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Moments of Being in Virginia Woolf's Fiction

Virginia Woolf is recognized as one of the great innovators of modern fiction. Her experiments with point of view and her use of stream of consciousness have influenced many writers that followed her. But one particularly interesting technique that does not seem to receive much attention is her use of "moments of being." Woolf never explicitly defines what she means by "moments of being." Instead she provides examples of these moments and contrasts them with moments of what she calls "non-being." She describes the previous day as: Moments of non-being appear to be moments that the individual is not consciously aware of even as she experiences them. She notes that people perform routine tasks such as walking and shopping without thinking about them. This part of the life is "not lived consciously," but instead is embedded in "a kind of nondescript cotton wool". It is not the nature of the actions that separates moments of being from moments of non-being. One activity is not intrinsically more mundane or more extraordinary than the other. Instead, it is the intensity of feeling, one's consciousness of the experience, that separates the two moments. A walk in the country can easily be hidden behind the cotton wool for one person, but for Woolf the experience is very vivid. Woolf asserts that these moments of being, these flashes of awareness, reveal a pattern hidden behind the cotton wool of daily life. Thus for Woolf a moment of being is a moment when an individual is fully conscious of his experience, a moment when he is not only aware of himself but catches a glimpse of his connection to a larger pattern hidden behind the opaque surface of daily life. Unlike moments of nonbeing, when the individual lives and acts without awareness, performing acts as if asleep, the moment of being opens up a hidden reality. Unlike Joyce's epiphanies, these moments do not lead to decisive revelations for her characters. But they provide moments of energy and awareness that allow the character who experiences them to see life more clearly and more fully, if only briefly. And some of the characters try to share the vision that they glimpse, making the work of art that is life visible to others. Mrs. Dalloway presents the two characters who are most receptive to moments of being in all of Woolf's fiction: Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Warren Smith. Clarissa experiences her moments of being while in the middle of what appear to be trivial acts, indicating that it is not the action, but her awareness that sets a moment of being apart from her other experiences The breathless nature of this single line indicates Clarissa's intensity. Images are not neatly arranged, but spill forth unstoppable as one image leads to another and another. Because moments of being are immediate, they often do not allow a character to reflect or assign meaning to them. This clarity is precisely what Woolf achieves in a moment of being. For Woolf the significance of moments of being is this: they reveal to the individual who experiences them the pattern behind the woolly curtain of existence; and the existence of a pattern reveals the possibility of connection to other people. When the cotton wool is rent, when one experiences a moment with full consciousness, one experiences the true intensity of life. These moments of being can be read as brief poems hidden among the trivial details of life that some characters--and readers with them--are fortunate enough to experience. Her idea of life is well expressed in her The Common Reader (1925) where she invites the reader to look within and to look at life. Here she wants the reader to examine what happens in a mind, an ordinary mind on an ordinary day (the life of Monday or Thursday). She explains that the mind receives impressions of a different nature (banal but also very important). Such impressions are incessant and they create the shape of a day. Since it is such impressions that make up people's ordinary life, it is such impressions that writer has to convey to the reader. It follows that (there would be no plot, no comedy..). According to Virginia Woolf's thought therefore, life cannot be returned to the reader in a series of gig lamps. Virginia Woolf concludes that the essay highlights the concept that the novelist task is to convey the unknown spirit of one's consciousness. Everyone has sudden flashes of perception and insight. Writers have a name for them - epiphanies. Epiphany is Twelfth Night - 6 January - when Christ was visited by the Three Wise Men, and his divinity was revealed to the world. It derives from a Greek word, epiphainein, meaning 'to manifest', and in preChristian times it was used 10 record appearances of gods and goddesses. Traditionally the word has kept this specific religious association, but in our century it has been secularised to refer to other, non-divine forms of revelation. The principal writer to extend the meaning of the word as a secular term was James Joyce, who was interested in sudden, dramatic and startling moments which seemed to have heightened

significance and to be surrounded with a kind of magical aura. The well-known reference is in Ulysses, when Stephen Dedalus is thinking to himself. "By an epiphany he meant a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or in a memorable phase of the mind itself. He believed that it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments." An epiphany is, therefore, not an impression; on the contrary it guides a deeper insight into the truth of things. EpiphanyThis term, coined by James Joyce, designates the moment in a narrative when events, images, ideas, or any combination of these have reached critical mass and produce for the reader an explosive recognition of meaning. The modernist fiction is different from the traditional one about many features. The first different aspect is the position of the narrator. He is a third person omniscient narrator but he is omniscient in a different way between the two types of fiction. In traditional novel he knows everything about every character while in modernist fiction he knows just what is crossing throughout the characters mind. In the first case he is also intrusive because he speaks with the reader and he filters everything about the story; in the second case the narrator is not intrusive and he is eclipsed from the story. The writing technique used in the novel is related to the position of the narrator: in tradition fiction the technique is the telling (the narrator reports just what he wants to tell), in modernist fiction it is the showing (the narrator reports the view of images and emotions of the characters mind). The position of the reader depends on what kind of narrative technique is used by the narrator. In the Victorian period novel came out in monthly installments chosen by the novelist while in modernist period subjectivity holds the most important role in the novel and it is reported as it appears to the narrator. Another key difference is the arrangement of the novel. Traditional novel privileges the chronological reporting of events and a logic development of the plot. In modernist fiction there is a non-chronological arrangement because the narrator shifts in characters mind. The shift of point of view is connected to the concept of time in modernist fiction: time is simultaneous and it is the sum of past (memories) and future (hopes) in the present consciousness of the character.

The modernist fiction privileges the subjectivity in contrast with traditional novel in which the important was the story. The modernist writer adopts different techniques to help the reader to be free. The reader must be free to has his personal idea of characters and it is possible using the technique called "eclipse of narrator". In the modernist fiction there is the 3rd omniscient narrator but it does not entre in contact with reader, who is not conditioned by narrator's filter and then he is free of making is own personal idea about he reads. The indirect free style is another technique adopted by modernist novelist. It consists to report via indirect speech character's thoughts to make the reader to feel himself into character's mind. The importance of subjectivity is underlined by the different idea of time from Victorian period. In Modernist fiction there is the simultaneous concept of time. Through the technique called "stream of consciousness" the narrator reports character's feelings, emotions and thoughts which contain the all three time's dimensions: present, past and future. While in traditional novels there is the linear time arrangement and to express the step to one dimensions to another the narrator must suspend the narration to open a digression which faces an issue about the character or the plot. One writer who considered the traditional way to write a novel wrong was Virginia Woolf and she denounced it in the essay Modernist Fiction taken by the Common Reader. The common reader is the person who reading a novel seeks the sense of life and is not possible find it in the traditional novel because it, following fees, not express what a common reader wants. If in traditional way the key word is "telling" because the narrator tells the story and the reader is obliged to listen, it in Modernist fiction the key word is "showing" because the narrator show a part of character's life leaving to the reader an input to start a reflection about life and it's sense.