THE VICTORIAN HERITAGE OF VIRGINIA WOOLF: THE EXTERNAL WORLD IN HER NOVELS (TIME, SETTING, COMMUNICATION, LANGUAGE, SOCIETY)
STEINFELD, JANIS PAUL
Doctor of Philosophy
Woolf's Victorian background made her ambivalent towards the external world of time, place, history, society, physical phenomena, and language. The Victorian Age stressed factualism, time, and place, embracing society and rejecting individuality, emotion, and aestheticism. Woolf's father enforced these values; her mother added traditional feminity, physical beauty, and social role-playing. Woolf's Modernist novels rebel against this heritage but also demonstrate her attraction to it. Her English novel criticism concentrates upon empirical facts, society and communication. Her novels are shaped by a dynamic of rebellion against, and return to, the external world. Time and place, especially setting, enforce this opposition. Characters rebel against society and language, discovering consciousness, self-definition, and "moments" of communication. But such ephemeral moments demand a disjunction from society allied with self-diffusion and death. Thus the characters return to civilization: the limited communication of society is all that exists in the external world. Woolf's novels structurally rebel and return to externality: her experimentation departs from traditional genres; characters are defined through social relations; her novels end with gestures of completion. Language and characters metafictionally expresses her ambivalence towards language; she distrusts its conventional limitations, but she uses it to communicate. Woolf's first five novels demonstrate her development towards a form expressing her ambivalence. The Voyage Out and Night and Day pose the themes of rebellion and return and the discovery of the inner world, but they employ traditional structures. Jacob's Room demonstrates the failure of traditional novels and heroes; nevertheless the narrator demonstrates the importance of society, language, and communication. Mrs. Dalloway and To The Lighthouse are mirror-images of Woolf's attitude towards externality. Mrs. Dalloway depicts an external culture; Clarissa vacillates between her isolated present and the communication of memory. She unifies her worlds at her party, and Woolf reiterates this unity in her own language. To The Lighthouse evokes an internalized, timeless milieu. Nevertheless, island and sea settings objectify opposite worlds, and Mrs. Ramsay creates her moment of communication through social conventions and language. Lily transforms that moment into art by communicating with Mr. Ramsay. Woolf's language expresses her own uncertainties about communication and the creative power of externality.