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Special Author Virginia Woolf Q3023


									Special Author: Virginia Woolf Q3023
Autumn 2009

Pam Thurschwell

Office Arts B 222; Extension 8721
Office Hours: (tba)

Course Description

In this course we will focus on the work of one of the best-known writers of the
twentieth century, Virginia Woolf. This course aims to deepen your knowledge and
understanding of Woolf‟s work, both in its historical context and in terms of the kind
of conceptual and theoretical questions which her work has been seen to raise. It is
designed to challenge the kinds of preconceptions that readers often bring to Woolf‟s
writing. We will consider what might happen if we stop reading Woolf solely as a
modernist, or as a woman writer; we will pursue conceptual and historical frames that
will illuminate her work still further.

By the end of the course, we will have read many of Woolf‟s novels, sampled some of
her writing in other genres, and become familiar with the critical reception of her
work. In addition, students will have learnt how to devise, structure, pursue, and
realise an independent research project.


Seminar attendance and participation (weekly, 2 hours)
1 1500 word essay, due week 7
1 group presentation
4000 word essay, due in summer term

Week 1: Introduction

To the Lighthouse (1927)
„Modern Fiction‟ (1919) available online at
„Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown‟ (1924)

Secondary Reading:
Auerbach, Eric. “The Brown Stocking.” Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in
      Western Literature. Trans. Willard Trask. (first published 1946).

Week 2: Outside

Night and Day (1919)
Mrs Dalloway (1925)

„Street Haunting: A London Adventure‟ (1927)

Secondary Reading:
Squier, Susan M. Virginia Woolf and London: The Sexual Politics of the City. Chapel
        Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1985. Chapters 4 and 5.
Bowlby, Rachel. “Walking, women and writing: Virginia Woolf as flâneuse.” Still
        Crazy After All These Years: Women, Writing and Psychoanalysis.” London:
        Routledge, 1992. 1-33.

Week 3: Inside

Jacob’s Room (1923)
Stories: “The Lady in the Looking-Glass: A Reflection” (1929) and “A Haunted

Secondary Reading:
Laura Marcus, „The Novel as Elegy: Jacob’s Room and To the Lighthouse‟ in
       Virginia Woolf. Plymouth: Northcote House Publishers, 1997.
Clare Taylor, Helen. “Architecture in Woolf‟s Fiction” Virginia Woolf Miscellany.
       (46): 1995. 4.

Week 4: Library visit to Special Collections/Woolf Archive
You should use this week to get ahead with the readings for week 5, 6 and 7 which
are heavy.

Week 5: Politics

A Room of One’s Own (1929)
Three Guineas (1938)

Zwerdling, Alex. “Anger and Conciliation in A Room of One’s Own and Three
      Guineas.” Virginia Woolf and the Real World. Berkeley: U of California P,
      1986. 243-270.
Showalter, Elaine. “Virginia Woolf and the Flight into Androgyny.” A Literature of
      Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing. Princeton:
      Princeton UP, 1977. 263-297.
Moi, Toril. “Introduction.” Sexual/Textual Politics. London: Routledge, 1985.

Week 6: Water I

The Voyage Out (1915)

Ruotolo, Lucio P. “Being Chaotic: The Voyage Out.” The Interrupted Moment: A
       View of Virginia Woolf’s Novels. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1986. 19-46.

Week 7: Water II

The Waves (1931)

DiBattista, Maria. “The Waves: The Epic of „Anon‟.” Virginia Woolf’s Major Novels:
       The Fables of Anon. New Haven: Yale UP, 1980. 146-189

Week 8: History I: Objects

Orlando (1928)
“Solid Objects” (1920)

Secondary Reading:
Bowlby, Rachel. “Things.” Feminist Destinations and Further Essays on Virginia
      Woolf. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 1997. 100-109.
Mao, Douglas. Solid Objects: Modernism and the Test of Production. Princeton:
      Princeton UP, 1998. 26-89.

Week 9: History II: War

 Between the Acts (1941)
“Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid”(1940)

Zwerdling, Alex. “Between the Acts and the Coming of War.” Virginia Woolf and the
        Real World. Berkeley: U of California P, 1986. 302-23.
Barrett, Michèle. “Virginia Woolf and Pacifism.” Woolf in the Real World. Ed. Karen
        V. Kukil. Clemson, South Carolina: Clemson U Digital P, 2005. 37-41.

Week 10: Rewriting Woolf

Michael Cunningham, The Hours (film showing to be arranged)


Each student will sign up for one presentation in the first class. Presentations will be
about ten to fifteen minutes in length and will be done in groups of two or three. The
aim is to introduce or discuss one aspect of Woolf‟s works. All presentations should
include questions to prompt seminar discussion.

These presentations can involve a close reading of a single passage of one of Woolf‟s
novels, or larger thematic or stylistic concerns. They should not be biographical: they

are to focus on the content of Woolf‟s writing, and not her life. They can, however, be
on a topic you might pursue for your final dissertation.

Additional Criticism

The critical bibliography on Woolf is very large, so the list below is not meant to be
exhaustive but to provide you with the starting points for your own research. Please
ensure you also read the critical material listed for each week.

Banfield, Ann. ThePhantom Table: Woolf, Fry, Russell and the Epistemology of
        Modernism (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000)
Beer, Gillian. Virginia Woolf: the Common Ground and Arguing with the Past
Bowlby, Rachel (ed.). Virginia Woolf (with a good annotated bibliography at the
Bowlby, Rachel. Feminist Destinations and Further Essays
Briggs, Julia (ed.). Virginia Woolf (1993), esp. essays by Hermione Lee, Gillian Beer,
        Julia Briggs, Sandra Kemp.
DiBattista, Maria. Virginia Woolf's Major Novels (1980)
Froula, Christine. Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Avant-Garde: War, Civilization
        and Modernity (Columbia University Press, 2005)
Hussey, Mark The Singing of the Real World: The Philosophy of Virginia Woolf’s
        Fiction (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1986) (on Woolf and
Kane, Julie. „Varieties of Mystical Experience in the Writings of Virginia Woolf‟ 20th
        Century Literature 41:4 (Winter, 1995) 328-349
Lee, Hermione, Virginia Woolf (1996) (recent biography)
Levenback, Karen. Virginia Woolf and the Great War (Syracuse UP, 1998)
Light, Alison. Mrs Woolf and the Servants (London: Penguin, 2007)
McNees (ed.), Virginia Woolf: Critical Assessments, 4 vols (1992)
Marcus, Jane. Virginia Woolf and the Languages of Patriarchy (ed) and Virginia
        Woolf: A Feminist Slant
Marcus, Laura. Virginia Woolf
Minow Pinkney, Makiko, Virginia Woolf and the Problem of the Subject (1987)
Pridmore-Brown, Michele „1939-40: Of Virginia Woolf, Gramophones and Fascism‟
        PMLA Vol 113, No. 3 (May 1998)
Raitt, Suzanne. To the Lighthouse.
Rice, TJ. Virginia Woolf: a Guide to Research (1994) (recommended for
Saint-Amour, Paul. „Air War Prophecy and Interwar Modernism‟, Comparative
        Literature Studies, Vol 42, No. 2 (2005)

Some Suggested Essay Topics

1. As Hermione Lee writes in her biography, Woolf claimed to loathe egotism.
Discuss the presentation of self or subjectivity in Woolf's work, perhaps in relation to
notions of legacy, naming, or obscurity.

2. Woolf is well known for portraying “moments of being” akin in formulation to the
Joycean epiphany. Consider her presentation of time (be it past, present, or future),
possibly in relation to things fleeting or ephemeral.
3. Trace the evolution of a particular object or aspect of everyday life in Woolf's
work, and set up an argument explaining the significance of her continual return to
particular things. You might consider, for instance, letters, flowers, insects, clothing,
food, windows, rooms, boats, the wind, light, or the sea.
4. Consider death and grieving in Woolf's writing.
5. Woolf is one of the most highly regarded authors of stream-of-consciousness
narration. But it is important to remember that neither she nor her characters are
directly rendering their thoughts on the page; in her fiction, a narrator always
intervenes. Study two or three of Woolf's narrators, and determine what we might
understand about who they are and the role they play in Woolf's writing. Are they
authoritative, omniscient, judgmental, poetic, or occasionally bored? How do they
affect the structure, tone, and content of Woolf‟s writing? Students who choose this
question might want to consider Wayne Booth‟s The Rhetoric of Fiction, particularly
Chapter 3, “„All Authors Should Be Objective,‟” and Chapter 6, “Types of
6. In Woolf's early works in particular, she spends a great deal of time and energy
considering the strictures of tradition, be it moral, social, or political. Examine
Woolf's presentation of tradition in one early and one later work..
7. Consider Woolf's presentation of the servant classes.
8. Why are social occasions so central to Woolf's novels? Think about events such as
dinners, dances, parties, and, with particular reference to Orlando, carnivals.
9. Discuss the representation of race, “Englishness” and Empire in any two Woolf
10. Discuss the representation of war and the role of language in war in any three
texts by Woolf.
11. How inclusive is Woolf as a model for feminist criticism?
12. Discuss the representation of women's sexuality in three Woolf texts.
13. Any original subject you choose; please run your idea past me before you begin.

Essay Plan Guidelines

Your plan should include:
a) An outline of the topic you intend to explore (two A4 sheets, double spaced)
b) A list of the texts by Woolf you will concentrate on
c) A bibliography of critical sources you have consulted and/or intend to consult in
preparation for your dissertation

1. To help you define the topic you want to research you should ask yourself the
following questions:

1.1 What is the central question I want to ask? e.g. „What is the connection between
madness as a psychological discourse and imperialism as a political one in Woolf‟s
work?‟. You can also formulate this question as a hypothesis, e.g.„Woolf‟s work sets
out to establish a direct causal link between the discourse of madness and that of
Empire - the madness and irrationality of Empire is the direct cause of the madness
and irrationality of its subjects‟.

This question should emerge out of your reading both of Woolf‟s texts and of the
critical texts on Woolf. It should be as specific as possible – phasing such as „the
world and the self in Woolf‟s work‟ are best avoided. Remember that your aim is to
build an argument, i.e. you should have a point you want to put across rather than just
a topic you want to illustrate with apt quotations and references.

1.2 How am I going to address this question? Using the example from 1.1, consider: „I
will analyse the ways in which madness and politics are intertwined in Woolf‟s texts
through the interplay of character, language and setting‟. This then needs to be broken
down into smaller bits, giving some examples, e.g., Septimus and Clarissa in Mrs
Dalloway, Rachel and Helen in The Voyage Out, the linguistic and stylistic
differences between the two texts, the settings in England and South America, etc.

1.3 How will I organise my essay? What subsections will it have? Do be careful as
too many subsections can make an essay too fragmentary. Once you have determined
the various themes and ideas you will address, compile examples from your primary
texts (Woolf‟s writings) and secondary texts (criticism and research) under those
headings. Remember to keep track of citations and page numbers so you can return to
this information as needed.

1.4 How long do I plan to spend on the different phases of the essay? E.g. Christmas
break: literature review of critical texts that relate to the topic of my dissertation;
Spring term: re-reading Woolf‟s texts in detail; Easter break: writing up the

2. These should be a minimum of three longer texts, and some critical essays. Shorter
essays should not count towards the minimum number of texts.

3. It is your responsibility to identify the critical sources you will be using, but here
are some suggestions to start you off:

3.1 A good starting point is to choose one critical essay you liked or found helpful and
then use its notes and bibliography to identify other relevant texts. MLA Bibliography
is a good on-line data base for articles and books published worldwide. Some hard-
copy bibliographies of works on Woolf can also be found in the library (PF88206).

3.2 Your provisional bibliography should list a minimum of 10-12 texts. You may use
web sites as starting points for your research, but unless they are peer-reviewed
sources (ask if unsure), they will not be considered credible if cited within the body of
your essay.

You may use any bibliographical style you choose as long as you use it consistently. I
would recommend the Chicago Manual of Style system, available on line at


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