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Visuality and Spatiality in Virginia Woolf’s Fiction


Savina Stevanato

This book offers an interpretative key to Virginia Woolf’s visual and spatial strategies by investigating their nature, role and function. The author examines long-debated theoretical and critical issues with their philosophical implications, as well as Woolf’s commitment to contemporary aesthetic theories and practices. The analytical core of the book is introduced by a historical survey of the interart relationship and significant critical theories, with a focus on the context of Modernism. The author makes use of three investigative tools: descriptive visuality, the widely debated notion of spatial form, and cognitive visuality. The cognitive and remedial value of Woolf’s visual and spatial strategies is demonstrated through an inter-textual analysis of To the Lighthouse, The Waves and Between the Acts (with cross-references to Woolf’s short stories and Jacob’s Room). The development of Woolf’s literary output is read in the light of a quest for unity, a formal attempt to restore parts to wholeness and to rescue Being from Nothingness.


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Preface xi


ii both with a cognitive quest and an inquiry into the role that artistic crea- tion plays in the quest. Consistently, these novels also illustrate the cog- nitive and remedial value of Woolf ’s visuality and spatiality: visuality as a means of perceiving the contradictory essence of being; spatiality as an artistic remedy for modern nihilism through the spatial wholeness that form achieves. This is remedial as it restores parts to wholeness and f low to unity or, in philosophical terms, becoming and non-being to being. My analysis takes into consideration how the nature and development of visual and spatial strategies are both thematized and formally epitomized in the novels. The relevant comparison between them further reveals an outcome which was seemingly unintentional on Woolf ’s part, that is to say, a decreasing correspondence between content and form. On the former level, form is topicalized in meta-artistic terms by Lily’s painting, Bernard’s writing and visualizing, and Miss La Trobe’s pageant. On the latter, it is concretely represented by the spatial strategies of the texts. Novel by novel, the remedial function of art is increasingly questioned by content but constantly reasserted by form. Paradoxically, the latter keeps on testifying to the possibility of unity and resists the author’s own explicit denial of it. Through spatial means, the very same form reveals its simultaneous ability to convey two opposing meanings: one explicit and related to the narrated object, the other implicit and related to narration. This is how form states its independence...

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