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Reflecting the modernist fascination with science, Virginia Woolfs representations of nature are informed by a wide-ranging interest in contemporary developments in the life sciences. Christina Alt analyses Woolfs responses to disciplines ranging from taxonomy and the new biology of the laboratory to ethology and ecology and illustrates how Woolf drew on the methods and objectives of the contemporary life sciences to describe her own literary experiments. Through the examination of Woolfs engagement with shifting approaches to the study of nature, this work covers new ground in Woolf studies and makes an important contribution to the understanding of modernist exchanges between literature and science. c h r i s t i n a a lt is a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Ottawa. She has contributed to numerous collections on the work of Virginia Woolf.




Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, So Paulo, Delhi, Dubai, Tokyo Cambridge University Press The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York www.cambridge.org Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521196550 Christina Alt 2010 This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provision of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published in print format 2010 ISBN-13 ISBN-13 978-0-511-78956-4 978-0-521-19655-0 eBook (NetLibrary) Hardback

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Acknowledgements List of abbreviations Introduction 1 2 3 4 5 The natural history tradition The modern life sciences To pin through the body with a name: Virginia Woolf and the taxonomic tradition Laboratory coats and field-glasses: Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature Representing the manner of our seeing: literary experimentation and scientific analogy

page vi ix 1 14 38 72 106 168 192 208 220

Notes Bibliography Index


This book began as a dissertation, and I would first like to thank my doctoral supervisor Sally Bayley for her unstinting support and for enriching my work through the guidance that she so generously offered. I am grateful as well to Hermione Lee and Valentine Cunningham for their cogent advice and direction in the early stages of this project and to Michael Herbert and Mary Joannou for their keen insights and kind encouragement. I am deeply grateful to the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission for the scholarship that made possible my early work on this project and to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for the doctoral and postdoctoral fellowships that supported the later stages of this work. Lincoln College provided a community in which to live and study and supported my research through grants for conference attendance, and I would like to thank Stephen Gill and Anne-Marie Drummond in particular for their advice and kindness. I am grateful to Marius Kwint at the University of Oxford History of Art Department for allowing me to attend his graduate seminars on the history of collection, and I would like to thank the staff at the Bodleian Library, the University of Oxford Zoology Library, the British Library, and the Entomology Library at the Natural History Museum for assisting my research. I am extremely grateful to my postdoctoral supervisor Donald Childs for advising me on countless particulars, reading draft chapters, providing perspective on revisions, and helping me to navigate the publication process, as well as for the unfailing support and guidance that he has offered in the years since I first encountered Virginia Woolf in his undergraduate classroom. I am similarly grateful to



Nicholas von Maltzahn for being a constant source of advice and support and for checking in with words of encouragement at regular intervals over many years. It has been a pleasure returning to the University of Ottawa, and I would like to thank Craig Gordon and Anne Raine in particular for their insight into related areas of research. I am grateful as well to Patricia Rae, Edward Lobb, Marta Straznicky, and Tracy Ware for their support during and after my time at Queens University. The opportunity to present work at the annual Virginia Woolf conferences held between 2003 and 2009 allowed me to test my developing ideas, and I am grateful to the many scholars who posed helpful questions and suggested promising lines of inquiry that strengthened my arguments. I am extremely grateful to Ray Ryan and Maartje Scheltens at Cambridge University Press for guiding me through the publication process and for their advice, support, and patience throughout. I would also like to thank the Presss anonymous readers for their valuable suggestions, and I am grateful to Joanna Garbutt, Sarah Roberts, and Janet Tyrrell for their help during the production of this book. I am fortunate to have an incomparable group of friends who have offered support and distraction as needed: Heather Beatty, Sue Bowness, Natalie Chow, Fiona Cochrane, Angela Deziel, Alex Faludy, Dorritta Fong, Johanna Fridriksdottir, Ariel Lebowitz, Dilshad Marolia, Nicole Milligan, Jasmine and Morgan Nicholsfigueiredo, Lucy Paul, Sarah Robinson, Eleanor Sheppard, April Warman, Louisa Wynn-MacKenzie, and everyone at Aboliao Capoeira. Above all, I thank my mother, Bea, for listening endlessly and talking me through; my father, Fred, for his unwavering support; and my grandmother, Li, for oatmeal cookies, bird facts, and tippy-chair revelations. Without their unceasing love and encouragement, this book would have been impossible. Portions of this book have already appeared in print. The analysis of A Room of Ones Own that appears in Chapters 4 and 5 was published in a somewhat revised form as Virginia Woolf and the NaturalistNovelist in Virginia Woolf and the Art of Exploration: Selected



Papers from the Fifteenth International Conference on Virginia Woolf, ed. Helen Southworth and Elisa Kay Sparks (2006), and an earlier version of the discussion of Eleanor Ormerod that appears in Chapter 4 was published as Pests and Pesticides: Exploring the Boundaries of Woolfs Environmentalism in Woolfian Boundaries: Selected Papers from the Sixteenth Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf, ed. Anna Burrells, Steve Ellis, Deborah Parsons, and Kathryn Simpson (2007). These works are reprinted here with the permission of Clemson University Digital Press. An earlier version of the treatment of Jacobs Room that appears in Chapters 3 and 5 was published as Virginia Woolf and Changing Conceptions of Nature in Virginia Woolfs Bloomsbury, Volume 1: Aesthetic Theory and Literary Practice, ed. Gina Potts and Lisa Shahriari (2010); it is reproduced with the permission of Palgrave Macmillan.


Works by Virginia W oolf

AROO BTA CE CSF D E F HPGN JR L MD MEL MOB ND O PA RF TG TTL TW TWHD TY VO A Room of Ones Own Between the Acts Collected Essays (4 volumes) The Complete Shorter Fiction The Diary of Virginia Woolf (5 volumes) The Essays of Virginia Woolf (4 volumes) Flush Hyde Park Gate News Jacobs Room The Letters of Virginia Woolf (6 volumes) Mrs Dalloway Melymbrosia Moments of Being Night and Day Orlando A Passionate Apprentice Roger Fry Three Guineas To the Lighthouse The Waves The Waves: The Two Holograph Drafts The Years The Voyage Out

Wo r k b y M a r i e C a r m i c h a e l (S t o p e s)
LC Loves Creation ix


In Birds and Man (1901), the nature writer W. H. Hudson attacks the preoccupation with specimen collection that had long characterised the natural history tradition, describing preserved bird specimens as a falsification and degradation of nature and presenting the specimen collector as stricken by the curious delusion that the lustre which we see and admire [in a living bird] is in the case, the coat, the substance which may be grasped, and not in the spirit of life which is within and the atmosphere and miracle-working sunlight which are without.1 In place of this artificial preservation, he recommends the observation of living birds in the wild and speaks of the enduring power of his memories of such sightings, this incalculable wealth of images of vanished scenes.2 The opposition that Hudson sets up between the capture of specimens and the observation of living creatures reflects a broad shift in the study of nature that began around the turn of the century, and this shift resonates beyond the study of nature to a change in outlook that characterised Virginia Woolfs literary modernism. Woolf alludes to the study of nature as a means of articulating wider ideas about the perception and description of life. In The Lady in the LookingGlass: A Reflection, two views of a room and its occupant are juxtaposed. The room as it appears reflected in a looking-glass has an arranged and composed quality, as though the reflected forms had ceased to breathe and lay still in the trance of immortality (CSF 217, 216). The stillness and immortality conferred by the lookingglass recall the permanence of a preserved specimen, immortal only in death (217). Against the static reflections of the looking-glass, Woolf sets the appearance of the room viewed directly, as if by one

Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

of those naturalists who, covered with grass and leaves, lie watching the shyest animals badgers, otters, kingfishers moving about freely (215). Viewed from this perspective, the room appears full of lights and shadows pirouetting across the floor, stepping delicately with high-lifted feet and spread tails and pecking allusive beaks as if they had been cranes or flocks of elegant flamingoes whose pink was faded, or peacocks whose trains were veined with silver (ibid.). Through her description of the deadening vision of the looking-glass, Woolf suggests the error of seeking to fix and preserve the eternal truth of ones subject; however, through her representation of the naturalists perspective, she maintains that another view of life is possible for the observer who remains attentive to the transient and the perishing (217, 216). In her writing, Woolf repeatedly draws upon disparate approaches to the study of nature for analogies through which to suggest contrasting methods of seeing and recording life. In an effort to unpack the significance of Woolfs allusions to nature and its study, this book offers an account of the trends that shaped the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century life sciences, demonstrates Woolfs familiarity with these developments, and outlines the coherent position that she adopted in relation to disciplines ranging from the taxonomic tradition of natural history to the new biology of the laboratory and the emerging disciplines of ethology and ecology.3 Woolfs engagement with the contemporary life sciences illustrates her sense of a shared outlook linking modern developments across the arts and sciences and her conviction that shifts in focus and approach occurring in one field could provide a means of articulating new aims and strategies in another. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw considerable change in the life sciences. Most famously, evolutionary theory was the focus of continuing study and debate, but there were other, concurrent developments. Taxonomic natural history, centred on the collection of specimens and the classification of species, had absorbed the attention of British naturalists for much of the nineteenth century, but in the closing decades of the century the museum-based taxonomic tradition was supplanted by the new biology of the laboratory


as the predominant approach to the study of nature. The new biology shifted attention from the classification of endless species to subjects such as morphology and physiology, the study of the structure and functioning of organisms. The focus on cataloguing organic forms was replaced by a desire to understand life processes, and taxonomic natural history came to be viewed as an outmoded practice by the new generation of laboratory biologists. As the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, the study of nature underwent further expansion as a result of the growing interest in studying living organisms in action in their natural environment. Ethology, the study of animal behaviour, and ecology, the study of the interrelationships among organisms and between organisms and their environment, both emerged as scientific disciplines around the turn of the century. Ethology developed through work such as Edmund Selouss, H. Eliot Howards, and Julian Huxleys studies of territorial behaviour and courtship in birds, while ecology had its origins in the plant sciences, with early studies of plant distribution and vegetation dynamics leading to the establishment of the British Ecological Society and the Journal of Ecology in 1913. Woolf was familiar with the developments taking place in the life sciences over the course of her lifetime. She grew up in the closing days of what David Elliston Allen describes as the long high summer of Victorian natural history, botanising with her father and collecting and classifying butterflies and moths with her siblings under the direction of the Reverend F. O. Morriss mid-nineteenth-century works of popular natural history.4 As an adult, Woolf was equally familiar with developing trends and perspectives in the modern study of nature through the work of naturalists such as W. H. Hudson and JeanHenri Fabre, treatments of laboratory biology and applied biology by Marie Stopes and Eleanor Ormerod, and surveys of the biological sciences such as H. G. Wells, Julian Huxley, and G. P. Wellss The Science of Life, which discussed subjects ranging from taxonomy and evolution to ecology and behaviour. Articles on plant and animal life were so common in newspapers and popular periodicals that Woolf, when constructing a representative list of the contents of The Times in An Unwritten Novel, included the habits of birds among the

Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

papers typical offerings: births, deaths, marriages, Court Circular, the habits of birds, Leonardo da Vinci, the Sandhills murder, high wages and the cost of living (CSF 106). Woolfs representations of nature and its study were thus shaped by a cluster of competing and co-operating disciplines within the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century life sciences made known to the public through works of popular science and nature writing. All of this suggests that in order to fully understand Woolfs own views of nature it is necessary to consider the study of nature as it was practised in her lifetime. I therefore read Woolfs descriptions of nature and its study in the context of contemporary developments in the life sciences, drawing on late nineteenth- and early twentiethcentury formulations of the life sciences, and in particular on descriptions of nature and its study intended for a popular audience, in order to recover the conception of the life sciences available to an early twentieth-century non-specialist reader. In adopting this approach I emulate scholars such as Gillian Beer, Michael H. Whitworth, Holly Henry, Elizabeth G. Lambert, Donald J. Childs, David Bradshaw, and Craig Gordon, whose work refers to the early twentieth-century scientific context and to popular formulations of science as a means of comprehending modernist responses to disciplines ranging from the new physics and astronomy to evolution, eugenics, and the biomedical sciences. As part of a wider effort to demonstrate the omnivorousness of [Woolfs] appetite for understanding, Beer has asserted the importance of challenging the long-standing assumption that Woolf was ignorant of and uninterested in science.5 To this end, she has considered Woolfs responses to disciplines ranging from evolutionary theory to the new physics. Building upon this foundation, Whitworth and Henry have examined Woolfs engagement with the new physics and astronomy in the work of popular science writers such as Arthur Eddington and James Jeans; Lambert has analysed Woolfs borrowings from Darwinian arguments; Childs and Bradshaw have considered Woolfs responses to eugenical ideas; and Gordon has demonstrated Woolfs use of language and concepts drawn from a cluster of turn-of-the-century biomedical sciences. Such scholarship


reveals Woolfs receptivity to a wide range of scientific disciplines and demonstrates the value of reading Woolf in relation to late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century scientific trends. The current study contributes to this body of work by opening new areas of the life sciences to examination. By considering Woolfs perceptions of the clash between taxonomic natural history and the new biology, and her responses to emerging disciplines such as ethology and ecology, it broadens understanding of Woolfs engagement with modern scientific developments. Research into the scientific frame of reference available to an early twentieth-century audience can add substance and particularity to the interpretation of nature in Woolfs writing. Woolfs representations of nature were for a long time read in broadly symbolic terms in a continuation of an interpretive tradition stretching back to classical and biblical associations of the butterfly with the soul and the ant with industry. Avrom Fleishman regards the butterflies and moths in Woolfs writing as associated with the human soul in an emblem of long tradition; Judy Larrick Robinson cites the Greek and early Christian view of insect metamorphosis as symbolic of the souls escape from the body; and Rachel Sarsfield traces the use of insect imagery through Greek literature, scripture, Shakespeare, Milton, the Augustan satirists, and the Romantics as background to her consideration of Woolfs insect symbolism.6 Interpretations of Woolfs nature imagery that draw upon this symbolic tradition can result in persuasive readings of her work, but a scientific frame of reference adds rigour and specificity to the understanding of Woolfs nature imagery. In her analysis of Woolfs use of images of insect metamorphosis, Christine Froula initially notes the analogy that Woolf sets up in the short story The Introduction between a butterflys emergence from its chrysalis, an event that marks its attainment of physical and sexual maturity, and Lily Everits newfound sense of being a woman as she attends her first evening party (CSF 179).7 However, Froula subsequently dismisses the analogy between emergence and maturation in favour of an interpretation more in keeping with the long-standing symbolic association of metamorphosis with spiritual (re)birth. She argues that the chrysalis

Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

figure in Woolfs writing describes not the sexual maturity of a womans body but the miraculous births of her own creative imagination, transformations no less wonderful than those of natural procreation, and she suggests that the moth imagery in Woolfs later writing figure[s] the artist-self to which Woolf gave birth through the painful labor of her first novel.8 To thus relate artistic creation to procreation by way of chrysalis imagery is to disregard the fact that the emergence of a butterfly or moth from its chrysalis marks not its birth, biologically speaking, but rather its attainment of adulthood. Froula rejects a purely biological interpretation of Woolfs insect imagery on the grounds of the determinism of a narrowly biological understanding of womens social roles. However, while Woolf critiqued the ways in which biology was used to justify the restriction of women to limited gender identities, she did not abandon the use of biologically accurate imagery as a result. She persisted, for example, in her use of metamorphosis and emergence as an analogy for maturation. In Sketch of the Past, she recalls thinking; feeling; living at the age of fifteen with the intensity, the muffled intensity, which a butterfly or moth feels when with its sticky tremulous legs and antennae it pushes out of the chrysalis and emerges and sits quivering beside the broken case for a moment; its wings still creased; its eyes dazzled, incapable of flight (MOB 130) It is through the physical particularity of this description that Woolf conveys the acute sensitivity and vulnerability that she felt as she sought to emerge from the unformed state of adolescence into adulthood (ibid.). Woolfs faithfulness to biological fact, a product of her long acquaintance with the study of nature, lends force to her imagery and suggests the value of reading her representations of nature through the lens of science. Familiarity with shifting trends in the study of nature can also aid in the interpretation of Woolfs representations of the natural world. Symbolic readings of Woolfs nature imagery that allude to the study of nature tend to treat it as an unchanging practice represented by the taxonomic tradition of specimen collection and classification that Woolf encountered as a child. Harvena Richter presents the moth hunt as a metaphor for [Woolfs] own creative process: she regards the moth hunter as representative of the writer, searching to pin


down words and ideas that flit in the dark places of the brain, and she equates the moth, dead and composed in the poison pot, with the writers completed work.9 However, Richter also argues that Woolf identified with the moths sense of being pursued, being destroyed by unknown and hostile forces.10 There is an element of contradiction inherent in this argument that the moth hunt is at once emblematic of Woolfs writing process and symbolic of threat. Judy Larrick Robinson offers a similarly conflicted argument in her suggestion that the capture of insect specimens served as a metaphor for [Woolfs] desire to net new forms and meaning in her novels, while the symbol of the moth, trapped, hunted, poisoned and exhibited, acted as a warning regarding the fate of women in patriarchal society.11 Rachel Sarsfield draws attention to the internal contradictions of such readings and seeks to resolve them through the argument that Woolfs desire to capture life in her writing paradoxically conflicts with her view that to pin or define it will inevitably be as destructive an act as the killing and pinning of the butterfly/moth that she consistently associates with life.12 Sarsfield regards this as a perennial tension in Woolfs work and one that ultimately drove her to despair of the efficacy of writing. Sarsfield contends:
In setting up the associations that she did between lepidoptera, life and writing eventually Woolf backed (or pinned) herself into a corner: seeing language as lepidoptera and vice versa, it was perhaps inevitable that she should ultimately conclude that when words are pinned down they fold their wings and die. This conclusion is a fatal one for a writer to come to, and may have been literally fatal to Virginia Woolf.13

Sarsfields conclusion of Woolfs fatal pessimism offers one means of resolving the contradictions of Richters and Robinsons arguments. However, other interpretations present themselves if one extends the idea of an analogy between the study of nature and the writing of fiction to include approaches other than specimen collection. Sarsfield, like Richter and Robinson, accepts the taxonomic tradition of natural history as the sole scientific frame of reference within which to analyse Woolfs comparison between the pinning of a specimen and the representation of a subject in writing. Yet, if associations with the

Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

practice of specimen collection suggested to Woolf the drawbacks of treating the capture and pinning of ones subject as ones narrative goal, emergent scientific disciplines that focused on the observation of living organisms in action in their environment offered alternative analogies through which to conceive of the description of life in fiction. To interpret Woolfs allusions to nature without reference to the full range of scientific trends that shaped modernist attitudes towards the natural world is to perceive only a fraction of her meaning. Another critical perspective relevant to the consideration of Woolfs representations of nature and its study is ecocriticism. Ecocriticism encompasses a wide range of approaches to the study of literature and environment, from place studies and animal studies to ecofeminism and ecophenomenology. Ecocritics such as William Howarth and Glen A. Love advocate the use of scientific explanations of nature as a means of grounding ecocritical interpretation in fact: Howarth asserts the need for greater ecological literacy among ecocritics, while Love argues that ecocritics have much more to gain than to fear from the company of the sciences, particularly the life sciences.14 Ecocritics working in this vein often draw on current scientific arguments, seeking, as Love states, to ground todays ecocriticism in todays best science.15 I share Loves sense of the value of employing a scientific frame of reference, although in accordance with my interest in modernist exchanges between literature and science, I focus specifically on the life sciences in their late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century form. Since the rise of ecocriticism as an interpretive framework, Woolf has become a not uncommon subject for ecocritical analysis. Scholars such as Josephine Donovan, Carol H. Cantrell, Louise Westling, and Bonnie Kime Scott have noted Woolfs attention to the natural world and have presented her as a proto-ecofeminist and an author whose work displays an ecological humanism an awareness of humanity as part of the natural world that is only now beginning to become publicly explicit through ecological thinking.16 There is abundant evidence in Woolfs writing of her alertness to the more-than-human world. To repeat two frequently cited examples, in the Time Passes section of To the Lighthouse, Woolf decentres the human through her


description of the slow action of nature upon the Ramsay house, in the midst of which human events are relegated to brief parenthetical asides; and in the village pageant at the centre of Between the Acts, nature takes her part, filling the gap and continuing the emotion when the energy of Miss La Trobes play seems in danger of dissipating, in a manner that highlights the constant interaction and exchange between human beings and the natural world (BTA 114).17 There is clearly a great deal of scope for the ecocritical interpretation of Woolf and much valuable work has already been done in this area. It is worth noting, however, that ecocritical readings of Woolf often take current environmentalist assumptions and ecocritical theories as their starting point and treat Woolfs writing as a prescient anticipation of late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century views. Kelly Sultzbach states that Woolfs work predates environmental science and concludes as a result that Woolfs writing demonstrates a prescient awareness of an environmental ethic.18 L. Elizabeth Waller presents Woolf as all the more remarkable because she had no true environmental visionaries with whom to conspire, and Charlotte Zo Walker likewise suggests that Woolf anticipated the environmental movement of the latter half of the twentieth century, express[ing] poetically what Rachel Carson argues scientifically in Silent Spring [1962] and elsewhere, that all life is interrelated, is a vast web of life, all of which needs to be taken into account.19 However, the argument of Woolfs prescience can be disputed through reference to Woolfs contemporary scientific context. Ecology emerged as a recognised scientific discipline in Britain during Woolfs lifetime and its central tenets were disseminated to the general public by popular science writers: in a chapter on ecology in Botany; or, The Modern Study of Plants, published in 1912 as part of the Peoples Books series, Marie Carmichael Stopes describes ecology as a very recent branch of botany only taken up in England in the last ten years that considers the plant in relation to its environment and its neighbours; in popular works of ornithology such as How Birds Live (1927) and The Art of Bird-Watching (1931), E. M. Nicholson recommends the study of bird ecology to his readers; and in their chapter on The Science of Ecology in The Science of Life a book


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

that Woolf mentions reading between December 1931 and February 1932 (L iv: 410, 418; D iv: 68) H. G. Wells, Julian Huxley, and G. P. Wells describe ecology as a fresh way of regarding life, by considering the balances and mutual pressures of species living in the same habitat.20 Woolfs attention to the world beyond the human and her awareness of the intricate interrelationships among organisms in a shared environment can thus be understood as a product of her familiarity with the work of contemporary nature and science writers. Furthermore, because early ecology displayed concerns that distinguish it from present-day conceptions of ecology, it is useful to read Woolf in relation to the science of her time. Of all Woolfs ecocritical interpreters, Louise Westling has gone furthest in grounding Woolfs representations of nature in early twentieth-century science. In Virginia Woolf and the Flesh of the World she offers a compelling ecophenomenological reading of Woolfs work and suggests that Woolfs ecological humanism had a scientific basis. However, Westling does not draw her scientific frame of reference from the life sciences. Instead, she notes Woolfs familiarity with the new physics, judges Einsteins outlook to be surprisingly ecological, and by way of the epistemological lessons of relativity, wave theory, and the interdependency of observer and phenomenon observed from quantum physics links Woolf to an ecological humanism that parallels physics.21 Westlings argument draws ecocriticism, Maurice Merleau-Pontys phenomenology, and the new physics together into a complex web of interconnecting ideas. However, the links between Woolfs ecological thinking and the early twentieth-century emergence of ecology as a scientific discipline in its own right remain to be considered. There are indications that scholars are beginning to read Woolfs nature imagery with early twentieth-century perspectives on nature and the life sciences in mind. Ian Blyth has noted the frequent appearance of rooks in Woolfs writing and has demonstrated the accuracy of Woolfs observations of these birds through reference to the works of contemporary nature writers such as W. H. Hudson and E. M. Nicholson; Richard Espley, while discussing the trope of animality in Woolfs writing, has considered her familiarity with and responses to



the London Zoo; and Michael Herbert has judged To the Lighthouse as a regional novel in part through a comparison of the novels descriptions of scenery and wildlife with early twentieth-century descriptions of the flora and fauna of the Isle of Skye.22 The 2010 conference on Virginia Woolf and the Natural World, which had yet to take place when this book went to print, will without doubt immensely enrich this area of Woolf studies. In addressing the influence of disciplines such as the new biology, ethology, and ecology on modernist writers such as Woolf, this study complements existing work on the cultural impact of the physical and biomedical sciences and of evolutionary theory in particular. In studies of the cultural influence of the life sciences, evolutionary theory often receives the bulk of scholarly attention. This focus is understandable and justified, on the grounds of both the far-ranging social impact of the controversies over evolution and the explanatory power of evolutionary ideas. Yet other disciplines within the life sciences also had a demonstrable influence on popular conceptions of nature and similarly reward consideration. The historian of science Charles Coulston Gillispie maintains that methodological and institutional innovations within the study of nature bore as much responsibility for the development of the modern life sciences as the theories that motivated and divided scientific practitioners.23 Revisionist historians such as Adrian Desmond and Paul White likewise assert that modern biology is as much a product of the nineteenth-century displacement of taxonomic museum work by the new biology of the laboratory as a result of disputes over evolutionary theory.24 Similarly, in the early twentieth century, alongside the search for a theory that would reconcile Darwinian evolution and Mendelian genetics, the disciplines of ethology and ecology gained institutional status and brought about a return to fieldwork with a new focus on the observation of living organisms in their natural environment. These emergent disciplines influenced the public perception of nature just as much as did the search for a new evolutionary synthesis, not least because the scientific study of the behaviour and interrelationships of organisms had a recreational equivalent in activities such as bird-watching. By considering a cluster of approaches to the study of nature in the late


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this work draws attention to the breadth of the turn-of-the-century life sciences and the complexity of the interrelationships between their component disciplines, thus providing the basis for an analysis of the corresponding complexity of Woolfs responses to developments in the study of nature. This book is concerned with Woolfs perceptions of trends within the life sciences. Her representations of nature itself have a place in this discussion, but her responses to differing approaches to the study of nature constitute the central focus of this work. The first two chapters of the book therefore survey the approaches that characterised the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century life sciences. The first chapter examines taxonomic natural history as both a scientific discipline and a popular pastime in nineteenth-century Britain, and discusses Woolfs childhood encounter with taxonomy by way of mid-Victorian works of popular natural history. The second chapter considers the disciplines that arose to challenge the taxonomic tradition in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, among them the new biology of the laboratory, ethology, and ecology. The remaining chapters of the book discuss Woolfs own allusions to the life sciences. The third chapter surveys Woolfs attitudes towards the taxonomic natural history tradition and the associated practices of collection and classification. The fourth chapter examines Woolfs responses to the emergent disciplines of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries through her references to subjects such as Mendels laws of inheritance, laboratory work, pest extermination, bird-watching, and habitat niches, as well as her allusions to nature and science writers such as W. H. Hudson, Richard Jeffries, JeanHenri Fabre, and H. G. Wells. Reading Woolfs writing on nature and its study in conjunction with the work of her scientific contemporaries demonstrates the coherence of Woolfs views on developments in the life sciences and the extent to which these views reflected the scientific outlook of her time. The final chapter returns to the contemplation of Woolfs nature imagery and, with contemporary developments in the life sciences as a frame of reference, examines the ways in which Woolf employs disparate approaches to the study of nature as analogies through which to consider the representation of life in fiction.



In Quantum Poetics: Yeats, Pound, Eliot, and the Science of Modernism, Daniel Albright states that [p]hysics, biology, literature, music, painting, each has its separate technique and separate purpose; but they radiate out of some common center.25 Woolfs use of developments in the life sciences as a means of contrasting methods of seeing and describing life suggests her sense that modern developments in every field expressed a common shift in focus and approach and that developments in the study of nature might therefore serve as apt analogies for literary experimentation.

Chapter 1

The natural history tradition

Due to the unique conditions governing the life sciences in Britain in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as a result of which stagnation gave way to rapid change, Woolf was familiar with a range of scientific approaches to the study of nature. The lingering influence of the so-called classics of mid-nineteenth-century popular natural history ensured Woolfs childhood familiarity with the taxonomic tradition in its quintessentially mid-Victorian form; however, rapid changes in the life sciences in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries meant that she also witnessed the rise of laboratory biology, ethology, and ecology as alternative means of studying nature.1 The next two chapters provide the historical and scientific background necessary to understand late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century developments in and perceptions of the life sciences. This chapter focuses on the taxonomic tradition of natural history, a necessary point of departure for any discussion of the development of the modern life sciences, for the new disciplines that arose in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries defined themselves against this tradition. The practitioners of the emerging disciplines of this period were inclined to be dismissive of taxonomic work, viewing it as a preoccupation that had impeded the progress of the life sciences in Britain, and this bias in the outlook of Woolfs scientific contemporaries was an important element of the intellectual context in which Woolfs own perceptions of the various disciplines of the life sciences were formed. This outlook was arguably reductive, failing to acknowledge either the extent to which modern developments were enabled by earlier taxonomic work or the continuing need for

The natural history tradition


taxonomic knowledge, but it is true that pursued to the exclusion of other approaches to the study of nature (as it had been in Britain for much of the nineteenth century), taxonomic work had a narrowing effect.2 Woolfs writing is liberally scattered with allusions to specimen collection and the classification of species, the practices that formed the basis of taxonomic natural history. She speaks of butterfly nets, poison pots, setting boards, and butterfly boxes smelling of camphor (a preservative); tin botanical cases and pressed flowers; crabs captured from tidal pools, collections of seaweed, and marine curiosities preserved in little glass jars; schoolboy natural history societies and explorers who died in South American jungles leaving behind collections of bird skins. She describes beetling expeditions, visits to the Insect Room at the Natural History Museum, sugaring for moths, despatching butterflies with sulphur fumes, and poring for hours over reference works to identify fantastically named species such as the Heart and Dart and the Setaceous Hebrew Character. Yet Woolf is wary of the outlook inculcated by the taxonomic ordering of nature, which she links to broader social concerns. In A Society, for example, Woolf alludes to the fact that the least insect in Japan has a name twice the length of its body, to illustrate the insatiable need of those who have cultivated their intellect along the lines laid down by patriarchal society to assert their authority over the world around them (CSF 129). A critical view of mid-Victorian scientific institutions and practices was a distinguishing feature of the modern scientific outlook, and Woolfs suspicions of the taxonomic tradition of natural history are thus in keeping with the early twentieth-century view of taxonomy as a narrow and limited approach to the natural world. This chapter surveys the history of the taxonomic tradition of natural history and explains the associations, both scientific and cultural, that the practice had acquired by the end of the nineteenth century that shaped Woolfs responses to it. As the nineteenth century opened, taxonomic natural history was already firmly established as the dominant approach to the study of nature in Britain. Taxonomy as a branch of the life sciences is concerned with the classification of living (and extinct) organisms, with


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

their naming and arrangement in a system. The scientific classification of organisms is based on the physical and, more particularly, structural attributes of an organism, on the number, form, proportion, and situation of its organs. Physical specimens form the material basis of the classification of species, and the specimen collection is therefore integral to taxonomic work. Modern taxonomy had its origins in the seventeenth century in the work of naturalists such as John Ray, but it was Carolus Linnaeus in the eighteenth century who standardised the approach and made it universally practicable. Linnaeus simplified taxonomic work through his introduction of an artificial system of classification, that is, a system according to which species were distinguished on the basis of a single key feature, rather than through a complete analysis of the organism. He chose to classify species on the basis of their reproductive organs, a feature closely related to one of the defining characteristics of a species, its ability to interbreed within its own group and its inability to interbreed viably with other groups. He also instituted a binomial system of nomenclature according to which each organism was given a succinct twopart name indicating genus and species that replaced the longer, less standardised descriptive names used by earlier classifiers. To name a species in the Linnaean manner was thus to locate it within the existing taxonomic hierarchy. Linnaeus defined the botanist as one qui nominibus noscit nominare, who can give the right names, and to approaches other than classification he scarcely accorded the rank of science.3 Despite the dominance of taxonomy, however, another model for the study of nature existed at the end of the eighteenth century in the behavioural work of Gilbert White, a clergyman-naturalist and author of The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne. Although White, like his contemporaries, engaged in taxonomic work, taxonomy was never his foremost concern. June E. Chatfield argues that Whites prime interest was in the behaviour of animals and he had comparatively little regard for the traditional work of zoologists and botanists who did, and intended to do, no more than give names to new species.4 White observed the habits of animals, monitoring the changing appetite of a tortoise preparing itself for hibernation,

The natural history tradition


commenting on the differing behaviour displayed by members of the same bird species in different localities, and noting the ways in which birds songs changed with the season and with their business.5 He was also alert to environmental impacts, noting the effect of wind direction on the species that reached Britain in a given year and the influence of diet upon the colouring of birds plumage.6 He argued that while taxonomy had its place, the naturalist should be by no means content with a list of names Not that the system is by any means to be thrown aside; without system the field of Nature would be a pathless wilderness: but system should be subservient to, not the main object of, pursuit.7 Likewise, while he shot animals for study, White did not collect for collections sake. The twentieth-century naturalist and conservationist E. M. Nicholson argues that, while other naturalists in this period had the beginnings of the collecting craze in them, White was unusual among his contemporaries in remaining altogether immune from the leprosy of collecting.8 White undoubtedly served as an inspiration to many Victorian naturalists. He was admired as a template of the English parsonnaturalist and read for his perception of Gods creative power in the variety of the natural world.9 The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne went through scores of reprints over the course of the nineteenth century. (As the popularity of Whites book was primarily due to his treatment of nature subjects, these portions of the book were often republished alone as The Natural History of Selborne.) However, Lynn Barber argues that although almost all Victorian naturalists professed to admire Gilbert White, remarkably few succeeded in emulating him in his behavioural approach to the study of nature.10 It would not be until the rise of ethology at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth that the behaviour of the living organism in its own environment would re-emerge as a central focus of the study of nature. Barber concludes that it was Linnaeus, rather than White, who set the pattern that natural history was to take for the entire first half of the nineteenth century.11 The singlemindedness with which the taxonomic approach was pursued would later be regarded as lamentable by some: writing from the vantage point of 1913, the turn-of-the-century botanist F. W. Oliver declared


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

Linnaeuss long and pervasive influence to be proof that the evil that men do lives after them.12 Olivers comment appears extreme, but it reflects the frustration felt by proponents of the modern life sciences over the extent to which the interests of taxonomists had controlled the study of nature in nineteenth-century Britain. Ta xon o m i c n at u r a l h i s t o ry i n t h e n i n e t e e n t h c e n t u ry While the taxonomic tradition of natural history had its origins in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, historians of science agree in characterising the nineteenth century as The Heyday of Natural History, the golden age of natural history collecting in Britain, the age of museums, and the hey-day of the English parson-naturalist.13 Taxonomic work continued at an ever-increasing rate throughout the nineteenth century: to take bird species as an example, Linnaeus recorded 444 species of birds in 1758 and by 1817 Cuvier could list 765, but in 1862 Richard Owen gave an estimate of 8,000 bird species.14 The most obvious reason for the continuation of the taxonomic project into the nineteenth century was that the task of classifying the world remained unfinished: as John Willinsky notes, This effort to name the whole of the living realm ranks among the more ambitious and presumptuous projects in science (and it is not over yet).15 However, the nineteenth-century intensification of taxonomic work requires further explanation. One reason may be found in technical developments. Certain practical preconditions necessary to the fullfledged pursuit of natural history were only achieved around the turn of the century: advances in firearm technology made the collection of specimens more efficient; even more important was the discovery of a reliable means of preserving natural history specimens. Until the close of the eighteenth century, there was no commonly known method for the long-term preservation of animal specimens, with the result that virtually all pre-1800 specimens have long ago disintegrated.16 However, with the publication of the formula for Jean-Baptiste Bcouers arsenical soap in 1800, it became possible to preserve animal specimens from insects and decomposition without

The natural history tradition


harm to the specimen, and by 1830 Bcouers recipe, or modifications to it, were in use everywhere.17 This development was crucial to the rationalisation of taxonomic work. It permitted the specimen collection to function as a permanent reference tool, thus providing a key to the standardisation of nomenclature and enabling taxonomy to progress on a more scientific basis.18 The impact of these new preservation techniques on the scope and focus of specimen collection was immense. With the development of reliable preservation methods, the appeal of collection increased and the number of collectors grew. Naturalists, both expert and recreational, devoted themselves to amassing collections on an unprecedented scale. While in the eighteenth century, collections of more than 3000 birds had been the exception, the largest private collections of bird specimens in the nineteenth century held tens of thousands of skins.19 The largest private insect collections grew to contain millions of specimens, and so many people busied themselves with entomological collecting that John Lubbock described the period as the age of collections of insects.20 Nineteenth-century collectors aimed at comprehensiveness, seeking out representative species, rarities, and aberrations to complete their series. In 1881, the specimen collection was given independent institutional form with the founding of the British Museum (Natural History) and the monumentalisation of the natural history collection in Britain was complete. The practice of taxonomic natural history persisted as the focus of serious and popular science in Britain longer than it did on the Continent. Certain national conditions Britains imperial status, a national inclination towards inductive science, a tendency to yoke science to religion, and a lack of state support for science combined to make Britain particularly suited to the practice of taxonomy in the nineteenth century, while delaying other developments such as the professionalisation of the life sciences, the rise of the laboratory, and the turn to morphological and physiological work that had already begun in France and the German states. These conditions gave to Victorian natural history a simultaneous ubiquity and stasis against which both later practitioners of the life sciences and modern cultural observers such as Woolf would react.


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

All the nations of Europe participated in the project of classifying the world, for collecting and classifying the plant and animal life of foreign lands served as a means of demonstrating control over them. For Britain in particular, however, with its vast empire, the continuous influx of specimens from its colonies made it difficult to see beyond the immediate task of classification. As the botanist F. W. Oliver declared of the first three-quarters of the nineteenth century in Britain, taxonomy was the ruling preoccupation of the period under consideration, a direct outcome of colonial expansion and consolidation. Fed on unlimited supplies of new material from the ends of the earth the taxonomic habit became supreme.21 A national inclination towards inductive reasoning also drew British naturalists to taxonomic work. British science had long proceeded on Baconian lines, following the inductive method based on reasoning upwards from observed fact rather than on intuitive leaps or mathematical abstractions, and the taxonomic cataloguing of nature accorded well with this inclination.22 This commitment to inductive reasoning suited the politics of the time as well: Victorians sought a philosophy of science which went with stability and gradual reform rather than revolution, and which discouraged speculation.23 Taxonomy, concerned with fact rather than theory and emphasising the existence of order and hierarchy in the natural world, was an ideal science in this regard. Taxonomic natural history was viewed as a safe, moderate alternative to the new biological sciences developing in conjunction with political unrest on the Continent.24 The continued yoking of science to religion further limited the scope of scientific investigation. The study of nature as an end in itself, along the lines of the German idealisation of Wissenschaft, was a feature of the professionalisation of science in progress on the Continent that had no parallel in Britain for much of the nineteenth century.25 The study of natural history in Britain was most often justified through reference to the doctrine of natural theology, which held that the complexity and appearance of design in the natural world provided evidence of the existence and nature of a Divine Creator; the study of nature was thus presented as a means of recognising Gods creative power.26 William Paleys Natural Theology (1802),

The natural history tradition


which provided the authoritative nineteenth-century articulation of this argument, was reprinted almost annually throughout the nineteenth century and was made compulsory reading for undergraduates at Cambridge and Durham as a way of providing them with a scheme for fitting scientific knowledge into their world view.27 However, while promoting the study of nature, the doctrine of natural theology engendered a paradoxical lack of curiosity in the functioning of nature. Paley, for instance, argued that the complexity of nature was proof that there must be an intelligent mind, concerned in its production, order and support, and this led him to conclude that [t]hese points being assured to us by Natural Theology, we may well leave to Revelation the disclosure of many particulars, which our researches cannot reach.28 Barber judges that natural theology was basically inimical to scientific inquiry in that it permitted a falling back upon the argument that natural phenomena were as they were because God had so ordained them.29 While encouraging the cataloguing of natural forms as a means of appreciating the existence of design in nature, natural theology engendered resistance to both evolutionary speculation and the secular science of the new biology developing on the Continent.30 Another factor that perpetuated the British preoccupation with taxonomy was Britains slowness to professionalise the study of science. For most of the century, both formal education in the sciences and opportunities to conduct paid scientific work were lacking. Paul White summarises the backward state of science in nineteenth- century Britain with the observation that [a]t mid-century, the sciences in Britain had little of the career structure and few of the defining institutions of today, such as the large research laboratory with its team of experts, the academic department, or the university degree.31 Until mid-century, it was not possible to take a degree in the life sciences anywhere in Britain and even after the introduction of a natural sciences degree at Cambridge in 1848, the degree was long despised as new-fangled.32 Additionally, in Britain the state provided little support for the life sciences, a fact that D. S. L. Cardwell attributes to the extraordinarily parsimonious self-help system the product of a wider


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

laissez-faire mentality under which British science was pursued in the nineteenth century.33 The British Museums natural history collections did not gain independent institutional status until 1881 (nearly a century later than Pariss Musum national dHistoire naturelle), and before that time they received inadequate funding from the state. Early in the century there was not even sufficient staff to organise and maintain the collections properly, let alone to conduct research beyond these essential curatorial tasks.34 David Knight observes that the British Museum never fulfilled the role of the Parisian natural history museum, with its lectures and research school: initially it lacked the resources, and by the time the study of nature in Britain had become formalised, the laboratory had replaced the museum as the site of instruction.35 In the absence of formal science training, opportunities for paid employment, or state support for scientific work, the study of nature in Britain remained a largely amateur pursuit for much of the nineteenth century, and this amateurism impeded scientific organisation and innovation. The work for which Victorian science is best remembered Darwins theorisation of evolution masks the underdevelopment of the institutions of the nineteenth-century British life sciences and the delay in the introduction of new approaches to the study of nature emerging on the Continent. In fact, the revolutionary impact of Darwins theories and the general stagnation of the Victorian life sciences were two sides of the same coin, for it was when set against a conservative scientific tradition that regarded theorisation with suspicion and relied upon a theological justification for the study of nature that Darwins arguments assumed the appearance of radicalism. Consideration of the underlying institutional, methodological, and ideological characteristics of the nineteenth-century British life sciences demonstrates that for most of the century, Britain lagg[ed] far behind Continental developments.36 Incentives to taxonomic work in the form of improved preservation techniques, an endless supply of unclassified specimens from around the globe, a scientific tradition favouring the accumulation of facts over speculation, and the justification of the study of nature by means of natural theology

The natural history tradition


combined with impediments to the development of new disciplines in the form of a lack of science education, research institutions, or professional opportunities to ensure taxonomys persistence as the focus of the study of nature in Britain for much of the nineteenth century. It was from this scientific tradition that the popular pastime of natural history in which Woolf participated as a child was drawn. T h e p o p u l a r p r a c t i c e o f n at u r a l h i s t o ry Knight suggests that the nineteenth century can be regarded as the age of science in part because in this period science was not merely an intellectual activity, but also a social one, and in no field was this more true than in natural history.37 The lag in the professionalisation of the life sciences left the pursuit of serious research to amateur naturalists with the result that no clear demarcation existed between the expert and the hobbyist, and this encouraged the practice of natural history as a recreational activity. The prevailing focus on taxonomic work made natural history particularly accessible: when members of the public opened their newspapers to read of an Important New Scientific Discovery there was no danger of it being something daunting and incomprehensible like a new theory of plant biochemistry it was almost invariably a new species which, as often as not, would soon be exhibited in the zoological or botanical gardens.38 When Linnaeus first introduced his classification system in the eighteenth century, it was regarded as sensational and even obscene, rife with botanical innuendo, in its focus on sexual organs.39 By the early nineteenth century, however, Linnaean taxonomy had come to be viewed as safe and conventional: women, children, and the working class were encouraged to study botany, a pastime deemed as healthful as it is innocent.40 This new respectability was due in part to translations and reformulations of Linnaeuss work that masked the sexual basis of his classification system: Patricia Fara highlights in particular William Witherings bowdlerised botany, which translated contentious words into harmless but meaningless English equivalents such as chives and pointals. 41 Naturalists


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

themselves also benefited from this new respectability: while recreational practitioners of natural history in the eighteenth century were often mocked as trivial Macaroni, 42 by 1855 Charles Kingsley could declare: The study of Natural History has become now-a-days an honourable [pursuit].43 The nineteenth-century approval of natural history arose in part from perceptions of the pastime as a form of rational recreation. In Glaucus (1855), Kingsley recommends natural history as a stimulating alternative to making one more in the ignoble army of idlers who waste their leisure hours lounging in clubs, reading novels, and doing fancy-work.44 In Elizabeth Fitton, Sarah Mary Fitton, and Jane Marcets Conversations on Botany (1817), Linnaeus is introduced to children as a very industrious man, who had examined many plants, a characterisation that suggests that part of the appeal of the painstaking process of specimen collection and classification (involving both physical exertion and mental orderliness) lay in its accordance with the nineteenth-century work ethic, which required that even leisure activities be productive.45 In An Address to Young Entomologists, H. T. Stainton promotes the recreational study of natural history as a useful employment and advises his readers to pursue the pastime in a methodical and business-like manner. 46 Naturalists were commonly used as examples of self-education, of self-discipline, and of the gospel of work in the writings of Samuel Smiles: Hugh Miller, William Strata Smith, and Roderick Murchison were among the exemplary figures of science that Smiles described in Self-Help, and he later wrote hagiographies of individual naturalists such as Life of a Scotch Naturalist: Thomas Edward (1876) and Robert Dick: Baker of Thurso, Geologist and Botanist (1878). Natural history was also promoted as a religiously orthodox and morally edifying activity. Thanks to the justification of natural theology, which promoted the study of nature as a pious as well as a respectable pastime, natural history was viewed as supplying to an unparalleled degree the moral uplift required to ensure a pastime the status of a rational recreation.47 The late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century nature writer and animal illustrator Thomas Bewick summed up this view of the study of natural history with

The natural history tradition


his assertion that a good naturalist cannot be a bad man. 48 This association ensured a particularly strong tradition of natural history among the devout in Britain. Noel Annan notes that natural history was a pastime common among Non-Conformist and Evangelical groups such as the Quakers and the Clapham Sect (from which Roger Fry and Virginia Woolf were respectively descended). While drawn to nature, distrust of beauty as a temptress and disapproval of the extravagance and cruelty of the hunt led Evangelicals and Non-Conformists to seek a more rational and edifying engagement with nature by means of the botanical satchel and geologists hammer. 49 It was not only the reformist branches of the Church that were drawn to natural history. In The English Parson-Naturalist, Patrick Armstrong outlines the sundry contributions to the study of nature made by the Anglican clergy. The tradition of long residence in a single parish gave the nineteenth-century clergyman the opportunity to develop a unique knowledge of a rural landscape, its human occupance and its natural history, and these interests were regarded as complementary.50 J. C. Loudon recommended natural history as an appropriate pursuit for a clergyman in that it sent him abroad in the fields, investigating the habits and searching out the habitats of birds, insects, or plants, not only invigorating his health, but affording ample opportunity for frequent intercourse with his parishioners.51 Such descriptions encapsulate the Victorian view of natural history as a healthful, pious, edifying, and even sociable pastime. There was an element of attempted social control in the nineteenthcentury promotion of the study of nature. A celebration of the self-taught, working-class naturalist Charles Peach in Chamberss Edinburgh Journal, with its idealisation of virtuous, intelligent, independent poverty, suggests the way in which natural history was used to promote industrious self-betterment without disruption to the existing social order.52 Natural history was seen as a morally edifying and socially moderate alternative to the dissipations of the public house and the lure of radical politics. This view was expressed by some self-improving members of the working class: Hugh Miller, a stonemason and self-taught geologist, explicitly juxtaposes radical


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

politics and scientific study in the introduction to his work of popular geology, The Old Red Sandstone (1841), asserting:
You will gain nothing by attending Chartist meetings. The fellows who speak nonsense with fluency at these assemblies, and deem their nonsense eloquence, are totally unable to help either you or themselves; or, if they do succeed in helping themselves, it will be at your expense. Leave them to harangue unheeded, and set yourself to occupy your leisure hours in making yourself wiser men.53

The same view is put forward in Elizabeth Gaskells Mary Barton (1848), in which Job Leghs absorption in natural history offers an alternative to John Bartons involvement in trade unionism and the Chartist movement: Gaskell contrasts Job, happy as a king among his books, and his creatures, and his plants, with John, whose dissatisfaction with his life and station leads him to violence.54 The assumption of the moderating influence of the study of nature was not wholly accurate. Radical workers of the 1830s and 1840s employed the Lamarckian theory of evolution in support of the argument that individuals could transform themselves and pass on acquired traits to their offspring.55 Even in its taxonomic form, the practice of natural history could involve a subversive element. There was a thriving natural history tradition among artisans and factory workers: Spitalfields weavers had a long tradition of involvement in botany and entomology, and factory workers in Lancashire (particularly textile workers) also became known for their collective practice of natural history. That their pursuit of this activity did not entirely conform to middle-class preconceptions is suggested by the fact that the meetings of these artisan-naturalist collectives often took place in pubs, where a group might be permitted use of a room for meetings and space to store its collections and reference works in exchange for a wet rent (the purchase of enough alcohol to satisfy the publican).56 Still, there can be no doubt that taxonomic natural history was typically regarded as a moderate pastime, emphasising order and hierarchy. Anne Secord argues that this exemplifies the way in which the Victorian middle class reconstructed the popular for their own ends, render[ing] working-class scientific activity politically neutral

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through control over printed texts, a preoccupation with producing accounts of the lives of autodidacts to put forward moral lessons, and by giving natural history a central role in rational recreation.57 The study of nature was not an inevitably conservative practice, but in the nineteenth century the taxonomic tradition of natural history was used to encourage an orderly and hierarchical world view. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the audience for natural history grew steadily in numbers and breadth. In the 1820s and 1830s, natural history was taken up with great energy by students at the universities. (The study of nature remained an essentially recreational activity for students at this time, since botany was taught only as a supplementary subject for medical students.) By mid-century, the practice of natural history was spreading through the expanding middle class and the self-improving working class. The spread of the pastime was encouraged by an outpouring of popular works on the subject, part of a wider mid-century boom in popular publishing made possible by increasing literacy and technological advances in the printing trade such as the development of lithography, which permitted the cheap reproduction of colour illustrations. Illustrated books on natural history, which had previously been sold as luxury items, were now within reach of all classes. Works by popular natural history writers such as the Reverend J. G. Wood, the Reverend F. O. Morris, Philip Henry Gosse, and the Reverend Charles Kingsley enjoyed enormous success: Woods Common Objects of the Country (1858), one of a series of shilling handbooks, sold 100,000 copies in a week.58 However, while natural history publications were more numerous and more accessible than before they were also of a rather lighter character than previously, written in haste, rambling, and larded with moralising and sentimentality.59 They were often deliberately vague out of concern for the gentle susceptibilities of their intended audience.60 Many were also unintentionally unreliable: Stephen Moss dismisses the majority of popular books on birds published at this time as inaccurate and sentimental twaddle.61 Allen explains the mid-century boom in books on popular natural history with the argument that books of no outstanding merit turn[ed] into runaway successes, due to the mere accident of entering


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a particular field as the market ripen[ed]; following this initial burst of popularity, the sheer omnipresence and familiarity of the books themselves succeed[ed] in ensuring them a life-span as remarkable as it [was] undeserved.62 The generations of naturalists brought up on these mid-century works of popular natural history were for the most part recreational hobbyists rather than amateur experts, and while the popularity of natural history succeeded in making the pastime respectable, even fashionable, it did nothing to counteract the stagnation that characterised the study of nature in nineteenth-century Britain. The popular natural history tradition can even be regarded as having perpetuated this lag, for it was slow to reflect new scientific developments when they did occur. While one might expect that the controversies surrounding evolutionary theory would have had an adverse impact upon a popular natural history tradition grounded in natural theology, the publication of The Origin of Species had no immediate effect on the popular enthusiasm for natural history, in large part because contemporary controversies were not aired in popular works of natural history.63 Throughout the 1860s and for a considerable period thereafter, the best-selling natural history publications continued to be those written by traditionalists such as Philip Henry Gosse, the Reverend F. O. Morris, and the Reverend J. G. Wood. These writers made no attempt to explain emerging theories in their popular writings; rather, they sought to negate the new theories through silence. While Gosses pre-Darwinian Omphalos (1857) had attempted (without success) to reconcile the geological record with the Genesis account of creation, The Romance of Natural History, his 1860 best-seller, makes no allusion to evolutionary debates. Instead, the controversy that preoccupies Gosse is the debate over the existence of the sea-serpent.64 At most, popular authors such as Gosse offered oblique rebuttals of emerging theories through the reassertion of the principles of natural theology: [t]hey went on reproducing one anothers facts, one anothers anecdotes and one anothers assumptions about Nature year after year, decade after decade[,] ignor[ing] all the great scientific controversies that were waging in the world outside.65 Also contributing to the stagnation in popular

The natural history tradition


natural history was the continuing popularity of the mid-century classics, many of which remained in print and popular until the end of the century.66 The perpetuation of a pre-Darwinian outlook among recreational naturalists was in large part a consequence of their continued reliance upon pre-Darwinian texts. As Barber concludes, Popular natural history existed in a peculiar vacuum, deriving its biology from Linnaeus, its philosophy from Paley long after these ideas had become outmoded.67 Some nineteenth-century practitioners of natural history were aware of the stagnation in their field and attempted to direct the study of nature into new channels. John Lubbock, for example, was long critical of entomologists preoccupation with specimen collection and taxonomic work: in an article entitled On the Objects of a Collection of Insects, published in The Entomologists Annual in 1856, he argued that entomologists gave too much time to collecting, and paid too little attention to the habits, anatomy and physiology of insects, and he cautioned that to make collections the end, instead of the means, to collect merely for the sake of collecting, has a direct tendency to narrow the mind.68 Through his later work, Lubbock sought to widen the focus of entomology. In 1882, he introduced a behavioural approach to entomology through the publication of Ants, Bees, and Wasps, a study of the habits of social insects. Lubbocks work marked an early step in the diversification of approaches to the study of insect life. Yet behavioural studies did not immediately displace the entrenched taxonomic tradition. As the example of the Stephen children will show, taxonomic natural history exerted a lingering influence over the study of nature in Britain that persisted until the end of the century. Wo ol f s c h i l d h o o d e n c o u n t e r w i t h n at u r a l h i s t o r y The lingering influence of the long-standing and, by the close of the nineteenth century, near-moribund natural history tradition can be seen in Virginia Woolf s childhood encounter with the practice. Looking back on her late Victorian childhood, Woolf perceived


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

an element of stagnation in her influences and environment. She commented:

we lived under the sway of a society that was about fifty years too old for us. It was this curious fact that made our struggle so bitter and so violent. For the society in which we lived was still the Victorian society. Father himself was a typical Victorian. George and Gerald were consenting and approving Victorians We were living say in 1910; they were living in 1860. (MOB 14950)

One of the ways in which the perpetuation of a mid-Victorian outlook manifested in the Stephen household was through the education in natural history that Virginia received as a child, and as a result she came to associate this pastime with the traditionalism of her upbringing. From her earliest childhood, Virginia Stephen displayed an interest in nature that was encouraged and directed by her family. Her first letter, written at the age of six to her godfather James Russell Lowell, suggests her interest in the natural world: she writes, my dear godpapa have you been to the adirondacks and have you seen lots of wild beasts and a lot of birds in their nests you are a naughty man not to come here good bye your affecte virginia (L I: 2). She was familiar with a number of the classic texts of natural history. She read the works of eighteenth-century naturalists such as Gilbert White and Thomas Pennant and recalled, I still know all my beasts from their pictures in Bewick which we were shown before we could listen to reading aloud (165). The Stephen childrens newspaper, the Hyde Park Gate News, records their familiarity with the writing of one of the leading mid-Victorian popularisers of natural history, the Reverend G. J. [sic] Wood: they note Woods objection in the Illustrated Natural History (1851) to the use of the name guinea pig for an animal neither found in Guinea nor a member of the pig family (an objection that reflects a taxonomic naturalists concern with nomenclature) (HPGN 1601). The children also received encouragement in their study of natural history from family and friends. Leslie Stephen was an amateur botanist with a habit of collecting flowers which he pressed and kept in albums, and

The natural history tradition


he encouraged his children to learn the different tribes of plants and the names of plants that grew in their neighbourhood (84, 83, 79). As well as botanising with her father, Virginia bug-hunted with her siblings, netting butterflies, sugaring for moths, and setting specimens for display in the family Museum (L I: 2). The childrens bug-hunting was begun in secrecy out of fear of parental disapproval; however, when their activities were discovered, the children found that their parents approved of and even assisted their efforts (MOB 113). Julia Stephen, as Woolf later recalled, bought us nets and setting boards; and indeed she went with Walter Headlam down to the St Ives public house and bought us rum [an essential ingredient in the sugar mixture used as a lure for moths]. How strange a scene my mother buying rum. She would go round the sugar after we were in bed (ibid.). Leslie Stephen oversaw the creation of a family Entomological Society, headed by a committee that consisted of Leslie Stephen, president; George Duckworth, Librarian; Thoby, Larva Groom; Virginia, Secretary Chairman & Treasurer; and Adrian, not on the Committee (a detail reflecting the extent to which such organisations define themselves in terms of those whom they exclude). The Society heard lectures from the president and reports from junior members and supplied the associated family museum with specimens (PA 134, 56). The organisation of the Stephen childrens bug-hunting transformed what had previously been unregulated play into an edifying and productive pastime, a form of rational recreation. The hobby was not only permitted but regarded as exemplary, as is suggested by the fact that the Kay-Shuttleworth children were brought to the Stephen house to examine the bugs in preparation for starting their own collection (31). Woolfs description of the role that natural history played in Roger Frys Quaker upbringing illustrates her awareness of the pastime as a broad Victorian phenomenon rather than a unique feature of her own childhood. In her biography of Fry, she records that science was part of the home atmosphere in the Fry household: Roger learned botany at his mothers knee, swapped specimens with his cousins (even at the age of nine careful to use the proper scientific names), and sent his parents letters from school stained with the juice of wild flowers,


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

and contain[ing] withered buds that [he] picked on his walks (RF 19, 26, 30). Despite the seemingly benign nature of these pastimes, they were linked to the narrowness of a pious Victorian upbringing. In addition to the professions closed to the Quakers for reasons of conscience, the arts were regarded with suspicion, and Woolf suggests that those who turned [their] attention to science did so in part because they were denied other outlet (13).69 As children of the intellectual aristocracy, Virginia and her siblings might be seen as heirs to a scholarly tradition of Victorian natural history that included families such as the Arnolds, the Macaulays, and the Trevelyans as well as the Hookers, the Darwins, and the Huxleys.70 Through the formation of their own Entomological Society and its associated museum, the Stephen children imitated the institutions of Victorian natural history, and Virginia mimicked the pose of the scholar-naturalist in letters to Thoby, urging her brother to write an account of the [family] Museum on the grounds that this will make your name known in Scientific circles (L I: 7). However, their education in natural history came not by means of this scholarly tradition, but via another, more populist avenue. Jack Hills, suitor and later husband to Virginias half-sister, Stella, gave to the Stephen children the entomological works of the Reverend F. O. Morris. Appointed to the post of name finder, Virginia was responsible for identifying captured specimens, and she would later recall spen[ding] many hours, hunting up our catches among all those pictures of hearts and darts and setaceous Hebrew characters in Morriss books of butterflies and moths (MOB 113).71 An entomologist, ornithologist, and general nature enthusiast, Morris was one of the great mid-Victorian popularisers of natural history.72 He first rose to prominence as a writer with the publication of A History of British Birds (18507), a work that was many times reprinted and went through two further editions during the authors lifetime. A History of British Butterflies (18523) was even more successful, with its tenth edition appearing in 1908. Morris epitomised the Victorian clergyman-naturalist, and in his popular works of natural history he expounded the doctrine of natural theology that underpinned the nineteenth-century study of nature. In A History of British Butterflies, Morris declares that

The natural history tradition


an instinctive general love of nature, that is, in other words, of the works of God, has been implanted by Him, the Great Architect of the universe the Great Parent of all in the mind of every man, and he emphasises the moral edification to be gained from the study of nature, which infallibly lead[s] from the works of Nature up to the God of Nature.73 Morris employed, in the words of his son, an unstudied and natural style, treating his subjects not as scientific hardnesses, but rather as old friends surrounded with endless reminiscences.74 Subsequent judgements of Morriss work have been less appreciative. Writing in 1917, W. H. Mullens and H. Kirke Swann judged that Morris was too voluminous to be accurate, and too didactic to be scientific. He accepted records and statements without discrimination, and consequently his work abounds with errors and mistakes.75 Recent historians of natural history have confirmed this judgement: Patrick Armstrong admits that in Morriss popular writings much material was reproduced quite uncritically, with the result that his books offer a feast of anecdotes and elevating tales, many of them totally unreliable.76 Nevertheless, Morriss works were regarded as classics by generations of Victorian readers, as illustrated by the fact that, forty years after the publication of A History of British Butterflies, it was to Morriss works that the Stephen children were referred in their entomological investigations. The focus and approach of Morriss writings on natural history demonstrate his commitment to the taxonomic tradition. His first published work bore the title A Guide to an Arrangement of British Birds; Being a Catalogue of All the Species Hitherto Discovered in Great Britain and Ireland, and Intended to Be of Use for Labelling Cabinets or Collections of the Same (1834), illustrating his preoccupation with the taxonomic catalogue and the collectors cabinet. He prided himself on his admirably arranged cabinets, convinced that in this respect, at least, if not in extent, there were few, if any, private ones in the country to surpass them.77 His submissions to entomological journals reveal his attention to every stage of the collection and classification process. He helped to popularise the practice of sugaring for moths by forwarding P. J. Selbys private communication of the technique to The Naturalist.78 The spread of this practice resulted in a dramatic


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

tipping of the scales in favour of the hunter and a veritable revolution in the range of species represented in the average collectors cabinet.79 The Naturalist records his frequent, argumentative notes regarding the correct use of Latin and Greek in scientific nomenclature and the importance of appropriate descriptive names.80 He was a disputatious contributor, fiercely defending the precedence of his own observations and proposals and attacking anything he perceived as an infringement on his work: he accused others of plagiarism, for example, when their observations agreed too closely with his own.81 In 1837, he realised the dream of every taxonomist, the discovery of a new species, and, by inviting his friend J. C. Dale to formally name the insect, he succeeded in having it named after himself, Acosmetia morrisii.82 That Morris was preoccupied with the collection of insects is also suggested by his manner of describing them. He refers to the life history of a species less to convey a sense of the insects development than as a guide to its capture. He indicates the period during which the Swallow-Tail (Papilio machaon) appears in imago form with the statement, The perfect insect is taken from the beginning of May to the end of August, and he expresses his concern that the draining of its habitat may threaten the species survival with the comment, It is to be feared that we may in time lose this most conspicuous ornament of our cabinets.83 When discussing the extinction of the Large Copper (Lycaena dispar), he similarly confides, I cannot but with some regret recall, at all events, the time when almost any number of this dazzling fly was easily procurable, either by purchase or by exchange for our cabinets.84 Most tellingly, while his natural histories offer no description of the life cycle of Lepidoptera or similar supplementary material, his History of British Butterflies contains an extensive appendix detailing methods for the luring, capture, killing, transport, relaxation, setting, arrangement, and display of butterflies and moths.85 In offering advice on collection methods, Morris was not exceptional; most popular nineteenth-century guides to Lepidoptera did the same. However, Morris represented an extreme within the natural history tradition in that this was the only supplementary information that he offered.86

The natural history tradition


The enduring popularity of Morriss work demonstrates the resistance to change characteristic of recreational natural history in the late nineteenth century. Morriss mid-century, pre-Darwinian works on British birds and butterflies remained standard popular references throughout the Victorian period, continuing in print until the first years of the twentieth century. The popular works that he published after Darwins promulgation of his theory of evolution illustrate another feature of late nineteenth-century natural history. When The Origin of Species was published, Morris was among its most vocal detractors: David Elliston Allen describes Morris as an out-and-out fundamentalist who campaigned against the theory in innumerable pamphlets, couched in intemperate language, over many years, and Morriss son confirms this assessment of his father, asserting that of all the clergy of the Church of England who made public their opinions there was probably not one who wrote at greater length, more outspokenly, vehemently and decidedly than he.87 In spite of his strong opposition to evolutionary theory, however, the works of popular natural history that Morris wrote after the publication of The Origin of Species perpetuate a pre-Darwinian outlook not by challenging evolutionary theory but by ignoring it. For example, in A Natural History of British Moths, written between 1859 and 1870, Morris makes no reference to evolutionary ideas, offering only oblique refutations of the evolutionist position through convoluted assertions of a special and fixed creation, as in his celebration of the preservation through all vicissitudes of so many creatures of the hand of the Immortal, which the same hand by His providence has preserved through a thousand generations which though to Him but as yesterday, are coeval in our calculation with the beginning of time itself.88 The Stephen childrens practice of natural history thus followed mid-century, pre-Darwinian lines; it was the tradition of taxonomy, with its focus on the assembly of a collection and the identification and arrangement of the specimens within it simplified to appeal to popular tastes that provided diversion for the young Virginia Stephen.89 The fact that the children of Leslie Stephen, the godless Victorian who attributed his loss of faith quite directly to reading The Origin of Species, could be brought up on this pre-Darwinian


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

scientific tradition demonstrates the stagnation of popular natural history in the late Victorian period.90 Despite the survival of taxonomic natural history as a recreational activity until the turn of the century, however, the late Victorian context gradually undermined many of the key tenets of the practice and prepared the way for its demise. Simultaneous with her participation in the popular tradition of taxonomic natural history, Virginia was aware of other developments in the nineteenth-century study of nature. Relating to Thoby the recent discovery of an ape which is nearer to a man than anything else which has yet been found, the 14-year-old Virginia indicates her familiarity with Darwins theory of the descent of man (L I: 2). Such ideas, encountered outside the classic texts of popular Victorian natural history, distanced Virginia from the taxonomic tradition even as she participated in it. Even as a young girl engaged in the practice of natural history, Virginia possessed a scientific frame of reference in relation to which Morriss creationist taxonomising would have appeared backward and credulous. Likewise, a single, retrospective reference in Sketch of the Past suggests another influence that may have gradually eroded Woolfs childhood conviction in the taxonomic approach to the study of nature. Looking back on her Victorian upbringing from the vantage point of 1940, Woolf likens Hyde Park Gate in 1900 to a microcosm of Victorian society like one of those sections with glass covers in which ants and bees are shown going about their tasks (MOB 150). This allusion conjures up an image of Woolf examining the Victorian society of her childhood in much the same manner as a behavioural entomologist such as John Lubbock would have observed the activities of social insects in a glass nest or hive. As children engaged in the practice of entomology, Woolf and her siblings made no mention of the work of behavioural entomologists such as Lubbock; the Stephen childrens study of insect life centred around the collection and classification of butterflies and moths in the tradition of Morris rather than the observation of the habits of ants and bees in the manner of Lubbock. However, Woolfs retrospective association of Victorian society with ants in glass nests calls to mind the fact that alternatives to taxonomic natural history were emerging during her childhood,

The natural history tradition


and suggests that, although the behavioural approach did not determine the manner of Woolfs childhood practice of natural history, it may over time have encouraged her re-evaluation of the taxonomic tradition by suggesting an alternative means of studying nature. The popular practice of taxonomic natural history survived in its traditional form until the close of the nineteenth century and it was in this form that Woolf encountered it as a child. By this time, however, it was less a living tradition than an artificially preserved practice that persisted by being kept apart from the main trends of scientific development. The next chapter will consider the disciplines that, arising in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, defined themselves against the taxonomic tradition that had preceded them and in doing so altered the way that nature was seen and described by both modern practitioners of science and interested observers such as Woolf.

Chapter 2

The modern life sciences

In the late nineteenth century, the long domination of taxonomic natural history was brought to an end by the combined impact of evolutionary theory and the new biology of the laboratory. As the twentieth century began, ethology and ecology also emerged as recognised disciplines and added a further dimension to the study of nature. In contrast to taxonomic natural history, which focused on the description of organisms for purposes of identification and systematic arrangement, these emerging disciplines sought a wider and deeper understanding of nature through consideration of the origins and evolution of life, the internal make-up and functioning of organisms, the behaviour of living things, and the interrelationships occurring among organisms in a shared environment. Woolfs interest in developments in the study of nature is demonstrated by her allusions to the work of nature writers, scientists, and science popularisers. In addition to her well-documented familiarity with and respect for Darwins work, she refers in her fiction to T. H. Huxley and to Gregor Mendels laws of inheritance (MEL 62; VO 55; MD 85, 33; ND 385). She was acquainted with Jean-Henri Fabres work on insect behaviour; she alludes to Richard Jeffries; and she read and reviewed W. H. Hudsons nature writing, expressing admiration for both his literary style and his approach to the natural world. Over the winter of 19312, she dip[ped] into The Sciences of Life [sic], a survey of approaches to the study of nature by H. G. Wells, Julian Huxley, and G. P. Wells (L IV: 418). She was familiar with the applied science of economic entomology through writing on and by Eleanor Ormerod, a pioneer in the field. Additionally, Woolf drew on the fiction of scientifically inclined authors such as Marie Stopes for insights

The modern life sciences


into the methods and theories of the new biology of the laboratory. In an effort to reconstruct the scientific context that shaped Woolfs mature views of nature and its study, this chapter will examine developments in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth- century life sciences that transformed the way that nature was seen and described, shifting attention from external form to internal functioning, and from the dead specimen to the living organism, its behaviour, and its interactions with its environment. Da rw i n i a n c on t rov e r s i e s The publication of The Origin of Species in 1859 was both a product of the taxonomic tradition and a departure from it. Darwin drew heavily upon classificatory work in formulating his evolutionary theory: as Harriet Ritvo points out, Darwin recognised the Galapagos finches as examples of adaptive radiation only after John Gould had classified them, differentiating finch species where Darwin had seen only varieties and identifying as finches birds that Darwin had placed in entirely different families.1 However, to taxonomic work Darwin added a commitment to theorisation: he sought to understand the implications of taxonomic classifications for the relationships among organisms, rather than contenting himself with having ordered them. As a result, Darwins great generalisation gave rise to controversy over method as well as subject matter, dividing theorists from taxonomists as well as evolutionists from creationists.2 James R. Moore was perhaps the first to argue that what has been taken as religious resistance to the theory of evolution was in many cases a Baconian suspicion of deductive reasoning. For those committed to inductive reasoning, Moore argues, The Origin of Species was controversial because it represented a new departure in scientific explanation. Facts swarmed its pages in orthodox Baconian proportions Yet the book set forth natural selection, not as a theory for which absolute proof had been obtained, or even might be obtained, but merely as the most probable explanation of the greatest number of facts relating to the origin of species.3 Knight seconds this argument, observing that for most of the nineteenth century in Britain,


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

Baconian suspicions of the speculative and deductive intellect were strong scientific opinion was cautious One should avoid a theory of the origin of species, which would inevitably be unscientific, and concentrate on describing and classifying the existing species.4 Knight declares that the challenge facing Darwin and his supporters was not so much to overthrow existing theories about the origin of life as to persuade contemporaries that hypothesizing about origins was worthwhile.5 As an example of this resistance to speculation, Mearns and Mearns record that shortly after Alfred Russel Wallace published his article On the Law which has regulated the Introduction of New Species in The Annals and Magazine of Natural History (1855), a friend wrote to say that he had overheard several naturalists expressing regret that Wallace was theorizing when he should only have been gathering more facts.6 Such resistance to theorisation was characteristic of the taxonomist, concerned with cataloguing nature rather than explaining it. This was not the last challenge to Darwins arguments to be voiced from within the scientific community. As Julian Huxley would later observe in Evolution, the Modern Synthesis (1942), by the turn of the century, the death of Darwinism was being proclaimed not only from the pulpit, but from the biological laboratory.7 Beginning in the 1890s, Darwinism was challenged by biologists who questioned not the fact of evolution but Darwins explanation of the means by which evolution occurred. Turn-of-the-century biologists such as William Bateson and Hugo de Vries contested Darwins gradualist argument that evolution occurred by way of continuous variations operated upon by natural selection, arguing instead that large mutations, and not small continuous variations, were the raw material of evolution, and actually determined most of its course, selection being relegated to a wholly subordinate position.8 This view was bolstered by the rediscovery in 1900 of Gregor Mendels laws of inheritance, for Mendels observation that hereditary characteristics were transmitted as discrete units was employed by mutationists in support of the argument that evolution occurred by way of discontinuous variations.9 The intradisciplinary dispute over the mechanisms by which evolution occurred continued throughout the early decades of the twentieth

The modern life sciences


century and was communicated to the general public: in Ann Veronica (1909), H. G. Wells alludes to the burning topic of the Mendelian controversy and the vigorous fire of mutual criticism going on now between the Imperial College and the Cambridge Mendelians; Wells, Huxley, and Wells summarise the debate in Book 4 of The Science of Life, The Essence of the Controversies about Evolution; and Robert Olby confirms that [b]y Julian Huxleys time the climate of opinion among both experts and the public was not supportive of wholesale selectionist evolution.10 That Woolf was aware of emerging alternatives to the strictly Darwinian explanation of evolution is demonstrated by her references to the Mendelian theory, inherited characteristics, and the recurrence of blue eyes and brown in her fiction (MD 33; ND 385). Over the course of the interwar period, the theories of Mendelian heredity and de Vriesian mutation were profoundly modified and ultimately recombined with an equally modified Darwinism to create what came to be termed the modern evolutionary synthesis, described by Olby as evolution by the natural selection of small mutations inherited in a Mendelian fashion.11 The formulation of the modern evolutionary synthesis was not wholly completed until after Woolfs death, but the debates that brought it about remain relevant to a discussion of Woolfs responses to the life sciences, for they ensured that the interrogation of past evolutionary arguments and the testing of emerging alternatives were central concerns for evolutionary biologists throughout Woolfs adult life. T h e r i s e o f t h e n e w b iol o g y While the debates over evolutionary theory are among the bestknown controversies of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century science, methodological and institutional disputes also contributed to the scientific upheaval of the period. T. H. Huxley is now remembered primarily for his defence of Darwins evolutionary theory against both representatives of the Church such as Bishop Samuel Wilberforce and traditionalist men of science such as Richard Owen. Recently, however, historians such as Adrian Desmond, Nicolaas


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

Rupke, and Paul White have argued that the dispute over evolutionary theory was not Huxleys or Owens sole or even primary concern. Desmond argues that while Huxley distilled the struggle for scientific authority into an evolution versus creation slogan, his support for Darwins theory can best be viewed as part of a larger agenda of seeing secular, speculative biology centred in the laboratory triumph over the museum-based, theologically justified taxonomic cataloguing that had dominated the study of nature for the greater part of the nineteenth century.12 Underlying Huxley and Owens clash in the debate over evolutionary theory was their fundamental difference of opinion regarding the methods and institutions proper to the study of nature. Owen and Huxley were alike in their wish for greater recognition of and support for the life sciences: both sought institutional status for the sciences on a par with their status on the Continent.13 However, Owen was a museum man par excellence, committed to expanding the facilities available for taxonomic work, while [a]lmost from its beginning, Huxleys career was marked by his pleas for the preeminence of the laboratory over the museum as a space for scientific research and teaching.14 As curator of the Hunterian Museum collections at the Royal College of Surgeons and later as superintendent of the natural history departments of the British Museum, Owen was the driving force behind the campaign for the establishment of a national museum devoted exclusively to natural history along the lines of the Musum national dHistoire naturelle in Paris. Owen was a skilled comparative anatomist and his work brought a new precision to taxonomy, but it was a change in means without any accompanying divergence from taxonomic ends. As Charles Coulston Gillispie declares of Owens French predecessor, Cuvier, he used dissection as a keen analytical tool serving the purposes of taxonomy.15 Owen was successful in promoting his museum agenda to the extent that in 1881 he witnessed the opening of the newly constructed British Museum (Natural History) in South Kensington. The opening of Owens Index Museum intended to offer a spatial embodiment of the principles of taxonomic natural history might be viewed as the apex

The modern life sciences


of the British taxonomic tradition, for from this time forward the taxonomic tradition and its attendant collections were increasingly displaced by other approaches to the study of nature.16 Taxonomic work would go on and natural history collections would continue to expand, but collection and classification would never again be the primary focus of the life sciences. In contrast to Owens support for museum taxonomy, Huxleys ideal was the laboratory model that had developed decades earlier in the German states.17 Building on the advances in anatomical work that had occurred in France, the German states in the 1840s developed university laboratories that opened the way to new research possibilities. The new biology of the laboratory focused on morphology and physiology, the study of the form and functioning of organisms, as ends in themselves rather than as means to achieve a more accurate classification. Attempts were made in the 1840s and 1850s to introduce the new German approach to Britain, but these were frustrated by the lack of formal science education or institutional support for the sciences in Britain as well as by the prevailing obsession with taxonomy that characterised the British life sciences at the time. Looking back, the turn-of-the-century botanist F. O. Bower stated that in Britain, between 1840 and 1875, investigation in the laboratory was almost throttled by the overwhelming success of systematic and descriptive work.18 Likewise, F. W. Oliver, reflecting in 1906 on nineteenthcentury developments in botany, observed that the great awakening that occurred on the Continent in the first half of the nineteenth century did not reach Britain until the botanical renaissance twenty-five years ago, and he lamented that the methods inculcated by Linnaeus and the other great taxonomists of the eighteenth century had taken deep root with us and choked out all other influences, with the result that all through the middle parts of the last century we were so busy amassing and classifying plants that the great questions of botanical policy were left to solve themselves.19 This delay in the introduction of new research methods resulted in a growing antagonism between those of the rising generation who wished to pursue morphological and physiological research and the established naturalists who controlled what museum and university facilities did exist and


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

who remained committed to taxonomic work: Huxley suggested the gulf that divided the taxonomist from the biologist with his assertion, I never collected anything and species work was always a burden to me.20 In the minds of the adherents of the new biology, [s]ystematics, natural history, even field work as a whole became irretrievably identified with the mumbling, doddery Old Men.21 An opportunity to establish the new biology in Britain arose in the 1870s as an indirect result of the Elementary Education Act of 1870, which, in addition to making the state responsible for ensuring that primary school education was available to all, declared that science was to be taught in all state schools. To meet the sudden demand for trained science teachers, T. H. Huxley devised a crash summer course. Desmond argues that this yearly summer course, transmitted via the teachers to the new schools, became the foundation of the modern discipline of biology.22 At first, Huxley was forced to make do with offering as full an exposition as [he] could give of biological principles by means of lectures.23 However, in 1872, with his move to the new Science Schools building at South Kensington with its 60-foot laboratory, Huxley was able to replace lectures with a course of practical instruction based in the laboratory. Bypassing most of contemporary systematics, Huxleys course taught the structure, functioning, and development of plants and animals by way of laboratory demonstrations.24 In order to make this practicable, Huxley developed a method of teaching by way of a few common and readily obtainable plants and animals selected in such a manner as to exemplify the leading modifications of structure which are to be met with in the vegetable and animal worlds.25 Taxonomic specimen collections, which aimed at comprehensiveness and prized rarities, were of little use to such an approach and quickly fell into disfavour with the new biologists. F. O. Bower recalled that as an undergraduate in 1876 he had longed for a train of wagons to convey the Cambridge herbarium away to Kew, and so to vacate for the new botany the rooms that would have served its needs.26 Bower admitted in retrospect that this was a crude idea, but he maintained that it reflected the inverted narrowness which the time had imposed upon us.27 When the new biologists finally gained a place for themselves,

The modern life sciences


they were impatient to do away with the traditions that had so long impeded them. In 1906, F. W. Oliver, reflecting on developments in the life sciences in the preceding quarter-century, declared that as a result of the antagonism that existed between the practitioners of taxonomy and the proponents of the new biology, the prevailing school of Botany has arisen very independently of that which preceded it. The discontinuity between them you might almost call abrupt.28 The long delay that had attended the introduction of the new biology to Britain meant that when the new biology did succeed in establishing itself, it would accept no compromise with the taxonomic tradition that had preceded it, thus ensuring that the rise of the new biology meant the eclipse of taxonomy in the modern practice of the life sciences. In a reversal of Linnaeuss earlier dismissal of plant anatomists as mere botanophili, plant lovers, who did not deal with botanical science in the true sense, the new biologists, concerned primarily with morphology and physiology, now disdained taxonomists as mere book-keepers with no in-depth understanding of the organisms that they described and classified.29 Following the long delay that preceded its introduction, laboratory biology was embraced by newly professionalised scientists and by many outside observers in part simply for its modernity as measured against the taxonomic tradition. Taxonomy and the new biology were consequently used by scientifically inclined authors such as H. G. Wells to represent the clash between the Victorian and the modern. In Ann Veronica, Wells presents the study of biology as the means by which his young heroine achieves independence, and he emphasises the generational divide between Ann Veronica and her father by making her father a natural history hobbyist in the unphilosophical Victorian manner, a maker of polished rock sections of pleasing appearance and no scientific value.30 Mr Stanleys conservatism regarding gender roles is also demonstrated through reference to his taxonomic leanings: he is presented as a man who in all things classified without nuance, who in his view of women constructed a simple classification of a large and various sex to the exclusion of all intermediate kinds according to which women were either too bad or


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

too pure and good for life.31 Mr Stanleys perception of his daughters rebellion against convention in terms of her desire to cut up rabbits and dance about at night in wild costumes suggests Wellss conviction that changes in scientific method played a part in the modern revolt against Victorian convention.32 Wells also approved of the new biology for its commitment to an in-depth understanding of organisms rather than a superficial familiarity with them, and he presents the methods of the laboratory biologist as a model for a frank and modern mode of discourse aimed at understanding the inner meaning of things. Dismissing rigidly conventional social encounters that find all the meanings of life on its surfaces, he sanctions instead conversations that in their openness and penetration resemble a carelessly displayed interior on a dissecting-room table.33 As will be seen in Chapter 4, Marie Carmichael Stopes and Woolf herself likewise approved of the new biology of the laboratory on the grounds of its newness and as a model of modern conduct. P ro t e c t ion a n d c on s e rvat ion The early protection movement Upon the average natural history hobbyist, the disputes between taxonomists and biologists had little immediate effect, for the new biologists, intent upon professionalising the study of nature, did not encourage amateur imitators; in fact, they sought to dissociate themselves from the amateur study of nature altogether. However, other factors were also at work in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that would gradually produce a shift in popular attitudes towards taxonomic natural history and, in particular, natural history collections. One such factor was the development of the protection movement. Over the course of the nineteenth century, a broad change in attitudes towards mans treatment of animals occurred. Early in the century, organisations such as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (established in 1824, later to become the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) arose to combat cruelty to domestic animals and to do away with blood sports such as

The modern life sciences


cock-fighting and bear-baiting. By the late 1860s, protectionists had begun to extend their aegis to wild animals, most notably in the form of campaigns to protect wild birds from over-hunting by sportsmen and commercial plumage dealers. The first legislation passed in the service of wild bird protection was the Sea Birds Preservation Act of 1869, which imposed a close season for designated bird species; later campaigns sought legislation banning the shooting of all wild bird species during the breeding season. By the 1880s protectionists had also begun campaigning against the commercial plumage trade, for, as Mearns and Mearns observe, the destruction of wild birds for the plumage trade marked the peak of western mans direct impact on wild birds (as distinct from the destruction of habitat).34 There was considerable continuity between the natural history tradition and the early protection movement, for many naturalists were enthusiastic supporters of the protectionist cause. Some underwent a drastic conversion from collector to protectionist, but many more saw no particular contradiction in collecting specimens while campaigning against the killing of birds.35 Specimen collection was not initially regarded as a major concern by bird protectionists, for the total number of birds killed by collectors was comparatively low, and protectionists were more intent upon halting the mass slaughter of birds by sportsmen and commercial plumage hunters. The protection movement also shared many of the tenets of Victorian natural history, campaigning against the destruction of animals on the grounds, familiar from natural theology, that animals are Gods brute creation and that human beings approach to the natural world therefore has moral and spiritual ramifications.36 As a result, the rationale of the early protection movement was more often religious than scientific, and Victorian protectionists relied on anthropomorphism and Christian ornithology to advance their cause.37 The transition from collection to protection can be seen in the life of F. O. Morris, author of the popular works of natural history that Woolf and her siblings consulted as children. Morris began his career as a natural history writer in the taxonomic mode, advising his readers on the proper arrangement of collected bird specimens and the best methods for capturing butterflies and moths. Later in


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

life, however, he adopted a more protectionist outlook, ceasing to collect birds himself or to recommend their capture, although he continued to promote the collection of insects as a pleasurable and edifying activity. He played an important role in the campaign leading to the passage of the Sea Birds Preservation Act of 1869, and he wrote condemnations of blood sports, quoting in disgust newspaper accounts that boasted of a distinguished party that bagged 1495 pheasants, 727 hares, 1231 rabbits, 23 partridges, and 17 woodcock, making a total of 3493 head.38 Morris was also a representative Victorian protectionist in that he was guided in his views by a religious rationale: his arguments on behalf of the poor dumb creatures of the hand of God and his denunciations of those who have so vilely sinned against them were characteristic of much early protectionist writing.39 The Victorian protection movement offered an outlet to amateur naturalists who, with the displacement of taxonomy by the professional laboratory work of the new biology, found themselves increasingly excluded from scientific developments. The rift between the professional biologist and the amateur student of nature was in fact widened by the early protection movement, for protectionists also campaigned against vivisection, a practice that played a significant role in the physiological work of the new biology. Protectionist pamphlets targeted prominent biologists such as Ray Lankester, Michael Foster, and William Rutherford, who were T. H. Huxleys colleagues at the School of Mines and demonstrators in Huxleys original biology courses.40 Morris represented an extreme within the protectionist movement in that he campaigned against vivisection as an extension of his campaign against evolutionary theory.41 Morriss wholesale rejection of late nineteenth-century developments in the life sciences suggests one of the factors that made it difficult for biologists and protectionists to find common ground. Also exacerbating the dispute was the fact that practitioners of the new biology regarded the anti-vivisection movement as a challenge to their newly attained authority and combated this threat by dismissing protectionist views as the irrational sentimentality of unqualified amateurs.42 Although

The modern life sciences


laboratory biology and the protection movement both contributed to the decline of the taxonomic tradition and the associated practice of specimen collection, at this stage in their concurrent development, modern biology and protection were often at odds. The later protection movement Beginning around the turn of the century, the protection movement sought to shed its sentimental and religious reputation and become more scientific in its defence of animal life. One of the figures initiating this transition was the turn-of-the-century nature writer W. H. Hudson. E. M. Nicholson, one of Hudsons protectionist successors, praised Hudson in 1926 for the sanity of his outlook on Nature, for moving away from the super-humanitarianism of Victorian protection and setting protection upon a more rational footing. 43 Hudson dispensed with religious arguments for the protection of Gods creatures and anthropomorphising tributes to our feathered friends, seeking instead to instil in the public an appreciation for nature on its own terms through accounts of the complex patterns of animal life.44 Hudson was also one of the first to raise concerns over natural history collecting as a threat to wildlife. As a young man in Argentina he had himself worked as a professional collector for museums in America and Britain and he did not apologise for this, asserting that collections that added to the knowledge of a previously unstudied region made a worthwhile contribution to science. However, he distinguished between this form of scientific collection and the practices that went under the name of scientific collection in Britain, the unjustified and increasingly common habit of killing rare British birds for innumerable private collections that added nothing to general ornithological knowledge.45 As the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, protectionists began to concern themselves more and more with the damage done to wildlife by collection. This was due in part to the fact that, with the decline of taxonomy, specimen collection lost much of its scientific justification. However, it was also a result of the realisation


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that, while collectors did not kill specimens in great numbers, they killed more strategically than sportsmen and as a result had an impact on populations disproportionate to the number of specimens killed. As Nicholson states:
The explanation of the paradox that the collector, by destroying comparatively few birds and eggs, is yet able to do so much damage, is this. Once any species, for some reason or other, falls into a perilous state, down come the collectors together, like vultures on a sick antelope, and finish the work It is the fatal logic of the collecting system that the smaller the numbers of a species the greater the demand for specimens. 46

Pseudo-scientific collectors interest in rarities meant that their depredations put pressure on precisely those populations least able to support it. While collectors could not, like sportsmen or commercial hunters, be held responsible for the overall decline of any species, their attentions to a species once it was in danger of disappearance (and for the very reason that it was in danger of disappearance) might contribute to its ultimate (local or total) eradication. The change in attitude towards specimen collection can be seen in a resolution passed by the British Ornithologists Union (BOU) in 1908 condemning the taking or destroying of British birds or their eggs.47 The BOU, established in 1850, was a society with its roots in the collection tradition. Although many with protectionist sympathies suspected that the BOU still harboured collectors, this official denunciation demonstrates that, by the early twentieth century, even organisations with a history of collection had come to regard the practice as posing an unacceptable threat to wildlife. In 1926, E. M. Nicholson stated that the anti-collectors now outnumber the collectors among the ranks of ornithologists and immeasurably so among the general public, and in 1928 J. C. Squire summarised the contemporary shift in outlook with the remark:
Today there are a host of observers who watch birds with enthusiastic affection, never kill a bird, and would never dream of killing a rare bird. The modern man who kills a rare bird is not regarded as the hero of an exploit, but as the perpetrator of an unpunishable crime. The collectors, the hoarders of eggs, the stuffers of skins are now a furtive race.48

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T h e p s y c h oa n a ly t i c i n t e r p r e tat ion o f c ol l e c t ion In addition to the turn against taxonomy that occurred within scientific circles and the popular turn against specimen collection brought about by the protection movement, further suspicion of the practice of collection was engendered in the early decades of the twentieth century by developing psychoanalytic arguments. Susan Pearce, in a historiographical account of collection theory, links the modern conception of collection to Freuds original biological drive model.49 Freud and his successors interpreted the collection impulse as a manifestation of the anal phase of psychosexual development, natural in children but indicative of arrested development and a repressed sexual drive when occurring in adults. Freud declared that the collector directs his surplus libido onto an inanimate object, and Karl Abraham expanded on the parallel between collection and sexual activity with the argument that the excessive value [the collector] places on the object he collects corresponds completely to the lovers overestimate of his sexual object. A passion for collecting is frequently a direct surrogate for a sexual desire.50 Taken together, the collectors refusal to give and the desire to gather, collect, and hoard led to the conclusion that all collectors are anal-erotics.51 Pearce regards these early psychoanalytic explanations of collection as fatally limited in their concentration on a sexuality divorced from social practice and the personality as a whole, but she acknowledges that such conceptions entered into the bloodstream of certainly the popular view of collecting and determined the view of collection that prevailed for much of the twentieth century.52 Although far less overt than the campaigning of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the psychoanalytic conception of collection had an impact, loading the pastime with associations of obsession and perversion. The nineteenth-century penchant for collection in particular was accepted as proof of the mummified libido of the Victorians.53 The psychoanalytic interpretation of the collection instinct demonstrably informed the view of specimen collection held by twentiethcentury naturalists themselves. E. M. Nicholsons analysis of the


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collectors mentality in Birds in England (1926) reveals a Freudian influence. Nicholson argues that specimen collection, when taken to extremes,
shows an extraordinarily perverted type of mind [T]he collector is always looking at even the living creature in terms of the glass case he admires a fine specimen far above a fine singer, and to him the live bird is always a chrysalis ready to be transformed into the perfect imago which only a spell at the taxidermists can make it [H]e misses nothing in the corpse, for he has never seen anything further in the living bird. I think that this, rather than the stage-villain type of man who slays for the lust of killing that we so often find painted, is the true psychology of the collector. When he shoots a bird he is not conscious of having destroyed anything, but only of having secured it.54

The stress that Nicholson places on the collectors need for possession and control recalls Freuds interpretation of the collecting impulse as a manifestation of the anal-retentive personality and suggests that theories of psychology played a role in shaping naturalists interpretations of the practice of specimen collection. T w e n t i e t h - c e n t u ry d e v e l o p m e n t s By the turn of the century, as a result of the combined effects of the scientific shift from taxonomy to the new biology and the growing suspicion of specimen collection, the popular practice of taxonomic natural history was in decline. On the basis of contributions to popular entomological journals, Bryan Beirne judges that the recreational practice of entomology, having followed a pattern of general increase into the 1890s, fell sharply around the turn of the century, and he attributes these fluctuations of interest to changes in mental outlook.55 One interpretation of these trends is that, with the fall from grace of taxonomy in the late nineteenth century, the popular study of nature lost its focus. Fieldwork was devalued through its association with the increasingly suspect practice of specimen collection, but the laboratory work that absorbed the new class of professional biologists had no place for the amateur enthusiast. However, the turn of the century also saw developments that provided new outlets for both the professional and recreational study of

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nature. In place of the collection and classification of specimens that had occupied naturalists for much of the nineteenth century, there arose a new interest in the observation of living organisms. In the professional study of nature, this development was marked by the emergence of two new disciplines: ethology, the study of the behaviour of living organisms, and ecology, the study of the relationships between living organisms and their environment. These new disciplines complemented the morphological and physiological work of laboratory biology and, unlike laboratory biology, they had a popular equivalent in activities such as bird-watching and other forms of species-spotting.56 These new developments both widened the scope of the professional practice of biology and revitalised the popular study of nature. Allen declares that around the turn of the century there occurred throughout the botanical and zoological sciences a shift to movement and dynamism from the dead specimen to the living [organism,] from a static viewpoint to an emphasis on change.57 This shift in focus was facilitated by technological developments. Just as improvements in firearms and preservation techniques had permitted the spread of collection and taxonomy in the early nineteenth century, improvements in optical technology enabled the shift from the collection of specimens to the observation of organisms. Allen stresses that the development of prism binoculars in the latter half of the nineteenth century did not immediately bring about a turn to observation in the study of nature; nevertheless, over the course of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, field-glasses came increasingly into use among naturalists and, by allowing observers to identify species at a distance, rendered obsolete the collectors adage, Whats hit is history. Whats missed is mystery. 58 Wildlife photography was likewise pioneered in the 1880s and 1890s and developed into a popular pastime in the Edwardian period.59 The introduction of mist nets and other non-violent trapping techniques further enabled naturalists to study animals without killing them.60 To accompany the new observational approach to the study of nature, a new style of field guide developed, with notes enabling observers to identify living species not only by their shape and colouring but also by their movement,


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mannerisms, calls, and overall jizz (a term coined in 1922 by T. A. Coward to describe the character rather than the characteristics of a species).61 E t h ol o g y The behaviour of animals had long been noted in passing by naturalists pursuing an accurate classification, but around the turn of the century there developed a new commitment to the understanding of what used simply to be recorded, if not ignored, and details of behaviour came to be valued in themselves above the cataloguing of species.62 As an adult, Woolf indicated her familiarity with the work of several of the pioneers of ethology, among them Jean-Henri Fabre, W. H. Hudson, and Julian Huxley. Some of the earliest signs of the development of ethology as an independent discipline occurred in the field of entomology, and although the behavioural approach was not immediately adopted by amateur entomology enthusiasts, it gradually prepared the way for the twentieth century to become the age of the study of living insects.63 The foremost populariser of insect ethology was JeanHenri Fabre, whose Souvenirs entomologiques: tudes sur linstinct et les moeurs des insectes recounts his close observation of the manners and customs of bluebottles, dung beetles, weevils, glowworms, emperor moths, mason bees, and other insects common around his home at Srignan.64 Fabres first biographer, G. V. Legros, dubbed him the Homer of the insects for his vivid descriptions of the epic of animal life: courtship rituals, warfare tactics, and the skilled labour involved in the building of shelter and the gathering of food.65 Fabres work illustrates the confluence of original research and popular nature writing in the early stages of ethologys development. The reception history of Fabres work suggests the timeline for the growth of interest in behaviour studies. Souvenirs entomologiques was originally published as a series between 1879 and 1907 and excerpts were first translated into English in 1901, but these initially drew only modest interest. However, in the 1910s, Fabres work was suddenly rediscovered. In both France and Britain, everyone began to read

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him, and presently no one was willing to seem ignorant of him, for more of his Souvenirs entomologiques were sold in a few months than had been disposed of in more than twenty years.66 Throughout the 1910s and 1920s translations of Fabres accounts of insect life were excerpted in periodicals and collected in books to satisfy the surge in the English appetite for books on bugs.67 Thirty-three books based on English translations of Fabres works appeared in the 1910s and another thirty in the 1920s; additionally, between 1912 and 1922 The English Review intermittently printed excerpts from Souvenirs entomologiques and extracts appeared as well in the Fortnightly Review and the Daily Mail. Fabres late rise to fame suggests that the time was at last ripe for a behavioural approach to the animal world. In many cases, popular writing on animal behaviour anticipated the rise of ethology as a professional discipline and helped prepare the way for the institutionalisation of behavioural studies. Many of the pioneering figures of ethology were amateurs: as E. M. Nicholson noted of the early study of bird behaviour, most of its outstanding figures have not been trained scientists.68 W. H. Hudson, Edmund Selous, H. Eliot Howard, and Nicholson himself had no formal training in biology, and their writing was more often addressed to the general public than to a specialist audience. The best known of these early, amateur students of behaviour was W. H. Hudson. Hudsons accounts of animals observed in their natural environment gained him a wide readership in the last decade of the nineteenth century and the opening decades of the twentieth and introduced the general public to a new way of seeing nature. Hudson was a self-taught naturalist who had struggled to win recognition within the scientific establishment before turning to popular nature writing. The Naturalist in La Plata (1892) was his first attempt at nature writing for a general audience. In it, Hudson set out to describe the habits of the animals best known to [him] from his childhood on the South American pampas.69 In a tribute to Gilbert White, he declared the pampas his own parish of Selborne, and he distanced his work from the exploration narratives of naturalist-collectors such as Henry Walter Bates.70 These allusions to other naturalist-authors situate Hudsons work within the genre of nature writing: stressing his interest in recounting the habits of


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long-familiar species rather than in cataloguing the exotic, Hudson locates himself within an ethological rather than a taxonomic tradition. He defended his own approach to nature as equal in value to both the taxonomic tradition and the laboratory work of the new biology. In The Book of a Naturalist, Hudson declared:
To weigh, count, measure, and dissect for purposes of identification, classification, and what not, and to search in bones and tissues for hidden affinities, it is necessary to see closely; but this close seeing would be out of place and a hindrance in other lines of inquiry. To know the creature, undivested of life or liberty or of anything belonging to it, it must be seen with an atmosphere, in the midst of the nature in which it harmoniously moves and has its being.71

This interest in observing the living creature in action in its natural environment was a cornerstone of ethology. Not only did the study of birds inspire many of the leading nature writers of the period, but it was also largely through the work of ornithologists that ethology became institutionalised as a discipline. Julian Huxley was among the pioneers of bird ethology: in 1912 he published a paper describing the courtship of the Redshank, the first in a long line of brilliant contributions by Huxley on the topic of bird courtship.72 Huxley was well placed to promote the spread of ethology in both the academic and popular spheres. As a lecturer and demonstrator at Oxford in the 1910s and 1920s, he was one of the first academic zoologists to pursue ethological research and to encourage it among his students. As Secretary of the Zoological Society (193542), with responsibility over the London Zoological Gardens and the country outpost at Whipsnade, he again promoted behavioural research. He also encouraged popular interest in animal behaviour through books, articles, lectures, guides to the zoological gardens, radio talks on topics such as bird-watching, and documentary films such as the Oscar-winning short The Private Life of the Gannets (1934). In one of his most successful efforts at popularising the study of nature, he collaborated with H. G. Wells and his son G. P. Wells on The Science of Life, a prcis of biological knowledge that surveyed a range of approaches to the study of life, including taxonomy, evolutionary theory, genetics, ethology, and

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ecology.73 The work initially appeared in thirty fortnightly parts, between March 1929 and May 1930, before being collected in book form, and, as I have noted before, Woolf records reading it in late 1931 and early 1932. In their introduction to The Science of Life, Wells, Huxley, and Wells offer a brief history of the life sciences in which they judge one of the most significant developments of the recent past to be the fact that [w]ork upon the living subject became more and more frequent and relatively more important.74 They observe:
Men of intelligence are taking cameras and building watching-shelters in forest and jungle and prairie, where formerly they took gun and trap and killing bottle. Zoological gardens are being reconstructed and enlarged, so that, while formerly the animals were exhibited as specimens, they are now watched going about their normal affairs Parallel to these modern zoological gardens, the modern botanical garden expands from the old obsession with specimens.75

In the section of the book devoted to animal behaviour, the authors relate the findings of Fabre, Forel, Maeterlinck, and others on the instinctive behaviour of solitary and social insects; the work of Selous, Howard, and Levick on courtship in animals (particularly birds, the group in which courtship-display reaches its greatest elaboration); and the writing of Hudson, Levick, Koehler, Yerkes, and Kohts on educational play in animals as seen in the flying sports of rooks and the joy-rides of penguins and in the activities of monkeys and apes.76 In addition to the work and authors that Woolf declares her familiarity with, there were many other contemporary sources of ethological knowledge that she would likely have encountered, for ethology in the early twentieth century was a highly accessible discipline, both readily available and easily comprehensible to the general public. Essays on nature subjects by authors such as J. Arthur Thomson and E. M. Nicholson appeared regularly in generalist periodicals such as the New Statesman and Time and Tide and demonstrate the ubiquity of popular nature writing in the early twentieth century. As a contemporary reviewer of Thomsons writing noted, Thomsons approach in his chosen task of interpreting modern biological science to the lay


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reader was to select topics of special interest and discuss them in the light of recent advances to give the lay reader a real insight into the most modern discoveries and developments of biological science.77 Drawing upon a range of authorities from ornithologists such as Edmund Selous and Julian Huxley to botanists such as F. O. Bower and J. C. Bose, Thomson summarised contemporary work on subjects such as the habits of penguins and puffins, the homing instincts of sea-swallows, the courtship rituals of pigeons, the responsiveness of plants to external stimuli, lunar periodicity in the reproduction of sea-urchins, and paternal care for the young among sea-horses.78 E. M. Nicholson likewise contributed articles on ethological subjects to the New Statesman, describing the habits of shearwaters and the ceremonies of the great crested grebe, discussing recent work on bird-roosts and flylines, and reporting on the long-term findings of a large-scale bird-ringing scheme initiated to track bird movements and study bird migration.79 Popularisers of science were also quick to adopt the new media of radio and film to communicate emerging perspectives on nature to the public. In 1930, Julian Huxley gave a series of radio talks (published in book form later that year) on the subject of bird-watching and bird behaviour. The series addressed topics such as The Everyday Life of Birds, Watching the Courtship of Birds, The Mind of Birds, and The Birds Place in Nature.80 In his first broadcast, Huxley explained the approach to wildlife that he wished to promote, declaring, When it was arranged that I should give these talks about birds, I put birdwatching into the title of the series, as this, more than any other single word I could think of, would tell my potential listeners the lines along which I mean to approach my subject.81 Elaborating on what this approach to nature entailed, he stated that the bird-watcher observes birds because their characters and doings interest him. He is filled with a desire to see more of their lives.82 Film was a medium particularly well-suited to promoting the observation of living nature. As early as 1910, nature documentary shorts were shown in cinemas prior to feature films. As evidence of the reception of these early nature shorts, Mary Field and Percy Smith recount a case in Lewisham in which the audience not only

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applauded the presentation of The Birth of a Flower, but held up the performance until a manager appeared and promised to re-wind and re-project the picture.83 In The Tenth Muse: Writing about Cinema in the Modernist Period, Laura Marcus observes that [t]he fascination with films which speeded up natural processes, as in the growth and unfolding of a flower, and with filmic slow-motion arose from a sense that film could show the very workings of nature, opening up entirely new dimensions of the visible, and the invisible, world.84 Beginning in 1922, the Secrets of Nature series made nature documentary shorts common cinema fare; by 1934 the series had produced over 150 short films on plant and animal life. One of the first films in the series was inspired by Edgar Chances ground-breaking behavioural study of the cuckoo, which appeared in print in 1922. The film, which like Chances book was entitled The Cuckoos Secret, included footage of the female cuckoo depositing her egg in the nest of a foster species and of the newly hatched cuckoo forcing its fostersiblings from the nest; Chance used the film to document the fact that the cuckoo returns to the same breeding ground every year and deposits its eggs in nests belonging to the same species as its own foster-parents.85 This choice of topic demonstrates the series potential for conveying new discoveries in the life sciences to the general public. Quite often, techniques developed to film wildlife also suggested new ways of studying nature: the filming of microscopic subjects, underwater cinematography, slow-motion filming, and time-lapse filming all provided new ways of observing living organisms and analysing their movement and growth. Work intended to popularise new scientific approaches thus contributed to scientific knowledge and to the development of new methods of observing nature. The Secrets of Nature series was widely known: Mary Field and Percy Smith, two of the series directors who published an account of their work in 1934, declared that only someone who never visits a cinema could be unfamiliar with the series; Julian Huxley likewise commented, All filmgoers know and most of them enjoy the series of films of animal and plant life produced in this country under the title of Secrets of Nature.86 It is difficult to trace showings of the Secrets of Nature films: as Field and Smith note, Shorts are never


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advertised outside theatres, except news theatres. They are never advertised in newspapers.87 Nevertheless, given Maggie Humms statement that Woolf was susceptible to the attraction of regular movie going, there is reason to believe that she would have encountered the series.88 Laura Marcus also notes that Virginia and Leonard Woolf attended Film Society screenings, and Marcuss reference to the Film Societys strong emphasis on scientific and nature films further suggests the likelihood that Woolf was familiar with documentary nature shorts.89 In any case, phenomena such as the Secrets of Nature series demonstrate that in the early decades of the twentieth century ethology was a highly accessible discipline, communicated to the public through a wide range of media in a form intended to convey the latest discoveries in the field in an informative and compelling manner. Many early twentieth-century writers displayed an interest in ethological work and drew on the increasingly detailed knowledge of animal behaviour for imagery and analogy. In 1922 Ezra Pound translated Remy de Gourmonts Physique de lamour (1903), a study of animal (especially insect) courtship behaviour. The Insect Play by the apek brothers is equally informed by sops fables and Fabres entomological observations and satirises sexual relations, capitalism, militarism, and authoritarian government through the representation of insect behaviour. In Brave New World, Aldous Huxleys depiction of the Hatcheries and the techniques of Social Predestination (whereby social function and sex are determined by the treatment of the embryo) recalls the control over development exerted by social insects such as ants and bees.90 In Snooty Baronet, Wyndham Lewis alludes to Fabres work on insects as a model for the study of human behaviour. Stories such as Kiplings The Mother Hive and Joyces tale of the Ondt and the Gracehoper in Finnegans Wake (which according to Susan Shaw Sailer rewrites sops fable and violates the logic of the earlier versions moral precept by undermining the ondts behavioural superiority) drew upon the knowledge gained from behavioural studies and demonstrate an alertness to developments in the study of nature among writers of the period.91 The diverse ends to which such imagery has been put have been capably analysed by

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critics such as Jessica Burstein, Rachel Sarsfield, and Holly Henry. More fundamentally, the presence of such imagery reveals a modern awareness of and appreciation for the emerging science of ethology and, as subsequent chapters will demonstrate, the same interest is apparent in Woolfs writing. The rise of ethology at the turn of the century marked the emergence of behavioural studies as a recognised discipline, but it can also be viewed as a revival of an approach to nature already present in the works of naturalists such as Gilbert White. The Victorians had venerated White as the definitive clergyman-naturalist who found evidence of Gods glory in the natural wonders of his parish. Early twentieth-century ethologists and protectionists also lionised White, but for different reasons. E. M. Nicholson praised Whites acuity in seeing beyond the growing taxonomic preoccupation of his age: he quotes with approval Whites recommendation, Learn as much as possible the manners of animals they are worth a ream of descriptions, and he notes that this advice was contrary to the ideas of [Whites] contemporaries.92 Early twentieth-century ethologists tended to regard the nineteenth-century focus on taxonomic work as a lamentable sidetrack from the worthwhile study of animal life, and in White they found an admirable precursor. E c ol o g y Ecology, like ethology, emerged as a recognised discipline in Britain in the early twentieth century and its central tenets were quickly communicated to the general public. However, the character of early twentieth-century ecology differed in significant ways from ecology as it is currently conceived. Both the disciplines early twentiethcentury emergence and its distinctive character in the initial stages of its development need to be considered when evaluating its impact on interested members of the public such as Woolf. The term Oecologie was coined in 1866 by the German biologist Ernst Haeckel. Thereafter, as Donald Worster has noted, biologists absolutely ignored Haeckels innovation for several decades, but in the 1890s European plant-geographers such as Eugenius Warming,


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Oscar Drude, and Andreas Schimper transformed Oecologie from just another neologism to a functioning science.93 These European botanists moved from identifying and charting the distribution of individual species to studying plants as members of communities shaped by determinants such as soil composition, temperature, and rainfall and by the interrelationships among the communitys component species. By 1904, British botanists, led by A. G. Tansley, had begun to study Englands vegetation after the manner of these Continental masters.94 This work marked the beginning of the practice of ecology in Britain, leading not only to the publication of Types of British Vegetation (1911) but also to the founding of the British Ecological Society and the Journal of Ecology in 1913. In Botany; or, The Modern Study of Plants, published in 1912 as part of the Peoples Books series, Marie Carmichael Stopes devotes a chapter to plant ecology, which she describes as the study of the plant in its home, an approach that broadens botanys outlook to take in a wider field where the plant is merely an individual in a community.95 Stopess book was one of the first works intended for a general audience that not only explained concepts such as habitat niches and the succession of one plant community by another, but also explicitly identified these ideas as belonging to the science of ecology. Although the mobility of animals made it more challenging to study them in relation to their environment, by the 1920s the ecological approach was spreading to zoology, as is evident even from popular nature writing. By 1924, J. Arthur Thomson was explicitly grouping his essays on the interrelationships among organisms and between organisms and their environment under the title Ecology in Science, Old and New.96 The infiltration of this approach is also illustrated by the opening words of E. M. Nicholsons popular work of ornithology, How Birds Live (1927): There is a flourishing science, Ecology, which deals with the relationship of plants to their environment and to one another; he goes on to suggest to his readers that the study of bird ecology can be equally rewarding.97 Also in 1927, Charles Elton (one of Julian Huxleys students) published Animal Ecology, one of the foundational texts of the discipline, which populari[sed] notions such as food chains, habitat niches and the natural regulation

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of numbers.98 Seeking to explain the focus of ecology, Elton distinguished his approach from both the taxonomic tradition of the past and the contemporary science of laboratory biology. He declared:
In solving ecological problems we are concerned with what animals do in their capacity as whole, living animals, not as dead animals or as a series of parts of animals. We have next to study the circumstances under which they do these things, and, most important of all, the limiting factors which prevent them from doing certain other things The study of dead animals or their macerated skeletons, which has to form such an important and necessary part of zoological work, and which has bulked so largely in the interest of zoologists for the last hundred years, has tended to obscure the important fact that animals are a part of their environment.99

Taxonomy and laboratory biology, which had long been defined in opposition to each other, are from the ecologists perspective more similar than different in their concentration on the dead specimen, and both, Elton suggested, needed to make room for the study of living organisms as members of a larger biotic community. Another way in which ecologists demonstrated their sense that their work was discontinuous with the approaches to nature that had dominated the nineteenth century was through their adoption of Gilbert White as a precursor. Elton opens Animal Ecology with an epigraph from The Natural History of Selborne, in which White declares,
Faunists, as you observe, are too apt to acquiesce in bare descriptions and a few synonyms; the reason for this is plain, because all that may be done at home in a mans study, but the investigation of the life and conversation of animals is a concern of much more trouble and difficulty, and is not to be attained but by the active and inquisitive, and by those that reside much in the country.100

Ecologists, like ethologists, saw in the approach of the eighteenthcentury naturalist a precedent for their own work and aligned themselves with White over their more immediate scientific predecessors. Animal ecology expanded rapidly. In 1932, the Journal of Animal Ecology was established to accommodate the increasing amount of ecological work devoted to animal subjects. However, the overall movement of ecology in this period was towards the integration rather than the separation of plant and animal work. In his 1928 review of


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Eltons Animal Ecology, Tansley expressed his belief that [w]e may now look forward with some confidence to a period of intimate cooperation between botanists and zoologists in ecological work, a period which we expect will be fruitful to a degree hardly yet suspected, and in 1935 Tansley coined the term ecosystem to describe a community of organisms and its physical environment considered together as a complex of interacting relationships.101 Thus, by the end of the interwar period, the fundamental concepts of modern ecology were in place. Like early ethologists, early ecologists sought to communicate the foundational ideas of their discipline to the general public. Wells, Huxley, and Wells outlined the principles of ecology in The Science of Life. Drawing upon the work of authorities such as A. G. Tansley, F. W. Oliver, and Charles Elton, they devoted a chapter to The Science of Ecology, and returned in subsequent chapters to possible applications of ecological knowledge.102 Their chapter on ecology explains concepts such as food chains; ecological niches, well-marked rles, which will be found, played by one actor here and another actor there, in all well-developed life communities; ecological succession, whereby a group of organisms alters its environment to the point at which a new group of organisms is able to move in and replace it; and the natural regulation of numbers, through which population increase is held in check by predators, disease, migration, or starvation.103 In 1933, Elton gave a series of radio talks on the subject of animal ecology (published in book form later the same year under the title Exploring the Animal World). In his broadcasts, Elton explained the focus of ecological work, stating, My interest is in all animals at once, in animal society, in the animal world as a whole. This subject is sort of animal politics and economics and social science and fashionable gossip and geography all rolled into one.104 He encouraged his listeners to adopt a similarly broad view in their observation of the natural world, assuring his audience that anywhere one chooses to look, one will find a very busy, complicated, living society of animals, depending on each other in many ways.105 Early ecological work remained accessible to a general audience. Worster notes that Eltons writing relied on many homely,

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commonplace terms, much as Darwins had: Eltons use of food as the currency or basis of exchange in the natural economy, for example, ensured that [n]o one could mistake his general meaning.106 The dissemination of ecological ideas to a general audience aided the early development of the discipline in a number of ways. Elton used his radio talks to recruit volunteers for an ecological survey of British woods (the results of the survey were later published in the Journal of Animal Ecology) and to invite listeners to report on the spread of accidentally introduced species such as the grey squirrel and the muskrat through Britain. Eltons attempts to summarise contemporary developments in his field for a general audience also advanced his discipline. Joel B. Hagen states that, although Animal Ecology had originally been aimed at a general audience, it nevertheless went on to have a profound impact upon professional ecology.107 At this early stage in the development of the discipline, a clear statement of fundamental ecological principles intended to explain the emerging science to the public could at the same time serve as an important drawing-together of concepts that consolidated what had previously been piecemeal work and brought into focus directions for future research. As in ethology, original work and popular writing overlapped in the early period of ecologys development as a discipline. Ecology as a science of control Many arguments made by early twentieth-century ecologists sound familiar by present-day standards, as when Elton declares, In England we do not realise sufficiently vividly that man is surrounded by vast and intricate animal communities, and that his actions often produce on the animals effects which are usually quite unexpected in their nature that in fact man is only one animal in a large community of other ones.108 However, other aspects of ecology in its early twentieth-century form clash with current conceptions of ecology, a fact which should be borne in mind when applying critical theories derived from current ecological attitudes to the work of modernist writers such as Woolf.


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

Early ecology had as one of its main objectives the control of the natural environment for human benefit. In his introduction to Eltons Animal Ecology, Julian Huxley presents ecology as destined to a great future on the grounds that it offered a means of achieving control of wild life in the interest of mans food supply and prosperity.109 Eltons description of ecology in his 1933 radio talks also demonstrates the extent to which early ecology was invested in controlling the natural world. Elton presents the rapid expansion of ecology, its status as one of the largest growing points of biology at the present day, as a result of the fact that by its aid we hope to attain fuller knowledge and control of dangerous diseases and pests, and some foreknowledge of the changes in natural resources such as fisheries.110 He acknowledges that the motivations behind ecological work could be either disinterested or pragmatic, declaring, Scientists are engaged on the absorbing adventure of finding out how these [natural] systems work both for the interest of the search and in order to obtain the best deal that is possible for humanity.111 In Wells, Huxley, and Wellss The Science of Life, the introduction to ecology is followed by suggestions of the ways in which the previously described principles might be employed to human advantage. The authors optimism regarding the human ability to control the natural environment is almost without bounds. Observing that humankind has begun to alter the natural environment at an unprecedented rate, they warn that this will result in the destabilisation of the ever-swaying balance of nature if human beings do not become fully conscious of their impact on the natural world. However, instead of concluding that this heightened awareness must lead to less interference with nature, they aspire to greater regulation of the natural world, viewing deliberately exercised control of the environment as the only possible substitute for Natures clumsy sequences; through human intervention they hope to make the vital circulation of matter and energy as swift, efficient, and wasteless as it can be made.112 In the final segment of The Science of Life, Wells, Huxley, and Wells return to the idea of controlling nature by means of science and look forward to a time when [t]he wilderness will become a world-garden, when ecological knowledge will make it possible to create a forest of

The modern life sciences


great trees without disease, free of stinging insect or vindictive reptile, open, varied and delightful.113 The authors declared desire for variety is at odds with the planned elimination of any species deemed undesirable by man, and this internal contradiction is characteristic of ecology in the early twentieth century. As Peder Anker has previously noted, the exterminatory aspect of early ecology is also suggested in H. G. Wellss Men Like Gods (1923), which depicts a Utopian world from which all species deemed harmful, unpleasant, or unnecessary to man have been eliminated.114 The eradication of almost all insects has led to the almost total disappearance of insectivorous birds, a loss deemed acceptable by the Utopians.115 The contrast between this approving view of rationalised extermination and Rachel Carsons warning vision of a silent spring four decades later illustrates a crucial difference in perspective between early twentiethcentury ecology and ecology as it is currently conceived. A number of factors contributed to early ecologys commitment to environmental control. Many early ecologists such as A. G. Tansley were, in the words of Peder Anker, socially concerned scientists, who wanted their work to contribute to the amelioration of human life.116 Tansley and others who shared his outlook rejected laboratory biology with its focus on morphology in part because the work was often of no immediate practical use. In his inaugural lecture as Sherardian Professor at Oxford in 1927, Tansley declared his intention to move away from the sterile academicism of laboratory biology.117 For Tansley and others, ecology was to be recommended as a discipline because it focused on something broader, more vital and more practical.118 The applicability of ecological knowledge to problems such as the expansion of commercial agriculture in the colonies or the control of rodent and insect pests made it particularly appealing to those who wished to practise useful science. The focus on applied work was pragmatic in another sense as well: prior to the Second World War, ecologists were still struggling to gain institutional status for their discipline, and they often relied on funding from interested industries. Eltons work in the 1920s ranged from surveys intended to identify the basic structure of ecological communities to more practical work, funded by the Hudsons Bay


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

Company and the Empire Marketing Board, into fluctuations in rodent numbers. Elton sought means of predicting surges in rodent populations and the disease epidemics that often followed these surges, both of which impacted on human welfare and wealth.119 In the 1930s, economic depression and the socially and politically engaged character of the decade served as further incentives to practical work. In 1932, Elton created the Bureau of Animal Population with funding from a number of scientific societies and interested industries; in 1934 the University of Oxford recognised the Bureau as a unit of the university, but left it to secure its own funding.120 During the 1930s and throughout the Second World War, the Bureau continued Eltons work on the population dynamics of rodents for purposes of prediction and control.121 After the Second World War, however, when ecology was more firmly established as a discipline, Elton turned his attention to a decades-long survey of the ecology of Wytham Woods, a task important to understanding broad ecological relationships but of no immediate practical usefulness. The achievement of institutional status was gradual and ecologys ties to industry remained important throughout the disciplines formative period. The preoccupation with the control of nature evident in early twentieth-century ecology does not negate the conservationist views emerging at the same time, but it is important to acknowledge that these seemingly conflicting outlooks developed simultaneously as two aspects of the same discipline. In Imperial Ecology: Environmental Order in the British Empire, 18951945, Peder Anker contends that designations such as good Arcadian views of nature and bad imperial or industrial management views represent false and anachronistic dichotomies The history of early British ecology represents instead a tangled web of both imperial and romantic views.122 Practitioners of ecology such as Tansley and Elton and popularisers of the discipline such as Huxley and Wells endorsed both romantic environmental preservation and hard-core ecological management, and both aspects of early ecology must be taken into account when considering the impact of ecological thinking on modernist writers.123 The co-existence of seemingly contradictory attitudes towards nature conservationist and exterminatory can also be found in

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Woolfs work, suggesting the extent to which her view of nature was a product of the science of her time. A co-operative ethic Despite early ecologys preoccupation with environmental control, the overall impact of ecological knowledge on early twentieth- century views of nature was positive. Like natural theology or evolutionary theory before it, ecology provided an overarching perspective that gave coherence to the study of nature, and Allen argues that, as an integrating principle, ecology was preferable even to evolutionary theory. Evolution, he claims, involved too much still that seemed incapable of proof; it operated too elusively; it was too slow-moving to be readily demonstrable. Ecology, by contrast, was instantly accessible, and it more patently linked in an overall logical framework what had previously been atomised and disjointed.124 Additionally, where evolution stressed competition, ecology stressed mutual interrelationship and thus served as the intellectual sanction for a more constructive ethic.125 Two linked articles by Lens that appeared in the New Statesman in 1915 offer a similar argument: Lens contrasts The Fratricide Biology, premised on the idea of the struggle for existence, with The Fraternal Biology, stressing the idea of a division of labour in nature and emphasising co-operation among organisms over competition between them. Lens presents the former perspective as a misinterpretation of Darwin and an outlook pernicious in its effect, and he recommends the principle of co-operation and mutual dependence as a more promising basis for understanding nature.126 Ecology had a unifying influence on the life sciences in another sense as well: not only did it foster a vision of nature as a co-operative system but it also encouraged collaboration among previously isolated disciplines, for to understand the many and complex interactions occurring within any one ecosystem it was necessary to pool the knowledge of many specialist fields. Evaluating ecologys impact on both the scientific view of nature and relations among diverse scientific disciplines, Allen sounds almost devout when he speaks of the life sciences deliverance through ecology.127


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

Wo ol f s o b s e rvat ion o f n at u r e Woolf was clearly conscious of the appeal of observing living nature. In The Introduction, Lily Everit describes the rapture and wonder to be found in
long solitary walks, climbing gates, stepping through the mud, and through the blur, the dream, the ecstasy of loneliness, to see the plovers wheel and surprise the rabbits, and come in the hearts of woods or wide lonely moors upon little ceremonies which had no audience, private rites, pure beauty offered by beetles and lilies of the valley and dead leaves and still pools, without any care whatever what human beings thought of them. (CSF 180)

Woolf herself adopted an observational approach to nature. In Woolf, Rooks, and Rural England, Ian Blyth draws attention to the accuracy of Woolfs descriptions of the manners and habits of rooks and argues that [l]ike all good nature writing, Woolfs emerges from a day by day, week by week, year by year familiarity with her subject.128 In Orlando, she alludes to the homing flight of rooks in the evening, and in The Death of the Moth, she describes rooks habit of settling and rising and settling again en masse in the tree-tops,
as if a vast net with thousands of black knots in it has been cast up into the air; which, after a few moments sank slowly down upon the trees until every twig seemed to have a knot at the end of it. Then, suddenly, the net would be thrown into the air again in a wider circle this time, with the utmost clamour and vociferation, as though to be thrown into the air and settle slowly down upon the tree-tops were a tremendously exciting experience. (O 15; CE I: 359)

Woolf observes the nest-building activities of rooks in their rookeries; she describes the group flights of rooks and remarks on the fact that rooks are sometimes accompanied in these flights by flocks of starlings; she records rooks fondness for walnuts (L v: 58; D i: 48, 54). Describing the flight of rooks on a windy day, she notes the roughness of the air current & the tremor of the rooks wing <deep breasting it> slicing as if the air were full of ridges & ripples & roughnesses; they rise & sink, up & down, as if the exercise <pleased them> rubbed & braced them like swimmers in rough water (D iii: 191). Evaluating this passage, Blyth declares that, by anyones standard, Woolfs account

The modern life sciences


is a meticulously observed, beautifully described short passage of nature writing one of many such passages scattered throughout Woolfs work. As those who have been lucky enough to see such a performance for themselves can testify, swimmers in rough water is an excellent attempt at what is in truth impossible: conveying in words the shapes in the sky made by rooks when flying or rather playing in high winds.129

Blyth concludes that Woolfs description stands up to comparison with any other in the field.130 Woolfs skill as an observer of nature thus places her on a continuum with nature writers such as Hudson and Fabre. The successive theoretical, methodological, and institutional changes that occurred in the life sciences in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries resulted in a significant shift in the way that nature was seen and described. Attention turned from the cataloguing of natural forms to an interest in understanding life processes, whether this took the form of the study of physiology, behaviour, or the interrelationships between organisms and their environment. These changes were accompanied by a shift in popular attitudes towards the taxonomic natural history tradition brought about by the dissemination of new approaches to the study of nature, by the contemporary emergence of the animal protection movement, and by the influence of psychoanalytic interpretations of the collecting impulse. These shifts in outlook were reflected in contemporary fictional representations of nature and its study, and the next chapters will explore Woolfs responses to the study of nature in both its Victorian and modern manifestations.

Chapter 3

To pin through the body with a name

Virginia Woolf and the taxonomic tradition

In the midst of the many changes occurring in the late nineteenthand early twentieth-century life sciences, the one constant was the tendency among modern practitioners of the life sciences to define their emerging disciplines against the taxonomic tradition of natural history. In her use of natural history as a subject and a symbol, Woolf was equally consistent. Woolfs childhood encounter with natural history led her early in life to form a critical view of the taxonomic tradition and its component practices of collection and classification. Thereafter, she repeatedly employed the collecting habit and the classificatory mentality as analogies through which to comment on social and literary conventions that she regarded as similarly restrictive and reductive. Through a review of Woolfs childhood responses to the natural history tradition, this chapter outlines the way in which she arrived at her conception of the pastime; it then surveys her use of natural history and its component practices as stable points of reference in her fiction. Because Woolfs views of taxonomic natural history were established early and varied little over the course of her life, her use of this imagery forms a coherent argument running through her work and linking together a range of practices and attitudes that she wished to interrogate. T h e o r igi n s o f Wo ol f s r e s p on s e t o ta xon o m i c n at u r a l h i s t o ry Looking back on the earliest days of her participation in natural history, Woolf recalls the pastime as an obsession shared with her siblings, our mania, and in the Hyde Park Gate News, the Stephen

Virginia Woolf and the taxonomic tradition


children show themselves to be enthusiastic butterfly collectors (MOB 113; HPGN 121). Gradually, however, natural history devolved from a group obsession to a pastime associated primarily with Thoby, whose great passion it was.1 Already in the Hyde Park Gate News, Thoby is often singled out in discussions of the childrens practice of natural history, and his enthusiasm for the activity seems to fuel his siblings efforts: it is recorded that Thoby had received a very handsome box to contain his butterflies and moths as a birthday present; that on a visit to Thoby at school, bugs, chrysalises and butterflies were taken to the boarder; and that, on other such trips, a portion of the visit was spent in arranging butterflies and moths in Thobys dormitory (HPGN 107, 133, 131). In her memories of her elder brother Woolf declares, always round him, like the dew that collects in beads on a rough coat, there hangs the country; butterflies; birds; muddy roads; muddy boots; horses (MOB 140). Virginias childhood letters to Thoby are liberally scattered with entomological news: she discusses the family museum, reports the discovery of a beetle pupa, and offers updates on the development of local insects, noting at intervals, the chrysalises are still in their maiden (?) state and No. Bugs are out I am afraid they must have overslept (L i: 7, 52). Yet the letters that she wrote to others during the same period contain no such references and her contemporary diary entries similarly fail to record her entomological discoveries, suggesting that Virginia engaged in the pastime as a means of interacting with Thoby even after her personal enthusiasm for bughunting had begun to wane. She requests instructions and directives from Thoby, seeming to carry out entomological investigations more for his sake than her own. Shall I do any bug looking out? she inquires. I have plenty of time for it, and I am very often in the [illegible] region if it would be of any use I can easily do it (9). As any reference to naturalists anecdotes will demonstrate, this is not the characteristic tone of an entomology enthusiast, but rather that of one solicitously offering assistance to an enthusiast. It was in this period of more detached engagement in the practices of specimen collection and species classification that Virginias own view of taxonomic natural history began to form.


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

In her personal responses to the pursuit of natural history, Virginia often displayed a degree of indifference. She writes to Thoby that Sophia Farrell, the Stephens cook, has given them a box of South African butterflies and asks, Would you like us to send them on to you? They are not much good, I am afraid. They are unset and most of the wings are off however some of them are whole and in a good state. Only I dont see quite what we are to do with them (16). Her congratulations to Thoby for having done our work for the year by obtaining a series of White Ws (or White-Letter Hairsteaks) suggests that she associates the pursuit of natural history with the Victorian demand for industriousness even in leisure (an attitude summarised by H. T. Stainton in his advice to novice entomologists: Take a pleasure in your business and make a business of your pleasure) (42).2 Woolfs recollection of being scolded severely by Thoby for slackness in the fulfilment of her duties as name finder suggests that she did not herself approach the pastime in a sufficiently businesslike manner (MOB 113). One of the ways in which Virginia expressed her dwindling conviction in taxonomic entomology was by suggesting the imaginary nature of its quarries. In her journal she recounts: In the morning Thoby Nessa Jack Georgie & I went to Painswick Castle, a roman camp on the down about 2 miles away to look for mythical Large Blues. Needless to say, they were not forthcoming (PA 119). A week and a half later she repeats this dismissal, noting: We went out to catch a mythical Comma in the valley but no traces of the creature were to be seen & Nessa & I came back and shopped in the village (121). Her descriptions of the pursuit of natural history suggest her wavering belief in the pastime. In August of 1899, while on holiday at Warboys in Huntingdonshire, Virginia composed her most complete account of a family moth hunt, opening with the disclaimer, Tonight & last night we began our Sugar campaign Thoby rather, the rest of us have rather departed from that profession (144). The tone of the essay is one of amused detachment despite the fact that Virginia was herself a participant in the event. She imagines her own actions as they would be seen from the perspective of an innocent reader and finds them

Virginia Woolf and the taxonomic tradition


strange (ibid.). Her description of the ceremony of the procession, led by the renowned J. T. S. and brought up in the rear by A. L. S. a supernumerary amateur of no calling and Gurth the dog member, stresses the hierarchical organisation of even this recreational pursuit (1445). Mimicking the clichs common to tales of adventure (their renowned leaders and expedition[s] confounded) and the language of a military campaign (Advance slowly; halt), she at once deflates the seriousness of the sugar campaign through the inappropriate use of high rhetoric and implies that supposedly heroic voyages of exploration are not so different in spirit from this backyard moth hunt (144, 145). She anthropomorphises the moth, envisioning it roaming melancholy thro damp woods and uttering a slightly tipsy protest at the indignity of being disturbed at the sugar (144, 145). This results in a sense of uneasiness when she contrasts the moths [sic] point of view with that of man, the hunter (144). Interestingly, Virginia pays little attention to the moths captured on the hunt: she makes no attempt to identify them and they are quickly passed over. Instead, she focuses on the memory of a Red Underwing upon whom they gazed one moment before the grand old moth vanished (145). Her account suggests that the momentary glimpse of the Red Underwing left a more lasting impression than the specimens captured during the hunt, an idea that Woolf would develop further in her later writing. This early account of a moth hunt, written while Virginia and her siblings still engaged in the practice, suggests that already she was critical of the activity and distanced herself from it through ironic presentation. Virginias disinclination to join fully in her brothers entomological enthusiasms derived in part from her sense that the scientific approach of the naturalist was not truly her own, a sense apparently instilled in her by Thoby himself. Writing to her elder brother, Virginia is conscious of his knowledge of taxonomic nomenclature and her own relative ignorance in this area: forwarding to him some photographs taken at Corby, she confesses that she do[es]nt know to what species [the Hills dog] belongs (L i: 11). Reporting to Thoby that she has seen a blue bird with a yellow chest and cheeks on [her] windowsill, the other morning, she asks him to identify it for her, already


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

anticipating his dismissal of her own conjectures: My dear Goat no woman knows how to describe a thing accurately! (59). Virginia also displays ambivalence towards natural history in its institutional form. On a visit to the British Museum (Natural History), she and Adrian go in search of a mythical underground collection of bugs, which Miss Kay declares she saw; on her return, she reports, instead we discovered a notice directing us to an insect room open to students from 10 to 4, which we suppose she meant, but as we did not feel sufficiently student like to enter, we came home (PA 53). Despite her private mimicry of their idiom and conventions, she feels a sense of exclusion from the institutions of Victorian science. Subsequent to this failed attempt to view the insect collections, Virginia and Vanessa arrange to go with Miss Kay to see the bugs (94). This they manage to do, but Virginia leaves no more engaged than before. She records only, The bugs were downstairs at the Mu[seum]. Nothing very wonderful (ibid.). At first intimidated by the museums aura of authority, she subsequently finds herself indifferent. Having been discouraged from and having rejected in her turn the taxonomic mode of description, Virginia continues to distance herself from it through mockery. She satirises the enthusiasm and pedantry of the naturalist, noting in her journal:
The Almond trees are just coming out, and there are crocusses (croci Stellas young man calls them) all over the grass. A reverend gentleman has written to the Times to record the first hawthorn flower the earliest that has appeared in the Parish since 1884 when, as will be remembered, there was an uncommonly mild winter, and favourable spring still I think your readers will agree with me, when I say that it is not an unprecedented phenomenon, this early visitor, etc etc. Hear hear! (52)

Virginia mocks the ponderous pomposity of this outlook, through which nature itself is accorded less importance than the human tabulation of it. She is wary of lapsing into such a reductive view of nature herself and conscious of the self-importance and competitiveness underlying the pretence of objective scientific reportage. Catching herself rhapsodising over the flowers the almond trees out, the crocusses going over, squills at their best, the other trees just beginning to seed, she comments dryly, I shall turn into a country clergyman,

Virginia Woolf and the taxonomic tradition


and make notes of phenomena in Kensington Gardens, which shall be sent as a challenge to other country clergymen (556). Later in life, Woolf herself attracted the censure of a naturalist through her descriptions of the wildlife and scenery of the Isle of Skye in To the Lighthouse. Shortly after the publication of the novel, Woolf received a letter from Lord Olivier informing her that her descriptions of the fauna and flora of the Hebrides were totally inaccurate: as she recounted in a letter to Vanessa, Lord Olivier writes that my horticulture and natural history is in every instance wrong: there are no rooks, elms, or dahlias in the Hebrides; my sparrows are wrong; so are my carnations (L iii: 379).3 Woolf rebutted Oliviers criticism in Orlando by satirising the pedantry of those whose focus on minutiae impedes their ability to take a wider view. She refers to his cataloguing of her errors, in the preface to the novel, where she offers ironic thanks to the gentleman who has generously and gratuitously corrected the punctuation, the botany, the entomology, the geography, and the chronology of previous works of mine and will, I hope, not spare his services on the present occasion (O 7). Early in life, Virginia concluded that nature must be approached and described in a manner other than that adopted by the natural historian. She reflects:
I often wonder whether, if I lived in the country all the year round, I could think as pleasantly as these country writers write I think that a year or two of such gardens & green fields would infallibly sweeten one & soothe one & simplify one into the kind of Gilbert White old gentleman or Miss Matty old lady that only grew till now for me inside the covers of books. I shd. be writing notes upon the weather, & I shd. turn to my diaries of past years to compare their records I shd. tell how I bedded out certain plants, & record the condition of my rose trees. I shd. perhaps, have seen a swallow on the wing for other climates, or have discovered a sleepy martin presumably preparing for his winter sleep. I shd. propound my theories as to migration & hybernation. Alas, tho, as a Cockney I have no sound country education to go upon. I must blurt out crude ecstasies upon sky & field; which may perchance retain for my eyes a little of their majesty in my awkward words. (PA 1378)

Virginia had more of a country education than she here acknowledges. Her preference for crude ecstasies was a choice arising from a sense that cataloguing was an inadequate response to nature.4 At


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

this stage, Virginia rejects the scientific perspective altogether and champions instead a visionary approach to the natural world. Later, however, she would return to science, adopting other, newly emergent methods of studying nature as analogies for her own chosen means of viewing the world. C h i l d h o o d a n d n at u r a l h i s t o ry i n wo ol f s f i c t ion As a result of her own childhood encounter with natural history, Woolf repeatedly portrays her fictional children engaged in the same pastime. Jacob Flanders searches tidal pools for marine life, and he and his brother John collect and classify butterflies, moths, and beetles; the Ramsay children interest themselves in everything from sea-birds and butterflies to seaweed and crabs and live surrounded by beetles, and the skulls of small birds [and] long frilled strips of seaweed pinned to the wall; Bernard, Neville, Jinny, and Susan (but not Rhoda or Louis) net and examine butterflies, and Susans children later take up the activity; Martin Pargiter proposes beetling expeditions; and in the dip of ground beyond the lily pond, George Oliver is initiated into the tradition of butterfly catching that captivated Bartholomew, Lucy, and Giles before him (TTL 14; BTA 36). Of all the children depicted at any length in Woolfs fiction, only the young Orlando fails to engage in some form of taxonomic natural history, a fact suggesting that Woolf viewed the popular practice of natural history as a legacy of the nineteenth century that it would have been anachronistic to associate with a child of the Renaissance. Woolfs fictional representations of the childhood practice of natural history illustrate the way in which a natural inclination can be co-opted and used to inculcate a socially sanctioned system of order and value. Woolf suggests that the natural world holds an innate fascination for children, but that the form this fascination takes varies with the temperament of the child. Mrs Ramsay recognises the individual approaches to nature adopted by her children, reflecting, Crabs, she had to allow, if Andrew really wished to dissect them, or if Jasper believed that one could make soup from seaweed, one

Virginia Woolf and the taxonomic tradition


could not prevent it; or Roses objects shells, reeds, stones; for they were gifted, her children, but all in quite different ways (TTL 34). However, Woolf suggests that the typical adult response to the unique outlooks of children is to channel their individual enthusiasms into conventional pastimes. Mr Ramsay reacts to his childrens disparate approaches to nature by suggesting a more formalised approach, commenting, Why dont some of you take up botany? (216). Similarly, while John Flanders amuses himself by depositing in his mothers lap grass or dead leaves which he called tea, Mrs Flanders attempts to teach him to recognise distinct species: Thats an orchid leaf, Johnny ( JR 20). Bernard, Neville, Jinny, and Susan, whose first articulated thoughts offer unstudied observations of their natural surroundings, are soon engaged in the more regulated pursuit of collecting and examining specimens. Childrens engagement with nature is also shaped by institutional models: Jacobs examination of a tidal pool for interesting specimens and his subsequent capture of a crab in a bucket have a public parallel in Captain Boases capture and display of a shark at the Scarborough aquarium (18). This redirection of a general love of nature into the conventional practice of natural history enables further conditioning, for, once learned, the practice of natural history itself serves as a means of entrenching wider social values and perspectives. In a discussion of The Waves, Kathy J. Phillips suggests the extent to which adult behaviour is learned on the school sports ground, arguing that, as a colonial administrator, Percival has hardly matured beyond the level of games at school and adopts the tactics of the schoolyard.5 Woolf suggests that the natural history tradition also contributes to this education, for in The Waves she mentions the pursuits of the Natural History Society alongside cricket and military drill as conventional schoolboy pastimes: Louis watches with a mix of envy and disdain the boasting boys Archie and Hugh; Parker and Dalton; Larpent and Smith, observing, They are the volunteers; they are the cricketers; they are the officers of the Natural History Society. They are always forming into fours and marching in troops with badges on their caps; they salute simultaneously passing the figure of their general (TW 34).6 If cricket and the drill inculcate


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

competitiveness, obedience, and loyalty in children, the practices of specimen collection and classification encourage the urge to capture and possess and entrench the habit of differentiation. While Louis confesses his admiration for the majestic order and beautiful obedience of the boy heroes of the public school, he expresses reservations as well, noting that the same boys leave butterflies trembling with their wings pinched off; they throw dirty pocket-handkerchiefs clotted with blood screwed up into corners. They make little boys sob in dark passage ways (ibid.). Phillips links these habits of violence to the boys military training; however, the boys also receive training in this behaviour in their capacity as officers of the Natural History Society.7 Violence against nature has an institutional tradition of its own and constitutes another form of learned brutality.8 The practice of natural history also reinforced gender boundaries, for natural history was an activity in which the propriety of female participation was disputed.9 While an interest in botanising was deemed acceptable for a young lady, many similar activities were regarded as unseemly. In Night and Day, Cassandra Otways mother is horrified by her daughters hobby of raising silkworms, an interest that she attributes to the unhealthy influence of Cassandras brothers. A childhood quarrel between Rose and Martin Pargiter, recounted several times in the course of The Years, illustrates the power dynamic between brother and sister through reference to the activities and instruments of natural history. The first description of the quarrel occurs shortly after the event itself, as Rose steels herself to ask her brother to take her to the shop:
She stopped outside the schoolroom door. She did not want to go in, for she had quarrelled with Martin. They had quarrelled first about Erridge and the microscope and then about shooting Miss Pyms cats next door. But Eleanor had told her to ask him. She opened the door. Hullo, Martin she began. He was sitting at a table with a book propped in front of him, muttering to himself perhaps it was Greek, perhaps it was Latin. Eleanor told me she began, noting how flushed he looked, and how his hand closed on a bit of paper as if he were going to screw it into a ball. To ask you she began, and braced herself and stood with her back against the door. (TY 1617)

Virginia Woolf and the taxonomic tradition


This first telling reveals little about the subject or consequences of the quarrel itself, but it positions Rose outside the schoolroom and presents her as unable to decipher the texts representative of a classical education, suggesting her exclusion from the intellectual sphere, gendered male. In the second telling of these events, this time by Rose, the cause and consequences of the quarrel are elaborated. Rose asks,
Do you remember that row when the microscope was broken? Well, I met that boy that horrid, ferret-faced boy Erridge up in the North. He wasnt horrid, said Martin. He was, Rose persisted, A horrid little sneak. He pretended that it was I who broke the microscope and it was he who broke it. (151)

The revelation of the subject of the quarrel reinforces the impression created by the image of Rose standing hesitant outside the schoolroom. If Latin and Greek constitute the formal education of the upper-middle-class Victorian schoolboy, natural history is his typical recreational pursuit. The dispute over the broken microscope, in which Erridges word is automatically accepted over Roses, implies that, as a girl, Rose can be assumed to be unfit to handle this instrument of science as well as incapable of competently engaging with the field of knowledge that it represents. However, the matter does not end there. Rose continues her reminiscence:
And after it was over, she said, you came into the nursery and asked me to go beetling with you in the Round Pond. Dyou remember? She paused. There was something queer about the memory, Eleanor could see. She spoke with a curious intensity. And you said, Ill ask you three times; and if you dont answer the third time, Ill go alone. And I swore, Ill let him go alone. Her blue eyes blazed. I can see you, said Martin. Wearing a pink frock, with a knife in your hand. And you went, Rose said; she spoke with suppressed vehemence. And I dashed into the bathroom and cut this gash she held out her wrist. Eleanor looked at it. There was a thin white scar just above the wrist joint. When did she do that? Eleanor thought. She could not remember. Rose had locked herself into the bathroom with a knife and cut her wrist. She had known nothing about it. She looked at the white mark. It must have bled. (ibid.)


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

Martins attempt at reconciliation through the offer of a beetling expedition appears on the surface to invite Roses participation in the field of scientific investigation that had just been denied her and thus to rectify the wrong done by the false accusation against her. However, the opportunity that Martin offers her remains a malemediated experience, impossible without his supervision, and thus reiterates male control over the pursuit of knowledge. Roses determination to refuse his offer demonstrates her rejection of such partial access to knowledge. Unfair exclusion from the former activity prompts her dismissal of the latter. Her act of self-harm is an act of defiance, though due to her position of powerlessness her violence can be directed only against herself: she mutilates the girl in the pink frock, the compliant Victorian sister, in an act that is also an attempt to illustrate physically the crippling effect of patriarchal oppression. The fact that her self-harm goes unnoticed by her family suggests the failure of this effort to communicate her oppression. The final retelling of these events confirms the failure of Roses attempts to communicate her situation. The account of the quarrel has become a story familiar to all. Martin, with the air of one starting an argument that has been gone through many times before, declares, She always was a spitfire, and Rose responds, in the same formulaic manner,
And they always put the blame on me He had the schoolroom. Where was I to sit? Oh, run away and play in the nursery! She waved her hand. And so she went into the bathroom and cut her wrist with a knife, Martin jeered. No, that was Erridge: that was about the microscope, she corrected him. Its like a kitten catching its tail, Peggy thought; round and round they go in a circle. But its what they enjoy. (34041)

Roses observation that the schoolroom was Martins territory returns to the argument that women are accorded no place in the intellectual sphere. More significantly, however, in this repetition of the story, the content of the argument is ignored. While the previous telling at least provoked in Eleanor a sense of shock, now Roses remembered action evinces only bored familiarity.

Virginia Woolf and the taxonomic tradition


Yet Woolfs outlook is not wholly bleak. Gillian Beer has suggested that Woolf was both acutely aware of historical shifts in material and intellectual circumstances and convinced of the inertness of the human condition and the capacity of individuals to stand in for each other across the centuries.10 Roses story can therefore be read as continuing in Peggys, and although Peggy displays no recognition of the significance of Roses narrative, her life and work illustrate the changes wrought between Roses Victorian childhood and her own modern adulthood. As a medical doctor, Peggy stands as proof of womens independent entry into the field of science, and her work, which involves laboratory experiment as well as medical practice, suggests the eclipse of the representative Victorian science of taxonomic natural history, along with many of the social conventions and restrictions contemporary with its practice. Natural history remains associated for Woolf with the social constraints of a Victorian childhood, and, as will be demonstrated in the next chapter, the displacement of natural history by the modern biological sciences appeared to Woolf to parallel the supplanting of Victorian restrictions by modern freedoms. N at u r a l h i s t o ry a n d t h e V i c t o r i a n ag e In addition to using the practice of taxonomic natural history to suggest the ways in which conventional systems of meaning and value are entrenched, Woolf employs natural history as a pastime representative of the preoccupations of the Victorian age. In Between the Acts, the Victorian segment of Miss La Trobes pageant offers a sentimental tale of courtship, Christian piety, and imperial endeavour played out against the backdrop of a picnic for which the participants have outfitted themselves with natural history paraphernalia, some carrying butterfly nets, others spy glasses, others tin botanical cases (BTA 99). As Edgar and Eleanor pledge their love and vow to devote themselves to a lifetime in the African desert among the heathens, Mrs Hardcastle admonishes the young Alfred not to make himself sick chasing butterflies (ibid.). The pursuit of natural history appears to stand in for the imperial project, the capture and


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

classification of specimens evoking both territorial conquest and the cultural imperialism of the missionary effort that sought to impose a European system of meaning upon the rest of the world. In Mrs Dalloway, too, the Victorian era is represented by means of an association with natural history. When Miss Helena Parry first appears in the novel as the subject of one of Clarissas memories of her nineteenth-century childhood, she seems a caricature of the Victorian maiden aunt: prudish, convention-bound, and fussing over flowers. Peter Walsh conveys a similar impression of Miss Parry through his recollections of a moment of crisis in his life when, in the midst of his realisation that Clarissa was falling in love with Richard Dalloway, he was forced to make meaningless conversation with Clarissas aunt. As a result of this remembered encounter, Miss Parry and her botanising become for Peter an emblem of Victorian convention. Thereafter, in trying to express the difference between the society of his youth and that of the present, Peter attributes the change to the shifting of a pyramidal accumulation which in his youth had seemed immovable. On top of them it had pressed; weighed them down, the women especially, like those flowers Clarissas Aunt Helena used to press between the sheets of grey blotting-paper with Littrs dictionary on top, sitting under the lamp after dinner (MD 173). Social conditioning is equated with the preservation of specimens, the weight of convention setting individuals in acceptable attitudes. Continuing to reflect upon Miss Parry, Peter notes, She was dead now. He had heard of her, from Clarissa, losing the sight of one eye. It seemed so fitting one of natures masterpieces that old Miss Parry should turn to glass (1734). Peter envisions Miss Parry as having been herself transformed into a preserved specimen, and he regards her as a symbol of a different age, now gone (174). However, Peter is mistaken. Helena Parry is not dead, and her attendance at Clarissas party suggests the survival of Victorian influences into the present. With Helena Parrys appearance at Clarissas party, her role as an emblem of the Victorian era is both complicated and confirmed. The revelation of the seriousness and extent of her botanical pursuits her expeditions in Burma, India, and Ceylon and her publication of a book on Burmese orchids that had gone into three editions before

Virginia Woolf and the taxonomic tradition


1870 and been praised by Darwin suggests a new view of Miss Parry as an adventurer who circumvented the limitations imposed upon Victorian women and assumed a public role through her efforts in the field of natural history (191). Even so, Woolf leaves Aunt Helenas actions open to criticism, for while Aunt Helena seeks to assert her distance from empire-building, claiming that she had no tender memories, no proud illusions about Viceroys, Generals, Mutinies it was orchids she saw, and mountain passes, the narrative reminds us that her accomplishments were achieved on the backs of coolies (190). Science conducted under imperialism cannot, Woolf maintains, be apolitical. Through her representation of Aunt Helena as a naturalist, Woolf suggests both the oppressive conventions of Victorian society and the imperialist underpinnings of the taxonomic project. C ol l e c t ion Woolfs dispute with the taxonomic tradition of natural history also resulted in part from the disciplines reliance on specimen collection, for, by the early twentieth century, collection of any kind was regarded as a Victorian preoccupation and viewed with disdain. In Orlando, Woolf depicts the nineteenth century as an age of glass cases (David Elliston Allen confirms this characterisation of the period, identifying the widespread taste for bottling up natural objects under glass as quintessentially Victorian), and she offers a physical embodiment of the nineteenth century in the form of a pyramid, a hecatomb, or trophy a conglomeration at any rate of the most heterogeneous and ill-assorted objects, piled higgledy-piggledy in a vast mound where the statue of Queen Victoria now stands and looking as if it were destined to endure for ever (O 218, 2212).11 The Victorian impulse to collect and preserve is, Woolf suggests, all the more striking when contrasted with the attitudes of other ages, most notably that of the Renaissance, a time more accepting of transience, when the poets sang beautifully how roses fade and petals fall. The moment is brief they sang; the moment is over; one long night is then slept by all. As for using the artifices of the greenhouse or


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

conservatory to prolong or preserve these fresh pinks and roses, that was not their way (26). Similarly, with the accession of King Edward in 1901 and the passing of the Victorian age, Orlando can find not a trace of that vast erection which she had thought everlasting; top hats, widows weeds, trumpets, telescopes, wreaths, all had vanished and left not a stain, not a puddle even, on the pavement (283). An obsession with the accumulation and preservation of objects is presented as a hallmark of the nineteenth century, not previously evident and not, it was to be hoped, surviving the centurys end. The Years charts a similar turn-of-the-century shift in attitudes towards material objects. Early in the novel, in the description of the Pargiter familys life in 1880, the readers attention is drawn to a spotted walrus with a brush in its back sitting on Mrs Pargiters writing-table (TY 33). Eleven years later, long after the death of Mrs Pargiter, the writing-table has passed to Eleanor and still the walrus with its now ink-corroded patch of bristle occupies unchanged its position on the table (88). Contemplating the figurine, Eleanor reflects that its awfully queer that that should have gone on all these years. That solid object might survive them all. If she threw it away it would still exist somewhere or other. But she never had thrown it away because it was part of other things her mother for example (ibid.). However, this belief in the permanence of objects and the tendency to preserve things for their sentimental value (the ink-corroded bristles of the walrus suggesting that it has outlived its use-function) is challenged with the coming of the new century. The housekeeper, Crosby, finds the walrus in the waste-paper basket one morning, when the guns were firing for the old Queens funeral (208). As in Orlando, the urge to collect and preserve is directly associated with the age of Victoria and it is suggested that this impulse ends abruptly with the Queens death. In fact, Crosby keeps the walrus brush herself, as a keepsake of the Pargiter family. This might be interpreted as a suggestion that Crosby is a relic of a bygone age who, remember[ing] everything, lives in the past, while Eleanor speaks for the Pargiter children when she declares herself glad to be quit of it all (206). Alternatively, it might be read as a hint that it is not as easy to dispense with memory-imbued objects as modernists

Virginia Woolf and the taxonomic tradition


liked to imagine.12 Nevertheless, the treatment of other family heirlooms in The Years confirms that a shift in attitudes towards material objects has taken place. In the midst of the First World War, Maggie and Renny use the plates that were once reserved for show in the drawing-room cabinet. Maggie remarks, It seemed silly keeping them in a cabinet (270). When Renny admits, We break one every week, Maggie concludes, Theyll last the war (27071). This turn from collection to use suggests an awareness of the ephemerality of things and expresses a wider modernist sense of the transitory nature of much values and social structures as well as objects once held to be permanent. It was not only the association with Victorian sentimentality and traditionalism that made collection appear suspect to modern eyes. The developing psychoanalytic interpretation of the collecting impulse as symptomatic of anality suggested that, when occurring in adults, the urge to collect might be taken as a sign of arrested development and a surrogate for sexual desire. Jean Baudrillard in The System of Objects (a work that Douglas Mao describes as represent[ing] the final movement of decisively modernist thinking on the subject) argues that [t]here is in all cases a manifest connection between collecting and sexuality, with collection acting as a powerful compensation run[ning] counter to active genital sexuality.13 That such assumptions inform Woolfs view of collecting is suggested in The Waves where Jinny, contemplating a man who lives surrounded by china pots, composes a story to account for his situation: he loved a girl in Rome and she left him. Hence the pots, old junk found in lodging-houses or dug from the desert sands. And since beauty must be broken daily to remain beautiful, and he is static, his life stagnates in a china sea (TW 132). In the earliest draft of The Waves, Woolf elaborates upon this idea with the assertion that, through his collecting, the man feeds a hopeless passion since only used things are beautiful things one breaks (TWHD 266). This narrative contains all the essentials of the psychoanalytic interpretation of collection and suggests that the modernist conviction in the beauty of the fragmentary and the transitory is fundamentally at odds with the collectors instinct to preserve.


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

Woolfs short story Solid Objects (1920) similarly encapsulates the prevailing modernist conception of the impulse to collect. Walking along the beach in argument with a friend, John a promising young politician comes upon a pleasing lump of glass. He considers the object with the same wonder, which the eyes of young children display (CSF 97), a fact that recalls the assumption that collection is a natural occupation for children but suggestive of regression to the anal stage14 when practised by adults. Raising the lump of glass to the light, John holds it so that its irregular mass blotted out the body and extended right arm of his friend, prefiguring the way in which his growing obsession with collection will eclipse his interest in friends, work, and everyday concerns (ibid.). Initially, the lump of glass combines aesthetic appeal with usefulness, having its place upon the mantelpiece, where it stood heavy upon a little pile of bills and letters, and served as an excellent paperweight (98). However, as Johns preoccupation with his growing collection distracts him from his professional responsibilities, his collected objects are increasingly abstracted from [their] use (to borrow Baudrillards phrase):15 their duty was more and more of an ornamental nature, since papers needing a weight to keep them down became scarcer and scarcer (99). Woolf suggests that the impulse that drives Johns collection is in part a desire for control: selection, the choice of one pebble on a path strewn with them, allows him to revel in the sense of power and benignity which such an action confers (978). He is also motivated by a desire for self-affirmation through identification with the collected object: believing that the heart of the stone leaps with joy when it sees itself chosen from a million like it It might so easily have been any other of the millions of stones, but it was I, I, I, John achieves an elevating sense of having been himself chosen (98). As Baudrillard explains this grandiose tautology, the collected objects absolute singularity arises from the fact of being possessed by [the collector] and this allows [the collector], in turn, to recognise [him]self in the object as an absolutely singular being.16 Initially, Johns urge to collect may be viewed sympathetically, as an intense but comprehensible preoccupation with beautiful forms. However, as the impulse to collect grows increasingly urgent, his

Virginia Woolf and the taxonomic tradition


actions appear to be motivated less by a love of beauty than by an obsessive acquisitiveness, a determination to possess, and the objects collected appear to be of less importance than the compulsion to obtain them (100). On his last visit to his friend, Charles perceives something fixed and distant in [Johns] expression [that] alarmed him, and saying that he had an appointment to keep, he left John for ever (101). Johns obsession with objects isolates him, illustrating Baudrillards argument that collectors invariably have something impoverished and inhuman about them.17 The deterioration of Johns life following from his first act of collection encapsulates the modern view of the psychopathy of collection. In Solid Objects: Modernism and the Test of Production, Douglas Mao charts an increasing disillusionment with objects, an intensifying sense of oppression by the sheer weight of accumulated things, in Woolfs writing over time.18 He regards the early short story Solid Objects as comparatively positive in its view of material things, suggesting that at this stage Woolf still acknowledges the enchantment of objects and presents the collection of beautiful things as a vocation preferable to a political career.19 Nevertheless, he maintains that even in this early work Woolfs suspicion of collection is apparent in her description of the metamorphosis of vague desire into singular pathology, and he argues that the impression left by the narrative is that Johns collected objects speak not of an ability to purchase expressive objects but of a profound possession by things, where this possession might figure as a demystification of Victorian fantasies of self-fashioning through acquisition.20 Woolf also offers her opinion of the collection in its institutional form: the museum. In Night and Day, she examines the way in which the institutionalisation of an object alters its perceived value. Mary Datchet, contemplating the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum, feels herself borne up on some wave of exaltation and emotion, by which her life at once became solemn and beautiful (ND 81). Yet she suspects that her response is due as much, perhaps, to the solitude and chill and silence of the gallery as to the actual beauty of the statues (ibid.). Mary recognises that the space of the museum determines much of the significance attributed to the objects contained within it.


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

The Elgin Marbles are a particularly apt choice of subject for a debate on the meaning accorded to collected objects by their context, for in the display of the frieze and sculptures of the Parthenon by the British Museum under the name of the British Ambassador to Constantinople who controversially removed them from the Greek temple, the marbles original historical and artistic significance is overwritten by the history of their acquisition by Britain and by British claims to be the rightful heirs to the achievements of antiquity.21 The cultural appropriation sanctioned by the museum and the political import of such appropriations were noted and criticised by others in Woolfs circle. In For the Museums Sake (1920), E. M. Forster presents collection in its modern, institutional form as a manifestation of the jostling for power among nation-states. He declares:
in the nineteenth century the soil was scratched all over the globe, rivers were dammed, rocks chipped, natives tortured, hooks were let down into the sea. What had happened? Partly an increase in science and taste, but also the arrival of a purchaser the modern European nation. After the Treaty of Vienna every progressive government felt it a duty to amass old objects, and to exhibit a fraction of them in a building called a Museum, which was occasionally open free. National possessions they were now called, and it was important that they should outnumber the objects possessed by other nations.22

In questioning the motives and significance of the museum, Woolf participated in a wider modernist critique of institutional collection. Woolf discusses the effect of the museum upon the viewing subject as well as upon the object being viewed, suggesting that the sense of order and permanence offered by the museum accounts for much of its appeal. In The Waves, Rhoda, distraught on learning of Percivals death, feels a sudden impulse to visit some museum, where they keep rings under glass cases, where there are cabinets, and the dresses that queens have worn (TW 122). Confronted by the transience of individual life, she looks to the museum for reassurance of the durability of things and the continuity of human history. Similarly, she instinctively wishes to counteract her sense of the random menace of nature with a view of nature contained and controlled by man in the formal gardens of Hampton Court, where, she hopes, the seemliness of herded yew trees making black pyramids symmetrically on the grass

Virginia Woolf and the taxonomic tradition


among flowers will impose order upon my raked, my dishevelled soul (ibid.).23 Woolf, however, remains unconvinced of the museums capacity to impose order and convey truth. In The Mark on the Wall, the narrator itemises the random collection of artifacts that fill the cases of a local museum: an arrowhead together with the foot of a Chinese murderess, a handful of Elizabethan nails, a great many Tudor clay pipes, a piece of Roman pottery, and the wine-glass that Nelson drank out of proving I really dont know what (CSF 81). Woolf questions the coherence and validity of the narrative that the museum constructs. Woolf offers a similar critique of institutional natural history collections and their impact upon viewers. In Jacobs Room, she accurately encapsulates the air of degraded spectacle that pervaded the public aquaria of seaside towns at the turn of the century through her representation of the Scarborough Aquarium and the shabby sensationalism surrounding the display of Captain Boases monster shark ( JR 18).24 Dislocated from its natural context, the shark is stripped of the significance that it held in the wild and reduced to a flabby yellow receptacle like an empty Gladstone bag in a tank by its display among the ashtray-strewn tables of the public aquarium (1819). The narrators observation that [n]o one had ever been cheered by the Aquarium suggests the futility of the effort to contain nature in this way (19). O b s e s s ion , P o s s e s s ion , a n d C on t rol i n
t h e v oya g e o u t

Baudrillard argues that the collectors sense of the sublimity of his pursuit derives not from the nature of the objects he collects (which will vary according to his age, profession and social milieu) but from his fanaticism. And this fanaticism is identical whether it characterizes a rich connoisseur of Persian miniatures or a collector of matchboxes.25 In Woolfs view, the fanaticism associated with collection also drives other pursuits, and in The Voyage Out she discusses what Baudrillard terms the passionate involvement of the collector as a way of addressing fanaticism in other forms.26 Clarissa Dalloway


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

introduces this theme with the comment, I always think religions like collecting beetles One person has a passion for black beetles; another hasnt; its no good arguing about it. Whats your black beetle now? (VO 58). In the earlier draft of the novel now published as Melymbrosia, Woolf elaborated upon this notion so as to suggest the universality of this passion irrespective of its object: Rachel, seating herself at the piano, remarks to the Bach score spread before her, Youre my black beetle, and the narrator elaborates, Mrs Dalloway when she talked of black beetles, was hinting at something common to arts, religion and maternity (MEL 66). The excision of these lines from The Voyage Out suggests a growing unwillingness to assume the universality of this impulse. Even in Melymbrosia, there are suggestions that collection represents not a universal impulse but a narrow and extreme obsession. Hughling Elliot offers an explanation of the collecting mania through the example of a man who collects buckles; Elliot comments:
Now that would be reasonable enough, but the sign of your true collector is that he hedges himself with all kinds of limitations. They must be shoe buckles, worn by gentlemen, after the year 1580, and before the year 1660. (I may not be right in my dates but the facts as I say.) (MEL 200)

The collection thus functions as a material expression of an ide fixe. In The Voyage Out, Woolf represents the collectors passion through characters such as the obsessive Mr Grice, steward of the Euphrosyne and a collector of marine curiosities, ever in search of people to listen to the tirade of a fanatical man and to be made appreciative of all his seaweeds (VO 54, 72). In the final version of The Voyage Out, Woolf likens only religion to beetle-collecting, and in doing so she distances collection and religion from other pursuits and implies a criticism of both. Rachel, observing a church service, reflects that all round her people were pretending to feel what they did not feel, while somewhere above her floated the idea which they could none of them grasp, which they pretended to grasp, always escaping out of reach, a beautiful idea, an idea like a butterfly (264). Not only is this blundering effort at grasping the unknown unsuccessful, but there also appears something misguided

Virginia Woolf and the taxonomic tradition


in the pursuit itself, for Woolf questions the idea that truth can be possessed and preserved like a captured specimen (ibid.). This argument recurs in Woolfs discussion of the pursuit of truth in other forms. In A Room of Ones Own, the narrator begins her lecture with the disclaimer that she will never be able to fulfil what is the first duty of a lecturer to hand you after an hours discourse a nugget of pure truth to wrap up between the pages of your notebooks and keep on the mantelpiece for ever (AROO 4). Although ostensibly presented as a failing on the part of the narrator, this resistance to conclusiveness also implies a dismissal of categorical assertions of truth. Likewise, in Orlando, the narrator admits that despite having pray[ed] once in a way to wrap up in a book something so hard, so rare, one could swear it was lifes meaning back we must go and say straight out to the reader who waits a-tiptoe to hear what life is alas, we dont know (O 2589). Through the analogies of capture and collection, Woolf suggests the futility and error of seeking to lay claim to truth, stressing instead its fundamental elusiveness and changeability. The desire to possess and control that drives collection also informs the associated activity of classification. The Voyage Out hints at the origins of the urge to classify the natural world. St John Hirst, the novels exponent of eighteenth-century rationalism (as indicated by his devotion to Gibbon), displays an undisguised antagonism towards nature. He asserts that natures a mistake. Shes either very ugly, appallingly uncomfortable, or absolutely terrifying (VO 134). (His pointed gendering of nature suggests his added displeasure at feeling himself threatened by a force he wishes to find subordinate.) Contemplating the South American landscape, he complains, It makes one awfully queer, dont you find? These trees get on ones nerves its all so crazy. Gods undoubtedly mad. What sane person could have conceived a wilderness like this, and peopled it with apes and alligators? I should go mad if I lived here raving mad (321). Viewing nature as opposed to reason and a threat to rationality, Hirst embodies an outlook that fuelled the development of a universal system of classification in the eighteenth century: a desire to subordinate nature to human reason and thus impose order upon what was perceived as a dangerously chaotic natural world.


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

Hirst is not alone in his apprehension of nature. Confronted with the infinite distances of South America, the walking party arranged by Hirst and Hewet finds the effect of so much space at first rather chilling. They felt themselves very small (146). (In Melymbrosia, the narrator notes that this sense of insignificance in the face of nature is intensified in a foreign land where the far off hills and scattered villages have no names (MEL 151).) However, the travellers combat this sense of their own insignificance by offering judgements of the view Splendid! and inscribing the vastness with human meaning by iterating the points of the compass, North South East West (VO 146). This mental colonisation of the landscape produces a sense of mastery that restores their ease. When nature intrudes upon the travellers in the form of ants that attack their picnic, they retaliate by adopt[ing] the methods of modern warfare against an invading army, a response that confirms their desire to assert mastery over nature (149). Even Rachel, more often presented as a victim than an agent of force, is susceptible to the desire for control: choosing an inch of soil of South America, she makes it into a world where she was endowed with the supreme power. She bent a blade of grass, and set an insect on the utmost tassel of it, and wondered if the insect realized his strange adventure (157). Woolf, however, suggests the presumptuousness of the human attempt to dominate nature, whether through physical or classificatory conquest. In the course of their expedition up-river, the English travellers pass the hut of Mackenzie, the famous explorer who went farther inland than anyones yet been (323). (In Melymbrosia he is further identified as an Englishman who came here to collect birds, an occupation that locates him squarely within the natural history tradition (MEL 297).) On his return journey, he died of fever almost within reach of civilisation, and his skins and a note-book were found with his body (VO 323, 325). His collected specimens and records survive him but did not grant him power over nature. The desire for mastery by means of classification also informs perceptions of human society. Hirst regards his fellow travellers as beasts, remarking upon the arrival of letters from home that the animals had been fed and proceeding, stimulated by this comparison,

Virginia Woolf and the taxonomic tradition


to liken some to hippopotamuses, some to canary birds, some to swine, some to parrots, and some to loathsome reptiles curled round the half-decayed bodies of sheep (198). In Melymbrosia, Hirst is even more scientific in his comparisons, telling Hewet that the human race, as exemplified before us, is divisible into species; hogs, horses, cows and parrots (MEL 201). In accordance with this taxonomic philosophy, he asserts that people are all types [T]ake this hotel. You could draw circles round the whole lot of them, and theyd never stray outside (VO 118). Hewets parenthetical aside, (You can kill a hen by doing that), points to the destructiveness of imposing such boundaries upon identity (ibid.). In response to Hirsts taxonomising, Hewet offers a defence of the freedom of the self, protesting, Im not a hen in a circle Im a dove on a tree-top I flit from branch to branch (ibid.). He rejects the rigid social divisions that Hirst lays down with the assertion, I dont see your circles I dont see them I see a thing like a teetotum spinning in and out knocking into things dashing from side to side Round and round they go out there, over the rim, out of sight (119). Hewet asserts the expansiveness of identity and maintains the possibility of movement and contact. Yet while Hewet resolves that to Hirsts theory of the invisible chalk-marks he would pay no attention whatever, the novels narrative voice confirms that society does function along the lines that Hirst has suggested, noting, by this time the society at the hotel was divided so as to point to invisible chalk-marks such as Mr Hirst had described (167). Although demonstrably unnatural, these lines are largely effective in inscribing divisions upon the world. Woolf reiterates this argument in Three Guineas, presenting the patriarchal male as childishly intent upon scoring the floor with chalk marks, within whose mystic boundaries human beings are penned, rigidly, separately, artificially (TG 308). This chalk-line imagery suggests the real constriction resulting from the inscription of artificial boundaries. Even Hewet acknowledges the practical benefits of Hirsts view of the world. While he maintains, Im not like Hirst I dont see circles of chalk between peoples feet, he admits: I sometimes wish I did. It seems to me so tremendously complicated and confused. One


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

cant come to any decision at all; ones less and less capable of making judgements (VO 251). Hewet recognises Hirsts system of classification to be an artificial and reductive construct but sees the usefulness of such definitions and divisions to the attempt to arrive at a coherent vision of the world. In Melymbrosia, the same speech suggests both the wisdom and the danger of seeking to contemplate the world without imposing artificial certainties upon it: having asserted, Im not like Hirst, who sees neat little circles between peoples feet. I tend, as far as I can see, to make fewer and fewer judgements, Hewet reflects, Perhaps that was how Socrates died, staring into the air, his mind a blank (MEL 226). Still, Hewet maintains that living with doubt is preferable to overwriting doubt with false certainty, and cautions against the mistake of being too definite, of pin[ning] on labels here and there (320). Although Woolf admits the appeal of the order that a systematic outlook permits, she maintains that its hazards outweigh its benefits. In Three Guineas, Woolf elaborates upon her distrust of labels, maintaining that regardless of how fine a label one chooses, it is only a label, and in our age of innumerable labels, of multicoloured labels, we have become suspicious of labels; they kill and constrict (TG 357). Naming and killing, classification and capture, here appear synonymous. In Orlando, she further suggests the futility of seeking to pin ones subject through the body with a name, presenting the imposition of a name as a vain and fumbling attempt to limit an irreducible subject to a fixed identity (O 307). C ol l e c t ion a n d C l a s s i f i c at ion i n j a c o bs r o o m In addition to her broad treatment of the collection habit, Woolf constructs analogies based on specific collection techniques. Several critics have noted the analogy, recurring in a number of her works, that Woolf sets up between the light of civilisation and light employed as a lure. In Jacobs Room, Woolf equates the light of religion and the lamp of learning that illuminates Cambridge with the lantern that lures insects to their capture or immolation, suggesting that societys

Virginia Woolf and the taxonomic tradition


promise of inclusion and enlightenment conceals a threat ( JR 50). Christine Froula argues that Woolf warns against attraction to the lamps of a civilization that proves dangerous, and Harvena Richter likewise reads the moth as a symbolic victim in its search for sweetness and for light.27 If the light of civilisation acts as a lure, society can by extension be viewed as a body intent upon the capture and sedation of likely specimens. In Jacobs Room Woolf alludes to the capture and despatch of specimens: Jacob Flanders vanquishes pale clouded yellows with sulphur fumes, while Johns stag beetle takes two days to die (25). In the essay Reading, Woolf offers an extended description of the capture of a Red Underwing: the poison pot was uncovered and adroitly manoeuvred so that as he sat there the moth was covered and escape cut off. There was a flash of scarlet within the glass. Then he composed himself with folded wings. He did not move again (E iii: 152). This sequence struggle, followed by submission and composure is also enacted by human beings. In his early days at Cambridge, Jacob reacts with agitation to the restrictions of genteel society; however, the narrator correctly predicts that, with time, Jacobs resistance to convention will subside: Every time he lunches out on Sunday at dinner parties and tea parties there will be this same shock horror discomfort then pleasure, for he draws into him at every step such steady certainty, such reassurance from all sides, until he emerges at last a simultaneous victim and representative of civilisation, composed, commanding, contemptuous, a little melancholy, and bored with an august kind of boredom ( JR 445, 200). Likewise, in Mrs Dalloway, the boys in uniform that Peter Walsh observes marching up Whitehall impress him with a sense that life, with its varieties, its irreticences, has been drugged into a stiff yet staring corpse by discipline (MD 57). In addition to her use of specimen collection as an analogy for societys constraining and deadening influence, Woolf suggests that the possessiveness and destructiveness of collection are linked to the militarism and imperialism of turn-of-the-century Europe. Phillips notes that the vocabulary of the butterfly hunt in Jacobs Room announces World War I.28 Woolfs allusions to white admirals, purple emperors,


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

deaths-head moths, pale clouded yellows vanquished by sulphur fumes, blues settl[ing] on little bones lying on the turf, painted ladies and peacocks feast[ing] upon bloody entrails, and the sound of a tree falling, like a volley of pistol-shots, during Jacobs moth hunt foreshadow Jacobs death in the war in a metaphorical sense ( JR 257, 170).29 Phillips further contends that Jacobs participation in the hobby of collection implicates him practically in the culture of violence that precipitated the war.30 The pastime inculcates aggression and acquisitiveness: Jacob does not just observe the crab but aggressively captures it, appropriating a treasure for his private store. Conquest and hoarding might come naturally, but his society reinforces such instincts by marking them as heroic.31 It is not only violence and acquisitiveness that the practice of natural history encourages. The urge to name, catalogue, and arrange within a system are likewise promoted by the pastime and are equally influential in shaping wider patterns of behaviour. Woolf is preoccupied in Jacobs Room with naming and the inefficacy of names, and she expresses this concern through reference to the scientific classification of specimens. She depicts Jacob in the act of classification: with F. O. Morriss primer before him, he scrutinises a captured moth specimen, observing,
The upper wings of the moth were undoubtedly marked with kidneyshaped spots of a fulvous hue. But there was no crescent upon the underwing Morris called it an extremely local insect found in damp or marshy places. But Morris is sometimes wrong. Sometimes Jacob, choosing a very fine pen, made a correction in the margin No, it could not be a straw-bordered underwing. (267)

In one sense, Woolf is doing no more than stating a fact when she notes Morriss tendency to error (see Mullens and Swanns judgement of Morriss work);32 it is in fact proof of her own credentials as a naturalist that she was alert to Morriss mistakes. In another sense, however, Woolfs representation of a failed attempt at classification indicates her low opinion of taxonomic methods as a means of arriving at meaningful understanding.

Virginia Woolf and the taxonomic tradition


Woolfs allusions to the description of species in conventional works of natural history also imply a critique of the way in which taxonomic science was employed to buttress the existing social order. The narrator of Jacobs Room remarks, Perhaps the Purple Emperor is feasting, as Morris says, upon a mass of putrid carrion at the base of an oak tree (170). As Robinson has noted, this depiction of the Purple Emperor is significant for its subversion of its source material, for Morris offers no such description of the species.33 Morris portrays the Purple Emperor perched on the outermost spray of some commanding oak the highest that the neighbouring locality affords him. There he sits, an Island King conscious that at home he is secure.34 Morriss description assumes a hierarchy among species that conforms to human social hierarchies and thus justifies these hierarchies by implying their naturalness. Woolfs repositioning of the Purple Emperor, while still offering an accurate description of butterfly behaviour, undermines such hierarchical assumptions and at the same time inverts the patriotism of Morriss description into a critique of the rapacity of empire. Building upon these reflections on taxonomic natural history, Woolf employs classification as a metaphor for the construction of identity in society. A fundamental assumption of the taxonomic method is that a name can define its subject, that the taxonomist, to quote Linnaeus,
designates at first sight any body in nature in such a way that the body expresses the name that is proper to it, and this name recalls all the knowledge that may, in the course of time, have been acquired about the body thus named: so that in the midst of extreme confusion there is revealed the sovereign order of nature.35

Woolf, however, presents the naming process not as a revelation of authentic identity but rather as the construction of an artificial persona. In Jacobs Room, the narrator notes that Florindas name had been bestowed upon her by a painter who had wished it to signify that the flower of her maidenhood was still unplucked; this imposition of a name functions as an attempt to circumscribe Florindas identity and restrict her to a role of virginity (103). Similarly, at Cambridge,


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

Sopwith reduces old Chucky to the role of the unsuccessful provincial through his condescending use of a nickname, leaving the boy to lament that no one uses Stenhouse his real name and that Sopwith brought back by using the other everything, everything, all I could never be (51). The taxonomic naming of species also has possessive connotations, for the Linnaean system of nomenclature records not only the Latin binomial of each species but also the name of the naturalist who published the first description of the species (e.g., Papilio machaon Linnaeus). By designating a species, an entomologist thus lays claim to it as his or her own. Naming takes on similarly possessive implications in Jacobs Room. By writing her sons name out in full, Jacob Alan Flanders, Esq., as mothers do, Betty Flanders seeks to assert her claim over her son and to demonstrate her right to dictate his actions: through the writing of Jacobs name, Mrs Flanders seeks to tell him, Dont go with bad women, do be a good boy; wear your thick shirts; and come back, come back, come back to me (122). If the power to name implies possession and control, the staking and extending [of] a verbal claim, renaming is, by extension, a means of appropriation.36 Thus, Edwin Malletts poem to Chloe, written in aid of his courtship of Clara, serves as an attempt to demonstrate sole possession of her (114). In Orlando, Woolf also suggests the constricting influence of names by dwelling on the liberating effect of anonymity. Orlando, having been hurt by negative publicity, reflects upon the value of obscurity, and the delight of having no name, concluding that obscurity is dark, ample and free; obscurity lets the mind take its way unimpeded (O 101, 100). If one doubts the wisdom of Orlandos profound thoughts on the advantages of remaining nameless, the argument recurs in Three Guineas in Woolfs suggestion that ease and freedom, the power to change and the power to grow, can only be preserved by obscurity (O 101; TG 322). While depicting individuals efforts to use the naming process to control and restrict identity, Woolf maintains that names cannot define their subjects. Betty Flanders assigns to her deceased husband the title of Merchant of this city; however, she acknowledges

Virginia Woolf and the taxonomic tradition


that this is merely a gesture towards convention, for she had to call him something. An example for the boys. The issue of his identity remains an unanswerable question ( JR 15). Similarly, while characters throughout the novel call Jacobs name in the hope of receiving a reply that will allow them to know him, their calls go unanswered. The question of Jacobs nature remains unresolved at his death, and Bonamy calls for Jacob! Jacob! without any hope of a response (247). The naming of specimens is part of a larger process of scientific classification meant to place each species within the hierarchy presumed to exist in nature. Society employs a similar method of categorisation that ignores individual traits in order to classify its members by type: the narrator of Jacobs Room comments, to prevent us from being submerged by chaos, nature and society between them have arranged a system of classification which is simplicity itself; stalls, boxes, amphitheatre, gallery. The moulds are filled nightly. There is no need to distinguish details (91). Just as Jacob examines the markings of his moth specimen in an effort to determine its species, observers scrutinise Jacobs appearance and attitudes in an attempt to ascertain which seat in the opera house was his, stalls, gallery, or dress circle (94). However, like Jacobs moth specimen, which possesses the expected kidney-shaped spots of a fulvous hue but lacks the anticipated crescent upon the underwing, the question of Jacobs social standing leaves society gossips vacillat[ing] eternally (26, 215). The reiterated observation that Jacob is extraordinarily awkward [y]et so distinguished-looking suggests the difficulties of categorisation (94, 160, 201, 215). While even the practical matter of his place in the class hierarchy remains in doubt, the question of his character is an even greater mystery. Relying upon the infallible test of appearance, Mrs Norman examines Jacob as a specimen, taking note of socks (loose), of tie (shabby) and scrutinising his facial features and behaviour in order to ascertain whether he should be classified as a dangerous man or a boy much like her own son (36). However, as the narrator points out, of all futile occupations this of cataloguing features is the worst (94). Either classification would reduce Jacob to a type, for, as Rachel Bowlby concludes, Mrs Normans speculations


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

come no nearer to any Jacob when she is likening him to her son than when she is taking him as belonging to the class of men.37 While Jacob is subjected to societys urge to capture and classify, he is also implicated in this process. It is Jacob who engages in entomological collection, capturing pale clouded yellows in a clover field, luring moths with his lantern, and trapping glow-worms in pill boxes; and it is Jacob who works to identify and classify his specimens through reference to Morriss butterfly book, which he annotates with his own findings (26, 170). Robinson has interpreted this act of annotation as evidence of Jacobs rebellion against received authority; however, it may also be read as an indication of Jacobs participation and complicity in the classification process.38 Jacob attempts to categorise Clara by means similar to those that Mrs Norman employed in her efforts to classify him. Meeting her for the first time, Jacob named the shape in yellow gauze Timothys sister, Clara; he identifies her by locating her within the pre-existing system of relations that he holds in his mind (75). Furthermore, he accepts and employs the categories into which women are systematically divided: convention assumes that a woman must be either a Sylvia, a model of female virtue who excels each mortal thing, or a Magdalen, a whore, and Jacob places Clara firmly within the former category through his description of her as a flawless mind; a candid nature; a virgin chained to a rock (119, 151, 169). As the example of Jacob demonstrates, the victims of the classification process are also its perpetrators. I d e n t i t y f o r m at ion i n
t h e wa v e s

In The Waves, too, Woolf illustrates the way in which the restriction of identity through classification co-opts individuals into participation in the system in which they find themselves contained. The first extended monologue of the novel is spoken by Louis. In it he voices a sense of unity with the natural world: I am alone standing by the wall among the flowers I hold a stalk in my hand. I am the stalk. My roots go down to the depths of the world, through earth dry with brick, and damp earth, through veins of lead and silver (TW 7). However, this sense of rootedness and oneness with

Virginia Woolf and the taxonomic tradition


his natural surroundings is threatened by the approach of Bernard, Neville, Jinny, and Susan, butterfly nets in hand. Louis watches as they skim the flower-beds with their nets. They skim the butterflies from the nodding tops of flowers Their nets are full of fluttering wings. Louis! Louis! they shout (ibid.). In the capture of butterflies and the calling of his name, the other children seem to Louis similarly bent on entrapment. He rejoices that they cannot see [him] and prays, Oh Lord, let them pass. Lord, let them lay their butterflies on a pocket-handkerchief on the gravel. Let them count out their tortoise-shells, their red admirals and cabbage whites. But let me be unseen (78). He fears to share the fate of the butterflies, caught, scrutinised, and definitively classified. Yet he cannot escape. He relates that, as he hides behind the hedge, an eye-beam is slid through the chink. Its beams strike me. I am a boy in a grey flannel suit (8). Louis experiences Jinnys intrusion She has found me. I am struck on the nape of the neck. She has kissed me. All is shattered as an attack, a blow that reduces him from his former state of connectedness with the surrounding natural world to a boy in grey flannels with a belt fastened by a brass snake (8, 7). Jinny confirms Louiss sense of having been captured and constrained with the remark, I am thrown over you like a net of light (8). Louis is thus drawn into relation with others, but in the process finds himself more isolated than before, for the imposition of an individual identity paradoxically destroys his sense of identification with the surrounding world. Following his interpellation into society, Louis relates the problem of identity-formation even more explicitly to taxonomy, likening his life to an intricate organism rendered coherent through classification: all the furled and close-packed leaves of my many-folded life are now summed in my name; incised cleanly and barely on the sheet I have fused my many lives into one (127). However, this coherent identity is achieved at a price: a complex and multifaceted existence is reduced to a single quality. Neville senses the danger of such classification and questions the very basis of the taxonomic outlook when he asks, [W]hy discriminate? Nothing should be named lest by doing so we change it. Let it exist (60). Far from revealing


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

the true nature of things, Woolf suggests, the act of naming alters and restricts identity in trying to express it. Woolf concedes that there is a superficial sense of comfort to be had from being accorded a definite place in the social order, but she places greater emphasis on the ways in which such classification restricts and isolates. No longer able to feel himself at one with his surroundings, Louis is painfully conscious of being classed as foreign, and he attempts, in Phillipss words, to lose his awkward difference in artificial sameness.39 He seeks to overcome his sense of isolation and regain his lost sense of unity by means of mimicry, resolving, I will not conjugate the verb until Bernard has said it. My father is a banker in Brisbane and I speak with an Australian accent. I will wait and copy Bernard. He is English. They are all English (13). He wishes to rediscover a sense of complete integration, but now seeks it through conformity to the system in which he has been placed (28). Religion presents a means by which a sense of inclusion and expanded identity may be regained or at least simulated. Upon entering the school chapel, Louis feels that he has recovered his sense of connection, believing we put off our distinctions as we enter (24). In contrast to the constriction he felt on being reduced to a colonial in grey flannels, on hearing the minister read the sermon, his heart expands in [the ministers] bulk, in his authority, and he recovers the sense of the earth under me, and my roots going down till they wrap themselves round some hardness at the centre. I recover my continuity I become a figure in the procession, a spoke in the huge wheel (245). Louis escapes the sense of difference imposed upon him by adopting the shared identity of a religious community, but it is suggested that this is accomplished by submitting his private self to a dominant authority rather than by achieving a sense of oneness with the surrounding world. He does not escape his imposed identity, but rather finds consolation from being accorded a place within the system that first classified him as different. Those who feel their exclusion less severely are more conscious of the threat posed by the submission of ones self to social institutions: Neville, listening to the same minister who inspires Louis, declares, The brute menaces my liberty when he prays, and

Virginia Woolf and the taxonomic tradition


Bernard, expanding on the use of the butterfly hunt as a metaphor for entrapment, agrees: He has minced the dance of the white butterflies at the door to powder (25, 26). Through the analogies of collection and classification, Woolf depicts the obliteration of Louiss former, unrestricted sense of self and his confinement within a social hierarchy that marks him as inferior. The taxonomic tradition of natural history functions in Woolfs work as a stable point of reference with consistent associations. Woolf repeatedly presents collection and classification as constraining, reductive, and deadening in their effects, and her reservations regarding these practices were symptomatic of changing attitudes towards taxonomic work in both the life sciences and society more broadly around the turn of the century. However, as will be shown in the next chapter, Woolfs disdain for taxonomic science did not signal her disapproval of the life sciences in all forms.

Chapter 4

Laboratory coats and field-glasses

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature

Woolfs most frequently cited comment on science is her assertion in Three Guineas that science, it would seem, is not sexless; she is a man, a father, and infected too. Science, thus infected, produced measurements to order (TG 360). This declaration has been interpreted by many as a wholesale rejection of science. Sue Curry Jansen, for example, reads this statement as proof of Woolfs conviction that androcentric bias is a constituent principle of the modern, Western, scientific outlook.1 Woolfs disdain for the taxonomic tradition, outlined in the last chapter, might be taken as further evidence of such a conviction. However, as is suggested by the fact that even in the above statement she employs a feminine pronoun in her reference to science, Woolfs views on science are more complex than this. It is, after all, to a scientific perspective that Woolf attributes the discovery of the infection in science itself: she praises Professor Grensted as an impartial and scientific operator for having dissected the human mind and discovered as a result the germ of the infantile fixation (to give the infection [i]ts scientific name) (341). Not all scientific perspectives appear to Woolf infected by patriarchal bias. Woolfs dismissal of infected science in Three Guineas is offered specifically as a judgement upon craniology, already by the early twentieth century a discredited science, as demonstrated by Bertrand Russells comment, cited by Woolf, that [a]nyone who desires amusement may be advised to look up the tergiversations of eminent craniologists in their attempts to prove from brain measurements that women are stupider than men (360). Woolf rejects as infected any science that seeks evidence in nature to confirm the unalterability of the existing social order and that has as its end the location of its subjects

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


within a fixed hierarchy of value. It is just such a discipline that elicits Woolfs declaration of the infected quality of science, and it is to an analogy with the more impartial science of germ theory that Woolf turns to refute the arguments of this infected science (341). While disdaining sciences complicit in the maintenance of a pre-established hierarchy, Woolf regards science as capable of disinterestedness. Woolfs criticisms of science thus constitute not a wholesale rejection of science but rather a demonstration of her engagement with scientific arguments, and she was often in agreement with contemporary scientific outlooks. Her view of Darwin, for example, accorded with early twentieth-century scientific responses to Darwinian evolution. Critics such as Gillian Beer and Elizabeth Lambert have noted both Woolfs respect for Darwin and her willingness to challenge his arguments. Woolfs appreciation for the immense shift in thought that Darwins work brought about is evident in both her life and her writing. As Beer points out, when Woolfs house in Tavistock Square was bombed in October 1940, Darwins works, along with her own diaries, the silver, and some glass and china, were among the things she took from the wreckage (D v: 331).2 In her fiction, Woolf repeatedly employs Darwin as a model of human potential, an example of the apex of human achievement, and she frequently draws upon evolutionary concepts for their imaginative power.3 Nevertheless, Woolf does not accept Darwins arguments unquestioningly. Beer observes that, while interested in those aspects of Darwins writing that suggested kinship between past and present forms, the lateral ties between human kind and other animals, [and] the constancy of the primeval, Woolf rejected the Victorian interpretation of evolution as an assurance of development as improvement.4 Beer presents Woolfs reservations regarding Darwins evolutionary arguments, her scepticism about developmental narratives and irreversible transformations, as part of her debate with her Victorian progenitors, her Victorian self.5 Lambert likewise notes Woolfs ambivalence to Darwinism. She suggests that Woolf appropriated Darwins name and writing as an ambiguous authority, treating the particulars of the evolutionary argument as concepts, not as truth.6 Lambert contends that in her irreverent treatment of Darwinian arguments Woolf


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

was iconoclastic and anticipated the current feminist critique of science.7 However, Darwin was not an irrefutable scientific authority, sacred and untouchable, in the period spanning Woolfs adult life. Scientific scepticism regarding the Darwinian explanation of evolution peaked in the early twentieth century, during the period of controversy over the means by which evolution occurred that preceded the achievement of the modern evolutionary synthesis. As I noted earlier, Woolfs allusions to Mendel and his work, in Night and Day and Mrs Dalloway her discussion of Cassandras interest in the laws governing the recurrence of blue eyes and brown, for example indicate her familiarity with the fundamentals of Mendelian genetics and her awareness of alternatives to the Darwinian explanation of evolution (ND 385). Woolfs debate with her Victorian progenitors on the subject of evolutionary arguments thus coincided with modern biologists challenging of Victorian evolutionary assumptions. In interrogating Darwins authority and casting doubt upon his arguments, Woolf was in accord with the prevailing tendency among early twentieth-century biologists to challenge the particulars of Darwinian evolution. Woolfs allusions to Darwin in Mrs Dalloway suggest his position in the eyes of her generation. She presents Darwin alongside the Greeks, Romans, Shakespeare as representing a pinnacle of human thought and as essential reading for self-educated clerks (MD 74, 93). Woolf also mentions Darwin several times in conjunction with Aunt Helena and her book on Burmese orchids, a connection that suggests that, like Miss Parry, Darwin may be viewed as a monumental figure representative of a different age, stand[ing] up on the horizon, stone-white, eminent, like a lighthouse, marking some past stage on this adventurous, long, long voyage, this interminable this interminable life (174). By contrast, Woolf alludes to the Mendelian theory alongside Einstein and the aeroplane as symbols of mans continuing aspirations (33). While Woolfs allusions to Darwin suggest the heights of thought achieved by past thinkers, Woolf presents Mendelian genetics together with the new physics and aeronautics as representative of contemporary intellectual striving. Like Aunt Helena, whom Peter mistakenly assumes to be dead, Darwins

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


contemporary relevance was underestimated by his early twentiethcentury successors, a fact that would be acknowledged following the attainment of the modern evolutionary synthesis; nevertheless, in presenting Darwin as a monumental figure of the past in Mrs Dalloway, Woolf was reflecting contemporary scientific opinion. Interestingly, in Between the Acts, Darwin is mentioned in association with the contemporary scientists and popularisers of science Arthur Eddington and James Jeans (BTA 14). Woolfs final novel was written at a time when Darwinian natural selection was once again gaining acceptance as part though not the whole of the explanation for evolution. Woolfs presentation of Darwin as a figure of contemporary as well as historical significance here coincides with Darwins reintegration into the modern evolutionary synthesis, though this did not prevent either Woolf or her scientific contemporaries from continuing to test the particulars of Darwins arguments. T h e n e w b iol o g y Among the disciplines of the life sciences that Woolf embraced as disinterested was the new biology of the laboratory. Woolfs approval of the new biology can be seen in her characterisation of William Bankes in To the Lighthouse. Bankes is carefully constructed as a model of the new biologist. A botanist whose particular subject is physiological, the digestive system of plants, his admiration for Darwin situates him within the evolutionist school of thought, while the white scientific coat which seemed to clothe him at all times links him to the laboratory (TTL 55, 80, 54). His manner of relating to people appears an outgrowth of his science: Woolf describes him as capable of love distilled and filtered; love that never attempted to clutch its object (54). This is the antithesis of the collectors love, fulfilled only through possession. Bankes also displays a spirit of objective inquiry that Woolf associates with science in its purest form, and, for this reason, Lily Briscoe accepts his examination of her painting. She appreciates his disinterested intelligence the vague aloof way that was natural to a man who spent so much time in laboratories and values his opinion, convinced that thanks to his scientific mind he


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

understood (191). Looking at Lilys painting, he took it scientifically in complete good faith [H]e turned, with his glasses raised to the scientific examination of her canvas. The question being one of the relations of masses, of lights and shadows, which to be honest, he had never considered before, he would like to have it explained what then did she wish to make of it? (60). Lilys willingness to allow Bankes to examine her painting, which stems from her sense of his scientific disinterestedness, is all the more striking when contrasted with her fear of Mr Ramsays scrutiny of her work. Lily fears Mr Ramsays exactingness, a reference to what might also be described as the categorical quality of Mr Ramsays outlook. Mr Ramsay conceives of his own intellectual efforts in the form of a rigidly linear alphabetical progression in which he has stalled at Q (4041). His conception of thought as consisting of discrete units arranged in an orderly fashion to be run through in a methodical manner emphasises the systematic quality of Mr Ramsays mental process. Cam, watching her father read, imagines that he is attempting to pin down some thought more exactly, an image that suggests a taxonomists capture and classification of specimens (205). Mr Ramsays outlook is categorical in another sense as well: he harbours a secret conceit at his own accuracy of judgement. What he said was true. It was always true. He was incapable of untruth; never tampered with a fact (10). It is through contrast with Mr Ramsays systematic and categorical mind, suggestive of a taxonomic attitude, that Bankess modern scientific outlook appears to best advantage. It is against Mr Ramsays grasping love of his wife that Bankess love for Mrs Ramsay appears distilled and disinterested. Likewise, while Lily fears Mr Ramsays judgement of her work, she welcomes Bankess inquiries into her artistic aims and strategies. Thus, Woolf suggests that while a taxonomising mind, intent only on the categorisation of what it sees, might be expected to stifle creativity, a mind trained in the study of function is more inclined to seek to understand the purpose of a work of art than to judge it on the basis of pre-existing categories. In Night and Day, Ralph Denhams amateur interest in botany provides Woolf with another opportunity to contrast opposing scientific

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


outlooks. In the course of a single conversation, Denham passes through a range of approaches to nature. When he veers towards the taxonomic, Katharine mockingly deflates his authority:
In naming the little green plant to her he used the Latin name, thus disguising some flower familiar even in Chelsea, and making her exclaim, half in amusement, at his knowledge. Her own ignorance was vast, she confessed. What did one call that tree opposite, for instance, supposing one condescended to call it by its English name? (ND 347)

Yet, his pedantic taxonomising aside, Denhams view of nature is compelling to Katharine. A little attention to a diagram which Denham proceeded to draw upon an envelope soon put Katharine in possession of some of the fundamental distinctions between our British trees: this method parallels T. H. Huxleys practice of teaching not endless lists of species names but rather the general lines along which species differ (ibid.). Denhams exposition on the make-up of plants likewise recalls the new biology in its focus on life processes:
to him [flowers] were, in the first instance, bulbs or seeds, and later, living things endowed with sex, and pores, and susceptibilities, which adapted themselves by all manner of ingenious devices to live and beget life, and could be fashioned squat or tapering, flame-coloured or pale, pure or spotted, by processes which might reveal the secrets of human existence. (3478)

Considering plants as living organisms whose fascination lies in their development, functioning, and evolution, Denham signals the movement beyond taxonomic description. Woolf also presents the modern study of biology as a possible means of emancipation for women. In The Years, Rose Pargiters exclusion from the masculine sphere of education was figured in part through her exclusion from the pastime of natural history. The fact that, a generation later, Peggy can pursue a career as a medical doctor suggests the magnitude of the shift in gender roles that has occurred in the interim. Significantly, Peggy is not only a practising doctor but also a laboratory scientist, as Eleanor reveals when she inquires after the results of Peggys experiment with the guinea-pig (TY 316). Peggy thus participates not only in an established profession but also


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

in a scientific field designated as modern. The fact that it is the natural history tradition from which Rose is excluded and the experimental science of the laboratory in which Peggy takes part further confirms Woolfs perception of the former as quintessentially Victorian and the latter as representative of the modern. Woolf does not suggest by this that one can place ones faith in modern science unreservedly. Although in The Years Renny appears earnest in his declaration that science is the religion of the future, Woolfs often critical views of religion imply that this comparison is intended to provoke reflection rather than agreement (227). Woolf suggests a distinction between religion and science through her depiction of Peggy. Peggy, like Renny, views science as the successor of religion: she reflects that all her patients said Rest rest let me rest. How to deaden; how to cease to feel; that was the cry of the woman bearing children; to rest, to cease to be. In the Middle Ages, she thought, it was the cell; the monastery; now its the laboratory (337). However, unlike Renny, Peggy appears conscious of the limitations of both forms of consolation. She is not uncritical of her field or her colleagues. She feels it her duty to disabuse her elders of their belief in science, partly because their credulity amused her, partly because she was daily impressed by the ignorance of doctors (312). Peggys capacity to regard her own discipline with scepticism suggests that science has the potential to avoid dogmatic faith in its own ordering system. The theme of science as an emancipatory outlet for women is also present in Night and Day in the story of Cassandra, although in this case the modern womans self-determination through the pursuit of science is interrupted. When she first appears in the narrative, Cassandra is an unconventional girl with wide and eccentric interests, including the breeding of silkworms, the psychology of animals, and Mendels theory of inherited characteristics (ND 296, 385). Her scientific interests, inasmuch as they form a part of her unique and self-constructed programme of education, have secured for her the not despicable virtues of vivacity and freshness, and Cassandra initially appears comparable to Katharine in her bid for intellectual independence (359).

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


However, Cassandras attempts at self-determination through science come under attack. Her mother, Lady Otway, objects to her hobbies and turns to Katharine for assistance when one day, she opened Cassandras bedroom door on a mission of discovery, and found the ceiling hung with mulberry-leaves, the windows blocked with cages, and the tables stacked with home-made machines for the manufacture of silk dresses (217). Lady Otways objections to Cassandras activities centre around the impropriety of such pastimes for a girl. She complains, Its all Henrys doing, you know, giving up her parties and taking to these nasty insects. It doesnt follow that if a man can do a thing a woman may too, and she enlists Katharines help to convince Cassandra to take an interest in something that other people are interested in (ibid.). At this stage, before her own desire for self-determination becomes evident, Katharine strikes Lady Otway as the perfect daughter, or daughter-in-law, whom she could not help contrasting with Cassandra, surrounded by innumerable silkworms in her bedroom (218). Despite her own growing desire for independence, Katharine seems willing to sacrifice Cassandra to convention. At Lady Otways request, she encourages her young cousin to put her creatures in the charge of a groom and come to them for a week or so, and she warns Cassandra that her dislike of rational society was an affectation fast hardening into a prejudice, which would, in the long run, isolate her from all interesting people and pursuits (324). She betrays Cassandra still further in advising William Rodney, when he confesses his affection for Cassandra but his dislike for her dreadful insects, that he might insist that she confined herself to to something else [S]he cares for music; I believe she writes poetry (302). Katharine seeks to quash Cassandras eccentricity while protecting her own; in fact, her sacrificing of Cassandra to convention serves as a means of safeguarding her own independence, for it secures her release from William Rodney. Partly as a result of Katharines interference, Cassandra undergoes the conversion that Katharine escapes. Appealed to for comfort by a man, she forgot all about the psychology of animals, and the recurrence of blue eyes and brown, and became, instantly, engrossed in


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

her feelings as a woman, who could administer consolation (3856). Although there were moments when she felt so young and inexperienced that she almost wished herself back with the silk-worms at Stogdon House, and not embarked on this bewildering intrigue, under pressure from the combined forces of her mother, William Rodney, and Katharine, she succumbs, devoting herself to the conventional pastimes foisted upon her and accepting the fate that Katharine struggled to evade as William Rodneys fiance (484). Despite Cassandras ultimate failure to escape established gender roles, it is significant that her bid for independence took the form of an interest in science. In this, Cassandra recalls H. G. Wellss Ann Veronica and anticipates Marie Stopess Lilian Rullford, as well as Woolfs own Chloe and Olivia.
a r o o m o f o n e s o w n

and the influence of M a r ie Stope s

Woolfs reference to Lifes Adventure, or some such title, by Mary Carmichael in A Room of Ones Own is frequently taken as an allusion to Loves Creation, a novel published by Marie Stopes under the pseudonym Marie Carmichael in 1928 (AROO 104).8 In her essay, Woolf analyses Lifes Adventure as an exemplary novel by a modern woman writer. Discussions of Chloe and Olivia, the protagonists of Lifes Adventure as summarised by Woolf, often build upon the assumption that these figures have parallels in Stopess novel and thus that the described circumstances of these characters accurately reflect the fictional representation of women in this period. However, Woolfs description of Lifes Adventure and her representation of Chloe and Olivia as collaborating female scientists constitute not a straightforward citation of Stopess novel but a pointed rewriting of it, and Woolfs chosen revisions illustrate her own views of womens occupations and relationships and what fiction should tell us of these. The explanatory notes that accompany Woolfs references to Mary Carmichael and Lifes Adventure in recent editions of A Room of Ones Own typically suggest a connection between Lifes Adventure and Loves Creation without indicating the extent of the resemblance

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


between the two texts: the 1998 Oxford edition, for example, explains, Marie Carmichael was the novelistic pseudonym of the birthcontrol activist Marie Stopes. In 1928 she published a novel called Loves Creation (AROO 420 n. 104). Similarly, literary critics sometimes imply the identity of the two authors or overstate the resemblance of their works. In an entry on A Room of Ones Own in The Literary Encyclopedia, Anna Snaith declares that Mary Carmichael, the woman writer, author of Lifes Adventure, was the pseudonym for Marie Stopes, a statement that disregards the spelling of Stopess pseudonym, blurring the distinction between Woolfs Mary and Stopess Marie, and Snaith goes on to describe Loves Creation as a novel which contains women scientists, like Chloe and Olivia.9 Jane Marcus likewise states that Stopess novel opens with two women in a laboratory, setting the scene for Woolfs Chloe and Olivia, and this statement has been taken as authoritative by others: Lauren Rusk cites Marcus in support of her argument that Woolfs half-coded allusions to Loves Creation, a novel that opens with two women in a laboratory, setting the scene for Woolfs Chloe and Olivia, establish with her listeners a conspiratorial relation of women in league together against authority.10 However, the suggestion that Stopes portrays women in scientific collaboration is misleading. Her novel in fact opens:
In one of those innumerable interpenetrating worlds composing London, the clatter of departing students still echoed in the zoological laboratory. The attendant and his boy satellite cleared away the half-dissected rabbits pinned out on small wooden trays, which had nominally been occupying the minds of thirty young men during the afternoon. How that formalin stinks! We need some lady students with scent like they ave downstairs, Sir! God forbid! (LC 1)

Although lady students are acknowledged to exist, the novels opening depicts the laboratory as a masculine space from which women are conspicuously absent. Nor does Lilian Rullford, who appears in the second chapter and who remains the only female scientist met with for the remainder of the novel, live up to the representation of Chloe and Olivia offered by Woolf. Lilian is a skilled scientist who


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

wins a place in the above-mentioned laboratory. However, she shares her work space not with another female scientist but with Dr Kenneth Harvey, the demonstrator so perturbed at the novels outset by the new plague learned women (56). Lilian and Kenneth fall in love and marry, continuing to work together in the laboratory following their wedding. This sequence of events may be read as a triumph over the misogyny of the scientific establishment and the conventions governing women and work. Yet despite this representation of a married woman pursuing a scientific career, Stopess narrative falls short of Woolfs conception of Chloe and Olivia together in a laboratory. The unprecedented aspect of Mary Carmichaels Lifes Adventure, Woolf suggests in A Room of Ones Own, lies in its portrayal of women not only in relation to the other sex but in relation to one another and to concerns beyond the romantic (AROO 107). Lifes Adventure strikes Woolf as a work of revolutionary potential because in it two women are represented as friends and not simply feminine confidantes but professional colleagues, an association that adds new complexity to the literary representation of female relationships (ibid.). Loves Creation, by contrast, subsumes the narrative of the female scientist within a traditional romantic plot, such that the resolution to the problem of misogyny in science is achieved through marriage. Stopess novel thus does little to counteract the impression that love is the only possible interpreter of women in fiction (AROO 109). Furthermore, in Stopess novel, the female scientist is subject to ambivalent treatment. Despite her professional success, Lilian is portrayed as lacking the fundamental human (or perhaps merely feminine) quality of sympathy: she says herself that there was something, to her intangible, that was real and affected other people, that they understood and could seize upon but that just touched her elusively in the dark (LC 31). Her shortcomings are highlighted by contrast with the sensitivity of her sister, Rose Amber, who keeps house for the two women while training to be a secretary and who appears the embodiment of mother comfort, eliciting from an admirer the comment, Ah! Rose Amber we all come to you, we human beings, dont we? To be mothered and patched up and put on our feet again (55, 28). In contrast to Rose Amber, Lilian is made to appear incomplete. Even more

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


significantly, Lilian is prevented from developing as either a scientist or a fictional protagonist. Shortly after her marriage to Kenneth, she is killed in a cycling accident. The female scientist is shunted from the novel and her place (both as narrative focus and, ultimately, as Kenneths love interest) is assumed by Rose Amber. Unlike her sister, Rose Amber does not challenge the conventions of femininity through participation in the masculine sphere of science. Nevertheless, she initially appears something of a New Woman herself. She expresses liberal views on the subject of love and marriage, arguing that our whole social life is built up on the idea of an old-fashioned novel, in which people fall in love, marry and live happily ever after, and she suggests that a new and truer model is necessary (76). She contends that what the world needs is someone to sympathise and understand the real insides of peoples private troubles, and she maintains that improvements can be brought about through social reform (778). However, Rose Amber too fails to realise her potential as a New Woman. Marriage to the possessive Harry Granville traps her in the role of an oppressed wife, and following the death of her husband and her subsequent attachment to Kenneth Harvey, she relinquishes her former aspirations in favour of the role of supportive spouse and prospective mother. Her closing exchange with Kenneth, now confirmed as a great scientist, signals the thoroughness of her transformation from a New Woman to a female helpmeet. Kenneth warns:
It may be that the time is not yet ripe for my theories. I may be only the next Focus-Changers grandfather. How would you tolerate me as a mere ancestor and not the great man himself? Ah, but you are the great one for me. Your work widens science and enriches life. And your work? Your work is the key of all I was striving after for humanity How long can you love a man whose only claim to greatness is that he will be a grandfather? So long as he is also the father of my child always. (416)

This final exchange confirms the elevation of the supportive wife and mother over both the female scientist and the social activist and sets


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

procreation over intellectual creativity as the primary focus of womens energies. Maroula Joannou argues that early twentieth-century works depicting the female scientist, whether ultimately suggesting as does H. G. Wellss Ann Veronica (1909) that the proper occupation for the gifted female scientist is to be the mother of gifted sons, or contending like Edith Ayrton Zangwills The Call (1924) that both science and romantic relationships must be sacrificed to the cause of suffragette activism, agree that in the retelling of the New Woman scientists story it is necessary to arbitrate between three claims love, science, and politics One can, it seems, be a New Woman activist or a lover or a scientist but not all three and not even two of the three.11 Stopess narrative enacts the same struggle between science, social activism, and romance or motherhood, though the roles of scientist and social reformer are divided between two characters. Lilian embodies the scientist, Rose Amber the activist, and both are killed off, whether literally or metaphorically, to make way for the wife and mother. Joannous comment that in Ann Veronica the epicene, independent New Woman of the novels opening is reformulated into the anodyne New Mother thus counteracting any threat that the scandalous New Woman scientist may have posed to the stability of the social formation is equally applicable to Loves Creation.12 Although in Stopess novel the reformulation that Joannou describes requires the death of one heroine and the submission of another, Loves Creation too charts a reversion from the professional world of the scientist to the domestic space of the wife and mother. A Room of Ones Own to some extent confirms the oppositional nature of intellectual endeavour, political activism, and romance or motherhood. Woolfs assertion that a woman who writes fuelled by anger at the position of women in society will produce only stunted and deformed works suggests the incompatibility of creative work and feminist agitation (though under the cover of this argument Woolfs own essay attempts to combine the two). Elena Gualtieri also points out an ambivalence to mothering in Woolfs essay.13 Speaking of Jane Austen, Emily and Charlotte Bront, and George Eliot, Woolf notes the possibly relevant fact that not one of them had

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


a child and implies that this may have been a necessary precondition for their success as writers (AROO 856). Gualtieri also highlights the criticism inherent in Woolfs presentation in A Room of Ones Own of Mrs Seton, mother of Mary Seton, as the biological mother who has exhausted herself by giving birth to thirteen children and has as consequence been unable to provide her daughters with the wine and partridges and servants carrying tin dishes on their heads that the text insists are necessary for nourishing the mind as well as the body.14 However, while Woolf unquestionably rejects the absolute elevation of motherhood over intellectual endeavour, she leaves open the possibility of choosing among rather than between these alternatives. What Mary Carmichaels narrative of Chloe and Olivia (as summarised by Woolf) introduces is the possibility of combining the supposedly incompatible roles of scientist, feminist, and mother. Lifes Adventure depicts women engaged in mincing liver, which is, it seems, a cure for pernicious anaemia; although one of them was married and had I think I am right in stating two small children (AROO 108). This scenario suggests the possibility of women being at once scientists, mothers, and friends to one another (in itself, Woolf suggests, a revolutionary act).15 While it may seem pedantic to dispute the conflation of Mary and Marie and the discussion of female scientists in the plural rather than the singular, these discrepancies are significant. Woolfs reference to Mary Carmichael and Lifes Adventure does call Marie Stopes and Loves Creation to mind, but it is not a straightforward citation, and given the importance that Woolf accords to the representation of a relationship between professional women supposedly offered in Lifes Adventure, it is surely relevant that Lilian Rullford is the only female scientist portrayed in Stopess novel, that her most meaningful relationship is heterosexual and romantic, and that her presence in the novel is short-lived. Of the laboratory scene in Lifes Adventure in which Chloe watched Olivia put a jar on a shelf and say how it was time to go home to her children, Woolf comments, that is a sight that has never been seen since the world began (AROO 110). Such a scene truly had no precedent in fiction, for Stopess novel does not permit the female scientist to


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

live long enough to become a working mother with close relationships to other professional women. Lifes Adventure constitutes not an echo of Loves Creation but a rewriting of it. Woolfs variation on Stopess title is no accident: she transforms a narrative driven by romance into one offering a wider view of women in which the adventure of living extends beyond the social and biological imperative of motherhood. Yet while there can be no easy equation of Lifes Adventure with Loves Creation nor of Chloe and Olivia with the female scientist as portrayed by Stopes, A Room of Ones Own does bear traces of the influence of Stopess novel in its use of scientific analogy. While Stopes finds no permanent place for the female scientist in Loves Creation, her novel celebrates science itself as a creative endeavour, and Woolf echoes this in her use of metaphors drawn from the life sciences. Although it was Stopess work as a birth-control activist that made her a household name, her only published novel, Loves Creation, marks a return to earlier interests, for Stopes had an outstanding career as a scientist before she became known to the world as a sexpert.16 She studied under F. W. Oliver, a pioneer in the study of palaeobotany and ecology in England, then went to Germany, the cradle of the new biology, to pursue doctoral research.17 Returning to Britain, she accepted a place as assistant lecturer in Botany at Manchester University and was later elected a fellow of University College, London. She wrote textbooks on botany for the general public and maintained a steady output of scholarly papers. In the 1920s, she turned her attention to social reform, but she continued her scientific research alongside her work as a sexologist and birth-control activist. Over the course of her career, she made an important contribution to Palaeobotany and her work in the field is still referred to today.18 Stopess scientific writings offer insight into the views informing Loves Creation. Her work Botany; or, the Modern Study of Plants (1912) provides a general introduction to the plant sciences and, as the title suggests, focuses on the botany of this century, with chapters on morphology, anatomy, cytology, physiology, ecology, palaeobotany, plant breeding, and pathology as well as taxonomy.19 Like most early twentieth-century scientific writers, Stopes perceived a stark opposition between traditional and modern botany. She notes that in the

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


early days of the science nearly every botanists energies were devoted to that branch of it which we now call systematic botany. This is very natural, for the first stage in the attack on a mass of unknown things is to arrange and name them for ready reference.20 However, while she accepts taxonomy as necessary preliminary work, Stopes suggests that excessive emphasis upon what she regards as only a small part of a much larger discipline resulted in botany being classed with stamp collecting in the older days when the only object of many who went under the name of botanist was to collect and name all the plants of their district, and when the naming of a new species was the ultimate crown of success.21 Stopes seeks to differentiate the contemporary practice of botany from this older tradition, asserting that modern botany is no narrow and restricted subject, dry as the herbarium plants which used long to symbolise it. It is full of living interest, ramifying in many directions The really essential study in modern botany may be summed up in the phrase that it attempts to discover how plants live.22 Equating the various subdisciplines of botany with their material subjects, she rejects taxonomy as productive of only dead, desiccated, cut and dried ideas.23 There is no reason to suppose that Woolf read Stopess scientific works. When she mentions Stopes in her private writings, Woolf refers to her primarily in her capacity as a sexologist and advocate of contraception (L iii: 6; D v: 202 and n. 16). However, Loves Creation espouses many of the same views of science present in Stopess textbook. Stopess novel overtly favours the modern biological sciences. The opening scene of Loves Creation, set in a laboratory immediately following a demonstration, locates the novel firmly within the domain of the new biology introduced to Britain in the late nineteenth century by men such as T. H. Huxley. Kenneth Harvey, demonstrating in the laboratory and musing on microscopic revelations, 24 is a scientist in the style of Huxley, The Biologist par excellence (LC 2). In addition to demonstrating his alignment with the methods of the new biology, Kenneth shows his dedication to its objectives. Reflecting upon the task left to the modern scientist by preceding generations, Kenneth notes: so many devotees have piled up mountains of loose data which


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

one has to fuse before building ones own citadel (4). The work of the modern biologist lies in synthesising the information accumulated by previous generations into a general understanding of biological processes, in constructing comprehensive theories out of disparate facts, making the scientist part-artist, part-creator (4). While celebrating the new biology as a creative endeavour, Stopes stresses the obsolescence of the taxonomic approach to nature through her depiction of a directionless period in Kenneths life immediately following Lilians death. In a grief-stricken daze, Kenneth joins a scientific expedition drifting from island to island in the southern seas of the Indian Ocean, amassing insects, bottled and dried plankton, examples of new species and the rarer specimens of the marine fauna and flora (196). In his role as the expeditions zoologist, Kenneth reverts to the activities of collection and classification typical of the naturalists of an earlier period. He disparages his work, but resigns himself to collect[ing] the beetles and corals and anything else they want (194). Rose Amber seeks to present his work in grander terms, declaring, I will tell your mother that you are going on an important scientific expedition, and remind her that that was what Darwin did when he was a young man (190). Still, Rose Ambers comment suggests that in order to accord value to this work it is necessary to view it in the context of theoretical science rather than as an element of the taxonomic tradition. Stopes takes the opportunity provided by Kenneths temporary assumption of the role of taxonomist to critique what she regards as the hidden motives of the taxonomic project. As ships zoologist, Kenneth becomes aware of the authority attributed to the taxonomist. During a period ashore, he requests permission from the local consul to take a trip into an untouched forest. Encountering resistance to his request, he presents specimen collection as an excuse for his excursion (2312). Kenneth finds the officials receptivity to this approach both gratifying and bizarre, and he marvels, if I want to go up a tropical river into a virgin forest just because I want to, I should probably be stopped as an imbecile or an intruder; but if I go to collect a few butterflies for a national museum thousands of miles away, and give them jaw-cracking names, then I am a perfectly sane member of the

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


community (233). Although bemused by this state of affairs, he is quick to take advantage of the power that his science imparts. On his journey upriver, he cements his authority over the men accompanying him by playing the part of the taxonomising collector:
Now and then, in order to keep the coolies up to the mark, he made a great display of catching a particular insect and killing it in the asphyxiating tubes they carried for him. The capture, whether a treasure in reality, or a mere member of a prolific species, he made a great show of solemnly entrusting to the coolies. They appeared to be enormously impressed. They feared at any rate to take any liberties with him. That was all the insect was used for. (242)

Collection and classification are consciously employed, even by one who has little respect for their worth, as a means of establishing ones authority over both the organism caught and those witness to the taxonomic process. Following this period of taxonomic drudgery, Kenneth, reanimated by his correspondence with Rose Amber, returns to the pursuit of his great and wonderful theories, actively positioning himself in opposition to the conservative element of the scientific establishment that still regards classification as the proper end of the study of nature (312). He complains to Rose Amber of a former mentor who now discourages his theorising, urging him to get on with [his] solid work [and] describe [his] new fossils (363). In the face of this pressure to continue his taxonomic work, Kenneth reasserts his commitment to the pursuit of his great idea, one of those glorious, master-key ideas that, like the theories of Copernicus and Darwin, could transform the way that humanity sees itself and the world (364). In Loves Creation, Stopes sets up a clear opposition between the taxonomic tradition serving little purpose beyond the assertion of authority over ones subject and over witnesses to the act of classification and theoretical biology based on laboratory work having the potential to explain the secrets of lifes processes. This opposition is echoed in A Room of Ones Own. Woolf condemns measurement in the service of classification as reductive and restrictive but presents the laboratory and the microscope as symbols of intellectual emancipation. Thus, while Woolfs depiction of Chloe and Olivia as female


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

scientists together in a laboratory reconceives rather than reproduces Stopess representation of the female scientist, Loves Creation remains an important influence on A Room of Ones Own in its juxtaposition of scientific approaches. In A Room of Ones Own, Woolf analyses the motivations underlying the taxonomic impulse. She contends that the urge to measure and classify is born of a desire for domination through knowledge, such that any encounter with the unknown sends Professor X rush[ing] for his measuring-rods to prove himself superior (AROO 115). Measurement and classification function as a means of subduing ones subject, transforming it from a wayward living entity into an orderly recorded fact confined to its place within a hierarchical system. Woolf suggests that a similar impulse accounts for the formulation of gender stereotypes (it is, after all, a specimen of a newly discovered third sex that the professor rushes to classify), and she implies the identity of the taxonomist and the misogynist in their efforts to subdue an unruly subject through reductive classification. Woolfs vision of Professor X labouring over his monumental work entitled The Mental, Moral, and Physical Inferiority of the Female Sex jab[bing] his pen on the paper as if he were killing some noxious insect as he wrote conflates collection and classification and suggests that, through description, the professor endeavours to pin women within the category of the weaker sex (3940). Woolf was not alone in satirising the taxonomic impulse or in regarding the practice of taxonomy as infected by patriarchal bias. Mary Kingsley, a Victorian traveller who herself collected entomological and ichthyological specimens for the British Museum (and whose criticisms of the inequality of education for men and women Woolf cites in Three Guineas), noted this bias with the comment:
The last words a most distinguished and valued scientific friend had said to me before I left home were, Always take measurements, Miss Kingsley, and always take them from the adult male. I know I have neglected opportunities of carrying out this commission on both banks, but I do not feel like going back. Besides the men would not like it, and I have mislaid my yard measure.25

Woolf expresses similar reservations regarding the urge to measure and the hierarchies produced through measurement, cautioning that,

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


delightful as the pastime of measuring may be, it is the most futile of all occupations and to submit to the decrees of the measurers the most servile of attitudes (139). Woolf links the masculine preoccupation with measurement and classification to the education received by young men within patriarchal society. The narrator describes the university of Oxbridge as a miraculous glass cabinet in which are preserved rare types (7, 10). The university functions as a collection of specimens brought together for the purpose of classification, and the effectiveness of this institutional categorisation is suggested by the narrators subsequent observation:
if I want to know all that a human being can tell me about Sir Hawley Butts, for instance, I have only to open Burke or Debrett and I shall find that he took such and such a degree; owns a hall; has an heir; was Secretary to a Board; represented Great Britain in Canada; and has received a certain number of degrees, offices, medals and other distinctions by which his merits are stamped upon him indelibly. (11112)

The choice of the word distinctions underscores the fact that Sir Hawleys qualifications and accolades function to differentiate and thus to classify him. Woolfs narrator remains sceptical of the value of such categorisations, arguing, I do not believe that gifts, whether of mind or character, can be weighed like sugar and butter, not even in Cambridge, where they are so adept at putting people into classes (138). However, while Woolf asserts the inapplicability of fixed hierarchies and systems of classification to human beings, the education administered by patriarchal society ensures the perpetuation of this system of social distinction. By instilling in its recipients a classificatory mindset, this training also has implications for literary expression, for it produces men like Mr B the critic whose mind seemed separated into different chambers (132). The consequence of this divided and dividing mind is that when one takes a sentence of Mr B into the mind it falls plump on the ground dead (ibid.). The taxonomising mentality kills the living subject through restrictive categorisation. On the basis of this evidence, Woolf might be read as regarding the scientific outlook as wholly negative. Yet she also presents science


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

as a possible means of emancipation or empowerment for women. She laments the waste of the wild, generous, untutored intelligence of Margaret of Newcastle, which poured itself out, higgledy-piggledy, in torrents of rhyme and prose, poetry and philosophy when [s]he should have had a microscope put in her hand. She should have been taught to look at the stars and reason scientifically (79). Mary Seton, teaching science at a womens college, and Chloe and Olivia, together in a laboratory preparing a cure for pernicious anaemia, stand as models of the professional and independent modern woman and the modern fictional heroine. Nor is Woolf averse to recommending scientific techniques for the investigation of the effects of sexism. She reasons:
surely it is time that the effect of discouragement upon the mind of the artist should be measured, as I have seen a dairy company measure the effect of ordinary milk and Grade A milk upon the body of the rat. They set two rats in cages side by side, and of the two one was furtive, timid and small, and the other was glossy, bold and big. Now what food do we feed women as artists upon? (68)

Woolf suggests that while measurement for the purpose of classification serves only to locate ones subject within a fixed hierarchy, measurement in the experimental context of the laboratory offers a means of understanding influences and explaining behaviour. While disdaining measurement when it serves as an emblem of the taxonomic tradition, Woolf sanctions it as a tool of the new biology. Woolf even takes the scientific as her own standard of judgement. She rejects mens writing on the subject of women as worthless scientifically for having been written in the red light of emotion and not in the white light of truth (42). As her allusion to white light (containing all wavelengths of light within its spectrum) suggests, she retains the ideal of an inclusive rather than a partial vision. In this sense, the impartiality recommended by science resembles the incandescent and undivided androgynous vision that Woolf advocates for the writer (128). The ideal androgynous mind, Woolf suggests, is less inclined to stress distinctions than the single-sexed mind, and in contrast to the classificatory mentality that kills its living subject,

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


the undivided androgynous mind produces writing that remains vital and generative, that when taken into the mind explodes and gives birth to all kinds of other ideas, making it the only sort of writing of which one can say that it has the secret of perpetual life (128, 132). Woolf holds science and art to the same standard of impartiality, and she suggests that it is only through such impartiality that genius whole and entire can be expressed (90). In A Room of Ones Own, Woolf echoes Marie Stopes in presenting the classificatory outlook as reductive and compromised while commending modern biologys concern with tracing influences, explaining behaviour, and understanding life processes. And in suggesting that science and literature likewise benefit from an impartial and undivided outlook, Woolf collapses the distance between science and art viewed as creative endeavours. Wo ol f a n d t h e p ro t e c t ion m ov e m e n t Woolf encountered protectionist arguments early in life and her absorption of protectionist ideas contributed to her gradual disenchantment with the practice of specimen collection. At the age of ten or thereabouts she established her protectionist credentials by signing a pledge never to wear the plumes of wild birds (E iii: 244 n. 4). During the same period, the Stephen children wrote a condemnation of egg-collecting in the Hyde Park Gate News, calling upon children to refrain from taking birds eggs, and recommending instead the day by day monitoring of birds nests (HPGN 59). Adopting the language of Victorian protectionists, they lamented, Alas! oh how often cruel boys or girls go and rob the fond mother bird of her young. Think oh children before you yield to the temptation which is before you (ibid.). The Stephen childrens disapproval of egg-collecting was genuine; still, their support for the protection of birds did not prevent them from amusing themselves by mimicking the extravagant rhetoric of Victorian protectionists. This combination of agreement with the general principles of protection and alertness to protectionist strategies and rhetoric would characterise Woolfs attitudes towards protection throughout her life.


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

Woolf agreed with many of the tenets of the protectionist movement. She was critical of blood sports as symptomatic of a wider culture of violence. In Three Guineas, she denounces the wasteful destructiveness of the hunt, declaring, The number of animals killed in England for sport during the past century must be beyond computation. 1,212 head of game is given as the average for a days shooting at Chatsworth in 1909 (TG 369 n. 3). Using these statistics in support of an argument regarding the masculine tendency towards war, Woolf suggests that violence against nature and violence against human beings are of a piece. Woolf treats the hunt as an emblem of civilisation, but a civilisation lacking in humanity. In The Years, Edward Pargiters college friend Gibbs embodies this civilisation as he reminisces about cubbing and impatiently awaits the start of the hunting season (TY 51). University-educated and a member of the landed class, Gibbs suggests through his appearance and talk the brutish aspects of the culture of which he forms a part: his hands are great red paw[s] that he dangl[es] in front of him like a bear, and the conversations of Gibbs and his wife Milly remind North of the half-articulate munchings of animals in a stall prolific, profuse, half-conscious (50, 346, 356). A liking for the hunt also suggests a dubious form of gentility elsewhere in Woolfs novels. Woolf often employs a predilection for the hunt as a hint of the unsuitability of a suitor. The Archduke Harry seeks to woo Orlando with boasts of having shot elk, reindeer, and albatross and promises of a mixed bag of ptarmigan and grouse (O 172). In The Years, Delia Pargiter dreams of marrying a revolutionary figure like Parnell, but finds herself instead the wife of the conservative Patrick, who always wore the look of a sportsman who saw the birds rising (TY 382). In Night and Day, William Rodney illustrates another unsavoury aspect of the culture of the hunt through his inquiries after the local pack: confessing that he has no great fondness for shooting, he nevertheless maintains, one has to do it, unless one wants to be altogether out of things (ND 211). The social manoeuvring that forms a subtext to the hunt renders its destructiveness all the more objectionable. Henry Otways allusion to Sir William Budge, the sugar king, who took over the pack along with the estate of

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


poor Stanham, who went bankrupt, suggests the extent to which primacy in the hunt reflects social primacy (210). It was in part the social significance of blood sports that troubled Woolf, for she saw the hunt as a means of manifesting power over the land and its wildlife, over the surrounding population from whom the game was preserved, and over the participants in the hunt itself, the hierarchy of which reflected wider social gradations. Jacob Flanders, for example, rode to hounds after a fashion, for he hadnt a penny, and the fact that he loses the hunt suggests that he does not quite fit into the social circle for which he has been groomed ( JR 215, 137). In The Shooting Party, Woolf offers her most extended criticism of the culture of blood sports, employing the hunt as an emblem of a civilisation in collapse as its violence is turned inward against itself. The story is set in the drawing room of the Rashleigh family, where the women sit beneath the family coat-of-arms, the symbol of their gentility, while the men hunt in the patriotically named Kings Ride and Home Wood. The coat-of-arms, consisting of grapes, a mermaid, and spears, recalls the history of the family with its vast lands in the Amazon basin where the Rashleighs gathered sacks of emeralds and took captives. Maidens (CSF 249); it offers a visual reminder that the familys rise was accomplished by means of violence and appropriation. This violence is perpetuated in the present through the pastime of the hunt: Woolf describes the destruction wrought as the pheasants are driven across the noses of the guns and a cart is heaped full of dead birds (ibid.). The birds are both literal and symbolic prey, representative of others victimised by the Rashleigh men. Immediately after having been shot, the birds are described as soft warm bodies, with limp claws and still lustrous eyes. The birds seemed alive still, but swooning under their rich damp feathers; later, the narrator observes, The birds were dead now, their claws gripped tight, though they gripped nothing. The leathery eyelids were creased greyly over their eyes (249, 250). These descriptions are echoed in the portrayal of the Rashleigh women, whose laces and flounces seemed to quiver, as if their bodies were warm and languid underneath their feathers, though later, light faded in their eyes too, as they sat by the white ashes


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

listening. Their eyes became like pebbles, taken from water; grey stones dulled and dried. And their hands gripped their hands like the claws of dead birds gripped nothing (252, 253). The Rashleigh women are presented as victims of this culture of violence, but they are not wholly exempt from criticism. They lunch on pheasant, Miss Antonia drawing the carving knife across the pheasants breast firmly (251). Sustained by this game, they are also complicit in their cultures violence. Other women are more unequivocally victimised, for the Rashleigh men prey upon the local girls: together Miss Rashleigh and Miss Antonia tally, Pink and white Lucy at the Mill, Ellens daughter at the Goat and Sickle, the girl at the tailors, and Milly Masters in the still-room, all of whom serve as trophies for the Rashleigh men (252). However, it is not only women who are represented as victims of this culture. At times the hunt returns carrying dead men as well as birds: one man is brought back with a bullet through his heart, another, his horse having gone down and both having been ridden over by the hunt, came home on a shutter (ibid.). The violence of the hunt is also on a continuum with the violence of war, for the womens reminiscences shift imperceptibly from casualties of the hunt to the war dead with the recollection of the Colonels letter informing them that [y]our son rode as if he had twenty devils in him charged at the head of his men (ibid.). The hunt approaches closer and closer to the house, until the hounds burst into the Rashleigh drawing room. In attempting to bring the dogs to order, the squire strikes old Miss Rashleigh, who staggers: Her stick, striking wildly, struck the shield above the fireplace. She fell with a thud upon the ashes. The shield of the Rashleighs crashed from the wall. Under the mermaid, under the spears, she lay buried (254). Women become not only metaphorical but literal victims of the hunt as the chase enters the drawing room. It is the men who bring this violence into the house and are thus the larger cause of this collapse, but it is Miss Rashleighs defensive gesture that brings down the coat-of-arms, though she is herself buried beneath it. The fall of King Edwards picture moments later suggests that the fall of the Rashleighs is only a symptom of wider social collapse.

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


Woolf shared the protectionist disapproval of blood sports, but she cannot be simply categorised as a protectionist. The wider social implications of recreational violence concerned her as much as the violence against wildlife in and of itself, and she viewed the campaign for the protection of animals through a social lens. Thus, while she objects to the fox hunt and the battue in part because of their social significance, she defends other, even unlawful, hunting for equally social reasons. In Night and Day, through the character of Mary Datchet, she offers a defence of poaching. When Ralph Denham, a nature enthusiast with protectionist leanings, finds and destroys a poachers wire, set across a hole to trap a rabbit, Mary protests, Its quite right that they should poach I wonder whether it was Alfred Duggins or Sid Rankin? How can one expect them not to, when they only make fifteen shillings a week? (ND 192). And in Flush, Woolf critiques the phenomenon of game preserves through a description of the estate of the Reverend Charles Kingsley:
at Farnham there were fields of green grass; there were pools of blue water; there were woods that murmured and turf so fine that the paws bounced as they touched it [T]he old ecstasy returned was it hare or was it fox? Flush tore across the heaths of Surrey as he had not run since the old days at Three Mile Cross. A pheasant went rocketing up in a spurt of purple and gold. He had almost shut his teeth on the tail-feathers when a voice rang out. A whip cracked. Was it the Reverend Charles Kingsley who called him sharply to heel? At any rate, he ran no more. The woods of Farnham were strictly preserved. (F 93)

Woolf highlights the unnaturalness of game preserves, on which a dog may not follow its instinct to chase a pheasant in order that the birds may later be killed en masse by a shooting party. Woolf was often in agreement with protectionist arguments, but her sympathies were inflected by social concerns. It was for similarly social reasons that Woolf, while supporting many of the principles of animal protection, expressed reservations regarding protection as a movement. In Mrs Dalloway, she associates the protectionist position with Hugh Whitbread, who displays arguably admirable qualities: he gave up shooting to please his old mother, and one or two humble reforms stood to his credit; an improvement


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

in public shelters was one; the protection of owls in Norfolk another; servant girls had reason to be grateful to him (MD 80, 11112). However, there is something domineering in the manner in which he decrees these changes, something oppressive in the appearance of his name at the end of letters to The Times, asking for funds, appealing to the public to protect, to preserve, to clear up litter, to abate smoke, and stamp out immorality in parks (11112). Although he accomplishes tangible good and is really remarkably kind, there is a prescriptive quality to his chosen role as guardian of public morality that Woolf regards as suspect, and her uneasiness on this subject extends to her treatment of the protection movement more generally (112). Woolfs most overt confrontation with the protection movement occurred in her essay on The Plumage Bill, which appeared in the Womans Leader on 23 July 1920. Andrew McNeillie describes this essay as perhaps [Woolfs] earliest feminist polemic, a statement that suggests that the protection movement and the manner in which its campaigns were conducted were important enough to Woolf to incite her for the first time to public argument.26 Woolfs essay appeared in the wake of the failure of a parliamentary bill intended to prohibit the importation of plumage, and it served as a reply to Wayfarer H. W. Massingham, editor of the Nation and a member of the Plumage Bill Group who commented upon the bills defeat, What does one expect? [Birds] have to be shot in parenthood for childbearing women to flaunt the symbols of it, and, as Mr Hudson says, one bird shot for its plumage means ten other deadly wounds and the starvation of the young. But what do women care? Look at Regent Street this morning!27 In response, Woolf states that in spite of a vow [never to wear the plumes of wild birds] taken in childhood and hitherto religiously observed, she felt an urge, on reading Massinghams comment, to go to Regent Street, buy an egret plume, and stick it is it in the back or the front of the hat? (E iii: 241). Woolf makes clear her repugnance for a trade that dooms birds not only to extinction but to torture, describing in graphic detail the bird tightly held in one hand while another hand pierces the eyeballs with a feather so that the bird may be used as a decoy and the innumerable mouths opening and shutting, opening and shutting, until as no parent bird

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


comes to feed them the young birds rot where they sit (241, 242). However, the rhetoric of the anti-plumage campaign relied heavily on the vilification of female vanity on the one hand and on appeals to feminine tender-heartedness on the other, and Woolf objects to both stereotypes. She criticises the affluent woman of fashion who, allowing herself to be controlled by trends, becomes herself no more than an object of beauty, comparable to any other object in street or window (242). However, she goes on to stress that women alone should not be made to bear the blame for the destruction of birds, for it is men who hunt the birds commercially, men who constitute the East End profiteers who benefit from the plumage trade, and, with a single exception, men who make up the parliamentary committee that showed such indifference to the Plumage Bill that, despite five attempts, it was impossible to get the necessary quorum of twenty members to attend its reading (243). The debate did not end here. Massingham responded to Woolf in the Womans Leader on 30 July. He declares Woolf a victim of mental confusion; complains, Personally, I cannot judge from Mrs Woolfs ambiguous article, whether she is for or against the plumage trade; and opines that articles of the kind she has written do a great deal more harm than the trade can do by its propaganda in its own defence (E iii: 244 n. 4). He concludes by reminding her of the real and profoundly important common duty of raising the moral currency of civilised nations (ibid.). Woolf replied to Massingham in turn, arguing that she had already declared, with sufficient plainness as I thought, that she found the plumage trade abominable and the cruelty repulsive (245 n. 4). For Massinghams benefit, she states again, I am wholly against the plumage trade. At the age of ten or thereabouts I signed a pledge never to wear one of the condemned feathers, and have kept the vow so implicitly that I cannot distinguish osprey from egret (244 n. 4). She stresses that her complaint is not with the cause itself but rather with the half sentimental and wholly contemptuous representation of women by means of which Wayfarer seeks to advance his cause (ibid.). It is the gender politics that forms a subtext of the protection movement and the rhetoric employed to advance the protectionist cause that concern Woolf, and as a result,


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

while strongly denouncing the torture and killing of birds for profit and fashion, she does not lend her unqualified support to the campaign that opposes it. In her final comment to Massingham, Woolf states her priorities outright:
I am not writing as a bird, or even a champion of birds; but as a woman. At the risk of losing such little reputation for humanity as I may still possess I hereby confess that it seems to me more necessary to resent such an insult to women as Wayfarer casually lets fall than to protect egrets from extinction. That is my way of raising the moral currency of civilised nations. (245 n. 4)

Nevertheless, she maintains, that does not mean that I have not the highest respect for Mr Massinghams way also, and to illustrate this fact she commits herself to the pleasure of spending whatever sum I receive for my article, not upon an egret plume, but upon a subscription to the Plumage Bill Group, a resolution that foreshadows her later engagement with the issue of gender relations by means of a reflection upon the proper allocation of three guineas (ibid.). Woolf judges the protectionist cause to be worthy of support but not exempt from criticism. Reginald Abbott has discussed Woolfs confrontation with Massingham in Birds Dont Sing in Greek: Virginia Woolf and The Plumage Bill. Abbott treats Woolfs attack on the anti-plumage campaign as an early critical misfire on Woolfs part, noting that her writing on the subject provoked criticism from female readers of the Womans Leader such as Mrs Meta Bradley, who demanded, Does it matter in the least to the birds so foully slain whether the blame rests most with men or women?28 Abbott takes Woolfs writing on the Plumage Bill as evidence that [a]s a maturing producer of essays who strove for a polemical tone without stridency, Woolf could miss her mark.29 However, the views that Woolf expressed in The Plumage Bill should not be so simply dismissed as an isolated instance of misjudgement, for the essay was not Woolfs only statement of such a position. Consideration of the contemporary scientific context and of debates within the protection movement itself helps to clarify Woolfs attitudes towards protectionist arguments. Her biographical sketch of

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


the economic entomologist Eleanor Ormerod provides an opportunity for such a consideration. M i s s O r m e ro d, a p p l i e d e n t o m ol o g y, a n d t h e p ro t e c t ion m o v e m e n t Woolfs reservations regarding protectionist rhetoric and her championing of new scientific approaches come together in her treatment of the life and career of Eleanor Ormerod, a pioneer in the field of applied entomology and one of the foremost Victorian authorities on agricultural insect pests. Woolfs biographical sketch, Miss Ormerod, appeared in The Dial in December 1924 and was later included in the American edition of The Common Reader as part of the essay Lives of the Obscure. The sketch provides an opportunity to examine Woolfs view of the science of pest control and to relate this view to her attitudes towards the natural history tradition, to shifting outlooks within the protection movement, and to the preoccupations of the emerging science of ecology. Eleanor Ormerod was born in 1828 into an English gentry family. She grew up with a recreational interest in taxonomic natural history, collecting insects and classifying them through reference to J. F. Stephenss systematic catalogues. However, finding this taxonomic approach insufficient, she augmented her reading with her own course of instruction. Ignoring her brother Edwards strictures against girls learning anatomy, Eleanor spent hours in her bedroom cutting up specimens (E iv: 134). As Ormerod explained it in an autobiographical work published after her death, From time to time I got one of the very largest beetles that I could find, something that I was quite sure of, and turned it into my teacher. I carefully dissected it and matched the parts to the details given by Stephens.30 Ormerods organisation of her own course of study anticipated the transformation of instruction in the life sciences in the 1870s when attention shifted from the identification of endless specimens in museum collections to the close study of the structure and functioning of representative species in the laboratory.


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

While her parents lived, Ormerod pursued entomology only as a hobby, but in 1868 she determined the future direction of her studies when she encountered in The Gardeners Chronicle a request from the Royal Horticultural Society for contributions to a collection of insects beneficial or injurious to man.31 This was the start of Ormerods involvement in applied or economic entomology, the study of insects for the purpose of their use and control. Taking up the subject in its earliest stages of development, Ormerod soon found her expertise in great demand. In 1877, she began issuing annual reports on insect pests and methods of combating them compiled from responses to circulated questionnaires and from correspondence with farmers and market gardeners throughout the country. In 1882, she was appointed the honorary entomological adviser to the Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE). Ormerod also promoted the institutionalisation of economic entomology: she campaigned to have the subject taught in agricultural colleges and universities, and to this end she gave lectures, wrote textbooks, and acted as an examiner for the University of Edinburgh. She was the recipient of awards from institutions both in Britain and abroad, culminating in an honorary LLD from the University of Edinburgh, the first ever bestowed upon a woman. However, in contrast to the success that she achieved in her own time, recent assessments of Ormerod have criticised her science, condemning her promotion of pesticides and the extermination of pest populations. In Eleanor Ormerod (18281901) as an Economic Entomologist: Pioneer of Purity Even More than of Paris Green, the environmental historian J. F. McDiarmid Clark accuses Ormerod of encouraging farmers to drench Nature in a slurry of poison and of seeking to attain professional status upon the heads of lifeless sparrows.32 Clarks criticism of Ormerod takes an ecofeminist form: he regards her environmentally suspect science as evidence of her betrayal of her feminine and feminist self, arguing that Ormerod allied herself with the male science bent upon the dissection of the passive, feminine bosom of nature and won a place for herself in the field of economic entomology only through a denial of her sexuality.33

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


Clark focuses his criticism of Ormerod on two of her campaigns: her promotion of the use of pesticides and her support for the extermination of house sparrows. In relation to the former campaign, Clark states that Ormerod played a pivotal role in the promotion of the large-scale use of Paris green, a copper acetoarsenite compound used as an insecticide.34 The nineteenth-century understanding of the health hazards of arsenite compounds was limited. Medical doctors and agricultural scientists were aware of the compounds acute toxicity when encountered in large quantities but were less alert to its chronic toxicity when encountered in small amounts over a long period of time.35 The compound was widely used as a pigment in green paints (hence its name) and was to be found in many consumer products, including wallpaper and food wrappers. It was also used medicinally in tonics such as Fowlers solution, as it was reputed to clear the skin and act as a stimulant.36 If its impact on human health was not fully understood, its effect on the environment was given even less consideration. As a result of this lack of awareness regarding the long-term effects of arsenical substances upon health and the environment, there was little resistance to the adoption of Paris Green as a pesticide: agricultural scientists failed to appreciate the hazard of chronic arsenicism and the medical profession maintained a virtually unbroken silence on the question of arsenical insecticides.37 Ormerod herself was proud of her role in promoting the use of pesticides and declared that she wished it to be recorded of her that she introduced paris-green into england.38 Clark cites Woolfs biographical sketch, Miss Ormerod, in support of his condemnation of Ormerod and her science. He takes Woolfs description of Ormerod as a pioneer of purity even more than of Paris Green as the title of his article and as confirmation of his contention that Ormerods success in the masculine field of applied entomology was made possible only through the suppression of her sexuality (E iv: 136).39 However, Clarks deployment of Woolf as a guarantor of his ecofeminist argument demands examination. Although much of Woolfs writing does, without question, support the view of Woolf as a proto-ecofeminist, her representation of


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

economic entomology in Miss Ormerod complicates the perception of Woolf as a presciently green author. In fact, unlike Clarks portrayal of Ormerod and her science, that of Woolf is essentially approving. Woolf presents Ormerod as overturning both scientific and social convention by means of her approach to the study of nature. In applauding this, Woolf displays a modern impatience with the long-standing tradition of taxonomic natural history and a concomitant enthusiasm for new scientific approaches. Additionally, while not conforming to Clarks ecocritical conception of an ecological outlook, Woolfs approval of Ormerod was in keeping with the ecology of her time, for in their interest in environmental control, early ecologists had more in common with the economic entomologists who preceded them than with later ecocritical commentators. In his critique of Ormerod, Clark describes economic entomology as part of the new empirical science, bent upon the dissection of natures anatomy.40 In the early twentieth century, however, such new sciences were seen as possessing a revolutionary potential. Writers such as H. G. Wells and Marie Stopes presented the new biology alongside Fabian socialism and feminist activism as possible means of social amelioration. Woolf was also susceptible to such optimism. Her representation of the laboratory as a site of emancipation and possibility for women and her use of scientific experiment as a metaphor for feminist action illustrate her willingness to align herself with emerging scientific disciplines. She viewed the modern sciences, economic entomology included, as potentially transformative, having the capacity to overthrow the dogmatism of not only the old scientific order but also established social conventions and hierarchies. Ormerod was not an overtly revolutionary figure. As Clark has noted, she was publicly dismissive of the womens movement, responding to Lydia Beckers praise that she was proof of how much a woman could do without the help of a man with a declaration of her gratitude to the men who had furthered her career.41 Woolf likewise observes that Ormerod was conservative in many of her social and political views: she depicts Ormerod toasting the Queens health, assembling her servants for prayer, lamenting the prospect of Irish Home Rule,

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


and preserving her fathers pigtail in a box (E iv: 139). Woolf suggests, however, that where her scientific training came into play, Ormerod was iconoclastic, that she was encouraged by her science to overturn established conventions, whether these took the form of the taxonomic tradition of natural history or restrictive social and gender norms. Woolf presents Ormerod as, almost against her will and certainly against the conditions of her upbringing, challenging received values by means of her science. In the most general sense, Woolf suggests that over the course of Ormerods life her science gradually emboldened her to challenge masculine authority. As Woolf tells it, Ormerods first scientific observation, made as a small child while watching a tumbler full of water grubs, sent her running to her father, filled with eagerness to impart her observations (133). However, her father dismissed her report that the grubs had eaten one of their companions as [n]onsense, and on this occasion, she did not protest, accepting that little girls are not allowed to contradict their fathers (ibid.). During her apprenticeship as a taxonomic entomologist, she continued to appeal to male authority figures, sending captured specimens to an Oxford professor for classification (134). Even once she felt herself a competent judge, she initially concealed her own authority behind that of a man: Woolf causes her to remark that Dr Ritzema Bos is a great stand-by. For they wont take a womans word (136). Gradually, however, Ormerod gained the confidence to challenge even her former mentor, offering the pronouncement, these, though Ritzema Bos is positive to the contrary, are the generative organs of the male. Ive proved it (ibid.). By the end of her career, Woolf suggests, Ormerod had achieved public recognition as an expert, as demonstrated by her dictated letter to Messrs Langridge: Gentlemen, I have examined your sample and find (138). From being a seeker after the opinions of others, Ormerod had herself become an authority. The moralising of nature was one of the aspects of the Victorian practice of natural history that Woolf criticised, an attitude that placed her in agreement with the emerging class of professional biologists who, in the words of Suzanne Le-May Sheffield, sought


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

to rid science of its moral, religious, and metaphysical associations.42 Ormerod herself, Sheffield continues, focused exclusively upon the practical utility of entomology, completely ignoring any entertainment value or moral or religious worth and rejecting the decorous forms of nature study made available to her as a woman.43 Woolf similarly notes that the injurious insects that were Ormerods chosen speciality were [n]ot among Gods most triumphant creations: the natural theology that had justified the study of nature for much of the nineteenth century played no part in Ormerods motivation (136). Though her brother Edward sought to bar her from the unseemly study of anatomy, never lik[ing] [her] to do more than take sections of teeth, Ormerod persevered, and Woolf has her heroine preface her discussion of her anatomical investigations with the airy remark, My brother oh, hes dead now a very good man (ibid.). The death of this embodiment of Victorian morality released Ormerod to engage with nature on new terms. This casting off of the moralised view of nature Woolf regards as Ormerods greatest triumph. Apostrophising Ormerod, Woolf declares:
Ah, but Eleanor, the Bot and the Hessian have more power over you than Mr Edward Ormerod himself. Under the microscope you clearly perceive that these insects have organs, orifices, excrement; they do, most emphatically, copulate. Escorted on one side by the Bot or Warble, on the other by the Hessian Fly, Miss Ormerod advanced statelily, if slowly, into the open. Never did her features show more sublime than when lit up with the candour of her avowal. This is excrement; these, though Ritzema Bos is positive to the contrary, are the generative organs of the male. Ive proved it. Upon her head the hood of Edinburgh most fitly descended; pioneer of purity even more than of Paris Green. (ibid.)

It is Ormerods frank, scientific treatment of anatomy, sex, and bodily functions purifying organs and excrement of taboo that Woolf celebrates above all her other accomplishments. Clark takes Woolfs description of Ormerod as a pioneer of purity as an indication of Woolfs agreement with his own assessment that Ormerod denied her sexuality in order to achieve success in the masculine world of science (ibid.). Yet Woolfs description suggests that Ormerods

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


science, far from being grounded in a suppression or rejection of sex, was based upon a frank and unashamed treatment of it. It is this demystification that Woolf highlights as well in her discussion of Ormerods campaign against the house sparrow. By the 1890s, the systematic destruction of birds of prey by farmers and gamekeepers had upset the balance of birds, as E. M. Nicholson termed it: the numbers of natural predators had declined and as a result adaptable species such as the sparrow had proliferated and, in some areas, become pests.44 That the young Virginia Stephen was familiar with the sparrow problem is suggested by a diary entry from 6 June 1897: we planted seed in the back garden. This is to produce grass but whether the sparrows will have left any is a question. As soon as we had left the garden, the horrid little creatures swooped down twittering & made off with the oats (PA 96). There was considerable controversy over the best method of addressing the proliferation of sparrows: sparrow clubs dedicated themselves to the extermination of the birds, but the domestic associations of the house sparrow in English culture and the biblical significance of the sparrow suggested in the statement, one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father, meant that the persecution of the sparrow was opposed with particular vehemence by Victorian animal protectionists.45 Woolf argues that the momentum of Ormerods scientific work compelled her, despite her cultivated disposition towards tradition, to defy conventional sentiment and in an act of disloyal[ty] to much that she, and her fathers before her, held dear set herself against the sparrow, emblem of the homely virtue of English domestic life (E iv: 139). As a scientist, Ormerod challenged conventions that as her fathers daughter she felt it her duty to protect, for her science accepted nothing as sacred, just as it accepted nothing as profane. Through her campaign against the house sparrow, Woolf suggests, Ormerod set herself in opposition to both the traditionally feminine domestic sphere and the paternalism of Christian tradition and Victorian society more broadly. In her account of the sparrow controversy, Woolf displays little sympathy for Ormerods opponents, the animal protectionists. She mocks the moralising clergymen of The Animals Friend and the


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

spirity, discourteous, and inaccurate women of the Humanitarian League (ibid.). As I have suggested in my discussion of The Plumage Bill, Woolf was not opposed to the cause of animal protection in principle; the source of her objections to the protectionist movement lay in the religiosity and sentimentality of tone that often characterised the movements rhetoric and the reinforcement of gender stereotypes that occurred under its banner. The Reverend J. E. Walkers response to Ormerods campaign against the sparrow, printed in The Animals Friend under the title God Save the Sparrow (to which Woolf alludes in her essay), exemplifies the biases of protectionist rhetoric:
Madam, It is with infinite regret that I see a ladys name quoted in the Daily Chronicle as giving the sentence of death to the very bird of which the gentle voice of the Son of God said [O]ne of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. Surely as having the compassionate heart of woman, unsteeled (I hope) by your scientific studies, you will feel a throb of agony whenever you hear those all-sacred words, and know that your verdict has been taken as a wholesale sentence of extermination upon these birds, which the Father cares for.46

Walkers argument illustrates the tendency of Victorian protectionism towards sentimentality, religiosity, and misogyny and suggests why Woolf was reluctant to align herself with the protectionist position against Ormerod and her science.47 However, in expressing reservations regarding Victorian protection, Woolf was in fact in accord with modern protectionist opinion. By the mid-1920s, when Miss Ormerod appeared in print, a new generation of protectionists had begun to display impatience with the prevailing form and rationale of protection. In 1926, E. M. Nicholson, who would go on to become a pivotal figure in the twentiethcentury conservation movement, published a book entitled Birds in England: An Account of the State of Our Bird-Life, and a Criticism of Bird Protection. Nicholsons work offered a critique from within the protectionist camp of the outlook and practices that had dominated the movement since its nineteenth-century inception. Nicholson wrote from the point of view of [bird] protection and denounced specimen collection and sport shooting as perversions of the love of

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


nature, but he also argued that protectionists endangered the credibility of the movement with their sentimental and pseudo-scientific heresies, and maintained that protection, to be effective, must discard the emotionalism that had long underpinned it and adopt a more scientific approach.48 Even Ormerods campaign against the house sparrow might well have received support from modern protectionists such as Nicholson. In Birds in England, Nicholson observes that as a result of the unnatural rgime of the last century, gaps have been created in the machinery of Nature and the balance upset, so that adaptable species such as the starling, the rook, and the gull had proliferated dramatically.49 While he maintains that steady, calculated interference with Nature is wrong and must be unsuccessful, he suggests that there are emergencies when a wholesale battue seems the best rough and ready solution.50 On points such as this, early twentieth-century scientific protectionists had more in common with Ormerod than with her critics. Consideration of the concerns of early twentieth-century ecology is also useful to an understanding of Woolf s outlook on Ormerod and the protection movement. To assume Woolf s agreement with current ecocritical condemnations of Ormerods science is to ignore the fact that ecology as it existed during Woolf s lifetime was itself concerned with the control of pest species. As Julian Huxley indicates in his introduction to Charles Eltons Animal Ecology, ecology was viewed by its early twentieth-century practitioners as a science that would make it possible for man to assert his predominance over his cold-blooded rivals, the plant pest and, most of all, the insect.51 Far from existing in opposition to ecology, disciplines such as economic entomology that dealt with the impact of pest species on other organisms and of chemical or biological agents upon pest species were precursors to ecology. Huxley presents the science of ecology as the body of general principles underlying the specific knowledge and specific remedies that economic entomologists, mycologists, soil biologists, and the rest had developed in their efforts to control pest species and boost productivity in crops and stock, and he views this complex of practical disciplines as in reality no more


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

and no less than Applied Ecology.52 Charles Eltons work existed on a continuum with that of Eleanor Ormerod, and Woolf s approval of Ormerods work was consistent with an early twentieth-century ecological outlook. Woolf herself regarded the control of pest species with sufficient approval to employ it as an analogy for social activism. In Three Guineas, Woolf recommends the destruction of the existing social order that has been the source of fascism, militarism, imperialism, and patriarchy, and she does so through an analogy with insect extermination. Three Guineas is a work at once pacifistic in its message and combative in its tone, and the violence that it recommends takes scientific form. Woolf likens fascism, militarism, imperialism, and patriarchy to an infestation of caterpillars feeding on the mulberry tree, the sacred tree, of property, which is also the poison tree of intellectual harlotry that nourishes censorship and propaganda (TG 261, 298). She describes the threat as a very dangerous as well as a very ugly animal here among us, raising his ugly head, spitting his poison, small still, curled up like a caterpillar on a leaf, but in the heart of England (229). Woolf suggests that women, in their struggle against patriarchal oppression, are already engaged in fight[ing] this insect, and she contends that if we knew the truth about war, the glory of war would be scotched and crushed where it lies curled up in the rotten cabbage leaves of our prostituted fact-purveyors (229, 295). Woolf had no qualms about recommending the extermination of dangerous ideologies through the analogy of pest control, a fact that suggests that she absorbed the early twentieth-century view of pest control as a socially responsible science. In Miss Ormerod, Woolf offers only a superficial view of pesticide use: she never identifies Paris Green as an arsenite pesticide nor does she note the repercussions of pesticide use on human health or the environment. However, in this, too, Woolf reflected the outlook of her age. Concern over the hazards of pesticide use developed incrementally: recognition of the dangers of prolonged exposure to arsenic led only gradually to a concern over the health hazards of pesticide residues, and awareness of the environmental damage done by arsenical pesticides developed even more slowly.

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


It is possible to locate Woolfs outlook in Miss Ormerod quite precisely in relation to the timeline of developing British concerns over the use of arsenical pesticides. By December 1924, when Miss Ormerod appeared in The Dial, there was some awareness of the dangers of prolonged exposure to arsenic. In the winter of 1900, an epidemic of peripheral neuritis among the poor in Manchester was linked to long-term exposure to arsenic in cheap beer.53 This contamination was not the result of pesticide use, but it raised concerns about the presence of arsenic in food and drink and led to the appointment of a Royal Commission to investigate the dangers of arsenic contamination and to set an official limit for arsenic levels in foods. Yet in spite of this sensational demonstration of the harmful consequences of long-term exposure to arsenic, well into the twentieth century an attitude of uninformed optimism towards the use of arsenical pesticides prevailed, and it was in this climate of opinion that Woolf wrote Miss Ormerod. 54 However, in late November 1925, less than a year after the publication of Woolfs essay, four Londoners fell ill after eating imported American apples that were subsequently revealed to be heavily contaminated with arsenic. The British press launched an attack on American produce and the British Ministry of Health threatened an embargo of American fruit unless British tolerance levels were observed.55 This incident resulted in a heightened awareness of the dangers of arsenical pesticide residues, and criticism from the medical establishment and consumer commentators continued to build until the introduction of synthetic pesticides after the Second World War shifted attention from the debate over the old arsenicals.56 Even after the health hazards of arsenical pesticides were recognised, however, pesticide use was defended in many quarters as a means of halting the spread of disease and safeguarding the food supply. Much of the practical work carried out by early ecologists was concerned with pest control, and this work included the development and testing of pesticides.57 In 1944, Charles Elton was still writing to commend the use of Paris Green in a brilliant and imaginative campaign to eradicate a species of malaria-bearing mosquito accidentally introduced into north-east Brazil, although he noted in passing that the use of 260 tons of arsenical material at first caused poisoning in


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

as many as 15.8% of the operators.58 Eltons outlook in this period can be set against his later views outlined in The Ecology of Invasions by Animals and Plants (1958). There, he cautions against irresponsible pesticide use and draws attention to the environmental impact of pesticides. He notes that pesticides never act only on the single species that is being attacked but instead affect the entire community into which they are introduced, with results potentially more damaging than the depredations of the pests being combated; he reports that targeted species have shown signs of developing resistance to the pesticides used against them; and he suggests biocontrol by means of counterpests as an alternative to the rain of death to which pesticide use was subjecting the environment.59 Opposition to pesticide use developed gradually, and concerns over public health arose before consideration was given to issues of environmental degradation. Woolfs endorsement of Ormerods science and her inattention to the environmental repercussions of pesticide use thus reflect the historical moment in which she wrote. In another sense, too, Woolfs representation of Ormerod was of her time. Woolf championed Ormerods economic entomology on the basis of what it replaced the narrow focus of taxonomic work and the sentimentality, religiosity, and conservatism of the Victorian protection movement as much as what it promoted, and in this Woolf was not alone. In February 1915, the New Statesman contributor Lens offered an account of the new entomology.60 He suggested that the defining characteristic of modern entomology was its focus on insects as living things to love and hate, instead of corpses to label and dissect.61 As Lens observed, the modern study of insects as living creatures encompassed not only the behavioural work of Fabre but also the work of the economic entomologist who sought to conquer and use insects for humanitys own endless ends.62 Whether the motivation behind the study of the living insect was to understand its behaviour or to engineer its extermination, both approaches were seen as a positive shift from the work of the taxonomic entomologist, an obsessed or eremite specialist who invents names for each kind [of beetle], and records their differences in death.63 In championing Ormerods work as a positive advance upon the taxonomic natural

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history of her predecessors, Woolf was wholly in accord with the scientific outlook of her time. E t h ol o g y However, if practitioners of the new entomology and analogous modern disciplines studied living organisms in part for the purpose of their control, this was only one aspect of a wider turn towards the study of living nature, and ethology focused on understanding the behaviour of organisms as an end in itself. Woolf represents the shift from a taxonomic perspective towards a more observational outlook in The Death of the Moth. In this essay, Woolfs narrator initially displays a disdain for her subject that is taxonomic in nature. Scrutinising the specimen fluttering against her window, she dismisses the moth on the grounds that moths that fly by day are not properly to be called moths (CE i: 359). The narrator seeks to understand the creature in terms of familiar categories, but into these the day moth will not fit, being neither gay like butterflies nor sombre like [its] own species (ibid.). The day moth breaches the boundaries of established groupings and as a result calls up no immediate associations on the basis of which the narrator may formulate a response to it. Within a taxonomic frame of reference, the day moth is reduced to insignificance by its exclusion from existing categories. Yet despite her taxonomic dismissal of the day moth, the narrator finds that one could not help watching him (ibid.). Declaring, my eye was caught by him, she inverts the dynamics of capture into a statement of observation and thus signals her movement away from a taxonomic view of her subject (360). Struck by the enormous energy and strangeness of not only the moth but also the rooks rising and settling in a clamorous mass upon the tree-tops and the view of the fields and downs seen from her window, she is drawn from classification to observation (ibid.). A similar inclination towards observation can be seen in Kew Gardens. Kew is home to some of the most comprehensive herbaria and living plant collections in the world and visitors to the gardens encounter rare and exotic flora from around the globe. Woolf refers in passing to Kews exotic holdings, its orchids and the shiny green


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

umbrellas of the palm house, but neither its order beds (in which plants are grouped according to their Linnaean classification) nor the foreign rarities on display hold her attention (CSF 89). Instead, she intersperses her account of the thoughts and conversations of human visitors to the gardens with descriptions of a snail, a subject both commonplace and obscure. She records the snails actions its laborious progress over crumbling earth, its testing of the security of a dead leaf, and its decision to creep under rather than over this obstacle and guesses at its psychology, according it the ability to evaluate conditions, feel doubt, and make decisions.64 Woolfs attention to the life of a snail suggests the fascination of even the most lowly and familiar organisms and suggests as well that the significance of any creature is most fully realised when it is observed as a living thing in its natural surroundings. The storys closing description of London as a vast nest of Chinese boxes suggests the worlds within worlds that make up the city, but the description refers backwards as well, suggesting the innumerable overlapping lives being lived in the gardens at Kew, of which the snails life serves as a single example (ibid.). Early ethologists recognised the extent to which the lives of even the most common local species were unfamiliar and mysterious. In Souvenirs entomologiques, Fabre described the behaviour of the dung beetles, glow-worms, crickets, and weevils that he encountered in the vicinity of his home at Srignan. Woolfs writing and the writing of others in her circle suggest that she was acquainted with Fabres work. In a diary entry for April 1918, she records Roger Frys unfinished remark that Fabre left him relieved in his mind with a sense that after all our war, hideous though it is (D i: 134). Frys comment suggests the distraction and consolation to be found in the contemplation of the intricate lives of insects. That Woolf found similar consolation in observing the natural world is illustrated by the nature notes in her Asheham House diary, recorded during 1917 and 1918 as she recovered from a bout of mental illness and monitored the events of the war during her intermittent stays in the Sussex countryside. The entries in this diary are shorter and more perfunctory than her regular diary entries and give attention primarily to household matters and to observations of natural phenomena. In this diary, Woolf records the

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


occurrence of plants and her sightings of birds Ladies Bedstraw, Round-headed Rampion, Thyme, Marjoram. Saw a grey looking hawk not the usual red-brown one (40). She reports finding a caterpillar on the verge of pupation and watching it as it becomes a chrysalis, its head turning from side to side, tail paralysed; like a snake in movement (43). She describes the group flights of swallows and observes that flocks of starlings sometimes accompany rooks in their collective flights (45, 48). She records the contents of a hawks meal, notes the effect of weather on birds activities, and speculates that the red spots appearing on butterflies in the area might be the result of some parasite (45, 52, 45, 46, 44). While she mentions using a butterfly net as a receptacle for apples, her diary records only her sightings of butterflies: Saw 3 perfect peacock butterflies, 1 silver washed frit[illary]; besides innumerable blues feeding on dung. All freshly out & swarming on the hill; saw a clouded yellow the first for a long time; Painted Lady seen near Glynde; saw 2 clouded yellows by the warren, & another pair over towards Bishopstone (53, 40, 48, 49). Woolfs focus on the observation of natural phenomena in her Asheham House diary suggests her affinity with Fabres behavioural approach to the natural world. Another telling allusion to Fabre occurs in the letter written by Virginias sister, Vanessa, that is often cited as Woolfs source of inspiration for The Waves (which Woolf originally planned to title The Moths). In the letter, written from a house at Cassis that was beset by moths of a night-time, Vanessa notes that she writes with moths flying madly in circles round [her] (D iii: 139 n. 9).65 She recounts that one night a huge moth, half a foot across, tapped so loudly at the window that the assembled company initially mistook it for a person or a bird, and she relates their efforts to catch and set the moth out of a sense of obligation to the children. She recalls:
We had a terrible time with it. My maternal instinct which you deplore so much, wouldnt let me leave it We let it in, kept it, gave it a whole bottle of ether bought from the chemist, all in vain, took it to the chemist who dosed it with chloroform for a day also in vain. Finally it did die rather the worse for wear, & I set it, & now, here is another! a better specimen. But though incredibly beautiful I suspect theyre common perhaps Emperor moths. Still


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

I know how one would have blamed ones elders for not capturing such things at all costs so I suppose I must go through it all again.66

From this passage it might appear that the practice of specimen collection was as prevalent in the third decade of the twentieth century as it had been in the final decade of the nineteenth. However, while still practised by children, specimen collection in the early twentieth century was far from the pervasive activity, sanctioned as a form of rational recreation for all ages, that it had been during Vanessa and Virginias own childhood. Vanessas representation of the capture of the moth as a tedious and terrible obligation accords with the twentieth-century view of collection as a pastime frowned upon except in the very young and the very old.67 Furthermore, in a significant shift of focus, Vanessa concludes her story with a reference to Fabre and his findings regarding moth behaviour: she recalls, [D]idnt Fabre try experiments with this same creature & attract all the males in the neighbourhood by shutting up one female in a room?68 Fabre offers the following description of his first encounter with this phenomenon:
Candle in hand, we entered the room. What we saw is unforgettable. With a soft flic-flac the great night-moths were flying round the wire-gauze cover, alighting, taking flight, returning, mounting to the ceiling, re-descending. They rushed at the candle and extinguished it with a flap of the wing; they fluttered on our shoulders, clung to our clothing, grazed our faces. My study had become a cave of a necromancer, the darkness alive with creatures of the night!69

He estimates that in a single night nearly forty male Emperor moths were drawn to his study, and he attempts through experiment to determine how the male moths locate the female. Vanessas closing allusion to Fabres behavioural work suggests the turn from collection to observation in the modern interest in nature. In her reply to Vanessas letter, Woolf remarks, your story of the Moth so fascinates me that I am going to write a story about it. I could think of nothing else but you & the moths for hours after reading your letter.70 Woolfs early reflections on the projected novel then titled The Moths suggest the aspects of Vanessas account that fascinated

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


her. The current of moths flying strongly this way that Woolf envisions resembles the stream that [she is] trying to convey: life itself going on (D iii: 229). She muses, The contrasts might be something of this sort: [the female character] might talk, or think, about the age of the earth: the death of humanity: then moths keep on coming, the moths seeming to suggest the persistence of life (139). The moth that appears in the earliest draft of the novel confirms this impression. The moth sits quiver[ing], trembl[ing], stirr[ing] on the wall, the pattern on its wings making a mysterious hieroglyph, always dissolving (TWHD 2, 19, 2). In ceaseless motion, the living moth is imbued with meaning but not reducible to a simple classification. Following her recollection that [m]oths dont fly by day, Woolf substituted breaking waves for the current of moths as the recurring image suggestive of life itself going on in the novel, for the power of her imagery depended in part upon its truthfulness as a representation of nature (D iii: 229, 254). Woolfs descriptions of the seasonal activities of birds in the interchapters of The Waves offer an example of her attention to behavioural detail. She distinguishes between the confrontational song of male birds declaring and defending their territory, singing as if to shatter[] the song of another bird with harsh discord, and courtship songs, passionate songs addressed to one ear only (TW 81, 112). These preliminaries are followed by the building of nests and the nesting period itself, during which the birds, not wishing to draw attention to the location of their nests, sat still save that they flicked their heads sharply from side to side. Now they paused in their song as if glutted with sound (125). Woolf describes the games and group flights that the birds engage in as a means of honing necessary skills and strengthening the bonds within a flock: they chased each other, escaping, pursuing, pecking each other as they turned high in the air; some raced in the furrows of the wind and turned and sliced through them as if they were one body cut into a thousand shreds (54, 139). Once the young are grown, the birds depart, leaving their nests behind (181). Woolf depicts the seasonal activities of birds as a way of symbolising the passage of time, but the knowledge of bird behaviour that informs her descriptions adds power to her figurative use of the avian life cycle.


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

Another link between Woolf and the emerging study of ethology was W. H. Hudson, who was known to Woolf as a writer of fiction and autobiography as well as nature essays. Beginning in 1892 with the publication of The Naturalist in La Plata, Hudsons nature essays won him respect both as an observer of nature and as a literary stylist, and his admirers came to include many of the most celebrated writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The most frequently cited compliment regarding Hudsons style is a comment made by Joseph Conrad and recorded by Ford Madox Ford: Conrad who was an even more impassioned admirer of Hudsons talent than am even I used to say: You may try for ever to learn how Hudson got his effects and you will never know. He writes down his words as the good God makes the green grass grow.71 That the seeming simplicity of his subjects and the naturalness of his style were also the reason for his reputation in other circles is suggested by Ezra Pounds remark that The Shepherds Life [sic] must be art of a very high order; how otherwise would one come completely under the spell of a chapter with no more startling subject matter than the cat at a rural station of an undistinguished British provincial railway.72 Woolf was similarly impressed by Hudsons work. In a diary entry for 4 February 1919, as she attempts to express her opinion of Lytton Stracheys writing, she remarks as a means of comparison, Thomas Hardy has what I call an interesting mind; so have Conrad & Hudson; but not Lytton nor Matthew Arnold nor John Addington Symonds (D i: 238). In Modern Fiction, as she criticises the materialism of Wells, Galsworthy, and Bennett, Woolf again declares, we reserve our unconditional gratitude for Mr Hardy, for Mr Conrad, and in a much lesser degree for the Mr Hudson of The Purple Land, Green Mansions, and Far Away and Long Ago (E iv: 158). She mentions Hudson again in How It Strikes a Contemporary. Lamenting the absence of any whole and complete contemporary masterpiece, she argues that the modern age is an age of fragments, and she compiles a list of those modern fragments that are, nevertheless, equal to the best of any age or author: between allusions to the enduring phrases of T. S. Eliot and the memorable catastrophe of Ulysses, she prophesies, Passages in Far Away and Long Ago will undoubtedly

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


go to posterity entire (E iii: 355, 356).73 A letter written to Katherine Arnold-Forster on 23 August 1922 suggests that Woolf regarded Hudson as a particularly apt example of the fragmentary brilliance of modern literature. She relates, I was to have been taken to see Mr Hudson this winter by [Dorothy] Brett, who adored him Parts of his books are very good only others are very bad, isnt that so? Anyhow, I wish I had seen him (L ii: 549). Woolfs earliest and most extensive treatment of Hudsons writing suggests which parts of his work she thought very good. Late in September 1918 she received a last-minute request from The Times to review a book: in a diary entry for 23 September 1918 she records, For a wonder, the book, Hudson, was worth reading (D i: 197). The book in question was Far Away and Long Ago, Hudsons autobiographical account of his upbringing in Argentina, and Woolfs review, entitled Mr Hudsons Childhood, appeared in the TLS on 26 September 1918. Like Conrad and Pound, Woolf praises the impression of naturalness and immediacy created by Hudsons style, remarking:
one is reluctant to apply to Mr Hudsons book those terms of praise which are bestowed upon literary and artistic merit, though needless to say it possesses both. One does not want to recommend it as a book so much as to greet it as a person, and not the clipped and imperfect person of ordinary autobiography, but the whole and complete person whom we meet rarely enough in life or in literature. (E ii: 298)

Woolfs admiration for Hudsons ability to present the reader with a real person rather than a mere replica recalls Hudsons own preference for living creatures over lifeless specimens and suggests a link between Hudsons commitment to the observation of living nature and the vitality of his literary subjects. Woolf notes that Hudson is constantly tempted to make this sketch of [his] first years a book about birds and little else (301). While she judges that he successfully resists this temptation, she nevertheless argues:
a colour gets into his pages apart from the actual words, and even when they are not mentioned we seem to see birds flying, settling, feeding, soaring through every page of the book [F]rom them his dreams spring and by them his


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

images are coloured in later life. Riding at first seems to him like flying. When he is first among a crowd of well-dressed people in Buenos Aires he compares them at once to a flock of military starlings. (ibid.)

Although Woolfs praise here is for Hudson as a writer rather than as a naturalist, she suggests the extent to which nature and Hudsons training in the observation of nature inform the content and style of his writing. Hudson wrote about animals as though they had minds and motivations comparable to though different from those of human beings and at the same time observed human beings, both as individuals and as populations, with the acuity of a bird-watcher. Hudsons intermingling of the roles of ethologist and novelist suggested to Woolf the way in which the study of nature might serve as an analogy for the representation of life in fiction. Woolf elaborated on the parallel between the study of life in nature and the study of life through literature in a letter to her nephew Julian Bell in which she offered her thoughts on some poems he had written. In her response to a poem describing sugaring for moths, Woolf refers to W. H. Hudson and Richard Jeffries both as naturalists and as literary stylists in order to suggest what she admires in writing. She cautions her nephew against merely listing details, pil[ing] up so many separate facts, and she cites Hudson and Jeffries as examples of a better method of observation and expression (L iii: 432). She remarks, I think both Jeffries and Hudson succeed because they are very careful what they observe. I mean they do not make a catalogue of things, but choose this that and the other (ibid.). Woolf refers to the outlook and style of these nature essayists as a means of suggesting an alternative to a taxonomic approach in which the tabulating of features is regarded as an adequate response to ones subject. Woolfs allusions to Hudson and Jeffries as models of style suggest her sense that the observation of living nature and the literary recording of life shared key concerns. T h e n e w n at u r a l i s t s The New Naturalist was a series of monographs on nature subjects that began its run in 1945 and continued into the 1990s. Although the

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


series was a product of the era that followed the Second World War, Allen argues that already in the early decades of the twentieth century [t]he lineaments of the so-called New Naturalist were emerging.74 He identifies E. M. Nicholson, with his focus on the study of behaviour and the balance of birds, his hatred of collection, and his insistence upon rational protection, as that New Naturalist incarnate.75 The term suggests that the nineteenth-century natural history tradition had metamorphosed into a new approach to the study of nature, and that [t]he sense of direction that had been lost with the passing of private collecting was now being recovered.76 The transition from collection to observation can be traced in the activities of the Stephen children. By the turn of the century, Virginia was no longer recording Thobys butterfly- and moth-hunting expeditions; instead, she was remarking on his preoccupation with birdwatching. In February 1904, Virginia commented in a letter to Violet Dickinson that Thoby is wild with his Birds there are all kinds here [Manorbier in Pembrokeshire]; and George tramps about too with his glasses; similarly, in June 1905, she wrote, Old Thoby went off like the disreputable old ruffian he is to look for birds on the Norfolk broads (L i: 130, 192). Thoby kept a detailed nature notebook, with excellent illustrations, and long after his death, Woolf, imagining what her brother might have become had he lived, suggested that he might one day have written a book on birds, with drawings by himself (MOB 143).77 Woolfs novels contain several new naturalists. Ralph Denham is perhaps the most fully developed of these. Denhams benign interest in nature sets him in opposition to William Rodney, who is notable for his participation in the hunt and his unkindness to monkeys at the Zoo (ND 388, 390). It is primarily through Denhams interest in birds that a shift in approaches to the study of nature is suggested. Even the simple act of feeding the sparrows in Lincolns Inn Fields identifies Denham as belonging to the new generation of bird-lovers raised on protectionist principles, for feeding birds did not become commonplace until the cold winter of 189091 led nature writers to recommend the practice (1635).78 Denhams sheltering of an injured rook is a further demonstration of his protectionist leanings. Denham


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

at times appears crankish in his views, as when he peevishly argues that children should not be allowed to bowl hoops in parks because it disturbs the birds and their human observers (1645). Marys dismissal of this complaint suggests that in this instance he is unnecessarily extreme (her disapproval of his destruction of a poachers trap has already been noted); nevertheless, as a result of her acquaintance with Denham, Mary Datchet comes to view the study of birds as part of a programme for a perfect life (167). During Denhams encounter with Mary Datchets sporting brothers, his love of nature again appears in a positive light. He brings his field-glasses with him to the country, and when the Datchet brothers invite him to go out shooting with them, he replies, I wont shoot, but Ill come with you Ive never shot in my life I shall watch birds (196). Although this initially nonplusses the brothers, Denham quickly ingratiates himself by praising their region as about the best place in England for observing water fowl, and their previously stilted talk develop[s] into a genuine conversation about the habits of birds (197). Edward Datchet confirms the popularity of bird-watching in the area with the remark, I can show you the place for watching birds if thats what you like doing. I know a fellow who comes down from London about this time every year to watch them (196). It is also worth noting that while Woolf sets Denhams bird-watching in opposition to Rodneys hunting, she pairs the enthusiasm which led Christopher to collect moths and butterflies with Edwards passion for Jorrocks (188).79 Woolfs alignment of insect collection with hunting stories suggests that by the time Night and Day was written, specimen collection was a pastime just as likely to be associated with the sport of hunting as with the study of nature. Eleanor Pargiter in The Years is another character who displays an observers appreciation of birds. In 1891, while still playing the part of the Victorian spinster-daughter keeping house for her widowed father, Eleanor watches a file of birds flying high, flying together; crossing the sky. She watched them Cabs piled with boxes went past her. She envied them. She wished she were going abroad (TY 1089). Her interest in birds reflects her desire for mobility and independence. Eleanors commitment to bird-watching grows over

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


the years: following the Colonels death and her consequent release from domestic obligations, she carries field-glasses with her when she goes visiting, in case of bird sightings. She worries that she will be labelled an old maid who washes and watches birds (193), but in fact her engagement with nature appears a part of her late-life rebellion. People and pastimes that others in her family find difficult to accept Eleanors Indians and her friendships with men who did not love women are of a piece with her botanising excursions on Wimbledon Common in the company of a charming dentist (336, 310). The most striking example of the way in which Eleanors interest in nature underscores her lack of concern with social convention comes while Eleanor is a guest at Celias house in the country and sits waiting to catch sight of an owl while the family interrogates her about Roses activities as a suffragette:
Eleanor came out on to the terrace with her glasses Hell be back in a minute, said Peggy, drawing up a chair. Hell come along that hedge. She pointed to the dark line of hedge that went across the meadow. Eleanor focused her glasses and waited. Now, said Celia, pouring out the coffee. There are so many things I want to ask you Whats all this about Rose? she asked. What? said Eleanor absent-mindedly, altering the focus of her glasses. Its getting too dark, she said; the field was blurred. Morris says shes been had up in a police-court, said Celia She threw a brick said Eleanor. She focused her glasses on the hedge again. She held them poised in case the owl should come that way again. Will she be put in prison? Peggy asked quickly. Not this time, said Eleanor, Next time Ah, here he comes! she broke off. The blunt-headed bird came swinging along the hedge. He looked almost white in the dusk. Eleanor got him within the circle of her lens. He held a little black spot in front of him. Hes got a mouse in his claws! she exclaimed. Hes got a nest in the steeple, said Peggy. The owl swooped out of the field of vision. (1945)

Although Eleanors preoccupation with bird-watching in the midst of a conversation about Roses clash with the law might be read


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

as a form of escapism, it can also be seen as another instance in which Eleanor remains unperturbed by an unorthodox situation that troubles the sensibilities of others. Eleanors eccentric old age is in its own way a protest against the conventions that controlled so much of her adulthood, and her bird-watching is a part of this. Just returned from India, Eleanor strikes Peggy as a fine old prophetess, a queer old bird, venerable and funny at one and the same time (311). She has attained the movement and freedom that she once envied in a flying file of birds, and this in part through her ornithological activities. Eleanor Pargiter and Lucy Swithin share a number of characteristics: both possess an insatiable curiosity about science and what it can reveal about nature, the past, and the future, and both are viewed as eccentric and out of touch while displaying more discernment than their critics can boast. Although Lucy is often dismissed by her family and acquaintances as a vague mystic, she shows herself to be scientifically well informed. Gazing at the swallows flying around the barn, she remarks, They come every year the same birds They come every year [f]rom Africa (BTA 623). Mrs Manresa is sceptical, smil[ing] benevolently, humouring the old ladys whimsy while commenting to herself, It was unlikely that the birds were the same (62). Yet Lucys information is accurate, suggesting her familiarity with the results of the bird-ringing and migration studies that had become a significant element of ornithological work since the 1910s.80 Bart marvels at [h]ow imperceptive [Lucys] religion made her, but Lucy often shows herself to be more knowledgeable than those who condescendingly think themselves her superior (120). Although Denham, Eleanor, and Lucy can appear mildly comical in their absorbed observation of nature, their attention to the natural world is one of the ways in which Woolf suggests that they possess a frame of reference that others lack. Woolf gently mocks all three of her new naturalist characters; however, she does not undercut them as she does the brittlely complacent William Rodney or the rigidly rational Bartholomew Oliver. The new naturalists consciousness of lives other than their own can be interpreted as a guard against selfabsorption.

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


T h e n e w n at u r a l i s t i n a n ol d n at u r a l i s t Another sign of Woolf s alignment with the emerging discipline of ethology is her revisiting of the work of Gilbert White in the late 1930s. The 1899 diary entry quoted in the previous chapter indicates Virginias early familiarity with The Natural History of Selborne. As a girl, Virginia displayed both admiration for and impatience with Whites sequestered country life and his endless and meticulous recording of the minute details of his surroundings. However, in March 1937 she re-read White and in the spring of 1938, at about the same time that her ideas for the novel that would become Between the Acts started to form, she began contemplating an article on his life and work. She finally wrote Whites Selborne in August 1939 and it appeared in the New Statesman and Nation on 30 September 1939. Woolfs essay on White opens with a quote from the naturalist himself: there is somewhat in most genera at least, that at first sight discriminates them, and enables a judicious observer to pronounce upon them with some certainty (CE iii: 122). Woolf continues, Gilbert White is talking, of course, about birds; the good ornithologist, he says, should be able to distinguish them by their air on the ground as well as on the wing, and in the bush as well as in the hand (ibid.).81 This interest in the living bird in the wild was what set White apart from his contemporaries and caused him to be hailed as a precursor by twentieth-century ethologists. That Woolf chooses to introduce White in these terms suggests that she was in accord with modern ethologists in noting and approving this approach. Woolf presents White, contemplating from all angles the great question of bird migration, as an image of science at her most innocent and most sincere (123). In contrast to the self-aggrandising Professor X, who wields his measuring rod to prove himself superior, White, Woolf suggests, is unselfconscious in his scientific efforts. Woolfs gendering of science here further demonstrates that her comment that science is a man, a father, and infected too does not hold for science in all forms (TG 360).


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

Woolf also suggests her approval of White by adopting his own methods in her analysis of him. As Woolf contemplates White, he seems to her to merge with his subject of study, leaving her in the position of the naturalist-observer: he loses that self-consciousness which so often separates us from our fellow-creatures and becomes like a bird seen through a field-glass busy in a distant hedge. This is the moment then, when his eyes are fixed upon the swallow, to watch Gilbert White himself (CE iii: 123). Both Woolfs blending of the roles of writer and bird-watcher and her assertion that Whites approach enables him to imaginatively inhabit his subject suggest that Woolf appreciated Whites method of observation not simply as a scientific technique but also as a model for the literary treatment of ones subject. Woolfs appreciation for Whites method of observing the natural world did not prevent her from critiquing other aspects of his outlook. Citing his comment that church spires were very necessary ingredients in the landscape and his attribution of the complexity of the natural world to Providence, Woolf expresses a degree of regret at the hedges that shut in Whites personal landscape (124). She notes his exaggerated reverence for the nobility and criticises him for being far less tender to the poor We abound with poor, he writes, as if the vermin were beneath his notice than to the grasshopper (125). But although such characteristics momentarily tempt Woolf to classify White as a specimen of the eighteenth-century clerical naturalist, she remains faithful to Whites ethological approach and resists describing him in taxonomic terms, noting, [J]ust as we think to have got him named he moves. He sounds a note that is not the characteristic note of the common English clergyman (ibid.). White, Woolf suggests, cannot be reduced to a type. In place of a taxonomic description, Woolf borrows Whites own words to summarise his nature: The kestrel or wind-hover, he says, has a peculiar mode of hanging in the air in one place, his wings all the time being briskly agitated (126). This image of dynamic stasis is suited to White, who, though he remained for most of his life at Selborne, was ceaselessly active in his observation of the natural world. The quote is also fitting in that it highlights once more Whites

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


keen observation of living behaviour, the aspect of his science that made him unique in his time and anticipated twentieth-century developments. As a young girl, Woolf expressed admiration for Whites manner of observation and expression but concluded that his methods could not be her own (PA 138). Returning to the consideration of Whites work as an adult, however, and viewing his approach to nature in the context of modern ethology, she found new relevance in his methods and emulated his approach in her description of him. E c ol o g y If Woolfs attitude towards pest species and pesticides in Miss Ormerod reflects the emphasis on the control of nature characteristic of early ecology, her depiction of the natural world and human beings place in it in Between the Acts illustrates her concurrent absorption of early ecologys view of nature as a complex system of interacting and interdependent organisms. Wells, Huxley, and Wells open their chapter on ecology in The Science of Life (a work that, as has been mentioned before, Woolf records reading in late 1931 and early 1932) with the assertion that ecology provides a fresh way of regarding life, by considering the balances and mutual pressures of species living in the same habitat.82 They declare it to be a fundamental principle of ecology that [i]n every habitat we find that there is a sort of community or society of organisms not only preying upon but depending upon each other, and that a certain balance, though often a violently swaying balance, is maintained between the various species so that the community keeps on.83 Between the Acts may be interpreted as a reflection on the human place within a wider natural community and a representation of the balance, very often violently swaying, in which all co-exist. From the earliest pages of the novel, Woolf suggests that humans are no longer attuned to their place in nature. Reflecting on the placement of Pointz Hall, Lucy wonders, Why, Bart, did they build the house in the hollow, facing north? to which Bart replies, Obviously to escape from nature (BTA 8). Barts response suggests that it is


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

only common sense to view human beings as existing in opposition to nature, but the narrative voice intervenes with another opinion, judging that it was a pity that the man who had built Pointz Hall had pitched the house in a hollow, when beyond the flower garden and the vegetables there was this stretch of high ground. Nature had provided a site for a house; man had built his house in a hollow (9). It is a sign of human beings disconnection from nature that they do not inhabit the most suitable place in their environment. Rather than occupying the niche available to them, they place themselves in opposition to their surroundings. Louise Westling has noted the fact that human beings in Between the Acts often appear oblivious to the natural world.84 When Mrs Sands, the cook, enters the barn to lay out the refreshments for the pageant, a cursory glance around the building suggests to her that the Barn was empty (61). But the narrator goes on to qualify this statement, drawing attention to the multiple, overlapping microcosms in which
[m]ice slid in and out of holes or stood upright, nibbling. Swallows were busy with straw in pockets of earth in the rafters. Countless beetles and insects of various sorts burrowed in the dry wood A blue-bottle had settled on the cake and stabbed its yellow rock with its short drill. A butterfly sunned itself sensuously on a sunlit yellow plate. (612)

Although this world goes unnoticed by many butterflies [Mrs Sands] never saw; mice were only black pellets in kitchen drawers; moths she bundled in her hands and put out the window the emptiness of the barn is a matter of perspective only (62). A complex world of interpenetrating lives occupies this supposedly empty space. Woolfs assertion of human beings lack of attunement to the natural world also resonates with the novels repeated allusions to extinction. Based on her reading of The Outline of History, Lucy creates a composite scene of prehistoric Britain in which a dinosaur from the Mesozoic appears alongside the mammoths and mastodons encountered by early humans in the Pleistocene: she imagines rhododendron forests in Piccadilly; when the entire continent, not then divided by a channel, was all one; populated, she understood, by elephant-bodied,

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


seal-necked, heaving, surging, slowly writhing, and, she supposed, barking monsters; the iguanodon, the mammoth, and the mastodon (8).85 Despite their vast temporal separation, the iguanodon and the mammoth are alike in their extinction. In A Short History of the World and The Outline of History, Wells stresses the seeming security of the Mesozoic reptiles during their 80-million-year habitation of the earth, remarking, Had any quasi-human intelligence been watching the world through that inconceivable length of time, how safe and eternal the sunshine and abundance must have seemed, how assured the wallowing prosperity of the Dinosaurs and the flapping abundance of the flying lizards.86 However, this long history was no guarantee of security: subsequent changes in climate and environment exceeded the dinosaurs utmost capacity for variation and adaptation and as a result they left no descendants.87 Woolfs allusions to the disappearance of formerly dominant species suggest the fundamental precariousness of human existence and the dangers of falling out of harmony with ones environment, whether through a physical or philosophical failure to adapt. However, while calling attention to humanitys habitual blindness to the natural world, the precariousness of human existence when viewed in the long term, and the potential consequences of inadaptability, Woolf also affirms the possibility of a greater attunement to and integration with nature. Not everyone is oblivious to the lives being led alongside their own: although Mrs Sands sees the barn as empty, Lucy Swithin, gazing up, looks not at the decorations. At the swallows apparently (62). And just as it offered the perfect site for a house, the landscape provides the ideal setting for a play, with trees regular enough to suggest columns in a church; in a church without a roof; in an open-air cathedral, a place where swallows darting seemed, by the regularity of the trees, to make a pattern (41). There is even an ideal backstage area: Beyond the lily pool the ground sank again, and in that dip of the ground, bushes and brambles had mobbed themselves together (36). Miss La Trobe recognises this spot as the very place for a dressing-room, just as, obviously, the terrace was the very place for a play (ibid.). In contrast to the misplaced house, the play occupies a suitable niche. Nor does the play


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

find a place for itself at the expense of the existing inhabitants of the area. It exists in harmony not competition with its surroundings. As Westling has noted, nonhuman forces and beings are crucial players in the human drama:88 while a tune plays on the gramophone, the view repeated in its own way what the tune was saying The cows, making a step forward, then standing still, were saying the same thing to perfection (81). Nature further sustains the play when its effect seems about to be dispersed: as the illusion petered out, the cows took up the burden. One had lost her calf. In the very nick of time she lifted her great moon-eyed head and bellowed From cow after cow came the same yearning bellow [T]he cows annihilated the gap; bridged the distance; filled the emptiness and continued the emotion (845). Moments such as this cause Miss La Trobe to remark with relief that Nature had taken her part (107). What has not been previously noted is the suggestion that natures contributions do not go unreciprocated. The play contributes to the natural environment as well:
Cardboard crowns, swords made of silver paper, turbans that were sixpenny dish cloths, lay on the grass or were flung on the bushes. There were pools of red and purple in the shade; flashes of silver in the sun. The dresses attracted the butterflies. Red and silver, blue and yellow gave off warmth and sweetness. Red Admirals gluttonously absorbed richness from dish cloths, cabbage whites drank icy coolness from silver paper. Flitting, tasting, returning, they sampled the colours. (40)

The play and its props provide metaphorical nourishment through their beauty, forming a link in a figurative food-chain. When Miss La Trobe despairs, declaring, It was a failure, another damned failure! As usual. Her vision escaped her, the narrative belies this verdict by noting that still butterflies feasted upon swords of silver paper, suggesting the ongoing sustenance provided by the play (6061). (That the nourishment of art and beauty is equally available to Miss La Trobes human audience is indicated by the fact that with the appearance of Mabel Hopkins on the stage in the role of Queen Anne, eyes fed on her as fish rise to a crumb of bread on the water. Who was she? What did she represent? She was beautiful (75).) Woolf gestures towards ecological concepts such as habitat niches and food-chains to

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


suggest the interrelatedness and interdependence of the human and more-than-human occupants of a shared environment. In Between the Acts, individuals dealings with nature offer insight into their wider outlooks and human relationships. The discord in Isa and Giless marriage was foretold in their first meeting:
They had met first in Scotland, fishing she from one rock, he from another. Her line had got tangled; she had given over, and had watched him with the stream rushing between his legs, casting, casting until, like a thick ingot of silver bent in the middle, the salmon had leapt, had been caught, and she had loved him. (31)

Giless display of dominance over nature captures Isa as well.89 However, this dynamic appears inadequate to sustain their relationship, as is demonstrated by Isas response when Giles crushes a snake with a toad in its mouth and looks to her for approval of his bloodied shoes. Although Mrs Manresa regards Giless blood-stained shoes as evidence of his valour and is flattered by this manly action, Isa is no longer impressed by feats of violence and silently conveys the message, I dont admire you Silly little boy, with blood on his boots (68). It is worth noting that Giless act of violence against the snake and toad results from a misinterpretation of natural processes. Giless horror at the sight of the snake with the toad in its mouth arises from his assumption that the snake is choked on its kill, the snake unable to swallow; the toad unable to die, and that the natural relationship of predator and prey has been upset, resulting in a monstrous inversion (61). Whether or not they condone Giless violent response, readers of this scene generally accept his assumption that the struggle between the snake and the frog is an unnatural one: Alex Zwerdling describes it as a perverse assault in which both antagonists are inevitably destroyed; Gillian Beer suggests that the situation represents an impasse of toad and snake.90 In fact, what Giles describes is typical feeding behaviour for snakes. A snake, by virtue of the flexible connections between its jaws and skull, can consume prey several times the size of its own head: it works its mouth slowly around its prey and gradually, by means of muscle contractions (which Giles notes as a spasm [that] made the ribs contract (ibid.)), draws the often still-living prey down its throat. The laborious process could easily


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

be misinterpreted as choking, but it is entirely natural.91 Only Giless interference constitutes unnatural violence. His misreading of nature provokes him to violence against it, and Mrs Manresas admiration for his misguided act contrasts with her condescension towards Lucy on the subject of Lucys (accurate) comments on bird migration. This opposition is representative, for Lucy Swithins observation of the natural world stands as an alternative to Giless violent engagement with nature, which functions as an assertion of dominance. Lucy is often dismissed by family and acquaintances as a devout woman left behind in an age of unbelief, but there are persistent parallels between the mystical and the scientific in Between the Acts that indicate a new outlet for faith. The narrative suggests a continuity between Greek oracles, Christianity, and science: the meteorologists weather forecast (a recent innovation as an editorial note states (132 n. 13)) is a modern, secular, scientific prophecy. When the forecast is read out, [A]ll looked to see whether the sky obeyed the meteorologist (16). There is a scientific basis to Lucys seemingly mystical attunement with nature. For all that Lucy is viewed by others and indeed views herself as a devout individual, there are suggestions that she derives greater consolation from nature than from religion. Standing by the lily pond, perfunctorily she caressed her cross. But her eyes went water searching, looking for fish Faith required hours of kneeling in the early morning. Often the delight of the roaming eye seduced her (121). Woolf implies that this observation completes rather than distracts from Lucys devotions:
Then something moved in the water; her favourite fantail. The golden orfe followed. Then she had a glimpse of silver the great carp himself, who came to the surface so very seldom. They slid on, in and out between the stalks, silver; pink; gold; splashed; streaked; pied. Ourselves, she murmured. And retrieving some glint of faith from the grey waters, hopefully, without much help from reason, she followed the fish; the speckled, streaked, and blotched; seeing in that vision beauty, power and glory in ourselves. (ibid.)

The observation of the natural world appears to accord Lucy a consolation more lasting than that which Giles finds through his attempts

Virginia Woolf and the modern study of nature


to dominate nature, nor does the ephemerality of Lucys sightings detract from their power. Through the juxtaposition of Giless and Lucys respective modes of engaging with nature, Woolf seems to extend the notion of deliverance through ecology beyond the bounds of the scientific establishment.92 This deliverance is by no means assured, just as the closing tableau of Isa and Giles suggests only that following their inevitable fight new life might be born (129). Nevertheless, alongside the threat of destruction and extinction, the novel presents the possibility of integration and continuity. Woolfs writing, both fictional and non-fictional, demonstrates her awareness of the complex changes occurring in the life sciences in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She kept pace with the rapid shifts in the field, showing herself to be familiar with many of the key figures and concepts of the emerging disciplines and accurately representing new developments in her writing. In her rejection of the taxonomic outlook, her sense of the revolutionary potential of the new biology, her determination to hold protection to rational standards, her sense of the pleasure to be found in the observation of living creatures, and her awareness of humanitys place in the wider scheme of nature, Woolf encapsulated many of the dominant trends in the modern study of nature. However, Woolf did not stop at the accurate representation of scientific trends; she also put scientific developments to metaphorical use in her writing. In the next chapter, I will consider the ways in which Woolf employed these various scientific models as analogies for the writing process and argued for new methods of representing life in fiction through her treatment of contrasting approaches to the study of nature.

Chapter 5

Representing the manner of our seeing

Literary experimentation and scientific analogy

Woolf s familiarity with trends in the life sciences led her to draw upon the study of nature as a source of analogy when considering methods of representing life in fiction. Collection and classification have been recognised before as metaphors important to Woolf s conception of writing. As I noted in the introductory chapter, critics such as Richter and Robinson have interpreted the hunting of moths and the netting of butterflies as analogies for Woolf s own creative process, while Sarsfield regards the question of how to pin down life in words without destroying it, to pin the moth without killing as a perennial dilemma for Woolf and sees no solution to the writing = pinning = killing conundrum in Woolf s work.1 Whether they assume Woolf s approval or disapproval of collection and classification as a metaphor for writing, Richter, Robinson, and Sarsfield are alike in regarding the taxonomic method as the sole analogy for the writing process that Woolf drew from the life sciences. In fact, however, Woolf also drew analogies from other, emergent approaches to the study of nature. Reflecting contemporary scientific attitudes, Woolf employed the taxonomic method as a symbol of a limited mode of representation while taking disciplines focused on the observation of living organisms as analogies for new methods of seeing and describing life. In place of a literary method focused on exhaustive description in the service of definitive classification, Woolf advocated acceptance of the fact that only fleeting glimpses of a moving subject were possible or, indeed, desirable.

Literary experimentation and scientific analogy


Wo ol f s u s e o f t h e a n a l o gi e s o f c ol l e c t ion a n d ta xon o m y Contrary to the assumptions of Richter and Robinson, Woolfs use of collection and taxonomy as analogies for the writing process typically suggests a criticism of the writing under discussion. In A Scribbling Dame, Woolf refers to taxonomic natural history as a means of expressing reservations regarding a writers approach to his subject. Woolfs essay a review of George F. Whichers The Life and Romances of Mrs Eliza Haywood that appeared in the Times Literary Supplement on 17 February 1916 begins, There are in the Natural History Museum certain little insects so small that they have to be gummed to the cardboard with the lightest of fingers, but each of them, as one observes with constant surprise, has its fine Latin name spreading far to the right and left of the miniature body (E ii: 22). Although purporting to admire the labour of the humble, indefatigable men who devote themselves to such work, Woolf implies her doubt as to its value (ibid.). She suggests a parallel between the labour of these taxonomists and the work of Mr Whicher, who has endeavoured to pin down this faded and antique specimen of the domestic house fly, Mrs Eliza Haywood, for no discernible reason beyond the fact that Mrs Haywood has never been classified (22, 23). To classify simply as an end in itself, out of a desire to fill a gap in a series, strikes Woolf as an unworthy task. Part of Woolfs dispute with Whicher centres on his choice of subject, for she regards Haywood as an author unworthy of exhaustive cataloguing; however, she also questions Whichers method, arguing that it is in part Whichers treatment of his subject that renders Haywood so unremittingly uninteresting to the reader. Woolf suggests that Haywood was a subject not without potential: A woman who married a clergyman and ran away from him, who supported herself and possibly two children, it is thought without gallantry, entirely by her pen in the early years of the eighteenth century, was striking out a new line of life and must have been a person of character (23). Rather than attempting to provide insight into Haywoods life, however, Whicher offers


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

a taxonomic description, a careful, studious, detailed account of all her works regarded from every possible point of view, together with a bibliography which occupies 204 pages of print, and the product, Woolf argues, does not justify the labour (ibid.). While Whicher succeeds in definitively classifying Haywood, locating her within the literary hierarchy, he fails to convey anything of significance about her as a living subject, and to Woolfs mind, the classification of ones subject is a project of questionable value. Woolf at times criticised her own work in similar terms. She expressed her mixed feelings regarding her biography of Roger Fry with the remark, I cant help thinking Ive caught a good deal of that iridescent man in my oh so laborious butterfly net (D v: 266). Here again Woolf uses an analogy drawn from the natural history tradition to suggest the inadequacy of a literary form The official life, as Maynard Keynes dismissively called it and her sense that the method in common use failed both author and subject (314). Elsewhere, too, Woolf interrogates the efficacy of collection and classification employed as literary methods. In The Mark on the Wall, she examines the effects of classification on the imaginative process. The eponymous mark on the wall acts as a catalyst for imaginative activity: the narrator remarks on how readily our thoughts swarm upon a new object (CSF 77). However, it is not simply the presence of the mark but its unidentifiability that stimulates her thoughts. Its indefinability allows it to become in turn a hole made by a nail to hold a miniature, a small rose leaf, a smooth tumulus, and a crack in the wood, and each guess expands into a train of associations and reflections (77, 78, 80, 82). It is from this flow of speculation that the entire narrative derives. Ultimately, however, the narrators imaginative flow is interrupted: feeling that something is getting in the way, she loses her train of thought and emerges from her reverie to discover someone, preoccupied with empirical facts such as can be found in newspapers, standing over her and complaining, Curse this war; God damn this war! All the same, I dont see why we should have a snail on our wall (83). With this positive identification Ah, the mark on the wall! It was a snail! the uncertainty that was the source

Literary experimentation and scientific analogy


of the narrators imaginative outpouring is removed, and the narrative comes to an abrupt end (ibid.). The story as a whole can be read as a deferral of classification, and conclusive categorisation is presented as inimical to the creative process. Likewise, in Reading, the analogy of specimen collection provides Woolf with a means of expressing her disapproval of the materialist approach to literature. Richter, in her interpretation of Reading, argues that Woolf took the business of bug-hunting as an analogy for writing in general and her own writing process in particular. Richter contends that, in the course of Woolfs description of the moth hunt, one is made to realise that the forest in which the hunt takes place is the mind of the writer and that the account describes the writer wandering in the dark forest of the imagination, searching to pin down words and images that flit in the dark places of the brain.2 However, in Reading, Woolf is more critical of the moth hunt than Richter suggests. The hunt, carried out in the gloom of the unknown, calls to mind writing of a sort, but rather than serving as an emblem of Woolfs own creative process, as Richter suggests, it functions more specifically as a parallel to Woolfs description of the tales of adventure and discovery told by Hakluyt and his contemporaries, tales of the unknown; and of themselves, the isolated English, burning on the very rim of the dark, and the dark full of unseen splendours (E iii: 150, 147).3 Woolfs essay suggests her sense of the limitations of these Elizabethan narratives, and she employs the analogy of the moth hunt to advance her argument. From the outset of her discussion of Elizabethan exploration narratives, Woolf stresses the extent to which they are concerned with the material. The narratives catalogue the wealth brought back to England by Elizabethan adventurers: a black stone, veined with gold, or an ivory tusk, or a lump of silver; beasts and plants, the seeds of all our roses; a precious stream of coloured and rare and curious things (146, 147). Accounts of the practices and ceremonies of other cultures are riches of another sort, preserved as if under shades of glass in the records of travellers (148). Woolf analyses the Elizabethans descriptions of the indigenous people disturbed by European exploration, accounts that fall like lantern light


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

upon individuals, such as the savage caught somewhere off the coast of Labrador who is taken back to England and shown about like a wild beast. Next year they bring him back and fetch a woman savage on board to keep him company. When they see each other they blush; they blush profoundly; the sailor notices it but knows not why it is (ibid.). It is this lack of interest in or comprehension of the inward life of human beings that Woolf presents as the flaw of the early modern chroniclers: she reflects, We seem able to guess why they blushed; the Elizabethans would notice it, but it has waited over three hundred years for us to interpret it, and she concludes that there are not perhaps enough blushes to keep the attention fixed upon the broad yellow-tinged pages of Hakluyts book (ibid.). While full of material wonders, the Elizabethans narratives contain no psychological element. It is this thing doubtful as a phantom that Woolf misses in their writing, and she finds as a result that one tires of the long, dangerous, and memorable voyages for the perhaps unsatisfactory reason that they make no mention of oneself and only talk of their commodities (148, 149). It is in the context of this critique of the materialism of Elizabethan exploration narratives that Woolf introduces her account of the moth hunt. The hunt is presented in terms that echo the descriptions of the voyages of discovery previously offered. The moth hunters embark on an expedition, the leader of the party draw[ing] us, unheeding darkness or fear, further and further into the unknown world where the dark not only extinguishes light but also buries under it a great part of the human spirit, a comment that suggests a parallel with the Elizabethan explorers, unconscious of themselves (150). The moths discovered upon the sugared trees are regarded as lumps unspeakably precious, the scarlet underwing in particular a possession of infinite value, recalling the treasures that captivated the Elizabethan explorers (151). The capture of the underwing is supposed to be a moment of glory and boldness rewarded, evidence that they have proven [their] skill against the hostile and alien force of nature (152). Yet, read in conjunction with the reservations already expressed about the Elizabethans exploration narratives, the description of the moth hunt only confirms the inadequacy of this

Literary experimentation and scientific analogy


approach to ones subject, for, like the Elizabethan adventurers, the moth hunters are concerned only with the material. The capture of the scarlet underwing ought to function as the culmination of the moth hunt, but there is instead a sense of anticlimax surrounding its death. Of the event, the narrator states, There was a flash of scarlet within the glass. Then he composed himself with folded wings. He did not move again (ibid.). The reference to the moths composure echoes Woolfs earlier complaint regarding the inscrutability of Elizabethan letter-writers who like children on a Sunday compose themselves and cease their chatter when they sat down to write what would pass from hand to hand (143). This composed quality results in a paradoxical indecipherability, for while composure makes the subject readable, it at the same time leaves nothing to read.4 Woolfs account of the moth hunt thus serves not as a model for her own writing practice but as a confirmation of the inadequacy of a purely materialist approach to ones subject. However, Woolf maintains in Reading that an alternative to such composure exists. Putting aside the Elizabethan exploration narratives, Woolf searches the bookshelves for something both timeless and contemporary and finds it in the writing of Sir Thomas Browne (153). Unlike the Elizabethan chroniclers whose outlook is wholly materialistic, Browne appears to Woolf sympathetic and pondering, curious as to the inward nature of man (154). He stands transfixed by the astonishing vista of his own inward life, asserting, The world that I regard is myself; it is the microcosm of my own frame that I cast mine eye on (156, 155). It is this focus on the psychological rather than the material, on the inner spirit rather than the external world that gives Brownes writing a timeless and contemporary quality in Woolfs eyes (153). It is recorded that his skin was constantly suffused with blushes, a detail that suggests that, unlike the captors of the man from Labrador, Browne would have had the sensitivity to interpret the cause of the mans blushes, to understand his inner state (155). Woolf employs the moth hunt as an emblem of a method of perception and description that she finds inadequate and to which, as the writing of Sir Thomas Browne demonstrates, alternatives exist. In


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

Reading, Woolf uses an analogy drawn from the study of nature only in her description of the method of writing that she criticises. In other works, however, Woolf employs analogies drawn from the study of nature as a means of articulating not only the fictional method under critique but also the alternative approaches possible. These alternatives take different forms and might be variously described as a protectionist, an ethological, or an ecological perspective; regardless of the specific alternative that she chooses in a given situation, however, Woolf describes each through reference to contemporary trends in the study of nature. C on c e i v i n g o f a n a lt e r n at i v e Woolf did not conceive of an alternative to the taxonomic approach to writing all at once. However, by examining the revisions that she made to essays in which she employed analogies drawn from the study of nature to articulate her sense of how modernist writers should seek to convey life in fiction, it is possible to trace her movement towards an aesthetic of observation and protection. Woolfs drafting and redrafting of the essay Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown shows her testing and reworking her analogies for the writing process, and the changes that she adopted suggest a shift in approach and objective: from a method of construction to one of deconstruction and from a goal of capture to one of protection. Rachel Sarsfield cites the closing paragraph of Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown as evidence of Woolfs conviction of the overriding importance of capturing life and her habitual expression of this conviction through the association of life and lepidoptera imagery.5 In the cited paragraph, Woolf declares:
Sadly [the writer] must allow that [Mrs Brown] still escapes him. Dismally he must admit bruises received in the pursuit. But it is because the Georgians, poets and novelists, biographers and dramatists, are so hotly engaged each in the pursuit of his own Mrs Brown that theirs is at once the least successful, and the most interesting, generation that English literature has known for a hundred years. Moreover, let us prophesy: Mrs Brown will not always escape. One of these days Mrs Brown will be caught. (E iii: 388)

Literary experimentation and scientific analogy


This citation serves as a useful starting point for a review of Woolfs conception of the writing process, for it is drawn from the earliest published version of an essay that Woolf repeatedly redrafted and republished, in the course of which process her conception of modern fictional methods underwent substantial revision. Sarsfield cites Woolfs essay as it first appeared in print in the New York Evening Post Literary Review on 17 November 1923. (It appeared in the same form in the Nation and Athenaeum on 1 December 1923 and in Living Age on 2 February 1924.) However, Woolf later returned to this text, reworking it first into a lecture delivered to the Cambridge Heretics on 18 May 1924 and then into the essay published under the title Character in Fiction in the Criterion in July 1924. She published the essay again, with a few further revisions and once more under the title Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown, as a pamphlet with the Hogarth Press in October 1924. (This version was also reprinted, again under the title Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown, in the New York Herald Tribune in two parts on 23 and 30 August 1925.) The publication of the later version of the essay with the Hogarth Press suggests Woolfs authorisation of her revisions. The alterations made between the early and late versions may therefore be examined for evidence of a developing argument. In particular, Woolfs use of the imagery of capture, containment, deconstruction, and release may be read as evidence of a changing conception of the modern fictional method. The essay in all its versions discusses the disappearance of character from Edwardian fiction. It suggests that this was a reaction against the vivid but superficial character-drawing of Victorian fiction and argues that the Edwardians turned instead to the earnest discussion of social conditions in broad and often abstract terms. Woolf declares that it is the Georgians responsibility to return character to fiction, and it is in the argument of how the Georgians should seek to represent character, personified in the figure of Mrs Brown, that the early and late versions of Woolfs essay differ. In the earliest version of the essay, the figure of Mrs Brown appears only in the penultimate paragraph, in the declaration that the Georgian writer finds himself hopelessly at variance with Mr Wells, Mr Galsworthy, and Mr Bennett about the character shall


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

we say? of Mrs Brown, and must therefore set about to remake the woman after his own idea (E iii: 387). In this early version of the essay, Woolf presents fiction as a structure built to contain ones subject. She depicts past fiction, the house in which she [Mrs Brown] has lived so long (and a very substantial house it was), as a now derelict building and argues that it is from the ruins and splinters of this tumbled mansion that the Georgian writer must somehow reconstruct a habitable dwelling-place for his or her characters (3878). The task Woolf sets for the modernist writer is thus to construct a building to house a captured subject, for as the early version of the essay concludes, The capture of Mrs Brown is the title of the next chapter in the history of literature; and, let us prophesy again, that chapter will be one of the most important, the most illustrious, the most epochmaking of them all (388). However, these statements are not Woolfs final word on the subject, for they occur only in the first version of a much-revised essay. The later version of the essay begins with a reworking of the material with which the original version ends. In the opening paragraph of the essay in its revised form, Woolf relates, when I asked myself, as your invitation to speak to you about modern fiction made me ask myself, what demon whispered in my ear and urged me to my doom, a little figure rose before me the figure of a man, or of a woman, who said, My name is Brown. Catch me if you can (420). She then elaborates upon this parallel between capture and the creative process, commenting:
Most novelists have the same experience. Some Brown, Smith, or Jones comes before them and says in the most seductive and charming way in the world, Come and catch me if you can. And so, led on by this will-o-the-wisp, they flounder through volume after volume, spending the best years of their lives in the pursuit, and receiving for the most part very little cash in exchange. Few catch the phantom; most have to be content with a scrap of her dress or a wisp of her hair. (42021)

However, while the opening paragraphs of the revised version of the essay echo the ideal of capture with which the earlier version of the essay concluded, the implications of the imagery of pursuit change as the revised essay continues. The Georgian novelist is no

Literary experimentation and scientific analogy


longer presented as being drawn on to catch Mrs Brown; rather, Mrs Brown is described as luring the novelist to her rescue by the most fascinating if fleeting glimpse of her charms, so that [a]t whatever cost of life, limb, and damage to valuable property Mrs Brown must be rescued, expressed, and set in her high relations to the world (433). Rather than recommending capture, Woolf now advocates protection. Woolf displays as well a changed attitude towards the acts of construction and deconstruction.6 When in the revised version of the essay she presents writing as a process of construction, she seems to imply a regrettable falling back upon the outdated methods of an earlier period: she confesses to a moment of creative weakness in which she was
tempted to manufacture a three-volume novel about the old ladys son, and his adventures crossing the Atlantic, and her daughter, and how she kept a milliners shop in Westminster, the past life of Smith himself, and his house at Sheffield, though such stories seem to me the most dreary, irrelevant, and humbugging affairs in the world. (4312)

The only advantage of adopting such an approach to writing, she contends, is that if I had done that I should have escaped the appalling effort of saying what I meant (432). Woolf associates the Edwardian faith in the solidly constructed novel with the materialist focus of Edwardian fiction and dismisses both with the comment, They have given us a house in the hope that we may be able to deduce the human beings who live there (ibid.). To view the act of literary creation as one of construction now appears a failure of imagination. Instead of engaging in constructive art, Woolf now argues, the Georgian writer must begin by throwing away the method that was in use at the moment (ibid.). The Georgian method is now presented as one of discarding rather than accumulation, of deconstruction rather than construction. She declares that the sound of breaking and falling, crashing and destruction is the prevailing sound of the Georgian age (434). Rather than coming upon an already ruined house that they are responsible for building anew, as is implied in the conclusion of the early version of the essay, the Georgians are now encouraged to dismantle the edifices of the past. This is not to


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

say that Woolf glorified smashing and crashing as an end in itself; rather, she viewed it as a necessary act in light of the restrictive conventions that hemmed in contemporary fiction (433). (She articulates this idea again in A Room of Ones Own in her observation that Mary Carmichael, the representative modern woman novelist, is tampering with the expected sequence. First she broke the sentence; now she has broken the sequence. Very well, she has every right to do both these things if she does them not for the sake of breaking, but for the sake of creating (AROO 106).) The positive implications of the urge to destroy that Woolf now attributes to the Georgians are suggested by her reflection upon language, and the heights to which it can soar when free, in contrast to the same eagle, captive, bald, and croaking when contained within limiting narrative forms: both the modern subject and the language used to describe it must be freed from the restrictive structures in which the Edwardians and their predecessors sought to contain them (E iii: 434). The Georgians are no longer charged with rebuilding a literary tradition found in ruins, but rather with actively dismantling conventions that function as a cage. The sound of their axes seems to Woolf a vigorous and stimulating sound, and through this act of demolition they seek to liberate the creature within, Mrs Brown, who is, of course, the spirit we live by, life itself (435, 436). Woolf anticipates that under these conditions the truth itself is bound to reach us in rather an exhausted and chaotic condition. Ulysses, Queen Victoria, Mr Prufrock to give Mrs Brown some of the names she has made famous lately is a little pale and dishevelled by the time her rescuers reach her; nevertheless, Woolf appears to regard a free, dishevelled subject as preferable to the captured specimen that she previously presented as the writers quarry (435). The revised essay, like the earlier version, concludes with a prophetic declaration regarding the coming age of literature, but Woolf does not again close her essay with an image of capture. She declares instead, we are trembling on the verge of one of the great ages of English literature. But it can only be reached if we are determined never, never to desert Mrs Brown (436). This subtle shift from analogies of capture and containment to associations of rescue and

Literary experimentation and scientific analogy


protection carries with it a fundamentally different conception of the methods and objectives of modern literature. The alterations that Woolf made to her 1919 essay Modern Novels as she revised it for inclusion in The Common Reader (1925) under the title Modern Fiction are similarly illustrative of a shift in outlook. Woolfs reworking of Modern Novels was less extensive than her rewriting of Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown, but the changes that she made had a similar effect upon her argument. In both versions of the essay, Woolf presents the proper subject of fiction, life or spirit, truth or reality, this, the essential thing, as an animate organism that is forever mov[ing] off, or on and defying writers attempts to capture it within conventional narrative structures (E iii: 32; E iv: 160). In both versions, she acknowledges the well-constructed nature of the fiction of Mr Bennett and his contemporaries and admits that there exists in such structures no chink or crevice through which decay can creep in (E iii: 32; E iv: 158). Yet she questions the wisdom of such artificial preservation and fears that life should refuse to live in structures such as these (E iii: 32; E iv: 1589). In the later version of the essay she further stresses her sense of the error of the approach adopted by the Edwardians through the argument that owing to one of those little deviations which the human spirit seems to make from time to time, Mr Bennett has come down with his magnificent apparatus for catching life just an inch or two on the wrong side[.] Life escapes; and perhaps without life nothing else is worth while (E iv: 159). Woolfs criticism of Bennett suggests not only that his aim is inaccurate but also that his chosen tools are ineffectual and his approach to conveying life misguided. Describing the construction of a conventional plot as a process of embalming, she conveys her distaste for the transformation of the living subject of fiction into a dead and artificially preserved specimen (160). At the same time, her argument that the writer and, by extension, his or her writing, should not be confined and shut in by literary convention but rather set free suggests a conception of writing as a process of release rather than capture (162). By loading her discussion of Edwardian fiction with allusions to collection and preservation, Woolfs revisions to Modern Novels/Modern Fiction intensify


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

her critique of the Edwardians materialist methods. Taken together with her efforts to distance Georgian fiction from associations of capture and containment through her revisions to Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown/Character in Fiction, this shift in representation illustrates Woolfs movement away from a taxonomic aesthetic and towards an aesthetic of observation and protection. Wo ol f s a d o p t ion o f a n a lt e r n at i v e m e t h o d In addition to theorising about alternatives to the taxonomic method of writing in her essays on modernist fiction, Woolf sought to realise such an approach in her own novels. As was discussed in Chapter 3, in Jacobs Room Woolf dismisses the cataloguing of features as a futile occupation that brings one no closer to understanding ones subject. However, while Woolf rejects this taxonomic method of arriving at an understanding of others, she does not reject the impulse to understand and record human lives as futile in itself. Although she admits that a profound, impartial, and absolutely just opinion of our fellow-creatures is utterly unknown, she is not deterred by those who argue that the novelists never catch it, the unseizable force by which we live, that it goes hurtling through their nets and leaves them torn to ribbons ( JR 96, 217). Woolf is reconciled to the unseizable nature of life because she maintains that glimpses of other lives are possible, that one may be surprised in the window corner by a sudden vision that the young man in the chair is of all things in the world the most real, the most solid, the best known to us [although] the moment after we know nothing about him (96). Woolf embraces such fleeting glimpses of a life in motion as the manner of our seeing (ibid.). Woolf s allusions to the study of nature illustrate the value of this manner of seeing. In the midst of her description of Jacobs attempts to classify his dead moth specimen, which he never positively identifies, Woolf describes a red underwing [that] had circled round the light and flashed and gone. The red underwing had never come back, though Jacob had waited (267). In contrast to his methodical scrutiny of the dead moth, Jacobs sighting of the red underwing is

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fleeting and beyond his power to control. However, far more than the novels description of the capture, classification, and artificial preservation of insect specimens, this encounter resembles Woolf s own engagement with her written subject in Jacobs Room. Woolf s narrative is constructed as a series of sightings of Jacob: the characters who interact with him are unable to pin down his nature in their descriptions of him, while, as Hermione Lee has remarked, the narrator herself remains always in pursuit of a vanishing hero, who can only be known through unfinished glimpses.7 Jacob remains an elusive presence, sighted rather than caught, throughout the novel. In a letter to Gerald Brenan written on 25 December 1922, shortly after the publication of Jacobs Room, Woolf argues that it is impossible to represent the human soul with any completeness, declaring, No one can see it whole The best of us catch a glimpse of a nose, a shoulder, something turning away, always in movement (L ii: 598). This is not, however, a cause of despair for her: she continues, Still, it seems better to me to catch this glimpse, than to sit down with Hugh Walpole, Wells, etc., etc. and make large oil paintings of fabulous fleshy monsters complete from top to toe (ibid.). She suggests that to convey the impression of a fleeting glimpse of a living being is preferable to producing an inert replica of ones subject. Attempting to elaborate upon her view in a postscript, she states, I think I mean that beauty, which you say I sometimes achieve, is only got by the failure to get it (599). The renunciation of capture is thus central to Woolfs literary project. The irreducibility of identity and the dangers of too-definite classification are recurring topics in Woolfs writing and ones that she often advances by way of language and imagery drawn from nature and its study, even when these are not the ostensible subject of discussion. In Mrs Dalloway, an interest in questions of identity and description is signalled early in the narrative as Scrope Purvis observes Clarissa as she waits to cross the road: A charming woman, Scrope Purvis thought her (knowing her as one does know people who live next door to one in Westminster); a touch of the bird about her, of the jay, blue-green, light, vivacious, though she was over fifty, and grown very white since her illness. There she perched, never seeing


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

him, waiting to cross, very upright (MD 78). Musing on Clarissas character and likening her to a jay on the basis of her carriage and mannerisms, Purvis resembles a bird-watcher, species-spotting, a pastime that underscores the impulse to know others that is a recurring theme in the novel. This curiosity regarding the identities of others is a powerful impulse that can manifest as either a fascination with the complexity of identity or an urge to reduce a multifaceted human being to a type for the sake of classificatory clarity. Reductive taxonomising is often employed as a means of dismissal or disparagement: Sally scorns Hugh Whitbread as a perfect specimen of the public-school type, while Peter more subtly undercuts Richard by asserting the inexplicable niceness of his type (80, 82). Clarissa, conscious of how different, how incompatible the disparate aspects of her self appear to her, is reluctant to resign herself to the identity that circumstance and society have imposed upon her this being Mrs Dalloway; not even Clarissa any more; this being Mrs Richard Dalloway (42, 15). She imagines her self as something expansive, not confined to her person but spreading out beyond her to encompass those who knew her and the places she had been,
she being part, she was positive, of the trees at home; of the house there, ugly, rambling all to bits and pieces as it was; part of people she had never met; being laid out like a mist between the people she knew best, who lifted her on their branches as she had seen the trees lift the mist, but it spread ever so far, her life, herself. (13)

This description of self suggests a radical interrogation of the boundaries of identity and a sense of the self as made up in part of ones interrelationships and environment, an ecological rather than a taxonomic conception of the self. Clarissas dissatisfaction with the circumscription of the self by narrow categorisation leads her to resolve that she will not impose similarly reductive identities upon others, that [s]he would not say of anyone in the world now that they were this or were that (12). Clarissa is not invariably successful in carrying out this resolution: for example, exclaiming at the sight of her daughter, Here is my Elizabeth, she

Literary experimentation and scientific analogy


treats Elizabeth as a possession by means of which to affirm her own identity and choices to Peter and denies her daughter an independent identity in the process (53). Nevertheless, Clarissa articulates the idea of the irreducibility of the self that informs the novel. This expansive view of identity contrasts with the diagnostic outlook of the medical doctors Holmes and Bradshaw, practitioners of an exacting science, who seek to classify Septimus on the basis of his illness (107). Sir William Bradshaw in particular, with his reputation for almost infallible accuracy in diagnosis, embodies the desire for definitive categorisation (103). Septimus recognises this classificatory urge in Holmes and Bradshaw, describing his doctors as men who differed in their verdicts (for Holmes said one thing, Bradshaw another), yet judges they were; who saw nothing clear, yet ruled, yet inflicted (159). However, if Holmes and Bradshaw represent the drive to fix and classify, the narrative as a whole complicates the progress towards definitive categorisation. Following Septimus over the course of the day and making the reader privy to both his visionary revelations and his commonsense remarks on the upkeep of motorcars and fashions in womens hats, the narrator suggests the error of reducing Septimus to a diagnosis. Championing observation, the narrative resists the urge to classify. The search for an alternative to classification is a matter of importance to Woolf in A Room of Ones Own as well, for she is simultaneously convinced of the need to record the unknown lives of women and wary of the effects of taxonomic description on ones subject. Woolf observes that as a result of their exclusion from public institutions and their neglect by conventional histories, women remain even at this moment almost unclassified: There is no mark on the wall to measure the precise height of women. There are no yard measures, neatly divided into the fractions of an inch, that one can lay against [their] qualities (AROO 111). This lack of a recorded identity is an indication of womens marginalisation within patriarchal society; however, it is also a source of freedom, as is suggested by the resistance to categorisation evident in the narrators invitation, call me Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael or by any name you please it is not a matter of any importance (5). The unclassified nature of


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

women suggests both the value and the challenge of the task facing the modern woman writer as she seeks to record the lives of women without reducing them to fixed types. Casting Mary Carmichael, the representative of the modern woman writer, in the role of an explorer who may light a torch in that vast chamber where nobody has yet been and reveal the infinitely obscure lives of women, Woolf initially seems to suggest an uncomfortably close resemblance between the female novelist and the taxonomising professor with a measuring rod up his sleeve (109, 116, 139). Like Professor X, Mary Carmichael will find herself confronted with an unknown creature, an organism that has been under the shadow of the rock these million years, and Woolf warns that Carmichael will be tempted to become, what I think the less interesting branch of the species the naturalist-novelist concerned merely to classify the human specimens appearing before her (110, 115). If, in seeking to record the obscure lives of these unknown organisms, the modern woman writer does no more than tabulate distinctions and locate her subjects within the existing social hierarchy, she will succeed only in perpetuating the taxonomic perspective of the patriarchal tradition that preceded her. Yet Woolf s scientific analogies also suggest the hope that a new method of writing is possible. Despite the superficial resemblance to the measuring-rod-bearing professor displayed by Woolf s imagined explorer-novelist, Mary Carmichaels methods differ from those of the taxonomist. She seeks not to measure and classify her female specimen but rather to note what happens when this organism feels the light fall on it, and sees coming her way a piece of strange food knowledge, adventure, art, what happens when she reaches out for it and has to devise some entirely new combination of her resources, so highly developed for other purposes, so as to absorb the new into the old without disturbing the infinitely intricate and elaborate balance of the whole (11011). Mary Carmichaels approach to her subject recalls the observation of an organisms responses to environmental stimuli. In contrast to the taxonomising professor, pinning his subjects with his pen, Woolf s imagined female novelist must endeavour to catch unrecorded

Literary experimentation and scientific analogy


gestures unsaid or half-said words, to observe, in other words, the behaviour of her living subject (110). A change of method has occurred, a shift from the technique of the taxonomist intent upon the capture and classification of specimens to that of the ethologist concerned with observing the functioning of a living organism in interaction with its environment. Woolfs narrator adopts such an approach herself in her description of Mary Carmichael. She presents Mary Carmichael as an organism possessed of a sensibility that responded to an almost imperceptible touch on it. It feasted like a plant newly stood in the air on every sight and sound that came its way. It ranged, too, very subtly and curiously, among almost unknown or unrecorded things; it lighted on small things and showed that perhaps they were not small after all (121). The narrator describes Mary Carmichaels engagement with her subject in terms of a plant or animals responses to new surroundings and stimuli. Observed in this way, Mary Carmichael appears a representative of the female novelist in the process of adapting to new roles and conditions and thus evolving: already possessed of natural advantages of a high order, advantages which women of far greater gift lacked even half a century ago, she will be a poet, Woolf predicts, in another hundred years time (121, 120, 123). Whereas under a taxonomic system of literary criticism, Mary Carmichael, like Mrs Eliza Haywood in A Scribbling Dame, would have been accorded a fixed place within a hierarchy of literary merit, from an ethological perspective, the female author appears an animate and responsive creature, capable of adaptation and evolution. Just as Professor X and Mary Carmichael represent opposing approaches to the writing of ones subject, Susan and Bernard in The Waves exemplify contrasting approaches to life and language. Susan is cast in the role of the collector. She is a collector in a literal sense, proud of [her] shells; [her] eggs; [her] curious grasses ; but, in a more figurative sense, she also regards her entire life as a process of collection (TW 389). She confesses to an urge to gather and preserve, and Bernard confirms this, noting her perpetual desire to possess one single thing (it is Louis now) (10). She treats even her own emotions as specimens to be scrutinised and classified: hurt by the sight of


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

Jinny kissing Louis, she declares, I will wrap my agony inside my pocket-handkerchief I will take my anguish and lay it upon the roots under the beech trees. I will examine it and take it between my fingers (8). As a young girl, she collected the imperfect specimens of schooldays mutilated by routine, crippled days, like moths with shrivelled wings unable to fly; as a mother, she collects under her jealous eyes at one long table her own children (389, 147). Her accumulated experiences taken together form a laboriously gathered, relentlessly pressed down life (146). She is equally intent upon arriving at definitive classifications and attempts to impose a certain identity upon things through language, asserting, I see the beetle It is black, I see; it is green, I see. I am tied down with single words (10). She will not tolerate ambiguity, quenching the silvergrey flickering moth-wing quiver of words with the green spurt of [her] clear eyes (165). Bernards approach to language is also presented in terms of a relationship with nature and suggests a different conception of words. For Bernard, words live: he declares, They flick their tails right and left as I speak them They wag their tails; they flick their tails; they move through the air in flocks, now this way, now that way, moving all together, now dividing, now coming together (14). Where Susans language restricts and fixes, Bernard conceives of words, moving darkly, having the power to break this knot of hardness, screwed in [Susans] pocket-handkerchief and to do away with rigid classifications, so that we melt into each other with phrases (10). While Susan assembles her memories of dead schooldays in order to revenge herself against the discipline imposed upon her, seeking to cover it over, to bury it deep, this school that I have hated, Bernard buries ideas so that they might grow: bury it, bury it, let it breed, hidden in the depths of my mind some day to fructify (29, 45, 119). Susan recognises the difference between Bernards use of language and her own, noting that, while she is tied down with single words, Bernard uses language to wander off; slip away; rise up higher, with words and words in phrases (10). While Susans use of language results in entrapment, Bernards permits escape.

Literary experimentation and scientific analogy


This does not mean that Bernard is not tempted by the thought of language as a system productive of certain meaning. In fact, he adopts this as his conscious ideal. He muses,
When I am grown up, I shall carry a notebook a fat book with many pages, methodically lettered. I shall enter my phrases. Under B shall come Butterfly powder. If in my novel I describe the sun on the window-sill, I shall look under B and find butterfly powder. That will be useful. (26)

Repeatedly in her writing, Woolf uses the analogy of alphabetising to suggest a superficial or reductive treatment of ones subject. She ridicules the platitudinous Hugh Whitbread, drafting sentiments in alphabetical order of the highest nobility in his letters to The Times (MD 119). She is similarly dismissive of Mr Ramsays rigidly linear attempts to advance from Q to R in his philosophical musings, and, as will soon be seen, in Craftsmanship she warns that words die when confined to dictionaries (CE ii: 249). Bernards systematic tabulation of imagery appears equally ludicrous, and the phrase butterfly powder (which recalls Bernards criticism of the destructive effect of religious dogmatism) itself suggests the deadening and reductive effect of his alphabetisation of ideas. Significantly, however, despite his declared determination to pursue this cataloguing of phrases, he laments, [A]las! I am so soon distracted by a hair like twisted candy, by Celias Prayer Book, ivory covered Soon I fail (TW 26). He regards it as a sign of his ineffectualness that though he has filled innumerable notebooks with phrases to be used when [he] found the true story, the one true story, to which all these phrases refer, he has been always distracted, whether by a cat or by a bee buzzing round the bouquet Lady Hampden keeps so diligently pressed to her nose (143). Although his inability to master his proposed systematic method and compose the one true story leads him to dispassionate despair, Bernards distraction from his cataloguing of phrases by glimpses of life can be read as an indictment of his chosen method more than of his competence as a writer (219). Bernards ideal of writing the one true story in which all his systematically recorded phrases will find their proper place, and his disappointment at his inability to complete this task, obscure the value


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

of the inconclusive, provisional tales that he tells in the meantime. Others reactions to Bernards two modes of composition suggest the varying success of his methods. Neville condemns Bernards attempts at systematic narrative with the remark, We are all phrases in Bernards story, things he writes down in his notebook under A or under B. He tells our story with extraordinary understanding, except what we most feel (51). Nevilles response stresses the reductiveness of Bernards systematic method. Yet Neville is not always dismissive of Bernards narrative efforts. As a boy listening to Bernards rambling stories, he observes, Up they bubble images. Like a camel, a vulture. The camel is a vulture; the vulture a camel [W]hen he talks, when he makes his foolish comparisons, a lightness comes over one. One floats, too, as if one were that bubble; one is freed; I have escaped, one feels (27). It is when Bernard does not attempt to reduce the workings of his imagination to an orderly table that his stories transcend fixity and communicate with his audience. In the systematic approach based on the attempt to arrange ideas into a single, fixed order that is the one true story the escape of life is a sign of failure. However, in Bernards own instinctive style of storytelling, escape indicates success. Through Bernards failure to write the one true story, Woolf implies not Bernards imaginative inadequacy but rather the limitations of his conceived project, and Bernards self-perceived failures suggest another form of success. Attempting to sum up the characters of his friends, he finds that he cannot capture the quality of their living selves in words. Feeling his efforts to encapsulate Louiss character to be unsuccessful, he observes, [L]ook his eyes turn white as he lies in the palm of my hand. Suddenly the sense of what people are leaves one. I return him to the pool where he will acquire lustre (188). Although presented as an indication of his failure, Bernards decision to release his living subject rather than cling to a dead specimen suggests the possibility of an alternative approach to writing. Bernards idealisation of system and his despair at his failure to attain it are not Woolfs. Through Bernards attempts at narration Woolf suggests both the futility of the systematic method and the possibility of an alternative mode of story-telling that Bernard instinctively pursues but does not himself recognise as valuable.

Literary experimentation and scientific analogy


In Craftsmanship, a radio broadcast delivered on 20 April 1937, Woolf again contrasts fictional methods through the use of scientific analogy, juxtaposing taxonomic and observational approaches to words portrayed as living organisms. She criticises the attempt to reduce words to single and fixed meanings, each with an unalterable place within a system, arguing that words are the wildest, freest, most irresponsible, most unteachable of all things. Of course, you can catch them and sort them and place them in alphabetical order in dictionaries. But words do not live in dictionaries (CE ii: 249). Woolf cautions that to use words in this way is to pin them down to one meaning, their useful meaning [a]nd when words are pinned down they fold their wings and die (251). As I noted in the introductory chapter, Sarsfield takes these statements as evidence of Woolfs growing disillusionment with writing: she argues that seeing language as lepidoptera and vice versa, it was perhaps inevitable that [Woolf] should ultimately conclude that when words are pinned down they fold their wings and die. This conclusion is a fatal one for a writer to come to, and may have been literally fatal to Virginia Woolf.8 However, it is not the image of words pinned and dead that dominates Craftsmanship. Woolf does not accept the death of words as an inevitable consequence of the attempt to write, for she contends that while words may be forced against their nature into limited meanings and rigid systems, this is not the only way that they can convey meaning (246). Though words cannot live in dictionaries, they can and do live in the mind (249). Woolf presents words as animate organisms in constant motion and interaction with one another, ranging hither and thither, falling in love and mating together in a shared environment that is the mind of an individual alive in a certain society and a certain time (250). She depicts words as forming a community in an ecological sense, arguing that a word is not a single and separate entity, but part of other words. It is not a word indeed until it is part of a sentence Nor do [words] like being lifted out on the point of a pen and examined separately. They hang together, in sentences, in paragraphs, sometimes for whole pages at a time (24950). She further asserts that it is [words] nature to change and explains this quality in evolutionary


Virginia Woolf and the Study of Nature

terms, commenting, [T]hey mean one thing to one person, another thing to another person; they are unintelligible to one generation, plain as a pikestaff to the next. And it is because of this complexity that they survive (251). Woolf argues that words adapt to their environment and, in doing so, reflect the mind and society that they inhabit. Their capacity for adaptation ensures both their own survival and their ability to represent accurately the conditions of the time, place, and consciousness in which they exist, so that they survive, so that they create beauty, so that they tell the truth (249). If this is the nature of words, Woolf suggests, then writing is not a process of capturing, classifying, and arranging words for display but rather one of observing and recording the behaviour of words. She depicts the writer as a witness to the interactions of living language, peer[ing] at [words] over the edge of that deep, dark and fitfully illuminated cavern in which they live the mind, and observing the ways in which words come together in those swift marriages which are perfect images and create everlasting beauty (250, 251). Viewed in this way, composition becomes a matter of recording the actions of words under the influence of environmental stimuli, the relationships that words form, and the offspring that their unions produce. Woolf concludes her talk with the admission that nothing of that sort is going to happen tonight. The little wretches are out of temper; disobliging; dumb; however, this too is an indication of a new relationship with words: she does not assume a position of authority or ownership over them or regard them as amenable to her arrangement (251). She presents herself as a witness to the life processes and behaviour of living language rather than as a collector and organiser of words viewed as inanimate specimens. In Craftsmanship, Woolf draws upon a wide range of disciplines within the life sciences, invoking evolutionary theory, ecological principles, and the observation of behaviour in order to suggest alternatives to the taxonomic approach to words and the writing process. Woolfs modernist reconsideration of the ways in which life could best be represented in fiction coincided with a shift in approaches to the study of nature. Woolf was aware of the changes occurring in the life sciences, and from both past and emerging scientific methods

Literary experimentation and scientific analogy


she drew analogies for the description of life in fiction. Through the analogies of specimen collection and classification she critiqued the restrictiveness and reductiveness of the conventions of the dominant literary tradition, while through the analogies of ethology, ecology, and the protection movement she suggested the possibility of alternative means of seeing and recording life. Woolfs belief that the momentary glimpse of a life in motion constitutes the manner of our seeing found fitting expression through imagery drawn from sciences focused on the study of living organisms in action in their own environment ( JR 96). Reading Woolfs representations of nature and its study with modern developments in the life sciences as a frame of reference reveals the complexity and coherence of her use of imagery taken from the study of nature. Woolf drew upon the scientific understanding of nature to enhance the particularity and power of her own representations of the natural world, but her engagement with the life sciences was not limited to a sampling of biological facts. She was alert to the disciplinary disputes that divided practitioners of the life sciences and conscious of the shifts in focus and approach that altered the study of nature during her lifetime. These tensions and trends provided her with analogies through which to juxtapose contrasting approaches to the representation of life in fiction and metaphors with which to describe the shifts in method and objective that characterised literary modernism. Woolfs engagement with the life sciences allowed her to address questions of perception and description that were fundamental to both the scientific study of nature and the representation of life in fiction, and by returning again and again to analogies drawn from the study of nature to express ideas central to her own literary project, she asserted the continuity between early twentieth-century developments across the arts and sciences.


I n t r o d u c t io n
1. Hudson, Birds and Man, p. 11. 2. Ibid., p. 30. 3. Following the example of historians of science such as Peter J. Bowler and Iwan Rhys Morus, I use the term life sciences when referring collectively to nineteenth- and twentieth-century approaches to the study of living organisms. The term biology came into use only gradually in Britain in the nineteenth century and was often employed in this period by practitioners of science such as T. H. Huxley to distinguish the new sciences of the laboratory from the older natural history tradition (Bowler and Morus, The New Biology, pp. 165, 166). 4. Allen, Naturalist in Britain, p. 176. 5. Beer, Virginia Woolf: The Common Ground, pp. 3, 112. 6. Fleishman, Virginia Woolf: A Critical Reading, p. 8; Robinson, Netting Moths and Butterflies, p. 141; Sarsfield, Insect World, p. 2. Other scholars such as Bruce E. Fleming and Wendy B. Faris also construct arguments in a broadly symbolic vein. 7. Froula, Out of the Chrysalis: 656. 8. Ibid.: 87. 9. Richter, Hunting the Moth, pp. 13, 15, 27. 10. Ibid., p. 16. 11. Robinson, Netting Moths and Butterflies, pp. iv, 155. 12. Sarsfield, Insect World, p. 245. 13. Ibid., p. 216. 14. Howarth, Some Principles, p. 69; Love, Practical Ecocriticism, p. 39. 15. Ibid., p. 11. 16. Donovan, Ecofeminist Literary Criticism, p. 76; Scott, Virginia Woolf, Ecofeminism, p. 108; Westling, Virginia Woolf and the Flesh of the World: 857. 192

Notes to pages 918


17. For more extensive discussions of these scenes, see Bryson, Modernism and Ecological Criticism, and Westling, Virginia Woolf and the Flesh of the World. 18. Sultzbach, Fertile Potential, pp. 71, 75. 19. Waller, Writing the Real: 154; Charlotte Zo Walker, Letting in the Sky, p. 172. 20. Stopes, Botany, p. 50; Wells, Huxley, and Wells, Science of Life, p. 578. 21. Westling, Virginia Woolf and the Flesh of the World: 855, 856, 857. 22. Blyth, Woolf, Rooks, and Rural England; Espley, Woolf and the Others; Herbert, Skye or St Ives. 23. Gillispie, Science and Polity, p. 653. 24. Desmond, Huxley, Thomas Henry, p. 103; Paul White, Thomas Huxley, pp. 51, 556. 25. Albright, Quantum Poetics, p. 9.

C h a p t e r 1: T h e n a t u r a l h i s t o r y t r a d i t io n
1. Allen, Naturalist in Britain, p. 123. 2. The low opinion of taxonomic work persisted for much of the twentieth century. Taxonomy continued to be practised, for the job of classifying the earths species was far from over, but it was widely regarded as subordinate to more modern disciplines. However, with the growing concern over the conservation of biodiversity, taxonomys reputation has recovered somewhat, for without the ability to identify threatened species there is no hope of protecting them. While taxonomy will never regain the dominant position that it once occupied in the life sciences, it has acquired new importance in the contemporary scientific context, and this shift in status is reflected in literature: recent novels such as A. S. Byatts The Biographers Tale and Martin Daviess The Conjurors Bird discuss the necessity of taxonomic work in the face of the extinction of species. 3. Lindroth, Two Faces of Linnaeus, pp. 25, 26. 4. Chatfield, Introduction to White, Selborne, p. 8. 5. Gilbert White, Selborne, pp. 121, 48. 6. Ibid., pp. 118, 48. 7. Ibid., p. 192. 8. Nicholson, Birds in England, pp. 175, 172. 9. Armstrong, Parson-Naturalist, p. 2. 10. Barber, Heyday of Natural History, p. 43. 11. Ibid., p. 44. 12. Oliver, Arthur Henfrey, p. 193.


Notes to pages 1824

13. Barber, Heyday of Natural History; Salmon, Aurelian Legacy, p. 37; Rupke, Richard Owen, p. 14; Armstrong, Parson-Naturalist, p. 3. 14. Barber, Heyday of Natural History, p. 65. 15. Willinsky, Learning to Divide the World, p. 34. 16. Mearns and Mearns, Bird Collectors, p. 73. 17. Ibid., p. 43. 18. Farber, Development of Taxidermy: 565. 19. Mearns and Mearns, Bird Collectors, p. 79. 20. Lubbock, Objects of a Collection: 115. 21. Oliver, Arthur Henfrey, pp. 2023. 22. Knight, Age of Science, p. 16. 23. Ibid. 24. France in both the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods was at the forefront of developments in comparative biology; by mid-century, the German universities had taken the lead in the development of the new biology of the laboratory while also participating in the struggle for the liberalisation and unification of the German states. 25. Knight, Age of Science, p. 59. 26. Armstrong, Parson-Naturalist, p. 4. 27. Knight, Age of Science, p. 37. 28. Paley, Natural Theology, p. 542. 29. Barber, Heyday of Natural History, p. 25. 30. Bowler and Morus, The New Biology, p. 183. 31. Paul White, Thomas Huxley, p. 33. 32. Annan, Leslie Stephen: The Godless Victorian, p. 36. 33. Cardwell, Organisation of Science, p. 64. 34. Barber, Heyday of Natural History, p. 165. 35. Knight, Age of Science, p. 100. 36. Bowler and Morus, The New Biology, p. 176. 37. Knight, Age of Science, p. 9. 38. Barber, Heyday of Natural History, p. 67. 39. Fara, Sex, Botany and Empire, p. 12. 40. William Withering quoted in Fara, Sex, Botany and Empire, p. 42. 41. Fara, Sex, Botany and Empire, p. 42. 42. Fara states, The term Macaroni was originally coined to denigrate the aristocratic youths who had acquired continental manners during their Grand Tour to Italy, but it became a more general term of abuse for deriding foppish young gentlemen (Fara, Sex, Botany and Empire, p. 9). 43. Ibid., pp. 911, 1415; Charles Kingsley, Glaucus, pp. 67. 44. Charles Kingsley, Glaucus, pp. 14. 45. Fitton, Fitton, and Marcet, Conversations on Botany, p. 2.

Notes to pages 2432

46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58. 59. 60. 61. 62. 63. 64.


65. 66. 67. 68. 69.


Stainton, Address: 10. Barber, Heyday of Natural History, p. 16. Epigraph to Drummond, Letters to a Young Naturalist. Annan, Intellectual Aristocracy, pp. 251, 249. Armstrong, Parson-Naturalist, p. 174. J. C. Loudon quoted in Barber, Heyday of Natural History, p. 18. Chamberss Edinburgh Journal quoted in Barber, Heyday of Natural History, p. 33. Hugh Miller, Old Red Sandstone, p. 2. Gaskell, Mary Barton, p. 45. Richardson, Life Sciences, p. 6. Secord, Artisan Botany, p. 381. Ibid., p. 392. Allen, Naturalist in Britain, p. 124. Ibid., p. 123. Armstrong, Parson-Naturalist, p. 98. Moss, Bird in the Bush, p. 68. Allen, Naturalist in Britain, p. 123. Barber, Heyday of Natural History, p. 286. Philip Henry Gosse, Romance of Natural History, p. vi. Edmund Gosse would later judge it very curious that a man should write a long series of popular books, and should add in many directions to the sum of exact knowledge, and at the same time have so little in common with his contemporaries as my father had (Edmund Gosse, Philip Henry Gosse, pp. viiviii). This seeming paradox lies at the heart of an understanding of the nineteenth-century life sciences, for Philip Henry Gosses retrospectively perceived backwardness in fact made him all the more representative of the element of stagnation in the nineteenth-century natural history tradition. Barber, Heyday of Natural History, p. 72. Allen, Naturalist in Britain, p. 123. Barber, Heyday of Natural History: pp. 712. Lubbock, Objects of a Collection: 115. Edmund Gosses Father and Son offers a similar critique of the links between a pious Victorian upbringing and the pursuit of natural history. While Gosse presents evolutionary theory as a force opposed to religion, he depicts taxonomic natural history guided by natural theology as a conservative influence. For a discussion of the contributions to natural history made by members of the nineteenth-century intellectual aristocracy, see Allen, Naturalist in Britain, pp. 7982.


Notes to pages 3240

71. In Sketch of the Past, Woolf writes of Morriss Butterflies and Moths, a reference that conflates Morriss A History of British Butterflies (18523) and his four-volume A Natural History of British Moths (185970) (MOB 113). It is therefore unclear which work or works by Morris the Stephen children received. 72. Allen, Naturalist in Britain, p. 69. 73. F. O. Morris, British Butterflies, pp. iii, iv. 74. M. C. F. Morris, Francis Orpen Morris, pp. 91, 100. 75. Mullens and Swann, Bibliography of British Ornithology, p. 416. 76. Armstrong, Parson-Naturalist, p. 75. 77. M. C. F. Morris, Francis Orpen Morris, pp. 989. 78. F. O. Morris, Correspondence: 147. 79. Allen, Naturalist in Britain, pp. 132, 133. 80. F. O. Morris, New System of Nomenclature: 122; One or Two Criticisms: 150; For Many Years Past: 367. 81. F. O. Morris, Remarks: 2623; For Many Years Past: 3678. 82. F. O. Morris, Notice of the Discovery: 88. 83. F. O. Morris, British Butterflies, p. 2. 84. Ibid., p. 128. 85. Judy Larrick Robinson devotes a chapter of her thesis, Netting Moths and Butterflies in Virginia Woolf, to F. O. Morris, analysing the style of his natural histories of butterflies and moths and offering a detailed summary of the collection methods that he recommends. 86. See other nineteenth-century guides such as The Book of Butterflies, Sphinges, and Moths by Thomas Brown or The Butterfly Book by W. J. Holland for comparison. 87. Allen, Naturalist in Britain, p. 160; M. C. F. Morris, Francis Orpen Morris, p. 217. 88. F. O. Morris, British Moths, p. xiv. 89. M. C. F. Morris, Francis Orpen Morris, p. 71. 90. Annan, Leslie Stephen: The Godless Victorian; Beer, Virginia Woolf: The Common Ground, p. 13.

C h a pt e r 2: T h e mode r n lif e sciences

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. Ritvo, Ordering Creation, pp. 556. Bower, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, p. 316. Moore, Post-Darwinian Controversies, p. 195. Knight, Age of Science, p. 103. Ibid. Mearns and Mearns, Bird Collectors, p. 317.

Notes to pages 4048


7. Julian Huxley, Evolution, p. 22. 8. Ibid., p. 23. 9. Ibid., p. 24. In fact, as would later be recognised, mutations could be of any extent, and Mendels laws of heredity therefore applied to apparently continuous as well as obviously discontinuous variation (ibid., p. 25). 10. Wells, Ann Veronica, pp. 287, 134, and see also pp. 2845; Olby, Huxleys Place, p. 55. 11. Olby, Huxleys Place, pp. 58, 57. 12. Desmond, Huxley, Thomas Henry, p. 103. 13. Paul White, Thomas Huxley, p. 42. 14. Rupke, Richard Owen, p. 13; Paul White, Thomas Huxley, p. 56. 15. Gillispie, Science and Polity, p. 656. See also Bowler and Morus, The New Biology, p. 168. 16. Stearn, Natural History Museum, p. 31. 17. Paul White, Thomas Huxley, pp. 656. 18. Bower, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, p. 308. 19. Oliver, Transactions, pp. 733, 738, 733, 735. 20. T. H. Huxley, Autobiography, p. 7. 21. Allen, Naturalist in Britain, p. 165. 22. Desmond, Huxley, Thomas Henry, p. 106. 23. T. H. Huxley, Elementary Instruction, p. x. 24. Allen, Naturalist in Britain, p. 165. 25. T. H. Huxley, Elementary Instruction, p. xi. 26. Bower, Sixty Years of Botany, p. 102. 27. Ibid. 28. Oliver, Transactions, p. 735. 29. Lindroth, Two Faces of Linnaeus, p. 26. 30. Wells, Ann Veronica, p. 11. 31. Ibid., pp. 21, 13. 32. Ibid., p. 29. 33. Ibid., p. 37. 34. Mearns and Mearns, Bird Collectors, p. 12. 35. Armstrong, Parson-Naturalist, p. 10. 36. Turner, All Heaven in a Rage, p. 162. 37. Doughty, Feather Fashions, p. 32. 38. M. C. F. Morris, Francis Orpen Morris, pp. 2545. 39. F. O. Morris quoted in M. C. F. Morris, Francis Orpen Morris, p. 227. 40. See, for example, the London Anti-Vivisection Societys Who Are the Ultimate Victims? 41. M. C. F. Morris, Francis Orpen Morris, p. 222.


Notes to pages 4856

42. Rupke, Pro-Vivisection in England, pp. 1989. 43. Nicholson, Birds in England, pp. 195, 203. 44. Ibid., p. 196. Hudsons legacy as a protectionist is sometimes disputed. Moss describes Hudson as an example of the outdated anthropocentric Victorian approach to protection and declares that by the 1950s his particular brand of sentimentality and spirituality had gone out of fashion (Moss, Bird in the Bush, pp. 129, 85). This disparity in assessments of Hudson suggests that he was a transitional figure, viewed by his contemporaries and immediate successors as having revolutionised attitudes towards nature but judged by later generations as having not gone far enough. 45. Mearns and Mearns, Bird Collectors, p. 373. 46. Nicholson, Birds in England, p. 247. 47. Moss, Bird in the Bush, p. 137. 48. Nicholson, Birds in England, pp. xixii; Squire, Introduction to Lure of Bird Watching, p. 14. 49. Pearce, On Collecting, p. 6. 50. Freud quoted in Pearce, Museums, Objects, and Collections, p. 74; Abraham, Selected Papers, p. 67. 51. E. Jones quoted in Pearce, On Collecting, p. 7. 52. Pearce, On Collecting, p. 8. 53. Allen, Naturalist in Britain, p. 170. 54. Nicholson, Birds in England, pp. 2589. 55. Beirne, Fluctuations: 8. 56. Allen, Naturalist in Britain, p. 222. 57. Ibid., p. 217. 58. Ibid., pp. 2078; Mearns and Mearns, Bird Collectors, p. 7. 59. Allen, Naturalist in Britain, p. 211. 60. Mearns and Mearns, Bird Collectors, p. 28. 61. Moss, Bird in the Bush, p. 130. 62. Nicholson, How Birds Live, p. v. 63. Salmon, Aurelian Legacy, p. 370. 64. Legros, Fabre, p. 14. 65. Ibid., p. 270. 66. Ibid., p. 328. 67. Burstein, Waspish Segments: 157. 68. Nicholson, Art of Bird-Watching, p. 6. 69. Hudson, Naturalist in La Plata, p. v. 70. Ibid., pp. 5, v. 71. Hudson, Book of a Naturalist, p. 150. 72. Moss, History of Birding: 25; Allen, Naturalist in Britain, p. 215.

Notes to pages 5763

73. 74. 75. 76. 77. 78.


79. 80. 81. 82. 83.

84. 85. 86. 87. 88. 89. 90.

91. 92. 93. 94. 95. 96. 97. 98. 99. 100.

Wells, Huxley, and Wells, Science of Life, p. 3. Ibid., p. 14. Ibid. Ibid., pp. 737, 876. New Natural History: 206. These are just a few of the subjects covered by Thomson in his articles for the New Statesman (A Peculiar People; Concerning Puffins; The Homing of Sea-Swallows; The Passionate Pigeon; Sensitive Plants; By the Light of the Moon; Sea-Horses). Nicholson, Shearwaters; The Great Crested Grebe; Bird-Roosts; Bird-Marking Discoveries. Julian Huxley, Bird-Watching, pp. 43, 61, 83, 101. Ibid., p. 3. Ibid., p. 7. Field and Smith, Secrets of Nature, p. 139. The response to nature shorts was not always so enthusiastic: Jean Painlev, a French naturedocumentary film-maker who produced many such shorts for the cinema, noted that among some groups of moviegoers it became fashionable to arrive late and skip the documentary altogether (Painlev, Castration of the Documentary, p. 149). Laura Marcus, Tenth Muse, p. 4. Field and Smith, Secrets of Nature, p. 27. Ibid., p. 21; Julian Huxley, Secrets of Nature: 120. Field and Smith, Secrets of Nature, pp. 2367. Humm, Modernist Women, p. 75. Laura Marcus, Tenth Muse, pp. 100, 266. Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, p. 7. As Wells, Huxley, and Wells explain in The Science of Life, the queen ant controls the sex of her offspring through the selective fertilisation of her eggs, while diet and the length of time allowed prior to pupation determine physical type and thus social role (Wells, Huxley, and Wells, Science of Life, p. 698). Sailer, Methodology of Reading Finnegans Wake: 196. Nicholson, Birds in England, p. 159. Worster, Natures Economy, pp. 192, 198. Ibid., p. 205. Stopes, Botany, p. 50. Thomson, Science, Old and New, p. v. Nicholson, How Birds Live, pp. 1, 3. Allen, Naturalist in Britain, p. 235. Elton, Animal Ecology, p. 34. White quoted in Elton, Animal Ecology, p. 1.


Notes to pages 6477

101. Tansley, review of Animal Ecology: 168; Anker, Imperial Ecology, p. 31. 102. To ensure its accuracy, the chapter on ecology, which was written by Huxley, was scrutinized in its entirety by Elton before it was edited to fit the science-for-all style by Wells (Anker, Imperial Ecology, p. 112). 103. Wells, Huxley, and Wells, Science of Life, p. 583. 104. Elton, Exploring the Animal World, p. 19. 105. Ibid., p. 27. 106. Worster, Natures Economy, p. 299. 107. Hagen, Entangled Bank, p. 62. 108. Elton, Animal Ecology, p. 52. 109. Julian Huxley, Editors Introduction to Animal Ecology, pp. xiv, xv. 110. Elton, Exploring the Animal World, pp. 1314. 111. Ibid., p. 13. 112. Wells, Huxley, and Wells, Science of Life, p. 616. 113. Ibid., p. 880. 114. Anker, Imperial Ecology, p. 111. 115. Wells, Men Like Gods, pp. 913. 116. Anker, Imperial Ecology, p. 7. 117. Tansley quoted in Anker, Imperial Ecology, p. 80. 118. Blackman et al., Reconstruction: 243. 119. Crowcroft, Eltons Ecologists, pp. 5, 10. 120. Ibid., pp. 13, 16. 121. Ibid., p. 28. 122. Anker, Imperial Ecology, p. 4. 123. Ibid., p. 110. 124. Allen, Naturalist in Britain, p. 219. 125. Ibid. 126. Lens, Fratricide Biology: 556, 557. 127. Allen, Naturalist in Britain, p. 229. 128. Blyth, Woolf, Rooks, and Rural England, p. 84. 129. Ibid., p. 83. 130. Ibid.

C h a p t e r 3: T o p i n t h r o u g h t h e b o dy with a na me
1. 2. 3. 4. Lee, Virginia Woolf, p. 31. Stainton, Address: 10. Bell, Virginia Woolf: A Biography, vol. II, p. 129. Writing in 1899, Virginia rejected White as a stylistic model. In the 1930s, however, she would reread The Natural History of Selborne and, viewing

Notes to pages 7989


5. 6.

7. 8.


10. 11. 12.

13. 14. 15. 16. 17.

his work in the light of twentieth-century developments in the observation of living nature, emulate his approach to nature in her description of him. See Chapter 4. Phillips, Virginia Woolf against Empire, pp. 155, 154. Other accounts of turn-of-the-century public school life confirm this impression of cricket, the drill, and the Natural History Society as cornerstones of conventional schoolboy existence. See Kipling, The Complete Stalky & Co. Phillips, Virginia Woolf against Empire, p. 161. Popular entomology manuals such as Morriss do not overtly encourage brutality. They recommend killing insects as instantaneously as possible, both for reasons of humanity (although they consistently maintain that insects are incapable of feeling pain) and because a live, struggling insect would do damage to itself that would render it useless as a cabinet specimen. Nevertheless, the means recommended to despatch specimens driving red-hot needles through the thorax; immersing the insect, contained in a stifling box, in boiling water had every appearance of cruelty (Allen, Naturalist in Britain, pp. 13031). Taxonomic natural history also reinforced gender boundaries in the sense that the principles on which the taxonomic system was based transposed the human gender hierarchy on to nature. Londa Schiebinger observes that Linnaean taxonomy import[ed] traditional notions about sexual hierarchy into science and then employed these as evidence that the existing cultural order was a natural one (Schiebinger, Natures Body, p. 13). Beer, Virginia Woolf: The Common Ground, p. 8. Allen, Naturalist in Britain, p. 89. Gillian Naylor explores the latter idea in Modernism and Memory: Leaving Traces. Through a study of the personalised items that furnished an early twentieth-century family home designed on Corbusian lines and intended to be unencumbered by sentiment-objects, she suggests that while the icons of Modernism were designed to defy memory and deny the past, this was a resolution difficult to live by (Naylor, Modernism and Memory, pp. 92, 91). Mao, Solid Objects, p. 22; Baudrillard, System of Objects, p. 93. Baudrillard, System of Objects, p. 93. Ibid., p. 92. Ibid., pp. 967. Ibid., p. 114. Elsewhere, too, Woolf presents the urge to collect and classify as detrimental to human relationships: in The Mark on the Wall, Woolf tells the story of a retired colonel who has a passion for antiquities, who digs up bones and names them, and whose dying thoughts are not of

18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23.

Notes to pages 89102

wife or child, but of the camp and that arrowhead there, which is now in the case at the local museum (CSF 81). Mao, Solid Objects, p. 78. Ibid., pp. 78, 26. Ibid., pp. 78, 26, 27. The debate over the Elgin Marbles began long before this. See, for example, Byron, The Curse of Minerva. Forster, For the Museums Sake, p. 322. Woolf does not always present gardens as places of order and control. In Mrs Dalloway, for example, she presents the garden as a place of escape from the conventions governing life indoors, rose-bushes and giant cauliflowers providing a space where one can think and speak freely (MD 83). However, she remains conscious that the cultivation of gardens involves the imposition of human order upon the natural world, and, as is vividly illustrated in the Time Passes section of To the Lighthouse, she questions the permanence of this order. For further discussion of Woolfs views on gardens, see Hancock, Gardens, and Sparks, Accounting for the Garden. For a history of seaside aquaria, see Pearson, The Peoples Palaces. Baudrillard, System of Objects, p. 94. Ibid. Froula, Out of the Chrysalis: 86; Richter, Hunting the Moth, p. 15. Phillips, Virginia Woolf against Empire, p. 129. In Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid, Woolf similarly describes war and its effects on human beings through images of insects and their capture: fighter planes resemble little silver insect[s] and drone like hornets overhead, while those waiting in dread below lie as if [a] nail fixed the whole being to one hard board (CE IV: 176). Phillips, Virginia Woolf against Empire, pp. 1289. Ibid., p. 125. Mullens and Swann, A Bibliography, p. 416. Robinson, Netting Moths and Butterflies, p. 89. F. O. Morris, British Butterflies, pp. 7980. Linnaeus quoted in Foucault, Order of Things, pp. 1734. Willinsky, Learning to Divide the World, p. 35. Bowlby, Feminist Destinations, p. 90. Robinson, Netting Moths and Butterflies, p. 75. Robinson similarly regards Jacobs habit of disappearing in pursuit of butterflies as evidence of his rebellious independence (ibid.). Other critics, however, challenge the idea that Jacob is an exceptional young man. Phillips asserts that Jacob manages no intense individual sensibility but only a muddled

24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29.

30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38.

Notes to pages 104119


acquiescence to the norm, and Bowlby confirms Jacobs typicality with the argument that the great man that Jacob is predicted to become is among the most stereotypical of characters, being given due weight or gravity by being shown to resemble, rather than to differ from, every other: his greatness is a function of his lifes proceeding not exceptionally or idiosyncratically, but along well-known, recognizable lines (Phillips, Virginia Woolf against Empire, p. 122; Bowlby, Feminist Destinations, p. 88). Jacobs rebellious gestures only confirm his typicality. 39. Phillips, Virginia Woolf against Empire, p. 157.

C h a p t e r 4: L a bor atory coats a nd fie ld - gl a sses

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. Jansen, Is Science a Man?: 235. Beer, Virginia Woolf: The Common Ground, p. 19. Ibid., p. 19. Ibid., pp. 27, 20. Ibid., p. 13. Lambert, And Darwin Says: 1. Ibid. Carmichael was Stopess mothers maiden name. For the sake of clarity, I shall refer to my subject as Marie Stopes throughout this discussion, even when speaking of her in her capacity as a pseudonymic novelist. Snaith, A Room of Ones Own. Jane Marcus, Virginia Woolf and the Languages of Patriarchy, p. 175; Rusk, Life Writing, p. 25. Marcus later gives a more accurate account of the plot of Stopess novel; nevertheless, her initial statement has demonstrably encouraged misreadings by others. Joannou, Chloe Liked Olivia, p. 207. Ibid., p. 202. Gualtieri, Virginia Woolfs Essays, p. 7. Ibid., p. 71. Hermione Lee argues that Woolfs presentation of Olivia as a married mother constitutes an act of self-censorship, a means of concealing beneath the appearance of conventional heterosexuality the suggestion of a lesbian relationship made more explicit in earlier drafts of A Room of Ones Own (Lee, Virginia Woolf, pp. 5257). However, Woolfs representation of married mothers working as professional scientists was itself a challenge to the status quo, even if it was not the purely Utopian vision that Jane Marcus has claimed it to be (Jane Marcus, Virginia Woolf and the Languages of Patriarchy, p. 176). For a discussion of historical models for

11. 12. 13. 14. 15.


Notes to pages 120144

Chloe and Olivia, see Lesley A. Halls study of early twentieth-century women scientists, Chloe, Olivia, Isabel, Letitia, Harriette, Honor, and Many More. Rose, Evolution of Marie Stopes, p. 13. Allen, Naturalist in Britain, p. 163. Rose, Evolution of Marie Stopes, p. 25. Stopes, Botany, p. 8. Ibid., p. 79. Ibid., p. 80. Ibid., p. 88. Ibid., p. 89. Allen, Naturalist in Britain, p. 162. Mary Kingsley, Travels in West Africa, pp. 2445. McNeillie, Introduction to The Essays, p. xviii. Massingham, A London Diary: 4634. Meta Bradley quoted in Abbott, Birds Dont Sing, p. 277. Abbott, Birds Dont Sing, p. 277. Ormerod, Eleanor Ormerod, p. 54. Ibid., p. 55. Clark, Eleanor Ormerod: 447. Ibid.: 443, 452. Ibid.: 446. Whorton, Insecticide Spray: 227. Ibid.: 2257. Ibid.: 226. Ormerod, Eleanor Ormerod, pp. 2067. Clark, Eleanor Ormerod: 431. Ibid.: 451. Ibid.: 435. Sheffield, Revealing New Worlds, p. 179. Ibid., p. 172. Nicholson, Birds in England, p. 25. Matt. 10.29. J. E. Walker, God Save the Sparrow: 241. For another example of the protectionist arguments employed against Ormerod, see F. O. Morris, The Sparrow Shooter. Nicholson, Birds in England, p. 288. Ibid., p. 304. Ibid., p. 305. Julian Huxley, Editors Introduction to Animal Ecology, p. xiv. Ibid., p. xv.

16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52.

Notes to pages 145158

53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58. 59. 60. 61. 62. 63. 64.


65. 66. 67. 68. 69. 70. 71. 72. 73. 74. 75. 76. 77. 78.

79. 80.

Whorton, Insecticide Spray: 230. Ibid.: 232. Ibid.: 235. Ibid.: 241. Crowcroft, Eltons Ecologists, pp. 19, 289. Elton, Biological Cost: 87, 88. Elton, Ecology of Invasions, pp. 141, 140, 142. Lens, New Entomology: 459. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Animal psychology and the question of the extent to which the behaviour of any organism was governed by instinct or intellect were subjects that occupied early ethologists, and Woolf alludes to this in Night and Day when she includes the psychology of animals among Cassandras interests (ND 385). Bell, Virginia Woolf: A Biography, vol. ii, p. 126. Ibid. Martin, Popular Collecting, p. 29. Bell, Virginia Woolf: A Biography, vol. ii, p. 126. Fabre, Social Life in the Insect World, p. 181. Bell, Virginia Woolf: A Biography, vol. ii, p. 126. Ford, Mightier than the Sword, pp. 723. Pound, Hudson: Poet Strayed into Science, p. 429. Hudson was not equally appreciative of Woolfs writing. For his evaluation of The Voyage Out, see Hudson, 153 Letters from W. H. Hudson, pp. 13031. Allen, Naturalist in Britain, p. 236. Ibid., p. 240. Ibid., p. 236. Lee, Virginia Woolf, p. 117. Allen, Naturalist in Britain, p. 209. In July 1892, the Stephen children note in the Hyde Park Gate News that Julia Stephen has been scattering crumbs for birds, a fact that suggests the familys attentiveness to such trends (HPGN 79). John Jorrocks was the title character of R. S. Surteess popular Victorian hunting stories, collected in Jorrocks Jaunts and Jollities. See, for example, J. Arthur Thomsons The Homing of Sea-Swallows or E. M. Nicholsons Some Recent Bird-Marking Discoveries, both of which appeared in the New Statesman. See also Allen, Naturalist in Britain, p. 213.


Notes to pages 159166

81. In the early twentieth century, the term jizz was coined to refer to the indefinable somewhat of which White writes (Moss, Bird in the Bush, p. 130). 82. Wells, Huxley, and Wells, Science of Life, p. 578. 83. Ibid. 84. Westling, Virginia Woolf and the Flesh of the World: 867. 85. The Outline of History that Lucy reads is not quite that written by H. G. Wells. Gillian Beer suggests that Woolf amalgamates The Outline of History with Wellss A Short History of the World and writes her own version rather than quoting Wells directly (Beer, Virginia Woolf: The Common Ground, p. 21). 86. Wells, Short History, p. 30. 87. Wells, Outline of History, p. 32. 88. Westling, Virginia Woolf and the Flesh of the World: 865. 89. That the fate of a fish may be regarded as symbolic of human fate is suggested elsewhere as well. Giles himself identifies with a fish in the current: he grieves that he was not given his choice. So one thing led to another; and the conglomeration of things pressed you flat, held you fast, like a fish in water (BTA 31). In To the Lighthouse, fishing again appears negatively symbolic. On the long-awaited trip to the lighthouse, as James and Cam reflect on their fathers crass blindness and tyranny, the Macalister boy fishes: he caught a mackerel, and it lay kicking on the floor, with blood on its gills; he took one of the fish and cut a square out of its side to bait his hook with. The mutilated body (it was alive still) was thrown back in the sea (TTL 1834, 195). This wastefulness and indifference to suffering mirror Mr Ramsays selfish absorption and waste of the energy of others. (It is worth noting that such representations did not always offer a just portrait of their subject. In Sketch of the Past, Woolf records Leslie Stephens moral objections to fishing and attributes her own childhood decision to abandon the pastime to his comments on the subject (MOB 139). Yet despite this fact, in a diary entry from 14 May 1925 Woolf states that the centre [of To the Lighthouse] is my fathers character, sitting in a boat, reciting We perished, each alone, while he crushes a dying mackerel (D iii: 1819). Such misrepresentations illustrate that Woolf was not immune from the temptations of over-simplification.) 90. Zwerdling, Between the Acts and the Coming of War: 225; Beer, Introduction to Between the Acts, p. xxvi. 91. The nature documentary Predatory Behavior of Snakes describes the manner in which snakes feed: many [snakes] feed on animals that are larger in diameter than they are. Nevertheless, because they can neither chew up nor dismember their

Notes to pages 167189


food, they must swallow their prey intact By means of alternate movements of the opposite sides of its flexible skull and by alternate movements of the left and right lower jaws, the snake walks its mouth around [its prey]. Longitudinal movements of the jaws disengage and then re-engage the recurved teeth in a ratchet-like motion that forces [the prey] down the snakes throat After [the prey] has been swallowed, it is pushed along the oesophagus and into the stomach by peristaltic movements of the walls of the gut and by undulations of the snakes body. The documentary also notes that those species of snake that do not rely on venom or constriction to kill their prey simply overpower prey by seizing it in their jaws and then swallowing it alive. The prey dies in the snakes stomach. 92. Allen, Naturalist in Britain, p. 229.

C h a p t e r 5: R e p r e s e n t i n g t h e m a n n e r o f o u r s e e i n g
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. Sarsfield, Insect World, pp. 253, 250. Richter, Hunting the Moth, pp. 14, 17, 15. Ibid., p. 13. Woolf makes similar use of the idea of composure in Jacobs Room and The Death of the Moth ( JR 200, 216; CE i: 361). Sarsfield, Insect World, p. 183. I use the term deconstruction not in its Derridean sense but simply as an antonym for construction in a material sense. Lee, Virginia Woolf, p. 8. Sarsfield, Insect World, p. 216.


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Abbott, Reginald 134 sop 60 agriculture 67, 136 Albright, Daniel 13 Allen, David Elliston 3, 27, 35, 85, 155, 195n.70, 201n.8, 205n.80 alphabetisation 187, 189 anatomy, comparative 42 Anker, Peder 67, 68 Annan, Noel 25 ants 5, 29, 367, 60, 94, 199n.90 aquaria 79, 91, 202n.24 Armstrong, Patrick 25, 33 Bacon, Francis 20, 3940 Barber, Lynn 17, 21, 29 Bates, Henry Walter 55 Bateson, William 40 Baudrillard, Jean 87, 889, 91 Beer, Gillian 4, 83, 107, 165, 206n.85 bees 29, 367, 60 beetles 15, 73, 78, 812, 92, 97, 135, 162 behaviour studies: see ethology Beirne, Bryan 52 Bell, Julian 154 Bell, Vanessa 14950 Bewick, Thomas 24 and VW 30 binoculars: see field-glasses biology use of term 192n.3 biology, the new and amateur natural history 46, 489, 52 and Eleanor Ormerod 135 and field studies 53 and H. G. Wells 456, 138

and Marie Stopes 11516, 117, 12022, 123, 138 and the protection movement 489 and VW 3, 10910, 11112, 115, 11920, 126, 127, 138 and W. H. Hudson 56 as creative endeavour 120, 1212 criticism of 67 delay in introduction to Britain 19, 22, 434 modern enthusiasm for 456, 138 rise of 23, 11, 19, 38, 412, 435, 194n.24 birds and F. O. Morris 32, 33 and Gilbert White 17, 15960 and Julian Huxley 56, 58 and Thoby Stephen 155 and W. H. Hudson 1, 1534 as game 12930, 131 as metaphor 178, 1812 as pests 136, 137, 1412 behaviour of 34, 56, 57, 58, 59, 7071, 151, 160 bird ecology 9 bird-ringing 58, 158, 205n.80 collection of 15, 19, 4950, 512, 78, 94 egg-collecting 127, 185 feeding birds 155, 205n.78 migration 58, 73, 158, 159, 166, 205n.80 observation of 2, 30, 7071, 149, 151, 1534, 1558, 15960, 162, 163, 166 protection of 478, 4950, 512, 1324, 1423 taxonomy of 18 bird-watching 11, 53, 56, 58 and Gilbert White 15960


and Thoby Stephen 155 and VW 2, 7071, 149, 1558, 15960, 1812 Blyth, Ian 10, 7071 Bose, J. C. 58 botany and Leslie Stephen 3, 3031 and Marie Stopes 12021 modern 43, 109, 12021 plant ecology 3, 9 taxonomic 23, 43 teaching of 27 VWs childhood practice of 3, 31 VWs depiction of 15, 79, 83, 845, 103, 109, 11011, 1478, 157 Bower, F. O. 43, 44, 58 Bowlby, Rachel 101, 203n.38 Bowler, Peter J. 192n.3 Bradshaw, David 4 British Ecological Society 3, 62 British Ornithologists Union 50 Browne, Thomas 1734 Bryson, J. Scott 193n.17 Bureau of Animal Population 68 Burstein, Jessica 61 butterflies and F. O. Morris 323, 34 VWs childhood study of 3, 31, 32, 36, 73, 74 VWs depiction of 15, 78, 80, 83, 978, 99, 1023, 149, 156, 162, 164 VWs figurative use of 56, 7, 92, 105, 187 Byatt, A. S. 193n.2 Byron, George Gordon, Lord 202n.21
apek, Karel and Josef 60


Cantrell, Carol H. 8

capture as literary method 174, 1767, 1789 see also collection Cardwell, D. S. L. 21 Carmichael, Marie: see Stopes, Marie Carson, Rachel 9, 67 caterpillars 144, 149 Chance, Edgar 59 Chatfield, June E. 16 Childs, Donald J. 4 chrysalis 56, 73, 149 Clapham Sect 25 Clark, J. F. McDiarmid 1368, 140

classification: see taxonomy clergyman-naturalist and VW 76, 1412, 160 F. O. Morris as 323 Gilbert White as 17, 61, 160 nineteenth-century 18, 25, 27 collection and Eleanor Ormerod 135 and F. O. Bower 44 and F. O. Morris 334 and hunting 156 and imperialism 978 and John Lubbock 29 and Marie Stopes 12021, 1223 and militarism 978 and religion 92 and the protection movement 47, 4950 and Vanessa Bell 14950 and W. H. Hudson 1, 49 as literary method 1, 2, 68, 168, 169, 170, 1714, 180, 189, 190 as material basis of taxonomy 16 as obsession 87, 889, 913 as symbol of the Victorian age 857 criticism of 1, 29, 44, 4952, 857, 89, 12021, 1223, 127, 150 nineteenth century as golden age of 1819 psychoanalytic interpretation of 512, 879, 201n.17 techniques 34, 201n.8 VWs childhood engagement with 3, 31, 32, 357, 73, 745, 76, 127 VWs depiction of 15, 78, 83, 84, 859, 913, 94, 968, 1024, 156, 1723, 185, 201n.17 VWs figurative use of 1, 2, 68, 72, 83, 84, 859, 913, 968, 1024, 105, 124, 125, 171, 1723, 185, 202n.29 composure 173, 207n.4 Conrad, Joseph 152 construction as literary method 174, 176, 177, 179 Continental science 19, 20, 22, 43, 612, 194n.24 Coward, T. A. 54 craniology 106 Cuvier, Georges 18, 42

Darwin, Charles 22, 32, 3941, 65, 69 and F. O. Morris 35, 36 and Leslie Stephen 35 and Marie Stopes 122, 123 and taxonomy 39 and VW 36, 38, 85, 1079 modern challenges to 40, 108 see also evolutionary theory Davies, Martin 193n.2 deconstruction as literary method 174, 1778 de Gourmont, Remy 60 Desmond, Adrian 11, 412 de Vries, Hugo 4041 dinosaurs 1623 Donovan, Josephine 8 Duckworth, George 31, 155 ecocriticism 810, 193n.17 ecofeminism and Eleanor Ormerod 1368, 143 and VW 8, 9, 1378, 143 ecology 3, 910, 11, 38, 53, 619 and agriculture 67 and control of nature 669, 138, 1434 and F. W. Oliver 120 and imperialism 67, 68 and industry 678 and interrelationship 69 and Marie Stopes 120 and pest control 67, 1434, 1456 and pesticides 1456 and scientific co-operation 64, 69 and VW 3, 910, 69, 135, 138, 1434, 1617 animal 624 as practical science 678 conservationist 689 Gilbert White as precursor 63 institutionalisation of 678 overarching perspective of 69 plant 612 popularisation of 623, 645, 200n.102 rise of 614 ecophenomenology 10 education, science 21, 27, 44, 126, 136 Edwardian fiction 1756, 1779 Einstein, Albert 108 Elementary Education Act (1870) 44 Elgin Marbles 8990, 202n.21

Elton, Charles and conservationist arguments 68 and ecology 623, 645, 66, 143, 200n.102 and environmental control 66, 68 and Gilbert White 63 and laboratory biology 63 and pesticides 1456 and practical ecology 678 and taxonomy 63 radio talks 64, 65, 66 Empire Marketing Board 68 entomology and Eleanor Ormerod 13541 and F. O. Morris 324, 35, 201n.8 and Jean-Henri Fabre 545, 57, 146, 148, 150 and John Lubbock 29, 36 and Julian Bell 154 and Marie Stopes 122, 123 and Vanessa Bell 14950 behavioural 29, 367, 545, 57, 60, 148, 150 economic 11213, 114, 135, 13641, 1434, 1456 Stephen family Entomological Society 31, 32 VW on behavioural entomology 367, 99, 15051 VW on economic entomology 11213, 114, 135, 141, 144, 146 VW on insect collection 3, 67, 15, 31, 32, 73, 745, 76, 78, 80, 812, 83, 92, 968, 1023, 105, 156, 169, 171, 1723, 202n.29 VW on insect development 56 VW on taxonomic entomology 3, 15, 31, 32, 73, 74, 76, 78, 98, 101, 169, 18081 VWs childhood practice of 3, 31, 32, 73, 745, 76 Espley, Richard 10 ethology 3, 11, 38, 53, 5461 amateur contributions to 55 and Jean-Henri Fabre 545, 57, 60, 146, 148, 150 and John Lubbock 29, 36 and Julian Huxley 567, 58 and VW 34, 367, 7071, 99, 126, 127, 14761

and W. H. Hudson 556, 57, 1534 bird 34, 56, 57, 58, 59, 7071, 151 Gilbert White as precursor 1617, 159, 16061 insect 29, 36, 545, 57, 60, 139, 146, 148, 150 institutionalisation of 56 popularisation of 5660 evolutionary theory 2, 11, 22, 38, 3942, 69 and inductive reasoning 3940 and Leslie Stephen 35 and popular natural history 289 and taxonomy 39 and VW 3, 4, 36, 38, 41, 1079, 111, 185 death of Darwinism 40 F. O. Morris opposed to 35, 36 Lamarckian 26 modern challenges to 4041, 108 modern evolutionary synthesis 11, 41, 108, 109, 197n.9 experiment, laboratory 111, 126 extinction 34, 1623, 167, 193n.2 Fabre, Jean-Henri 545, 57, 60, 146, 148, 150 and Roger Fry 148 and Vanessa Bell 14950 and VW 3, 38, 148, 14951 Fara, Patricia 23 Faris, Wendy B. 192n.6 Farrell, Sophia 74 field-glasses 53, 155, 156, 157, 160 field guide 53 Field, Mary 58, 59 films, nature 56, 5860, 199n.83 Secrets of Nature series 5960 and VW 60 fish 164, 166, 188, 206n.89 fishing 165, 206n.89 Fleishman, Avrom 5 Fleming, Bruce E. 192n.6 Forster, E. M. 90 France, scientific developments in 19, 194n.24 Freud, Sigmund 51, 52 Froula, Christine 56, 97 Fry, Roger and Jean-Henri Fabre 148 Quaker heritage of natural history 25, 312 VWs biography of 170


gardens 202n.23 Gaskell, Elizabeth Mary Barton 26 gender and taxonomy 1245, 201n.9 gendering of nature 93 of science 106, 136, 137, 159 Georgian fiction 174, 1757, 180 Germany, scientific developments in 19, 20, 43, 120, 194n.24 Gibbon, Edward 93 Gillispie, Charles Coulston 11, 42 glass case 84, 85, 125 Gordon, Craig 4 Gosse, Edmund 195n.64, 195n.69 Gosse, Philip Henry 27, 28, 195n.64 Gualtieri, Elena 11819 guinea pigs 30, 111 Haeckel, Ernst 61 Hagen, Joel B. 65 Hakluyt, Richard 171 Hall, Lesley A. 204n.15 Hancock, Nuala 202n.23 Henry, Holly 4, 61 Herbert, Michael 11 hierarchy and hunting 1289, 131 and modern biology 138 and taxonomy 20, 257, 99, 101, 1045, 124, 125, 184, 185 Hills, Jack 32 Howard, H. Eliot 3, 55, 57 Howarth, William 8 Hudsons Bay Company 67 Hudson, W. H. and birds 1, 1534 and collection 1, 49 and ethology 556, 57, 1534 and Gilbert White 55 and Henry Walter Bates 55 and observation 1 and protection 49, 132, 198n.44 and taxonomy 56 and the new biology 56 and VW 3, 10, 38, 1524, 205n.73 as literary stylist 1524 Humm, Maggie 60


behaviour of 29, 367, 545, 57, 60, 139, 146, 148, 199n.90 collections of 15, 19, 29, 76 figurative use of 57, 60 see also ants; bees; beetles; butterflies; caterpillars; entomology; moths; silkworms intellectual aristocracy 32, 195n.70 interrelatedness 1615 Jansen, Sue Curry 106 Jeffries, Richard 38, 154 jizz 54, 206n.81 Joannou, Maroula 118 Journal of Animal Ecology 63, 65 Journal of Ecology 3, 62 Joyce, James 60 Kew Gardens 44, 147 Keynes, Maynard 170 Kingsley, Charles 24, 27, 131 Kingsley, Mary 124 Kipling, Rudyard 60, 201n.6 Knight, David 22, 40 labels 96 laboratory 11, 21, 22, 435 and H. G. Wells 456 and Marie Stopes 11516, 121 and VW 83, 109, 11112, 115, 116, 11920, 1234, 126, 138 rise of the 19, 42, 44 Lambert, Elizabeth G. 4, 1078 Lee, Hermione 181, 203n.15 Legros, C. V. 54 Lens 69, 146 Lewis, Wyndham 60 life sciences lack of state support for 19, 212 nineteenth-century stagnation of 22, 289, 434 professionalisation of 19, 20, 212, 23, 46, 489, 52 use of term 192n.3 see also biology, the new; ecology; ethology; science; taxonomy Linnaeus, Carolus 16, 1718, 23, 24, 29, 43, 45, 99, 100 Loudon, J. C. 25 Love, Glen A. 8

hunting and collection 156 and F. O. Morris 48 and imperialism 129 and social hierarchy 1289, 131 and VW 12831, 155, 156 and war 128, 130 men as victims of 130 protectionist opposition to 47, 48 women as victims of 12930 Huxley, Aldous 60 Huxley, Julian 3, 62 and birds 56, 58 and ecology 10, 64, 667, 68, 1434, 161, 200n.102 and environmental control 667 and ethology 567, 58 and evolutionary theory 40, 41, 197n.9 and nature films 59 and VW 3, 10, 38, 57, 161 radio talks 58 The Science of Life 3, 9, 38, 41, 567, 64, 667, 161, 199n.90, 200n.102 Huxley, T. H. 32 and evolutionary theory 412 and laboratory biology 412, 43, 44, 48, 111, 121, 192n.3 and VW 38 identity and classification 99105, 1814 ecological conception of 182 imperialism and collection 978 and ecology 67 and hunting 129 and taxonomy 19, 20, 845 infestation as symbol of 144 inductive reasoning 19, 20, 3940 insects anatomy of 140 and Eleanor Ormerod 1356, 13940 and F. O. Morris 324, 35 and Jean-Henri Fabre 545, 57, 146, 148, 150 and John Lubbock 29 and Marie Stopes 122, 123 and Vanessa Bell 14951 as pests 135, 136, 140, 1434, 145, 146

Lowell, James Russell 30 Lubbock, John 19, 29, 36 mammoths 1623 Mao, Douglas 87, 89 Marcus, Jane 115, 203n.10, n.10 Marcus, Laura 59, 60 marine life and Marie Stopes 122 and VW 15, 789, 91, 98 Massingham, H. W. 132, 133, 134 materialists 89, 152, 1714, 177, 180 McNeillie, Andrew 132 medicine 83, 11112 Mendel, Gregor 4041, 197n.9 and VW 38, 108, 112 Mendelism 11, 4041, 197n.9 and VW 38, 41, 108, 112, 113 metamorphosis 56 meteorology 166 microscopes and Marie Stopes 121 and VW 8081, 82, 123, 126, 140 migration 58, 73, 158, 159, 166, 205n.80 militarism 978, 144 Miller, Hugh 24, 25 Moore, James R. 39 Morris, F. O. 27, 28, 326 and collection 334, 196n.85, 201n.8 and Eleanor Ormerod 204n.47 and evolutionary theory 35, 36, 48 and sugaring 33 and taxonomy 334 and the protection movement 478 and vivisection 48 and VW 3, 32, 33, 36, 989, 102, 196n.71 as clergyman-naturalist 323 modern judgements of 33 nineteenth-century influence of 33, 35 Morus, Iwan Rhys 192n.3 Moss, Stephen 27, 198n.44 moths and F. O. Morris 334, 35 and Jean-Henri Fabre 150 and Julian Bell 154 and Vanessa Bell 14951 VWs childhood study of 3, 31, 32, 36, 73, 745 VWs depiction of 15, 78, 978, 101, 102, 147, 15051, 156, 18081


VWs figurative use of 5, 67, 171, 1723, 186 Mullens, W. H. 33 museums 11, 423, 49, 202n.17 and E. M. Forster 90 and Marie Stopes 122 and VW 31, 32, 73, 76, 8991 British Museum (Natural History) 15, 19, 22, 423, 76, 8990, 124, 169 Hunterian Museum 42 Musum national dHistoire naturelle 22, 42 nineteenth century as age of 18 Stephen family museum 31, 32, 73 mutation theory 4041, 197n.9 naming and identity 99101, 1034, 160 as a means of control 94 as capture 96, 103 as killing 96 inefficacy of 98 taxonomic nomenclature 16, 34 natural history and children in VW 7883 and Eleanor Ormerod 135 and evolutionary theory 289 and social conditioning 257, 78, 978 as pious pastime 245, 312 as politically conservative 257 as rational recreation 24, 27, 31 as self-help 24, 257 as symbol of Victorian age 835 decline of 52 expansion of 27 lingering influence of 2930, 357 middle-class participation in 27 nineteenth-century 1837 nineteenth-century stagnation of 2830, 33, 357, 195n.64 popular natural history texts 279 popular practice of 239 publishing boom 278 respectability of 234 role of amateurs in 22, 23 traditionalist element of 28 VWs childhood practice of 3, 6, 14, 2937, 728 working-class participation in 257 see also collection; taxonomy

natural history societies in Rudyard Kipling 201n.6 in VW 15, 7980 natural theology 17, 19, 2021, 245, 28, 323, 42, 47, 69, 140, 141, 160, 195n.68 naturalist, the new 1548 naturalists, amateur 22, 23, 53 and professional biology 46, 489, 52 contributions to ethology 55 nature as threat to reason 934 attunement to 1617 conquest of 94 gendering of 93 misinterpretation of 1656 obliviousness to 1613 Naylor, Gillian 201n.12 New Statesman 57, 58, 69, 146, 159, 205n.80 Nicholson, E. M. 10 and collection 50, 512, 155 and ecology 9, 62, 141 and ethology 55, 57, 58, 155, 205n.80 and Gilbert White 17, 61 and protection 49, 1423, 155 and W. H. Hudson 49 observation and VW 12, 7071, 127, 147, 1489, 1558, 1667, 190 and W. H. Hudson 1 as literary method 12, 36, 153, 154, 16061, 168, 174, 18081, 183, 1845, 1878, 189, 190 shift from collection to 155 see also ethology Oliver, F. W. and ecology 64, 120 and palaeobotany 120 and taxonomy 1718, 20, 43, 45 and the new biology 43, 45 Ormerod, Eleanor 13547 and birds 1412 and classification 135 and collection 135 and economic entomology 13641 and F. O. Morris 204n.47 and insects 1356, 13940 and pest control 13641 and pesticides 136, 137

and taxonomy 135, 139 and the new biology 135 and VW 3, 38, 135, 13747 ecofeminist reading of 1368, 143 ornithology and F. O. Morris 32, 33 and Gilbert White 17, 15960 and Julian Huxley 56, 58 and VW 2, 34, 15, 7071, 78, 94, 1558, 15960 bird behaviour 34, 56, 57, 58, 59, 7071, 151, 160 bird ecology 9 migration 73, 158, 159, 166, 205n.80 taxonomic 18 see also bird-watching Owen, Richard 18 and evolutionary theory 412 and the museum 423 Painlev, Jean 199n.83 palaeobotany and F. W. Oliver 120 and Marie Stopes 120 Paley, William 20, 21, 29 Paris Green 136, 137, 140, 144, 145 see also pesticides Pearce, Susan 51 Pearson, Lynn 202n.24 Pennant, Thomas 30 pest control 67, 68, 1434 and ecology 1456 and Eleanor Ormerod 13642 and VW 135, 1412, 144 pesticides and ecology 1456 and Eleanor Ormerod 136, 137 and VW 137, 140, 1445 early twentieth-century attitudes towards 1446 nineteenth-century understanding of 137 see also Paris Green Phillips, Kathy J. 79, 104, 202.n38 photography, wildlife 53 physics 4, 10 physiology 19, 43, 44, 53, 109 plants and Leslie Stephen 3031 and VW 15, 31, 79, 845, 102, 103, 109, 11011, 1478, 149, 185

plant ecology 3, 9 Plumage Bill, The 1324 plumage trade and VW 127, 1324 protectionist opposition to 47, 1324 Pound, Ezra 60, 152 preservation as literary method 179 as symbol 84, 857 Renaissance attitude towards 856 techniques 1819 Victorian attitude towards 857 protection as literary method 174, 177, 1789 protection movement and F. O. Morris 478 and religious rationale 47, 48, 142 and rhetoric 127, 133, 142 and specimen collection 47, 4950 and the new biology 489 and the plumage trade 47, 1324 and the sparrow controversy 141 and vivisection 489 and VW 12735, 1412, 155 and W. H. Hudson 49 and women 133, 142 modern 4950, 1423 Victorian 469, 1413 psychology, animal 112, 113, 148, 205n.64 radio talks on bird-watching 58 on ecology 64, 66 rats 126 release as literary method 178, 179, 188 religion and collection 92 and identity 1045 and science 19, 2021, 245, 312, 112, 13940, 141, 166, 195n.68 and the protection movement 47, 48, 142 Richter, Harvena 6, 7, 97, 168, 171 Ritvo, Harriet 39 Robinson, Judy Larrick 5, 7, 99, 102, 168, 196n.85, 202n.38 Royal Agricultural Society of England 136 Royal Horticultural Society 136 Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals 46


Royal Society for the Protection of Birds 51 Rupke, Nicolaas 412 Rusk, Lauren 115 Russell, Bertrand 106 Sailer, Susan Shaw 60 Sarsfield, Rachel 5, 7, 61, 168, 174, 175, 189 Schiebinger, Londa 201n.9 science amateur and professional 46, 489, 52 and love and activism 11520 and morality 13941 and religion 19, 2021, 245, 312, 112, 13940, 141, 166, 195n.68 and VW 45, 105, 1067, 112, 1256, 159 and women 456, 76, 8083, 11120, 1256, 13542, 203n.15204 as creative endeavour 120, 1212, 127 disinterested 1067, 10910, 126, 127, 159 education 21, 27, 44, 126, 136 gendering of 106, 136, 137, 159 infected 1067, 159 lack of state support for 19, 212 professionalisation of 19, 20, 212, 23, 46, 489, 52 scientific methods as literary models 12, 13, 154, 16061, 167, 16891 Scott, Bonnie Kime 8 Sea Birds Preservation Act 47, 48 Secord, Anne 26 self-help 21, 24, 257 Selous, Edmund 3, 55, 57, 58 Sheffield, Suzanne Le-May 139 silkworms 11213, 114 Smiles, Samuel 24 Smith, Percy 58, 59 snails 148, 170 Snaith, Anna 115 snakes 1656, 206n.91207n.91 social conditioning 257, 78, 978 Sparks, Elisa Kay 202n.23 Squire, J. C. 50 Stainton, H. T. 24 Stephen, Adrian 31 Stephen family Entomological Society 31, 32 museum 31, 32, 73 Stephen, Julia 31, 205n.78 Stephen, Leslie 3, 3031, 35, 206n.89


definition of 1516 eclipse of 23, 11, 38, 42, 45, 52 intensification of taxonomic work 1819 Linnaean system of 16 modern criticism of 1415, 1718, 19, 434, 72, 12021, 1223, 146, 193n.2 nineteenth-century 1837 popular practice of 239 rehabilitation of 193n.2 social 946, 101, 125 VWs childhood practice of 3, 31, 32, 357, 72, 73, 74, 756 VWs depiction of 15, 78, 98102, 111, 123, 146, 147, 18081 Thomson, J. Arthur and ecology 62 and ethology 578, 205n.80 Time and Tide 57 vivisection 489 Walker, Charlotte Zo 9 Walker, J. E. 142 Wallace, Alfred Russel 40 Waller, L. Elizabeth 9 Wells, H. G. and ecology 10, 64, 667, 68, 161, 200n.102 and environmental control 667 and ethology 567 and evolutionary theory 41 and Mendelism 41 and taxonomy 456 and the laboratory 456 and the new biology 456, 138 and VW 3, 10, 38, 57, 152, 161, 1623, 175 Ann Veronica 41, 456, 114, 118 Men Like Gods 67 The Outline of History 162, 163, 206n.85 The Science of Life 3, 9, 38, 41, 567, 64, 667, 161, 199n.90, 200n.102 A Short History of the World 163, 206n.85 Westling, Louise 8, 10, 162, 164, 193n.17 White, Gilbert and birds 17, 15960 and Charles Elton 63 and collection 17 and migration 73, 159 and taxonomy 16, 17 and VW 30, 77, 15961, 200n.4

Stephen, Thoby 31, 36, 736, 155 Stephens, J. F. 135 Stopes, Marie and collection 12021, 1223 and ecology 9, 62, 120 and entomology 122, 123 and modern botany 12021 and palaeobotany 120 and taxonomy 12021, 1223 and the laboratory 11516, 121 and the new biology 11516, 117, 12022, 123, 138 and VW 3, 38, 11420, 1234, 127 scientific career of 120 Loves Creation 11420, 1213 sugaring and F. O. Morris 33 and Julian Bell 154 and VW 15, 31, 745, 172 Sultzbach, Kelly 9 Surtees, R. S. Jorrocks Jaunts and Jollities 156, 205n.79 Swann, H. Kirke 33 symbolism of VWs nature imagery 58 Tansley, A. G. and ecology 62, 64, 67, 68 and laboratory biology 67 taxonomy and Eleanor Ormerod 135, 139 and F. O. Morris 334 and gender 1245, 201n.9 and Gilbert White 16, 17 and H. G. Wells 456 and hierarchy 20, 257, 99, 101, 1045, 124, 125, 184, 185 and identity 99105, 1814 and imperialism 19, 20, 845 and inductive reasoning 19, 20 and Marie Stopes 12021, 1223 and religion 19, 2021 and Richard Owen 423 and W. H. Hudson 56 as capture 96, 103 as killing 125, 126 as literary method 154, 160, 168, 169, 17071, 180, 1834, 189, 190 as politically conservative 20, 257 British preoccupation with 1923, 434 classificatory mentality 934, 110, 1245, 126, 127, 147, 169, 186, 1878

and W. H. Hudson 55 as clergyman-naturalist 17, 61, 160 as precursor of ecology 63 as precursor of ethology 1617, 61, 15961 Victorian perception of 17, 61 White, Paul 11, 21, 412 Whitworth, Michael H. 4 Willinsky, John 18 Withering, William 23 women and science 456, 76, 8083, 11120, 1256, 13542, 203n.15204n.15 as unclassified 1834 relationships between 11516, 11920 Wood, J. G. 27, 28 and VW 30 Woolf, Virginia childhood practice of natural history 3, 14, 2937, 728 Works Asheham House diary 1489 Between the Acts 9, 78, 834, 109, 158, 159, 1617, 206n.89 Character in Fiction 1749, 180 Craftsmanship 187, 18990 The Death of the Moth 70, 147, 207n.4 Flush 131 How It Strikes a Contemporary 1523 Hyde Park Gate News 3031, 723, 127, 205n.78 The Introduction 5, 70 Jacobs Room 78, 79, 91, 96102, 129, 18081, 202.n38, 207n.4 Kew Gardens 1478 The Lady in the Looking-Glass: A Reflection 12 The Mark on the Wall 91, 17071, 201n.17 Melymbrosia 38, 92, 94, 95, 96 Miss Ormerod 135, 13747 Modern Fiction 152, 17980 Modern Novels 17980 Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown 1749, 180


Mrs Dalloway 38, 41, 845, 97, 1089, 1312, 1813, 187, 202n.23 Night and Day 38, 41, 80, 89, 108, 11011, 112, 1289, 131, 1556, 158, 205n.64 Orlando 70, 77, 78, 856, 93, 96, 100, 128 A Passionate Apprentice 745, 76, 77, 141 The Plumage Bill 1324, 142 Reading 97, 1714 Roger Fry 312, 170 A Room of Ones Own 93, 11427, 159, 178, 1835, 203n.15 A Scribbling Dame 16970, 185 The Shooting Party 12930 Sketch of the Past 6, 32, 367, 72, 74, 196n.71, 206n.89 A Society 15 Solid Objects 889 Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid 202n.29 Three Guineas 95, 96, 100, 1067, 124, 128, 144, 159 To the Lighthouse 89, 11, 77, 789, 10910, 187, 202n.23, 206n.89 An Unwritten Novel 34 The Voyage Out 38, 916, 205n.73 The Waves 78, 7980, 87, 90, 1025, 149, 15051, 1858 The Waves: The Two Holograph Drafts 87, 151 The Years 78, 8083, 867, 11112, 128, 1568 words as dead specimens 189 as ecological community 189 as living organisms 186, 18990 behaviour of 190 evolution of 18990 Worster, Donald 61, 64 Zangwill, Edith Ayrton The Call 118 Zwerdling, Alex 165