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Moving across a Century

Women’s Short Fiction from Virginia Woolf to Ali Smith

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Edited By Laura Lojo Rodriguez

The difference between modernism and postmodernism has been object to constant revision from a variety of critical perspectives. The present collection of essays on women’s short fiction tackles anew this thorny distinction from the theoretical perspective sketched by psychoanalytical philosopher Slavoj Žižek. According to Žižek, modernism hints at the incompleteness of the Symbolic Order, but does so from a separate, marginal and alternative sphere of enjoyment. Postmodernism, on the contrary, exposes the fundamental inconsistency of the Symbolic Order by giving it a central place at the very core of the text. The key distinguishing feature is the mutation of the status of paternal authority throughout a century to which modernist and postmodernist texts are responsive. Starting from this theoretical premise, this volume analyses the work of five major women practitioners of the short story – Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Elizabeth Bowen, Angela Carter, and Ali Smith – to offer fresh critical readings of canonical pieces that exhibit either a modernist or a postmodernist sensibility. The volume has, therefore, both critical and theoretical value: it redefines Woolf ’s and Mansfield’s modernist status, the transitional character of Bowen’s short stories, and the different versions of postmodernism found in the work of Carter and Smith, while, at once, contributing to the reassessment of modernism and postmodernism from a new theoretical angle. The methodological consistency of the book – half-way between collection of essays and monograph – places it at a remove from the usual collection of critical pieces from disparate perspectives around a particular issue.

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Chapter 1. The Shape of Things to Come: Virginia Woolf’s“The Mark on the Wall” 15 - JULIÁN DÍAZ MARTÍNEZ AND LOURDES E. SALGADO VIÑAL

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JULIÁN DÍAZ MARTÍNEZ AND LOURDES E. SALGADO VIÑAL Chapter 1. The Shape of Things to Come: Virginia Woolf’s “The Mark on the Wall” This chapter looks into Virginia Woolf’s short story (1917) as articulation of a feminine subjective experience, standing against a masculine world which places the female as the “angel in the house”. In their view, Woolf’s text best epitomizes her theories concerning fi ction-making, understood as articulation of individual experience in opposition to more traditional, male-centred approaches to narrative fi ction. This article looks into Woolf’s “The Mark on the Wall” via Slavoj Žižek’s reassessment of modernism. In Woolf’s short story, the symbolic order is rendered as a blot which disturbs the female narrator consciousness and threatens the alleged coherence of male hegemony. In that sense, the story’s motif — a mark on the wall — may work as an instance of visual anamorphosis, thus provoking a distortion of reality as symbolically construed. Woolf’s “The Mark on the Wall” posits an alternative sphere of enjoyment, namely the strong subjective desire paramount in Žižek’s theories, made available through the gaps of the symbolic order which structures reality. In Wilkie Collins’s Basil (1852), we come across a perfect expres- sion of the ideal of female submission in the male protagonist’s picture of a “woman in whom we [men] could put as perfect faith and trust, as if we were children; whom we despair of fi nding near the harden- ing infl uences of the world” (Collins 2008a: 22). Such...

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