[Vwoolf] Number 1 misreading of Woolf?
jeremy.hawthorn at ntnu.no
Mon May 18 07:51:54 EDT 2020
Looking through some old notes I came across this, taken from James
Naremore's 1973 book /The World Without a Self: Virginia Woolf and the
Novel/. Naremore quotes a celebrated sentence from Woolf's "Modern
Fiction" essay: "Let us record the atoms as they fall upon the mind in
the order in which they fall, let us trace the pattern, however
disconnected and incoherent in appearance, which each sight or incident
scores upon the consciousness." He comments that the sentence "has been
quoted out of context over and over again to describe her technique. In
its proper context, however, it is clear that the passage is an abstract
of what Virginia Woolf thinks Joyce's method tells us. She herself was
seldom predisposed to "record the atoms as they fall." She rather
dislikes such a method, and she explains why a few lines later: [quotes
from "Is it the method" to "into the bargain"] (p. 72)
I wondered whether the sentence was still being taken as a description
by Woolf of her own method, or of a method that she recommended, and so
carried out a quick Google search. To be fair, a good number of
commentators correctly noted that Woolf was not describing her own
compositional method or recommended principles. But many persist in
asserting that this was indeed what Woolf was doing. The following are
representative (I have changed the wording slightly so as not to enable
the identification of specific individuals).
* . . . her own instructions to her fellow modern novelists in "Modern
Fiction": "Let us record the atoms as they fall . . . upon the
* Woolf asks that the novelist should "record record the atoms as they
fall upon the mind in the order in which they fall”"
*. . . she seeks an art than comes "closer to life," that tries to
capture what life is really like: "let us record the atoms . . . upon
* Novelists, Woolf stated, should "record the atoms as they fall upon
the mind in the order in which they fall, let us trace the pattern,
however disconnected and incoherent…"
* "Let us record the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in
which they fall," she advised
* Woolf called on the novelist to find new ways to represent
consciousness: "Let us record etc etc"
* Woolf insists that writers must instead "record the atoms as they fall
upon etc etc"
I think that Naremore must be pretty irritated that 47 years later
critics are still making the same mistake.
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