From Individual to Collective

Virginia Woolf’s Developing Concept of Consciousness

by Masako Nasu (Author)
©2017 Thesis 226 Pages


This book argues that a profound shift can be found in the works of Virginia Woolf, from an early «pursuit of the individual» to a late «pursuit of the collective». Evidence for this shift is found both in the narrative modes she employed and the methods by which thought is represented in the works themselves, and in ideas and ruminations found in Woolf’s diaries and essays. The stylistic analysis covers works from The Voyage Out (1915) to the posthumously published Between the Acts (1941), and shows how several of the shorter pieces can be considered to be experiments with techniques that were fully employed in Woolf’s longer, major fictions. This shift arises from changes in Woolf’s concept of the conscious and unconscious over time, and the argument shows how she took deliberate steps to reflect these changes in her fiction. This framework provides key insights for new interpretations of her works.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • 1. Review of Critical Studies and Analytical Framework
  • 1.1 Critical trends in Woolf’s works
  • 1.1.1 Chronological review of major critiques
  • 1.1.2 The contribution of stylistics and narratology to the study of Woolf’s texts
  • 1.1.3 Hypothesis
  • 1.2 Analytical framework of this study
  • 1.2.1 What is ‘modernism’?
  • 1.2.2 Modernism and focalization: concept of frame theory
  • 1.2.3 Focalization and speech and thought presentation modes
  • 1.2.4 ‘Stream of consciousness’ and ‘internal monologue’
  • 1.2.5 Non-reflective areas of consciousness: ‘narrated perception’ and ‘psycho-narration’
  • 1.2.6 Representation of consciousness by an unspecified subject
  • 2. Pursuit of the Individual (1): Groping for Internal Realism
  • 2.1 Buds of internal realism in The Voyage Out (1915)
  • 2.1.1 Critical review: modes of writing in The Voyage Out
  • 2.1.2 Analyses of thought presentation in The Voyage Out, Austen’s Emma, and Eliot’s Middlemarch
  • 2.1.3 Flowing consciousness in a ‘moment’: analysis of thought representation
  • 2.2 Woolf’s early experiments in four short fictions
  • 2.2.1 Creation of unity
  • 2.2.2 Experimental nature of narrator in the short fictions
  • 2.3 Experimental narrative structure and modes of focalization in Jacob’s Room (1922)
  • 2.3.1 Authorial narrator versus ubiquitous narrator
  • 2.3.2 Representation of consciousness from the character’s inner perspective
  • 3. Pursuit of the Individual (2): Establishing Internal Realism
  • 3.1 Mrs Dalloway (1925) as the consummation of Woolfian internal realism
  • 3.1.1 The use and effect of Direct Thought in ‘Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street’ (1922)
  • 3.1.2 The use and effect of Free Indirect Thought in Mrs Dalloway
  • 3.1.3 Tunnelling process for telling the past
  • 3.2 To the Lighthouse (1927) as the refinement of Woolfian internal realism
  • 3.2.1 The structure of the work
  • 3.2.2 The representation of human relationships
  • 3.2.3 The presentation of the eternity of life
  • 4. The Bridge Between To the Lighthouse (1927) and The Waves (1931)
  • 4.1 The limits of internal realism
  • 4.1.1 Background of ‘Moments of Being: Slater’s Pins Have No Points’ (1927)
  • 4.1.2 An ultimate form of internal realism
  • 4.1.3 Problems with narrative techniques in internal realism
  • 4.1.4 The evaluation of ‘truth’ and limitations of internal realism
  • 4.2 Anonymous mind as presented in two short works of 1929
  • 4.2.1 Woolf’s change of mind in 1929
  • 4.2.2 Stylistic analysis of the focalizer one (1): ‘The Lady in the Looking-Glass: A Reflection’
  • 4.2.3 Stylistic analysis of the focalizer one (2): ‘The Fascination of the Pool’
  • 5. Pursuit of the Collective
  • 5.1 The unspecified focalizer in The Waves (1931)
  • 5.1.1 The use of an unspecified subject, the mind, in two drafts of The Waves
  • 5.1.2 The dramatic soliloquies in The Waves: universal spirit and collective unconsciousness
  • 5.1.3 Empty centre in the Interludes
  • 5.1.4 The unconscious as represented in the dramatic soliloquies
  • 5.2 The unconscious world in The Years (1937)
  • 5.2.1 Woolf and Jung’s collective unconscious
  • 5.2.2 Facts and vision in The Years
  • 5.2.3 The presentation of collective unconscious in The Years
  • 5.3 Collective unconscious in Between the Acts (1941)
  • 5.3.1 Woolf’s ‘shock-receiving capacity’
  • 5.3.2 Eccentricity of focalization: analysis of a passage from Between the Acts
  • 5.3.3 Collective unconscious embodied by Woolf
  • Bibliography
  • Index

← 12 | 13 →


In this book, I shall stylistically clarify the narrative modes and methods of thought representation employed in Virginia Woolf’s (1882–1941) major works from The Voyage Out (1915) to the posthumously- published Between the Acts (1941), and in several short works, attempting to demonstrate that her creative works can be divided into two groups; one group of works from The Voyage Out (1915) to To the Lighthouse (1927), characterized by ‘the pursuit of the individual’, and the second group of works from The Waves (1931) to Between the Acts (1941), characterized as ‘the pursuit of the collective’. By referring to some ideas and ruminations contained in her diaries and essays as well, I would like to identify some characteristic processes by which Woolf produced consecutive instances of creative writing.

Woolf published nine novels, and, in writing these works, she paid careful attention to the various styles of writing available to an author of her period. Although The Voyage Out (1915), her maiden work, and Night and Day (1919) have generally been accepted as successors of traditional novels, they have some significant technical novelties which mark the starting point of Woolfian experimentation. Further investigation is essential to reconsider the experimental aspects of these two works. In her third lengthy fictional work, Jacob’s Room (1922), Woolf discarded the traditional, chronological plot form and instead employed certain new narrative techniques. Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), and The Waves (1931) have been considered as prototypical modernist novels in which the inner world of the human mind is faithfully described. The Waves (1931) is significant in marking Woolf’s major turning point as a novelist preoccupied with the representation of mind. Such a change of attitude is discernible in the subsequent works, The Years (1937) and Between the Acts (1941). As well as those fictional works hitherto mentioned, Woolf wrote two other novels; Orlando, A Biography (1928) and Flush, A Biography (1933) and forty-six short fictions. ← 13 | 14 →

Not only attempting to abnegate the domination of the 19th century traditional novel form in which plot development seemed the most significant aspect, Woolf took one positive step further to establish for herself what the modern novel could and should be and do. She continued to revise form and narrative mode throughout her career by redefining the concept of time and embodying it in her prose. Right up to her suicide in 1941, Woolf was most preoccupied with what the novel should be and do in the future.

Having this moment finished the Pageant–or Poyntz Hall [the working title of Between the Acts]? – (begun perhaps April 1938) my thoughts turn well up, to write the first chapter of the next book (nameless) Anon, it will be called.

(23 November 1940, Diary V 340)

Significantly, Woolf’s ‘ideal’ mode of writing changes continuously as she completes each subsequent work, and in this sense every work is experimental for her, as original intentions for the works are gradually embodied in the techniques and styles employed.

Throughout her career, Woolf was searching for a suitable artistic model which might make it possible for the novelist to describe the minds of modern people, something she believed traditional modes of writing could never do. Her career may be considered as a series of experiments conducted to examine this strong conviction and directly related quest for a new form. Based upon her stated principle that ‘life is luminous halo’ (‘Modern Fictions’, Collected Essays II 106) and truth lies within a mind, Woolf started her career by depicting the human mind as she perceived it to be. In the early and middle stages of her career, she then established a manner of ‘Woolfian inner realism’, trying to ‘record the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in which they fall’ (107). Another significant aspect of Woolf’s career at this juncture is that she was in pursuit of ‘individuals’, targeting one single mind and highlighting what develops there. To the Lighthouse has been considered by many critics as Woolf’s masterpiece, in which her pursuit of individual minds is brought to fruition. Indeed Woolf herself felt proud of her accomplishment in that work, as seen in her diary of November 23 1926 (Diary III 177).

Likewise, The Waves is the ultimate example of Woolfian form in which character consciousness can faithfully be represented. The ← 14 | 15 → work can be said to embody the fundamental modernist manifesto, or ‘the logical terminus of Virginia Woolf’s artistic development’ (Lodge 1977:181), namely that the writer should capture the essence of life from the inside of the mind.

Despite established critical views, however, even after completing such landmark works, Woolf seems to have kept on searching for a newer form with which to embody and achieve her ideal. Recognizing the fact that no matter how faithfully she might describe the individual human mind, she could not simultaneously negotiate and express that universal aspect of mind which, Jung argued, exists beneath the consciousness, Woolf seems to have shifted her interest to the issue of exactly how such common aspects of mind (existing at subconscious or unconscious levels) could be properly represented: There is a boundary around 1930, which divides a former period (works from The Voyage Out (1915) to To the Lighthouse (1927)), characterized by ‘the pursuit of the individual’ and ‘inner realism’, and a latter period (works from The Waves (1931) to Between the Acts (1941)), characterized by ‘the pursuit of the universal’ and ‘the representation of collective unconsciousness’.

In order to support the abovementioned hypothesis, I shall present a full picture of Woolf as a literary critic and a novelist by investigating her biographical background. In Chapter 1, I shall make a survey of past studies of Woolf and her novels, highlighting the mainstream critical trend and identifying what I believe to be major problems with this trend. In Chapter 2, by focusing on The Voyage Out (1915), in which we can glimpse signs of modernism, and Jacob’s Room (1922), which many critics regard as Woolf’s first truly experimental novel, I shall illustrate from a technical point of view the process by which the author’s new ‘internal realism’ has been developed. I shall also analyse four short stories written between these two works, attempting to clarify Woolf’s change of mind as a novelist and the trial and error she made for the completion of Jacob’s Room. In Chapter 3, I shall examine Woolf’s most famous modernist novels, Mrs Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927), and attempt to clarify how her newly established internal realism techniques work in these fictions. In Chapter 4, by stylistically analysing three short stories written in the late 1920s (the time period between To the Lighthouse and The Waves), I shall argue that Woolf begins to be conscious of certain limitations that internal realism ← 15 | 16 → potentially houses, and that she thus starts to search for more abstract modes of writing by which faithfully to represent human consciousness. In Chapter 5, by first focusing upon The Waves (1931), the novel written directly after the three stories discussed in the previous chapter, I shall attempt to illustrate how Woolf’s experimental trials in those short stories affect this longer work. Second, by emphasizing similarities in the conception of unconsciousness between Woolf and Jung, I shall stylistically examine how the unconscious world is represented in The Years (1937) and Between the Acts (1941).

The overall aim of this study is, therefore, through the abovementioned analyses and discussion, to shed useful new light on Woolf’s accomplishment as a novelist by illustrating in detail how Woolf’s original intentions for novels are textually realized in each work, and confirming the fact that her interest shifts from ‘an individual mind’ to ‘universal and collective mind’ as her style simultaneously and consequently develops and matures.

← 16 | 17 →

1.   Review of Critical Studies and Analytical Framework

1.1  Critical trends in Woolf’s works

1.1.1  Chronological review of major critiques

Virginia Woolf was a rather prolific writer: she wrote nine novels, forty-six short stories, as well as essays and literary criticism, and five collections of diaries and letters. In whatever genre, what Woolf wrote has attracted attention from a range of literary critics of various backgrounds as well as general readers.

Curiosity about Woolf as a person also exists, and many biographies have been published. As a member of the Bloomsbury Group, Woolf had connections with many prominent figures in her age and much information to map her activities is available. It is hardly possible to summarize in a few sentences what has been generally agreed about her and what is perhaps missing from the picture we now have of this important author.

In spite of this, it should be possible to identify major trends in the critical works on Woolf, such as modernist and feminist critiques. In this section, I would like to refer to some influential critics and their work so that main characteristics of each trend can be revealed.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (January)
Bern, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 226 pp.

Biographical notes

Masako Nasu (Author)

Masako Nasu is an associate professor at Okayama University, Japan. Her main research fields are the study of modernist fiction and English stylistics. Her recent publications include: «The role of literature in foreign language learning» (in Literature and Language Learning in the EFL Classroom, 2015) and «Literature and the role of background knowledge for EFL learners» (in Scientific Approaches to Literature in Learning Environments, 2016).


Title: From Individual to Collective
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228 pages