforming language into a tool for understanding others. Over time, Bernard comes to think that the problem with his stories is inherent in language itself. Reality, Bernard comes to think, is always more complex than our words can grasp. Bernard articulates this struggle most clearly. He realizes that who he is depends on who surrounds him—his words and thoughts change in relation to his companions. Bernard sees the mind and the self as fluid, with permeable boundaries that enable people to “flow” into one another and essentially create one another.

Orlando tells the story of a young man named Orlando, born in England during the reign of Elizabeth I, who spans over 300 years (1588–1928). During this time, Orlando ages only thirty-six years, and changes gender from a man to a woman. The novel follows him through the centuries, across the globe, through all sorts of love affairs and intrigues, and through his transformation into a woman. Firstly, Orlando is described as strangely androgynous because although Woolf states that Orlando is a boy, her description is surprisingly feminine. His red cheeks are covered with "peach down," lips drawn back to reveal teeth” of an exquisite and almond whiteness, an "arrowy nose," dark hair, and "eyes drenched like violets." His handsome

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body is accentuated by his "well-set shoulders" and "shapely legs" (Woolf 1). She wants to imply that Orlando’s appearance crosses gender boundaries. Gender is of little importance to beauty or attraction. Orlando is also a wealthy nobleman who is adventurous, a poet and a fluent drama, tragedy, description, and sentiment writer. We find that most of the descriptions of the main character are related to Victoria Sackville West - her intimate friend, who provided the inspiration for Woolf’s androgynous protagonist. So we can see how respectful she showed of her intimate friend. Secondly, by changing genders from male to female, Orlando is able to reflect upon the differing positions and experiences of each gender. At first, Orlando is not at all disconcerted by her change in gender because she feels no different than she did before: “The change seemed to have been accomplished painlessly and completely and in such a way that Orlando herself showed no surprise at it” (Woolf 59). Orlando's sexuality seems to play no role in her life at all but when she travels on board the English ship, in women's clothes, she immediately begins to feel the difference. The skirts that she wears and the way that people react to her make her feel and act different. “Then she had pursued, now she fled. Which is the greater ecstasy? The man's or the woman's? And are they not perhaps the same?” (Woolf 67). What Woolf is suggesting here is that gender roles are not biological, but societal. Gender is a concept imposed on people who live in society. Even after Orlando's actual sex change, he continues to switch between clothes of both genders. Woolf emphasizes the similarities between men and women, despite the different clothes society would have them wear. Once she has experienced what it is like to be a woman, she longs for the freedom she had as a man. Here, Woolf suggests that the genders should be allowed more freedom in their actions because they are so alike underneath their clothes. Through Orlando's sex change, Orlando has developed from a young, wealthy nobleman who takes interest in dallying about the royal court with lovely noblewomen to a deep, reflective woman. The change is reflected in Orlando's writing which changes

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from the simplistic metaphors of his teens to the ornate language of his twenties, and finally the simple lines of her thirties. “What has praise and fame to do with poetry? What has seven editions (the book had already gone into no less) got to do with the value of it? Was not writing poetry a secret transaction, a voice answering a voice? So that all this chatter and praise and blame and meeting people who admired one and meeting people who did not admire one was as ill suited as could be to the thing itself--a voice answering a voice” (Woolf 146). Finally, Orlando realizes that he is composed of hundreds of selves and experiences. All of these experiences and selves combine to form the person he is at the present moment. Orlando lives through four centuries and many adventures, but always he is searching for "life, and a lover” and finally finds in poetry one of her greatest satisfactions: “So she was now darkened, stilled, and become, with the addition of this Orlando, what is called, rightly or wrongly, a single self, a real self. And she fell silent. For it is probable that when people talk aloud, the selves (of which there may be more than two thousand) are conscious of disseverment, and are trying to communicate, but when communication is established they fall silent”(Woolf 141).

8.A room of one’s own
The unnamed female narrator is the only major character in A Room of One's Own. She refers to herself only as “I”; in chapter one of the texts, she tells the reader to call her “Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael or by any name you please...” (Woolf 2) The narrator assumes each of these names at various points throughout the text. The constantly shifting nature of her identity complicates her narrative even more, since we must consider carefully who she is at any given moment. However, her shifting identity also gives her a more universal voice: by taking on different names and identities, the narrator emphasizes that her words apply to all women, not just herself. The narrator is an erudite and engaging storyteller, and she uses the book to explore the multifaceted and rather complicated history of literary achievement. Her

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provocative inquiries into the status quo of literature force readers to question the widely held assumption that women are inferior writers, compared to men, and this is why there is a dearth of memorable literary works by women. This literary journey is highlighted by numerous actual journeys, such as the journey around Oxbridge College and her tour of the British library. She interweaves her journeys with her own theories about the world. Everything is personal burns away and what is left is the “nugget of pure truth” (Woolf 1) in the art. This is the ideal state in which everything is consumed in the intensity and truth of one's art. The narrator skilfully leads the reader through one of the most important works of feminist literary history to date.

Language beauty
9.To the Lighthouse
The most impressive thing is the extraordinary sentence structure. For instance, chapter III (The Window) contains a sentence of 258 words, a sentence which, in effect, is a single complex sentence of 32 words embellished by parenthetical phrases and clauses, modifying phrases, and a rich array of various grammatical constructions: “The gruff murmur…terror.”(Woolf 7-8). These hold up the full meaning of the sentence and transform it from something clear and straightforward into something delayed, qualified, uncertain, and (for the reader) much more difficult to assimilate. The main clause begins with an indication of the subject (the gruff murmur) but further development of that clause is held up for nine lines, so we get a range of associations and phrases describing that murmur. Thus, by the time the main verb (had ceased) appears, we have gone through a range of emotional associations connected to the initial subject. The meanings of the words and the rhythm of the sentence establish the extent of Mrs Ramsay's mood to what is going on around her. The strongest word in the entire sentence is the final word terror. It injects into what has seemed a slow

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meandering through a number of quotidian details a sudden emotional urgency as the emotional changes can be abrupt, unexpected, and extreme in inner world. The structure helps recognize the inner life of Mrs Ramsay by observing that only by a host of other impressions, memories, feelings, images, qualifications, and possibilities crowding in upon the mind, a simple and coherent thought is complete.

10.The waves
The writer had the wonderful combination in using beauty language. Using Narration, Parallelism and Contrast, the Eclipse of Order, the Ironic Structure, makes “The waves” more interesting through the beauty of language. When we read this novel, we learn a lot from the way writer uses the quotations. Bernard: “How tired I am of stories, how tired I am of phrases that come down beautifully with all their feet on the ground! Also, how I distrust neat designs of life that are drawn upon half sheets of notepaper…What delights me… is the confusion, the height, the indifference, and the fury. Great clouds always changing, and movement; something sulphurous and sinister, bowled up, helter-skelter; towering, trailing, broken off, lost, and I forgotten, minute, in a ditch. Of story, of design, I do not see a trace then”( Woolf 177). As Bernard begins his “summing up”, he expresses again his distrust of stories. As he says, the problem with stories is that they try to squeeze reality into a kind of straightjacket, forcing it into a predetermined shape. Bernard is always interested in what gets left out of the “neat designs of life.”(Woolf 177). For Bernard, stories have trouble accommodating the wild, formless nature of reality—illustrated by the roiling, shifting mass of clouds he sees overhead from his ditch. Bernard's last sentence, which links the words “story” and “design,” suggests that he sees neither narrative meaning nor pattern in nature. Implicitly, Bernard is denying the presence of God in the world and saying that whatever meaning is found in the universe has been made by us in the act of trying to comprehend it. Woolf is clearly explaining her own procedure in The Waves in this passage. The novel

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tries to find meaning in human lives while staying true to the shifting, formless nature of reality. The image of the waves is direct description of the nature of Woolf. We can imagine a beautiful picture in our mind. On the other hand, the novel represents six friends whose reflections create a wave-like atmosphere that is more like a prose poem than to a plot-centered novel. Its form consists of six monologues for each of the six characters in the novel: Jinny, Susan, Rhoda, Bernard, Louis, and Neville….the scene of the waves is real and natural. For example: “The waves massed themselves, curved their backs and crashed. Up spurted stones and shingle. They swept round the rocks, and the spray, leaping high, spattered the walls of a cave that had been dry before, and left pools inland, where some fish stranded lashed its tail as the wave drew back.”(Woolf 122) When the narrators are children, the first thing they hear in the morning is the sound of waves crashing on the shore. Each of them tries to make sense of the rhythmic pounding—Louis, for example, hears the stamping of a chained beast—and the sound becomes a background noise to their day. As the novel proceeds, the rhythm of the waves becomes associated with the passage of time.

Woolf will never be accused of possessing an economy with words. She was precise in her word choice, but she did not skimp on them. She found a way to immerse the readers into her words. Her works are all suffused with poetry. For instance, “What's life, we ask, leaning on the farmyard gate; Life, Life, Life! cries the bird, as if he had heard, and knew precisely, what we meant by this bothering prying habit of ours of asking questions indoors and out and peeping and picking at daisies as the way is of writers when they don't know what to say next. Then they come here, says the bird, and ask me what life is; Life, Life, Life!” (Woolf 121)

12.A room of one’s own

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“The river reflected whatever it chose of sky and bridge and burning tree” (Woolf 2): the river reflected the sky, the bridge and the burning tree. “The organ complained magnificently” (Woolf 4): the organ was playing. “Even the sorrow of Christianity sounded in that serene air more like the recollection of sorrow than sorrow itself” (Woolf 4): the sorrow of Christianity sounded in that serene air were much more sad. “I listened with all my ears not entirely to what was being said, but to the murmur or current behind it” (Woolf 7): I listen more carefully to know the truth. “The lilac was shaking its flowers over the garden walls, and the brimstone butterflies were scudding hither and thither, and the dust of the pollen was in the air” (Woolf 11): all the lilac, the brimstone butterflies and the dust were moving lively. “the essential oil of truth” (Woolf 17) : absolute truth. “shouldering their way along the pavement” (Woolf 24): pushing forward the street. “Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time.” (Woolf 77): She uses this quotation to explain why so few women have written successful poetry. Virginia Woolf made significant contributions to the development of modernist literary figures of the twentieth century. Her works are noted for their poetic and symbolic quality, where the emphasis is not on plot or action but rather the psychological life of the characters. They are also known for their delicacy and sensitivity of style, their evocation of place and mood, and their background of historical and literary reference. Many are concerned with time, its passage and the difference between external and inner time. Her syntax consists of long, complex sentences separated by hyphens or commas. To the Lighthouse, The Waves, Jacob’s Room, Orlando and A Room of One’s Own were beautifully-written, capturing Woolf’s spirit and her brilliant use of

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language, which reveals many of Woolf’s feminism, consciousness, symbolism and gender. The utter mastery of language exhibited by Woolf, and the insights she has into male/female relationships has won over a lot of literary study on the psychology of the novel which are somewhat less interesting and commonplace. The four works are so informative and profound as though they were science fictions written by the skilful use of language.

Works cited
Woolf, Virginia. A room of one's own. Steve Thomas. eBooks@Adelaide. Rendered into HTML by Steve Thomas, Last updated Wed Mar 15 06:48:08 2006, <> Woolf, Virginia. Orlando. Sue Asscher. A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook. April 2002. <> Woolf, Virginia. To the lighthouse. Steve Thomas. eBooks@Adelaide. Rendered into HTML by Steve Thomas. Last updated Mon Sep 20 11:36:34 2004.

<> Woolf, Virginia. The waves. Vanessa Bell. United Kingdom. 1931. Or Virginia Woolf, the waves, Vanessa Bell, Steve Thomas, eBooks@Adelaide. Jun 2 2004. April 20 2009. <>

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