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Transcript of Virginia Woolf
Consciousness Writing Style "Yet, because he was so small, and so simple a form of the energy that was rolling in at the open window and driving its way through so many narrow and intricate corridors in my own brain and in those of other human beings, there was something marvelous as well as pathetic about him. It was as if someone had taken a tiny bead of pure life and decking it as lightly as possible with down and feathers, had set it dancing and zig-zagging to show us the true nature of life….One is apt to forget all about life, seeing it humped and bossed and garnished and cumbered so that it has to move with the greatest circumspection and dignity. Again, the thought of all that life might have been had he been born in any other shape caused one to view his simple activities with a kind of pity." 266
"It flashed upon me that he was in difficulties; he could no longer raise himself; his legs struggled vainly. But, as I stretched out a pencil, meaning to help him right himself, it came over me that the failure and awkwardness were the approach of death. I laid the pencil down again." 267
"Also, when there was nobody to care or to know, this gigantic effort on the part of an insignificant little moth, against a power of such magnitude, to retain what no one else valued or desired to keep, moved one strangely. Again, somehow, one saw life, a pure bead." 267
"The struggle was over. The insignificant little creature now knew death…Just as life had been strange a few minutes before, so death was now as strange. The moth having righted himself now lay most decently and uncomplainingly compose. O yes, he seemed to say, death is stronger than I am." 267 Major Themes Are there any similarities between Woolf's essays and those of your group? Do you think this is because of the unity of the personal essay, or just an overlap in styles? Severe depression led to deep reflections of life and death in Woolf's works
Her eventual suicide gives context and more meaning to the essays she produced
For example, see the quotes from "The Death of a Moth"... Take five minutes to write a stream-of-consciousness quick-write.
You can describe something from the past, or an imaginary situation. Perhaps make use of one of the themes in Woolf's writing, such as life and death or sense of self.
When you have finished your writing, share the general idea and a sentence from your work with the person sitting next to you. What do your quick-writes have in common, and how do they differ? Activity Central themes and motifs are often found in Viriginia Woolf's essays. Many stem from her life and her experiences; for example, she was suffering from extreme depression which led her to write deep insightful essays on life and death "Passing, glimpsing, everything seems accidentally but miraculously sprinkled with beauty, as if the tide of trade which deposits its burn so punctually and prosaically upon the shores of Oxford Street had this night cast up nothing but treasure." 260
"For the eye has this strange property: it rests only on beauty; like a butterfly it seeks color and basks in warmth. On a winter's night like this, when nature has been at pains to polish and preen herself, it brings back the prettiest trophies, breaks off little lumps of emerald and coral as if the whole earth were made of precious stone." 258 In her essays, Woolf also celebrates the beauty of life, especially the cityscape Virginia Woolf explores the sense of self and her style (see stream of consciousness) reflects her versatile viewpoints as she switches back and forth from different points of view and different characters' minds Life, Death, Beauty, and Self "Into each of these lives one could penetrate a little way, far enough to give oneself the illusion that one is not tethered to a single mind, but can put on briefly for a few minutes the bodies and minds of others." 265
"Or is the true self neither this nor that, neither here nor there, but something so varied and wandering that it is only when we give rein to its wishes and let it take its way unimpeded that we are indeed ourselves?" 261
"That is true: to escape is the greatest of pleasures; street haunting in winter is the greatest of adventures. Still as we approach our own doorstep again, it is comforting to feel the old possessions, the old prejudices, fold us round; and the self, which has been blown about at so many street corners, which has battered like a moth at the flame of so many inaccessible lanterns, sheltered and enclosed." 265
"The shell-like covering which our souls have excreted to house themselves, to make for themselves a shape distinct from others, is broken, and there is left of all these wrinkles and roughnesses a central oyster of perceptiveness, an enormous eye." 257 Quotes Imagery Metaphor use of human psychology to show the workings of the human mind
similar to "interior monologue," but focuses on both thoughts and perceptions rather than solely thoughts (A Dictionary of Narratology, Gerald Prince)
"sensory impressions," or lists of objects or experiences told in a brief, skimming manner, are a way of showing unelaborated thoughts (Stream of Consciousness, Georgetown Narrative) "visually descriptive or figurative language, especially in a literary work" (Oxford Dictionaries) "a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable" (Oxford Dictionaries) "But this is London, we are reminded; high among the bare trees are hung oblong frames of reddish yellow light - windows; there are points of brilliance burning steadily like low stars - lamps; this empty ground, which holds the country in it and its peace, is only a London square, set about by offices and houses where at this hour fierce lights burn over maps, documents, over desks where clerks sit turning with wetted forefinger the files of endless correspondences [...]
But here we must stop peremptorily. We are in danger of digging deeper than the eye approves." (257-258, The Art of the Personal Essay) "On a winter's night like this, when nature has been at pains to polish and preen herself, it brings back the prettiest trophies, breaks off little lumps of emerald and coral as if the whole earth were made of precious stone." (258, The Art of the Personal Essay)
personification, a type of metaphor "Let us dally a little longer, be content still with surfaces only - the glossy brilliance of the motor omnibuses; the carnal splendor of the butcher's shops with their yellow flanks and purple steaks; the blue and red bunches of flowers burning so bravely through the plate glass of the florists' windows." (258, The Art of the Personal Essay) Discussion
Questions Based on Woolf's essays, particularly "The Death of the Moth", how do you think she perceived death? As a release? A force to struggle against? A new beginning? Why? One of Woolf's primary themes was the sense of self. In "Street Haunting", she bends our perception and questions what identity really is. What do you think 'self' is? Is it how we perceive ourselves? Or how others perceive us? Is it our actions, or our intentions that show who we are? In her two essays, Woolf uses two different points of view: first person and third person omniscient. Why do you think she used point of view? Which do you prefer? Lived 1882-1941
Struggled with depression
Distinctive stream-of-consciousness style
Influenced by Dostoevsky
Well known works include:
A Room of One's Own
Committed suicide, age 59