[Vwoolf] Number 1 misreading of Woolf?

Michael Schrimper Michael.Schrimper at colorado.edu
Thu May 21 13:57:02 EDT 2020

Like any decent essay since Montaigne, this one in question wanders. At
times it contradicts itself. In my view Woolf ultimately proposes that
“everything is the proper stuff of fiction; whatever one honestly thinks;
whatever one honestly feels.” And the modern fiction writer can do
anything, use whatever method they choose, in order to achieve this
honesty, the emptying out of falsity.

This proposal at the conclusion of the essay would be an endorsement of the
collection of atoms method, then, but it would also open up Woolf’s support
of all other kinds of methods; the idea is to rebuke falsity.

I think that the levels of contradiction we see in this essay show that
Woolf really used this essay as an opportunity to think.

In regard to Woolf’s own relation to the moderns of whom she speaks, the
way that the essay collects its thoughts as it goes, no matter how they
will be negated later (the proper stuff of fiction is X; there is no proper
stuff), itself is illustrative of the collection of atoms method; all
impressions are recorded.

Michael R. Schrimper
Ph.D. Student, Department of English
University of Colorado Boulder
Traditional Territories of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Ute Nations

On Thu, May 21, 2020 at 2:25 AM Jeremy Hawthorn via Vwoolf <
vwoolf at lists.osu.edu> wrote:

> On 18.05.2020 14:58, mhussey at verizon.net wrote:
> 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.
> Well this and Christine Froula's response sent me back to reread "Modern
> Fiction" - which I have now done more than once. One conclusion I am sure
> of: Woolf does not "advise," or "instruct" or "insist" (all verbs used by
> the critics who I quoted) that the novelist "record the atoms &c &c." In
> the closing lines of the essay she writes: "nothing - no 'method', no
> experiment, even of the wildest - is forbidden, but only falsity and
> pretence. 'The proper stuff of fiction' does not exist; everything is the
> proper stuff of fiction, every feeling, every thought; every quality of
> brain and spirit is drawn upon; no perception comes amiss."
> But does she include herself among the "young writers, among whom Mr James
> Joyce is the most notable" whose work contains a quality that distinguishes
> it from that of their predecessors? This is a more difficult question. To
> me, her criticism of Joyce in the essay would suggest that she does not, as
> does her praise of Conrad, Hardy, Sterne, Chekhov and Thackeray. Taken
> together, this means that she criticises quite strongly the only
> representative of the "young writers" that she names, while asserting the
> superiority of the work of five pre-modern writers to his fiction.
> Taking up Christine Froula's question, I admit to being puzzled by "the
> spiritual Mr Joyce," especially when his work fails because of "the
> comparative poverty of his mind." He is spiritual because "he is concerned
> at all costs to reveal the flickerings of that innermost flame which
> flashes its messages through the brain." I take it that "spiritual" is
> chosen to distinguish him from the "materialists" from whom she distances
> herself; Joyce is not interested in objects outside the self but in
> processes inside it. But it is an odd use of "spiritual."
> Incidentally, Woolf's complaint about the emphasis on indecency in Joyce
> is somewhat at odds with her praise of Sterne. In his introduction to
> Sterne's *A Sentimental Journey* (Penguin edition, 2001), Paul Goring
> quotes Woolf's view that with Sterne "we are as close to life as we can
> be," notes her praise of Sterne's "many passages of . . . pure poetry," and
> references her quotation from the Paris scenes in Sterne's work. But Goring
> notes that Woolf appears to be completely oblivious of the succession of
> sexual innuendos in the passage she quotes to illustrate Sterne's "pure
> poetry."
> Jeremy H
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