Unifying “Psychological Entities” and “Spatial Relations”: The Aesthetic Formalism of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf

1 July 2021

Amber Jenkins, University of South Wales

Debates concerning the nature of form and representation are a particular point of focus for scholars of the Bloomsbury Group. Despite the increasing body of research that highlights the complex theories developed by its members,[1] the dominant notion of ‘Bloomsbury aesthetics’ is a theory of art committed to the intrinsic values of pure form rather than representation. This definition is largely based on the early work of Roger Fry, which, as Simon Watney suggests, was ‘founded upon the belief [… that] art is constantly restoring itself to a state of Edenic “purity”, which is to be identified by a concern with particular internal formal values.’[2] While Watney’s definition summarises the ideas outlined in Fry’s ‘An Essay in Aesthetics’ (1909), in his later work, Transformations (1926), Fry attempts to resolve the conflict between pure form and representation by finding a balance between ‘the psychological and plastic aspects of a picture.’[3] Yet Fry continues to take note of a division between the ‘aesthetic experience’ of art and that of ‘ordinary life’ because of the distinct ‘mental disposition’ required to negotiate them. He writes, ‘it is not impossible to draw a fairly sharp dividing line between our mental disposition in the case of esthetic [sic.] responses and that of the responses of ordinary life’.[4] Here, Fry suggests that the distinction between form and representation is a result of the latter’s evocation of everyday experiences, which leads to a response to visual art based on ‘ordinary’ human interests. Although in Transformations Fry attempts to find harmony between these two aspects of painting, the predominant art historical emphasis upon ‘pure’ or ‘significant form’ has obscured the complexity of Bloomsbury discussions about the representative elements of a work of art.[5] It has also contributed to a critical oversight of the alternative formalist theories developed by the women of Bloomsbury.

Continue reading “Unifying “Psychological Entities” and “Spatial Relations”: The Aesthetic Formalism of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf”

Death Comes to the Party: Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway

01 June 2021

Charlotte Hallahan, University of East Anglia

In 1925, Woolf heard news of her friend Jacques Raverat’s death at a party. Afterwards, in her diary, she wrote: ‘I do not any longer feel inclined to doff the cap to death. I like to go out of the room talking, with an unfinished casual sentence on my lips’.[1] In Mrs Dalloway (1925), the solemn news of Septimus Warren Smith’s death interrupts Clarissa Dalloway’s party. But Clarissa sees Septimus’ death as a license to live, to return to her party (to, perhaps, ‘go out of the room talking’). In Woolf’s party, we see the curious meeting of life and death, where death holds the ability to give life order and meaning.

Continue reading “Death Comes to the Party: Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway”

A Writer Prepares: Reading Woolf’s Diary as Rehearsal Process

29 April 2021

Ellie Mitchell, University of St Andrews

Although diaries seldom make an appearance in her fiction, Virginia Woolf kept one for almost the entirety of her adult life, and her diary played a leading role in the composition of her works.[1]Certainly, since Leonard Woolf’s publication of the abridged A Writer’s Diary in 1953, it has become a critical commonplace to observe that Woolf plans, practises, and reflects on her writings in her diary.[2]What remains to be investigated, however, are the precise ways in which this planning, practice, and reflection are carried out. From as early as 1903, Woolf refers to her diarising as ‘training for eye & hand’, but what does this training involve?[3]Which aspects of writing does Woolf practise in her diary, and how precisely does she practise them? Continue reading “A Writer Prepares: Reading Woolf’s Diary as Rehearsal Process”

‘Virginia Woolf’s ‘entanglements’ vs. Lacanian Psychoanalytic Criticism’

8 February 2020

Marie Allègre, University of Birmingham

In her 1929 essay ‘Phases of Fiction’, Woolf writes: ‘[t]he enormous growth of the psychological novel in our time has been prompted largely by the mistaken belief […] that truth is always good; even when it is the truth of the psychoanalyst and not the truth of imagination’.[1] Is ‘the truth of the psychoanalyst’ hospitable enough for ‘the truth of imagination’ to emerge?

Continue reading “‘Virginia Woolf’s ‘entanglements’ vs. Lacanian Psychoanalytic Criticism’”

Monstrous Rot: Fearing Food in Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Waves’

2 October 2020

Guy Webster, Pembroke College, University of Cambridge

A morning meal appears in the opening pages of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves (1931). Mrs. Constable, we hear, is scraping ‘the fish-scales with a jagged knife on to a chopping board’ for breakfast. All the while, the novel’s key characters are playing outside. Louis, Bernard, Neville, Jinny, Susan and Rhoda are exploring the English countryside beneath the scent of sizzling fish in ‘ripples above the chimney’.[1]It is not long after this that Susan, having seen Jinny kiss Louis, prepares a meal of her own. ‘I shall eat grass’, she says, ‘and die in a ditch in the brown water where dead leaves have rotted’.[2]A few pages later and Neville overhears the cook speak of a man ‘found with his throat cut’; ‘death among the apple trees’, Neville calls it. Suddenly, the knife wielded by Mrs. Constable at the beginning of the novel is imbued with a macabre relevance. As it were, Neville tells us that the dead man’s ‘jowl was white as a dead codfish’, perhaps not too dissimilar to the fish Mrs. Constable is scraping scales off in those opening pages?[3] Continue reading “Monstrous Rot: Fearing Food in Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Waves’”

Beneath the Semblance of the Thing: Meat-Eating and the Absent Referent in Virginia Woolf’s ‘Mrs Dalloway’ and ‘The Waves’

2 October 2020

Catherine Dent, Durham University

When we consume meat, we enact what Erin E. Edwards (Miami University) calls ‘the eating encounter between humans and animals’.During this ‘encounter’, the nonhuman body is assimilated – piecemeal – within the bounded human form. So often overlooked at the point of incorporation via ingestion, however, are the violent processes by which animals are killed for human consumption. Continue reading “Beneath the Semblance of the Thing: Meat-Eating and the Absent Referent in Virginia Woolf’s ‘Mrs Dalloway’ and ‘The Waves’”

Book Review: The Sensuous Pedagogies of Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence

1st September 2020

Michael Black, University of Glasgow

Benjamin Hagen, The Sensuous Pedagogies of Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence (Clemson: Clemson University Press, 2020)

Benjamin Hagen’s study, that shows us what, as teachers, critics, and students, we can learn from ‘sensuous pedagogies’ in the writing of Virginia Woolf and D.H. Lawrence, is supplemented by assignments, the first of which immediately catches attention with its stimulating questions: ‘How do your favourite writers teach? How do they read? How do they love?’(14). Hagen’s argument in favour of a definition of pedagogy that partakes of ‘sensation, emotion, intensity, the body, as well as attachment and relation’ (8) adopts a theoretical approach supported by Deleuze, Eve Kosofky Sedgwick, and Sara Ahmed, to name a few. However, Hagen’s own questions and the open, supple approach taken to the practice of learning and teaching, may also suggest intellectual kinship with Sister Corita Kent and John Cage’s ‘Some rules for students and teachers’ (1967), a text that is both disciplined and accepting. Kent and Cage insist that education is personal and creative, since there is no ‘mistake’ or sense in which we ‘win’ or ‘fail’, but instead only the imperative to ‘make.’[1] Acceptance of personal limitations must be balanced with discipline: ‘The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something.’[2] My own first thoughts and desires, in response to Hagen’s first assignment, led me to go and look again at Corita Kent’s and Cage’s instructions. Hagen wants the ‘sensuous pedagogy’ outlined to be of value ‘beyond modernism’(7). Yet we would do well to remember that the modernist pedagogical instruction par excellence might come from Samuel Beckett: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’[3]

Continue reading “Book Review: The Sensuous Pedagogies of Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence”

Book Review: Invalid Modernism: Disability and the Missing Body of the Aesthetic

Aaron Pugh, University of Kent

1 June 2020

Michael Davidson, Invalid Modernism: Disability and the Missing Body of the Aesthetic (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019)

In Invalid Modernism, Michael Davidson compellingly situates disability at the heart of what he terms ‘the missing body of the aesthetic’ in modernist art and literature. In this study, Davidson produces a sweeping and persuasive survey that reveals a litany of bodies and minds which, he suggests, could no longer be contained, reduced or marginalised within ‘normative versions of national, gendered or racialised identity’ (p. 12). Davidson develops an intersectional statement of intent which repositions disability as being, not an extension, but a constitutive element of a varied range of modernist texts. Supplemented by close readings of canonical modernists such as Djuna Barnes, Samuel Beckett, F. T. Marinetti and Virginia Woolf, Dadaist and Surrealist aesthetic interventions, as well as a selection of experimental contemporary texts, Davidson resolutely constructs a study that expertly demonstrates ‘the various ways in which disability is an absent presence in the theory and practice of cultural production’ (p. 141). Continue reading “Book Review: Invalid Modernism: Disability and the Missing Body of the Aesthetic”

Book Review: Square Haunting

Francesca Wade, Square Haunting: Five Women, Freedom and London Between the Wars (Faber & Faber, 2020)

Elizabeth O’Connor, University of Birmingham

 ‘I like this London life . . . the street-sauntering and square-haunting.  

— Virginia Woolf’s diary, 1925

Francesca Wade’s Square Haunting follows the lives of five modernist women who called Bloomsbury’s Mecklenburgh Square home in the interwar years in Britain. Woolf’s 1925 confessional forms the book’s title and its basis, as Wade details her protagonists’ search for a ‘room of their own’ in London and wider society, and the ways in which such a place was central to their self-actualisation as women, artists and thinkers.

Continue reading “Book Review: Square Haunting”

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started