[Vwoolf] Number 1 misreading of Woolf?
mhussey at verizon.net
mhussey at verizon.net
Mon May 18 08:58:19 EDT 2020
I don’t quite agree with Naremore here. Woolf mentions Joyce as ‘the most notable’ of ‘several young writers’ who are chafing at convention, and I think it is reasonable to see herself as implicitly included among those ‘young writers’. Her complaint about Joyce is more specific; his (narrative) ‘self’ ‘never embraces or creates what is outside itself and beyond’, he lays a ‘didactic’ emphasis upon indecency. I don’t think those writers you quote are taking the lines from ‘Modern Fiction’ out of context, and it seems to me reasonable to take the essay (in both its 1919 and 1925 iterations) as a modernist manifesto, though not necessarily as a recipe for how to make a Woolf novel.
From: Vwoolf <vwoolf-bounces+mhussey=verizon.net at lists.osu.edu> On Behalf Of Jeremy Hawthorn via Vwoolf
Sent: Monday, May 18, 2020 7:52 AM
To: vwoolf <vwoolf at lists.osu.edu>
Subject: [Vwoolf] Number 1 misreading of Woolf?
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 consciousness."
* 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 the consciousness"
* 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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