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Character and modernism: reading Woolf writing Woolf.

The term "character" is one of those words that has come down from the Greek with very little phonemic alteration. Such persistence fits the character of character, since in Greek the term referred to both an instrument of engraving and a stamp or mold used for striking coins. Yet even in ancient Greek there was a significant semantic drift that extended in two directions leading away from the instruments which are the first and second meanings of [CHI] [alpha] [rho] [alpha] [kappa] [iota] [eta] [rho].(1) In one direction, the term extended to include the image itself, engraved or stamped on the coin (in turn yielding by analogy "charakter prosopon," those features engraved on one's face by inner qualities). In the other direction, the term extended to include the artisan wielding the instrument. As such, the term encompassed both the fixity of the image and the freedom of the image maker. I would like to capitalize on this bi-directionality at the origins of character to anticipate a turn I shall make later in this essay.

In English, character has kept its primary connotations of persistence and hard-edged distinctiveness.(2) Morally, it has implied backbone. In narrative, it has denoted a repeatable integrity of form applied to human entities. To begin this essay, I want to focus on the latter understanding of character and in particular on a neglected aspect of its history, its persistence in the writing of modernists. In nineteenth-century commentary, character was commonly cited as a principal object of the well-written novel. It was also the rock on which the Dictionary of National Biography was founded in 1881, itself the narrative counterpart of the National Portrait Gallery. There is no doubt that this narrative production of character grew out of and sustained a conception of personhood that was deeply embedded in Victorian culture.

But in modernist texts - it is a story we know by heart - traditional character dissolved, giving way to entities like the infinite subjectivity of Finnegans Wake, the changeability of Albertine in A la recherche du temps perdu, and the interpenetrating voices of Woolf's The Waves. Since the 1970s, this feature of modernism has been given a lively foregrounding in new, often persuasive ways by feminist readings. Whether drawing on Kristeva or Lacan, Chodorow or Daniel Stern, the watchwords in this appraisal of the modernist representation of personhood have been fluidity, porousness, borderlessness, rupture.

The arguments have been so strong that what now becomes curious is the continuing, often brilliant delineation of character in modernist texts. The fact that this persistence of character has not been given critical attention is owing, I think, to a tacit assumption of formal inertia: that is, old practice is assumed to overlay new theory. There are solid grounds for this assumption, but nonetheless the contradiction between modernist thought and practice can be so acute that some attempt at a fuller accounting is in order.

Virginia Woolf provides a good test case because the practice of engraving sharply delineated characters persisted in her work despite the fact that she was both a combative opponent of conventional characterization and a bold innovator in the representation of personhood. Taking up this question brings with it the larger issue of how we read Woolf the craftsperson, the lacquered and polished formal disciplinarian, "horrified by my own looseness," detesting "wobble & diffusity & breathlessness."(3) Is this a retrograde Woolf? Is it a patriarchal and elitist Woolf? Is it a Woolf divided against herself? Is it a Woolf simply paying the necessary dialectical dues to what has come to be called the symbolic? At stake in these questions is the still larger issue of the general status of enclosing and completing operations in modernist art (of which the delineation of character is an instance). In what follows, I will restrict my terrain to Woolf's diaries, though in doing so I will be treating texts which have sometimes been described as the arena of her greatest departure from Victorian lineality and the scene of some of her closest approaches to a genuine ecriture feminine.

To start, here is a sample passage from March 1922: "I should let this page lie blank. Yet many portraits are owed to it - I have seen people - & people. Eliot, Clive, Violet, - if no one else. Of these Eliot amuses me most - grown supple as an eel; yes, grown positively famillar & jocular & friendly, though retaining I hope some shreds of authority. I mustn't lick all the paint off my Gods" (II, 170). This is vintage Woolf, yearning to catch all the people she has seen, then deftly hitting a selected target (here T. S. Ellot) with one or two brilliant, wickedly delightful strokes (but note, too, the wry glance at herself). Here are further examples, selected almost at random:

Let me attempt Ottoline.... She struck her unmistakable note on entering the room; rayed with green & blue, like the Cornish sea, & magnificently upright & held together; her blue blood giving her the carriage of assurance & self-respect which is rare among intellectuals.... Certain layers of powder showed upon the steeps of her face-but when you reflect that she's close on 50 - & has cropped her hair like a boy! (I, 272)

Phil [Burne Jones] was a kind of dissipated degenerate, spending all the thousands that were paid for those wan women on staircases, on love affairs, on luxuries, on being a fashionable bachelor & fairy God father to the Trees & Taylors & other fashionable young ladies - a very timid conventional man at bottom, with horrid taste in pictures, presumably, but a way with children. (III, 248)

He is a lean starting eyed lobster man: a man of the future, without senses. In with Wells, Plunket &c: but essentially a nobody.... Science running thin as magnesia or quinine in his veins.... he knows all facts & no feelings, has no humour, no richness, only advanced ideas, he left. So the air became riper. (IV, 68)

Over and over, Woolf engraves with the sharp instrument of her wit these vivid entries in a tradition that extends back through Addison and Steele.

So the argument that this practice is basically an example of cultural inertia would appear well-founded. Just as Addison and Steele continued in The Spectator and The Tatler what went on in the London salons of their day, so Woolf's diary was a private extension of what went on every day in the salons of her set, usually at tea. The "tired fingers" that are brought on by the pace of keeping her diary are the exact counterpart of the "bruised lips" brought on by the gossip at tea - a frenetic activity, as she frequently notes, of which the "character" is the essential building block. Woolf had to go no further than herself, then, to compose the character of Augustus Pelham in Night and Day, who soaked up characters at tea for "the nourishment of his diary, for whose sake he frequented tea-tables and ate yearly an enormous quantity of buttered toast."(4) Like Augustus, Woolf conceived a plan to work on her diary every day immediately after tea, the better to catch characters before they faded, an anxiety she felt deeply: "When people come to tea I cant say to them, "Now wait a minute while I write an account of you." They go, & its too late to begin. And thus, at the very time that I'm brewing thoughts & descriptions meant for this page I have the heartbreaking sensation that the page isn't there; they're spilt upon the floor. Indeed its difficult to mop them up again" (I, 139).

This craving never let up. Yet all the while she was energetically, almost feverishly pursuing this activity, Woolf was also developing her comprehensive critique of character, not simply in her landmark public statements ("Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown," "The New Biography") but quite early in her diaries: "Suppose we do settle exactly what Roger's character is, & what degree of spite to allow Clive, & how far Logan has a heart? - well, what then? Are we going nowhere? Does the mist move with us?" (I, 285).

One thing that her diary entries make clear is the extent to which Woolf's critique of character was fueled by the immediate threat that character held for her, personally. In August 1920, she recorded the following exchange with Katherine Mansfield: "I said how my own character seemed to cut out a shape like a shadow in front of me. This she understood (I give it as an example of her understanding) & proved it by telling me she thought this was bad: one ought to merge into things" (II, 61-62). Here character is understood as a formal imposition fundamentally at odds with how one "ought" to be. It is an assigned shape (a stamp, an engraving) that precedes one, often wielded by others. It is, in other words, precisely the kind of thing she applies to T. S. Eliot and Lady Ottoline Morel.

Nor was Woolf unaware of what might appear to be an implicit double standard in her practice. There are striking instances in the diaries when one catches the presence of two Woolves: the one recording characters, the other watching the recorder: "[Robert Trevelyan] reminds me of the man with the pointed stick, who picks up scraps of paper. So Bob collects every scrap of gossip within reach - & even stretches after those that are still beyond his reach.... But his relish of all this gossip & malevolence is such that you can't grudge it him" (I, 169). In this layered passage, one sees first the sharply etched "character" of Robert Trevelyan; second, that the character is that of the character-monger, one who, like the writer herself, uses a sharply pointed, skewering instrument on scraps of paper; and third, arriving as an afterthought, the final ironic stroke, at once seeking distance and acknowledging complicity: "his relish of all this gossip & malevolence is such that you can't grudge it him." The emergence of this uneasy relationship between the two Woolves made it hard to maintain the innocence of character-catching. In effect, her diary was a kind of laboratory in which Woolf could observe on an almost daily basis the effects of contact between her own sense of self and the inherited device of human representation that she handled so well.

Then, having spread my rumour about Ka, which only comes through Bob [Trevelyan], through a letter from A. F. & thus may not be true, and I hope it isn't, I went up to Gordon Sqre....

"You've wrecked one of my best friendships" [Clive] remarked; "by your habit of describing facts from your own standpoint - "

"What you call God's Truth" said Nessa.

"One couldn't have an intimacy with you & anyone else at the same time - You describe people as I paint pots." (I, 172)

In this painful entry, Woolf's very facility with the knife-edged character is said to be incompatible with "intimacy." Worse, Woolf herself becomes trapped in such a device. The Augustus Pelham/ Robert Trevelyan character seems to fit her snugly, a judgment she brings off unsparingly, both in the self-condemnatory irony of the opening lines of this vignette and the confirming voices of Gordon Square.

So to sum up the apparent contradiction: On the one hand, Woolf sets not only her art but her own sense of personhood against the occluding operations of character; on the other hand, she engaged throughout her life in a daily pursuit of character in the pages of her diary. Is this simple self-deception? Or did her personal defensiveness override her sense of fairness? Or was the continuation of character a kind of nineteenth-century baggage, as I suggested above, that she couldn't help but carry on even as she sought to jettison it?

I want to suggest another approach to the question. Briefly, it requires turning the text around and seeing the characters in it, not as representations, but as a kind of autographical action, the energetic track of what Woolf sometimes called her "personality." Over the years, "personality" developed a special status for Woolf as a term for personhood, though one can find anticipations of that later usage early in her diaries. Here is an especially interesting passage from the fall of 1917: "But I was glad to come home, & feel my real life coming back again - I mean life here with L[eonard]. Solitary is not quite the right word; one's personality seems to echo out across space, when he's not there to enclose all one's vibrations. This is not very intelligibly written; but the feeling itself is a strange one - as if marriage were a completing of the instrument, & the sound of one alone penetrates as if it were a violin robbed of its orchestra or piano" (I, 70). In this excerpt, "personality" is used in a way distinctly different from the way Woolf used "character" in her conversation with Katherine Mansfield. It is referred to as something powerful emanating from within rather than imposed from outside. In addition, the passage includes an interesting take on the relation of personality to the "other." In this context, the function of the other - the loved other (Leonard) - is to "enclose" and "complete," that is to give form, not by imposition but by friendly accompaniment. Leonard acts as a necessary limit or formal restraint, keeping her personality from "echoing out across space," and in the process allowing her "real life" to come back again.

The possibility that emerges here is that, in the expression of personality at least, the formal activities of enclosing and completing can play a function which is neither oppressive nor exclusive. With regard to selfhood, this passage on personality strongly indicates a self that is not set against, but realized in concert with, "the other." It is only with this other that Woolf is richly and fully herself. Indeed, the passage suggests that selfhood in Woolf might perhaps best be handled by critical adaptations of object relations psychology, as in the work, say, of Patricia Waugh, who sees in the late work an emerging sketch for a "collective view of identity."(5)

But there remains an important constraint on setting a relational view of self in Woolf's personal writing squarely against the idea of an autonomous and exclusionary self. The nature of this constraint is indicated in the passage above when she tropes her personality as an "instrument." Alone, her personality is a violin "robbed of its orchestra"; properly accompanied, it is enclosed and completed. Yet even with its accompaniment, it is a solo instrument, played by a virtuoso, dominating attention. And what it frequently does, when it performs, are precisely the kind of individually distinct acts of assessment - among them the etching of character - that recur in the pages of her diary: "Soul, you see, is framing all these judgments, & saying as she sits by the fire, this is not to my liking, this is second rate, this vulgar; this nice, sincere, & so on" (II, 236). Despite all the revolutions in her thinking and her art, this sense of the way her personality declared itself only got stronger as she got older. Here she is, for example, at fifty-eight: "[T]he idea came to me that why I dislike, & like, so many things idiosyncratically now, is because of my growing detachment from the hierarchy, the patriarchy. When Desmond praises East Coker, & I am jealous, I walk over the marsh saying, I am I; & I must follow that furrow, not copy another. That is the only justification for my writing & living" (V, 347).

To return, then, to the self/other dynamic Woolf articulates in the passage from 1917, one can align the function of the page (particularly those of her diary) with that of her husband. In other words, her diary (which she often conceived of as a friendly companion) provided the same necessary resistance Leonard did in permitting the emergence of her personal solo-work.(6) The "personality" which otherwise would radiate outward forever is fruitfully resisted by her diary in the same way that it is resisted by her husband. It is this that accounts at least in part for the intensity with which she craved putting a pen to paper. "The truth is," she wrote in 1925, "that writing is the profound pleasure & being read the superficial" (III, 18). Elsewhere she writes, "I'm letting my pen fling itself on paper like a leopard starved for blood" (II, 250). Conversely, when she is not keeping her diary, "life [is] allowed to waste like a tap left running" (1, 239). In this confluence of metaphors, the formal brilliance of the leopard which grows in power and beauty as it feeds on its prey can be set against life in the horstexte, running formlessly into the earth. Together they leave little doubt that Woolf identified her own fullness of being with a constancy of expressive delineation. "Much more important (to me) than anything else," she wrote in September 1921, "was the recovery of the pen; & thus the hidden stream was given exit, & I felt reborn" (II, 134). Writing is autogenesis.

What is also clear in the language of these key passages is that the enclosure and completeness necessary for the genesis of her writing is repeated in that writing, in brilliant acts of formal design which are, as she says, herself reborn. Etching these designs, among them character after character, Woolf is repeatedly reborn. And what she watches for are not breaks, ruptures, dissolvings but new coalescences. Nor does she watch for these bright structurings out of fear of dissolution or of falling into the pre-Oedipal abyss, but out of a delight in formal surprise. If there is a genderable opposition to this kind of enclosing operation, it is found in the "I" that she speaks of in A Room of One's Own, with its attendant capitals - Kipling's "Sowers who sow the Seed; and his Men who are alone with their Work; and the Flag" - that dominate the discursive practices of men.(7) In short, there were enclosing and completing operations which Woolf believed to be under her own charge, bearing her own distinctive signature, and which she opposed to those that came ready-made with the culture.

Of those formal operations under her control, the most problematic is that of character since, whatever the originality with which Woolf deployed the device, it always involved the symbolic appropriation and containment of another life. Shari Benstock is right when she argues that the fading of her mother's image that followed the writing of To the Lighthouse was a direct result of Woolf's having narrativized her mother as a character in that novel: "the action of memory ha[d] been translated through narrative (description and anecdote), leaving a hole where there was a center."(8) This was the effect Woolf dreaded in the manufacturing of character: the cutting out of "a shape like a shadow in front of me." Nonetheless, if character was deadly, it was also a sign of life. Insofar as Woolf read herself in the characters she engraved, she could not give the practice up. It devoured, as it were, her mother in To the Lighthouse, and in the last entry of her diary, recorded four days before her death, it was still feeding (like a leopard) on Mrs. Chavasse: "She had a [face] nose like the Duke of Wellington & great horse teeth & cold prominent eyes. When we came in she was sitting perched on a 3 cornered chair with knitting in her hands. An arrow fastened her collar. And before 5 minutes had passed she had told us that two of her sons had been killed in the war. This, one felt, was to her credit. She taught dressmaking. Everything in the room was red brown & glossy. Sitting there I tried to coin a few compliments. But they perished in the icy sea between us" (V, 359).

My argument is not that Woolf, through some perversity, had to feed on people. Etching characters is only one example of a disciplined formal activity that goes on everywhere in her writing, from passing descriptions of landscape to the extraordinary designs of her later fiction. I focus on it because the apparent contradiction that it involves helps me set off as sharply as I can the fundamental point: that in the very enactment of control, domination, limitation, Woolf found release, liberation, rebirth. Much as she feared her own imprisonment in the cage of character, much as she objected to a novelistic practice that would presume to account for others, even modest individuals like Mrs. Brown, much as she promoted the idea of "merging into" things, she nonetheless kept up the practice of etching character because, in these characters, she could trace those individually distinct and always surprising furrow-finding movements by which, from one moment to the next, she knew who she was.

Four days before she dies, in her most private text, she is revising Mrs. Chavasse's "face" for her "nose" retroactively to complement the parataxis of teeth and eyes which she has just now discovered as she writes. Again, she greets herself with "perished in the icy sea between us," the brilliance of which lies not only in its sudden incongruity but in the way it picks up the coldness of Mrs. Chavasse's eyes and the deaths of her two sons. Whatever transferences may have been aroused by the "real" Mrs, Chavasse, whatever Woolf may be doing to that woman, we can legitimately switch our attention here, as I think the diarist herself often did, and see Woolf happening in the action of her pen as it invents Mrs. Chavasse.

There are two general points emerging from this brief analysis that I want to stress in conclusion. One is speculative and is indicated when Woolf turned to the looser, more philosophically open term personality in order to write of her own sense of personhood as a kind of energetic and creative interiority. My speculation is that this is one of many moves in a broader semantic endeavor in English to capitalize on the term personality in an effort to dissociate personhood from the semantic constraint of character.

Personality descends from the Latin personalitas and is thus, in contrast to character, rooted in a much more general distinction between personhood and thinghood. Its greater etymological susceptibility to semantic and evaluative drift gave it a certain advantage in expressive efforts to link human individuality with indefinability. The term was used frequently to indicate an indefinable power of personhood, sometimes uniquely concentrated in rare individuals. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, it is "the mere wonder of [Dorian's] own personality" that draws the artist Basil Hallward to him.(9) in Conrad's Victory, Heyst feels "intensely aware of [Lena's] personality. ... the sensation of something inexplicable reposing within her.(10) In the same spirit, Woolf notes in her diary that Lytton Strachey has "what one calls personality" (1, 273). Yeats, the one major English modernist who consistently rated character above personality, also associated the quality of power with the latter.(11)

At the same time, however, the basis of our common usage of personality as "personality type" was being laid down in early twentieth-century psychological theorizing. Rooted in nineteenth-century physiognomics and criminology, this development in scientific discourse can be seen as an empiricist appropriation of personality for the reinstatement of character's definability without its moral connotations. In effect, then, personality was the site of a semantic turf war in which a good deal was at stake regarding the nature of personhood.(12) Woolf may well have had the scientific opposition in mind when she settled on the term personality in her landmark essay on "The New Biography." If so, it gives a polemical bite to her use of it: "On the one hand there is truth; on the other there is personality. And if we think of truth as something of granite-like solidity and of personality as something of rainbow-like intangibility and reflect that the aim of biography is to weld these two into one seamless whole, we shall admit that the problem is a stiff one and that we need not wonder if biographers have for the most part failed to solve it."(13)

This passage leads to my second point, which comes out of the question with which I began: in the context of a clear effort to privilege indeterminacy under the sign of personality, how do we account for the persistence of exact determinacy under the sign of character? And can we do this without writing the latter off as defensiveness, regression, compromise, or cultural inertia - without, that is, reinstating, in part or altogether, the embattled and nostalgic ego of the high modernist? The enabling assumption in my response has been, in effect, to read Woolf reading Woolf. In this mode of response, the representational (if not appropriative) status of character gives way to its status as signature, the tracery of personality. To invoke the semantic drift within the original Greek for character, one reads in the engraved the freedom of the engraver. My argument is that Woolf read herself this way, repeatedly, almost addictively. In this regard, as in that of her use of the term personality, the case can be made that Woolf's self-consciousness was part of a larger modernist tendency. Her autographical awareness - reading for her own signature - was arguably something she shared with Joyce, Proust, Valery, H. D., Stein, and Yeats.(14)

If this discursive attitude is acknowledged, then the enclosing and completing operations that take place in the production of art, including the delineation of narrative and character, can be read as the vital signs of free self-invention. To make this argument is not to contend that the range of activity gathered under the umbrella of the Lacanian or Kristevan symbolic is not an instrumentality of cultural prescription and inertia. But it is to say that more happens through these activities - that they are analytically richer than such an accounting would imply. The idea of narrative and character as fundamentally exclusive, delimiting, phallocentric entities, is an idea which still casts a long shadow over the discourse on modernism. Among proponents of a feminist autography, particularly those influenced by Kristevan theory, the tendency has been to privilege, or at least to give privileged analytic attention to, the discursive phenomena of gaps, ruptures, and liminal zones. To use Kristeva's own language regarding Woolf, the "ruptures, blank spaces, and holes into language" that her art shares with "the literary avantgarde (from Mallarme and Lautreament to Joyce and Artaud). ... are the sign of a force that has not been grasped by the linguistic or ideological system." Variously termed the repressed Imaginary, the maternal, the pre-Oedipal, the semiotic chora, this force is an energy which by its very nature is incompatible with form - incompatible, that is, with the patriarchal delimiting and excluding functions of language and ideology that Kristeva groups under the sign of the symbolic.(15)

In my own alternative view, the ex clusive association of freedom and enchantment with incursions of the formless fails to catch the full depth of pleasure expressed in such a characteristic passage as the following: "Never have I been so happy in my life. The day was like a perfect piece of cabinet making - beautifully fitted with beautiful compartments" (II, 191). Another, and perhaps fairer, way to put the midcourse correction that I am proposing is simply to say that the formal action of enclosing and completing is, for Woolf, as mysterious and unpredictable in its operation as anything in her work. In other words, what is hidden, disruptive, fluid, rupturing in Woolf's art is matched in exotic appeal with the shape-making capacity, the magical element of design that she sought for even her most diffuse work. The enemy of both is the fixed, the congealed, the mechanical, the solely conventional.

Finally, it would be possible to combine the autographical turn I have invoked with a more evenly balanced valuation of the formal and disruptive operations in her prose in order to reorganize Woolf's entire literary production as a project of self-writing. So constructed, the oeuvre can be seen as a field across the entirety of which she was always playing, and listening to, her personal instrument. Looking back, what one sees is the track left by a constantly moving point of furious energy, a track continually breaking off, changing direction, yet leaving along the way whorls of formal brilliance, many of them momentary eddies (like Mrs. Chavasse), but some thrown off into a separate life of their own as essays, stories, and on rare occasions extraordinary novels.


(1) I want to extend my thanks to my colleague Apostolos Athanassakis for his advice and counsel regarding this term. (2) Harold Fisch also starts from the etymology of character in his excellent essay "Character as a Linguistic Sign," New Literary History, 21 (1990), 593-606. Though my approach to the subject is quite different from Fisch's, we are both involved in exposing complexities that accompany a sign modality which is rooted in connotations of fixity and hard-edged constraint. (3) All citations from Woolf's diaries refer to the five-volume Diary of Virginia Woolf, ed. Anne Olivier Bell (New York, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984), III, 325; hereafter cited in text. (4) Virginia Woolf, Night and Day (San Diego, 1948), p. 315. (5) Patricia Waugh, Feminine Fictions: Revisiting the Postmodern (London, 1989), p. 123. Waugh's reading of where Woolf is heading comes close to Rachel Blau DuPlessis's reading of the progression Woolf followed in her revisions from The Moths to The Waves. Drawing on Kristeva rather than Chodorow, DuPlessis argues that in The Waves Woolf fabricated "a realm of (renewed, post-symbolic) access to the "semiotic"' where "we are left with the dispersion of pleasure and sensation across the text - irrespective of the |borders' of each identity." Here, I would argue, we are well beyond the spirit of Woolf's use of the terms "enclose" and "complete." Rachel Blau Duplessis, "Woolfenstein," in Breaking the Sequence: Women's Experimental Fiction, ed. Elaine K. Ginsberg and Laura Moss Gottlieb (Troy, N.Y., 1983), pp. 106, 110.

The most promising contribution to object relations theory may be the recent work of Daniel Stern regarding the formation of a "we self" in the early stages of infancy. Stern's work, first presented in his essay "The Early Development of Schemas of Self, Other, and "Self with Other,'" in Reflections on Self-Psychology, ed. Joseph D. Lichtenberg and Samuel Kaplan (Hillsdale, N.J., 1983), pp. 49-84, and more fully adumbrated in The Interpersonal World of the Infant (New York, 1985), gathers together evidence that an infant, far from experiencing a Lacanian presymbolic chaos, "is predesigned to discriminate and to begin to form distinct schemas of self and of other from the earliest months of life" ("Early Development," p. 50). This process of discrimination, however, generates a self, or "I," which is not unitary in the sense opposed by Lacan. Rather, it includes the sense of "we" - a "we self." The principal difficulty faced by critics who wish to capitalize on this promising work (as on that of Winnicott and other pediatric specialists) is gauging the extent to which the mind and written work of an adult can be extrapolated from the concept formation of an infant. But as a probe, it suggests the qualified unitariness of the self that Woolf seems so often to want to get at. In this context it is worth noting that Woolf had high hopes during the war years that she could bring her husband along as coproducer of her diary. This also would reinforce the sense of a loved other as one who accompanies and completes, not just in her "real life" but in the personal record of it. (6) Early in 1919, Woolf began making a succession of references to "Old Virginia," the wise, undeceived future reader of her private text (I, 234). This was arguably her ideal textual companion and significant other, "a woman who can see, old V.: everything - more than I can I think" (II, 320). (7) Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (London, 1929), pp. 150-54. (8) Shari Benstock, "Authorizing the Autobiographical," The Private: Theory and Practi6666c6e of Women's Autobiographical Writings, ed. Shari Benstock (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1988), p. 27. The passage referred to in Woolf can be found in Virginia Woolf, Moments of Being, ed. jeanne Schulkind (San Diego, 1985), pp. 81-83. (9) Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray and other Writings, ed. Richard Elimann (New York, 1982), pp. 97, 100. (10) joseph Conrad, Victoiy (Garden Citv, N.Y., 1957), p. 158. (11) For Yeats, the power of personality was earthy or bodily, compared to the evocative or symbolic power of character. On stage, it was something the playwright threw in to draw the masses. In The Cutting of an Agate, for example, he refers to "our thirst for mere force, mere personality, for the tumult of the blood." See William Butler Yeats, The Cutting of an Agate($N$) (New York, 1912), p. 60. (12) I would date thid "war" roughly between 1880 and 16932 (the year the journal Charter and Permality changed its name to Personality). (13) Virginia Woolf, Granite and Rainbow (New York, 1975), p. 149. (14) The paradigmatic reading is the commentary on Vinteuil and Elstir in A la richerche which would seem irresistibly to model Proust's own reading of Marcel: "[S]o too the music of Vinteuil extended, note by note, stroke by stroke, the unknown, incalculable colourings of an unsuspected world, fragmented by the gaps between the different occasions of hearing his work performed; those two very dissimilar questions that governed the very different movements of the sonata and the septet ... were nevertheless the same prayer, bursting forth like different inner sunrises, and merely refracted through the different mediums of other thoughts, of artistic researches carried on through the years in which he had sought to create something new.... And it was precisely when he was striving with all his might to create something new that one recognized, beneath the apparent differences, the profound similarities and deliberate resemblances that existed in the body of a work." See Marcel Proust, The Captive, tr. C. K. Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin (New York, 1982), p. 257. For readings of the work of Joyce, Proust, Valery, Henry Adams, and T. S. Eliot as modes of self-conscious autographical action, see Paul Jay's Being in the Text (Ithaca, 1983), pp. 115-74. For a similar approach to Conrad, see H. Porter Abbott, "Writing and Conversion: Conrad's Modernist Autography," Yale Journal of Criticism, 5, no. 3 (Fall 1992), 135-63. (15) Julia Kristeva, "Oscillation Between Power and Denial," tr. Marilyn A. August, in New French Feminisms, ed. Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron (Amherst, 1980), p. 165. Kristeva's references to Virginia Woolf by and large keep her in Joyce's shadow, stressing the victim rather than the artist triumphant: "I think of Virginia Woolf, who sank wordlessly into the river, her pockets weighted with stones. Haunted by voices, by waves, by lights, in love with colours - blue, green - seized by a sort of bizarre gaiety that brought on the fits of strangled, hooting, uncontrollable laughter remembered by Miss [sic] Brown." See julia Kristeva, About Chinese Women, tr. Anita Barrows (London, 1977), p. 39.

Two recent books on Woolf, Makiko Minow-Pinkney's Virginia Woolf and the Problem of the Subject (Brighton, 1987) and Patricia Ondek Laurence's The Reading of Silence (Stanford, 1991), provide a much fuller dialectical reading of Woolf, drawing on Kristeva's distinction between the semiotic and the symbolic. Though they both do fuller justice to Woolf than Kristeva has, they maintain Kristeva's reading of the symbolic. To my knowledge, the most promising adaptation of Kristevan theory, and the most successful elaboration of a way to read the "thetic" border postulated by Kristeva between the semiotic and the symbolic, can be found in Garrett Stewart's concept of "transegmental drift." See especially his chapter on Virginia Woolf in Reading Voices: Literature and the Phonotext Berkeley, 1990), pp. 259-82.
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Title Annotation:Reconsiderations
Author:Abbot, H. Porter
Publication:New Literary History
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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