From the closed room to an opening sky: vectors of space in Eliot, Woolf, and Lewis
Why creeds and prayers and mackintoshes? when, thought Clarissa, that’s the miracle, that’s the mystery; that old lady, she meant, whom she could see going from chest of drawers to dressing-table. She could still see her. And the supreme mystery . . . was simply this: here was one room; there another. – Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway1 He felt a yearning towards rooms in huts, warmed by coke-stoves and electrically lit . . . You got quiet and engrossment there . . . some orderly room or other. The only place in the world. – Ford Madox Ford, No More Parades2 and I can now gauge the intensity of Life. teem and move, are destroyed and crop up again. HORSES are worn out in three weeks, die by the roadside DOGS wander, are destroyed, and others come along . . . MY VIEWS ON SCULPTURE REMAIN ABSOLUTELY THE SAME . . . I SHALL DERIVE MY EMOTIONS SOLELY FROM THE ARRANGEMENT OF SURFACES, I shall present my emotions by the ARRANGEMENT OF MY SURFACES, THE PLANES AND LINES
I HAVE BEEN FIGHTING FOR TWO MONTHS HUMAN MASSES BY WHICH THEY ARE DEFINED
– Henri Gaudier-Brzeska3
´ , as it Modernism begins in a room – let us say, the room of Mallarme appears here at an early stage in his career, where he describes the narrow physical, as well as social, conditions of his imaginative labour. He bemoans the demands of his school-teaching in a provincial town: ‘What tasks our Society inflicts on poets!’
And what’s more I’m suffering in my home! As yet I have only half an apartment, and will come to life only when I have my own room, where I can be alone surrounded by my thought, the windows bulging with my inner Dreams like the drawers of precious stones in a rich piece of furniture, and the
asks if he really must go on. writes Charlotte Perkins Gilman. by which time my solitude will have had time to recompose itself within these walls. even just to write you this letter. the more you see – the flourishes. From there. The ‘inner Dreams’ of the symbol require no more than a narrow corner. and even within his ‘temporary corridor’. invited guests peer through shadows. Then something moves in the gloom of the room.5 The Rat Man rises from the sofa in the consulting room. so that in this close interior space. The recession from a public world is massively overdetermined. the se In a schoolroom. the arabesque – until the limits of the room become the boundaries of the universe. obliged to struggle for money and a scene of writing. he can preserve ‘the curious secret of his life and hide his soul from the eyes of men’.6 The yellow wallpaper. On one side there is withdrawal into a private space – one’s room. or something dirty in a dark place. who never´ theless sees the act of dreaming as compensation and escape.E. Woolf. while Yeats and A. one’s imagination – and on the other side ´ ’s scene of writing stands the projection of an alternative universe.7 The room. is told by Freud that the resistance must be overcome. scandal in the cupboard. to create a few lines of poetry in this temporary corridor I live in. Lights dim in a cluttered room. encloses the room. vision in a closet. This tableau will persist as one compelling story of the origins of the avantgarde. Centrally. full of cobwebs. recurrently. wait for the spirits to descend. boring their way into his body. like Virginia Woolf after him. The more intently you look. and yet it does begin in a room. extends and repeats. and ´ ance begins. is his own room. they can rise limitlessly. Within the dark stands a closed cabinet. and Lewis 3
hangings falling in their familiar folds. Mallarme can be placed against a series of others. at the summit of his high London house. Its pattern ramifies and imbricates. or alternatively wait a year. Inside her cabinet. Dorian Gray conceals the unearthly portrait. All Mallarme needs. a motion of risk and experiment starts with transgression in the interior. of course.4
We may take this as an exemplary image: the hard-pressed and enervated poet. I would like. the medium stirs. but it is a
. is not the only place where modernism begins. and so discloses the dread fantasy of a pot full of rats overturned on his buttocks. just as one burns a scent jar.Vectors of space in Eliot. he can envision the sprouting of verse in that space. and you live within the wallpaper where you belong.
49. the late nineteenth-century house appears as the fully articulate space. a rich and varied universe. managed by servants. of course. the settlement of intimacy. or as Eliot’s speaker puts it. was a complex volume distributing desires. fit only for ‘thoughts of a dry brain’. dense with objects. are under great stress. The house often becomes. staircases. vol. The house. in its modernist guise though with important precursors. at least the dream of the Victorian house. unless you go well out of town. A metropolitan modernism confronted a tight housing market. to separate men from women. the room was to high modernism? – an inescapable node of cultural reverie? A productive circumscription? The nineteenth-century bourgeois house. is a picture of singleness. arranged with care. wallpaper. enshrined a fantasy of spatial equilibrium and social articulation. with its own magnetic tropings and aesthetic pleasures: the room as womb. cluttered attics. and within expensive cities flat-hunting became its own modernist vocation (‘The heaviest item in London is rent – you can’t get a good flat much under sixtyfive pounds. too large to maintain with their forgotten corners. into the curtained alcove. the professor’s house in Cather’s novel of that name. cave and sanctum. children from parents. dreads and fantasies – a pattern of rooms. to the apotheosis of domesticity. first of all. ‘a decayed house’. In its pervasive lure. unopened closets. of radical containment. The Victorian house.4 Critical Quarterly. no. The lodging of authors was itself part of the concerted
. aiming. a ‘haunted house’. common places and private places – a diagram of social relations. The late-century fascination for ‘The House Beautiful’ and the saturated interior display – decoration. large and small. Shall we say that what the house was to high Victorianism. A modernist response was to exaggerate inwardness to the point of trespass: an inwardness that completes and exceeds the confined world of domesticity.8 Partly what was at issue was the physical space of authorship. though often failing. 4 response. statuettes – confirm the exhalation of pleasure that we recognise as the soft pant of middle-class comfort. the shuttered cabinet. as Woolf knew. including these examples. Sutpen’s plantation in Absalom. in ‘Gerontion’.’)9 Cultural incitement in the early twentieth century often began in modest rooms within small flats above busy streets. the family house in To the Lighthouse – but the houses of modernism. while the room. a recession beyond the cluttered drawing room. by no means disappears among the modernists – Forster’s Howards End. masters from servants. The decorated houses of the late nineteenth century are themselves an invitation to inwardness. corridors. the interior’s own interior. They often appear as volumes of space no longer susceptible to control or management. Absalom!. spaces that elude the reach of consciousness. photographs. if not in its workaday realisation.
the apartment of consciousness. any other artefact spoken of so instinctively as one’s own? – the room as one’s place and property. The modernist room is typically single and self-contained. Woolf. It is not a house for a family. and Wyndham Lewis give the leading focuses and main nodes of this essay. There. Unlike the house. And yet. you watch the ‘sordid images’ that constitute your soul: they flicker on the ceiling. the fragile and difficult constitution. It is a box for a brain. the first tableau of quotidian aesthetics. reverberating in the close space. the room is the expressive scene of taste and temperament. which will follow a history into and out of war. Again in ‘Preludes’. It is a container. S. present to the senses.
You tossed a blanket from the bed. You lay upon your back. in the turn toward short lines within small poems. but breaking it for good reason. the carapace of personhood. Within the room you inhabit. open to the senses. They flickered against the ceiling. and waited. You dozed. one’s own room? The room is the body’s body. the next vessel beyond the surface of the skin: the rectilinear volume correcting for our soft organic curves. because precisely what is at issue is the constitution. the room can be there where you are. But the room is only a node in a network. Is there any other place. the proper sphere of own-ness. open to inspection. if it is a recurrent trope of embodiment.
. and Lewis 5 miniaturism of the turn-of-the-century moment – the caressing of confines. and watched the night revealing The thousand sordid images Of which your soul was constituted. What is a room after all. the room is no less a figure for the mind. close at hand.Vectors of space in Eliot. of a self. a pronoun within the receptacle of the room. in the epigrams of Wilde. its four rushed syllables breaking the rhythm. until the question of the physical shape of a lyric became as marked as the question of its rhythm. Virginia Woolf. Eliot.
T. a soul. (CPP 12)
A verbal stutter occurs in the word ‘constituted’. and which begins its narrative with these lines from Eliot’s ‘Preludes’. in the emergence of the short story. giving both the solace of envelopment – a refuge from the world – and the anxiety of enclosure – the buried self. These six lines evoke the uncanny sensations of subjectivity displayed for itself. the excavation of vivacity in small places – a miniaturism within the psychoanalytic dyad.
49. the recognition that private intensity is statistical and that the agony here. moving from the secret room with the ghastly picture. It cannot nourish the pronoun it constitutes. But it is also to confront an astonishing object-world. The room carves the city into many discontinuous spaces. The early poetry enacts. talking of Michelangelo. Eliot develops and refines this austere topography.10 To move through these urban corridors is to project a thousand impossible images. (CPP 12)
This is the involuntary urban recognition. the Baudelairean street. in this close space. vol. ‘a multiplicity of sudden encounters. . . twitches with desire. is precisely to be an atom in the spreading social universe. is an unavailing refuge. the heterogeneous and incomplete’. Dorian Gray is again an accursed exemplar. From room to room through the dangerous channel of the street. It is. is repeated in a thousand or a thousand thousand other compartments. the compact sphere. which is a perpetual incitement to hallucination. To inhabit the modernist room. their impatience to assume the world. breaks free of its compartment and escapes to the street beyond. let us also say. which perpetually tosses on its bed. begins with the street. vessels of fatal pleasure. The conscience of a blackened street Impatient to assume the world. Modernism. constantly altering perspectives. The phonological pair
One thinks of all the hands That are raising dingy shades In a thousand furnished rooms. then. In Eliot’s early poetry it is the street where you find
. The street is both a prod to fantasy and an untotalisable objectivity. short square fingers stuffing pipes. it is the domain of the momentary. the centred. a nervous circuit from the room of solitude to the room of social anguish – that room where women come and go. and eyes Assured of certain certainties. the autogenic. And evening newspapers. writes Burton. – ‘Preludes’ (CPP 13)
The blackened street is pure exteriority – the anti-space of the room – where bodies shudder publicly with need and where social insurgents display their refusal. out through rough streets – and then into other London rooms. The room. and re-enacts. no. blatant contrasts. the accidental.6 Critical Quarterly. The metropolis of rooms is an affront to ideals of the unique. unpredictable shifts and switches of angle.
and social instability: the excavation of an interior volume. is not merely an infernal passage between two interiors. the room. being found. which is an account of the metropolis in full war-hysteria. the abrupt opening of the closed door. the incarnation of temperament. threatening to penetrate the cherished inward spaces. recognises itself as a monad among other monads. seen. ‘The Crowd-Master’. but there is another. but that recurs through a period of literary agitation. cultural polemic. but the looming fear of the whole street overcoming the barriers. invasive creature. humiliated. not only an unruly exterior. marked as Jewish in the misspelled map of London. (CPP 27)
Red-eyed scavengers. the body’s body. And then. But the street. but as a many-eyed. one’s own place. street – antithetic sounds as they are contesting regions. and not the inrush of only one or a few. as I have started to suggest. and then the failure of the room to nourish – first because the room. a box-like space. a node in a network.
. like the brain. ‘fixed on a pin’. being uncovered. Eliot enacts a refinement of tropes: the street revealing itself as no mere place between. these street creatures disturb the peace of those concealed behind a screen. the inrush from the outside world. the collapse of a sanctuary. where
I have seen eyes in the street Trying to peer through lighted shutters (CPP 15)
This is a tropic condition of modernism that Eliot lays bare. Here is one room. They appear as well in ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’. it also presses back. the breaching of private space – this is an unremitting dread. thrusting toward an inwardness. In ‘A Cooking Egg’.Vectors of space in Eliot. The peering through a window. and Lewis 7 move the mouth so differently – room. The painting called The Crowd (Figure 1) has as its close companion piece a story published by Lewis in July 1914. writes Woolf. exposed to view. as masses of people move through the streets of London and are described as follows. Eliot’s speaker longs for the safe place of confinement.
But where is the penny world I bought To eat with Pipit behind the screen? The red-eyed scavengers are creeping From Kentish Town and Golder’s Green. It is against this background that I turn to Wyndham Lewis. who in the years before the war had his own churning encounter in the London streets. Woolf. the ‘blackened street’.
The CROWD now is formed in London. vol. no. . It is established with all its vague profound organs . .11
. . THE INDIVIDUAL and THE CROWD: PEACE and WAR. It serpentines every night. Man’s solitude and Peace. in thick well-nourished coils all over the town . Man’s Community and Row.8 Critical Quarterly. 49. 4
a secret alcove: this gave the quickening of humiliation. In The Crowd and ‘The CrowdMaster’ Lewis brings the domestic geometry into the street. And when he designs the image of The Crowd. Lewis perfects shapes that will control and defeat the shapeless crowd. The boxes of his
. An opposition of and welding of the two heaviest words that stand for the multitude on the one hand. the Ego on the other. pipes) within household spaces. The brazen experimentalist will dominate the public field of the street: this is what this painting enacts. Woolf. What might that mean? His bright astonished eyes fixed on the words. It performs the circumscription of the mass. not as a refuge for inwardness. the parallel lines creating the private volume of one’s own space.
THE CROWD MASTER. and Lewis 9 The recession from the public world with which I began. drinking up a certain strength from them. For Lewis and his allies. At this early moment in the history of painterly abstraction. a kind of aristocracy of privacy. but as a dressing room for publicity. That should be something! (p. 99)
Eliot. the caressing of an interiority. Bloom. Prufrock. mockingly – into an assault on the public world. Lewis. when the protagonist Blenner first arrives in London. The coiling crowd that Lewis describes as serpentining through the city: this is what the painting invokes and defies. possible to abandon the miniature. What Lewis saw was that it was possible for modernism to convert its withdrawal into a form of power. always stimulated by the scene of defeat. on the other hand. The painted bars of his image thickly fabricate a new city grid. Lewis was acutely conscious of the domesticity of his contemporaries – what he came to see as the timid domesticity of Picasso and Braque – that confined itself to the rendering of everyday objects (newspapers.Vectors of space in Eliot. he wanders down Charing Cross Road and discovers the indispensable book. I spoke earlier of the consolations of rectilinearity often found in the modernist room. In Lewis’s story. and to parade on a monumental stage. withdrawal was a scene of selfgathering. ‘The Crowd Master’. the Ego on the other’ – casts the terms of the agon. forks. imagines himself as Lord of the Street. Can we even imagine a modernism without a scene of humiliation? – the Rat Man. Marcel – without the uncovering of a shameful gesture in the shadows? But it is Lewis’s brazen motion to reverse the vector of shame: to imagine the room. The very austerity of his dyad – ‘the multitude on the one hand. waiting to transform – suddenly. he provides a summa for this moment in the spatial history of a modernism. one might fairly say. thrilled by the humiliation. He stages the turn from the lonely tower to the public podium. this pre-war moment of blazing assertion. is always in excited flight from the crowd. knives.
– this is how you master a crowd. a few years earlier. theatrically. it also incites the re-imagining of the contours of space. this is the keen spatial ambition: that the new art will venture beyond its beribboned alcoves and deploy its forms to command the world. indeed affecting. What gives cultural force to Lewis’s work at this determinate moment – 1912–14 – is that he devised figures for a new consciousness in English modernism. Gaudier was dead in battle by the time Lewis enlisted in the army and left for France. again transformed a shape in modernism. Whatever selfpossession those officers on the left of the canvas may feel. behind them appears the loss of protection. ‘Kill John Bull with Art!’12 The war. and what he saw in battle. however. as it were. as if that weren’t enough. Or as Lewis liked to put it. In Lewis’s watercolour of the year before – The Battery Shelled (Figure 3) – part of the shock also depends on the utter insufficiency of the physical structure that in another world. dividing and distributing them in compartments. the anti-aesthetic. . Extravagantly. The desolation of the war is not only the mass slaughter. Lewis went to fight. and it is most interesting here because of the way it opens the image to a long field of violence. a modernism that meant to master the streets. of war violence. It was no longer for Lewis to insist like Gaudier that he would derive emotions solely from the arrangement of surfaces – not in the face of a violence that forced a change in pictorial space. from Ford’s Parade’s End. Another of the epigraphs. altered the terms of violence. Figure 2 is called A Battery Shelled. A modernism of the streets. 49. that at this later stage in the history of death. vol. no. available only to initiates. Lewis’s Great War Drawing (Figure 4) lays out clearly the dangerous space that now enters aesthetic reverie – the deep landscape exposed
. just at the centre of the canvas can be found yet another modern room – a low hut. he showed how a formalism need no longer curl within a cabinet of secrets. the exposure to vulnerability without limit. might have given protection. Reducing humanity to insects. The epigraph from Gaudier-Brzeska stands as a defiant assertion of the rights of form: a formalist refusal to surrender to the formlessness. Moreover. warmed by coke-stoves and electrically lit . what he painted and what he brought back to England. Lewis abandoned the formalist defiance of unruly war. the primitive cavern so cherished in architectural theory – but here it is entirely overwhelmed by the war business that surrounds it and clearly incapable of providing an inward space as a refuge from violence. And it is striking. 4 painting become. . rooms in which to enclose the urban mob. speaks to the longing for spatial enclosure in the midst of violence. some orderly room or other’. the ‘yearning towards rooms in huts.10 Critical Quarterly.
Vectors of space in Eliot. Woolf. and Lewis 11
Figure 2 A Battery Shelled
Figure 3 The Battery Shelled
and later in ‘The Hollow Men’ with its ‘valley of dying stars’. the waste space. 49. which owes everything to the new wartime geometry. say. as if the war has burst the containers. uncontrolled. This essay began by discussing the agitated circuit of room and street. where the human body disappears among its sensations – ‘the glitter of her jewels’. but now I offer this open. The Waste Land is after all a waste land. no depth. this unsheltered sweep will leave scarring traces on modernism. no. the ‘strange synthetic perfumes’ – shut in this saturated space where
. There is no more crowd-mastering here. which now endures unexpungeable memories of the desolate field. Lewis’s work before the war had no horizon. and perilous terrain: a waste land. this empty and dangerous expanse. vol. as a third decisive space within an imaginative geography. exposed horizon. This limitless field. The rooms in the poem are nightmare sites of failed intimacy: the dressing room in ‘A Game of Chess’. Gone are the strong enclosing lines of The Crowd. 4
Great War Drawing
to threat. the waste land. The modernism of the twenties was compelled to imagine an outspread.12 Critical Quarterly. Certainly the break in Eliot’s poetry after the war discloses this new constitution of the world: it can be seen in ‘Gerontion’ with its ‘windy spaces’ and rocky fields. the frames and the boxes.
leaning. gazing at roses. So much of the poem is a struggle between these insufferable enclosures. or was it the Armenians?’13 This is the uneasy post-war spatial frame – the indeterminate world. withered stumps of time Were told upon the walls. the place apart. With pleasure he latches his door. Who were those hooded hordes? And what did they want? Was that an Armenian or an Albanian? What is that city over the mountains? The undoing of a map of the world. An impossible rhythm plays out in the movement between these conflicting zones – inside and outside both unavailing – until the poem reaches a pitch of total disorientation. hushing the room enclosed. and the consternated voice can only ask: ‘What is that sound high in the air’. just there. In Cambridge and London. She is sitting alone in her drawing-room. Jacob performs the canonical circuit of street and room. Through most of Woolf’s Jacob’s Room the room still looks like a sanctuary. ‘What is the city over the mountains’ (CPP 48–9). the room as a figure for the arcana of inwardness. where the typist and the clerk perform their depleted sexuality in cramped quarters. nourishes itself on ruin. A few lines later the thought recurs that ‘she could feel nothing for the Albanians. ‘cloistered’ and ‘exempt’. productive because so much of high modernism. She thinks of her husband’s political life. and desires and burnishes the separateness of mind. around the corner in Parliament. and Lewis 13
. including their sexual pressure. the formless globe – which often appears as a screen on which images from afar flicker and disappear. . closets himself with memories. a refuge from the pressure of others. He steps out into the world of other people and their enticements and then returns to become what Woolf calls ‘a young man alone in his room’. ‘Who are those hooded hordes’. the blank.
. Woolf. the loss of an intelligible diagram: these make a radical unclarity that is also a productive bewilderment. Clarissa Dalloway asks a counterpart question. Nothing is any longer fixed in space.14 a character constructed as a volume of space. the decaying interiors – of sweet smells.Vectors of space in Eliot. staring forms Leaned out. (CPP 40)
– or the bedsitting room. and she admits to herself that she cares ‘much more for her roses than for the Armenians’. His rented room appears as the palace of subjectivity. where bats crawl head downward on a wall and ‘upside down in air were towers’. bad sex – where people endure the degradation of intimacy and the dry waste terrain outside. . far from making a fetish of the autonomous artefact. resting on a June afternoon. dangerous expanse: ‘Rock and no water and the sandy road’.
no matter how close they get. 172)
It is an astonishing image and one that discloses the paradoxical. half asleep. the room was a figure of subjectivity materialised. to see vividly in the post-war moment. unassimilable space opened by the war. the universe of dead things. Walls. 49. 4 But when this novel becomes. startled by the sound. Jacob disappears in some indeterminate elsewhere. ‘Not at this distance. then the room appears. a noise sounds from across the English channel. But in the dispositions that follow the war. ‘It is the sea. but as emblem of the notself. but really they don’t notice when we go away. the war dead. the Cartesian soul flies from its body – suppose Jacob departs from his room. Then it becomes possible to see. not the approach to an elusive presence. of subject populations agitating the empire. a close hard shell. fearing for him. not as a figure of selfhood. The room shows itself as detached and indifferent. How far can the sound of guns carry? Impossible now to determine the distance of distance: to measure the length of a waste space. then what is a room any longer? what has space become? In the last pages of the novel. The difficult thought is the connection between perilous distance. We think of them as friends. ‘What am I to do with these?’(p. of dispossessed populations. So often. a realm of things that will always be distant.
‘The guns?’ said Betty Flanders. holding up a pair of Jacob’s old shoes and asks. and the fate of inwardness. getting out of bed and going to the window. hooded hordes.’ she thought. his mother bursts into his room. an inert casing.’ Again. temper. And just here Wyndham Lewis reappears
. books – little cherished artefacts suddenly disclose their object-hood. a physical deposit of taste. In the last hard lines of the book. By the end of the novel. which was decorated with a fringe of dark leaves. as I have emphasised. Jacob’s room is no longer a proper name for the self – it’s now the corpse of subjectivity.14 Critical Quarterly. while the vacant room remains. Suppose then that the ghost leaves the machine. of insurgent workers marching through city streets (red-eyed scavengers). far away. and smell. as if nocturnal women were beating great carpets. when many didn’t return to latch the door. a coffin. wandering across Europe. 173). the antithetic meanings of this trope. no. shoes. a receptacle of death. she heard the dull sound. our rooms. chairs. wakes in the night. I mean to be describing a phase of spatial dislocation constitutive of modernism and constitutive of its relations to a spatially agitated social world: a universe of anomic individuals living in rented rooms. vol. stretching endlessly outward. but the evocation of the dead. Jacob’s mother. (p.
Masked figures twirl like waterspouts to the right of a broad bay flanked by the severe cliffsides of a serpentine corridor. offered a striking verbal account of it. who was fascinated by his own design. a fit contemporary for The Waste Land and Jacob’s Room. Lewis. and Lewis 15
Figure 5 Room No. 59
– with this unnerving post-war painting called Room No. Woolf. 59 (Figure 5). In the foreground an astonished trinity of fugitives is fixed by the forensic ginfed eye of a kommissar-concierge.Vectors of space in Eliot. This dark rampart of falstaffian beef assuages the hunger of the yawning
16 Critical Quarterly. the drafty corridor – these are not only scenes of unease and dispossession. with the motion of a topheavy rocket. The ‘forensic ginfed eye of a kommissarconcierge’: the arresting phrase captures the way this figure – dominant. they also inspire the exuberance of giddiness. no. Lewis is extreme. the dominant ones. He notes that the corridor drops away like a cliffside. can fill it with their large masses. where he writes that ‘The eye. grows exhilarated. This image suggested by Lewis – the eye that moves restlessly around the visual tableau. only to ravage the trope of inwardness. the shape is at once a belligerent mass of paint and an emanation of authority. as Lewis insists.15
This description is as delirious as the painting: it might itself be taken as a knotty little modernist text. to stabilise the ramshackle roof through which light leaks as in a dream. But it stands stolid as a basalt colossus. he rides his disruptive forms. barbed. Indeed. open to the intrusions of power: kommissar. Here is where Woolf returns to carry us
. The boundary of the image is no edge. unprotected. In this ability to cackle at ruination. the loss of bearings. but it’s just as important to register another aesthetic emotion. vol. The broken house. unbounded. glower and demand. Room No. What is this but to say that the war – and revolution – have entered the room? The squat door invokes a memory of private space. thrilled by the velocity – this is a scalding image for the unrest of modernity. This is radically penetrated space. drafty. The anxiety excited by Room No. and from behind its back a buttress rears dizzily. if we are within the room. observes Lewis. 49. open to view. create a volume. the room as Bachelard’s shelter or haven. A kommissar in the new Soviet state and a concierge performing her managerial task. concierge. 4
hollow opposite. and preserve a separation between inside and outside? What the painting enacts is the unfolding of an interiority – the out-spreading of a private into a social universe. the strange release that follows the destruction of boundaries. And yet his impudent laughter lets us see the incitement to modernism achieved through the catastrophe of space. forensic – emerges from a world of power beyond private life. that can only keep moving. why is 59 painted on this side of the door? where are the walls that might enclose the space. 59 excites the fear that THEY can always enter our room. racing round this nightmare interior. Exhilarated by his nightmare. while another shape takes off like a ‘topheavy rocket’ not far from the ‘trinity of fugitives’. and returns to ride these muscular shapes like mettlesome steeds’. but in fact this space leaks everywhere. Lewis exults in the dangerous image he designs. 59 is important to register. the empty room. Light leaks from the roof. which Lewis describes in a last sentence about his painting. that can’t find a place to alight and to perch.
for no human being should shut out the view. on the contrary. something curious happens to the architecture. Women must have rooms of their own. the request and the demand. But she tries:
[their rooms] are calm or thunderous. too. whose ravagement she herself has incited. but that we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women. . She writes that it would strain the resources of the English language to describe those many rooms where women have lived. then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down. But even as Woolf recovers the promise of the interior.Vectors of space in Eliot. it is notable that Woolf conceives of liberation in terms of life within a room. and rockinghorses. 117–18)
This is perhaps the climactic sentence of the book. the refuge of an inwardness. give on to a prison yard. and even as she rebuilds the walls of a sanctuary. are hard as horsehair or soft as feathers – one has only to go into any room in any street for the whole of that extremely complex force of femininity to fly in one’s face. the little attic room where Clarissa Dalloway lies alone and accepts that she will die. Woolf too turns catastrophe to imaginative purposes. friends. for it is a fact. if we face the fact. and for my purposes here. and the trees or whatever it may be in themselves. She too feeds on the decay of spaces: the house about to tumble in To the Lighhouse. Jacob’s empty room. exposed to the noise and the shuffle. namely that room of one’s own. In the face of all that. (pp. it is startling to remember one more room. That is clear enough. that there is no arm to cling to. Although she doesn’t cackle like Lewis. How should it be otherwise? For women have sat indoors these millions of years . the cooking and the knitting. if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think. They must escape the ‘common sitting-room’ cluttered with family.
For my belief is that if we live another century or so – I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of the little separate lives which we live as individuals – and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own. or. open on to the sea.16
Women have sat indoors without rights of privacy. We know A Room of One’s Own as a foundational work of contemporary feminism. the coffin of his memory. . are hung with washing. or alive with opals and silks. Woolf. At the very moment that she completes her
. But now a change is coming. if we look past Milton’s bogey. if we escape a little from the common sitting-room and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality. and the sky. and Lewis 17 toward the end. but it is important to look past its eloquence.
is a tree swinging And voices are In the wind’s singing More distant and more solemn Than a fading star. Beyond the circuit of room and street. unabated. determinate. vol. of the 1920s – a turn of the gaze toward some point in the distance. In the heat of Forster’s India that overwhelms the will to violence. where the ferocity is undimmed. This is a reflex toward transcendence at a moment of dislocation. she evokes a realm beyond social concern. the liberated artist. figures of the climate. And here at the last. too’ – the sky that stretches beyond Milton’s bogey. But these recurrent figures. we find a fourth dimension in this topography. there is a recurrent twist of the modernist neck – pre-eminently an event of the immediate post-war period. The assured woman of letters. just in time. there is a glimpse of some austere place of ultimacy. It is a hard word to cite late in an essay – ‘reality’. God is not there. Much of what makes Woolf a significant social thinker is that she thinks past the very terms of sociality. toward the trees. the 1927 Figures in the Air (Figure 6). in the sun over Florida in Wallace Stevens. ‘and the sky. the distant voice and the fading star have taken us far enough – far enough to reach the conundrum of A Room of
. in the thunder of The Waste Land. But for the purposes of this essay. in the span between the stars in the ‘Ithaca’ of Ulysses. nor can we even call this Nature. or articulate domain. 49. She repeats the thought just a few clauses later: ‘our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women’. she looks into the distance. 4 picture of security and integrity – d500 and a room of one’s own – the space begins to shift again. as in these lines from ‘The Hollow Men’:
There. but where there suddenly appears an upward sweep toward a blank space above.18 Critical Quarterly. give an opening to an agonised modernity: a dream of flight into some uncircumscribed vista. But Woolf is not shy about using it. beyond the common sitting room where we are entangled with other people and where the novel has always found its domain. because Milton shuts out the view – beyond the obscurity of the human. beyond the waste space of the war and the waste land. When she conjures a picture of ‘reality’. will be able to ‘see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality’. an unstained sky. It is not a coherent. a glance toward the dome of the world. no. (CPP 57)
Or as in this last image from Lewis. And when she does.
Vectors of space in Eliot. Woolf. and Lewis 19
Figure 6 Figures in the Air
Hereafter CPP. and to close the latch on the door is to wander among trees. Eliot. beyond friendship and sociality. 91. Woolf. 1937). S. The Letters of T. 273. ‘The Crowd-Master’. ´ phane Mallarme ´ . 2 (London: John Lane. Blast. 1988). ‘Notes upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis’. Wyndam Lewis. 68. Wyndham Lewis. Blasting and Bombardiering (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode.20 Critical Quarterly. 1974). Sigmund Freud. 21. But what will it allow one to see – and to know – this own room. no. 94. Mrs. 127. 4 One’s Own. 1915). 1967). exposed to the sky. 1925). 1979). The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oxford: Oxford University Press. to achieve social power is to be ultimately alone. The Complete Poems and Plays (London: Harcourt Brace. Through a last uncanny reversal. Blast. One’s own room will be a place of flourishing. No More Parades (New York: Vintage. to secure a room is to soar through space. 40. 23. A Room of One’s Own (New York: Harcourt Brace. a safe enclosure. 1963). 88. 329. a site of creativity. Ford Madox Ford. 1915). Jacob’s Room (London: Hogarth Press. 1990). Quoted in Paul Edwards. 121.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 Virginia Woolf. this private space? – precisely the world in the distance. 126. The Yellow Wallpaper (New York: Modern Library. Valerie Eliot (London: Faber and Faber. Selected Letters (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2000). 1927). 120. Wyndham Lewis: Painter and Writer (New Haven and London: Yale University Press. where the question of modernist life-space is cast in the most affirmative and most uneasy terms. The Context of Baudelaire’s Le Cygne (Durham: University of Durham. the world of the solitary body with ‘no arm to cling to’. Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. ed. S. at last. Mrs. Virginia Woolf. Ste 1988). Three Case Histories (New York: Macmillan. 1. Virginia Woolf. vol. Richard D. Oscar Wilde. T. 49. 33. 2 (London: John Lane. at last. 1980). Dalloway (New York: Harcourt. vol. 1898–1922. Eliot. 2000). Dalloway. Burton. Charlotte Perkins Gilman. 89.