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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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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...

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