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From Individual to Collective

Virginia Woolf’s Developing Concept of Consciousness


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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5. Pursuit of the Collective


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5.   Pursuit of the Collective

Although since the beginning of her creative activity Woolf might have recognized the significance of collective unconscious or transcended mind,1 a turning point occurred around 1929 in Woolf’s attitude towards writing as her interest shifted from the individual mind to the ‘universal’ mind. Such universality is rooted in the unconscious, and Woolf started to explore this area during that time. In fact, later works such as The Waves, The Years, and Between the Acts show a strong tendency towards the Jungian concept of the collective unconscious. First, I examine The Waves, focusing on how the unconscious world is explored in this novel. Second, I will discuss the collective unconscious as formulated by Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961) and its relationship to creative works. Consulting Woolf’s notes in her diaries and essays, I will also discuss Jung’s influence on Woolf’s own notion of the unconscious. Based on Jung’s theory, I will conduct a textual analysis of The Years, discussing how the collective unconscious is presented in that novel. Finally, I will analyse Between the Acts stylistically and narratologically, focusing on the technique Woolf uses to bring the unconscious sphere into the world of the story.

5.1  The unspecified focalizer in The Waves (1931)

Woolf’s quest to explore the human mind is further cultivated in The Waves. In The Waves, she puts forward her interest in the unconscious sphere, resulting in the invention of an original...

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