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From Individual to Collective

Virginia Woolf’s Developing Concept of Consciousness

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Masako Nasu

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.

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2. Pursuit of the Individual (1): Groping for Internal Realism

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← 44 | 45 →

2.   Pursuit of the Individual (1): Groping for Internal Realism

Woolf experimented with new methods and techniques in each novel. The main point of her essay ‘Modern Fiction’ (1919) is that truth in human life lies in the individual mind: true life develops not in a series of external events but in states of mind–that is, in what we think or feel:

Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions – trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent falls differently from old; […]

(‘Modern Fiction’, Collected Essays II 106: The italics are mine.)

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