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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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Chapter 2The Modern Age and the Arts 27


Chapter 2 The Modern Age and the Arts The problem today is this: what is left to overcome? The door has opened with a crash, and we have at times the feeling of spinning dizzily forward without being able to regain our balance. — G. de Santillana, ‘The Seventeenth-Century Legacy’ The Modern Context and a Philosophical Note In 1923 Woolf wrote in ‘Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown’: ‘And so the smash- ing and the crashing began. Thus it is that we hear all round us […], the sound of breaking and falling, crashing and destruction […]. Signs of this are everywhere apparent. Grammar is violated; syntax disintegrated’ (CE I, 333–4). This ‘smashing’ is reality itself which was being physically fragmented and its repeated splitting uncovered the atom. A whole world view was at stake and new interpretative and representative criteria were needed in order to recover a sense of meaning which was slowly but steadily being lost. The advancements in knowledge, which had been taking place during the last two decades of the nineteenth century, brought about revolution- ary theories in most branches and contributed to a profound scientific, technological, social and cultural development.1 These epochal changes 1 For a thorough development of the subject cf. S. Kern, The Culture of Time and Space 1880–1918 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983). Developments were so radical as to bring about new ways of experiencing the basic categories of time and space. In 1900 Planck formulated the first quantum hypothesis and Einstein’s 28...

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