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Visuality and Spatiality in Virginia Woolf’s Fiction

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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 3Woolf ’s Visuality and Spatiality 83

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Chapter 3 Woolf ’s Visuality and Spatiality We must take literally what vision teaches us: namely, that through it we come in contact with the sun and the stars, that we are everywhere all at once […]. — M. Merleau-Ponty, ‘Eye and Mind’ Rhythm, said Stephen, is the first formal esthetic relation of part to part in any esthetic whole or of an esthetic whole to its part or parts or of any part to the esthetic whole of which it is a part. — J. Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Three main criteria make it possible to analyse and understand the value of the visual and the spatial in Woolf ’s whole production, namely, descrip- tive visuality, spatial form and cognitive visuality. Leaving aside the con- crete spatiality of texts, which is physically and simultaneously present, visuality and spatiality are to be figuratively understood since neither the literal typographic space of the book, nor the presence of visual images are involved. In Woolf ’s prose, these visual and spatial strategies mutually interact. Nonetheless, for analytical purposes, in this study they will be considered separately, and they will be discussed by referring both to the short stories and to Jacob’s Room. Woolf ’s experiments with the short-story form are extremely interesting in that the stories are concentrated forms of inter- related spatiality and visuality, where remarkable motifs and composi- tional features recur. For this reason they provide a useful introduction to the development and interaction of the strategies...

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