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UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

UNIT I
The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New:
Literature in an Ever-changing World

Programme
1. PRESENTATION: What is new in the Modern Era?
1.1. The Crisis of Victorian Positivism
1.2. The Interpretation of an Ever-changing World
1.3 The New Woman enters the stage
2. TEXT ANALYSIS: Oscar Wildes Earnestness to Break Free
2.1. Approaching Wildes The Importance of Being Earnest
3. ACTIVITIES
4. BIBLIOGRAPHY
Learning outcomes
-

To analyze the causes that gave birth to the Modern Period and its
avant-garde outcomes.
To examine The Importance of Being Earnest as representative text of
this specific time and spirit.
To understand and become aware that literature and literary creativity
form part of the social and political concerns of the period.

1. PRESENTATION: What is New in the Modern Era?


What is New in the Modern Era? The modern period in literature is considered to run
from the c16 century onwards. The word modern according to the Oxford English Dictionary
stems from the Latin modo which means just now, and the most immediate definition
provided reads: Of or pertaining to the present and recent times as opposed to the remote
past (OED). For instance, in the c15, modo, or better still modernus, referred to the Christian
present as opposed to the Roman past. Referring to the modern era in relation to the
Victorian past works as a means to involve the reader in the period rather than her/his looking
at it from a distance.
In any case, it is always risky to refer under a single heading to the period covered in this
course: the fin de sicle, the Edwardian period and the Georgian period. Notice that this
textbook does not deal solely with Modernism (a term that has itself been and still is subject of debate) as
the word modern may imply, but it also explores other forms of writing and avant-garde
movements present on the artistic scene between the 1880s and the Second World War.

Try to enter into the frame of mind of the ordinary citizen of the
period. Analyze your own responses to the different topics explored.
Write down these impressions and draw imaginatively a general picture
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UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

of the many changes of the era. The questions of the Unit will help
you to pin down the most important ideas and to understand the
relationship between these and the literature of the time.
The key word in the period is change.
What was happening that made individuals so prone to seeking new forms of looking
at the world and to approaching life? In general terms, there was a need, after the
industrialisation and the mechanisation of the nation, to challenge Victorian values and
Victorian morals. Despite some voices had previously spoken out it was around the 1880s
when confidence in societys institutions and authority faltered and Victorian positivism was
questioned, bringing about a crisis in the power and ideals of Victorianism. Next section
explores the reasons behind the crisis that turned deeply held beliefs and morals upside-down.

To confront fields of knowledge such as political and philosophical


thought, psychology and psychoanalysis, anthropology, and scientific or
medical discoveries that may seem unfamiliar and off-putting. This Unit
deals with complex issues. To become familiar with the social and
intellectual background that surrounds the literary scene of the 1st half of
the c20. To understand the many issues raised here go to the sources
and read some of the treatises and manifestos mentioned. In many
cases, as for example in Darwins or Freuds works, the narratorial
component of these writings helps to demystify the complexity of later
explanations. It is too challenging to try to collate the multiple sources
that would be needed to approach this subject. The Norton Anthology
provides a selection of texts dealing with some of the issues discussed
here. A good source of background material for the course at large is
Modernisms: An Anthology of Sources and Documents (2000) edited by
Vassiliki Kolocotroni et al.
1.1.

The Crisis of Victorian Positivism

The 1851 Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London served to display the
progress of a nation that had achieved a leading role in the international sphere. Crystal
Palace became the temple of the machine where to find breathtaking works of engineering,
the most amazing technical discoveries, the wonders of industrial enterprise, and the most
innovative works of art that were meant to show that Romanticism had been overcome. In
short, the Exhibition loudly proclaimed the greatness of GB and its power, and its peoples
confidence. The following three decades are considered by most historians as the zenith of the
Victorianism.
Yet Victorian values were in decline. Two very dissimilar politicians dominated late
Victorian politics:
- Gladstone: liberal, humanitarian and dutiful. It is reported that Queen Victoria found him
boring.
- Disraeli: imperialist, nationalistic and charming. Apparently, the Queen enjoyed his company,
for he could make her laugh.
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UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World
- (1830-86) The Liberals on the rise.

> (1868-74) after the 2nd Reform Act, Gladstone was Prime Minister of the reforming
government.
> (1874-80) a Tory majority government under Disraeli, seen as a reforming
government working under the policies established by Gladstone.
> (1880-86) Gladstone governed again (2nd and 3rd terms), but he was brought down by
the Irish issue.
- (1886-1906) Tories, now the Unionists, in power. This is also the period of the advent of
Marxism; Britain entered into industrial competition with Germany and US most prominently.

A need was felt for social and political reform. The policies of Liberal thinking that
appeared during the 2nd half of the c19 were promoted by the so-called old Whigs (the
aristocracy, landlords and members of the House of Lords), by free traders and industrialists,
and by social reformers entrenched in all walks of life. These policies of Liberal thinking
included concern with issues such as:
- the notion of Utilitarianism (put forward by Jeremy Bentham who advocated that morals
and legislation should aim at achieving the greatest good for the greatest number);
- the notions of liberty and individualism (as expressed by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty);
- and a proposal for social reform (suggested by Edwin Chadwick) that entailed economical
policies of retrenchment, that is, minimal state expense, and with efficiency in government
finances. Regarding economics, the policies were those of free trade, anti-protection or
laissez-faire. They followed Adam Smiths theories promoted in his study Wealth of Nations
(1776): Consumption is the sole end and purpose of production; and the interest of the
producer ought to be attended to only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the
consumer. There was also a drastic movement from an economy based on land ownership to
a modern urban economy, based on trade and on manufacturing. (See section about industrialisation).
Some important political reforms are connected with the Peoples Charter. For
example, the Acts for the Representation of the People were debated at the turn of the century
and gave, in 1918, the right to vote to men over 21 and limited female suffrage to some
women over 30 (universal suffrage for both sexes was achieved in 1928, and the age was
lowered to 18 in 1969). Other important measures were parliamentary reform (the Ballot Act
of 1872 made voting a private affair for the 1st time) and reforms to increase education and to
improve working conditions and health. Legal reform proceeded slowly. At this time the most
common form of entertainment was reading aloud. Writers such as Dickens, Tennyson, or
Trollope were widely read and discussed. The advent of universal compulsory education after
1870 meant a much larger audience for literature. The emergence of an unsophisticated
reading public meant that literature was divided between high art and low art, the latter
meeting the demands of much of this new readership.
This was also the age of the Irish Question a complex issue even today. The
question was whether or not the Irish should be allowed to rule themselves. Discussions on
whether Ireland was an internal colonised zone emphasised its economic inequality and its
cultural differences with England. The cultural renaissance in Ireland around the turn of the
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UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

century was led by Anglo Irish writers including W.B. Yeats, Lady Augusta Gregory and J.M.
Synge. Although they wrote in English, their writings were based on an awareness of Irish
nationalism, myth and legend. The men and women of the literary revival showed their love for
Ireland in their poetry, prose or drama. Groups as the Pan-Celtic Society and the Irish National
Literary Society were set up and involved W.B. Yeats, Douglas Hyde and Maude Gonne.
Yeats, Lady Gregory and Edward Martyn founded the Irish Literary Theatre (1898) in order to
use theatre to spread the ideals of the literary revival. As the Irish Literary Theatre had no
venue for its productions, the Abbey Theatre was set up in 1904. Plays such as On Bailes
Strand by W.B. Yeats, Spreading the News by Lady Gregory and Riders to the Sea by J.M. Synge
were all performed at the Abbey.

The Irish Literary Revival produced an exceptionally strong body of work, which not
only stimulated Irish nationalism but also gave Ireland a place on the international stage.
The writers of the revival were responsible for developing and articulating a new national
consciousness. The philosophy of the Gaelic League and the cultural activities of the Irish
Literary Revival influenced already existing political groups such as the IRB1 and new
groups, including the labour movement and Sinn Fin. Sinn Fin (ourselves alone) was the
most important political movement to emerge from the cultural renaissance. Founded in 1905
by Arthur Griffith, a Dublin printer who had established a nationalist paper, the United Irishman
(1899). Griffith was convinced that the 1800 Act of Union was at the root of most of Irelands
problems and believed that it was illegal, as the members of the Home Rule Party did.
However, unlike the parliamentary members, he was in favour of the withdrawal of all Irish
MPs from Westminster to form an independent assembly in Dublin. He proposed a system of
dual monarchy, similar to the system that had given Hungary independence. Sinn Fin won
several seats at local elections but got little support from Home Rule advocates. Despite a
close connection between Sinn Fin and the IRB, the major difference was that Sinn Fin did
not advocate violence as a method of setting up an Irish republic. Despite the IRB was ready
to take action in 1913, it lacked the means to carry out a revolution.
Land reform in Ireland had been taking place since the 1870s, but with little impact.
Unemployment and low wages meant that severe poverty was widespread. There was little
industry in southern Ireland and the majority of the labour force was unskilled. Living
conditions were worst in Dublin, people were poorly paid, frequently underfed, and lived in
condemned tenement flats.
By 1913 a series of strikes had taken place in Dublin. Police brutality was common
and James Connolly set up the Irish Citizen Army to protect the strikers in November 1913.
The strikers were supported by many of the Irish literary and artistic community, including
W.B. Yeats and George Bernard Shaw, as well as militant nationalists such as Patrick Pearse
and Thomas Mac Donagh. Many workers were forced to return to their jobs by the end of
January 1914, having been starved into submission. Although the struggle ended in failure,
revolution was in the air. Notwithstanding the setbacks of the 1890s, the Irish Parliamentary
Party believed that there was hope of achieving Home Rule as the Liberals returned to office
in 1906. The Irish party, reunited and revitalised under John Redmond since 1900, held the
balance of power after the 1910 general election. Home Rule seemed to be within reach. In
1

Ireland Republic of Brotherhood.


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UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

1912 the House of Commons passed the Home Rule Bill and, despite opposition in the
House of Lords, it was due to become law in 1914. The Ulster Unionists began a campaign
against Home Rule during 1912-13 that led to the founding of the Ulster Volunteer Force in
September 1913, with the Orange Order fighting to keep the Union in place and Ireland
as part of the UK.
The Ulster Volunteer Force acted as a model for the establishment of a similar
voluntary army in southern Ireland in 1914. Eoin MacNeill, one of the founders of the Gaelic
League, proposed setting up a civil defence force; it became the Irish Volunteers. The
Volunteers intended to safeguard the rights of the Irish people, which they considered to be
threatened by Unionist actions. The Volunteers appealed to a large cross-section of the Irish
people, including many men already involved in groups such as the Gaelic League.
Despite the Irish Volunteers were over 100,000 by 1914, the authorities in Dublin did
not see them as a real threat as, unlike the Ulster Volunteer Force, they had little money and
few arms. On 26 July 1914 a group of Anglo-Irish nationalists including Roger Casement and
Erskine Childers imported guns and ammunition to Ireland in what became known as the
Howth Gun-Running. Despite the arms consignment was not large; it further spread the Irish
militant nationalism and increased the joining volunteers.
World War I broke out on 4 August 1914, a week after the Howth Gun-Running. Despite
Home Rule was due to become law that September, the Prime Minister decided to suspend the
Act until the end of the war. Believing that the war would be over within a few months and Home
Rule would be granted the following year, a group of Volunteers joined the British Army. Known as
the National Volunteers while the rest, including the more extremists of the movement, retained
the name of Irish Volunteers. By the end of 1914 the Irish Volunteers had its own military
council, Patrick Pearse was its most outspoken and charismatic member.
The war made the possibility of the granting of Home Rule unlikely. The British War
Cabinet included two of the staunchest opponents of Home Rule Edward Carson and Bonar
Law, and, in 1916, there was a threat of conscription being extended to Ireland. As a result
belief in military action as the best way forward was growing. The IRB saw Englands difficulties
as Irelands opportunity. A military council was set up in May 1915 with five members: Patrick
Pearse, amonn Ceannt, Joseph Plunkett, Thomas Clarke and Sen MacDiarmada. Despite
setbacks such as the sinking of a German ship carrying arms for the rising, the IRBs military
council decided that the rebellion should take place on Easter Sunday, 1916. After a series of
obstacles, the military council decided to go ahead with the rising on Easter Monday even though
they realised that they were unlikely to succeed, or even survive, but were prepared to make this
blood sacrifice for the sake of Irelands freedom. Pearse was appointed President of the
Provisional Government and Commander-in-chief of the army. He proclaimed the Irish Republic
from the steps of the captured General Post Office (GPO) in Dublin. Despite initially taken by
surprise, the British authorities reacted quickly and suppressed the rising within a few days. Pearse
surrendered on Saturday 29 April. Over 3,000 people were arrested in the wake of the 1916
Rebellion and over half were interned in Britain. The leaders of the rebellion were tried and
condemned to death. Over a ten-day period at the beginning of May, fifteen of them were executed.
There was a public outcry about these executions and the Irish Parliamentary Party was seen as
ineffective. Sinn Fin, which inherited the glory and prestige from the martyrs of Easter week, came
to be considered the most important Irish political organisation. In December 1918, the general
election resulted in a landslide victory for Sinn Fin. The parliamentary party was left with only six
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UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

seats, constitutional nationalism had failed. Sinn Fin stated that its elected members would not sit
in Westminster and set about establishing in Dublins Mansion House an independent
government which the British Government refused to recognise. This led to a bitter Anglo-Irish
conflict which became known as the War of Independence.
On 21 January 1919, members of the south Tipperary Brigade of the Irish Volunteers
killed two Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) constables in Soloheadbeg, County Tipperary. This
new ruthlessness was the first expression of physical force from a group of the Volunteers who
wanted to act independently of Sinn Fin, the political wing. In August 1919 the Volunteers
changed their name to the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The IRA had the support of much of the
population, particularly in rural areas. By the end of 1919 it was obvious that the British
authorities were determined to use force to suppress the rebels.
The English government sent the first of a series of ex-service-men task-forces to Ireland in
March 1920. On 21 November 1920, a date which became known as Bloody Sunday, eleven
British intelligence officers were shot in Dublin by Michael Collinss gunmen. Crown forces
reacted by shooting into the crowd at a GAA march in Croke Park that afternoon, killing twelve
people and wounding sixty. Martial Law was declared in Cork, Kerry, Limerick and Tipperary on
10 December 1920; the following day a group of Auxiliaries went on the rampage in Cork city,
burning down the city centre. Eventually, Lloyd George, the British PM 2 realised that he had to
seek a truce with Sinn Fin. It was agreed that all military activity was to cease at noon on 11 July
1921. After a series of negotiations a Treaty was signed on 6 December 1921. British rule in
Ireland was at an end: Ireland had Dominion status and the 26 counties were to be called the Irish
Free State. Britain retained three Irish ports, known as the Treaty Ports, for defence purposes:
Berehaven, Queenstown (Cobh) and Lough Swilly. Ulster was partitioned, but the delegation
believed that this was only a temporary situation. Although they had not been able to bring about a
republic, the delegates did manage to break the ground for future constitutional freedom.
Despite voices strongly opposing the Treaty, a provisional government was set up under
Michael Collins to oversee the handing over of Ireland to the Irish, and a formal transfer of power
took place on 16 January 1922. British troops in southern Ireland were evacuated and the Black
and Tans, Auxiliaries and the RIC were disbanded. The Treaty divided the Irish into two opposing
groups. This political split was paralleled in the IRA, which was divided into anti-Treaty Irregulars
or Republicans and the pro-Treaty Army or Regulars. The division led to a Civil War. The
general election in June 1922 resulted in victory for the pro-Treaty Sinn Fin candidates, but this
meant only that the militant Republicans became more closely focused on rebellious action. A
special powers resolution, allowing the army to hold military courts and to enforce the death
penalty for offences including the possession of arms, came into effect on 15 October. It was not
until 6 November 1922 that the Irish Free State became a reality.
By April 1923 almost 80 Republicans had been tried, convicted and executed, greatly
weakening the movement. The Civil War ended on 24 May. The Civil War had more of an impact
on the country than the War of Independence. It divided political parties, movements and families
and wasted the lives of many men. Sinn Fin never recovered from the divisions of the Civil War
years. New political parties developed in its place such as the pro-Treaty Cumann na nGaedheal
and Fianna Fil who were anti-Treaty.

PM: Prime Minister


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UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

Oscar Wildes The Importance of Being Earnest (Norton 2000: 1761-1805)


(compulsory reading). Wilde was an Irish outsider. While reading the play
bear in mind the events related above and ponder over the possible
connections between Wildes innovative way of writing drama and the
social and political events taking place in his homeland.
Why do we include Wilde in a course about English literature?
Was he influenced by the works of the cultural Irish renaissance such
as Bernard Shaws or Yeats?
During this time, much of the attention of the country was also focused on the
Empire. Britain took control of key ports and islands around world, for example, St
Helena, Malacca, St Lucia and Singapore. These ports and islands became the bases
for later expansion into the rest of the territory (for example, in Malaysia). The British
Empire was still expanding well into the c20 through protectorates (as in the
Lebanon or Palestine).

UNIT 2 will explore the literary consequences of the conduct of the British in relation
to the Empire, paying particular attention to Joseph Conrads Heart of Darkness and E. M.
Forsters A Passage to India. For this reason, fuelled by the official propaganda and the dominant
discourse, the prevailing attitude in Britain regarding colonialism was that expansion of British control
around the globe was good for everyone and, around the turn of the century, the colonies evolved

into the dominions of the Commonwealth. As argued in Unit 2, the debates around the Empire
and the impact they had in literature and other fields of knowledge are much more intricate than
this general approach might imply. This is so to the point that the particular and complex questions
raised by colonialism are still present nowadays and form a full and independent body of
research into the matter by the so-called Colonial and Post-Colonial Studies.
The need for raw materials, gained through colonial expansion and exploitation, is
one of the consequences of the so-called Industrial Revolution.
Several reasons for the Industrial Revolution:
1)
2)
3)

The technological innovations in the production of textiles, iron and coal of the c18 and c19.
A previous agricultural revolution had made Britain able to feed a larger population, in turn creating
a greater demand for manufactured goods.
The innovations in transport (canals, railways, and shipping) helped spread economic development
to more remote regions. Soon, Britain realised the advantages of the rapid transportation of
foodstuffs, for example, fish, vegetables and dairy products, and people. This gave rise to the
notion of leisure (the country felt smaller and more manageable) and encouraged the creation of
seaside resorts. For example, a journey from London to York was reduced from one-and-a-half
days to eight hours, allowing for the possibility of contemplating the journey as leisure. As the
Industrial Revolution progressed, working hours decreased, and the introduction of Bank
Holidays meant that workers had the time to take trips away from the cities to the seaside. The
seaside resorts introduced the amusement pier to entertain visitors (some of the more famous
resorts were - and still are - at Blackpool and Brighton).

UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

In this period, this economic movement from landownership to a modern urban


economy was based on trade and on manufacturing. This accelerated the migration from the
countryside to the cities. Several results of this migration:
1) A stimulus towards the development of city professions such as law, accountancy and management.
2) The growth of horrifying slums and cramped terraced housing in the overcrowded cities. By 1900, 80%
of the population lived in cities, organised into geographical zones based on social class: the poor in
the inner city, the better-off living away from the city centre, giving way to a growth of middle-class
suburbs. This was made possible by the expansion of suburban rail transport. Some suburban rail
companies were required by law to provide cheap trains for commuters to travel into the city centre.
The very notion of time, because of the expansion of the railway, changed: it was standardised in
order to create a timetable based on Londons time.

Technological developments, such as printing presses, helped to spread literacy:


more newspapers were published and read, more letters written as delivered faster, and political
ideas were spread faster through the newspapers and political campaigns. Parallel changes in
culture and art (photography); in transport and communication (the steam power, the telegraph or the
intercontinental cable); and in health (discovery of anaesthetics). The Industrial Revolution also
shifted the power from the aristocracy (position and wealth based on land) to the newly rich
business leaders. The new aristocracy became one of wealth, not land, although titles, then as
now, remained socially important in British society.
Artists felt alienated from the ruling culture and expressed their disdain for what they saw as a
philistine public and moral tastes. Wilde followed the Art for Arts Sake doctrine: beauty and
pleasure as ends in themselves. Polished, impressionistic images that appealed to the senses and
also a desire to shock and challenge Victorian values dominated the arts. The figure of the dandy
and the effeminate man appear. Although for many the Aesthetes descended into an excess of
hedonism, emotional debauchery, degeneration and decadence, the movement served to disengage
art from any purposeful meaning in society. Note that the Industrial Revolution brought into society a
sense of practicality that affected all the different expressions of the whole of society. Yet from the 1880s
to the start of World War I, the Aesthetic movement liberated art from pragmatism.

Art was an end in itself, almost a pseudo-religious belief. The Aesthetic movement was
born in France with advocates such as poets Charles Baudelaire and Thophile Gautier.
Inspired by the views of Immanuel Kant in relation to the aesthetics and the pleasure obtained
from viewing a work of art. For Kant, Critique of Aesthetic Judgement, a pure aesthetic
experience is the contemplation of an object that provokes pleasure for its own sake, with no
other materialistic or utilitarian purposes. A phrase that will accompany the movement is art is
useless and therefore it should be contemplated for its value in terms of pleasure only. The Art
for Arts Sake motto will lead to the artistic production of the Aesthetes. The views of French
Aesthetics were introduced into Victorian England by Walter Pater, who in the conclusion to
Studies in the History of the Renaissance (1873) [Norton 2000: 1642-1644], exposed the need to crown
ones life with the most delicate and exquisite sensations in order to appreciate the supreme
value of beauty and the pleasure obtained from the love of art for its own sake. The moral
and artistic views of Aestheticism were expressed by the poet A.C. Swinburne and in the 1890s,
as well as O. Wilde, by other writers such as Arthur Symons or Lionel Johnson.
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UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

Aesthetic values lived to the full brought about a different movement intrinsically linked to the
aforementioned: the Decadent Movement. More than an artistic movement, the Decadents followed a
way of life based on the ideas of the Aesthetic movement. Art is totally opposed to nature
understood both in the biological sense and in the natural norms of morality and sexual behaviour.
The art of the Decadents was artificial and the decadence in their personal lives decadence was
considered positive by the group was expressed in the search for strange unnatural sensations which
often involved drugs and experimental sexual behaviour. Wildes novel The Picture of Dorian Gray
(1891) and the play Salom (1893) are representative literary productions of Decadent literature. This
sophistication and artificiality of the Decadents will reappear, with variations, in the 1950s with the Beat poets.

The independence and self-sufficiency of art stressed by the Aesthetes and Decadents, as well as the
concept of a poem or a novel as an end in itself, will strongly influence the writers of the inter-war period
such as T.S. Eliot, T.E. Hulme, W.B. Yeats and Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.

At the turn of the century artists, writers and playwrights were highly
critical of Victorian achievements and beliefs. They mocked and
challenged middle-class values, such as convention, respectability and the
very notion of art. A most telling example is Oscar Wildes play The
Importance of Being Earnest.

1.2. The Interpretation of an Ever-changing World


The belief that species were immutable had been questioned by naturalists since the
late eighteenth century, and the proposition that plants and animals transformed themselves
gradually was finding more and more support. In 1859 The Origin of Species by Means of
Natural Selection was published. The book was the result of the appointment of Charles
Darwin (1809-1882) as naturalist on HMS Beagle on a scientific expedition to survey the South
American seas (1831-36). On this expedition he visited places such as Tenerife, Brazil,
Buenos Aires, Chile, the Galapagos Islands, Tahiti and New Zealand. By 1844 the conclusions
of his observations made during the journey started to formulate the touchstone of his
evolution theory: the principle of evolution by natural selection.
Darwin was not the first to expound a belief in evolution. The scientific observations of
Lamarck, Goethe and Erasmus Darwin (Charles Darwins grandfather), among others, pointed
out the possibility that the morphology of animals and plants that could then be observed was
the result of past changes in the respective environments in which they had developed,
leading to mutations or to spontaneous transformations. On the other hand, as Darwin himself
points out in his autobiography, he was influenced by the theories of the political economist
Thomas Malthus. In Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), Malthus first observed that in
nature plants and animals produce a far greater number of offspring than can survive. He then
extrapolated this observation to the growth in population that was taking place in England in
this period and observed that the human species could also overproduce if left unchecked.
Malthus concluded that unless family size were regulated, famine would become a global
epidemic and, eventually, destroy the species. Malthus maintained that poverty and famine
were natural outcomes of population growth but, instead of looking for the reasons in natural
terms, he resorted to God as the explanation for these natural outcomes. He believed that
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UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

these outcomes were Gods way of preventing laziness. Not only Darwin but also Alfred
Russel Wallace (1823-1913) arrived at the same conclusions about natural selection after
reading Malthus. The most important difference in views was that the two naturalists framed
this principle in purely natural terms both in outcome and ultimate reason. This allowed Darwin
to take a step further. He suggested that the production of more offspring than can survive
implies competition among siblings, and that variations in the siblings would produce certain
individuals with a greater chance of survival. These would be the fittest.
Darwin called this mechanism natural selection, by which he meant that nature
chooses the best individuals of each generation and that they, according to the laws governing
inheritance, transmit their favourable characteristics to their descendants. This is how the
survival of the fittest, an expression that Darwin borrowed from the philosopher Herbert
Spencer (1820-1903), works. This means the individuals perpetuating the species are those
more able to adapt to the environment, since adaptation to the environment is the most
important factor for the survival of the species. It is important to note that even though it is
commonly accepted that in The Origin of Species Darwin postulated his theory of an ancestor
to the human species, only twelve years later, in 1871, did Darwin address this issue in his
book The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. The hypothesis of a gradual
transformation of species was abhorrent to a Victorian mentality that proudly sustained the
belief that Adam was created in Gods image. It was also contrary to Christian belief as written
in the book of Genesis. That is, Darwins argument implied that humans were closer to animals
than they were to God and that nature was not static but evolving. The fact that Darwin waited
for so long to publish his theories, and that he did so only because Wallace was about to
publish a work with very similar conclusions, was because of the strong opposition that he
foresaw in the scientific community. The results of Darwins investigations were discussed in
the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1860. The heated
debate provoked by Darwins views prevented him from attending the meeting. There was no
middle ground in this subject. Defenders of Darwins theories included Thomas Henry Huxley
(1825-95), nicknamed Darwins bulldog for his passionate arguments in favour of Darwins
point of view. Richard Owen (1804-92) and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce (1805-73) head those
totally against Darwins theories. The following anecdote is well known and serves to show the
passion of the debates: when in one of the meetings Bishop Wilberforce asked Huxley if it was
from his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed his rights to descent from the ape the
scientist responded: I would rather be an evolved ape than a degenerated Adam. Anecdotes
apart, the important idea to bear in mind in relation to Darwins theory is that it provided a
scientifically proven past that, at the same time, explained the present. It is not surprising that
among the many detours taken by Darwins theories, one that fascinated theorists was the
possibility of predicting the future based on present evidence.
Darwinism did not remain a purely scientific discourse. Very soon it spread, and
permeated other spheres of knowledge such as the social sciences or anthropology.
Reproduction and the survival of the fittest, not rational thought or spiritual belief, became
recognised as the forces behind human endeavour. In this order of things sciences such as
eugenics found the perfect ground to spread. Led by Darwins cousin Francis Galton (18221911), eugenics propounded the need for selective breeding in the delineation of racial
qualities. A nation should ensure that its able of members had dominance in fertility if it wanted
to survive. Failure to do so would mean the disappearance of the nation. It is also important to
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UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

take into account that if Darwinism implies an assault on the traditional beliefs concerning
God, the universe and humanitys relationship with both, Darwinism could also be applied in
giving scientific value to those Victorian ideals that it was apparently diminishing. The word
degeneration used by Huxley was going to be a key term in relation to the social changes
taking place at the time. Terms such as evolution and degeneration started to be manifold in
meaning and were used by theorists and critics to serve their own respective purposes.
Evolution served the establishment to justify empire and colonialism. Since apes were
considered to be under-evolved relations of humans, non-European societies were thus seen
as underdeveloped civilisations. It was therefore the duty of the civilised, progressive white
male European to educate, civilise and improve the conditions of what he regarded as the
primitive societies, such as those in Africa or India. In 1895, Max Nordaus Degeneration was
translated into English. In this work, Nordau, using Darwins theories, established that the end
of civilisation could be foretold by observing licentious contemporary forms of art, such as
Naturalism, and the Decadents, such as Oscar Wilde. The rise of the New Woman and the
suffrage movement were also seen as precipitants of this apocalyptic future. In England there
were already works reflecting the decline of the European white civilization. For example,
Edwin Ray Lankester (1847-1929) speculated on the decline of the white race that would
become socially parasitical in Degeneration: A Chapter on Darwinism (1880). H.G. Wellss The
Time Machine (1895) is one text to take the mood of these ongoing discussions about endpoints and envision the end both of humanity and of the world.
In turn, degeneracy referring to the phenomenon that the social status quo was under
threat from the freer values of the younger generation sceptical about the traditional values of
morality, customs and proprieties, particularly in relation to sex, meant a liberating and
scientifically based escape from those very values. At the same time it unsettled the assumed
stability of Victorian society, bringing to the fore fears over chastity, homosexuality, same-sex
love, perversity, masturbation, morbidity and syphilis that had up to then officially been nonexistent. Yet these very fears provoked a levelling of sin and disease that meant that any
deviation from conventional morality was as much a sign of madness as it was of depravity.
Many of the current issues of human development, degeneration and depravity were present
in the popular literature produced in the late 1880s and 1890s. Among these Bram Stokers
Dracula (1897), Oscar Wildes The Picture of Dorian Gray and Robert Louis Stevensons Dr
Jekyll and Mr Hyde could all be read partly as cautions against the rise of promiscuity and its
associated evils such as prostitution, syphilis and adultery. These works also pointed
accusingly to many of the pillars of Victorian society, so deeply ingrained in what has come to
be termed as Victorian hypocrisy especially with regard to sexual matters. Notions of
evolution, progress and reform led to a fascination with regression, atavism and decline.
Degeneration stood out as the byword for modern Western civilisation. It was taken as the
break from traditional forms of expression and was present in the new tendencies in the arts.
As a consequence of the debates moving from the intellectual sphere to ordinary
society, many individuals found that they had lost their belief in external authorities and
experienced increasing insecurity not only in relation to the universe but also within
themselves. The term agnostic was coined in the 1870s, meaning the impossibility for the
empirical mind to either believe or not to believe. The impact of the godless society is found in
any individual who becomes unsure of the taken-for-granted certainties of the Victorian age.
This crisis of the individual led D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930) to affirm in Fantasia of the
11

UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

Unconscious (1923) that there is only one clue to the universe. And that is the individual soul
within the individual being. That is, the world was as varied as the individuals observing it.
This view, of course, will contrast with the principle of Realism, which presupposed a
perception of the world shared by all members of society.
The theological search for God had been replaced by a epistemological quest for selfknowledge. In philosophy this quest found expression in the work of Friedrich Nietzsche
(1844-1900) who, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No One (1883-85),
categorically stated that God is dead. With this pronouncement Nietzsche was the first
philosopher to consider extensively human responsibility and freedom in a universe without
God. In his first publication, The Birth of Tragedy (1872), he divided experience between
Apollonian (rational) and Dionysian (aesthetic pleasure) forces. The era in which he was living,
he argued, was dominated by a rational Apollonian mentality to the detriment of the creative
aesthetic of the dream and chaos of the Dionysian spirit. It resulted in a total loss of
connection with the tragic myth and sensual intuitive truth found in Greek tragedy. The most
interesting aspect in this respect lies in Nietzsches insights into myth and myth-making. It is
also worth noting that in an added preface to his 1886 edition of The Birth of Tragedy, entitled
Essay in Self-Criticism, the philosopher devolves upon art and not on morality the
responsibility of interpreting the significance of existence. The importance of myth applied to
literature and the importance given to the aesthetic in Nietzsches thought implied that, for
many writers, the duty of the artist in the disordered and fragmented modern world was to
create what culture could no longer produce: symbol and meaning in the dimension of art,
brought into being through the agency of language (Friedman 1981: 98). In other words, myth
stood out as the ordering power lost by the culture and society of the modern materialist world.
Writers such as Eliot, Joyce, Woolf and Yeats would incorporate into their literature myth and
classical models
destined to give meaning to the alienated modern individual for whom
Christian religion had ceased to be the answer. In the process new myths were created as in,
for example, Marcel Prousts (1871-1922) la recherche du temps perdu (1913-27). Another
book that greatly influenced authors of the period, particularly modernist authors, was James
Frazers (1854-1941) The Golden Bough, a hugely extensive anthropological work published
in twelve volumes between 1890 and 1915. In this work Frazer charts the connections
between pagan rites and Christian religion. T.S. Eliot in his work The Waste Land is one of
those authors influenced by Frazer.
Arthur Schopenhauers philosophy of the will, in line with Plato and Immanuel Kant,
propounded that the world was the physical manifestation of an underlying cosmic reality. In
this sense Schopenhauer had a pessimistic view of the universe in that the will, by its own
nature, can never be totally satisfied: it leads meaninglessly to all forms of suffering.
Nietzsches theory would depart from Schopenhauers predicament but invert the pessimistic
view of the latter into an optimistic celebration of the positive forces of the will. Nietzsche felt
that modern society was sick because it failed to acknowledge to its positive forces but instead
was led by frivolity and morbidity. This point of view would greatly attract writers such as
Yeats, who would agree with the philosopher that the will was a physiological complex of
drives and impulses. In The Will to Power (1901), Nietzsche identified universal will with the
relation of a power between forces, that in turn constitutes the driving energy of human life.
Nietzsche lyes emphasis on the field of forces, and not on power per se. Life should be led,
according to Nietzsche, as an endeavour fully to satisfy the will for power. Nietzsches
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UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

perspective could, strictly speaking justify dictatorial regimes, asceticism, self-punishment, or


sadism. In fact, Nietzsches theory has been used by Fascism to justify philosophically its
extreme ideological apparatus. Particularly interesting was his theory of the superman
(bermensch). By bermensch Nietzsche was referring to a new, creative being who would
transcend religion, morality and ordinary society and would satisfy his own will. The motto of
the bermensch would be be what you are and humanitys greatest goal should point
towards becoming an bermensch. An interesting aspect of Nietzsches philosophy in this
respect is that it offers a philosophical insight into the dynamics of the master/slave dichotomy
that has been very influential in contemporary thinkers such as Foucault, Derrida, and Lyotard.
Perhaps more interesting, from our literary point of view, is Nietzsches insistence on
the necessity to approach all values from a new, different perspective that would allow for the
contradictions and paradoxes of a new aesthetic based on Dionysian forces. The present, he
insists, is already part of the past and therefore everything is necessarily new. Nietzsche is
also the theorist of nihilism, a term coined by Ivan Turgenev in Fathers and Sons (1862).
Nietzsche explains that the term nihilism is ambiguous. It could refer to active nihilism or
increased power of the spirit (marked by violent destruction) or to passive nihilism (in which
case the power of the spirit would be recessive and in decline implying futility, resignation and
cynicism). As will be seen in the following Units, both meanings can be observed in the
different approaches of Modernism towards literature. We moderns said Nietzsche in Beyond
Good and Evil (1886), we half-barbarians. We are in the midst of our bliss when we are more
in danger. Here, he was referring to the duty of the modern individual to create a future of new
values, an endeavour implying an act of destructive genesis and a total break with the past.
Nietzsches concept of eternal recurrence is very intriguing in relation to literature;
while encompassing the idea that experience is eternally repeated, it also considers a positive
aspect to this eternal recurrence in that the individual should live each moment as if it would
be repeated eternally. Through eternal recurrence, linear time is thus questioned and
undermined. Linear progression is itself less important than the fact of constant repetition of a
particular action. The concept of eternal recurrence brings two very interesting dimensions of
time, namely cyclical time and eternal time. Virginia Woolfs Mrs Dalloway (1925) and James
Joyces Ulysses (1922) which, at a basic level and perhaps more graphically starts and
finishes with the same letter, both contain a circular structure that breaks the linear
progression of the narrative. In eternal recurrence the concept of cyclical time is present in
the idea of repetition or recurrence, and that of eternal time in the very fact that that repetition
will happen for ever. The alluring aspect of this theory is that its direction is inwards, towards
the individual, rather than outwards, towards the outside world. The individual should live as
she/he would like to live eternally. The need is for the individual to experience life to the full
and to accept responsibility for present actions. This aspect of eternal recurrence clarifies, in
part, Nietzsches bermensch in that, in essence, what is at stake here is becoming what one
is and experiencing life as if one wanted each moment to come back again. This is why
repetition is significant in modern literature.
Furthermore, repetition obeys a need to render linear, chronological time as insufficient
in explaining human reality and the universe. Think for instance of the very different
perceptions that an hour might contain. We have all experienced instances when an hour
passes as if it had been a second, whereas in different circumstances an hour may be
perceived as a decade. This experience of time leads to the key concept of relativity which
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UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

immediately brings to mind the persona of Albert Einstein (1879-1955) and his nowadays
popular and famous theory that, in the case of objects travelling at a speed near to that of light,
matter transforms into energy. The importance of Einsteins theories (1905 and 1916) is that
by pointing out the possibility of a change in matter the principle of permanence implicit in
Newtonian physics crumbles. A Newtonian universe found expression in the realist novel,
where a reliable narrator can render the observations of a world that responds to consistent
and empirical laws and which progresses according to a chronological pattern of linear time;
by contast, the transforming and mutable world of relativity can be rendered only through a
narrative that changes its perspective. We find in modern narratives flashbacks, time arcs,
jumps, repetitions and, most important in their novelty, leaps and swerves. These are all
narrative devices allowing for the representation of the subjective perception of time and the
instability of space boundaries as these transpire from the theory of relativity. The infinite
instance of time in which matter is transformed into energy, or in terms of aesthetics, the
moment in which the individual reaches the sublime point of recognition of an emotion, the
Woolfian Moment of Being or the Joycean Epiphany become the most precious goal a work
of art can achieve. In order to transmit these moments the image, defined by Pound defines
as an intellectual and emotional complex, seems the most readily available tool. In this sense
the plot and the structure not only of narrative but also of poetry are manipulated in order to
provide the image of a particular emotion. Literature becomes introspective, fallible,
andintensely subjective through a writing that requires a very dangerous exercise on the part
of the writer. Pushing language to the limit, the writer places him/herself dangerously close to
neurotic discourse, risking in the process his/her own sanity.

The ambiguity and flexibility implied by this theory allowed the


expression of the ambiguity and flexibility intuitively felt in language.
Modern writing thus constantly plays with the suspicion that language can
never be fixed and that meaning, to see it from Jacques Derridas
viewpoint, is always deferred. Therefore, through the repetition of a word
the multiple and, in theory, infinite meaning is always somewhere else.
This implies that language, and not the story, is the most important
feature in literature.
In talking about language a reference to Ferdinand Saussure (1857-1913) and the
Course in General Linguistics (1916), a work edited and completed from lecture notes by his
students after his death, is unavoidable. He was the first linguist to question the goal of the
study of linguistics. He moved from the study of the genealogy of the changes in word and
grammar over time to the exploration of language as a social phenomenon. He distinguishes
langue, that is, language as a particular structured system, from parole, which refers to a
specific utterance or speech act. Furthermore, he formulates the principle that there are no
positive signs in language. This principle will be crucial for the development of structuralism
and post-structuralism. The literature produced before Saussure used language as a tool that
would enable the writer to portray reality as it could be physically observed. To use a
metaphor, language was a window on to the world. According to Saussure, however, this can
never be the case because language is made up of signs owing their signification not to the
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UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

world but to the difference to each other in a network of signs that is the signifying system. For
example in the traffic system the sign red means stop as opposed to green, meaning go. Yet
in a different system, for example in banking, red means debit whereas green means credit.
As can be observed from this example, the meaning of a sign is not fixed, but depends on its
oppositions within a particular system. In other words, language is not divinely designed or
naturally given; it is socially constructed and therefore subject to changes in meaning. The
emphasis in Saussuran studies is not so much on the development of language over time but
on how language functions when used by people and how people are made to function by
language. His interests therefore focused on finding the rules and structure of language
governing speech and writing.
There were others interested in the problem posed by a new view of language. For
instance, Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) formulated the idea that human reasoning was not
so much an engagement with reality and truth as a language game. Wittgensteins ambitious
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922) set out to provide a solution to all the philosophical
problems. He tried to establish a clear demarcation between logic, on the one hand, and
empirical knowledge on the other, and to discern between logical and empirical truths. In doing
so he confronted the problem of formulating a global conceptualisation about the relationship
between language and thought, and language and reality. It is important to note that
Wittgenstein, as werwe other philosophers of language such as Bertrand Russell (1872-1970),
was not as interested in a linguistic approach to language as in a philosophical one. In this
sense, his insights into the nature of language were prompted by a dissatisfaction felt and
shared by Russell and the members of the Vienna Circle with the imperfection of language.
The fact that language disguises and misrepresents thought and reality implies that a search
within language for a logic that goes beyond the superficial logic of its external structure is of
paramount importance. This hidden structure is, according to the Tractatus, logical. That is, it
is constituted by elements that have a direct connection with reality. According to Wittgenstein,
language has limitations marked by the logical rules governing the combinations of signs.
There is therefore a distinction between what can be said with coherence and what cannot;
Wittgenstein thus attempts to establish what are genuine philosophical problems and what are
not. We can arrive at doubt only if a question can be formulated, and a question can be posed
only if there is an answer that can be provided only if something can be said. Hence human
knowledge and experience are constrained by language: The limits of the universe are the
limits of my language. The importance of Wittgenstein is that he considered language not as a
mere system of representation of the world and of our knowledge of it, but as social and
communicative reality. His work was highly influential on the logical positivism and philosophy
of science of the Vienna Circle which at their meeting discussed the Tractatus. Both Bertrand
Russell and G.E. Moore (1873-1958) often argued with Wittgenstein, whose work
fundamentally inspired the works of both. G.E. Moores insights into the aesthetic, as will be
discussed in Unit 8, constituted the basis for the formulation of the aesthetics of the
Bloomsbury group. Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), whose main concern was ontology or the
study of being, placed an emphasis on language as the vehicle through which the question of
being could be explored. He was particularly interested in poetry. In Being and Time (1927) he
affirmed that individuals do not speak through language, but that language speaks through
them. The impact of Heidegger, however, goes beyond the scope of this course. His thinking
has contributed to such different fields as existentialism (Sartre, Ortega y Gassett) and post15

UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

structuralism (Derrida) among many others. In literature his strongest impact can be traced in
from the second half of the twentieth century to the present day.

As can be seen in the preceeding paragraphs, language stops being


a transparent, reliable tool and becomes an issue in itself. Language is
mutable, ambiguous and unfixed in meaning; the suspicion that language
cannot be trusted in the search for truth and knowledge led many
writers to incorporate language itself into their writings, to explore
language and to analyse its implication in the subjectivity of the
individual.
A subjectivity made up of language participates in the very nature of language and,
therefore, such a subjectivity ceases to be perceived as a unitary normative self and, rather,
becomes a fluid, discontinuous and fragmented self. The psychological studies of Sigmund
Freud (1856-1939), leading to the foundation of the new science of psychoanalysis,
corroborated this view of the self as evolving and fragmented. Freuds work is not isolated, it
should be understood as part of the general enquiry into the workings of the mind found in the
studies of among others Carl Jung (1875-1961), Henri Bergson (1859-1941), and Williams
James (1842-1910). James, brother of the novelist Henry James, coined the term stream of
consciousness, as will be discussed in the following Unit. In Time and Freewill (1889), the
French philosopher Henri Bergson discusses the minds particular understanding of time. He
opposes linear time against what he calls duration, which refers to the way the mind
perceives the length of an experience according to the respective subjective factors of
appreciation of that experience in each individual. Bergson considers that chronological time is
the time of history and it is also the time that marks our bodies in so far as we are living
organisms. However, the time of the mind is completely detached from chronological time.
Duration refers to those times in the life of an individual that are significant for the individual.
These times are not necessarily chronologically ordered and they are, by their own definition,
different for each individual. Such a distinction will influence the representation of time in
literature. The implication of the time of the mind is that past and future co-exist in the present;
as Eliot argues in The Waste Land (1922) mental time is composed of desire and memory.
Bergsons ideas were deeply influential on Wyndham Lewiss Time and Western Man (1927),
which, also influenced by Nietzsche, postulated the idea that continuity in time was impossible,
seeing as it did time as fragmented and people inhabiting time only in memory and projection.
These new perspectives on time explain some of the different techniques in art - and in the
novel in particular, such as an open-ended finale or an abrupt beginning at any ordinary
moment in the life of a character, as is seen, for instance, in Joyces Ulysses.

Virginia Woolfs Mrs Dalloway, which, significantly, was going to be


called The Hours, is a good example of what has just been explained
in relation to time. It contains pages of an experience being considered
by a character while only a second has elapsed in the chronological
time marked by the chimes of Big Ben. The importance of the time of
16

UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

the mind and its influence


visually in this same novel
sky and observed by the
will last different lengths of
much as the experience
connotations for each one.

on the representation of reality is provided


by an image of an aeroplane writing in the
different characters in the novel. This event
subjective time for different characters, in so
of looking at the aeroplane has different

Because reality is shaped according to a minds perception of time, Bergson believed


that facts and matter should be scrutinised by intuition in order to achieve a complete vision of
reality, since these facts and matter are only the outer expression of reality. If Bergson was
concerned with the way in which the mind understands time, Freud was concerned with the
minds awareness of its own working. Freud started cooperating with Joseph Breuer (18421905) on cases of hysteria. Based on Jean Charcots studies and on practical cases that
Freud witnessed during the time he spent in Paris, they treated hysteria, allowing patients to
disclose their memories under hypnosis. Later on, hypnosis was somewhat discredited as a
practical tool, and the idea of free association for recovering memories was introduced into
their work. Psychoanalysis, a term coined in 1896, was born. In 1897 Freud broke his
association with Breuer; he developed further his views on psychoanalysis and the importance
of infantile sexuality for the development of the psyche. In 1910 he founded with Carl Jung the
International Psychoanalytical Association. In The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) Freud
argued that dreams are the expression of repressed desires and that the realm of repressed
desires is the unconscious. Together with the conscious it forms the totality of the psychic
reality. Freud will be explored in some depth in the following section, yet it is important to point
out here the significance of the discovery of the unconscious, which is the part of the psyche
unknown to the subject that, however, and according to Freud, is no less operative in the
psyches reality than is consciousness. The unconscious is full of memories and ideas from
early childhood. These are repressed and made unconscious for various reasons, among
them because they have been forbidden. The existence of the unconscious is evidenced in
dreams, slips of the tongue, sudden and uncanny realisations of an event, etc.
Moreover, because of these unconscious drives the subject can no longer be perceived
as being a unitary normative self. The subject, after Freud, is made up of multiple selves that
could emerge depending on which part of the unconscious becomes conscious. In other
words, one can never be totally sure of what one is because the unconscious implies that one
could be somebody else. This idea is echoed in the new literary interest to show the drives,
obsessions and compulsions motivating the actions of ordinary people. After Freud, it is no
longer satisfactory to present the outside personalities of the characters and the surface
expressions of their thoughts, as was the case with realist fiction. Instead, the writer needs to
address what Henry James called psychological realism; that is, to explore the hidden drives
and desires of the characters.

The main idea to take into account is that the unconscious


a part of the mind that, by its own nature, can never be totally
by the subject. Therefore, the idea that the individual is totally in
of his/her actions has to be abandoned since there is a part

implies
known
control
of the
17

UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

mind that, because


subject.

it is

not conscious,

cannot be

controlled

by

the

1.3. The New Woman enters the stage


This period also witnessed developments in concepts of femininity centred around
discussions of the New Woman. Although feminist thought had its origins in the
Enlightenment, from the 1890s onwards it entered the public imagination. Cartoons in Punch
magazine, for example, featured powerful and athletic women cycling or playing cricket and
bullying effeminate men at dinner parties, in contrast to the prevailing image of the Victorian
middle-class woman as a fragile figure in need of male protection and uninvolved with public
life. Mainly starting in the second half of the nineteenth century and prompted by the public
rise of the womens movement, a vortex of discourses focused on womens sexuality, on the
so-called Woman Question and on those forms of sexual behaviour that deviated from the
norm. Broadly speaking, this new interest on the part of scientific, legal, moral and political
discourses has at its source the womens movement, the rise of the New Woman and the
figures of the decadent and the dandy, which challenged the monolithic ideological certainties
regarding sexual difference of mid-Victorian Britain.
The turn of the century was a time when, as Karl Miller points out, Men became
women. Women became men. Gender and country were put in doubt: the single life was found
to harbour two sexes and two nations (Miller 1985: 209). The anxiety to restore patriarchal
order in a godless society provoked the appearance of the scientific expert on sex, gender
and sexuality and his intervention in social, political and legal reform. Confronted with the
increasing blurring of sexual roles, scientists started to investigate the differences between
men and women in order to assert, through an empirical observation that supposedly validated
the objectivity of their scientific conclusions, the very differences on which their studies were
based. Thus, through social science and anthropological discourses emerging from
Darwinism, such as, for example, in the works of Henry Maine, John McLennan, Herbert
Spencer, Lewis Henry Morgan, John Lubbock, and J.J. Bachofen, patriarchy and its
organisation of social structures and gender roles were justified historically and evolutionarily
by means of re-examining the idea of the timeless role of women in society.
A much more optimistic point of view comes from a New Woman. Jane Ellen Harrison
(1850-1928) was a famous British Classicist and social anthropologist who wrote influential
works on the shift from matriarchy to patriarchy in Asia Minor and Greece. She contributed to
the matriarchal discourse initiated by Bachofen in the 1860s. Harrison is inquisitive as to the
power structures between the sexes as they are exposed in myths and she places particular
emphasis in the social shift from matrilineal to patrilinear [sic] conditions (Harrison 1924: 68).
In 1903 she published her Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religions. Here, she argues for
the existence of a matriarchal origin in Greek religions and claims that the ancient cult to the
female figure has been forgotten and replaced by an obsession with the patriarchal figure. She
suggests that patriarchy sought to destroy matrilineal families in order to introduce patriarchal
laws of marriage and narrowing concepts of femininity. She proposes that since patriarchal
mythology was the tool used to impose patriarchal structures, research into matriarchal myths
would help subvert patriarchy. Harrison reinforces the thesis of the existence of a matriarchal
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UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

culture by adding further evidences to it; she also offers alternative modes of femininity and
masculinity:
The relation of these early matriarchal, husbandless goddesses ... to the male figures that
accompany them is one altogether noble and womanly, though perhaps not what the modern mind
holds to be feminine. It seems to halt somewhere half-way between Mother and Lover, with a
touch of the patron saint. Aloof from achievement themselves, they chose a local hero for their
own to inspire and protect. They ask of him, not that he should love or adore, but that he should
do great deeds ... And as their glory is in the heros high deeds, so their grace is his guerdon. With
the coming of patriarchal conditions this high companionship ends. (Harrison 1922: 273)
In this passage Harrison offers alternative concepts of gendered subjectivity. She was
certain that the power of the figure of the Great Mother was just biding her time and that She
would return triumphant. In Ancient Art and Ritual, where she describes religious rites and
Greek drama, Harrison suggests that art develops from ritual: ritual is swiftly and completely
transmuted into art (Harrison 1913: 14) and that they do not seek to copy a fact but to
reproduce, to re-enact an emotion (Harrison 1913: 47). Harrisons work owed much to that of
Freud. In the Preface to Epilegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, (1921) she presents
Freud as a background authority and acknowledges a debt to his work. In turn, Freud grew
interested in Harrisons studies on the myth of the Great Mother and in the theories she
developed on totemistic ceremonies and groups. He explored them in Totem and Taboo
(1913). By the 1920s and 1930s Bachofens and Harrisons arguments were very popular and
of many artists including Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, Andr Breton and the Surrealists in
Paris explored in their writings the figure of the Great Mother.
The question of gender roles and the Woman Question reached different fields of
knowledge. In biology and medical science works such as The Evolution of Sex (1889) by
Patrick Geddes and J. Arthur Thomson concluded, along the lines of Spencer and Darwin, that
the female human was a case of arrested development. Gendering his study of the cells
metabolic process, Geddes argued that the position of women in society was not the result of
acquired social behaviour, but, on the contrary, that it merely reflected the economy of cell
metabolism and its parallel psychic differentiation between the sexes (Conway 1973: 146).
Basing his view on his scientific studies Geddes affirmed that: What was decided among the
prehistory Protozoa cannot be annulled by Act of Parliament (Geddes 1901: 286), invalidating
in this manner womens struggle for emancipation.

Freud in 1925 published a paper entitled Some Psychological Consequences of the


Anatomical Distinction between the Sexes in which, for the first time, he distinguished
between the respective psychological developments in boys and girls. Up to that point he had
studied girls development as analogous to boys. Female sexuality is for Freud linked to male
sexuality and the concept of penis envy. In this sense, the dnouement of the castration
complex for women leads to the acknowledgement of the fact of her castration, and with it,
too, the superiority of the male and her own inferiority (Freud 1991: 376). Rebellion against
this situation causes an abnormal development in woman whose penis envy leads her to a
masculine complex connected in Freud to female homosexuality. Because anatomy is
destiny Freud also thought the feminist struggle to be pointless:

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We must not allow ourselves to be deflected from such conclusions by the denials of the
feminists, who are anxious to force us to regard the two sexes as completely equal in position and
worth. (Freud 1991: 342)
Freuds biased perspective is expressed in the above statement, which seems to imply
that women are less valuable than and thus inferior to men. Women, according to Freuds
point of view, were pursuing an impossible quest, for lies in the biology of the sexes that the
superego of men predisposes them to undertake the most challenging tasks. Women, on the
other hand, because of their less strongly formed superego, are capricious and unreliable
social beings (Freud 1991: 377). A few years later he published Female Sexuality (1931)
which expanded on the ideas expressed in the earlier paper. Maybe because of his later
realisation of a possibly different psychological development, Freuds point of view on the
subject of female sexuality remains hesitant and dubious, and he never did come to a clear
conclusion on the subject. Moreover, as Freud himself remarks, pure masculinity and
femininity remain theoretical constructions of uncertain content (Freud 1991: 342). Therefore,
the respective outcomes of neither the Oedipus complex nor the castration complex are ever
totally resolved. The primal bisexual disposition remains in the unconscious of both girls and
boys. Bisexuality, stronger in girls than in boys due to the girls lack of an inmediately visible
organ of recognition, remains in adulthood and, Freud argues, should be balanced in the
individual towards the characteristics of the ideal woman. Therefore, if biology dooms women
to an inferior position, the primitive bisexual disposition opens a door to the convergence of the
sexes.
By perpetuating stereotypes of masculinity and femininity in his theory of the Oedipus
complex, Freud created a debate. His feminist colleagues, Karen Horney and Helene
Deutsch, among others, while not denying the value of psychoanalytical theory, challenged
Freuds characterisation of femininity. In particular, Horney, in 1924, opened what came to be
known as the Freud-Jones debate. She argued that masculine narcissism was responsible for
the assumption that the female feels her genital to be inferior (Roith 1992: 161). In response
to her, Freud wrote Femininity (1933), where he comes to the definition of femininity as a
single unique position for normal sexuality in women and he establishes homosexuality in
women as a masculine complex. The importance of Freuds sexual discourse during the
interwar period lies in the fact that he left most questions about female sexuality unanswered;
for example, pure femininity remains a theoretical construction.
Perhaps the field of knowledge that assumed special relevance in relation to sex
gender and sexuality was the new science of sexology. Sexual scandals and an epidemic of
syphilis caused the questioning of the validity of Victorian morals and values, while provoking
in people anxiety and fear. This resulted in emphasis on the importance of the family as a
safeguard against sexual decadence, and in a craving for legislative restrictions. Thus, the
discourse on sexuality was transferred from the public arena to the household. Oscar Wildes
trial and conviction in 1895, for example, focused public attention on the emerging
homosexuality while provoking its medicalisation. With the purpose of establishing the
borderline between acceptable and abhorrent behaviour, science and civil order allied.
The literature of sexology of the period displays this anxiety. Although for many years
the nineteenth-century theorists had denied women any sexual tendencies, paradoxically, the
only approach that scientific discourse was able to undertake was precisely solely related to
her sex, to such an extent that as Susan Kingsley Kent has argued society came to regard
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UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

women as the Sex (Kent 1990: 32). Words such as feminism and homosexuality were
used now for the first time.
The term New Woman was born in 1894 after many attempts to name the second
generation of feminist women:
Two novelists, the feminist Sara Grand and the anti-feminist Ouida, acted as
godmothers, while Punch played the role of officiating clergyman and performed the
ceremony within its pages. (Jordan 1983: 19)

New Woman refers to those middle-upper class women who had profited from the
educational and vocational opportunities won by the pioneer feminists of the sixties [1860s]
(Jordan 1983: 19). The most prominent change, then, was their increased presence in the
public arena. Whereas the lives of most nineteenth-century women, especially middle-class
women, tended to revolve around home life, modern women ventured into jobs, politics and
culture outside the domestic realm. By the 1920s educated women wanted access not only to
the so-called male professions but also demanded access to the broader world of male
opportunity (Newton 1984: 564) and night life. Activities seen as proper to the masculine
world such as drinking or smoking became symbols of womens emancipation. These women
rejected traditional feminine clothing (Newton 1984: 564) indicating with this gesture a
resoluteness to break free from traditional codes of gender behaviour.
The New Woman was far from being a category stable and free of contradictions and
was often, even among the suffragette circles, viewed with suspicion and fear because her
presence threatened and challenged patriarchy. A powerful and attractive figure, frighteningly
in the ascendant, the New Woman attempted a re-conceptualisation of womanhood and
produced a discourse on female sexuality contradicting the prevailing idea of femininity.
Patriarchys adverse reaction can be observed even in liberal treatises such as Edward
Carpenters The Intermediate Sex (1914) which opens with a reference to the New Woman
and the suggestion that the masculinisation of women was the result of the attitude of these
independent women:
In late years (and since the arrival of the New Woman amongst us) many things in the
relation of men and women to each other have altered, or at any rate become clearer ...
If the modern woman is a little more masculine in some ways than her predecessor, the
modern man (it is to be hoped), while by no means effeminate, is a little more sensitive
in temperament and artistic in feeling than the original John Bull. (Carpenter 1914: 114)
Furthermore, Carpenters passage links the New Woman with homosexuality. This
connection, present in Freud, was also used in some reactionary literature questioning the
morality as well as the physical and psychic health of these women. The correlation between
masculinisation, homosexuality and the New Woman aimed to counterbalance the increasing
popularity the New Woman was gaining, especially among middle and upper class women. By
making the New Woman an androgynous figure, dominant discourse was attempting to portray
her as a pitiful, unsatisfied and asexual woman. In fact, this misogynist discourse provided the
basis for feminist and lesbian discourses that, at the beginning of the twentieth century, used
her image as a code to make relative and, therefore, challenge and defy patriarchal gender
roles. Significantly, the characteristics of the New Woman are used in the fiction of the turn of
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UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

the century and interwar period, such as Virginia Woolfs Night and Day (1919), as codified
signs for providing extra information about strong female characters.
In Woman and Her Place in a Free Society (1894) Carpenter denounced the
objectification of women by patriarchy. He equated private property with the submission of
women to men: Mans craze for property and individual ownership ... culminated perhaps not
unnaturally in woman his most precious and beloved object (Carpenter 1894: 10). Following
Havelock Elliss angel-idiot theory which argued that woman had been trapped in the
intersection between an angel and an idiot, Carpenter argued that the construction of femininity
was something completely alien to women. The objectification of woman caused, according to
Carpenter, a lack of understanding between the sexes. His consideration of female sexuality as
a male construct and the need for understanding between the sexes was shared by many
feminists of the period. Olive Schreiners point of view, for instance, was that man and woman
were bound together and that it was a mistake to conceptualise the advance of the one without
the other (Schreiner 1993: 308-317). Olive Schreiner (1855-1920) was born in South Africa. She
travelled to Britain with the objective of becoming a doctor, and began attending lectures at
medical school in London. Olive also began going to socialist meetings. During this time she
became friends with leading radicals such as Edward Carpenter, Eleanor Marx and Bruce
Glasier. Her novel Story of an African Farm was published in 1883: the book was praised by
feminists who approved of the strong heroine who controls her own destiny. Soon after the novel
was published Schreiner developed an intimate relationship with the sexologist Havelock Ellis.
They shared the same views on sexuality, free love, marriage, the emancipation of women,
sexual equality, and birth control. Although they often lived a long way apart, they wrote letters to
each other for the next thirty-six years. She also wrote two collections of short stories, Dreams
(1891) and Dream Life and Real Life (1893) but the two novels she was working on at the time,
From Man to Man and Undine, were not published until after her death.
In 1889 Schreiner returned to South Africa, where she married Samuel Cronwright in
1894. Her only child died sixteen hours after birth. Schreiner continued to write and her next
book, Trooper Peter Halkett of Mashonaland (1897) was a strong attack on imperialism and
British racism in South Africa. However, as a pacifist, Schreiner was unwilling to give her full
support to the armed rising that led to the Boer War in 1899. Woman and Labour was
published in 1911: it was immediately acclaimed as an important statement on feminis, and
had a major influence on a large number of young women. A strong supporter of universal
suffrage, Schreiner argued that the vote was a weapon, by which the weak may be able to
defend themselves against the strong, the poor against the weak. On the outbreak of the First
World War Schreiner moved back to Britain. Over the next four years she was active in the
peace movement and worked closely with organisations such as the Union of Democratic
Control and the Non-Conscription Fellowship. In September 1920 Olive Schreiner returned to
South Africa, where she died in December that same year.
Another writer of the period, Victoria Cross, provided in Theodora: A Fragment (1895) an
image of the two protagonists, a man and a woman, together entering a room: We were then face
to face with a door which she opened, and we both passed over the threshold together (Cross 1993: 14).

The fact that it is the woman who opens the door suggests the importance of the New Woman
and gives full meaning to Carpenters words: since the arrival of the New Woman among us,
She is opening the door to a new world in which both will be as two men-friends or two womenfriends might be, open and equal comrades in the great battle of life (Carpenter 1894: 27).
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UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

The New Woman defied patriarchy by looking for new narratives that would escape
from the tragic endings of the Victorian novel written by women. Their narratives represent
female desire as a creative force in artistic imagination as well as in biological reproduction
(Showalter 1993: xi). As Carpenter put it, sex in woman may more properly be termed a
constructive instinct (Carpenter 1894: 32). In order to make use of this creative force
advantageously woman should free herself from the impositions of patriarchal stereotypes:
The lady, the household drudge, and the prostitute (Carpenter 1894: 12). For this reason,
the female protagonist in Shreiners short story Lifes Gifts laugh[s] in her sleep (Schreiner
1993: 317), having renounced the gift of love in favour of the gift of freedom.
If the outbreak of the First World War supposed a massive incorporation of women into
the labour force, its aftermath brought about an impasse in the womens struggle. Propaganda
launched by the government was aimed at bringing women back to their homes, their families
and their husbands. Yet, in apparent paradox, the scientific discourse on sexuality reached the
general public in the 1920s. Sexology and psychology started to be available to the general
public through the publication of manuals such as Marie Stopess Married Love (1918) or
Helena Wrights The Sex Factor in Marriage (1930). Marie Stopes (1880-1958) always
intended that sexual ecstasy should be restricted to marital union, but despite her intentions
she invited controversy because of her explicit approach to the anatomy of sexual relations
and her frank advocacy of the practice of birth control. Her studies as a botanist and
palaeontologist took her to London and Munich, then on to Manchester where she became the
first female member of the science faculty at the university. But it was her married life that
inspired her devotion to sexual education. Stopess first marriage was unconsummated so it
was then annulled in 1916, and she found herself researching the subject. This fascination led
to her first book Married Love, published in the year she married Humphrey Verdon Roe. A
second book called Wise Parenthood closely followed Married Love and she became an
overnight success, swamped with requests for birth control advice. With her career
established, she wrote more books and edited the journal Birth Control News.
The impact of the publication of Married Love and The Sex Factor in Marriage was
twofold. On the one hand, by stressing the importance of sex for the couple, by proving information
on family planning and by being a source of information concerning contraceptive methods,
these works were breaking the taboo around sex, a taboo inherited from the Victorians. On the
other hand, popularising the works of Richard Krafft-Ebing, Havelock Ellis and Freud among
others, these works established the differences between normal and abnormal sexual
behaviour.

Feminism in the period between the wars engaged in learning the


meaning of citizenship and in handling the scientific discoveries and
technical advances that so greatly affected womens lives.

Oscar Wildes play deals with some of these issues raised in


relation to what was called the woman question. In fact, his conviction
and imprisonment was very much based on several studies on sex and
sexuality considered of importance in his lifetime. While reading the text,
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UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

could your identify these new ideas either implicitly or explicitly present
in The Importance of Being Ernest ?

2. TEXT ANALYSIS: Oscar Wildes Earnestness to Break Free


2.1. APPROACHING
2.2. REVISITING The Great Gatsby
3. ACTIVITIES

2. TEXT ANALYSIS: Oscar Wildes Earnestness to Break Free


Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) grew up in Dublin, where his parents, Sir William and Lady
Jane Francesca Wilde, were celebrities. William Wilde was a prominent eye and ear surgeon
who wrote on his speciality numerous volumes that became textbooks for succeeding
decades. He also wrote travel guides, histories and poems. He was a talented
conversationalist, and led a busy and active social life in the midst of Dublins lite. Lady Wilde
was a noteworthy agitator for Irish independence (the Green Movement), a revolutionary
poet, critic and early advocate of womens liberation. She was a self-proclaimed genius and a
witty talker. Lady Wilde preferred waking in the afternoon, affected an aversion to the sun, had
a passion for classical verse, and entertained the literati by exaggerating truth and myth to
produce remarkable and endless stories. Yeats said: When one listens to [Lady Wilde] and
remembers that Sir William Wilde was in his day a famous raconteur, one finds it in no way
wonderful that Oscar Wilde should be the most finished talker of our time (Coakley 1995: 75).
After Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated in classics, Oscar Wilde attended
Magdalen College, Oxford, where he studied with Ruskin and Pater. As a disciple of Walter
Pater, he founded the Aesthetic movement, which advocated art for arts sake, as has
already been mentioned. Yeats, in his reminiscence of Wilde, recalls him speaking of Paters
Studies in the History of the Renaissance. Yeats overheard Wilde talking with another man,
and in a slow, carefully modulated voice, Wilde was saying:
It is my golden book; I never travel anywhere without it; but it is the very flower of decadence,
the last trumpet should have sounded the moment it was written. (Norton 2000: 2129)
During his imprisonment, Wilde referred to The History of the Renaissance (in De
Profundis, 1905) as that book which had such a strange influence over my life. He was by
then already characterised by his aesthetic idiosyncrasies such as wearing his hair long,
dressing colourfully, and carrying flowers while lecturing, qualities that Gilbert and Sullivan
parodied in the operetta Patience (1881).
In 1882, Wilde, short of funds, embarked on a lecture tour of the US. At each stop, he
preached the gospel of Aestheticism, the Cult of the Artificial, which rejected the social conception
of the natural. Fully playing the role of the Aesthete, dressed as a dandy, he entered America with
one of his famous aphorisms. When, queried by Customs officials he said: I have nothing to declare
except my genius. Back in England and after his marriage to Constance Lloyd in 1884, Wilde
became the editor of the magazine Womans World. In 1888 he published The Happy Prince and
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UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

Other Tales, a collection of original fairy tales. After five years he left the magazine and started
publishing provocative essays largely dealing with the self-explanatory Art for Arts Sake. His book
Intentions, 1891) contained essays titled The Decay of Lying; The Critic as Artist; Pen, Pencil and
Poison; and The Truth of Masks. They were written in the form of dialogues between a new Plato
and his young disciples, an intellectual exercise that the author soon began to live out. The next
years saw the height of his fame as he published and produced witty and scandalous plays such
as Lady Windermeres Fan (1892), A Woman of No Importance (1893) and An Ideal Husband (1895).
Wilde took the London stage by storm with his witty, epigrammatic style, insolent ease of utterance
and suave urbanity. Wilde described Lady Windermeres Fan as one of those modern drawing-room
plays with pink lampshades. Its combination of polished social drama and coruscating witty dialogue
was repeated in 1895 in the two hits he had simultaneously on the London stage, An Ideal Husband
and The Importance of Being Earnest.
In 1891, shortly after publication of his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, he had
fallen in love with a young aristocrat named Lord Alfred Douglas (Wilde at this time had two sons
from his marriage). The charming but temperamental Douglas (whom he called Bosie) was at the
time an undergraduate at Oxford. Douglass father, the Marquess of Queensberry, publicly
accused Wilde of homosexuality by leaving a card at Wildes club addressed: To Oscar Wilde
posing as a Somdomite (it was a spelling error, he meant sodomite.). Wilde, understanding that
the Marquess of Queensberry meant sodomite, sued for libel. Wilde lost and left himself open
to criminal prosecution. His successful career ended in criminal prosecution for sodomy, in
what was called the trial of the century. The Picture of Dorian Gray was used as evidence
against him, and after a series of trials he received a sentence of two years. He was sent to
Wandsworth Prison in November 1895 and was subsequently transferred to Reading Gaol.
The prison conditions were truly severe. One of Britains periodic prison reform initiatives was
launched just after his two-year sentence ended. Of his time as a prisoner he wrote in The
Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898):
I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Under the little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky.
All that we know who lie in gaol
Is that the wall is strong;
And that each day is like a year,
A year whose days are long.
(Web: oscar_wilde, the ballad of reading gaol)

On leaving prison, bankrupt and ruined in health, he went to Paris, where he settled,
bitter and broken. He lived for three more years, mostly under the assumed name of Sebastian
Melmoth, (the name of his favourite martyr from Melmoth the Wanderer, a novel written by his
great-uncle, Charles Maturin, in 1820), depending on others for support. His family had
abandoned him and his wife changed her name and that of their sons to Holland. On 30
November 1900, at the age of forty-six, Wilde died of cerebral meningitis at the Hotel DAlsace.
He was buried at Bagneaux. He is now buried in the Pre Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

2.1. APPROACHING Wildes The Importance of Being Earnest


The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) is Oscar Wildes most lasting play, a
masterpiece of modern comedy. More than a century later, it still strikes a wonderful balance
between being a respected and studied piece of literature and a favourite with audiences.
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UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

Although Wilde liked critical success, he preferred financial success since he was always short
of money because of his extravagant behaviour. It appears from his letters that he wrote The
Importance of Being Earnest for money, as the following extract from a letter to his producer,
George Alexander, testifies:
I think an amusing thing with lots of fun and wit might be made. If you think so too ... do let me know
and send me 150. If when the play is finished, you think it too slight, you have the 150 back. In the
meantime, I am so pressed for money that I dont know what to do. Of course I am extravagant. You have
always been a good wise friend to me, so think what you can do. (Wilde, Letters 359)

He wrote the play in three weeks, and sent it to George Alexander, who did not like it
and opted not to produce it. But the terrible failure of Henry Jamess play Guy Domville shortly
after Wilde sent him The Importance of Being Earnest convinced Alexander that they needed
another play to fill the gap. Wildes play was put on at the St Jamess and it was a spectacular
success. Indeed, as Andrew Sanders acknowledges: the play has been accorded an
unchallenged canonical status which is witnessed by its probably being the most quoted play
in the English language after Hamlet. (Sanders 1994: 477-8).
The play consists of a tension between truth and falsehood, which are given equal
value and appear, in the end, to be mere rhetorical strategies. The play also contains plays on
language and meaning. Many critics have noted the extraordinarily verbal nature of this play.
Wilde subordinated every other dramatic element to dialogue for its own sake and create a
verbal universe in which the characters are determined by the kind of things they say, with the
plot nothing but a succession of opportunities to say them. It is remarkable for Wildes use of
aphorisms (a sentence containing a wise or witty comment): In married life three is company and
two none; All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. Thats his.
Filled with wit and wisdom, The Importance of Being Earnest tells the tale of Jack
Worthing (a respectable provincial Justice of the Peace) and Algernon Moncrieff. Both young
men have taken to bending the truth in order to add a dash of excitement to their lives. Jack
has invented an imaginary brother, Ernest, whom he uses as an excuse to escape from his
dull home in the country and to justify his frequent trips to his bachelor rooms up in London.
Algernon uses a similar technique, only in reverse. His imaginary friend, Bunbury, provides a
convenient and frequent excuse for taking excursions in the country. Since the
reader/audience finds no description of the Dramatis personae at the beginning of the play, the
reader/audience has to accept the disguises. However, Jacks and Algernons deceptions
eventually cross paths, resulting in a series of crises that threaten to spoil their romantic
pursuits: Jack of his love Gwendolen Fairfax and Algernon of his sweetheart Cecily Cardew.
The play, as are most farces, is constructed on a series of secrets; the action arises from
disclosure or the fear of disclosure. Unlike most farces, however, deception and deceit in The
Importance of Being Earnest are given relatively light moral value. The lies Jack and Algernon
tell at the beginning, which the reader/audience thinks are faintly immoral, actually turn out to
be the real truth of the situation.

You can know whether you have read a play attentively when you
are able to define each main character. Can you provide three defining
characteristics for the protagonists of the play? Can you say which
scenes in the play led you to your opinion of these characters?
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UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

The play was subtitled A Trivial Comedy for Serious People and in this context it is
remarkable that the word serious appears seventeen times, whereas the word trivial appears
only three times (including twice as triviality): one must be serious about something, if one
wants to have any amusement in life You [Jack] have such an absolutely trivial nature.
This makes the audience wonder whether this means that the play is more serious than
trivial. Famous aphorisms are, for example, The General was essentially a man of peace,
except in his domestic life, (Act III) and Divorces are made in Heaven (Act III). Wilde is
relying upon his audiences familiarity with Restoration comedy (1660-1700) and later comedy
of manners (social habits and customs), especially those of the upper classes (Congreve and
Sheridan, or Austen in the novel). The picaresque Jack says he was found which is a
reference to Henry Fieldings 1749 novel History of Tom Jones, a Foundling and is confirmed
later on in the play by Lady Bracknell who wonders whether Jack will be another Tom. This is
why, referring both to An Ideal Husband and to The Importance of Being Earnest, Sanders
explains:
The real achievement of these plays lies neither in their temporary notoriety, nor really in their polished
and anti-sentimental surfaces, but in their undercurrents of boredom, disillusion, alienation and,
occasionally, real feeling. In both, despite their delightful evocations of flippancy and snobbery and
despite their abrupt shifts in attitudes and judgments, Wilde triumphed in capturing a fluid, intensely
funny, mood of irresponsibility which challenges all pretension except that of the artifice of the plays
themselves. (Sanders 1994: 477-8)

The stage at the time presented what was called Society Drama, that is, plays of
modern life set in the rarefied world of the upper classes. These plays could be witty and
frivolous light comedies; or they could be ponderous dramatic treatises on difficult social
issues, most often the sexual double standard and the problem of the fallen woman. We
hear a parodic echo of such plays when Jack Worthing (played by Alexander), in the final act
of The Importance of Being Earnest, says of Miss Prism (who he mistakenly believes to be his
long-lost and unmarried mother), who has the right to cast a stone against one who has
suffered? Cannot repentance wipe out an act of folly? Why should there be one law for men
and another for women? (Act III). Of course, Wilde pokes fun at the institution of marriage,
which he saw as a practice surrounded by hypocrisy and absurdity.
Although the play ends happily, The Importance of Being Earnest nevertheless leaves
the audience under the impression that marriage and social values are often tied together in
destructive ways. Ultimately, the aristocracy does not see marriage as an organ of love, but
rather as a tool for achieving or sustaining social stature. While Lady Bracknell is interviewing
Jack in Act III, she asks him what his income is:
Jack: Between seven and eight thousand a year.
Lady Bracknell: (makes a note in her book) In land, or in investments?
Jack: In investments, chiefly.
Lady Bracknell: That is satisfactory. What between the duties expected of one during
ones lifetime and the duties exacted from one after ones death, land has ceased to be
either a profit or a pleasure. It gives one position and prevents one from keeping it up.
Thats all that can be said about land. (Act III)

Lady Bracknell is as opposed to the ownership of large stretches of private property as


is the most ardent socialist, but this does not mean that she is against the class system. Quite
the contrary: she is devoted to preserving the privileges enjoyed by the upper classes, and
rejects Jack because of his possible lower-class origins without feeling any pangs of
conscience. This is the major theme of the play.
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UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

Gender roles are then exposed as seriously threatened at the same


time as consumerist values seem to redefine and resettle the patriarchal
system
Wildes aim in writing The Importance of Being Earnest was anti-morality, a revision of
Victorian priorities: that we should treat all the trivial things of life seriously and all the serious
things of life with sincere and studied triviality. His inversion of priorities is delightful as an
antidote to Victorian sincerity and earnestness, but ultimately is limited by its very sense of
opposition: not an alternative morality, but rather anti-morality. This power to subvert is the
feature that Robert Barnard has praised in his Short History of English Literature:
On the surface the play is drawing-room comedy raised to the point of fantasy: Wilde takes certain
literary conventions (babies mixed up at birth, girls with impossibly romantic dreams about the man they
will marry, people with double identities and so on) and he pushes them into the realm of absurdity. But
always, even at its most preposterous, there is an undertow of reality, a tang of wildly unorthodox social
comment and above all a desire to shoot down Victorian morality. (Barnard 1984: 186-7)

Among the comic techniques Wilde employs we should highlight his use of incongruity
(that is, there exists a great distance between what the audience expects to happen and what
actually happens) and timing (timing achieved both through the characters use of pauses and
also through Wildes finding of the right moment to insert a comic motif).
Wilde also uses flippant wit (although sometimes, his wit is not really flippant yet has a
purpose) such as, for example, Algernons line All women become like their mothers. One of
the ways Wildes wit manifests itself is in puns (plays on words), like the one in the title, for
running throughout the entire play is the double meaning behind the word earnest, which
functions homonymously both as a male name and as an adjective describing seriousness.
CECILY: You must not laugh at me, darling, but it had always been a girlish dream of
mine to love some one whose name was Ernest ... There is something in that name
that seems to inspire absolute confidence. I pity any poor married woman whose
husband is not called Ernest (Act III)

The play has often been described as a brilliant satire (satire uses
comedy not as an end in itself but as a weapon to deride) and praised
for its use of parody based on aphorisms, often to do with marriage
(Algernons line that Divorces are made in Heaven). These aphorisms,
also called epigrams, mock our own preconceived ideas about marriage,
which is generally viewed as a sacrosanct institution
The clearest example of parody occurs when Gwendolen states that the home is the
proper sphere for the man, which is of course a reversal of one of the most striking maxims of
the time. There is also irony in Jack saying that telling the truth is a terrible thing and in Lady
Bracknell telling Jack to acquire some relations as soon as possible, not knowing that one of
them will be herself. Role-playing and reversal of roles, as well as intrigue, have traditionally
been an aid to comedy.
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One final technique Wilde employs in this comedy is the absurd, as when Algernon
states one cannot forget that one is married. Overall, The Importance of Being Earnest has
many goals. It pokes fun at the aristocracy, the literary world, marriage, English manners and
customs, women, men, love, religion, and all sorts of other staples of modern society.
Furthermore, it does so in a lighthearted fashion. But the comic in its most brilliant aspect uses
laughter as an end in itself and the comic in Wildes play uses laughter often merely as an end
in itself. The audience often finds that the plays reason for being is not located outside the
play but inside since it is often self-referential - which is what makes Wilde a precursor of
Beckett (Endgame, Waiting for Godot and Watt) and Stoppard (The Real Inspector Hound).

Wildes careful use of dialogue contributes to atmosphere and moves


action forward. In this play most of the archetypical in characters and in
situations is build up through language rather than stage directions, could
you think of instances where stage directions overtake the cascade of
words that constitute the dialogues in the play?
Gender roles are then exposed as seriously threatened at the same time as consumerist
values seem to redefine and resettle the patriarchal system.

3. ACTIVITIES
3.1. Test yourself
1. Briefly explain the immediate consequences of Darwins theories.
2. Briefly explain Nietzsches concept of eternal recurrence and its relation to
literary changes.
3. What is the main consequence of the new approach to language started by
Saussure?
4. Briefly explain the importance of Freuds theory of the unconscious and the
literary changes this discovery brought about.
5. What is meant by the term New Woman?
6. Find examples from the play for each of the techniques of comedy (that appear
at the end of the section on Wilde) that are said to be used in The Importance
of Being Earnest.
7. Define satire. What/who can be the objects (called butts) of satire? What do
you think Wilde satirises?
8. How are women categorized in the play? In other words, what moral or
physical features serve to perceive them as characters embodying different
values?
9. Given that characterisation in this play is not performed by a narrator, how
does Wilde create his characters? How are they fleshed out? Analyse two or
three characters and show how Wilde provides insights into their
personalities.

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UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

3.2. Overview questions:


1. Is The Importance of Being Earnest a play about earnestness or dishonesty?
2. Why is Oscar Wildes play a key text to explain the changes taking place in
England at the turn of the last century?
3.3. Explore:
1. The Importance of Being Earnest explores the dynamics confronting an
agonizing social system based on the aristocratic landownership and the new
and emergent middle class and its capitalistic views. Discuss.
2. Read the following extract from Oliver Schreiners short story Three Dreams in
a Desert and answer the questions below:
And I awoke: and all about me was the yellow afternoon light, the sinking
sun lit up the fingers of the milk bushes; and my horse stood by me quietly
feeding. And I turned on my side and I watched the ants run by thousands in
the red sand. I thought I would go on my way now the afternoon was
cooler. Then a drowsiness crept over me again and I laid back my head and
fell asleep.
And I dreamed a dream.
I dreamed I saw a land. And on the hills walked brave women and brave
men, hand in hand. And they looked into each others eyes and they were not
afraid.
And I saw the women also hold each others hands.
And I said to him beside me, What place is this?
And he said, This is heaven.
And I said, Where is it?
And he answered, On earth.
And I said, When shall these things be?
And he answered, IN THE FUTURE.
And I awoke and all about me was the sunset light; and on the low hills the
sun lay and a delicious coolness had crept over everything; and the ants were
going slowly home. And I walked towards my horse, who stood quietly
feeding. Then the sun passed down behind the hills; but I knew that the next
day he would rise again.
(Shreiner in Smith 1992: 280-1)
a) Why is the narrative talking about a dream?
b) What are the implications brought about by the image of men
and women hand in hand walking together?
c) Why is heaven placed in the future?
d) Would you say that this short story is politically biased?
e) The extract is the third dream of the number referred to in the
title. From the evidence of this dream and what has been
studied in the Unit, could you explain the symbolism of the
title?
30

UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World

f)

Would you say that any woman character in Wildes play could
have had this dream?

g) Is this text dated?


3.4. Key terms:
Absurd
Ambiguity
Avant garde
City
Comedy
Darwinism
Drama
Incongruity
Machine
Modern
New Woman
Parody
Play
Pun
Real reality
Time
Unconscious
4. BIBLIOGRAPHY
-General bibliography:
ABRAMS, M.H., ed. 1993. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 6th Edition, Vol. II. New
York: W.W. Norton.
BARNARD, Robert. 1984. Short History of English Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
CHILDS, Peter. 2001. Modernism. London: Routledge.
ELLMAN, Richard. 1988. Oscar Wilde. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
LEDGER, Sally and Roger LUCKHURST (eds.): The Fin de Sicle: A Reader in Cultural History
c.1880-1900. Oxford: O.U.P., 2000.
RABY, Peter. 1995. The Importance of Being Earnest: A Readers Companion. New York:
Twayne Publishers.
RICHARDSON, Lee Anne M.: The New Woman and Colonial Adventure Fiction in Victorian
Britain: Gender, Genre and Empire. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006.
SHOWALTER, Elaine: Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Sicle. London:
Bloomsbury, 1991.

Web sites
- Kipling, The White Mans Burden and British (and US) Imperialism:
http://www.boondocksnet.com/kipling/index.html
- Oscar Wilde, the ballad of reading gaol:
http://www.classicbookshelf.com/library/oscar_wilde/the_ballad_of_reading_gaol/0/
- The Importance of Being Earnest:
http://www.pgileirdata.org/html/pgil_library/classics/Wilde,Oscar/Earnest03.htm
-Fin de Sicle: The 1890s:
http://1890s.com

-Oscar Wilde:
ELLMANN, Richard: Oscar Wilde. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1988.
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UNIT ONE: The Discourse Between or the Need to Make It New: Literature in an Ever-changing World
GAGNIER, Regenia: Idylls of the Marketplace: Oscar Wilde and the Victorian Public. Stanford:
Stanford University Press, 1986.
RABY, Peter: Oscar Wilde. Cambridge: C.U.P., 1988.
RABY, Peter (ed.): The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde. Cambridge: C.U.P., 1997.
SANDULESCU, C. George (ed.): Rediscovering Oscar Wilde. Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1994.
SLOAN, John: Oscar Wilde. Oxford: O.U.P., 2003.
WILDE, Oscar. 1959. The Importance of Being Earnest. Great Neck, New York: Barrons
Educational Series.
1989. Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. New York: Harper.
1995. The Picture of Dorian Gray. New York: Barnes and Noble,
WORTH, Katherine: Oscar Wilde. New York: Grove Press, 1984.

Web sites:
-Oscar Wilde (general aspects):
http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/wilde/wildeov.html
-The Official Homepage of Oscar Wilde (compiled by his grandson, Merlin Holland):
http://www.cmgworlwide.com/historic/wilde/
-Oscar Wilde: Bibliography and Works:
http://online-literature.com/wilde/
-The Importance of Being Earnest:
http://www.pgileirdata.org/html/pgil_library/classics/Wilde,Oscar/Earnest03.htm

32

UNIT 2

The White Mans Burden: Different Approaches to Imperialism in Literature

UNIT II
The White Mans Burden:
Different Approaches to Imperialism in Literature
Programme
1. PRESENTATION: Dr Livingstone, I presume?
2. TEXT ANALYSIS:
2.1. An Act of Self Discovering: Joseph Conrads Heart of Darkness (1902)
and the Congo Experience
2.2. E.M. Forsters Web of Misunderstandings: A Passage to India
3. ACTIVITIES
4. BIBLIOGRAPHY
Learning outcomes
-

To analyze the relationship between empire and literature.


To discern the way in which narratives written in England have shaped, supported
or undermined the concept of British imperialism.
To read with a critical and open mind, allowing for the experience of the other to
take place in oneself.
To examine Joseph Conrads Heart of Darkness and E.M. Forsters A Passage to
India as representative texts of this specific time and spirit.

1. PRESENTATION: Dr Livingstone, I presume?


This Unit sets out to explore the relationship between empire and literature, elaborating on the
question of Empire in relation to narratives written in England which have shaped, supported or
undermined the concept of British imperialism.
Two different accounts of British imperial experience will be explored. Written in different times
and focusing on different locations, Africa and India, both narratives show concerns surrounding notions
of home, nation, race, identity, and belonging. In doing so, other objectives brought up by topics related
to fiction, such as language and form, will come to the fore, as will nationality, subjectivity, history,
sexuality, gender, and social class.
Dealing with Empire and colonial issues it is important to acknowledge the engrossing
contribution by the Colonial and Post-Colonial Studies, particularly, but not exclusively, by thinkers such
as Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak and Stuart Hall, who have intensively criticised European and American
imperialism. Others, such as Frantz Fanon or Kuan-Hsing Chen, instead of looking at outside powers of
colonialism, have focused on individuals and on language to detect the particular and complex
questions raised by colonialism and post-colonialism as well as culture.
The contribution of these authors and many others is acknowledged and generally supports the main line of the argument presented here, but it is
impossible to deal in depth with the difficult and complex sets of ideas of each, then use the bibliography if interested in specific subjects.
After centuries of neglect, Europeans began to expand their influence into Africa. During the c19
there was a full-grown land seizure in Africa by the European powers. Africa became a primary source
of trade after 1880. This is called the scramble for Africa. For many reasons, according to Muriel
Evelyn Chamberlain, the scramble for Africa was fuelled not so much by conditions in Africa, but by the
nd
economic, social and political conditions in Europe during the 2 half of the c19.

UNIT 2

The White Mans Burden: Different Approaches to Imperialism in Literature

The scramble had become fierce by 1884, as France, Britain, Germany and Portugal had all
staked claims on African territory within the previous 5 years. From 15 Nov 1884 to 20 Jan 1885, the
Berlin Conference, under the chairmanship of Bismark, was convened to set up the rules of the rush to
colonise. On 26 February 1885, these decisions had been made:

Any sovereign power which wanted to claim any territory should inform the other powers in order to ... make
good any claim of their own.
Any such annexation should be validated by effective occupation.
Treaties with African rulers were to be considered a valid title to sovereignty.
The powers were free to navigate the Congo and Niger Rivers.
There was no precedent in world history to justify one continents boldly talking about the
distribution and occupation of the territory of another continent. The European explorers of Africa:
Seldom had men of their own race with them, and they often found their African hosts strange and
unpredictable, and feared their hostility. In this situation they created their own image of themselves.
They must be wise sometimes they even resorted to fireworks, musical boxes or electric batteries to
overawe surprised tribes and establish their reputations as near magicians. They must be strong, always
keeping their word and never showing physical weakness. They must maintain that British tradition of
the stiff upper lip and never show emotion (Chamberlain 1974: 28-9).
It is worthwhile to mention the poem The White Mans Burden (Kipling, 1895). Published in
McClures Magazine in February 1899, the poem appeared at a critical moment in the debate about
imperialism. Although Kiplings text mixed exhortation to empire with sober warnings of the costs
involved, imperialists appropriated the phrase white mans burden as a euphemism for imperialism,
one that seemed to justify the policy as a noble enterprise. Anti-imperialists quickly responded with
parodies of the poem. The poem was not quickly forgotten. The following are the first two stanzas:
Take up the White Mans burden
Send forth the best ye breed
Go, bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives need;
To wait, in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild
Your new-caught sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child.
Take up the White Mans burden
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
A hundred times made plain,
To seek anothers profit
And work anothers gain.
(Web site: Kipling, The White Mans Burden and British and U.S. Imperialism)
The popularized image of the white mans burden that the Empire created became the epitome
of the Victorian adventurer. Sometimes it involved trivialities, like Harry Johnstons insistence on
dressing for dinner in the jungle, but the concept of a gentleman, whose word was his bond and who
was chivalrous to those weaker than himself, especially towards women, was very meaningful to many
Victorians. A new sense of racial superiority had emerged, of which the Europeans perception that they
had the right to do what they liked with Africa was only one manifestation. This may well be the
explanation of H. M. Stanleys allegedly strange greeting to David Livingstone when, having been sent
in search of the latter, he finally found him living in a village on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in 1871:
Dr Livingstone, I presume. Whether true or a fabrication, the celerity with which these words became a
popular quotation provides evidence as to the general perception held at the time on the matter.

Stanleys account of death and destruction in Africa and particularly in the Congo region, which he also explored, and his legacy of detail
descriptions of atrocities infringed upon the natives have been considered an inspiration to Joseph Conrads Heart of Darkness (Sherry, 1980: 119).

UNIT 2

The White Mans Burden: Different Approaches to Imperialism in Literature

The concept of British Empire started in the late 15th and early 16th centuries was constantly
expanded reaching its peak from the 2nd half of the c19 until 1947 when the independence of India was
declared. India, known for its riches as the Jewel in the Crown, was thoroughly exploited: the British
East India Company controlled trade interests from 1600 until the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857 when its rule
was transferred to the crown. The British-Indian Empire was established under direct rule by the Queen
in 1858. Through a Royal Title Act, in 1876, Queen Victoria was declared Empress of India.
After the rebellion of 1857 the British became more circumspect. Much thought was devoted to
the causes of the rebellion, and from it three main lessons were drawn. At a more practical level, it was
felt that there needed to be more communication and camaraderie between the British and Indiansnot
just between British army officers and their Indian staff but in civilian life as well. It was now felt that
traditions and customs in India were too strong and too rigid to be changed easily; consequently, no
more British social interventions were made, especially in matters dealing with religion, even when the
British felt very strongly about the issue (as in the instance of the remarriage of Hindu child widows).

It is precisely these change on attitudes towards the colony that E.M. Forsters A Passage to India explores.
All in all, the prevailing attitude in Britain regarding colonialism was that expansion of British
control around the globe was good for everyone and, around the turn of the century, the colonies
evolved into the dominions of the Commonwealth.

2. TEXT ANALYSIS
In the following sections we shall read and study two texts that interact with the main tenets
briefly exposed up to here. Perhaps one of the main challenges in this Unit is the need to overcome
ourselves so we can fully understand the issues related to empire and colonialism in relation to
literature. Accepting that each of us, whether as individuals or in groups, is always an other to others
might be the first step in the right direction. In doing so, from the experience gained when reading these
texts, we shall, it is hoped, engage in the difficult and discomfiting act of living differently by living
difference.

2.1. An Act of Self Discovering:


Joseph Conrads Heart of Darkness and the Congo Experience
Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) was born near Berdichef, in the Polish Ukraine, as Josef Teodor
Konrad Nalecz Korzeniowski on 3 December. He was an only child. His father was a man of letters and
a poet as well as one of the best translators of Shakespeare into Polish. His mother was a fascinating
and learned woman with rather fragile health. Both parents held strong sympathies with the Polish
insurrectionists and there were often revolutionary meetings at the family household. Suspected of
political activism and plotting against the Russian government, the Konrads were deported to Vologda,
about 300 miles north-east of Moscow. The hardship of the journey and the extreme conditions in
Vologda proved too much for Conrads mother, who died three years later in 1865, after the family was
allowed to move south to Kiev.

The political involvement and secretive life led by his family made Joseph Conrad a lonely and reserved boy. He had no friends
of his own age and became increasingly self-absorbed. Most importantly, from a very early age he was engrossed in books and by
literature as a way of escaping the rather claustrophobic society that surrounded him.
Joseph Conrad was a voracious reader. Through the books he read (including those by authors
such as Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, William M. Thackeray and James Fennimore Cooper) he
could imagine countries and distant lands where it was possible to speak freely and to act according to
ones views. Yet it was not in a country but at sea that he, when a grown-up, experienced the liberty he
had yearned for during his childhood.

UNIT 2

The White Mans Burden: Different Approaches to Imperialism in Literature

After his mothers death Conrad lived with his father, who was allowed to leave Vologda and
finally settle in Krakow where he died four years later. Conrad then went to live with his maternal uncle,
Tadeusz Bobrowsky, who would remain a loving and supporting family member for Conrad. Conrad
found the education given to him by his uncle not interesting enough and, after a trip through the north
of Italy and Switzerland, he decided not to return to Poland. During this trip he saw the sea for the first
time and, against all odds, decided that he wanted to be a sailor.
Conrad went to sea when he was seventeen and continued to sail for almost twenty years.
During two years at Marseille he signed on with different ships and had for the first time, contact with the
British Empire when he sailed to Martinique first and then India. In 1878, when he was twenty, joined
the crew of an English ship, the Mavis, where he heard his first words of English. He arrived in England
on 18 June, and started his career as a sailor in the British Merchant Service. He was promoted several
times in the next few years. In 1885, when on board the Tikhurst, he received official notice of his British
citizenship. Two years later, as first officer on the Highland Forest, he was injured when a mast
collapsed. As a result of the injuries suffered he was hospitalised in Singapore. He recounted this
experience in Lord Jim. The title of this novel was inspired by a man Conrad met four years later while
he was aboard the Vidar. Jim Lingard, nicknamed Lord Jim by his fellow sailors, was the man who
would become the model for the novels main character.

The sea was an important source of inspiration for Joseph Conrads writings. Many of his novels and short stories have the sea or a
boat as a background to the action. Indeed, the sea is often an image for and symbol of his characters inner turbulences.
In 1886 at about the time Conrad became a British citizen he wrote his first short story, The
Black Mate, which he entered in a literary competition but with no success. This first failure did not
deter Conrad from writing; during the next three years he began his first novel Almayers Folly. In 1894
he gave up his career as a sailor and sent his novel to T. Fisher Unwin for publication.
In 1890 Conrad was transferred to the Belgian Socit anonyme pour le commerce du HautCongo to take command of one of the companys Congo River steamers. This experience would
eventually become one of the basis for Heart of Darkness. Conrads health was severely weakened in
Africa and he returned to England to recover his strength. Afterwards, he signed on with the Adowa
sailing the London-Rouen-London route.
In 1894, as already seen, he left the sea. He married Jessie George, a woman seventeen years
younger than he. The Conrads had two sons and apart from the financial difficulties that always followed
them their marriage was a fairly happy one, even though Jessie had to cope with Conrads difficult
temperament. Conrad took his literary career as seriously as he had taken being a sailor and, even
though it was far less profitable, he continued to write intensely and carefully.
Heart of Darkness was first serialised between 1898 and 1899 in Blackwoods Magazine. Lord
Jim ran serially in the same Magazine between 1899 and 1900. In 1902 the volume Youth and Other
Stories was published. It included Heart of Darkness and The End of Tether, and it was well received.
During these years he met many literary icons who became friends. They included H.G. Wells, Henry
James and the American journalist Stephen Crane. Among his friends was the writer, Ford Madox Ford,
with whom he collaborated from 1898 until 1905. Part of this collaboration, The Nature of Crime, was
published posthumously in 1924. After the first publication of his work he devoted himself totally to
literature, producing a wide range of both fictional and non-fictional works. To mention but a few, in
1906 his autobiography The Mirror of the Sea was published, followed by The Secret Agent during the
following year. Other works included Nostromo, Typhoon, Under Western Eyes and Victory. In 1913 his
great critical and popular success Chance, was published. The number of works Conrad wrote was due
to his financial needs more than to anything else.

Conrad was actually a rather slow writer pressurised by the need of money to maintain his family. Although by 1900 he was quite
famous, literature failed to provide him with an adequate income. He was lucky enough to meet George Bernard Shaw and John
Galsworthy, who both helped him by lending him money and by recommending him to publishers and critics.
4

UNIT 2

The White Mans Burden: Different Approaches to Imperialism in Literature

Conrad had settled in England in 1883 because he was an Anglophile who thought that Britain
respected individual liberty. English was to become his third language, and, in an apparent paradox, the
language he chose for his writing. The later years of his life were shadowed by ill health and
rheumatism. He was offered, but declined, honorary degrees from five universities. Not long before his
death in 1924, he also declined a knighthood offered by King George V. Conrad died of a heart attack
and was buried in Canterbury.
Heart of Darkness is perhaps Conrads finest exploration of evil and otherness. Several stories
in the novel are linked to the main theme of imperialism and imperial attitudes. It is now well known that
many of Conrads writings were, to an extent, autobiographical. Heart of Darkness is no exception.
Conrad used his journal and the notes he took when he was working in the Congo as the starting point
of his novel. To that he added the impressions of explores such as H. M. Stanleys, as has been said
above.

Conrads intention in writing the novel was to make his readers aware of the situation he found in the Congo. What was this reality?
How is it portrayed in the narrative?
By 1890, when Conrad went to the Congo, it was an independent country, tat Indpendent du
Congo. Yet, the reality was very different. A small number of Europeans owned most of the land.
Leopold II, King of the Belgians, was one of the biggest landowners. Leopolds only interest in the
Congo was in exploiting its riches and making, as he did, a fortune out of it. The situation Conrad saw
when he arrived in Africa shocked him greatly and made him question the right of Europeans to exploit
their colonies. The colonisation of the Congo was, as Conrad later pointed out, the vilest scramble of
loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience and this view is transmitted throughout Heart
of Darkness. Nonetheless, bear in mind that Conrad is neither a politician nor reformer with a political
agenda to promote nor is he a historian recording facts in an objective manner. Conrad is, above all, an
artist trying to understand his personal experience by rendering it into a polyphonic narrative: for this
reason, there are no answers in Conrads Heart of Darkness.

In the novel the reader will find a constant questioning of the apparent and the obvious that has the intention of revealing the reality
behind the faade. Therefore, readers should be constantly aware of the ambivalent quality of the language used in the narrative and the
multiple meanings of words.
Colonialism, civilisation and progress are, then, the elements introduced into the narrative;
tensional forces constantly being challenged and questioned. Regardless of the setting of the story and
the fact that in the Congo exploitation was particularly cruel and savage, many of the concerns explored
in the novel applied to Britain and the British colonies.
As already pointed out, the question of the Empire and the colonial issues related to it was, by
the 1890s, a subject of public debate in Britain. From the late c15 onwards Britains foreign policy had
been one of territorial expansion. The supporters of imperialism, as discussed already, did not see the
acquisition of overseas territories as domination or exploitation. Quite the opposite (and the degree of
cynicism here depends on the personal profits obtained): it was considered a means of liberating
peoples from tyrannical rule and of bringing the blessing of the Christian religion and, above all, the
advantages of a superior civilisation to the colonised. In the novel this debate is made explicit when
Marlow recounts his conversation with his aunt on visiting her to say goodbye before sailing to the
Congo:
It appeared, however, I was also one of the Workers, with a capital you know. Something like an
emissary of light, something like a lower sort of apostle. There has been a lot of such rot let loose in
print and talk just about that time, and the excellent woman, living right in the rush of all that
humbug, got carried off her feet. She talked about weaning those ignorant millions from their
horrid ways, till, upon my word, she made me quite uncomfortable.
(Norton 2000: 1965)

UNIT 2

The White Mans Burden: Different Approaches to Imperialism in Literature

For all High Victorianism strongly believed in the moral duty due to the colonies the truth is that,
by the end of the c19, a certain disillusionment prevailed as a result of the discrepancy between
humanitarian ideals and the reality of colonial exploitation: I ventured to hint that the Company was run
for profit (Norton 2000: 1965), says Marlow. Nonetheless, the character symbolising this discrepancy in the
novel is Kurtz and the result, a self-tortured corrupted idealist, is not very appealing although Kurtz
appears to be the person one longs to meet in the story.
At the beginning of the novel Marlow, however, seems to follow the argument for the need of
superior civilised peoples to colonise those who are less developed and so he starts talking about the
darkness of past, uncivilised European ages and the salvation of the efficiency of those who were more
advanced: And this also ... has been one of the dark places of the earth (Norton 2000: 1959). At this early
point in the narrative, Marlow seems to define civilisation and progress as the taming of darkness. The
trading company he and Kurtz work for symbolises progress. Yet, already in the opening pages of the
story he advances a little of what he actually encountered during his close contact with real colonisation:
The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different
complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too
much. What redeems it is the idea only.
(Norton 2000: 1961)
The opposition civilised / savage is brought into question by introducing the savage element
within the civilised world at the moment Marlow is remembering the fact that in the past London was a
savage territory colonised by the Romans: I was thinking of very old times, when the Romans first
came here, nineteen hundred years ago the other day ... Light came out of this river since (Norton
2000: 1960). The overlapping of narratorial time that occurs when Rome and the Romans are brought into
the text, so long ago yet so near, the other day, yesterday, implies that, in fact, those who believe
themselves to be civilised and progressed people could also be seen as savages by other people: But
darkness was here yesterday. Imagine the feelings of a commander... Sandbanks, marshes, forests,
savages precious little to eat fit for a civilised man, nothing but Thames water to drink (Norton 2000:
1960). Indeed Marlows description of the Roman conquest of the British Isle fits exactly with what he has
found and we are going to find in the Congo. This paradox of really being savages when thinking that
we are civilised is carried further in one of the most overtly autobiographical instances of the novel:
I had then, as you remember, just returned to London after a lot of Indian Ocean, Pacific, China
Seas a regular dose of the East six years or so, and I was loafing about, hindering you fellows
in your work and invading your homes, just as though I had got a heavenly mission to civilise you.
(Norton 2000: 1961)
Furthermore, developed and civilised cities such as Brussels are seen in the text as a whited
sepulchre (Norton 2000: 1963) inhabited by hypocrites, hollow, greedy people. The wilderness of the
Congo, on the other hand, is at times sublimated as the only surroundings where the noble and the true
will rise to the surface and break free from the world of appearances.
Joseph Conrads difference from and, one could say, advantage over his English
contemporaries in relation to the originality of his literary production is because British culture was
foreign to him. He was able to bring into the novel a truer cosmopolitanism than many other authors,
probably because as a foreigner he was in a better position to question Englishness. As already
mentioned, Conrad became a British citizen and England became his home to the extent that
Englishmen became his friends and the English language his mode of literary expression. Still, his
different upbringing allowed him not to be limited in outlook or sympathy by race, class or national
consciousness. Poland and England meant a lot to him, but it was his experience at sea that gave him
the perspective lacking in most of his contemporaries. The multiple characters he encountered when on
board of different ships and in the many ports where his ships called, as well as the very different
cultural experiences he confronted in different lands during his years as a sailor, meant that he became
a man of no country in particular, a citizen of the world.

UNIT 2

The White Mans Burden: Different Approaches to Imperialism in Literature

England was the country where he could exercise his freedom of speech and because of this he
chose to live there. Yet, in the characters that populate his fiction one can observe that Conrads life
experience allowed him to cross the barrier of the apparent difference and go beneath the surface to
present people whose differences and similarities have nothing to do with their origins, although as we
shall discuss, there have been different opinions in relation to this point. In this way we find in the novels
Malaysians and Borneans, Swedes and English, Germans and Dutch who, it seems to be Conrads
intention, are all alike in their human happiness or misery. What appears as superficial difference is no
obstacle, in Conrads view, to grasping the fundamental resemblance among the inhabitants of the
world who are all stirred by common human passions such as love or hate, for example.

Conrads characters are in general heroic people struggling out of extreme situations. Both the
universality of the characters (in so far as they are built up within the framework of certain general and
basic human experiences) and their foreign status (brought about by the constant displacement to which
Conrad submits them) are distinguishing characteristics of the men and women populating his work.
Dealing with Conrads characters as a group seems to contradict his own principle, for Conrads
main preoccupation was the essential isolation of a persons nature, regardless of nationalities. It is safe
to argue that Conrads characters are lonely figures facing moral problems. Perhaps a good example
appears in Heart of Darkness where Marlow states: We live, as we dream alone (Norton 2000: 1977).
One might add, as we die, alone. The isolation confronted by Conrads characters was also a major
preoccupation of the Modernist literature produced after the First World War and for this reason,
among others; he has been regarded as a proto-Modernist.

Conrads main concern in this respect is with man in isolation fighting against whatever is
outside him and, as a consequence, the need for a personal code of behaviour and a capacity for
moral discrimination as opposed to the submission to the public moral codes and behavioural
manners that, too often, proves inadequate.
This is not to say that Conrads characters are cut out of or detached from society, quite the
opposite; to a great extent the problems and courses they set out to overcome are determined by the
particular society in which they live. For this reason Conrad, writing in between Victorian and post-war
values, is not purely a psychological writer but also a moralist still concerned about the effect of the
individuals moral dilemmas upon society. The well-being of society at large seems compared to the
good running of a ship where even though the individual cannot escape his own isolation, he knows that
his behaviour is fundamental to the safety of the voyage.
Given the amount of people he encountered throughout his different voyages, for Conrad one
thing appears certain; namely, that human nature is not a simple or straightforward collection of facts.
On the contrary: it is the complex set of experiences and sensations that need to find expression in
writing in order for the writer to try to untangle the mystery of life.

In Heart of Darkness he uses a romantic Realism close to the mystery of the Gothic that stands
as a metaphor for the creative / non-creative quality of his writing. What elements in the novel
introduce an unsettling, mysterious and disturbing atmosphere?
In a sense it can be argued that he was a Realist given that his creative genius, considered
against his experience, sought certain actuality as the starting point of his story, in that it is based on
autobiographical data and others account of experience. He hardly ever invented plots; the raw material
for his narratives in general and Heart of Darkness in particular is found on his research and on his own
life experience. Where he innovates is in that he submits these experiences to a creative process
enabling both the blurring of the line between fiction and reality, and the exploration of a truth found
beyond the world of appearances that surrounds us. The transforming process of Conrads lively
imagination makes possible the transmutation of actual facts into facts wrapped in romantic glamour
and adventurous exaltation.

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Even though elements of the traditional novel can be seen and the presence of the omniscient
voice of the author can be heard in Conrads first publications such as Almayers Folly (1895), An
Outcast of the Island (1896) and The Nigger of the Narcissus (1897), the truth is that Conrad was not
happy with this form of writing and it is precisely in the Preface to the last of these three books, The
Nigger of the Narcissus (Norton 2000: 1954-6), that we find an honest declaration of method. Conrad was
not to follow the conventions of the English novel but experimented boldly with form and language. In
his view, story-telling was secondary to the real task of the writer who by the power of the written word
should be able to make the reader hear, feel, and, above all, see (Norton 2000: 1955). It is the task of
fiction to awaken that feeling of unavoidable solidarity ... which binds men to each other and all
mankind to the visible world (Norton 2000: 1956).

For Conrad, the novel ceases to be a form devoted merely to story-telling, with an escapist
end and an entertaining purpose. As did Henry James, Conrad regarded novel writing as a
definite form of art alongside painting or music (Norton 2000: 1955).
This unifying purpose is central to the writing of Conrad who, not surprisingly given his
background, had always expressed his conviction that there should be a commitment to fidelity in
human relationships, that the artist should speak to the latent feeling of fellowship with all creation
and to the subtle but invincible conviction of solidarity that knits together the loneliness of innumerable
hearts, to the solidarity in dreams, in joy, in sorrow, in aspirations, in illusions, in hope, in fear, which
binds men to each other, which binds together all humanity the dead to the living and the living to the
unborn (Norton 2000: 1954).
His different view of the task of the writer implies that Conrad will be in a constant search for a
fictional form that allows him to achieve what he believes should be the aim of the artist:
To arrest, for the space of a breath, the hands busy about the work of the earth, and compel men
entranced by the sight of distant goals to glance for a moment at the surrounding vision of form and
colour, of sunshine and shadows; to make them pause for a look, for a sight, for a smile such is
the aim, difficult and evanescent, and reserved only for a very few to achieve.

(Norton 2000: 1956)

His frequently-used method of indirect narration causes discomfort in many readers who find his
writing tiresome because it fails to force progress in the story. In Conrads work a story-within-a-story
and a dislocation of time that impedes the normal progression expected in story-telling are often found.
Conrads technical device is because of his particular vision of the narrative as an art that would allow
the reader to see and therefore, by delaying the deliverance of the story, by superimposing other
possible narratives, Conrad tries as far as possible, to provide, a clear revelation of the truth underlying
the particular human problem that has attracted his attention. In this sense, for Conrad, the story is just
a means of exploration and not an end in itself. In order to do so, he introduces a number of characters
that will allow different perspectives, different points of view, of the same problem. The different angles
from which the subject matter is told imply that the narrative is composed of multiple postponements.

This narratorial voice detaches the reader from the story, preventing the reader from identifying too closely with any character in
particular, and, more importantly, puts the reader on guard not to take everything said or seen for granted, as he/she has been induced
to do with the traditional narrator.
This questioning of the narratorial voice, the fact that the narrator may not be as trustworthy as
the c19 English novel had thought him/her to be, brings about a rather more discomfiting discovery,
namely, that reality might not be as reliable as it seems to be and that, therefore, it may be questioned,
too. In this order of things, what late Victorian England offers in relation to thinking, moral and social
behaviour is neither sufficient nor valid in situations other than in Victorian England and, therefore,
Conrad introduces what he considers to be universal topics able to address human problems while
disregarding the nationality of the individual.

In this sense, and generally speaking, Conrads main topics of interest presented in Heart of Darkness are: evil, mans moral
reality, fidelity, and individual responsibility, in the last case with particular reference to the Empire.
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In Heart of Darkness he takes the narrative to its extreme both in form and content as a means
of exploring the theme that ultimately appears as his obsession in relation to the Empire: man against
himself in a natural environment. The other themes that can be traced in Conrads work seem to be
additional to this main preoccupation. He explores themes such as the subconscious, honour, guilt,
moral alienation, and expiation. The theme of brotherhood and fidelity will come as a result of this
responsibility.

In Heart of Darkness Conrad is not interested in his characters progress in life,


but in the moral responsibility of the individual towards himself.
Reality, for Conrad, is an entity completely different from appearance. Whereas one might be
able to explain apparent reality, that is, the reality readily available under the umbrella of commonsense, there seems to be an inability on the part of the human being to understand experience to its
fullest. In other words, Conrad is looking for the means to express those unknown realities that are
beyond our perceptive capacity. For example, if one is listening to a piece of music, anything one may enjoy
from classical music to heavy-metal rock, one might be able to explain it to someone else if asked to do so, and
even, if our musical literacy allows us to, to transcribe into graphic signs the different sentences of the musical
piece to which we are listening. Nevertheless, no matter how detailed our transcription might be, this explanation of
this reality, in particular, does not account for the sudden and overwhelming feeling that overcomes us while
listening, which is precisely why we like that piece of music; nor does it account for the different experiences the
same piece of music provokes in different people. The Victorian illusion that the mind can understand and
control matter, that the human being can create a permanent civilised order, should be questioned and
challenged, leaving to the scientists and the thinkers the task of understanding the tangible reality:

And their words are heard with reverence, for their concern is with weighty matters: with
the cultivation of our minds and the proper care of our bodies, with the attainment of our
ambitions, with the perfection of the means and the glorification of our precious aims.
It is otherwise with the artist.
(Norton 2000: 1954)

Furthermore, through this multiplicity of perspectives of experience, the impossibility of knowing


reality to the full and, therefore, the impossibility of achieving an ultimate truth are revealed. The
eventual consequence of this discovery is that there can be no ending to the story and it is necessarily
left open as the true meaning cannot be resolved.

Fracturing the time scheme, implementing multiple points of view, including stories-within-stories are all techniques ensuring that no
coherent interpretation based on appearances can be imposed on the novel.
What happens in Conrads texts in general, but in particularly in Heart of Darkness, is that the
end is a never-ending story comprised of an unlimited number of possible conclusions impinging upon
the narrative the tensional contradiction brought about by conscious ambiguity. A very good example in
this respect is that Marlows body posture as a Buddha when he starts his story (Norton 2000: 1961) is
exactly the same as his posture when he has apparently finished talking (Norton 2000: 2016). Because
Marlow is seen in exactly the same physical position at the beginning and at the end, hypothetically
speaking, he could be starting to recount his story at the moment that he has apparently finished
relating it. In fact, the last words of the novel indicate that the awaited ebb has occurred. Waiting for the
ebb prompted Marlow to talk because by the end of his story it is gone. There is again time for waiting
and therefore time for the story:

Marlow ceased, and sat apart, indistinct and silent, in the pose of a meditating Buddha.
Nobody moved for a time. We have lost the first of the ebb, said the Director suddenly. I
raised my head. The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil
waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky
seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.
(Norton 2000: 2017)
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Heart of Darkness, a proto-Modern work produced at the end of the c19, is one of the most
important, shocking and predictive novels of the c20. The suggestive quality of the novel, and
suggestion is the nearest to an answer that we can obtain from the narrative, is already hinted at in a
title that reverberates with the same ambiguity that impregnates the narrative. The striking impression of
the title is the apparent contradiction of the two terms, heart and darkness. Heart implies life, the very
organ that makes human life possible. Darkness seems to imply the converse, death. The tensional
force of the narrative is already present in the title, because here one realises for the first time the
impossibility of acquiring ultimate knowledge. The impossibility of achieving the heart of darkness
dawns in the sudden realisation, abhorrent to the individual, that while living we are dying or, to put it in
another way, that we die as we live. This unsettling contradiction is also posited in the sentence that
opens the narrative. Here is how the story begins: The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor
without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest (Norton, 2000: 1958). In this first sentence the contrast
between cruising and rest has the same tensional force of the title. The image of the vessel created in
the sentence is simultaneously in movement (cruising) and still (at rest).

Such a combination in a single sentence will be present all along the narrative and signals the ambiguity ingrained in the discourse on
the Empire at the time and will be the key to understanding the narrative.
Heart of Darkness might also suggest the sense of trying to gain access to the core of
something very deep, something unknown, mysterious and possibly, because it is unknown, also
dangerous, and here is where the Gothic elements of the novel are found. The structure of the whole
narrative is sustained by polarities that uncannily converge in meaning: life and death, coloniser and
colonised, Africa and Europe, inland and offshore. The setting of the novel, the Belgian Congo in
Africa, adds to the sense of loss dissipated through the apparent tranquillity of the beginning of the
novel. Travelling into the wilderness of the Dark Continent is related, in the text, to discovering the
darkness of the heart. As OPrey argues in the introduction to the Penguin edition the darkness is many
things: it is the unknown, it is the subconscious, it is also moral darkness, it is evil which swallows up Kurtz
and it is the spiritual emptiness he sees at the centre of existence; but above all it is mystery itself, the
mysteriousness of mans spiritual life, and to convey all this a certain amount of ambiguity is essential.
Ambiguity, as already suggested, is crucial to the story because, if it is agreed that reality is
different from appearances and that there are unknown to reality dark sides constituting as much part of
reality as the visible, then language stops being self-referential and informative, as it is in traditional
fictional form. Conrad is suspicious of language because language is no longer a reliable tool with which
to express life experience. In Heart of Darkness language is poetical and condensed, with ambiguity,
symbolism and diffuseness as its main linguistic features. For example, although telling of his
experiences, Marlow is not eager to relate his story but tries to extract some meaning with his words. The
readers and listeners are thus implicitly invited to share Marlows experiences as if alongside him: We
knew we were fated, before the ebb began to run, to hear about one of Marlows inconclusive experiences
(Norton 2000: 1961, emphasis added). His words are weary because they are made up of the conventions his
voyage left behind; his experiences in the wilderness escape classification, systematic order and logic.
Nonetheless, despite there is a great disparity between language and reality, and as much as
language should be under suspicion, it is only through language that experience can be observed and
analysed. For this reason and in order to extract some level of meaning, the experience is repeated
through words such as darkness, inscrutable, mysterious, and incomprehensible throughout the text
in the hope that a new meaning might emerge. Conrad is determined to draw attention to the total
imprecision of language precisely because he needs language to comprehend the world. His search is
that of his characters and his readers for a language whose meaning encompasses reality as a whole. It
is an impossible task, for death can never be recounted by the subject. There is, therefore, always a
part of reality necessarily unknown. The awareness, as our awareness should be, is Marlows
understanding that reality is beyond the immediate appreciation of an event, and that no images taken
directly from the senses will help us to grasp it. As the anonymous narrator tells us of Marlow:

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to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the
tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these
misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonshine.

(Norton 2000: 1960)

The narratorial perspective of the novel shifts constantly. This constitutes one of Conrads most
modern features. Far from the understanding, controlling and knowledge-providing omniscient narrator
of traditional novels, the voices that tell the story do not intend to give us a finished, meaningful and
coherent account of facts. The structure of the novel is made up of multiple narratorial voices. In an
apparent paradox, the multiple narrator works against the process of communication as much as it
helps it. The narratorial frame is not built upon the most obvious voices, those of Marlow and the
unknown, global narrator. Each person who informs Marlow and talks to him also becomes a narrator,
adding to the story. This complex use of the narratorial voice provides, on the one hand, immediacy to
the story since the different narrators are first-person narrators and, on the other hand, provides the
narration with vagueness, mystery and meaninglessness by never getting to the heart of the matter.
Despite the fact that they appear to create distance between the narration and the reader, the multiple
narratorial voices make of the reader a participant in the story, journeying alongside Marlow in his
attempt to see, which is, as was said above, Conrads long-term preoccupation.
Of all the narratorial voices Marlows is the most prominent since he is also the protagonist. The
most shocking aspect of his voice, although not surprising given what has already been discussed, is
his inadequacy as a traditional narrator. The reasons for this failure to fulfil what is expected of a
narrator are found in his inability to distinguish and comprehend, and therefore to reproduce, real
reality, that is, the reality that exists beyond appearances. There is a clear example in the text when
Marlow says about Kurtz: I did not see the man in the name any more than you do. Do you see him?
Do you see the story? Do you see anything? It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream (Norton 2000:
1977). A little later we find a kind of allegorical declaration of what a traditional narrator can never do:
Your own reality for yourself, not for others what no other man can ever know. They can only see
the mere show, and never can tell what it really means (Norton 2000: 1978). Marlows awareness of his
limitations as a narrator, his difficulty in fully transcribing into words his dream-like experience,
represents the unreliability of an assumed, external, conventional reality that is taken for granted and
readily available for articulation. Even Marlow, constantly assuming a weary attitude towards the takenfor-granted knowledge, is tricked into making assumptions that prove to be inaccurate when he thinks
that his listeners can see him. But the irony of the hour makes him a mere shadow to the others, just a
voice. This is most important in the context in which he is bitterly complaining about the impossibility of
his own task as a narrator. He does not know he is wrong and only the reader and the unknown narrator
recognise Marlows mistake. The untrustworthy nature of appearances is emphasised:
Of course in this you fellows see more than I could then. You see me, whom you know...
It had become so pitch dark that we listeners could hardly see one another. For a long time already
he, sitting apart, had been no more to us than a voice.

(Norton 2000: 1977)

Marlows meeting with Kurtz, the potential beholder of the ultimate truth, is constantly deferred.
The great expectations aroused by Kurtzs magnetic and mysterious personality are channelled through
Marlow who is, if a choice must be made, the main character of the story. As Marlow penetrates further
into the unknown, his capacity for self-control and his strength are constantly tested. His real trial,
however, takes place when he realises that he has been transported into the lightless region of subtle
horrors (Norton 2000: 2001) inhabited by Kurtz. In the text, Kurtz acts as a kind of double to Marlow. When
Marlow declares that Kurtz is a remarkable man (Norton 2000: 2004), as he does on several occasions,
they are textually identified since Marlow, at the beginning of the story, is also said by the unknown
narrator to be remarkable: But Marlow was not typical (Norton 2000: 1960). Marlow cannot achieve the
complete self-knowledge Kurtz gains at the moment of death simply because this ultimate truth cannot
be shared; its possessor ceases to be and therefore cannot relate that truth. Yet, through Kurtzs death,
Marlow is able to glimpse knowledge although he declares rather ambiguously that it has come too
late (Norton 2000: 2011), at the moment of death. The ambiguity posed by this rather eclectic sentence

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makes it impossible to decide whether it is too late for him to understand Kurtz or whether it is too late
because truth can be grasped only at the moment of ones own death. Indeed, Marlow feels that he is
as near to truth as it is possible when he witnesses Kurtzs death; then Marlow is able to gain a certain
awareness of being which can explain Marlows affirmation that Kurtzs cry is a moral victory (Norton
2000: 2011).

The physical journey in Heart of Darkness as recounted by Marlow is parallel to the emotional
development of his character. Again we find a complex web of journeys happening and enhancing
ambiguity. While the Nellie was at rest Marlows account takes us on a voyage to the Congo. Storytelling is intended to help Marlow fully to understand his experience and, therefore, the actual journey
being recounted is in fact a metaphor for the journey of the self. Although the Marlow who is now telling
the story has already undergone the changes brought about by his African experience, the Marlow who
is about to tell the story, in his effort to understand his experience, is going to re-start with his audience
the journey anew. Thus, he is able to travel once more from idealism to disillusionment, to acquire in the
process greater understanding. He attempts to comprehend the ultimate truth that Kurtz, at the time of
his death, revealed to him. The journey, right from the beginning, is imbued with a quality of warning. In
Brussels, Marlow starts feeling uneasily that his trip into Africa will be an extraordinary one; that, as the
doctor says, going into the Central Station changes a man inside and, for this reason, nobody ever
comes back: And when they come back too? I asked. Oh, I never see them, he remarked; and,

moreover, the changes take place inside, you know (Norton 2000: 1964).
It can be argued that the novel is divided into two different parts. Part one is about preparing for
starting the journey. Part two has Marlow painfully going deeper into the darkness and towards Kurtz.
The narrative techniques making possible Marlows progress rest upon his capacity to sort out
problems. The difficulties of his quest determine that he starts to question the superficial aspect of
reality: he discovers, for example, how certainties, references, and moral codes are useless in facing
danger, hunger, darkness or unexpected attacks. In other words, Marlow starts his journey with a set of
values and only through his capacity to question those very values is he able to continue his journey. In
order to convey the difficulty of this journey, the language of the text conveys the difficulty of Marlows
enterprise symbolised in a prose that is rather dense and difficult to read. Furthermore, this use of
language makes the text subjective. It has to be clear that Marlow has been cut off from his original
background and faces a strange environment. Perhaps what makes him different from other white
Europeans is his awareness that his moral being is under test and this knowledge makes him willing to
attempt to understand the significance of his experience. Having been the epitome of the civilised
man, only through the telling of his experience is this identity questioned.

The voyage towards the outside world of Africa becomes a voyage of self-discovery that unavoidably brings some inner knowledge or
vital truth to the traveller.
Perhaps the most surprising element in the novel is the nature of this vital truth. At the beginning
of the story Marlow refers to the adventure as the culminating point of my experience. It seemed
somehow to throw a kind of light on everything about me and into my thoughts (Norton 2000: 1961). The
darkness to be illuminated by the light is going to disclose a truth that is far from being comforting or
beautiful. In fact, the moment of the most intense discomfort comes with Kurtzs death and his last
words The horror! The horror! (Norton 2000: 2010). The horror is physical and political in relation to the
European attitudes in Africa, but it is also non-material and metaphysical. It is not only a question of
governments being abusive and dehumanised, or individual peoples being malevolent; rather, for
Conrad, the horror lies in humanitys very nature. In accordance with the spirit of the narrative, it is
properly left unexplained so that readers and listeners become participants in the experience, not simply
spectators, and they, too, will consider the experience and assume whatever truth there is to be
assumed.

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For this reason, the narrative cannot conclude. The circularity of the narrative, its open-ended
finale, is symbolised, as already pointed out, in Marlows body position. Both at the beginning of the
narrative and at the end Marlow appears as a sort of Buddhist possessor of some inner knowledge he is
about to provide and from which the listeners, including the reader, will be able to learn. However, this
image is only the reflection of an apparent reality for, in fact, the circularity of the narrative signalled by
Marlows body position indicates that Marlow is not a provider of knowledge; on the contrary, he is in
search of it. Marlows compulsion to repeat his experience is informed by Freuds death drive;
confronted with death, and intuitively grasping its definitiveness, Marlow is both trying to understand and
postponing the moment of his own death. Indeed, the knowledge he has acquired is not as authoritative
and precise as that given by Kurtz on his own death-bed.
The changes Marlow has undergone point towards his awareness that conventional values and
assumptions are relative and conditioned by different circumstances, among them the social. These
conventions and values that constitute reality are no longer valid for him. The real reality is far beyond
them and it is his inescapable duty to look for the real to be found within oneself. The victory, even if
partial, is to be found in the realisation and assertion of oneself. The perspective of having nothing inside,
of accommodating conventions, is the real defeat shown in the novel. Whether we agree or disagree, this
may be a reason why Marlow feels unable or unwilling to judge Kurtzs activities. In a sense, the text seems
to imply, Marlow is part of the situation that has made possible the existence of someone like Kurtz and,
therefore, Marlow himself is not entirely without blame. This is precisely the difference that forbids the
identification of Kurtz with Marlow because Kurtz has pronounced a judgement and has acted accordingly,
exercising his will for power over an artificial and hypocritical situation.
As an emissary of science and progress, a combination of values of European culture, Kurtz
travelled to Africa to campaign for the ideal. Once confronted with the wilderness he is liberated from
the set of values, either good or evil, prevailing in the society he comes from and, therefore, is free to
exercise his own will. It is interesting to note that even if knowing the ultimate truth is very much a bodily
activity (the body dies), Kurtzs character is hardly a flesh-and-bone one but a name talked about, to the
point that critic Lionel Trilling has argued that Kurtz is a hero of the spirit against the spiritless
Europeans. To Marlow the fact that Kurtz could utter this cry at the point of death, while Marlow himself,
when death threatens him, can know it only as a weary greyness, marks the difference between the
ordinary man and the hero of the spirit.

Kurtz can be a source of enlightenment even though he is capable of dreadful deeds. He stands as a
symbolic figure of the discovery of the real self that comes out only when one is pushed to the limit.
It is remarkable the influence Kurtz leaves on the people he encounters, and quite shocking the way
people go to Kurtz, as if he were a deity, to extract some mysterious knowledge or truth: You dont talk with
that man you listen to him (Norton 2000: 1997). The Russian recalls that Kurtz made him see things, like an
apparition. Even Marlow once he has seen, metaphorically speaking, Kurtz for the first time (Norton 2000: 1981)
penetrates deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness (Norton 2000: 1983) forgetting about the station and going
towards Kurtz (Norton 2000: 1983). His journey makes Marlow aware now that past and present overlap in a
prehistory that he feels he cannot understand: We could not understand because we were too far and could not
remember, because we were travelling in the night of first ages, of those ages that are gone, leaving hardly a sign
and no memories (Norton 2000: 1984). A few lines afterwards, however, Marlow assures his audience: The mind of
man is capable of anything because everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future (Norton 2000: 1984).
The novel as a whole proposes a reconsideration of the traditional notion of reality. Its most
remarkable originality is that this call for reconsideration applies both to fiction and to real life. Marlows
most certain assumptions in relation to places, time and people start dissolving and disappearing when he
approaches the nightmarish wilderness of the Congo. The dream-like experience becomes more real to
him than the European baggage he carries along with him. The real reference to darkness seems to shift
in the novel from Africa to Europe. The latter becomes, as we advance in the story, ghostly and
frighteningly referred to as sepulchre, dead silence, marble, sarcophagus, and halo, resembling a
lifeless world built up to protect rottenness and spiritual death.

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2.2. E.M. Forsters Web of Misunderstandings: A Passage to India


Edward Morgan Forster was born in London in 1879. His father died of consumption soon after
he was born, and his mother and a paternal great-aunt raised the child. His mother was from a more
liberal background than the paternal side of the family and Forsters family life was never devoid of
tensions. He grew up at Rooksnest, the house that inspired Forsters first major success, Howards End
(1910), and was educated at Tonbridge School, in Kent. He would never forget his experience at this
school and some argue that this is to be held responsible for a good deal of his later criticism of the
English public school system. Forster attended Kings College, Cambridge, which greatly expanded his
intellectual interests and gave him his first exposure to Mediterranean culture. After he graduated from
Cambridge, he went to Italy and his experiences there provided the background for two of his early
novels Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905) and The Longest Journey (1907). These novels established
Forsters early conviction that men and women should keep in contact with nature to cultivate their
imaginations. In 1908, he published A Room With a View. This humorous novel deals with the
experience of a young British woman, Lucy Honeychurch, in Italy.

These early novels, written quite effectively with moments of high comedy, are concerned with the cultural barrier between English
and Italians in the same way that one of the main preoccupations found in A Passage to India (1924) is the impossibility of finding a
means of mutual understanding between Indians and British Europeans.
During these years E.M. Forster was part of the so-called Bloomsbury Group, a group of
intellectuals that included Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, Dora Carrington, Lytton Strachey and
T.S. Eliot among many others. Although Forster had published considerably before the First World War,
only after the conflict did he gain a significant reputation as a writer. In Mr. Bennett and Mrs Brown
Virginia Woolf considered Forster alongside Joyce and Lawrence as those writers who were reacting
against the novel, as it had been understood by the Edwardians. In spite of Woolfs efforts to include
Forster among those she considered avant-garde writers, the truth is that his four pre-war novels did
nothing to break free from the mode of writing of Victorian and Edwardian fiction. Plots are
melodramatic and improbable; an omniscient narrator has full control over the characters, interpreting
their motives and actions, introducing moral judgements and generally guiding the reader to like or
dislike particular characters. From all the novels he produced, it is perhaps only A Passage to India that
can be said to definitively break with narrative convention both in form and in content.
Forster spent three years in Alexandria during the First World War, working as a civilian officer,
and visited India twice. After he returned to England, he wrote A Passage to India, inspired by his
experience. The novel concerns current preoccupations on the colonial occupation of India by the
British in a narrative where the political and the personal intermix.

The main tenement of the novel, much in the line although taking just the opposite direction of contemporary discussions on
the matter after the Mutiny of 1857, is the exploration of the misunderstandings created by the different cultural backgrounds of the
protagonists.
Misunderstandings are seen as the ultimate reason for the lack of communication among the
characters. This novel was the last published by Forster during his lifetime. In 1971, a year after
Forsters death, Maurice, a novel written around 1914 and with an overt homosexual theme, was
published.
Although Forster published no novels after A Passage to India, he continued writing short
stories and essays until his death. He published several anthologies, including The Celestial Omnibus
(1911) and The Eternal Moment (1928), two collections of short stories; Abinger Harvest (1936), a
collection of poetry, essays and fiction; and several non-fiction works. Forster also wrote the libretto to
the Benjamin Brittens opera Billy Budd. Forsters essays as well as his frequent lectures on political
topics established his reputation as a liberal thinker and as a strong advocate of democracy. Forster
was awarded membership of the Order of Companions of Honour in 1953 and received the

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Order of Merit from Queen Elizabeth in 1969. He died in June 1970 after a series of strokes.
A Passage to India differs from Forsters other major works in its clear political content, as
opposed to the lighter tone and more subdued political subtext contained in works such as Howards
End and A Room With a View. The novel deals with the political occupation of India by the British, a
colonial domination that ended in 1947, after the publication of Forsters text. The colonial occupation of
India is significant in terms of the background to the novel. Britain occupied an important place in
political affairs in India from 1760, but did not secure control over India for nearly a century. In August
1858, during a period of violent revolt by the Indians against Britains colonisation of India, the British
Parliament approved the Government of India Act, transferring political power from the East India
Company to the Crown. This established the bureaucratic colonial system in India headed by the
Council of India consisting initially of fifteen British politicians. Although Parliament and Queen Victoria
maintained support for local princes, Victoria added the title of Empress of India to her crown in 1876.
The typical attitude of the British in India was that they were undertaking the white mans burden, as
put by Rudyard Kipling. This was a system of aloof, condescending sovereignty in which the English
bureaucracy did not associate with the people they were ruling, and finds its expression in characters
such as Ronny Heaslop and Mr McBryde in A Passage to India.
Indian nationalism began to take shape around 1885 with the first meeting of the Indian National
Congress. At the beginning of the twentieth century the nationalistic views within the Indian Muslim
community were unstoppable. With the victory of the Liberal Party in 1906 the British government
introduced several reforms in Indias political system culminating in the Indian Councils Act of 1909, but
nationalism continued to rise. India took part in the First World War alongside the British army as a way
of obtaining political concessions, but even with the promise after the war that Indians would play an
increased role in their own government, relations between the British and Indians did not improve: after
the war the differences between India and Great Britain not only continued but worsened. In 1919, three
hundred and seventy-nine unarmed Indians were massacred at Amritsars Jallianwala Bagh, a public
park, during a protest.

Around this time Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi became a distinguished voice in Indian politics, and also around this time Forster
wrote A Passage to India. More than twenty years later, after a long struggle, Parliament passed the Indian Independence Act in 1947,
ordering the separation of India and Pakistan and granting both nations their sovereignty.
It is very tempting to assume that A Passage to India was connected with the British withdrawing from
India. In this assumption there is the belief that literature is not a mere exploration of human reality but
is one of the infinite discourses that confirms this reality. In this sense critics such as Nirad C. Chaudhuri
have argued A Passage To India has possibly been an even greater influence in British imperial politics
than in English literature. (Draper, Chaudhuri 201). This rather radical and somehow superficial
statement seems to spring from the earlier approaches to the novel which, in the vast majority,
concentrated on the political side of the work. However, it is true that the novels unkind portrayal of the
relationship between the Indians and the Anglo-Indians, the way in which the latter at best completely
ignored and at worst mistreated the former, had a strong impact on general public opinion who now
perceived the Empire as a taken for granted and, thus, helping to change an attitude that was utterly
indifferent towards the Empire and its colonies. In the political arena, the novels themes of
misunderstandings and disharmony between the cultures, the harm that an imposed relationship did to
each of the parties involved, were used as arguments by anti-imperialists who wanted to remove Britain
from India. A good example in this respect is to be found in Ronny Heaslop who confronted by his
mother, Mrs Moore, accusation that he never used to judge people like this at home retorts, India isnt
home (Forster 1979: 54). It is also the case of Mahmoud Ali who, as Ronny, has lost his humanistic
approach to life and is capable of harm against the British, for example by withholding about Fieldings
wedding vital information that could have saved much trouble for Dr Aziz.
The novel, as happens with Heart of Darkness, provides no answers. The only way to resolve
the problem seems to be the withdrawal of the British from India. It is important to note that, as
Chaudhuri has pointed out, this way out is not a solution of the problem but only its elimination
(Draper, Chaudhuri 202). Therefore, while from a political perspective the end of British occupation

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would be the outcome that would satisfactory to those in conflict, within the realm of the novel, and in
view of human relations in general, the conciliation of cultures is a negation of the problem rather than
its solution, for there are always relationships between individuals belonging to different cultures. The
question stands as to whether it is a failure on Forsters part not to provide a solution, even if partial and
subjective, to the problem.

The effectiveness of Forsters novel as a political influence is found in his dramatisation of a great imperial system at its worst. He
depicts both the British and Indians as petty and snobbish to such an extent that in different moments of the narrative the reader has
constantly to shift her/his likes and dislikes of the main characters, Mrs. Moore being perhaps the exception.
However, it is perhaps, far beyond the political surface of the novel for which Forster is unwilling
or unable to provide a solution, where the interest of the novel resides. The interaction of the individuals
populating A Passage to India seems to be the main preoccupation explored in the novel. In this sense,
Forster, escaping the easy stereotypical portrayal of the characters, presents human beings carrying
with them the good and evil of their cultural and life experiences.

Notice how, as we studied in the reading of Heart of Darkness, the blurring of the frontier between good and evil seems to be the
only possible artistic positioning in relation to the very dichotomised discourse of the Empire.
The title of the novel is taken from Walt Whitmans poem of the same name included in Leaves
of Grass (1900). In a sense, Forsters text carries further the American poets apparently exuberant and
optimistic commentary on the nineteenth-century belief in a world unified by technical progress.
Whitman envisions that the true unification will come when the Poet, whom he calls the Son of God,
will be the one to make sense of the secrets of the human soul and the sufferings of humankind:

Finally shall come the Poet, worthy that name;


The true Son of God shall come, singing his songs.
Then, not your deeds only, O voyagers, O scientists and inventors,
All these hearts, as of fretted children, shall be soothd,
All affection shall be fully responded tothe secret shall be told;
All these separations and gaps shall be taken up, and hookd and

[shall be justified,

[linkd together;

The passage to India was made more easily possible by the construction of the Suez Canal
connecting the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. The canal was finished in 1869 by Ferdinand de
Lesseps, who was granted by Khedive Said of Egypt ownership of the Canal for ninety-nine years after
it was completed. M. Lesseps sold shares mainly to the French gentry but also to the Khedive to form
the Suez Canal Company. When Disraeli was elected as Prime Minister in 1874 he saw the opportunity
for Britain to obtain control over the Canal after being informed by his friend, the banker Lionel
Rothschild, that the Khedive, whose number of shares was enough to control the Company, was in
need of ready money. The French also knew of the Khedives financial difficulties but, thinking they
were the only ones in possession of this information, were waiting for the price to go down. The
Russians and the Turkish were also interested in participating in the running of the Canal. In the end,
the British were the first in offering the amount required and they thus obtained control of the Canal.
This brief sketch of the complex history of the Suez Canal is intended to show that despite appearances
and the pompous ceremony of its opening, the Canal has always been a place of confrontation and
controversy. It has to be remembered that it has been the site of three wars: the 1956 Suez Crisis, the
1967 Six Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Therefore, when Whitman, hopeful of a better future,
proclaimed that Nature and Man shall be disjoind and diffused no more,/ The true Son of God shall
absolutely fuse them, many of his contemporaries were much more reluctant to celebrate the
achievement of the enterprise or of technical achievements in general.
Forster was among those less optimistic. As has been mentioned above, E.M. Forster was not
as daring in his experiments with language and form as were Lawrence or Joyce, yet it is important to
note that his attitude towards life was modern. As a consequence the reader should be wary when
approaching Forsters texts, particularly A Passage to India, for the rational surface present

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is deceptive and beneath that surface there is an undercurrent text that needs to be explored.

In Forsters view, India, as he shows in the novel, is not so much a mystery as a muddle, a labyrinth very similar to the riddle of
life itself.
In this respect it should be noted that the muddle that forms much of the turning point of the
novel, what happens at the Marabar Caves, is left unresolved. Indeed, Forster was aware of the
criticism that leaving open to speculation the Marabar Caves episode might bring. As he states in a
letter answering what has happened in the Marabar Caves:

In the cave it is either a man, or the supernatural, or an illusion. If I say, it becomes


whatever the answer a different book. And even if I knew! My writing mind therefore is a
blur here i.e. I will it to remain a blur, and to be uncertain, as I am of many facts in daily
life. This isnt a philosophy of aesthetics. Its a particular trick I felt justified in trying
because my theme was India Without the trick I doubt whether I could have got the
spiritual reverberation going.
(Quoted in Stallybrass 1979: 26)
Therefore, as Oliver Stallybrass has pointed out in his introduction to the Penguin edition, we
are confronted with a novel that combines realism and symbolism the personal and the cosmic
(Stallybrass 1979: 27). Certainly, here, the poetic exploration of the passage to India detours from the
interesting and overt, yet from a literary perspective rather superficial, political insight found in the novel.
Whitmans view of the world as unified by the fusion of man and nature is adopted by the liberal
Cyril Fielding, who believes that the world is a globe of men who are trying to reach one another and
can best do so by the help of good will plus culture and intelligence. This creed, Forster claims, is ill
suited to Chandrapore meaning that it is irrelevant in the context of the riddle of India. The whole first
chapter of the novel is a description of Chandrapore. Forster establishes Chandrapore as a prototypical
Indian town, neither distinguished nor exceptionally troubled. This town can, therefore, be taken as
symbolic of the rest of India rather than as an exceptional case: Chandrapore was never large or
beautiful, but two hundred years ago it lay on the road between Upper India, then Imperial, and the sea
(Forster 1979: 31). Chandrapore has also been a passage to India, in past times that coincided with
those when India was an empire. Note here how the memory of past empires in Forster coincides with
those in Conrads Heart of Darkness.
In A Passage to India, however, the process is reversed in the sense that if Conrads narrative
refers to the times when European people were colonised by other empires, Forsters empire is placed
at the very heart of the British colony. It should be pointed out that, although subordinated to London,
India was in fact an Empire in itself, ruling the modern states of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma,
and Sri Lanka. Therefore, while substantiating the idea of the circularity of time present in Heart of
Darkness, Forsters image of the Empire serves also to dignify India and contrast its past with the
treatment dispensed by the British. Having said this, in both cases, the introduction of the memory of
former empires serves to delineate the temporal boundaries of the actual situation lived by the
characters in the texts.

Hence, this memory introduces an element of conflict to the apparent durability of the concept of Empire and its grandeur. Once this
element has been questioned, what remains are the individual and the conflicts within.
A Passage to India addresses complex questions about human relations. The tragedy of the
novel lies in the breakdown of communication both between races and between individuals. The book is
divided into three main sections entitled Mosque, Caves and Temple in that order, which might
correspond to the three seasons of the Indian year and stand as a symbol of how individual
relationships are weathered by a lack of communication and misunderstanding.
From a Christian European perspective, the three in one recalls the mystery of the Holy Trinity,
whose resolution is an act of faith and not of reason. Furthermore, the religious imagery serves to
explore different aspects of the human being. In Mosque Forster uses Aziz who expresses emotional
nature through Islam: Aziz liked to hear his religion praised. It soothed the surface of his mind, and
allowed beautiful images to form beneath (Forster 1979: 105). Godbole represents Hinduism in

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Temple. During the birth of Shri Krishna love, as a faculty, is exercised. In this manner emotional
nature and the capacity for love are explored in these two sections. Religion is of little assistance when
confronting the intellect. Thus, Adela and Fielding, by expressing their Western views, become a textual
symbol of the part entitled Caves. They lack the emotional and mystical insight into life, and depend on
their reason and academic background to understand human relationships.
These different aspects of human nature in isolation are of no help in fully understanding the
riddle of life; among all the characters only Mrs. Moore is capable of crossing religious and intellectual
boundaries, which implies that she is indeed capable of fully understanding the meaning of the echo she
experiences at the Marabar Caves. Mrs. Moore is able to grasp the truth of human existence because
she becomes a conduct for cultures and religions. The physical death of this character is a metaphor for
the ultimate knowledge she has acquired at the Marabar Caves, in her understanding of an echo that
seems to say Pathos, piety, courage, they exist but are identical, and so is filth. Everything exits,
nothing has value (Forster 1979:), indicating that each individual is alone in a rather hostile universe.
As has Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, she has confronted good and evil at the same time and this
experience has changed her for ever: Her Christian tenderness had gone, or had developed into a
hardness, a just irritation against the human race (Forster 1979: 204).

As does Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, Mrs. Moore becomes a kind of a goddess, a Vishnu, seen by others as provider of truth and
knowledge.
It comes as no surprise that at the ceremony of Krishnas birth Godbole, the other character
who has been at the caves but is unable to describe them, in a trance-like state very close to his
comprehension of God, brings to the text the memory of Mrs. Moore. Indeed, at the time of the trial the
belief among the Indians that Mrs. Moore has been sent back to England by her son so that she cannot
testify and give evidence to support Azizs innocence helps to widen her popularity.
On the other hand, Ronny fears that his mother might cause trouble if she remains in India. Yet
nobody, neither the British, nor the Indians (nor the reader), can be sure that Mrs. Moore knows what
actually happened in the Marabar Caves. When Adela comments to her: I thought you said Aziz is an
innocent man but it was Mr. Fieldings letter her answer is Of course he is innocent (Forster 1979:
209). When pressured by her son on the point, she simply replies One knows peoples characters, as
you call them which, as is explicitly acknowledged in the text, proves nothing conclusive but is a
subjective point of view.

The main difference between Kurtz and Mrs. Moore is that the reader is able to witness, although may not understand, Mrs. Moores
transformation.
Mrs. Moore comes to India in the company of Miss Quested who, by the way, has a similar
experience but is not yet ready to understand the real significance of the echo. She says to Mrs. Moore:
There is this echo I keep on hearing ... I cant get rid of it to which Mrs. Moore answers: I suppose you
never will. After a while Adela insists: what is this echo? Finally, Mrs. Moore ends the conversation
with a truth that is mistakenly understood as a stubborn uncooperative attitude by Ronny and Adela: If
you dont know, you dont know; I cant tell you (Forster 1979: 205). The Marabar Caves are introduced
right from the beginning of the novel as the only distinguishable item in Chandrapores landscape:

Only in the south, where a group of fists and fingers are thrust up through the soil, is the
endless expanse interrupted. These fists and fingers are the Marabar Hills, containing the
extraordinary caves.
(Forster 1979: 32-3)
At the beginning of the novel, the caves are already imbued with a mysterious aura
foreshadowing the future events that constitute a turning point in A Passage to India. Although they
overlook and are often contemplated from Chandrapore, nobody in the novel is really able to describe
them. The caves reflect everything as does a mirror. They have no feature that makes them remarkable
save the echo. They are similar to a labyrinth and, in that, it is impossible to distinguish one from
another. The caves represent everything in life. They stand for all the possible emotional, intellectual

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and mystical views. They are intangible because no one is capable of experiencing life in an absolute
way. The symbolism of the Marabar Caves lies precisely in the echo they produce, presented
throughout the narrative as a representation of a timelessness that knows no narrative but which
nevertheless exists and forms part of life and reality: What dwelt in the first of the caves? Something
very old and very small. Before time, it was before space also (Forster 1979: 212). An echo that, as
Mrs. Moore painfully understands is impossible to articulate.

Mrs. Moore, after the visit to the caves, becomes the bearer of their echo and this might be the reason why she now repeats words
almost every time she speaks: say, say, say, bad, bad, bad, love, love, love.
Interestingly enough these repetitions of words come always in a set of three, resembling the
tripartite structure of the novel as a whole. In fact, these repetitions work at trying to expel the evil
she has encountered at the caves: She has come to a state where the horror of the universe and its
smallness are both visible at the same time (Forster 1979: 212). Not evil itself as much as the
nature of evil is at stake in the novel. As Mrs. Moore points out, There are different ways of evil
(Forster 1979: 210).
Much of the symbolism Forster develops in the novel is taken from Hindu scripture and
philosophy. The caves elude all explanation, as does the conception of Hindu deity: it implies that to
understand deity is to limit it. Hindu deity extends universally, comprehending all that exists, both good
and evil as Godbole explains in the novel:

Good and evil are different things as their names imply. But, in my own humble opinion,
they are both aspects of my Lord. He is present in the one, absent in the other, and the
difference between presence and absence is great, as great as my feeble mind can grasp. Yet
absence implies presence, absence is not non-existence, and we are therefore entitled to
repeat Come, come, come, come.
(Forster 1979: 186)
In Hindu philosophy, Brahman, also called soul of the world, represents All that exists. All the
other gods represent the various parts of Brahman like a tree with its many branches. They are
separated by the veil of illusion. When mystical release comes, the veil is lifted, and the two appear to
be one. Forster gives the echo a characteristic sound of boum. There is little difference between its
phonetic pronunciation, and the Hindu syllable Ohm. When one meditates with that syllable, one can
reach Brahman, expel evil, and learn to see the all pervading, the Highest Person (Draper: 208).
Forster used this symbolism to a great extent in conveying his message. The echo taunts Adela
until she withdraws her accusation against Aziz. She has to recognise the common being of humanity.
Until then, the evil stays with her in the echo (Draper: 210). Also, when Mrs. Moore had her vision at the
caves, their essential meaning was revealed to her. As was Godbole who could not describe the caves,
she could not describe their meaning, because it surpassed the principle of individualisation. However,
she understood it, when she compared it to Christianity: poor little talkative Christianity, and she knew
that all its divine words from Let there be light to It is finished only amounted to boum (Draper, Allen
211). It is not surprising that the revelation, beyond her intellect, to realise that the beginning and the
end, the alpha and omega of human existence, amount to nothing more nor less than boum frightened
her beyond what words can express. Her repetition of words is a symbol representing the calling of the
presence of Brahman when confronted with the sudden realisation of the absence.

The technique of repeating events with slight variations in different contexts is used as a way to explore the meaningless but
disturbing echo, which is, as the novel implies, the heart of human existence.
The echo of the caves provides the novel with a rhythm to be found in the use of repetition. An
important example of this rhythm lies in the similarity between the accident involving the unknown
animal and Adelas entrance to the cave. In the scene with the accident, Adela is concerned with her
marriage to Ronny. The car crashes into an animal and the people are confused over what the animal
was. Then they all return in Miss Dereks car, Adela and Ronny who were about to break up realising
that they do not want to marry each other. In the cave scene Adela again questions her love for Ronny:

But as she toiled over a rock that

resembled an inverted saucer, she thought,


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What about love? The rock was nicked by a double row of footholds, and somehow the
question was suggested by them. Where had she seen footholds before? Oh yes, they were
the pattern traced in the dust by the Nawab Bahadurs car. She and Ronny no, they
did not love each other.
(Forster 1979: 162)
This sudden realisation, that she does not love Ronny, makes her ask Aziz the offensive
question which will precipitate the following course of events: Have you one wife, or more than one?
(Forster 1979: 164). Aziz, offended by the question, stops taking good care of her and apparently she
disappears out of his sight. Only later do we learn that she has entered a cave, thinks she has been
attacked, and races down the Kawa Dol to Miss Dereks car. The accident scene is mentioned to imply
similarities to this incident. Who is to be blamed for the car accident? Who is to blame for what occurred
in the Marabar Caves? Indeed, did anything actually happen? Forsters use of rhythm is the only
possible way to allow for this connection.
The introduction of this apparently feeble, muddled mystery plot, this unsatisfactorily unresolved
whodunit, serves in the narrative to introduce a feeling of deception and uneasiness since the question
finds no satisfactory answer. This fact, no doubt, pinpoints and highlights the idea that there is no
readily available answer to the riddle of life. The best one can do is to count on fellow human beings to
ease the pain of this tragedy.

If Conrads experience on board had taught him that fidelity was the only anchor a human being could have against the evil of the
universe, Forster seems to think that affection is the key to the matter: Why cant we be friends now? said the other holding him
affectionately (Forster 1979: 316).
Affection, the power that would unite people, nevertheless seems to be an elusive quality of the
human being. The non-event of Azizs trial with all charges dropped brings to the surface the
insurmountable confrontation between people; at first sight between British and Indians, but also among
the British themselves since Fielding, on account of his views on the court case, becomes suspicious of
the Anglo-Indians. In the same way, later on in the narrative, after she confesses to Azizs innocence,
Miss Quested is rejected by the British community. There is also division among the Indians, between
Muslims and Hindus; Professor Godbole refuses to aid Dr Aziz.
A Passage to India seems to be an essentially pessimistic book where more connections are
severed than made between people. Even strong friendships, like that of Fielding and Aziz, break down
under the pressure exerted on both sides. Within the framework of the narrative, the hopeful passage to
India of Whitmans poem turns out to be an impossible bridge, as symbolised in the Bridge Party.
Even Mrs. Moores vision is only a part of Forsters theme. It was never complete, as his
resolution of the story is never completed, and as life itself never completes, only expands. Forster
could never have a single character convey the entire message of his novel, nor convey the message
by resolving the dramatic conflict.
Most of the names of the characters are symbolic of their respective personalities and attitudes
to life. Mrs. Moore is the everlasting presence of the novel. She comes to India looking for more than is
readily available and in finding it she becomes greater than life. Miss Quested, as does Mrs. Moore,
comes to India in search for further knowledge. She wants to know the real India and in doing so she
tests herself and questions herself, hence the past participle of her name. Fielding is the Promised
Land, lacking any prejudices he is the theoretical enabler of affection across cultures and individuals,
yet he fails because for all his good intentions he has not yet understood the importance of
communication. Aziz, as friendly as he is, is a victim of this inefficiency to communicate clearly. He is
often misunderstood, and misunderstands just as frequently when speaking to people who do not share
his culture. Bole according to the Oxford English Dictionary means main stem or trunk of a tree, thus
the name Godbole seems to be a synonym for Brahman, the one connected with God. However,
because God cannot be explained, Godbole is lacking in communication, for all his spirituality seems to
be a way out of the claustrophobic web of misunderstandings
and
miscommunications

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present in the novel. At the end of the novel the reader is left with the same feeling of uneasiness
provoked by the unsolved crime. This is so because the novel attempts, but necessarily fails, to grasp
the whole meaning of life, because A Passage to India raises questions about reality and life that cannot
be answered. The best we can do, as does Marlow in Heart of Darkness, is to repeat the experience
through words in the hope that some new meaning will break through allowing us to grasp some
knowledge beyond the appearances of the readily available world.

3. ACTIVITIES
3.1. Test yourself
1. Briefly explain the implications of the title Heart of Darkness.
2. Is there any autobiographical element in A Passage to India?
3. Explain the significance of the characters names in Forsters novel.
4. Why is Marlow telling his story?
3.2. Overview questions:
1. Analyse how the texts studied in this Unit are representative of contemporary discussions on
the Empire.
2. Compare and contrast Kurtz and Mrs. Moore as characters epitomising the paradoxes and
contradictions held by prevailing attitudes towards the Empire.
3.3. Explore:
1. There has been serious criticism regarding the racism and gender bias of Conrads Heart of
Darkness. Read the following extract from Chinua Achebes An Image of Africa: Racism in
Conrads Heart of Darkness and discuss Achebes opinion in relation to the text (450 words):
Students of Heart of Darkness will often tell you that Conrad is concerned not so
much with Africa as with the deterioration of one European mind caused by solitude
and sickness. They will point out to you that Conrad is, if anything, less charitable to
the Europeans in the story than he is to the natives, that the point of the story is to
ridicule Europes civilizing mission in Africa. A Conrad student informed me in
Scotland that Africa is merely a setting for the disintegration of the mind of Mr Kurtz.
Which is partly the point. Africa as setting and backdrop which eliminates the
African as human factor. Africa as a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all
recognizable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril. Can
nobody see the preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the
role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind? But that is not even the
point. The real question is the dehumanization of Africa and Africans which this agelong attitude has fostered and continues to forster in the world. And the question is
whether a novel which celebrates this dehumanization, which depersonalizes a
portion of the human race, can be called a great work of art.
(Norton 2000: 2040)
2. There has been criticism in relation to racism and Forsters A Passage to India. For example,
Chaudhuri feels he has unjustly portrayed the Indians: The Indians were a people who had
established a great modern culture that could stand up with names such as Erasmus and
Holberg, but at the introduction of the British were slighted and cheated. Some were
assaulted, and none could compare or even hold a relationship with anyone in the new ruling
community (Chaudhuri: 203). Discuss this opinion taking into account the different Indian
characters present in Forsters novel. (450 words).
3. Write an essay of 450 words on the similarities and differences between Heart of Darkness and
A Passage to India in their involvement with the theme of Empire.
3.4. Key terms:
-

Affection

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Africa
Ambiguity
Appearances
Britain
Colony
Composite characters
Culture
Empire
Fidelity
Imperialism
Misunderstanding
Paradox
Story within story
Unreliable narrator
White mans burden

5. BIBLIOGRAPHY
Joseph Conrad (selected bibliography)
BATCHELOR, John. 1993. The Life of Joseph Conrad: A Critical Biography. Blackwell
Publishers.
BLOOM, Harold. 1992. Marlow, Major Literary Characters. Chelsea House Public Library.
GOGWILT, Christopher L. 1995. The Invention of the West: Joseph Conrad and the DoubleMapping of Europe and Empire. Stanford University Press.
HARPHAM, Geoffrey. 1996. One of Us: The Mastery of Joseph Conrad. University of Chicago
Press.
SAID, Edward W. 1993. Two Visions in Heart of Darkness. Culture and Imperialism. New York:
Vintage.
SHERRY, Norman. 1980. Conrad's Western World. Cambridge University
E. M. Forster (selected bibliography)
BRADBURY, Malcolm, ed. 1966. Forster: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.
J.: Prentice-Hall.
BRISTOW, J., ed. 2002. E.M. Forster. Longman Higher Education.
SINGH, Aviar. 1996. The Novels of E.M. Forster. Atlantic Publishers & Distributors.
TAMBLING, Jeremy, ed. 1995. E.M. Forster: Contemporary Critical Essays. St. Martins
Press.
Historical Context(selected bibliography)
ELDRIDGE, C.C. 1996. The Imperial Experience: From Carlyle to Forster. New York,
Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Specific texts
ALLEN, Glen, O. 1968. Structure, Symbol, and Theme in E.M. Forsters A Passage To India
in V. A. SHAHANE (ed) Perspectives in E.M. Forsters A Passage To India: A Collection of
Critical Essays. Barnes & Noble.
CHAUDHURI, Nirad, C. 1968. Passages To and From India in V. A. SHAHANE (ed)
Perspectives in E.M. Forsters A Passage To India: A Collection of Critical Essays. Barnes
& Noble.
DAVIES, Tony and Nigel WOOD, eds. 1994. A Passage to India. Milton Keynes: The Open
University Press.
JAY, Betty, ed. 1998. Icon Critical Guide: E.M. Forsters A Passage to India. Icon Books.
Web sites
The Joseph Conrad Society (UK): http://users.bathspa.ac.uk/conrad/
Only Connect: The Unofficial E.M. Forster Site: http://www.musicandmeaning.com/forster/

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The White Mans Burden: Different Approaches to Imperialism in Literature

For a brief overview on the history of the British Empire: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Empire

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Literature and War: Disillusion as Never Told in the Old Days

UNIT III
Literature and War: Disillusion as Never Told in the Old Days

Programme
1. PRESENTATION: The War That Ends All Wars
2. TEXT ANALYSIS:
2.1. The Poetry is in the Pity: Georgian Poets Experiencing War.
2.2. Lets We Forget: Women Writing the War.
3. ACTIVITIES
4. BIBLIOGRAPHY

Learning outcomes
-

To analyze the relationship between war and literature.


To discern the strategies through which contemporary poets and writers
developed original techniques and learnt from their predecessors to convey their
experiences of war.
To be aware of the interaction between poetic discourses and other social or
political discourses pondering whether literature is an active participant in the
construction of the world.
To consider both aesthetic and ethical questions such us the poetic attempt to
transform atrocity into art.
Through the comparison of texts, students will heighten their awareness of the
complex and controversial debates surrounding the genre of war writing itself.
To consider the relationship between women writers and war.

1. PRESENTATION: The War That Ends All Wars


The aim is to study the relationship between war and literature. The Unit will
concentrate (albeit not exclusively) on the First World War. This was the major event that
changed European civilisation as it had been known up to this conflict. The Unit will also deal
mainly with poetry, although some prose relating to war will also be considered. The general
objective of the Unit is to chart the strategies through which poets and writers in general
developed original techniques and learnt from their predecessors to convey their experiences
of war. In doing so we shall explore the ethical considerations underlying war poetry as it
attempts to transform atrocity into art. Therefore, this Unit will consider both aesthetic and
ethical questions such us: for whom does the poet speak, and for what purpose? How might
the poet write about violence without exploiting or cheapening it? Does the combatant-poet
have rights that are denied to civilian poets? What should the emotional stance of the poet be?
How and in what detail must the horror of war be described? We will see that these and similar
questions are always posed implicitly, and often directly, by war poets. In the process, debates
about war writing as experiential or non-experiential writing will be examined, as will the
relation between history and the imagination; war and Empire; gender in war writing; war
poetry and popular culture; and identity and nationality in war literature. Through the
comparison of texts, students will heighten their awareness of the complex and
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controversial debates surrounding the genre of war writing itself, and examine the extent to
which the production and interpretation of war poetry is conditioned by cultural, social and
political factors. The relationship between women writers and war is also an important
objective of this Unit.
The writers studied in this Unit are by no means the only ones who could be studied in
relation to war and literature. Choosing these writers in preference to other authors means not
that they are better writers but that they provide an adequate amount of insight into the subject
as to give an accurate idea of the main aim and objectives described here.
The second part of the title of this Unit has been taken from Ezra Pounds poem Hugh
Selwyn Mauberley (1920, emphasis added):
These fought in any case,
and some believing,
pro domo, in any case ...
Some quick to arm,
some for adventure,
some from fear of weakness,
some from fear of censure,
some for love of slaughter, in imagination,
learning later ...
some in fear, learning love of slaughter;
Died some, pro patria,
non dulce non et decor
walked eye-deep in hell
believing in old mens lies, then unbelieving
came home, home to a lie,
home to many deceits,
home to old lies and new infamy;
usury age-old and age-thick
and liars in public places.
Daring as never before, wastage as never before.
Young blood and high blood,
fair cheeks, and fine bodies;
fortitude as never before
frankness as never before,
disillusions as never told in the old days,
hysterias, trench confessions,
laughter out of dead bellies.
This title deserves some explanation as it may seem paradoxical that a writer to
support Fascism during the Second World War, broadcasting Fascist propaganda by radio to
the United States, is taken as paradigmatic of the literature produced as a reaction to the
Great War. Precisely the paradox conveyed in Pounds book of poems as a whole and in this
poem in particular in relation to its author, is intentional. The Great War can be approached
reasonably only by undertaking an attitude of paradoxical wonder at a conflict that was to be
the war that ends all wars. In fact, the First World War was one of the most meaningless wars
ever fought, at the cost of the highest number of casualties ever (8,538,315 died in conflict).
In the first section of Ezra Pounds Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, the speaker, Mauberley,
who could be seen as Pounds poetic voice, reveals the reasons why he fails to elevate poetry
by describing his efforts to write a poem that his society will find as beautiful as he finds
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classical works. As Mauberley tells us, how to resuscitate the dead art of poetry is what has
occupied his mind for the last three years. In his search, however, he is confronted with the
absolute ugliness of the Great War, which he compares to Horaces dictum in his Odes by
negating the heroic attributes of dying for ones country non dulce non et decor.
Horace is also recalled in the title of Wilfred Owens poem Dulce et Decorum Est written in 1918 and published for the first time in
1920. Owen, as we shall see, by actually experiencing the cruelty and desolation of life in the trenches became one of those giving voice to
disillusions as never told in the old days. Why is Horace so recurrent in the war literature of the period?
The way in which the lives of millions were wasted on the battlefield was neither sweet
nor decorous. This poem surprises the reader for it is one of the few instances in which Pound
shows a sense of humanity. Despite his latter alliances, and despite his mania for good art and
impatience with public stupidity, in this poem Ezra Pound provides an intelligent and clear
outline of what the Great War meant for those who directly experienced it. Pressed to ponder
the similarities between human life and art, he seems inclined to concede, at least in this
poem, that art becomes meaningless when confronted with the nothingness found in the
pointless cruelty of the First World War. Yet, it was to art that people turned when trying to
make sense of the atrocities of this War. As Catharine Reilly has pointed out in the
Introduction to her engrossing Scars upon My Heart (1981) the amount of people that took to
poetry writing during the War and its aftermath is absolutely exorbitant, counting to 2225
combats and non-combats (of whom 532 are women).
Among these voices are included, albeit not exclusively, Charles Hamilton Sorley,
Edward Thomas, Siegfried Sassoon, Isaac Rosenberg, Vera Brittain, Rose Macaulay, Jessie
Pope or Robert Graves. Other poets such as Rupert Brooke died too soon to be able later to
counterbalance what he felt on the break out of World War I.
The reactions to the War seemed as varied as the people who inhabited Britain and the
British Empire at that moment. Before approaching these reactions it seems necessary to give
a succinct historical overview.
When War was declared in 1914, few people had any idea of the struggle that lay
ahead. Some even welcomed it. They failed to realise that modern weapons would lead to a
terrible loss of life. Taking Pounds poem as a vivid description of what happened on the
different fronts of the War, we shall concentrate here on what has come to be termed the
Home Front. In London, as in other capital cities, crowds cheered and sang. Soldiers in the
Reserves joined their regiments, expecting that the conflict would soon finish. It was commonly
thought that it will all be over by Christmas. Most people in Britain believed that the combined
strengths of the French Army and the British Navy would quickly settle things favourably.
The first men to volunteer for the war were filled with ideas of patriotism. They
imagined that they were going on a crusade, to teach the Hun a lesson. To those civilians at
home, they were brave boys fighting for right against wrong. The feelings of those early days
are shown in the poem In Flanders Fields published in Punch Magazine in 1915 and written
by Canadian poet John McCrae, a medical officer in both the Boer War and the First World
War. This poem is the only one by which he would be remembered. The significance of the
poem is that to this day, the red poppy is the symbol of Remembrance Day:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky

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The larks, still bravely singing, fly


Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

(John McCrae In Flanders Fields: web)

The call for volunteers came from Lord Kitchener, Secretary for War. He was a greatly
respected figure. The next extract comes from Lloyds Weekly News. It was inserted on 1
November 1914:
YOUR KING AND COUNTRY NEED ANOTHER 100,000 MEN
In the present grave national emergency another 100,000 men are needed at once to rally
round the Flag and add to the ranks of our New Armies.
Terms of Service.
(Extension of Age Limit)
Age on enlistment 19 to 38. Ex-soldiers up to 45. Minimum height 5ft. 4 ins., except for exsoldiers and those units for which special standards are authorized. Must be medically fit.
General Service for the War. (bbc web site)
Women took over mens jobs. The Suffragettes were able to prove their equality in an
active way. War munitions were needed, so thousands of women went to work in factories.
They often had to bring up their families alone while their husbands were away fighting. Some
discovered independence and reasonable wages for the first time. Here is an account written
by one of them:
The country was asking all women who could to go and help the War effort. I
heard of a firm in the Tower Bridge Road wanting girls in their factory. It was a pleasant
factory compared with some. Hours were 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and I often worked an hours
overtime till 7. On Saturdays it was 8 till 12. We had ten minutes break in the morning
and an hour for dinner. Wages were 10/7d a week at the age of 16.
Young married women came flocking in, glad to earn extra money besides their
allowance from the Army. They were allowed to stay away for ten days when their
husbands came on leave from France. The grannies and aunts looked after the children.
Women looked upon this new found freedom and also extra money as a blessing. The work
in the factory was arduous. You had to be clocked in and at your bench at eight oclock
and ready to start work directly the hooters went. You were not supposed to speak to one
another and if caught when the boss or manager came looking at your work around the
factory, it meant instant dismissal, or else you were threatened with it the very next time.
We made petrol cans, the big machines in the mens shop cutting out and the women,
standing up all day, soldering seams and handles and necks.
Miss G. Lovegrove (bbc web site)
Civilians volunteered for the services in their thousands. By the spring of 1916 more than
2,500,000 had joined up, of their own free will, to serve Britain. After this, conscription was
introduced and thousands more were forced to enlist. Anyone who was of German origin or
name, or had friends in that country, became unpopular. German-owned shops were
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attacked. A campaign of hate was launched against The Hun. Stories were told of German
atrocities against civilians in other countries. These stories were almost always untrue, but
they were used to create bitterness towards the enemy.
This campaign against anything German greatly affected poet Charles Hamilton Sorley who was actually in Germany when the War
broke out. Sorley, as we shall study later on, was also one of those who volunteered for the army and died in the front.
By the end of 1916 it had become obvious that the Prime Minister, H.H. Asquith, was
not the best War leader for Britain. David Lloyd George, who had been Minister of Munitions
and then War Secretary, replaced him. In 1915 there had been a shortage of ammunition for
the British Army. Lloyd George, by great efforts, reorganised the production of shells. His work
was vital to the conduct of the War. In the years just before 1914 there had been some violent
strikes and a great deal of labour trouble in industry. During the War, this decreased
considerably. Men and women felt that they must not let down the servicemen fighting the
enemy at close quarters.
War and death were carried to civilians in Britain. This came as a shock to a people who had,
for centuries, used the sea as a shield. On a few occasions German ships bombarded towns
on the east coast. A more dreaded weapon was an air attack. German Zeppelins appeared in
the skies over several cities and dropped bombs, killing many. The terror of War became very
real. The air attacks on Britain alarmed the population. The amount of casualties was not high
compared with those of later wars, but an enemy who made Zeppelin flights even over
London, the capital of the Empire, disrupted work and sleep. Here is an account of one of
those air raids:
Peculiar conditions in the upper air muffled the sound of L.45s engines and also
deadened the crash of her sighting shots on the outskirts of the capital. Consequently
people were moving about when Kolles first 660-pounder descended near Piccadilly
Circus. It blew in the glass fronts of many fashionable stores and tore a hole in the road 5
feet deep and 10 feet across. Seven people were killed and eighteen injured.
Kolles next bomb fell across the river. In Camberwell the second 660-pounder
struck a party wall between two houses and utterly destroyed them, at the cost of twelve
lives. The last of the big ones demolished four houses in Hither Green, while twenty-six
neighbouring villas were damaged by the blast.
(Robinson 1962: 237)
The fear of air attack caused many people to leave their homes at night; it also affected
factory production. In many places, the blackout was introduced as a defensive measure
against possible attacks from the air.
As the conflict dragged on, the early enthusiasm was lost. Casualty lists were too long
and thousands of families suffered the loss of a husband, son or a brother. When soldiers
returned from the front line with stories of the horrors experienced there, civilians in Britain
grew numbed by the War, but were determined to see it through.
The contrast between the life-and-death problems of war time and the trivia of civilian life was a recurring theme in womens
narratives at the time.
Soldiers on leave, for their part, did not find the support that they thought they deserved
and often found that their friends and relations viewed the front as something terrible over
there, so far away that it was nothing to do with them. Confronted with a horror that they could
not possibly experience for themselves, many choose ignorance as a defence mechanism.
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They did not really want to know, and this was the case even in those parts that happened to
have escaped the first-hand effects of War.
In 1917 the food shortages increased. Certain areas of Britain had few shortages of
food during the war; in some towns and cities, however, it became very difficult to obtain such
things as sugar, margarine, tea and meat. People had to queue for them. By 1918 there were
limited supplies of other foods such as preserves:
Jam, marmalade, syrup, treacle and honey will be rationed as from November 3rd,
on the red coupons on leaf 5 marked spare. You can buy jam and marmalade on these
coupons only from the retailer with whom you are registered. You can buy syrup, treacle
and honey on these coupons from any retailer who can supply you.
Persons who will be between the ages of 6 and 18 at midnight on the 31st
December next can obtain a supplementary ration of jam.
(Ministry of Food, Food Rationing Order, 1918)
Surprisingly, and probably due to the official propaganda, although some grasped the
full horror of the War, for many across the Channel it was viewed as nothing more profound
than casualty lists, relevant to everyday life only if these tragedies became personal ones.
What mattered to most middle-class people in England were the universal topic, maids and
ration cards, as Vera Brittain found in 1918:
From a world in which life or death, victory or defeat, national survival or national
extinction, had been the sole issues, I returned to a society where no one discussed
anything but the price of butter and the incompetence of the latest temporary matters
which, in the eyes of Kensington and of various acquaintances who dropped in to tea,
seemingly far out-weighed in importance the operations at Zeebrugge, or even such topical
controversies as those which raged round Major General Maurices letter to The Times, and
the Pemberton-Billing case. Keyed up as I had been by the month-long strain of daily
rushing to and fro in attendance on the dying, and nightly waiting for the death which
hovered darkly in the sky overhead, I found it excruciating to maintain even an
appearance of interest and sympathy. Probably I did not succeed, for the triviality of
everything drove me to despair.
(Brittain, 1994: 123)
The German boat campaign became more ruthless. Thousands of tons of supplies
were destroyed as ships were torpedoed and there were many fears that people would face
starvation. Some rationing was introduced. Outside food shops were lines of patient, tired
women waiting. As we have seen, World War I was not just the war to end wars, a holy
crusade fought to make the world safe for democracy; it was also the war of wars, a paradigm
of technological warfare:
In some sense, The Great War created all subsequent battles in its own bleak image.
Indeed, with its trenches and zeppelins, its gases and mines, this conflict has become a
diabolical summary of the idea of modern warfare western science bent to the service of
western imperialism (). Even the name modern historians have given it, World War I,
defines the event as merely the first in a series of global apocalypses, while the phrase by
which it was known to contemporaries, the Great War, with its ambiguous muddling of
size and value, seems also to describe a crucial (though slightly different) millennial
occurrence.
(Gilbert and Gubar 1989: 259)
By the time that victory came, at the end of 1918, the meaning of total war had been
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brought home to civilians as well as to soldiers. All were exhausted by the fighting and
bloodshed. In Britain the armistice was greeted with great relief and people went wild with joy
knowing that the boys would now be returning home and there would be an end to concern.
People at home were ready to explode with happiness. Singing, dancing and parties went on
for hours. The unusual celebratory behaviour witnessed by those in London at the time are
symptomatic of the sense of relief felt by all who had survived the massacre the First World
War came to be.
The Great War changed the lives of Europeans for ever and, once the party was over, what remained in its aftermath was a bitter
insecurity, translated into a total rejection of the positive humanistic traditional values held before the war, and a sense of total alienation
of the individual that, in literature, would produce works such as Pounds Hugh Selwyn Mauberley or T.S. Eliots The Waste Land (1922).
2. TEXT ANALYSIS
2.1. The Poetry is in the Pity: Georgian Poets Experiencing War.
As we did in the previous section, we should start here by thinking about the
implications of the title of this section. The currency of the term Georgian began in 1912 with
the publication by Edward Marsh (1872-1953) of an anthology of Georgian Verse. Georgian
as a name given to a generation of poets is clearer-cut than other terms such as
Romanticism or Modernism in that it refers simply to the period of the reign of George V,
from 1910 to 1936, in the same way as Elizabethan refers to the reign of Elizabeth I. As all
periods, Modernism and Romanticism also have a time span, for example, British
Romanticism begins around 1785 and ends in 1830. These terms, however, allow for later
writers to ascribe to the movement. For example, this is the case of Malcolm Lowrys Under
the Volcano (1947), a novel that Lowry started writing in 1940 when the heyday of the
Modernist movement was already in decline. As Graham Martin has observed, these terms
are such that a young writer today might think of her/himself as Modernist. This is not the
case of Georgian, a term very closely linked with the historical period to which it refers. This is
not to say that Georgian poets were directly linked with the King or, by implication,
conservative in their form and style; quite the opposite. As Angus Calder argues, the intention
in choosing the name was to highlight the newness of the poetry being produced at the time.
Since the King had come to the throne only two years before the publication of the anthology
Marshs choice of the title signified innovation (Calder 1991: 20).
The anthology was followed by a number of Georgian anthologies, the last published in
1922, and altogether forty writers were included. Many of the young members of the
generation were considered at the time, as C.K. Stead has argued, dangerous literary
revolutionaries (Stead 1967: 58). For example, Stead comments on the literary vandalism
perpetrated by Brooke when he wrote vividly about seasickness in Channel Crossing. Also
revolutionary was the overt sexual content of the free verse of D.H. Lawrence. Wilfred Owen
(1893-1918) was never included in any of Marshs anthologies but, as he exultantly wrote to
his mother in 1917, he felt very closely related to the movement: I am held peer to the
Georgians, Im held a poets poet (Owen 1967: 521).
In the introduction to the volume Georgian Poetry (1911-12) Edward Marsh, using
terms such as strength and beauty, proclaims that a new poetic, comparable to landmark
poetic movements of the past, was born. This is perhaps too expansive a statement for a
generation caught up between criticism from the previous generation for being too innovative,
on the one hand, and criticism from the following generation for being unadventurous
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in theme and style on the other. It is significant in this sense that the last anthology was
published in 1922, the same year as Modernist icons such as T.S. Eliots The Waste Land,
James Joyces Ulysses or Virginia Woolfs third novel, Jacobs Room, were published. This
has provoked different approaches to the poetry produced by the Georgian poets. Looking at
the first half of the twentieth century as a whole, although there were many interesting
innovations, the poetry produced by the members of this generation did not signify as clear a
break with previous generations as did Modernist poetry.
The names of the writers included already point to the heterogeneity of the generation: D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930), Rupert Brooke
(1887-1915), Robert Graves (1895-1985), Edward Thomas (1878-1917), Andrew Young (1885-1971), W.H. Davies (1871-1940) and Vita
Sackville-West (1892-1962) among others.
As for their literary influences, they paid tribute to the living Thomas Hardy; they were
inspired by the Romantics, Wordsworth in particular, and had strong roots in Victorians such
as Mathew Arnold and Robert Louis Stevenson. Rudyard Kiplings poems, as these are
related to the English theme, can also be traced as an inspiration. There is some influence
from A.E. Housman (1859-1936) as well.
The Georgians were interested in expressing everyday life experience and looking at
the world with fresh eyes. This went against the current tendency towards imperialistic and
patriotic verse produced by, among others, Alfred Noyes, Rudyard Kipling (when he dealt with
themes other than the English one), and Henry Newbolt. In general, Georgian poetry consists
of a complacent and meditative lyrical vision of certain aspects of life and nature. C.K. Stead
has commented that Wilfred Owen, who paradoxically, as said before, was never included in
any of Marshs anthologies, represents the prototypical Georgian poet in his attempt to come
to terms with immediate experience, sensuous or imaginative, in a language close to common
speech (Stead 1967: 89).
The revolt caused by the Georgian poets held a great appeal for the general public
and, in a sense, their poetry was paramount in the construction of an Englishness, white,
rural and in many ways romantic, that pervaded the perception of England for most of the
twentieth century. For example, in Vita Sackville-Wests The Land (1926), the Georgian view
of the beauty of the English countryside and its relationship with the lives of those inhabiting it
is clearly reflected:
The country habit has me by the heart,
For hes bewitched for ever who has seen,
Not with his eyes but with his vision,
Spring
Flow down the woods and stipple leaves
with sun.

(Winter from The Land, 1926)


The time-span constituting the period when Georgian poetry was at its most productive,
around 1912 to 1930, bears witness to the First World War and its aftermath.

The neo-Romantic poetry of the Georgians was one of the losses of the War as it changed for many, particularly for those who fought in
it, their attitude towards poetry.
As a result of the literary examination of the War provided by many Georgian poets,
some are now better known as The War Poets. Since the main topic of this Unit is the
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relationship between literature and war, we shall now concentrate on the poetry produced by
these poets. However, it is important to bear in mind that many of these poets wrote very fine
poetry prior to the Great War and that this work, as it is the case of Rupert Brooke, may
constitute a better example of their poetic skills than does the poetry inspired by the First
World War.
It has frequently been suggested that the First World War came as a surprise to
everybody including those at the time in office. The fact is that when on 3 August the First
World War broke out, it was the result of a crisis hidden behind the apparent security of a
political and economic system established in the nineteenth century. The War was to destroy a
social and cultural structure in place in England since the Renaissance. England entered the
war and immediately sent its troops by sea and by land to fight against the Germans and their
allies. Some of the men forming part of these troops were poets. For some of them, and
especially at the beginning of the conflict, war represented a way to break free from what they
saw as a materialist and undignified milieu surrounding them. This is clearly expressed, for
example, in Rupert Brookes sonnet Peace:
Now, God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour,
And caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping,
With hand made sure, clear eye, and sharpened power,
To turn, as swimmers into cleanness leaping,
Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary,
Leave the sick hearts that honour could not move,
And half-men, and their dirty songs and dreary,
And all the little emptiness of love!
Oh! we, who have known shame, we have found release there,
Where theres no ill, no grief, but sleep has mending,
Naught broken save this body, lost but breath;
Nothing to shake the laughing hearts long peace there
But only agony, and that has ending;
And the worst friend and enemy is but Death.
(Oxford Virtual Seminars: Web)
They felt an emotional and patriotic duty to defend their beloved England and join
forces against an enemy whom, in this early stage of the War, they considered brutal. The
current feeling that the cause for war was justified and legitimate stimulated an idealisation,
rooted in the tradition of the hero, of those who were willing to sacrifice their lives for a just
cause. This is true of Rupert Brooke, but, in those early stages of the war, it is also true of
Wilfred Owen; in a stanza drafted in 1914, to be part of a poem called The Ballad of Peace
and War that was never to be finished, he wrote:
O meet it is and passing sweet
To live in peace with others,
But sweeter still and far more meet,
To die in war for brothers.

(Norton 2000: 2050)

Notice the clear reference to Horace in these lines. Owens experiences in the trenches of the Western Front will make his war poetry
sharper, showing his growing disenchantment, and will reshape the heroic vision of the warrior provided by this stanza.
Rupert Brooke had no time fully to experience the War since he died of blood
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poisoning on 23 April, Easter Sunday, 1915. He enrolled in the Royal Naval Division but his
only encounter with military action was one day with the HMS Hood while Antwerp was being
evacuated. Therefore, Brooke did not really experience the savagery and hardship of the war.
For this reason Robert Means claims that:
One of the many ironies of the war is that Rupert Brooke is remembered as a war poet at
all, because he is actually not a war poet not in the same sense that Siegfried Sassoon,
Robert Graves and Wilfred Owen are war poets. Rupert Brooke is rather a pre-war poet.
(Oxford Virtual Seminars: Web)
The irony seems to go further in the myth constructed around him and his death. Dean
Inge, as part of his Easter Sunday sermon, read Rupert Brookes poem The Soldier in St
Pauls Cathedral. The sermon was published in The Times the following day. The poem and
the poet mythically entered into the public imagination. Indeed, Rupert Brooke had all the
qualities of a national hero. He was, as W.B. Yeats commented, the handsomest young man
in England, he was young, cultivated, agreeable, courageous, and a poet. Similarly to the way
Philip Sidney was seen by the Elizabethans, Rupert Brooke became, at this stage of the War,
the icon of a country enthusiastically confident in its final triumph. He came to represent the
sublimation of the sacrifice the nation had been pushed to make. His sonnet sequence entitled
1914 consisted of five numbered sonnets, preceded by an unnumbered sonnet: The
Treasure, I Peace, II Safety, III The Dead, IV The Dead, V The Soldier. They were first
published in the periodical New Numbers in January 1915. They later appeared in the
Collected Poems in 1918. These sonnets contain the romantic patriotism of the first months of
the War before the battle of the Somme proved its actual, brutal nature. From them, the most
famous and quoted is The Soldier, particularly the opening lines:
If I should die, think only this of me:
That theres some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.

(Norton 2000: 2050)

The prophecy of these words is uncanny, for they may have constituted his epitaph. Brooke died on the Aegean Sea on his way to the
battle at Gallipoli and was buried on the island of Skyros.
The poem follows the form of the English sonnet introduced by Wyatt and Sidney:
fourteen lines of iambic pentameter divided into an octave and a sestet. There is, however, a
disruption of the form in that the octave is rhymed after the Shakespearean form (ababcdcd)
whereas the sestet follows the Italian rhyme (efgefg). In this manner, the poem also disrupts
thematically the sonnet form in that there is no predicament/resolution division, traditionally
placed in the octave and the sestet respectively. Nonetheless, as a whole, it is effective in
showing the blissful state of the fallen soldier and the immortality of the English heritage he
carries as cultural baggage.
Being the last one of the series, it is considered the culmination of the emotional
tension built up by the previous ones. It sums up the themes present in the previous sonnets:
spiritual liberation from old ideas, the permanence of the memories of the dead, and the heros
immortal legacy. However, now he relates these to the idea of Englishness and a personal
loyalty to English heritage. The sonnet does not, in any way, insinuate an apology for
Englands imperial policy, yet, it seems to be informed by the imperialistic idea that England is
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wherever her sons are.


It was never Brookes intention to write propaganda poetry and yet, The Soldier in
particular and the 1914 sonnets, have together aged in the same way as propaganda does.
Associated with the idealistic attitudes of 1914, the endurance of The Soldier is constrained
by changing attitudes towards the War. However, there is more to the ageing of this poem
than the mere suggestion that it was appropriated by the establishment to stimulate in the
population a feeling of necessary sacrifice. The poem, as Martin Stephen has pointed out,
sums up: admirably a mood that was felt by many people when war broke out. This seems to
be precisely the issue with The Soldier: it seems a poem that could have been written by a
poet Laureate for an occasion. No doubt there is some personal emotion in the poem, but this
emotion is shared with public emotion and does not attempt any very new, intense, personal
insights of a surprising quality. In the light of history, it seems unacceptably idealistic.
Furthermore, the whole imagery of the poem on the submission of the fallen soldier
dates it as rather naive. It seems as if nothing up until then had happened to Rupert Brooke,
as a man or as a poet, to prepare him adequately to meet the challenge of the war and all that
it implied. It is too weak to claim that he did not meet the horrors of war, for other poets such
as Charles Hamilton Sorley (1895-1915) were capable of envisioning the futility of the war that
had just started, yet with the same lack of experience and at an even younger age. Charles
Hamilton Sorley was only twenty when he was killed in France, just a few months before
Brooke died at twenty-seven. As Charles Hamilton Sorley expressed in his sonnet When You
See Millions of the Mouthless Dead:
When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That youll remember. For you need not so.
Both Brooke and Sorley were university educated, Cambridge and Oxford respectively,
and had a background that allowed them to travel. Both of them had parents involved with
these universities and in both cases they understood at an early stage of their lives that they
could become poets. In both cases they were among the first to enlist, believing war to be a
necessary evil. The only difference between them is that Sorley knew Germany and the
Germans; in fact, he was visiting Germany when the war broke out, so was arrested and
deported. The quality lacking in Brookes sonnets is that although his sonnet affected the
emotions of the public at large, he seems to have been unable, as a poet, to see the human
soul with an insight that would be eternal, a quality expected from poetry.
Sorleys sonnet, at this early stage, seems already aware of the yet unexpected
fatalism the War would bring to the people. Perhaps his experience of Germany and the
Germans gave him a more mature attitude to war than that shown by most of the early poets.
He accepted war as a necessary evil, but saw no glory in war or in dying for his country (as
Horace dictum goes). He also knew that when the war ended, the former enemies would
shake hands and the sacrifice of millions of the mouthless dead would be for nothing.
When it is peace, then we may view again
With new-won eyes each others truer form
And wonder. Grown more loving-kind and warm
Well grasp firm hands and laugh at the old pain
When it is peace. But until peace, the storm
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The darkness and the thunder and the rain.


This is not to say that Rupert Brooke was a weak poet. Other poems such as
Success, The Hill, Menelaus and Helen or Song show of his poetic qualities. They are
distant from convention, with a poetic tone reminiscent of Thomas Hardy or A.E. Housman.
His death ended, unfortunately, an inspiration that would have found, probably and naturally,
through experience, a way to raise and make modern his poetry.
What dates The Soldier is the gap between the poetic sensibility it displays and the truth about the war that, partly as a result of our
experience of poetry such as Sorleys but particularly Owens, we have learnt to recognise.
Wilfred Owen was born in Oswestry, Shropshire, on 18 March 1893. His early
experiments in poetry began when he was seventeen years old. After being rejected a place at
London University he spent a year as lay assistant to the Reverend Herbert Wigan before
leaving for Bordeaux, France, where he was appointed as English teacher at the Berlitz
School.
The Owen who left for France to become an English teacher had Keats and Shelley as
his literary inspirations, but in France he met Laurent Tailhade, a French Decadent poet.
Tailhades guidance was informed by the Decadent motto art for arts sake as seen in Unit 1.
He introduced Owen to Verlaines poetry, Flauberts novels and other nineteenth-century
French writers who were shocking and shaking the beliefs of bourgeois society. An example of
this period of French influence is Owens Maundy Thursday. The title refers to The Last
Supper of Jesus and his disciples as recorded in the New Testament. It is also a clear
reference to William Blakes Holy Thursday, first published in Songs of Innocence and
Experience (1794). If Blake uses this religious image to question social and moral injustice,
Owens reference to Holy Thursday and the Catholic ceremony on this particular day of Easter
is questioning the very ritual itself as he sees in it a superficial act of veneration of the gesture
rather than of faith. The sonnet shows how, in Owens opinion, the rite is carried out by habit
not conviction. Even those of the congregation who show real Faith (women) end up in a
monotonous and superficial worship for they have to submit to the Churchs dogma. The
ending of the poem is extremely critical and surprising in that it posits a scandalous ambiguity
(not devoid of sexual connotations):
Then I, too, knelt before that acolyte,
Above the crucifix I bent my head:
The Christ was thin, and cold, and very dead:
And yet I bowed, yea, kissed -my lips did cling.
(I kissed the warm live hand that held the thing.)

(Stallworthy 1994: xxxi )

Owen, seeing the growing scale of the War, returned to England in September 1915
and, a month later, signed up in the Artists Rifles. By now he had also read the English
Decadents, particularly Wilde and Swinburne. He met in 1915 Harold Monro, who saw some of
his poems. As Owen wrote in a letter to his mother, he appreciated very much the sincerity of
Monros comments: he told me what was fresh and clever, and what was second hand and
banal; and what was Keatsian, and what modern (quoted in Stallworthy 1994: xxxi). Monro
also introduced him to Edward Marsh and his Georgian Poets anthology.
In

June

1916

Owen

was

commissioned in the Manchester Regiment


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and spent the rest of the year training in England. In January of the following year he was
posted to France. There he confronted the hardships of the front. He and his men held out for
fifty hours in a flooded trench in no-mans-land under heavy bombardment (see Norton 2000:
2072-2073). In March he was injured but returned to the front in April. In May he was caught in
an explosion and as a result in June he was diagnosed with shell-shock.
Evacuated to England, on 26 June Owen arrived at Craiglockhart War Hospital near
Edinburgh. This was a turning point in his life for it was here that he met Siegfried Sassoon,
who had also been diagnosed with shell-shock after writing his famous declaration against the
war (see Norton 2000: 2055). Sassoon already had a reputation as a poet and was known by
Owen from having been included in the anthology of Georgian poetry.
At first reluctant, Sassoon finally agreed to see Owens poems. After reading them
Sassoon not only encouraged Owen to carry on his poetic pursuit but also introduced him to
his friend Robert Graves who, in turn, after his release from hospital, made it possible for
Owen to mix up with literary figures such as Arnold Bennett and H.G. Wells. In June 1918
Owen rejoined his regiment and in August he was sent to France again. He died on 4
November, the news of his death reaching his family on 11 November 1918, the very same
day as the Armistice.
The poems that had so impressed Sassoon were influenced by the French literature
Owen encountered at Bordeaux. This literature made it possible Owen as a War poet, as
Stallworthy suggests in his introduction: The neo-Romanticism of Owens early years gave
way to a modern poet. Siegfried Sassoon, according to Stallworthy, helped Owen to find a
language for his experience (Stallworthy 1994: xxxi).
This is not to suggest that Owen, had he lived, would have become a Modernist. Of course, this point has to be left but to speculation,
yet, apart from incorporating poetic innovations contemporary to him, Owen was hardly an experimental poet himself in form or language
in his lifetime. His poetry was modern in that it was innovative, in the sense of make it new discussed in Unit 1.
What Sassoon taught him he had learnt for himself from Thomas Hardys poetic
originality. Through reading Sassoons poems, Owen clearly understood the need to abandon
traditional poetic diction and syntax and to use the direct speech introduced by Hardy. Owen
would have read poems such as They and would have been able to see the bitter irony that
transforms horror into satirical laughter through the masterful use of the direct speech
technique in Sassoons poetry:
The Bishop tells us: When the boys come back
They will not be the same; for theyll have fought
In a just cause: they lead the last attack
On Anti-Christ; their comrades blood has bought
New right to breed a honourable race,
They have challenged Death and dared him face to face.
Were none of us the same! the boys reply.
For George lost both his legs; and Bills stone blind;
Poor Jims shot through the lungs and like to die;
And Berts gone syphilitic: youll not find
A chap whos served that hasnt found some change.
And the Bishop said: The ways of God are strange!

In this manner, Owen was able to find

(Norton 2000: 2055)

his own dramatic poetical voice charged with


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the immediacy of trench warfare. He was also able to sum up all the influences and write a
poetry shocking not only for its theme but for its newness in that it is a collage of tradition and
innovation.
Owen mastered the use of contrastive and powerful images aimed at creating a strong emotional impact.
This is the case, for example, with Greater Love, a poem with a mixture of insights. As
Stallworthy has rightly pointed out, the poem is a response to Swinburnes Before the Mirror;
it is inspired by Elizabeth Barrett Brownings Aurora Leigh (1857) and Oscar Wildes Salom
(1893). Shakespeares sonnet 130 My mistress eyes are nothing like the sun is an obvious
source of the poem in the negative structure of the first line (Red lips are not so red). In
Greater Love the red lips, the glaring eyes, the elegant posture, the soft voice, and the
beating heart of the beloved merge with the blood, the blinded eyes, the severed limbs, and
the silenced mouths of the dead, and the bullet-ridden broken hearts of the men. The first two
stanzas of the poem give a clear example of what is meant by this:
Red lips are not so red
As the stained stones kissed by the English dead.
Kindness of wooed and wooer
Seems shame to their love pure.
O Love, your eyes lose lure
When I behold eyes blinded in my stead!
Your slender attitude
Trembles not exquisite like limbs knife-skewed,
Rolling and rolling there
Where God seems not to care;
Till the fierce Love they bear
Cramps them in deaths extreme decrepitude.

(Stallworthy 1994: 53)

The poem does not stop at this effective contrast of images. If it is read aloud, it will be
noticed how the sequence of words in each line produces an effect that creates a war
atmosphere. For example, in the line As the stained stones kissed by the English dead, the
repetition of [s], [z] and [] produces, through alliteration, the whistle of bullets. This sound
carried forward to the next line in Kindness is abruptly stopped by the gutturals in wooed and
wooer as it abruptly ceases to be heard by the person who dies who would, probably, be
producing a similar guttural sound when hit.
This device works at positioning the beloved in the battlefield. The beloved merge the
alliterative hissing bullets since, within the line, both are equally present even if one of them is
not actually mentioned. In this third line, for instance, any explicit reference to war is absent
except in the significance of the phonetic power of the words.
The juxtaposition of such different experiences as love and war fails, it might seem at
first sight, to sublimate the love of the soldier for his country. In fact, it is quite the opposite.
The Greater Love of the title carries with it ambivalence never fully resolved in the poem. If it
seems to imply in the first instance that there is no greater love than that felt by a soldier
capable of giving his life to war for the sake of a just peace, it could also be argued that when
a soldier is faced with horror and death, the love felt towards the beloved is magnified since
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there is a clear possibility of losing it for ever.


The ambiguous game proposed by the poem goes further with the absurdity of the
comparison that in effect signals the absurdity of the war and the waste in the losses it brings.
The superimposition of these images brings to the poem the flimsy workings of the human
mind that very often, when pushed into extreme situations, freely wanders in random thoughts,
irrelevant and often inappropriate for the situation. In this case they are about love, but they
could be on any other subject such as home, a landscape or even the most banal everyday
experience. It is a wonder that, in the middle of warfare, the soldier can think of anything other
than war itself. In this sense, Greater Love whilst signalling the immense sacrifice men are
undertaking for their country, is actually pointing out the absurdity of such a gift. This constant
deferral of meaning results in a reminder of how irrational and meaningless effort the war has
become; a foolishness actually voiced loud and clear in Strange Meeting, where the poet
imagines an impossible meeting in a dream-like world between a soldier and the enemy he
has just killed. The ludicrousness of the war is carried forward through the use of the direct
speech of the impossible dialogue between them:
Strange friend, I said, here is no cause to mourn.
None, said that other, save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also

(Norton 2000: 2070)

The dead enemy carries on relating what will no longer be, until he says that in spite of
it all what really worries him is that he will never be able to tell the truth about the war:
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled,
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.

(Norton 2000: 2070)

This is the real essence of Owens war poems: to tell the truth about the war. This
objective changed completely his view on poetry. The art for arts sake of his beginnings is
transformed into a total lack of interest in the art per se, but into a need for this art to become a
vehicle to express the truth about war. As Owen wrote in a draft Preface for a publication of
some of these war poems that he hoped would appear in 1919:
This book is not about heroes. English poetry is not yet fit to speak of them.
Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, might, majesty,
dominion, or power, except War.
Above all I am not concerned with Poetry.
My subject is War, and the pity of War.
The Poetry is in the pity.
(Stallworthy 1994: 98)
This statement explicitly expresses Owens concern with the writing of his war poetry
and contains the essence of what makes his poetry modern although by no means Modernist.
A Modernist would never say, Above all I am not concerned with Poetry, for Modernists were
very much concerned with it. This is not to say that Owens words should be taken literally.
Poetry was a very great concern to him, since it was through poetry that he chose to
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articulate his subject matter: War, and the pity of War. As Arnold Kettle argues: Owen,
whose concern with poetry is manifest, is warning against an aestheticism which has too
limited a view of beauty, rather than against the poets being conscious that his job is to
produce art (Kettle 1975: 60).
It is precisely the subject matter of Wilfred Owens poetry that makes it new, since in order to portray war he has to bend poetic
tradition to his own means. Is this the first time that poetry deals with war? How does Owen achieve his aim?
A very good example of this argument is his poem Dulce et Decorum Est (Norton
2000: 2069-70). The Latin tag that serves as the title of the poem, as has been already pointed
out, is taken from the work of the Latin poet, Horace, who lived towards the end of the first
century BC. The phrase translates as It is sweet and proper to die for ones country and the
whole stanza reads:
It is sweet and proper to die for ones country
and death pursues even the man who flees
nor spares the hamstrings or cowardly
backs of battle-shy youths.

(Horace, Odes, 3. 2., 13-16)

In a letter to his mother on 16 October 1917 Owen was pondering the full meaning of
Horaces words and he wrote: it is sweet and meet to die for ones country. Sweet! And
decorous! The word meet used by Owen in The Ballad of Peace and War is an archaic
voice. While meaning proper, it carries a stronger sense of duty which in the English context
is connected to the Anglican Communion service as a response to the clergymans call Let us
praise the Lord, It is meet and just so to do. A question that should be considered is why
Owen has chosen in this later poem to render the tag in Latin, instead of the English he had
used earlier in the first line of the ballad. By using Latin instead of English he is answering a
poetic tradition that, from Horace onwards, has made sublime the sacrifice of ones life for
ones country.
The Owen who wrote the ballad, as has been discussed earlier, is an Owen who, very much in the line of Rupert Brookes war sonnets,
had an idealistic view of war and justice, and the importance of its aims. The Owen who is writing Dulce et Decorum Est is voicing his
feeling of disillusions as never told in the old days. By bringing Horace into Dulce et Decorum Est he is not only answering external voices
but also his own.
It has also been a widespread view that the poem is undermining the views expressed
in the poetry of Jessie Pope, to whom in the first instance he dedicated the poem, later
withdrawing the dedication following the advice of Siegfried Sassoon. Jessie Pope was a
writer of childrens books and a poet. She was writing her war poems with strong patriotic
overtones from the home front and they were being published in the newspapers, for example
The Call and War Girls. This patriotic tone was used by many contemporary voices at home
who were misled by the censored news reaching them through the papers. At home it was still
thought that, indeed, it was dulce et decorum pro patria mori. In the case of women in
particular, as will be discussed in the next section, one of the side effects of War was,
paradoxically, the entry of women into the work force en masse; a fact that in many women
provoked a feeling of exulted liberation that in turn produced poems such as Popes War
Girls:
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Literature and War: Disillusion as Never Told in the Old Days

Theres the girl who clips your ticket for the train,
And the girl who speeds the lift from floor to floor,
Theres the girl who does a milk round in the rain,
And the girl who calls for orders at your door.
Strong, sensible, and fit,
Theyre out to show their grit,
And tackle jobs with energy and knack.
No longer caged and penned up,
Theyre going to keep their end up
Til the khaki soldier boys come marching back.
Theres the motor girl who drives a heavy van,
Theres the butcher girl who brings your joint of meat,
Theres the girl who calls All fares please! like a man,
And the girl who whistles taxis up the street.
Beneath each uniform
Beats a heart thats soft and warm,
Though of canny mother wit they show no lack;
But a solemn statement this is,
Theyve no time for love and kisses
Till the khaki soldier boys come marching back.

(Oxford Virtual Seminars: Web)

Without any doubt, the most frustrating factor in reading poems of this sort was the
total lack of knowledge or understanding of what was actually happening on the different fronts
in the war. The light tone of Popes poem summarised in the way the boys are brought into
the text Til the khaki soldier boys come marching back, probably in triumph, is bitterly
contrasted with the realisation, as has been shown above, that the actual experience of the
trenches brought about the revelation that there were to be neither victorious nor defeated
parties in this War. Owens poem tries to right the situation; in this manner he shows a
commitment in his poetical voice to attempting to change the readers attitude. Owen also
recalled in the poem the children who were the readers of much of Popes literature, in that
rather angry and patronising My friend of his final stanza.
Going back to the idea of the newness of the poetry written by Wilfred Owen, it has to
be said that the commitment of Owens Dulce et Decorum Est is not in itself something new.
Most Victorian poets moralised in their poems. On the other hand, in showing his commitment,
Owens poem could be accused of being a propaganda poem in the same way as Brookes
poems were, even if it was not intended as such.
What was shocking and disturbing, hence new, about Owens poem was that it was an anti-establishment poem, a kind of protest
poem. What elements in the poem target this subversive quality?
Within the context of The Great War, talking a truth that ought not to be told was
received with coldness and, often, disgust. If other writers such as Percy B. Shelley and Oscar
Wilde, for example, had already written responses to war driven by an indignation provoked by
the absurdity of the situation, the new commitment provided by Owens poem rests in a desire
to break up the social order within the context in which it was produced. This commitment, in
turn, brings about a new view on poetry in the subject matter that it conveys. It was
unthinkable at the time that such themes as a gas attack could be the subject of poetry.
What is new in this case is the view that any topic at all can be

the subject of a poem, a view unimaginable for many of his


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contemporaries. It is the style of the poem and the poetic devices used that makes possible its innovative newness. Put differently, the
poem would have been a different poem. How does Owen poetic language work?
Dulce et Decorum Est begins with a simile in the first line of the first stanza: Bent
double, like old beggars under sacks which conveys a myriad of multiple images hidden in the
ambiguity of the simile itself. It recalls the image of soldiers heavily loaded and the ruined state
of their uniforms which are, in fact, the rags worn by beggars: Many had lost their boots. The
paradoxical bent double brings to the text the image of the soldiers as they try to advance
through the trenches bent for protection beneath the sacks that are piled to make a defensive
wall, and also bent under the weight of their own sacks.
Metaphorically speaking, the soldiers are bent double under the weight of their own
emotions and tiredness: as said a few lines later, these soldiers are on their way to the again
ambiguous distant rest. This distant rest alludes figuratively to a camp away from the front
line where exhausted soldiers might rest for a few days, or more. Yet distant rest already puts
the reader on guard about the perils to be found on the way, because resting is yet out of
hand. The image of these ruined men who advance Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we
cursed through sludge comes with the surprising use of the pronoun we implying that the
men are still capable of action, even if it is only to curse, when in fact the image given is that of
men cursed by the depth of the mud weakening them, doomed by events.
Moreover, it brings the poet into the text and includes the reader through the use of
we. Certainly the first stanza of the poem is poetry telling about the pity of War. The image
here is of men lame and blind walking asleep, so tired that they are metaphorically said to
be Drunk with fatigue. Even if, on a superficial level, the first stanza is a mere description of
the state in which the overworked soldiers find themselves before their rest, implying in this
sense the hardships they have gone through.
There are throughout the stanza signals warning of their probable fate. The soldiers themselves are unaware of them (for they cannot
see or hear properly). The reader has by now been directed to be witness to the event. What is our response as readers?
The irony portrayed here is that it is not necessary to be actually in the front line,
hearing the hissing of the bullets, to be in danger in the war. On their way back from the front
line they are attacked and one man is going to die.
The powerful use of direct speech condenses in short sentences, made up of
monosyllables, the surprise of the attack. It also suggests the strong pulse of the action: Gas!
Gas! Quick, boys! An ecstasy of fumbling. The dash dividing the line creates a pause, not
long enough for the soldiers to be able to properly respond to the attack thus producing a
frantic mishandling of the only weapon they have, a defensive one, to counteract the
aggression.
Ecstasy is used paradoxically; it shows the speed and panic of the men as they know
how important it is to get their helmets on and yet their fingers fail them. The poet tricks the
reader by saying Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time, giving us the impression that each
soldier has his helmet on; this is not true. Clumsy helmets is a transferred epithet: the
helmets themselves are not clumsy but the soldiers are clumsily trying to fit on the heavy
helmets amid the chaos.
It is ironic that the clumsiness of one of the men is going to

18

cost his life. What is the poets response to this?

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Literature and War: Disillusion as Never Told in the Old Days

The third stanza provides the horror of witnessing a man dying without being able to
help him. The next few lines talk about the terror and pain the man experiences as the gas
enters his body. The simile floundring like a man in fire is used to provide an image of the
panic growing in the man as he knows he is going to die. This is made more poignant by the
fact that no one can do anything to help. It has to be noted that Owen was an officer and as
such he thought it his duty to see to the well-being of his men. The clumsiness of this man is
transferred to Owens own clumsiness at not being able to help.
In this respect, the third stanza is purposely short so as to convey the desolation and lack of words of one man witnessing another
dying. Notice the change of pronoun from we to I. Owen makes this verse short so that it stands out from the rest. Why does he do so?
The poem shows that Owen still has nightmares about the event. Even in his sleep, he
cannot escape the torture and suffering of the man, so he, too, is a victim of the gas attack. He
uses the word my to illustrate this. In Owens dreams the man pleads with the poet to help
him, yet he cannot do anything. The last three words end in -ing, guttering, choking, drowning
evoke the sounds of the dying man as well as making us aware of the length of the suffering
before he dies. In fact, in the last stanza, it is not clear at all whether the man placed in the
wagon is alive or dead. Behind the wagon that we flung him in, makes us wonder if the man
is actually dead or still floundering, as recalled by the use of flung. In the last verse Owen
uses you frequently, as he is now talking to us. This makes the last verse unique: throughout,
the poem is otherwise written in the third and first person. Cancer is used to tell us that the
pain of the man is hidden: the man is dying from inside out, the gas cannot be seen as a
wound could be. Moreover, his death, the poem implies, is hidden from those, as Jessie Pope,
who cannot or will not acknowledge the horror, the pity and pointless nature of war.
The message lies at the end of the poem, The old lie: dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. The dignity of death is precisely in the
knowing and the telling of the war, not in dying for ones country. Doing so disillusions as never told before are brought back from the
front.
2.2. Lets We Forget: Women Writing the War
It seems appropriate to start this section by considering theoretical issues concerning
the interrelationship between war and gender in twentieth-century Britain. Many historians
argue that the First World War was a watershed for women in Britain. In reality, the
development of womens political and economic rights between 1914 and 1918 was more
complicated than such arguments allow. Some writers indeed contend that the impact of the
Great War on womens emancipation has been vastly overstated.

On the eve of the War, the position of women in British society was largely unfavourable. In the workplace, womens work, most
commonly, domestic service, was poorly paid and considered separate from, and inferior to, mens work. Women were still expected to
give up work once they were married, to revert to their natural roles of wife, mother and housekeeper. How does War change this lack of
egalitarian rights for women?
Despite or because of this situation, Britain was home to the most active feminist
movement in Western Europe: the Womens Social and Political Union (WSPU), founded in
1903 by Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst and better known as the Suffragettes. However,
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many politicians, including Prime Minister H.H. Asquith, remained actively reluctant to support
womens suffrage, providing examples of the WSPUs violent methods in justifying their
position.
The response of women to the outbreak of War in August 1914 was mixed. A small
number, such as writer Margaret Cole, adopted a staunch anti-war position and later worked
with the conscientious objectors movement. A much larger minority threw their patriotic weight
behind the Allied cause. The Pankhursts reined in the WSPUs militant campaign, arguing that
a military triumph of a male nation such as Germany would be a disastrous blow to the
womens movement.

Government propaganda made great play of patriotic women who pushed their cowardly men to enlist in the armed forces. The
majority of British women, however, fell somewhere between these two extremes, viewing the War as an inevitability for which they now
had to make sacrifices.
The Pankhursts rightly saw that the War, paradoxically, would provide new
employment opportunities for women. The Great War did offer women increased opportunities
in the paid labour market. At least one million women were formally added to the British
workforce between 1914 and 1918 and an estimated two million women replaced men in
employment. This resulted in an increase in the proportion of women in total employment from
24 per cent in July 1914 to 37 per cent by November 1918. Just 2,000 had been employed in
government dockyards, factories and arsenals in July 1914 but, by November 1918, this figure
had risen to 247,000. By 1911, between 11 and 13 per cent of the female population in
England and Wales were domestic servants. By 1931, this figure had dropped to lower than 8
per cent. For the middle classes, the decline of domestic servants was facilitated by the
increased use of domestic appliances, such as cookers, electric irons and vacuum cleaners.
The popularity of labour saving devices does not, however, explain the dramatic drop
in the servant population. Middle-class women continued to clamour for servants, but working
women who might previously have been enticed into service were being drawn away by
alternative employments that were opening up to satisfy the demands of War. Thus, nearly
half of the first recruits to the London General Omnibus Company in 1916 were former
domestic servants. In other areas such as agriculture there were smaller, but still noticeable,
increases. Clerical work, banking and the civil service were other opportunities: the number of
women in the civil service increased from 33,000 in 1911 to 102,000 by 1921. The advantages
of these alternative employments over domestic service were obvious: wages were higher,
conditions better and independence enhanced.

The War opened up a wider range of occupations to female workers and hastened the collapse of traditional womens employment,
particularly domestic service.
Although they wrote from different perspectives, a range of women who commented on
the conflict nevertheless agreed on this point. The Englishwoman Iris Barry, for instance, in
1934 wrote a candid and ironic memoir entitled We Enjoyed the War in which she noted that:
Girls older than myself were breaking away from home in the most alluringly novel
manner, joining organizations called the Womans Volunteer Reserve which had its own
uniform, training as nurses, getting20curiously well-paid government jobs. It was not

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merely that instead of staying at home they were allowed to take jobs, but that having
work of this kind made them feel very important, patriotic, and highly meritorious We
were all getting rich, or richer. ... Wages were rising steadily.
(Quoted in Gilbert and Gubar 1989: 272-3)
Virginia Woolf, in a crucial passage in Three Guineas (1938), provides an explanation
for what might appear otherwise as the morbid exploitation of a dreadful situation:
How ... can we explain that amazing outburst in August 1914, when the daughters of
educated men ... rushed into hospitals ... drove lorries, worked in fields and munitions
factories, and used all their immense stores of charm ... to persuade young men that to
fight was heroic ...? So profound was [womans] unconscious loathing for the education of
the private house that she would undertake any task however menial, exercise any
fascination however fatal that enabled her to escape. Thus consciously she desired our
splendid Empire; unconsciously she desired our splendid war.
(Woolf 1991: 45-46)
The very fact that Woolf felt the need to explain womens paradoxical situation in the
First World War is very telling within a context of a pacifist essay. However, even in areas
where they were employed in large numbers, such as munitions and transport, women were
often treated as inferior, stop-gap replacements for enlisted men. Moreover, womens wages,
routinely portrayed as high in the wartime press, remained significantly lower than those of
their male counterparts.

Throughout the War, both the Government and the press tended, for propaganda reasons, to exaggerate the extent to which women
took over mens jobs. Real female dentists, barbers and architects, all of whom were featured on War savings postcards, were extremely
rare. Most male-dominated professions remained closed to women. Did the First World War actually improve womens lives in Britain?
Many women did find their wartime labour experiences in some way liberating, if only
because these freed them from woefully paid jobs in domestic service. At the time many
people believed that the War had helped advance women politically and economically. Mrs
Millicent Fawcett, a leading feminist, the founder of Newnham College in Cambridge and
President of the National Union of Womens Suffrage Societies from 1897 to 1918, said in
1918: The war revolutionised the industrial position of women it found them serving and left
them free. However, this comment should be read today with caution.
Sylvia Pankhurst, was a talented writer as much as a feminist activist and pacifist,. In
1911 her book The History of the Womens Suffrage Movement was published. She produced
a weekly magazine for working-class women, The Womens Dreadnought. The outbreak of the
First World War caused a serious conflict between Sylvia and the WSPU as she was a pacifist
and disagreed with the WSPUs strong support for the War:
When I read in the newspapers that Emmeline Pankhurst and Christabel were returning to
England for a recruiting campaign, I wept. To me this seemed a tragic betrayal of the
great movement to bring the mother-half of the race into the councils of the nation.
We set up a League of Rights for Soldiers and Sailors Wives and Relatives to strive for
better pensions and allowances. We also campaigned for pay equal to that of men. Votes
for Women were never permitted to fall into the background. We worked continuously for
peace, in face of the bitterest opposition from old enemies and sometimes, unhappily, from
old friends.
(Quoted in Gilbert and Gubar 1989:
265)
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Sylvia Pankhurst joined with Charlotte Despard to form the Womens Peace Army, an
organisation demanding a negotiated peace. The Womens Dreadnought continued to
campaign against the War and gave strong support to organisations such as the NonConscription Fellowship. The newspaper also published Siegfried Sassoons famous anti-war
statement in July 1917.
During the War Sylvia Pankhurst worked with Dr Barbara Tchaykovsky to open four
mother-and-baby clinics in London. Tchaykovsky saw the need to open up these clinics since
she noticed and pointed out that during the first year of the War 75,000 British soldiers (2.2 per
cent of the combatants) had been killed. During the same period, however, over 100,000
babies in Britain (12.2 per cent of those born) had died. In 1915 nearly 1,000 mothers and their
babies were seen at these clinics. Confronted to these numbers, politicians such as George
Lansbury helped to raise funds for the organisation. Its milk bill alone was over 1,000 a year.
The First World War also forced unions to deal with the issue of womens work. Trade
unionism proved to be a second legacy of the War. Female workers had been less widely
unionised than their male counterparts. This was because they tended to do part-time work
and to work in smaller firms. Also, existing unions were often hostile to female workers. The
scale of womens employment could no longer be denied and the higher number of unmarried
or widowed women at the end of the war forced the established unions to consider the status
of women in the workplace. In addition, pressure on established unions and the formation of
separate womens unions threatened to destabilise men-only organisations.

The increase in female Trade Union membership from only 357,000 in 1914 to 1,086,000 by 1918 represented an increase in the number
of unionised women of 200 per cent. This compares with an increase in male union membership of only 44 per cent.
The Representation of the People Act (February 1918) was widely portrayed as a
reward for the contribution of female labour to the War effort. However, while the Act granted
the vote to all men over twenty-one (subject to a six months residency qualification), only
women over the age of thirty were given the same privilege. Some historians still believe that
the War was a key element in the granting of the vote to women over the age of thirty who
held property in 1918. However, gratitude for womens war work cannot explain why only
women over thirty got the vote while it was younger women who had done the work. Rather, it
is more convincing to argue that the lobbying of the feminist movement and the commitment of
the Labour Party to a wider franchise were crucial factors.
Further proof of the limits of the wartime march towards sexual equality was provided
by the post-war backlash against womens employment and, in particular, against the
continued employment of married women. Women themselves were divided with single and
widowed women claiming a prior right to employment over married women.

For instance, Isobel M. Pazzey of Woolwich reflected a widely held view when she wrote to the Daily Herald in October 1919 declaring
No decent man would allow his wife to work, and no decent woman would do it if she knew the harm she was doing to the widows and
single girls who are looking for work. She directed: Put the married women out, send them home to clean their houses and look after the
man they married and give a mothers care to their children. Give the single women and widows the work. Is this division among women
due to the fragility of the newly gained rights?
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In some occupations single women insisted on excluding their married sisters. For
example, in 1921, female civil servants passed a resolution asking for married women to be
banned from working in the service. The resulting ban was enforced until 1946.
As soon as the conflict ended the number of women working in munitions factories and
transport fell away rapidly. Ex-servicemen reclaimed the jobs that had been performed by
women during the previous four years. Moreover, even in longstanding bastions of female
employment such as the laundry industry, women now found themselves in competition with
disabled ex-servicemen. The War did not inflate womens wages. Employers circumvented
wartime equal pay regulations by employing several women to replace one man or by dividing
skilled tasks into several less skilled stages. In this manner, women were employed at a lower
wage and could not be said to be directly replacing men. By 1931, a working womans
average weekly wage had returned to the pre-war situation of being half the male rate in most
industries.
As in France, the idea of women returning to their rightful domestic place was a
prominent theme in post-war Britain:
The literature of the post-war years was marked by an anti-feminism which, in the words
of Rebecca West, was strikingly the correct fashion ... among ... the intellectuals
(Gilbert and Gubar 1989: 319)
Many of their undoubted advances between 1914 and 1918 were thus only partial or
temporary. In this respect, Winifred Holtby wrote in the journal Time and Tide (6 August 1926):
Hitherto, society has drawn one prime division between two sections of people, the line of
sex-differentiation, with men above and women below. The Old Feminists believe that the
conception of this line, and the attempt to preserve it by political and economic laws and
social traditions not only checks the development of the womans personality, but prevents
her from making that contribution to the common good which is the privilege and the
obligation of every human being.
While the inequality exists, while injustice is done and opportunities denied to the great
majority of women, I shall have to be a feminist, and an Old Feminist, with the motto
Equality First. And I shant be happy till I get it.
(Brittain 1940: 134)
Furthermore, anxiety for their fellow men at War, the pressures of employment
combined with the need to perform housework in straitened circumstances and the
inadequacy of social services, exacted a heavy toll. It also made the withdrawal of women
back into their homes after the War less surprising. This return to full-time domesticity was not,
however, wholly voluntary:
As David Mitchell observed when the time came for demobilisation, many women wept
at the ending of what they now saw as the happiest and most purposeful days of their
lives. For despite the massive tragedy that the war constituted for an entire generation of
young men and for their grieving wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters, it also
represented the first rupture with a socio-economic history that had heretofore denied
most women chances at first-class jobs and first-class pay.
(Gilbert and Gubar 1989: 276)

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In many instances contracts of employment during the First World War had been based
on collective agreements between trade unions and employers that decreed that women
would only be employed for the duration of the War. Employed mothers were stung by the
closure of day nurseries that had been vastly extended during the War years. Reinforcing
these pressures were the recriminatory voices of returning servicemen. As unemployment
levels soared immediately after the War, anger towards women taking jobs from men
exploded. There were other setbacks. During the First World War, hospitals had accepted
female medical students: in the 1920s, women were rejected by the hospitals on the grounds
of modesty. Other areas such as education were also affected by this post-war attitude. The
National Association of Schoolmasters campaigned against the employment of female
teachers. In 1924, the London County Council made its policy explicit when it changed the
phrase shall resign on marriage to the contract shall end on marriage:
Many women, however, blamed themselves for the loss of the ground they had gained
between 1914 and 1918. Repressed by what was still, after all, a male-dominated
community and reproached by their own consciences, a number retreated into self-doubt
or guilt-stricken domesticity.
(Gilbert and Gubar 1989: 322)
In an article for Good Housekeeping in 1935, Winifred Holtby described the impact that
the First World War had on young women:
There are today in England and in France and Germany and Austria and Italy, one
imagines women peacefully married to men whom they respect, for whom they feel deep
affection and whose children they have borne, who will yet turn heartsick and lose colour
at the sight of a khaki-clad figure, a lean ghost from a lost age, a word, a memory. These
are they whose youth was violently severed by war and death; a word on the telephone, a
scribbled line on paper, and their future ceased. They have built up their lives again, but
their safety is not absolute, their fortress not impregnable.
(Brittain 1940: 52)
One response to the trauma of the First World War to have an enormous impact on
womens lives was the re-making of the present and future in the image of the past. The
question of the benefits of the War for women, as Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar claim, in
that it precipitated the shattering of patrimony and provided women, for the first time, with
first class jobs and first-class pay, is highly contentious:
Through a paradox that is at first almost incomprehensible, this war which has
traditionally been defined as an apocalypse of masculinism seems here to have led to an
apotheosis of femaleness, a triumph of women who feed on wounds and are fertilized by
blood. If we reflect upon this point, however, we must inevitably ask a set of questions
about the relations between the sexes during this war of wars. What part, after all, did
women play in the Great War? How did men perceive that role? More specifically, what
connections might there be between the wartime activities of women and the sense of
sexual wounding that haunts so many male modernist texts? Most importantly, did
women themselves experience the wound of the war in the same way that their sons and
lovers did?
(Gilbert and Gubar 1989: 262)
Pay scales are not, understandably, the issue at the forefront of womens novels
written during or immediately after the War. Of these, one might single out Rebecca Wests
fine novel, The Return of the Soldier (1918), with its depiction of the psychic damage caused
by War. In the novel, a solider returns from the front to the three women who love him.
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His wife, Kitty, with her cold, moonlight beauty, and his devoted cousin, Jenny, wait in their
exquisite home on the crest of the Harrow-Weald. Margaret Allington, his first and longforgotten love, is nearby in the dreary suburb of Wealdstone. But the soldier is shell-shocked
and can only remember the Margaret he loved fifteen years before when he was a young man
and she an innkeepers daughter. His cousin he remembers only as a childhood playmate; his
wife he remembers not at all. The women have a choice: to leave him where he wishes to be,
or to cure him. It is Margaret who reveals a love so great that she can make the final sacrifice:
the amnesiac hero is restored to health by Margaret who gathers his soul into her soul and
keeping it warm so that his body can rest quiet for a little time, she brings him to life and his
actual wife.
Cicely Hamiltons William An Englishman (1919) presents a rather grim image of
War. The eponymous hero, William, and his wife, Griselda, are passionate but unquestioning
supporters of womens suffrage and pacifism. However, after Griselda dies as a consequence
of being raped by a German soldier in Belgium at the beginning of the War, William becomes
pro-war. In this novel Cicely Hamilton denounces what she perceives as an unreliable opinion
based merely on the personal experience of war as portrayed in her novel, where she attacks
the characters narrowness and lack of independent judgement. At times her contempt for her
characters is a barrier to the reader, particularly when Cicely Hamiltons own involvement with
the suffrage campaign comes to mind. Williams behaviour, however, is credible as that of a
man who, singled out of the herd, followed it once tragedy made him face the reality of War. In
her later Theodore Savage (1922), civilisation has been destroyed by total scientific warfare;
mankind becomes concerned only with survival, and all moral restraints disappear. Later, as
communities form, people try to understand their lives. A dread of science and learning
develops as these are seen as the source of all destruction. In this powerful and apocalyptic
book, Cicely Mary Hamilton expresses a cyclical view of history in which mankind endlessly
refines the tools of its own destruction and emerges from the ruins to repeat the process,
mythologizing the past in the process.
A foretaste of the insularity that was to be a part of the 1914-18 War is given in May
Sinclairs The Tree of Heaven (1917). Dorothea is told by her lover as he departs for Mons in
1914: its your War, too its the biggest fight for freedom. When he is killed one of her chief
regrets is all the time that they wasted: All those years like a fool over that silly
suffrage. Her brother, Nicky, finds that it is absolute happiness to go over the top: And the
charge is well, its simply heaven. Its as if youd never really lived till then; I certainly hadnt,
not up to the top-notch.
In this novel Sinclair suggests that feminism fades into insignificance in comparison
with the greater cause, a view with which, in various forms, women have become very familiar
throughout the century. Militant feminism certainly declined in the 1920s, although the reasons
for this are complex. Olive Banks argues in her Faces of Feminism (1981) that it was replaced
by welfare feminism, concerned with economic and social issues. The novels of Vera Brittain
and Winifred Holtby, in particular, reflect these concerns.
Winifred Holtby, the daughter of David Holtby, a prosperous Yorkshire farmer, was
born in 1898. Her mother, Alice Holtby, was the first Alderwoman in Yorkshire. Winifred Holtby
was educated at home by a governess and then at boarding school. She passed the entrance
exam for Somerville College, Oxford, but left in early 1918 to join the Womens Auxiliary Army
Corps. Winifred Holtby wrote down in her diary why she decided to join the Womens Auxiliary
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Army Corps:
a) The desire to suffer and to die especially when suffering is associated with glory.
b) Fear of immunity from danger when our friends are suffering.
(Brittain 1940: 62)
After the war, Holtby explained, in a letter to her friend Vera Brittain, why she became a
member of the Womens Auxiliary Army Corps:
It always seemed to me then that I yielded to desire to join the W.A.A.C., a desire that my
poorer contemporaries, who had to hurry through with their preparations to earn livings,
could not afford to indulge in. I had been so infinitely happier both nursing and in the
W.A.A.C. than I had been in that ghastly year at Oxford in 1917, that it never occurred to
me that Army life was anything but a fortunate privilege.
(Brittain 1940: 63)
Winifred Holtbys boyfriend, Harry Pearson, was fighting on the Western Front when he
was shot in the shoulder in 1916. While he was recovering from his injuries he told Holtby
about his experiences:
He told me about all the enormities he had seen at the front the mouthless mangled
faces, the human ribs whence rats would steal, the frenzied tortured horses, with leg or
quarter rent away, still living; the rotted farms, the dazed and hopeless peasants; his
innumerable suffering comrades; the desert of no-mans-land; and all the thunder and
moaning of war; and the reek and freezing of war; and the driving the callous, perpetual
driving by some great force which shovelled warm human hearts and bodies, warm human
hopes, by the million into the furnace.
(Brittain 1940: 53)
Soon after she arrived in France, the First World War came to an end. In 1919 she
returned to Somerville College where she met Vera Brittain. The two women graduated
together and, in 1921, they moved to London where they hoped to establish themselves as
writers. Brittains first two novels, The Dark Tide (1923) and Not Without Honour (1925) sold
badly and were ignored by the critics. Holtby had more success with Anderby Wold (1923),
The Crowded Street (1924) and The Land of Green Ginger (1927). She was also in great
demand as a journalist and, over the next twenty years, wrote for more than twenty
newspapers and magazines. They included Time and Tide, The Manchester Guardian and a
regular weekly article for a trade union magazine, The Schoolmistress. Books published during
this period included a critical study of Virginia Woolf, the first of many to come, and a volume
of short stories, Truth is Not Sober.
As was her companion, Vera Brittain, Winifred Holtby was a pacifist and lectured
extensively for the League of Nations Union. Gradually she became more critical of the class
system and inherited privileges and by the late 1920s was active in the Independent Labour
Party. In 1931 Winifred Holtby began to suffer with high blood pressure, recurrent headaches
and bouts of lassitude. She was eventually diagnosed as suffering from sclerosis of the
kidneys. Her doctor told her that she only had two years to live. Aware that she was dying, she
put all her remaining energy into what became her most important book, South Riding.
Winifred Holtby died on 29 September 1935. South Riding was published the following year
and was highly praised by the critics. Vera Brittain subsequently wrote about their relationship
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in her book, Testament of Friendship (1940).


Very few women gave their lives in the First World War, but this was the last war in
which this was to be the case. Modern air warfare kills men and women indiscriminately. When
Vera Brittain wrote Testament of Youth (1933) she was remembering a war whose impact was
uneven between both class and sex. The major impact was, of course, against the Tommy,
although popular myth would have us believe that the officer class suffered the greater losses.
In 1914, Vera Brittain was eighteen, and when War was declared she was about to go up to
Oxford. Four years later her life, and the life of her whole generation, had changed in a way
unimaginable in the apparent tranquillity of the pre-war years. Testament of Youth, one of the
most famous autobiographies of the First World War, is her account of how she survived it,
how she lost the man she loved, how she nursed the wounded and how she emerged into an
altered world. This passionate record of a lost generation women and men made Vera Brittain
one of the best-loved writers of her time. Nicola Beauman writes regarding Brittains
Testament of Youth:
The impact on women was more enduring: often their lives were irrevocably warped. No
one can read Testament of Youth without tears and it is a great tribute to Vera Brittains
prose style that she holds the reader enthralled through nearly seven hundred pages. She
describes her childhood in provincial Buxton, her brief spell at Oxford, her growing love
for Roland Leighton and her four years of nursing. Yet the relentless dramas of the war
years leave her emotionally numbed, and although she finally finds a new love she makes
no pretence that it will be anything but a very good second-best to the dead Roland, who
embodies so much tragedy and so much heroism. For this is one of the most haunting
themes of the few novels written by women whose lovers were killed in the war: they may
find someone else but they will never replace what they have lost.
(Beaumann 1983: 35)
A number of women writers, including Sylvia Townsend Warner and Storm Jameson,
played an important part in the culture of the British left in the 1930s and 1940s. They used
their writing, which includes poetry as well as prose, to explore womens roles in society and
the tensions between social expectations and womens desires:
Even women who were not specifically recording anxieties about female survival seem
sometimes to have been infected by the post-war misogyny that was so strikingly the
correct fashion. Certainly war-wounded male artists, non-combatant survivors as well as
those who had lived through combat, could, and frequently did, inflict severe pain on
women of letters who were close to them.
(Gilbert and Gubar 1989: 321)
Warner is particularly interesting in this context. The diversity of her writing and her
experiments with different forms of expression are a part of her concern with the relationship
between art and politics, including the question of whether Modernist or Realist writing is the
more appropriate vehicle for political literature.

The First World War created an ambivalent attitude in many women writers towards a War they deplored for its destructiveness but
the need for which they felt inhibited from criticising since they were not considered active participants in the conflict.
Although it has not been as deeply studied as other literary forms, poetry played its part
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in the early twentieth-century womens movement and womens experience of War. The
suffragette Sylvia Pankhursts poems about her experiences in prison were published in her
Writ on Cold Slate (1922). Charlotte Mews poetic responses to the Great War have been
included in an anthology of World War I womens poetry, Scars upon My Heart (1981).
Charlotte Mews poem The Cenotaph (September 1919) speaks of the loneliness, the
heartache and the sorrow women felt in 1918. Yet it also speaks of a spirit dedicated to the
renewal of life painfully won for the Allies on the fields of France:
Not yet will those measureless fields be green again
Where only yesterday the wild sweet blood of wonderful youth was
There is a grave whose earth must hold too long, too deep a stain,
Though for ever over it we may speak as proudly as we may tread.
But, here, where the watchers by lonely hearths from the thrust of
an inward sword have more slowly bled,
We shall build the Cenotaph: Victory, winged, with Peace,
winged too, at the columns head.

Only, when all is done and said,


God is not mocked and neither are the dead.

[shed;

(Reilly 1981: 71)

The poem suggests that womens deep, anguished grief must take solace in the
Christian virtues of forgiveness and reconciliation, and that they must find the courage to live
on without their loved ones. Scars upon My Heart took its title from a poem by Vera Brittain
written to her beloved brother, Captain E.H. Brittain. The manuscript was written four days
before his death in action in the Austrian offensive on the Italian Front (15 June 1918):
TO MY BROTHER (In Memory of July 1st, 1916)
Your battle-wounds are scars upon my heart,
Received when in that grand and tragic show
You played your part
Two years ago,
And silver in the summer morning sun
I see the symbol of your courage glow
That Cross you won
Two years ago.
Though now again you watch the shrapnel fly,
And hear the guns that daily louder grow,
As in July
Two years ago,
May you endure to lead the Last Advance
And with your men pursue the flying foe
As once in France
Two years ago.

(Reilly 1981: 15)

As shown above, Brittain would later have to endure the death of her fianc in 1918.
The anthology Scars upon My Heart reveals the extent to which women became involved with
the pity of war, a fact that prior to the publication of this anthology had been largely ignored in
literary histories. The First World War had traditionally been considered as an exclusively male
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Literature and War: Disillusion as Never Told in the Old Days

preserve in literary criticism. Critic Jan Montefiore, in her Feminism and Poetry (1987), has
pointed out that the entrapment of women war poets in history is, at times, paralleled by their
use of traditional Victorian and Georgian poetic forms, and a masculinist symbolic language
and imagery of war. Nevertheless, a number of women poets of this period escaped such
literary and ideological traps, or at least worked well within their confines. This is the case, for
example, of Rose Macaulays Picnic, written in July 1917:
We lay and ate sweet hurt-berries
In the bracken of Hurt Wood.
Like a quire of singers singing low
The dark pines stood.
Behind us climbed the Surrey hills,
Wild, wild in greenery;
At our feet the downs of Sussex broke
To an unseen sea.
And life was bound in a still ring,
Drowsy, and quiet, and sweet ...
When heavily up the south-east wind
The great guns beat.
We did not wince, we did not weep,
We did not curse or pray;
We drowsily heard, and someone said,
They sound clear today.
We did not shake with pity and pain,
Or sicken and blanch white.
We said, If the winds from over there
Therell be rain tonight.
Once pity we knew, and rage we knew,
And pain we knew, too well,
As we stared and peered dizzily
Through the gates of hell.
But now hells gates are an old tale;
Remote the anguish seems;
The guns are muffled and far away,
Dreams within dreams.
And far and far are Flanders muds,
And the pain of Picardy
And the blood that runs there runs beyond
The wide waste sea.
We are shut about by guarding walls:
(We have built them lest we run
Mad from dreaming of naked fear
And of black things done).
We are ringed all round by guarding walls,
So high, they shut the view.
Not all the guns that shatter the world
Can quite break through.
Oh, guns of France, oh, guns of France,
Be still, you crash in vain ...
Heavily up the south wind throb
Dull dreams of pain, ...
Be still, be still, south wind, lest your
Blowing should bring the rain ...
Well lie very quiet on Hurt Hill,
And sleep once again.
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Literature and War: Disillusion as Never Told in the Old Days

Oh, well lie quite still, nor listen nor look,


While the earths bounds reel and shake,
Lest, battered too long, our walls and we
Should break should break ...

(Reilly 1981: 66-67)

Joan Montgomery Byless analysis of the poem seems very appropriate in illustrating the point
made in the previous paragraph:
At the beginning of the war, early in 1915, Rose Macaulay wrote painfully and exactly
about the imagined barriers that cut women off from the front line experience of war. In
Picnic she expresses the frustration, anguish and guilt at staying home (...) The women
are still part of the ethos that seeks to protect them from the obscenity of war, although
this exclusion from witnessing the actual battle scenes cannot shield them, especially the
poets among them, from the anxiety of imaging and dreaming of these scenes (...) Some of
the most powerful images of trench warfare were the mud, the rats and blood. In Picnic
Macaulay goes on to use another image of war which women writers of World War I
mention more often than the men: pain. In some respects it was no doubt easier for the
men bravely to suffer pain than for their women folk to endure helplessly the thought of
their suffering. The images of pastoral England, of gentleness, fertility, and growth,
change into images of rage and pain as Macaulay thinks of the anguish of the men lying in
their own blood in the mud of Flanders (...) Another recurring feminine image of the
trenches is rain; when it rains in England it suggests more blood-soaked mud in the fields
of Flanders () the poets words, be still, lie very quiet, sleep, suggest a desire almost
for suspended life a need not to disturb the universe any more than necessary; or any
more than it is already shocked and hurt. There is a need not to listen or look at the
catastrophe going on so geographically close to the women of England that they can feel
the earth shaking under them from the same explosions that rock the men in their
trenches. The word battered in the penultimate line suggests yet another identification
with the soldiers at the front: not only the implacable destructiveness of the guns, which
could be heard especially clearly in southern England when a south wind was blowing, but
also the battering that womens hearts and minds were experiencing. Finally, the poem
ends with the perception that the walls, real and imaginary, that have heretofore protected
women from the hideous knowledge of war, can no longer hold up. There is the suggestion,
perhaps, that women no longer want to wait cringing behind safe walls whilst their men
folk die in ditches.
(Montgomery Byles 1995: 45-48)
Poetry written by Alice Meynell and Elizabeth Daryush is also illustrative of many of
these points. Mary Borden, whose 1914-18 poems and sketches were first collected in The
Forbidden Zone (1929), and Sylvia Townsend Warner, in the later Opus 7 (1931) provided
more devastating and formally experimental critiques of war.

The label war poet pinned on a woman poet seems, still today, an elusive one. It is in some ways a misleading one for it is charged
with the prevailing attitude towards women during the War time. Contrary to what happens to male poets, women poets are still denied the
diversity of their experiences of War. This diversity can be observed, for instance, comparing Jessie Popes and Rose Macaulays poems.
Would you say that both responses to The Great War are similar?
3. ACTIVITIES
3.1. Test yourself
1.

Was it Rupert Brookes intention to write propaganda poetry? Discuss your answer.

30

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Literature and War: Disillusion as Never Told in the Old Days

2.

What is meant by Owens statement Poetry is in the War?

3.

Was the gaining of the vote for women a direct result of the role they played during
the Great War? Discuss your answer.

3.2. Overview questions:


1. Discuss the literary differences encountered among those who wrote from the
trenches and those who wrote from the home front.
2. What makes Wilfred Owens poetry original?
3. Compare and contrast R. Brookes and Sorleys war poetry.
4. Analize womens literary responses to the First World War.
3.3. Explore:
1. John McCraes In Flanders Fields has been used to provide an example of the mood
of the first years of the War. In fact, the interpretation of the poem has changed from
being read by people during the War as pro-war poetry, along the lines of Brookes war
sonnets, to being read as anti-war poetry similar to Owens. Read McCraes poem
provided in the Unit and answer the following questions:
a) Compare the mood in the first two stanzas of the sonnet with that in
the third. Can you explain the changes in the appreciation of this
poem?
b) Has the poetical form of the poem, a sonnet, anything to do with the
first vision of the poem as a pro-war one?
c) Who is the speaker in this poem?
d) What does the speaker want his listeners to do?
e) Taking the readings of Brookes and Owens poems as a guideline,
could you provide a comparative critical analysis of this sonnet?
2. Explain in your own words the analysis made by Joan Montgomery Byles of Rose
Macaulays Picnic, providing your own examples from the poem. Would you agree, in
general, with her view on women writers response to the First World War?
3.4. Key terms:
Death
Disillusion
Direct Speech
Georgian poetry
Home Front
Literary changes
New poetics
Propaganda
Shell shock
Simile
Trenches
War poetry
Women and war writing
4. BIBLIOGRAPHY
BEAUMAN, Nicola. 1983. A Very Great Profession: The Womans Novel 1914-1939. London:
Virago.
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Literature and War: Disillusion as Never Told in the Old Days

BRITTAIN, Vera. 1994. Testament of Youth: An Autobiographical Study of the Years 19001925. London: Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics.
CALDER, Angua, Roger DAY and Graham MARTIN. 1991. Literature in the Modern World:
Englishness. Milton Keynes: The Open University Press.
CARDINAL, Agnes, Dorothy GOLDMAN and Judith HATTAWAY, eds. 1995. Women Writers
and the Great War. New York: Twayne Publishers.
1999. Womens Writing on the First World War. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
DAY, Gary and Brian DOCHERTY, eds. 1995. British Poetry 1900-50: Aspects of Tradition.
London: St. Martins Press.
FURNBANK, P.N. and Arnold KETTLE. 1975. Modernism and its Origins. Units 4-5 Milton
Keynes: The Open University Press.
GILBERT, Sandra and Susan GUBAR. 1988. No Mans Land. The War of the Words. Volume 1:
Sexchanges. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
1989 No Mans Land. Volume 2: Letters from the Front. New Haven and London: Yale
University Press.
1997. The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Tradition in English. New York and
London: Norton.
HART-DAVIS, Rupert. 1983. Siegfried Sassoon. The War Poems. London: Faber & Faber.
MARLOW, Joyce, ed. 1999. The Virago Book of Women and the Great War. London: Virago.
REILLY, C. (ed.) 1982. Scars upon my Heart: Womens Poetry and Verse of the First World War.
London: Virago.
SMITH, Angela K. ed. 2000. Womens Writing of the First World War. Manchester: Manchester
University Press.
STALLWORTHY, John. Ed. 1994. Wilfred Owen: The War Poems. London: Chatto & Windus.
STEAD, C. K. 1967. The New Poetic: Yeats to Eliot. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
TYLEE, Claire. 1990. The Great War and Womens Consciousness: Images of Militarism and
Womanhood in Womens Writings, 1914-64. New York: Macmillan.
WOOLF, Virginia. 1991. Three Guineas. London: The Hogarth Press.
Web Sites
- Rupert Brooke: http://www.english.emory.edu/LostPoets/Brooke.html
- The Wilfred Owen Multimedia Digital Archive: http://www.hcu.ox.ac.uk/jtap/
- The Wilfred Owen Association: http://www.wilfredowen.org.uk/home
- John McCrae In Flanders Fields: http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~wldciv/world_civ_reader/world_civ_reader_2/mccrae.html
- Introduction to First World War Poetry: http://www.oucs.ex.ac.uk/ltg/projects/jatp/tutorials/intro/
- Oxford virtual seminars: http://info.ox.ac.uk/jtap/
- Voice of the Shuttle: The rest is silence: Lost Poets of the Great War. http://vos.ucsb.edu/browse.asp?id=19
- BBC resources: http://www.bbc.co.uk/search/?q=ww1
- The Great War National archives: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/greatwar/

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UNIT IV
Life is a Luminous Halo:
The Novel in the Twentieth Century, Sons and Lovers

Programme
1. PRESENTATION: Social Consciousness arrated: D.H. Lawrence's New Other
in Context
2. TEXT ANALYSIS:
2.1. Reality is in the Word: The Poetics of Narrative
2.2. Discovering Newness and Otherness: D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers
3. ACTIVITIES
4. BIBLIOGRAPHY

Learning outcomes

- To analyze changing concepts in the relationship between the sexes.


- To discern the strategies through which contemporary literature dealt with social
issues such as class (working class in particular) or sexuality.
- To pay attention to the influence of morality and the popular literary market on the
development of the novel form
- To be aware of the interaction between censorship and literature.
- To ponder the importance of psychoanalysis in narrative construction and character
building.
- To examine Sons and Lovers as representative text of tlllS specific time and spirit.

1. PRESENTATION:
Social Consciousness Narrated: D.H. Lawrence's New Other In Context
Of all the writers of the c20, D.H. Lawrence was the most impassioned and persistent in seeking to
diagnose some of the psychic dangers besetting his society and the potential sources of strength with which to
combat them. Thus, his position within the literary scene may be plotted easily enough. Besides this crucial aspect,
we can perceive, in the work of D.H. Lawrence, the evolution of another trait: his novels flee from material
realism. They do so not in order to convey consciousness or intensity, as is the case with Virginia Woolf or James
Joyce, but to explore the poverty of reality and the enormous power of art, of perspectivism, and of form. In the
following extract D.H. Lawrence criticises material realism, and exposes what novels should explore, namely,
misery:
I hate Bennett's resignation. Tragedy ought really to be a great kick at misery. But Anna of the Five
Towns seems like an acceptance -so does all the modern stuff since Flaubert.
(Letter to A.W. McLeod, 6 October 1912)
This is proof of Lawrence's revulsion of the French Realist tradition. Although he also criticises the Realism of the
Russian novelists, his indebtedness to their more spiritual Realism is shown in a letter to Catherine Carswell of 2
December 1916:
... don't think I would belittle the Russians. They have meant an enormous
amount to me; Turgenev, Tolstoi, Dostoievski -mattered almost more than
anything, and I thought them the greatest writers of all time.
For Lawrence, then, the literary ideal to be pursued is not material realism, but a psychic ideal. By that, he means
an inner, intangible, relaxed but strong integrity and unity. As early as 1914, D.H. Lawrence protested against the
old-fashioned human element and declared:
I don't so much care about what the woman feels -in the ordinary usage of the word.
That presumes an ego to feel with. I only care about what the woman is -what she ISinhumanly, physiologically, materially...
(in Aldous Huxley 1932: 198)

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Notions such as the 'old stable ego' of character disappear and so does the traditional unity and linearity of
the plot. Lawrence was thus calling into question the belief in the ego's stability. In this respect he continued his
letter in the following terms: Tell Arnold Bennett that all rules of construction hold good only for novels which
are copies of other novels. Thus, in what is probably one of his best works, Women in Love (1920), the characters
are caught in all their disjointed wholeness; and the indecisive episodic movement, the abrupt shifts in the story
present the novel itself as achieving the same kind of disjointed unity as do the characters.
Both characterisation and the novel's structure seem to reveal Lawrence's personal style, yet it is more
than that. The abrupt transitions in the plot, the calculated disjointedness of plot and character, and the organic
kind of unity are common to much writing of the period, and have an affinity with the modes of organisation of
T.S. Eliot's Love Song of1. Alfred Prufrock or of James Joyce's Ulysses. However, if Joyce was a European writer,
heir to both the French Naturalists and the Symbolists, Lawrence was very English, much closer in spirit and in his
view of the novel to a George Eliot than to a Flaubert. As much as are Henry Fielding or George Eliot, he is the
novelist as moralist, or the moralist as novelist. The question of morality and the novel should not be
underestimated. The c19 role of the novel took over the c18, one which saw in the novel mainly a vehicle for
moral instruction, as social allegory, along with all the variations that this role implied. The eighteenth was the
century of the novel of sensibility, where sensibility stood mainly for social manners and ethics. Among the
greatest examples of the eighteenth century novel stand Samuel Richardson's novels, combining the then much
imitated graphic realism of its epistolary form with a strong moral message. Richardson (1689-1761) is in some
ways the father of the British novel, along with Daniel Defoe (1660-1731), Laurence Sterne (1713-68) and Henry
Fielding (1707-1754). Both Henry James and Thomas Hardy, who represent a turning point into modernism, are
separated from this first wave of British novelists by the Romantic period in literature, which dominated the end of
the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries with the Gothic novel. Perhaps the most famous of
this novelistic genre is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818).
This period moves away from the social realism of Richardson's novels of sensibility and towards a
psychological sensationalism, where the social psyche turns inwards and projects itself on to a Gothic landscape
to find its expression. This change is partly due to an increasing disillusion with the Enlightenment or Age of
Reason, that had failed to produce the goods it promised, as evidenced by the French and American revolutions at
the end of the c18. The Gothic novel offers, equally, a form of literary escapism from social disillusion and the
idea of literature as entertainment, the latter still prevails and is perhaps better understood in twenty-first-century
terms as the Hollywood film industry, from which we mostly expect little more than a thrill. Yet there is something
very important about the Gothic novel and Romanticism in general: it legitimised the individual as the subject of
literature it could be said to pre-empt psychoanalysis- and pushed the boundaries of the novelistic form. The
Gothic novel would not last long into the c19. Even if it did not produce great work of literature, the Gothic novel
would begin to redefine what we understand reality to be by questioning the relationship between the individual
and the world. It opened the doors for new ways of writing, and, more importantly it did so because the public
demanded it. Despite the literary even moral- revolution the publisher's claw was still firmly on the writer's pen.
The rights of individual fancy, taste, opinion and belief to go each its own way and pursue each its own
subjective course of development had prevailed [so far], with readers of novels, so far as to allow their heroes and
heroines the prerogative of an interest enhanced by the very fact of their isolation. The effects of this and other
cognate characteristics of the romanticism which had long held the field had begun to show themselves in
imaginative literature at large by an increased monotony, by occasional self-satire, by the weakening of poetic
forms and by the predominance of lyric over dramatic or epic treatment of literacy themes (Ward and Trent 2000a:
3).
JaneAusten's first novel Northanger Abbey (written in 1798, but published in 1817) is a very good
example of the terminus at which the Gothic novel had arrived, as well as a new point of departure for the novel in
the nineteenth century. She writes a farce of the Gothic novel by making fun of its literary conventions: a naive
heroine prone to romantic fantasies, a castle, a mystery. Yet, Austen turns the farce into the serious purpose of
character development and moral catharsis, as the heroine's self-deception gradually turns into revelation and
comic resolution -i.e. a happy ending. Hers are generally comedies of manners that revert to the social sensibility
of the eighteenth century novel while using the psychological complexities which Romanticism had made
available. Yet we must not forget that Austen's novels had to sell, and their goal was the entertainment of a still
socially narrow literary circle: the increasingly leisured middle classes who were interested mostly in themselves.
Considering the development of the novel as an artistic literary genre in its own right at the turn of the
twentieth century, D.H. Lawrence has also a clear literary continuity with Hardy's less systematised and more
poetic conception of the novel; Lawrence shares the deep sense pervading Hardy's work of man's life as one with
its environment in nature. However, while Hardy was preoccupied with a rural world in decline, Lawrence was
preoccupied by the industrial and urban modern world, and how it was transforming the human condition. As will
be shown below, this runs steadily through his novel The Rainbow (1915). Little by little, the main characters of
this novel move out from a life bounded by the rhythms of the traditional farmer's year into more modern worlds:
they attend the local high school, then they go to London 'into a big shop' or to study art, to a working-class town

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school, later to a teachers' training college, and finally to a fairly large house in the new, red-brick part of Beldover
(<<a villa built by the widow of the late colliery manager): Out into the world meant out into the world.
In Lawrence's fiction, the main character almost always originates from a partial or mechanical existence and
arrives at an organic wholeness; thus, for Lawrence, the novel appears as a religious art form in which he can
speak of and to the whole man.
This movement in the main character's search for the subconscious powers of mankind is original to
Lawrence. The quality of Lawrence's interest in life and in the powers of mankind justifies his claim: Primarily I
am a passionately religious man. With the clarity of the great artist he goes straight on, in the same sentence, to
make clear how a struggle against difficulties, a struggle indeed to overcome weakness, is integral to his work:
My novels must be written from the depth of my religious experience. That I must keep
to because I can only work like that. And my Cockneyism and commonness are only
when the deep feeling doesn't find its way out, and a sort of jeer comes instead, and
sentimentality, and purplism.
(Letter to Edward Garnett, 22 April 1914)
Lawrence was much else besides a moralist: we think of him mainly as a novelist, but he is equally
influential (if not as highly regarded) as a poet and a writer of novellas and short stories. As a poet it can be
observed how:
traditional inspiration gives place, even before 1941, to a progressively freer verse style, to the
new, looser kinds of transition and unity ... and to a related overriding concern for the essential,
individual reality of living things ... The Preface which Lawrence wrote for the 1927 edition of
his poems shows him clearly as one who, from the point of view of the period, should be seen in
relation to Bergson, to Imagism (although it is an Imagism taken to new and transforming
depths), and in general to the new sense, both of life and of technique, which had entered English
poetry.
(Holloway 1983: 96-71)
He was also a writer of brilliant travel books and a literary critic, and his superb Studies in Classic
American Literature (1924) is particularly noteworthy. His eight plays have never received much attention at all,
however, and three were published only in the 1960s. Lawrence had this to say on the subject: I always say, my
motto is, Art for my sake, meaning that he would become a master through the struggle to become master of
himself. He was, in this sense, self-absorbed, as shown in a letter he wrote regarding the effects of the First World
War in England and Europe, which he inevitably turns towards himself:
I will not live any more in this time... as far as I possibly can, I will stand outside this
time, I will live my life, and if possible, be happy, though the whole world slides in horror down
into the bottomless pit...What does it matter about that seething scrimmage of mankind in
Europe?
(Letter to Lady Ottoline Morrell, 7 February 1916)
Lawrence believed that industrialised Western culture was dehumanising because it emphasised
intellectual attributes to the exclusion of natural or physical instincts. He thought, however, that this culture was in
decline and that humanity would soon evolve into a new awareness of itself as being a part of nature. In this
respect he wrote:
It is our being cut off that is our ailment, and out of this ailment everything bad
arises. I wish I saw a little clearer how you get over this cut-offness... Myself:
I suffer badly from being so cut off. But what is one to do?.. One has no real
human relations -that is so devastating.
(Letter to T. Burrow, 3 August 1927)
Above all, it is necessary to recognise that Lawrence's deep sense of how modern man may become cut
off from the proper springs of his vitality is not a calm and magisterial diagnosis of weakness in others, but a brave
and persevering response to the challenge of his own predicament:
We're rather like Jonahs running away from the place we belong... So I am
making up my mind to return to England during the course of the summer. I
really think that the most living clue to life is in us Englishmen in England,
and the great mistake we make is not uniting together in the strength of this
real living clue -religious in the most vital sense.
(Letter to R.P. Barlow, 30 March 1922)

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One aspect of this 'blood consciousness' would be an acceptance of the need for sexual fulfilment: We can go
wrong in our minds, he wrote, but what the blood feels, and believes, and says, is always true. His three great
novels, Sons and Lovers (1913), The Rainbow (1915) and Women in Love (1921) concern the consequences
oftrying to deny humanity's union with nature and instead emphasise the power of sexuality.
David Herbert Lawrence was born at Eastwood in Nottinghamshire, in 1885, the fourth of five children of
coal miner Arthur Lawrence and his wife Lydia Beardsall. His parents' marriage was unhappy and the children
were brought up to see exclusively their mother's point of view: this struggle between his father and his mother
lies at the heart of Sons and Lovers. His father was practically illiterate, and often drunk, but possessed an
extraordinarily vivid comprehension of natural life and living; his mother, of a somewhat higher social class, was
intellectually and spiritually refined, high-minded, 'cut out', as Lawrence was to write years later, to play a
superior role in the god-damned bourgeoisie. The unhappiness of their marriage killed something in the father.
The children were caught up in the clash between their parents.
In Sons and Lovers, Lawrence is, apparently, on the mother's side. Later in life, Lawrence felt he had
treated his father too harshly in this novel. In his later novels, he went on to depict men like his father as heroic
figures. He made them symbols of the dark, instinctual, but potent side of life that opposes the dry intellectualism
and industrial mechanisation of modern life. Is this later acknowledged view on the father figure interwoven in the
narrative fabric of Sons and Lovers?
Delicate health meant that D.H. Lawrence stayed close to his mother. He was often ill and absent from school,
bullied by other boys for his delicacy. He won a scholarship to Nottingham High School and in 1901. When he left
school at the age of fifteen he found work as a clerk at Haywood's Surgical Garments factory in Nottingham. He
hated the work, not getting on with his fellow workers, and whilst working there he suffered his first major bout of
pneumonia. During his convalescence he met Jessie Chambers who became a close friend and mentor. By 1906 he
had saved the 20 fee to enable him to take up a teacher-training scholarship at Nottingham University. In 1908,
he became an assistant master at Davidson Road Elementary School in Croydon at a salary of 95 a year, but he
was lonely and unhappy there. The following year Jessie Chambers sent Lawrence's poetry to the editor of the
English Review, Ford Madox Hueffer, who began publishing Lawrence's work and gave him the opportunity to
meet other young writers such as Ezra Pound.
Ford Madox Hueffer also helped Lawrence to have his first novel, The White Peacock (1911), published.
After the death of Lawrence's mother in 1910, he became ill and was advised to give up teaching. The next year
marked Lawrence's break with Jessie Chambers.
2. TEXT ANALYSIS
2.1. Reality is in the Word: The Poetics of Narrative
It is useful to look at Lawrence's fiction by dividing it into three different moments or phases. The first
phase could be termed the personal phase and it covers roughly the period from the year he started writing
(1909) until 1912. The White Peacock inaugurates the modern novel of creative autobiography, and in it Lawrence
first presents the theme that will dominate his later works: the mechanisms at work in the relationship between
men and women. This novel was followed by The Trespasser (1912) and Sons and Lovers. Regarding the malefemale interaction Lawrence believed, almost to the end of his life, a woman in love is a negative influence on the
man she loves, destroying his personality, and absorbing his being into her own. He believed this conflict came
from civilised women having become the desperate antagonist of men, drawing from them their greatest
possession, masculinity, and in turn feminising them and bringing them under the control of her will. The
following quote illustrates this vision and is a sentence from his novel Aarons Rod (1922): Women are the very
hottest hell once they get the start of you: There's nothing they won't do to you. Especially if they love you.
Another theme that appears in Lawrence's writings is the contest between a super-civilised man and an
inarticulate down-to-earth man, to win the love of a woman. In this respect it must be said that Lawrence deplored
the dualism of the modern person: the setting up of dividing barriers between mind and body, and brain and blood;
he protested against what he considered the grey idea of making the body prisoner of the mind: l have always
inferred that sex meant blood-sympathy and blood-contact. Technically this is so. But as a matter of fact, nearly all
modern sex is a pure matter of nerves, cold and bloodless.
As Sons and Lovers shows, another topic is a determined antagonism towards the figure of the 'father' and
against any imposed authority. This is probably brought to the surface by his need to overcome his working-class
background and also shows his knowledge of psychoanalysis. His father represented, quite literally, his workingclass background. Lawrence suffered greatly for his social background which made him afraid of rejection in the
literary circles of the time. The rejection of the father in terms of favouring his mother (from a somehow middle
class) could be read in these terms.

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A final theme, linked to the previous one, is the degradation of the man who abhors his own potentialities.
Lawrence was not an advocate of animalism, he did not idealise the morals of the farmyard, but his aim was to
return to the primal energy of Eden before human consciousness became stained by the sense of sin, and before
man became 'womanised': hence his religion of the body, his worship of life in itself and in all its aspects. He
wrote:
For man, as for flower, beast and bird, the supreme triumph is to be most vividly, most perfectly alive.
Whatever the unborn and the dead may know, they cannot know the beauty, the marvel of being alive in
the flesh. The dead may look after the afterwards. But the magnificent here and now of life in the flesh is
ours, and ours alone, and ours only for a time.
(Apocalypse, 1931)
Beneath all these themes lies the dark subterranean world of the subconscious battling with the modern
world, its fellows and itself. Sons and Lovers is, together with Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
(1916), the most notable autobiographical fiction and one of the most famous English novels of the twentieth
century. Published in 1913, it tells the story of the Morel family and, in particular, of Paul Morel. Gertrude and her
husband Walter Morel live in a village in the north of England. Gertrude is clever and competent. Walter, an
uneducated coal miner, drinks his money away and is often violent. Divided by class, the two do not understand
each other, and both Gertrude and Walter are bitterly unhappy. Gertrude pours all her love and ambition into her
four children and, in particular, her eldest child, William. William prepares to marry a very superficial girl, against
his mother's wishes. Then tragedy occurs; William falls ill and dies. With William gone, Gertrude's love and hopes
are pinned on Paul, who is talented and artistic:
'The tailor can make it right,' she said, smoothing her hand over his shoulder. 'It's beautiful stuff.
I never could find in my heart to let your father wear the trousers, and very glad I am now.' And
as she smoothed her hand over the silk collar she thought of her eldest son. But this son was
living enough inside the clothes. She passed her hand down his back to feel him. He was alive
and hers. The other was dead.
He went out to dinner several times in his evening suit that had been William's. Each
time his mother's heart was firm with pride and joy. He was started now. The studs she and the
children had bought for William were in his shirt front; he wore one of William's dress shirts.
But he had an elegant figure. His face was rough, but warm-looking and rather pleasing. He did
not look particularly a gentleman, but she thought he looked quite a man.
(Sons and Lovers, 1913 [1995]: 255)
At fourteen Paul finds a job in nearby Nottingham. He makes friends with a high-minded girl called
Miriam. From now on the story concerns Paul's conflict between his love for his mother and his need to grow up
and gain sexual experience. Gertrude is jealous of Miriam; a kind of war starts for Paul's love. Time passes. He
longs to leave home but feels he cannot leave his mother. Eventually he sleeps with Miriam, but the relationship is
unsuccessful. Paul embarks on another relationship with an earthier woman called Clara. With her he discovers
the enormous power of passion. But Paul realises that Clara is not his soul mate. Meanwhile, Gertrude dies of
cancer. With his mother gone, Paul, now twenty-three, is grief-stricken. He feels a strong pull towards death. The
life urge in him proves stronger, though, and he sets off towards the golden lights of the city, to begin life anew.
Sons and Lovers can be classified in the literary genre of the Bildungsroman, a German word meaning
'development novel'. Narratives such as James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Sons and
Lovers are Bildungsroman, that is, novels that trace the development and growth of the main character. Much of
the time, the main character of such a tale, like Paul in Sons and Lovers, will grow up to be an artist, and the story
reveals all of the psychological and social developments that prepare the hero or heroine for his or her life's
calling.
Bildungsroman heroes are often overly sensitive and melancholy. Paul certainly has these traits, but he
also expresses a sincere liking for living. It is morning again, and she is still here... wrote D.H. Lawrence of his
mortally ill mother to a friend. I look at my mother and think O Heaven is this what life brings us to? You see
mother has had a devilish married life, for nearly forty years and this is the conclusion- no relief. At the time,
Lawrence was in the painful process of writing Sons and Lovers, not exactly an autobiography but a
Bildungsroman type of novel where Lawrence fictionalized part of himself as Paul Morel and his mother, Gertrude
Morel.
His main character, Paul, is caught in the lawrencian man-woman labyrinth which in this case takes the
form of a pseudo Oedipal situation and, as a son-lover, he cannot bring fulfilment to himself and risk to lose his
masculinity for love of his mother. In striving for relationships with women Paul is a split being, seeking spiritual
attachment in Miriam and physical attachment in Clara. This inability to function as an integrated man is, as has
been said above, seen by Lawrence as the sterility of today's industrialised society.

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Frustration seems the keynote of this personal phase. In the next literary period Lawrence will seek a solution
to his disappointment.
In 1912, Lawrence met Frieda Weekley, nee von Richthofen, the wife of a professor who had taught
him. She was six years older than Lawrence and had three children. She found her marriage dull and had had
several affairs. She and Lawrence eloped and were married in 1914.
At this time the mood in Lawrence's fiction changes, it evolves and we can distinguish now the beginning
of a second literary moment. It could be called Emotional adjustment to the modern era and that covers, roughly
the years 1913-20. Lawrence's and Frieda's marriage was stormy and the War years were very unhappy for them.
Lawrence, opposed to the War, was twice called up for military service but declared unfit because it was
discovered that he had tuberculosis. Frieda's German nationality and Lawrence's outspoken criticisms of the War
led to their being suspected as spies by their neighbours. At the outbreak of the First World War the authorities,
too, became concerned that Fried was a spy. The couple settled at Zennor, in Cornwall, and local people reported
that the Lawrences were using the clothes on their washing line to send coded messages to German U-boats. After
searching their cottage, the authorities forced them to leave the area within three days. Their situation was not
helped by the fact that Lawrence began to have ideas that appeared close to Fascism (after the First World War
Lawrence began to believe that society needed to be reorganised under one superhuman leader) and he was also
anti-Semitic. The novels containing this theme, Aarons Rod, Kangaroo (1923) and The Plumed Serpent (1926),
are all nowadays considered failures. He caught influenza during the pandemic in November 1918, and once again
early died. It was not until a year later that he was fit enough to leave England.
D.H. Lawrence was a very confused rebel. He felt that society made people lifeless and unreal, and that
the class system was pernicious. Lawrence believed in the 'life force', in nature, its beauty and its power. He also
believed passionately in man's natural instincts; he believed that sexual feeling between a man and woman was
natural and should be celebrated.
D.H. Lawrence was the first novelist in Western culture to attempt to explore sexuality seriously and frankly.
Sexuality, already present in the writings of what we have called his first period, is the theme dominating this
second phase of his writing.
The Rainbow (1915) comprises the first half of a story that will be carried on in the other half Women in
Love (1920). The Rainbow is a family chronicle, abounding in superb passages of broad realism in the nineteenthcentury English tradition of the novel, Thomas Hardy's novels. However, its story traces essentially the changing
patterns of psychic relationships, as England is evolving from the rural to the urban.
D.H. Lawrence's is the first novel to trace the influence of the social revolution of the past hundred years on
the passionate life of individuals.
Regarding human relationships, Lawrence ignores the set of rules of the late nineteenth-century English
novel, and offers a series of novels where basic sexual relationships are examined. Of course, at the time, explicit
allusion to sex or sexual intercourse was considered obscene and literary works were scrutinised by the censor.
The very year it was published, 1915, The Rainbow was seized by the police and declared obscene. Later attempts
to explore in fiction the complexities of human sexual behaviour were to follow the same fate. This was the case,
for instance, of Radclyffe Hall's lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness (1928).
The Rainbow is Lawrence's version of a social saga, spanning three generations of the Brangwen family.
The women characters in this novel remain memorable as they strive to express their feelings. The most important
character in The Rainbow is Ursula, who represents the modern woman as imagined by Lawrence. Ursula is utterly
dispossessed of spirit and totally exploratory in the flesh. Her search becomes momentarily homosexual in her
adoration of Winifred Ingred, a mannish New Woman (see Unit 1) and later she becomes pregnant by Skrebensky,
a Polish officer in the British Army. Skrebensky is presented in the novel as the weak man lacking in values,
indicative of the time. Ursula loses her baby, but during convalescence she sees the rainbow in the sky; it stands as
a promise of a possible re-adjustment of human values to wholeness. The story concludes with the struggle of the
two sisters, Ursula and Gudrun, to liberate themselyes from the stifling pressures of Edwardian English society.
This is how The Rainbow has been seen by critic John Holloway:
Thus The Rainbow registers how a wider, looser, more complex, more ambitious pattern of life
came in; and recognizes also that the archaic springs of strength could no longer meet its needs. Most of
what Lawrence was to write after The Rainbow conducts the search, in fictional terms, for a new source
of vitality. What Lawrence, in fact, saw himself as discovering was that in any individual there is a unique

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and inexpugnable source of vitality lying deep in the psyche; and his concern with the intimacies of sex is
best seen as a derivative from this belief, a conviction simply that in sex the central psychic forces can
most abundantly flow and most easily and naturally assume their uninsistent yet powerful kind of control.
Much of his outstanding later work may be seen as an exploring of the essential difference between the
sham strength of those who lack this kind of integration, and the essential reality of those who have it.
Particularly is this true of the short stories: for example, St Mawr, The Captain's Doll, The Fox, Sun, The
Virgin and the Gipsy.
(Holloway 1983: 96)
Women in Love seeks the fulfilment of the promise foreseen by Ursula in the rainbow. The novel begins
where The Rainbow leaves off and features the Brangwen sisters, Ursula and Gudrun, as they try to forge new
types of liberated personal relationships. Because the men they choose are trying to do the same thing, the results
are problematic and often disturbing.
Many critics and readers regard this as Lawrence's finest novel, where his ideas are matched with
passages of superb writing. The locations combine urban Bohemia with a symbolic climax in the icy snow caps of
the Alps. In the five years that have elapsed between The Rainbow and Women in Love, Lawrence's conception of
Ursula has been altered by the personality his wife Frieda. In Women in Love Ursula and her sister Gudrun are
now emancipated women. Ursula becomes involved with Rupert Birking, a young inspector of schools, and
Gudrun with Gerald Crich a wealthy man. Ursula and Rupert find fulfilment in marriage but Gudrun and Gerald
break further and further apart until, in the Alps, he disappears skiing away only to die from exposure. Gerald
Crich represents the epitome of the industrial tycoon who glorifies the machine, and the machine-god rails him.
His strength is mechanical, lacking the emotional depth necessary for genuine human relationships. Thus, his
death symbolises the suicidal path that the modern mechanical man is following. In the following excerpt a
disapproval of the modern world, seen as too mechanical, can be read:
The men were satisfied to belong to the great and wonderful machine, even whilst it
destroyed them. It was what they wanted. It was the highest that man had produced, the most
wonderful and superhuman. They were exalted by belonging to this great and superhuman
system which was beyond feeling or reason, something really godlike. Their hearts died within
them, but their souls were satisfied. It was what they wanted. Otherwise Gerald could never have
done what he did. He was just ahead of them in giving them what they wanted, this participation
in a great and perfect system that subjected life to pure mathematical principles. It was a sort of
freedom, the sort they really wanted. It was the first great step in undoing, the first great phase of
chaos, the substitution of the mechanical principle for the organic, the destruction of the organic
purpose, the organic unity, and the subordination of every organic unit to the great mechanical
purpose. It was pure organic disintegration and pure mechanical organisation. This is the first
and finest state of chaos.
(Women in Love, 1920)
Rupert Birkin, on the other hand, stands as Lawrence's alter ego. Rupert feels a deep repulsion against the
entire mechanical folly of modern society. Rupert and Ursula's successful marriage is achieved only after
Ursulrelinquishes her advanced views; after a monumental opposition she realises that she must capitulate her
modern womanhood in order to come to come to terms with the great male god in Rupert Birkin. Women in Love
could not find a publisher in America or Britain, and did not do so until 1920 and 1921 respectively. When it was
finally published it was perceived as obscene and one critic in particular reviewed it under the headline A Book
the Police Should Burn.
Many critics and readers regard these as Lawrence's finest novels, where his ideas are matched with
passages of superb writing. D.H. Lawrence became an icon of the sexual liberation movement started in the 1960s.
Yet, from the 1970s onwards the feminist movement became very wary as to the actual sexual emancipation
Lawrence's Women in Love, a cult, brought for women. Feminism came to the conclusion that Lawrence's liberal
approach to sex was only apparent for in reality these supposedly liberated women were, in fact, submitting to the
male desire. This viewpoint created an interesting on going literary debate which, from what has been said up to
now, seems pertinent to be considered here: Should our appreciation of literature as art be subjected to its author
political, social, moral, etc, perspective?
From this moment (around 1920) until Lawrence's death in 1930 a third literary phase can be identified. It is time
for the 'mystic prophet. After all the hardships they had gone through during the Great War, finally in 1919,
Frieda and Lawrence left for Italy. They were always on the move around the world and always short of money.
Lawrence felt alienated from his own country: the thought of England is entirely repugnant he wrote in 1921.
He never really abandoned this position and never returned except as a fleeting and dissatisfied visitor. Apart
from the difficulties experienced during the War years his working class background played an important role in
this decision for he always felt alienated from a strongly hierarchical social system such as the British one.

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Lawrence felt that reality provoked in him dissatisfaction, exasperation and disgust, and his feelings are
echoed by the words of the Lawrentian hero, Mellors, of his novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928):
When I feel the human world is doomed, has doomed itself by its own mingy
beastliness, then I feel the colonies aren't afar enough. The moon wouldn't be far enough,
because even there you could look back and see the earth, dirty, beastly, unsavoury among all the
stars: made foul by men. Then I feel I've swallowed gall, and it's eating my inside out, and
nowhere's far enough away. But when I get a turn, I forget it all again.
(Lady Chatterley's Lover, 1928)
Other novels such as Aaron's Rod appeared with a new subject matter influenced by Nietzsche's theories
(see Unit 1). A year later, his Australian novel, Kangaroo, was published. Frieda and Lawrence travelled to
Ceylon, Australia, the United States and also to Mexico where he wrote The Plumed Serpent (1926) along with
many short stories and poems.
In 1923, Frieda returned to England and Lawrence joined her later. He was miserable in England so, in
1924, they returned to Mexico where Lawrence hoped to set up his ideal commune, the Rananim commune. The
idea did not work. Lawrence fell ill, so they returned to Italy, finally settling near Florence. Lawrence had become
interested in painting and, in 1929, an exhibition of his work was held in London, which Frieda attended alone as
he was too ill to travel. The police confiscated thirteen of the pictures as obscene.
Lawrence's writing was revolutionary in that it stressed the importance of feelings. The plot was
important for the light that it threw on the inner events in a character. The individual, according to Lawrence, has
been divided in his completeness by the use of the mind to compel nature to his own purposes. Lawrence's travels
were a feverish attempt to find in more primitive men the wholeness and balance lost by civilisation.
Lawrence's narrative style is often highly poetic. The intensity he uses in portraying the god he worshipped,
'life itself,' has led some critics to perceive him along the mystic literary tradition. Lawrence's preoccupation for
portraying his passion for life, 'natural' life, led to most of his novels being banned for a time. This force is genuine
and original in English literature and Lawrence's new approach to what should be told in a novel seems to be
behind his literary appeal and the reason why he became such an icon in the 1960s.
Lady Chatterleys Lover was banned for over thirty years in England and in America. The novel tries to
offer a solution to the burdens and constrictions of modern life. Lady Chatterleys Lover is Lawrence's most
controversial novel, and perhaps the first serious work of literature to explore hum sexuality in explicit detail.
When it was finally published in Britain in 1960, the British publishers of the novel, Penguin, were prosecuted by
the Home Office for obscenity. The prosecuting counsel posed the notorious question to the jury: Is it a book you
would wish your wife or your servants to read? Penguin won and publication was resumed. Lady Chatterleys
Lover features some of Lawrence's most lyrical and poetic prose style alongside the theme of class conflict: the
story of an English noblewoman, Constance Chatterley, who finds love and sexual fulfilment with her husband's
game keeper Mellors.
Some feminist critics now claim this and other novels and short stories by Lawrence to be deeply
misogynistic; part of their argument is that Lawrence suggests women will reach true fulfilment only by
submitting themselves to men. Lawrence exposes the self-assertive determination one human being to dominate
another (particularly men as dominating women), and even his life-long companion Frieda complained of this:
Frieda says I am antediluvian in my positive attitude. I do think a woman must yield some sort of
precedence to a man... I do think men must go ahead absolutely in front of their women, without turning
round to ask for permission or approval from their women. Consequently the women must follow as it
were unquestioningly.
(Letter to Katherine Mansfield, December 1918)
Lawrence wanted sex to be the source of the pure central fire of life. Clifford, Lord Chatterley and
Constance's husband, is impotent; his impotence is symbolic of modern mechanical man, and his growing concern
with business is a lust for power, while his wife is expanding her nature through the warmth and tenderness of
sensual love. In a familiar Lawrentian symbolism, Mellors, the gamekeeper, is the dark, sensual, full man set
against the blond, sterile, incomplete Clifford.
Life, for Lawrence, was essentially a mystery, and was not to be comprehended or explained in terms of
reason and logic, for that was the way to kill it. It could be experienced only by direct intuition, transmitted only
by touch; and the value of people, for Lawrence, consisted in the extent to which mystery resided in them, how far
they were conscious of mystery both in themselves and in others, and to what lengths they were prepared to go to

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fulfil their passions. Since the mystery is killed by the analysing, scientific intellect, it obviously flourishes most
strongly where the analysing, scientific intellect is least powerful (in Mellors, gamekeeper in the forest), at the
instinctual levels of life, in sexual relationships, in the experience of death, and in the impulsive, non-rational
existence of animals and nature.
In general, Lawrence detested every appearance of professionalism and as a writer he endeavoured to
retain the mark of the amateur. He thus preferred a basic dynamic style, passionate and energetic, to a
sophisticated and elaborate one.
The characteristic of his fiction can be summarised as follows: while the formal attributes of his novels are not
unusual, except for their lyricism and symbolism, the experimental quality lies in an unprecedented search not for
the outward manifestations but for the inner reality, the poetical quality of 'felt experience'. Lawrence's endeavour
was above all how to express emotion and feelings, as they exist far below the surface of gesture and are always
linked to bodily sensations. Lawrence was primarily interested not in the social man, but in that part of man that is
submerged and never seen, the unconscious, subjected to consciousness. This accounts for the difficulty readers
may experience on first reading Lawrence: they have to deduce emotion from gesture.
If Lawrence is one of the greatest English writers of the century it is largely because art feeds upon the
tensions in the artist as well as on their resolution; and the tensions hinted at by the above quotations are what help
to give Lawrence's characters their rich and flexible complexity and their astonishing vitality. Aside from this,
there is a recurrent tendency for the action of the books to become progressively divorced from what is most
seriously at issue in them, and to degenerate into a kind of slow moving and wooden intrigue (Holloway 1983:
99).
In 1929 Lawrence, who by then was dying, moved to the south of France. There he wrote a commentary
on the Book ofRevelation, Apocalypse. It was his final religious statement. After his death Aldous Huxley wrote
one of the best essays on D.H. Lawrence:
To be with Lawrence was a kind of adventure, a voyage of discovery into newness and
otherness... He looked at things with the eyes, so it seemed, of a man who had been on the brink of death
and to whom, as he emerges from the darkness, the world reveals itself as unfathomably beautiful and
mysterious... A walk with him in the country was a walk through that marvellously rich and significant
landscape which is at once the background and the principal personage of all his novels. He seemed to
know, by personal experience, what it was like to be a tree or a daisy or a breaking wave or even the
mysterious moon itself. He could get inside the skin of an animal and tell you in the most convincing
detail how it felt and how, dimly, inhumanly, it thought.
(Introduction to The Letters of D.H. Lawrence, 1932)
Lawrence died of tuberculosis France, in March 1930. He was buried there and later, in 1935, his ashes
were removed to Taos, New Mexico. The obituaries were largely hostile.
2.2. Discovering Newness and Otherness: D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers
It is useful to start this section by reading how Lawrence himself described his novel. What follows is part
of a letter written by Lawrence to his friend and patron Edward Garnett on 14 November 1912:
A woman of character and refinement goes into the lower class and has no satisfaction in
her own life ... As her sons grow up, she selects them as lovers first the eldest, then the second...
But when they come to manhood, they can't love, because their mother is the strongest power in
their lives, and holds them... As soon as the young men come into contact with women there is a
split. William gives himself to a superficial woman and his mother holds his soul. But the split
kills him because he doesn't know where he is. (Paul) gets a woman who fights for his soul
(Miriam) fights his mother. The son loves the mother all the sons hate and are jealous of the
father... The son decides to leave his soul in his mother's hands, and like his elder brother, go for
passion (Clara). Then the split begins to tell again. But almost unconsciously, the mother realises
what is the matter and begins to die. The son leaves his mistress, attends to his mother dying. He is
left in the end naked of everything, with the drift towards death.
This summary of the novel, written by Lawrence himself, draws attention to the relationship between
mother and son. Other female characters, such as Miriam or Clara are reduced, in this account, to mere symbolic
characters with only a secondary function in the main mother-son relationship. As Lance St John Butler notes
about this letter in his York Notes:
Further, it is a Paul-centred view of the novel only after being a Mrs Morel-centred view. This
can be taken as evidence that Lawrence saw his novel as a study of the Oedipus complex. This
psychological term was being employed by Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychology, at about

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the same time as Sons and Lovers was being written. It refers to Freud's theory that all children are more
or less affected by sexually-based feelings about their parents: particularly, boys will always have some
form of desire for the mother and jealousy of the father. Clearly in Sons and Lovers Paul is very close
indeed to an incestuous relationship with his mother.
(St John Butler 1980: 45)
It is worth pointing out that when Lawrence says Mrs Morel selects her sons 'as lovers', he does not mean
it literally. Lawrence is not writing about incest, but about a powerful emotional connection. Initially, Sons and
Lovers was rejected by Heinemann and Lawrence wrote to his friend Edward Garnett:
Curse the blasted, jelly-boned swines, the slimy, the belly-wriggling invertebrates, the
miserable sodding rutters, the flaming sods, the sniveling, dribbling, dithering, palsied, pulse-less
lot that make up England today. They've got the white of egg in their veins and their spunk is
that watery it's a marvel they can breed.
In all his rage, he had clearly not foreseen the huge obstacles to publishing yet to come. Sons and Lovers
best exemplifies the Lawrentian idea of the modem situation of man and woman. It also presents the loneliness of
the individual, the lack of communication, the split between one's self and the self of others, the notion of harmony
and balance, the moral sickness in England, and the necessity for a new conception of life.
Regarding its style, Sons and Lovers presents a combination of realistic description and poetic images: the
realism is strongest in the first half of the novel, where the narrator describes the Morel family's day-to-day
existence. Lawrence's poetry comes to the forefront in his descriptions of nature, where, for example, vivid sunsets
and blazing rosebushes stand out against darkening skies. The poetic segments of Sons and Lovers seem to make
the common lives of its characters miraculous and heroic. Sons and Lovers is a masterpiece of technical brilliance
as Virginia Woolf noted at the time of its publication:
One never catches Lawrence this is one of his most remarkable qualities- 'arranging.'
Words, scenes flow as fast and direct as if he merely traced them with a free rapid hand on sheet
after sheet. Not a sentence seems thought about twice; not a word added for its effect on the
architecture of the phrase. There is no arrangement that makes us say: 'Look at this. This scene,
this dialogue has the meaning of the book hidden in it.' One of the curious qualities of Sons and
Lovers is that one feels unrest, a little quiver and shimmer in his page, as if it were composed of
separate gleaming objects, by no means content to stand still and be looked at.
(Wool, 'Notes on D.H. Lawrence', 1948)
Sons and Lovers is set in the British Midlands at the turn of the nineteenth century. This is a highly
industrialised region in central England. Factories, coal pits and ugly terrace houses are abundant. Yet, Robin
Hood's Sherwood Forest is close by the busy industrial city of Nottingham, where Paul works, and the River Trent
swirls its way from the city through the wide-open country hills and valleys. Sons and Lovers constantly contrasts
the sensuous, natural environment with that of the cold, drab monuments of industrial town and city life. In Sons
and Lovers the well-to-do families and the poor families each live in the valley ironically designated for them:
Bestwood for the well-to-do and slums of 'Hell Row' for the poor.
When Lawrence was growing up, few members of the working class in Great Britain had much chance of
lifting themselves out of poverty. Many were illiterate and were treated by the upper classes as little more than
beasts of burden (such was the case with Lawrence's father, Arthur). One of the only ways to better oneself was to
be bright and ambitious enough to earn scholarships to grammar school and university, as Lawrence himself did.
One could easily tell what class an individual belonged to by his speech. Notice in Sons and Lovers that Walter
Morel speaks in a local dialect, whereas his wife Gertrude speaks a crisp refined English.
The working class had suffered humiliation and sub-human living conditions for years but, finally, some
workers began to rebel. They started unions to improve their status, and socialism, a system calling for public
ownership of industry and land, became increasingly popular. The relationship between Lawrence's parents, Lydia
and Arthur, as did that between Gertrude and WaIter Morel, reveals the gulf separating the lower and middle
classes. Arthur, and most miners (also called colliers), worked twelve hours a day, exposed to grave dangers and
unhealthy working conditions. Miners' lives revolved around the colliery and the pub, where after an exhausting
day's work the men could forget their troubles with a pint or more of beer: alcoholism was a serious problem in the
mining community. Arthur Lawrence drank heavily, and the tragic effect of an alcoholic father on his family is
painstakingly depicted in Sons and Lovers. Lawrence's mother, Lydia, differed markedly from her uneducated,
easygoing husband. She came from a lower-middle-class family that had suffered an economic decline. Lydia's
father was humiliated by their fall in social status, and this shame was transferred to his daughter.
One of the most important aspects of Sons and Lovers, therefore, is Lawrence's treatment of class. He is
an author who can write with authority about class issues since, as has been shown above, class conflict was at the

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heart of his family background. His depiction of working-class conditions in this coal mining community at the
turn of the century is accurate and moving as well as novel and authoritative, as ER. Leavis pointed out in his
essay 'D.H. Lawrence and Human Existence:'
To be born, with that genius, a miner's son at Eastwood in the eighteen eighties it is as if Destiny,
having given him the genius, had arranged also that he should be enabled to develop it to the utmost and
qualified to use it for the purposes for which it was meant. If he had not been born into the working-class
he could not have known working-class life from the inside. As it was he enjoyed advantages that a writer
middle-class born could not have had: the positive experience and a freedom both from illusions and from
the debilitating sense of ignorance. On the other hand, gifted as he was, there was nothing to prevent his
getting to know life at other social levels.
(F.R. Leavis, D.H. Lawrence and Human Existence, 1951)
The contrast between city and nature parallels the lack of harmony between man and society. Man is so
satisfied with his social, political and economic achievements in the twentieth century that he seems to have los
the basic instincts and violence of the animal in him. But when the pressure of the social community is unbearable,
man escapes quickly to the boundary of civilisation, towards nature, to obey the rules of the 'spirit' and the flesh.
Lawrence presents nature as a kind of mother comforting people when they feel alone and as strangers in a hostile
world. The physical location in the novel is extremely important, since it represents a moral situation, too. The
dualism city/nature, or factory/country, represents another modem dualism the natural man versus the social or
industrialised man.
The novel opens with a description of the setting, but it is really an account of how civilisation and
financial ambition devour nature. Throughout the novel unconquered nature stands for freedom, instinct and
purity. Consider at this point the similarity of the descriptions of nature in some passages of the novel. Nature
allows passion and communion of the souls, as when Paul and Clara 'go down' to the river, following their instinct.
There, Paul starts talking in dialect, like his father, very much as a primitive man acting through instinct. Nature
involves peace and relaxation, even for Mrs Morel (as in Chapter Two) whereas industrialisation, on the contrary,
means slavery and restraint (as in Chapter Five).
Industrial society is man's creation and it has turned against him, making man lose his identity as a natural
creature.
Lawrence proposes that, in order to overcome the opposition social man versus natural man, a rediscovery
of man through the flesh is needed. For him, the greatest obstacle to achieving this was the spirit, which confines
the spontaneous flame in man. For Lawrence the mind is the prison of the body, not the other way around, so they
present themselves as antagonistic forces. This confrontation is epitomised by the tensions between Mr and Mrs
Morel: she represents the ideas, he represents the senses. There is no balance and no communication between
them: His nature was purely sensuous, and she strove to make him moral, religious. She tried to force him to face
things. He could not endure it it drove him out of his mind
(Sons and Lovers 1913 [1995]: 14).
Those who choose real life over intellectual social life break the rules of society and become outcasts, as
did Walter Morel in Sons and Lovers. As modern man searches for a life devoid of dangers, he sets limits on his
liberty to control and master his animal dimension in an attempt to destroy it completely. For Lawrence, though,
these limitations on the animal dimension should be rebalanced; his ideal reality is a harmonious balance between
the social and the natural man, complementary because we are social beings. Dorothy Van Ghent has this to say of
Mr Morel as a natural man:
In Sons and Lovers, only in Morel himself, brutalized and spiritually maimed as he is, does the
germ of selfhood remain intact; and, this is the correlative proposition in Lawrence, in him only does the
biological life force have simple, unequivocal assertion. Morel wants to live, by hook or crook, while his
sons want to die. To live is to obey a rhythm involving more than conscious attitudes and involving more
than human beings involving all nature; a rhythm indifferent to the greediness of reason, indifferent to
idiosyncrasies of culture and idealism. The image associated with Morel is that of the coal pits, where he
descends daily and from which he ascends at night blackened and tired. It is a symbol of rhythmic descent
and ascent, like a sexual rhythm, or like the rhythm of sleep and awaking or of death and life. True, the
work in the coal pits reverses the natural use of the hours of light and dark and is an economic distortion.
(Dorothy Van Ghent, 'On Sons and Lovers', 1953)
There are, we have seen, two ways to look at Walter Morel's failure to be a good husband, father and family
breadwinner. You can see him as a man broken by an uncaring, brutal industrial system and an overly demanding

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wife. You can also see Walter as his own worst enemy, inviting self-destruction through drink and irresponsibility.
The end of the story is somewhat ambiguous: Paul has been searching for light throughout his life, but as
his mother dies he is slowly turning towards darkness. Now that he is alone, he must rely on his own possibilities,
on his own body and mind in perfect union. The choice is either to look for protection and join the forces of
darkness, the monster of social man or defy the monster and find the true reality of his being. He acts with
resolution for the first time in his life, and is prepared to begin anew, with his hands closed into fists like a
newborn baby.
The first social nucleus, the family, lacks balance because there is no balance between man and wife. The
lack of communication and the degradation reaches the point of physical violence, which could well be a first step
to human annihilation. The couple's relationship is incomplete because there is no completeness within each
member. To feel stronger, to feel that she dominates the situation, Mrs Morel tempts the children to her side and
teaches them to hate their father. Paradoxically, though, she is conscious of the 'idea' of the family (Chapter Four).
The relationship between Mrs Morel and her children is also very poignant: she loves what she can make of
them, not what they are. She is very possessive.
As to the relationships between Paul and women, they are similarly incomplete and unsatisfactory. The
mind, the spirit and the body are represented by three separate women. The spirit and the mind may exist as long
as they do not interfere with the expression of the body and are fully integrated in it:
For Christianity the flesh receives its sanction and purpose from a life of the spirit which is
eternal and transcendent. For Lawrence the life of the spirit has its justification in enriching and glorifying
the life of the flesh of which it is in any case an epiphenomenon.
(G. Hough, The Dark Sun)
Many authors have noted how, structurally, Sons and Lovers moves rhythmically in the treatment of
different characters' relationships: first that of Walter and Gertrude Morel, then Paul and his mother, later Paul and
Miriam, and finally that of Paul and Clara:
Sons and Lovers moves along a structural pattern determined by the nature of its human
relationships. A wave-rhythm distinguishes, in beat and counterbeat, the major involvements of the
characters: those of Walter and Gertrude Morel, Paul and his mother, Paul and Miriam, and Paul and
Clara. In each of these relationships, separate episodes focus in dramatically enacted dialogue,
description, and action aspects of each character- interconnection. Each event is a successive wave, and
the movement of the relationship is the full tide which is its consummation. After that consummation,
there are wavelike returns to the achieved tension in that relationship, but now each wave shows a
diminishing strength and intensity. The reader of Sons and Lovers soon comes to anticipate the rhythmic
returns and finds himself attuned to the Lawrencean mode. He doesn't ask for the conventional climactic
development.
(Betsky, 'Rhythm and Theme: D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers', 1953)
The three women referred to above as representing the mind, the spirit, and the body, are Gertrude Morel,
Miriam, and Clara respectively. The first impression we have of Gertrude Morel is that of a middle-class,
determined and intellectually alert character. The impression grows stronger when she is compared to her husband,
a working class, uncultivated, careless man. Immediately, the reader perceives that theirs (Mr and Mrs Morel's) is
a confrontation between her mind and his instincts, which is likely to cause many problems. Gertrude Morel
married her husband because she could not do better and she admired in him everything she did not have; at the
same time, she wanted to change him and make him more like her, although he would not let her. As the following
passage testifies, Morel and his wife have had one of their many arguments. He resents what he considers her
accusations:
'I'll may yer pay for this,' he said, pushing back his chair in desperation. He bustled and got
washed, then went determinedly upstairs. Presently he came down dressed, and with a big bundle in a
blue-checked, enormous handkerchief.
'And now,' he said, 'You'll see me again when you do.' 'It'll be before I want to,' she replied; and
at that he marched out of the house with his bundle...
When she went down to the coal-place at the end of the garden, however, she felt something
behind the door. So she looked. And there in the dark lay the big blue bundle. She sat on a piece of coalin front of the bundle and laughed. Every time she saw it, so fat and yet so ignominious, slunk into its
corner in the dark, with its ends flopping like dejected ears from the knots, she laughed again. She was
relieved.
(Sons and Lovers 1913 [1995]: 44)

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They cannot accept each other for the way they are. Mrs Morel is a divided being, presented as a broken
entity, because she is a woman, a wife and a mother. As a wife she admits her failure, as a woman she still feel
some passion for Walter, and as a mother she is selfish and unnatural: "She had a great belief in him, the more
because he was unaware of his own powers. There was so much to come out of him. Life for her was rich with
promise. She was to see herself fulfilled. (236)
Miriam represents the spirit. Miriam Leivers, Paul's teenage friend and sweetheart, was modelled after
Lawrence's own young love, Jessie Chambers. When Lawrence was working on Sons and Lovers (1910-12), Jessie
Chambers contributed many specific details, since the novel was so closely based on their own difficult, intimate
relationship. There are documents proving that some passages of the novel were written in Jessie's own
handwriting (they appear in the final work much expanded by Lawrence) and some comments by Jessie on
Lawrence's own work. These are known as the 'Miriam Papers', first analysed by Harry T. Moore in his book D.H.
Lawrence: The Man and His Works (1969), and are, in fact, documents relating to the original of 'Miriam' (Jessie
Chambers) and to her involvement with the writing of Sons and Lovers. It is clear from these papers that, although
Jessie often protests that Lawrence is changing the past in writing his novel, the basic plot, many incidents and
many details, at least of the Miriam sections, are true to Jessie's memory. The fact that Lawrence was able to
incorporate Jessie's own writings into the novel, in some cases without change, proves the point.
From a critical point of view the 'Miriam Papers' provide a warning: Jessie never realised that fiction is a
different kind of writing from history or biography. This is why it is important to distinguish autobiography as a
genre and the autobiographical details that can be trace in a fictional writing such a Sons and Lovers.
From the beginning, Miriam Leivers is described as a 'romantic heroine' and the reader gets a picture of a
shy, religious, dreamy, intense, spiritual girl. The ordinary is too ugly for her. Paul, being equally sensitive, enjoys
life for what it is on earth. Mrs Morel believes that Miriam is not an ordinary woman, who can leave me my share
in him. She wants to absorb him till there is nothing left of him, even for himself. He will never be a man on his
own two feet she will suck him up (193). Nature, represented by Willey Farm, links them: So it was in this
atmosphere of subtle intimacy, this meeting in their common feelings for something in nature that their love
started. Miriam is idealistic also in the area of love. First, she feels as God's sacrificed victim: But Lord, if it is
Thy will that I should love him, make me love him- as Christ would, who died for the souls of men, and later on
she will make an ultimately romantic gesture: letting Paul go with Clara, for she believes in the untouchable bond
that links her to Paul. She tells herself in Chapter Twelve:
If he must go, let him go and have his fill-something big and intense, he called it. At any rate,
when he had got it, he would not want it- that he said himself; he would want the other thing that she
could give him. He would want to be owned, so that he could work. It seemed to her a bitter thing that he
must go, but she could let him go into an inn for a glass of whisky, so she could let him go to Clara, so
long as it was something that would satisfy a need in him, and leave him free for herself to possess.
(Sons and Lovers 1913 [1995]: 318)
Miriam does not react to her secondary role and submits to Paul's dominance. There are two sides at war
in Miriam: her love of Paul More!'and her resistance to her sexual feelings towards him. Her mother taught her
that sex is one of the burdens of marriage, and although she does not want to believe it, she cannot help but listen
to the woman who has shaped her life. When Miriam finally gives in to Paul (in Chapter Eleven), she does so in a
spirit of self-sacrifice that disappoints both of them:
She would submit, religiously, to the sacrifice. He should have her. And at the thought her whole
body clenched itself involuntarily, hard, as if against something; but Life forced her through this gate of
suffering, too, and she would submit. At any rate, it would give him what he wanted, which was her
deepest wish.
(Sons and Lovers 1913 [1995]: 284)
Miriam's inability to enjoy sex makes her an incomplete person in the Lawrentian world, where sex as
well as spirituality is necessary to an individual's fulfilment. Clifford Chatterley, in Lady Chatterleys Lover, has a
similar response to Miriam's towards sex: No, the intimacy was deeper, more personal than that. And sex was
merely an accident, or an adjunct, one of the curious obsolete, organic processes which persisted in its own
clownishness, but was not really necessary. However, spirit is not everything for Paul. He is looking for a
different kind of relationship, and so lets Miriam know (309). Their love is a failure. The realisation of their failure
comes to them during Easter time:
It made him mad with restlessness. She saw this, and wished bitterly that Miriam had been a
woman who could take this new life of his, and leave her the roots. He fought against his mother almost
as he fought against Miriam.

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It was a week before he went again to Willey Farm. Miriam had suffered a great deal, and was
afraid to see him again. Was she now to endure the ignominy of his abandoning her? That would only be
superficial and temporary. He would come back. She held the keys to his soul. But meanwhile, how he
would torture her with his battle against her. She shrank from it.
(Sons and Lovers 1913 [1995]: 222)
At spring time they feel queer, awkward and uneasy, and it is quite fitting because spring symbolises mating
and development while they are always stagnant in their ideal love.
Lawrence completed the novel in 1913, while mourning his mother's death and under yet another female
influence, that of the independent and sensuous Frieda von Richthofen Weekley, his future wife. Much of Frieda's
personality can be seen in the passionate Clara Dawes, Paul Morel's other love. Jessie felt that her portrayal as
Miriam was unflattering. She broke off all ties with Lawrence and even wrote her own version of the relationship
in order to vindicate herself.
Clara stands for the body, the senses, the flesh that Miriam seems to lack. She is presented as heavy,
blonde, and defiant. She strikes the reader as being a modern woman, owner of herself and of her destiny. Clara is
depicted as a new twentieth-century woman. She is a feminist before it was fashionable. Determined to be
independent, she leaves her husband, earns her own living, and has an extramarital affair with Paul. Clara can be
viewed as representative of the many post-Victorian women who rebelled against the traditional image of woman
as the 'weaker sex.' Clara is extraordinarily intelligent, with a good critical mind. But Lawrence gives little
demonstration of this aspect of her personality, since the story concentrates on her physical attractiveness to Paul.
Nevertheless, since she left her husband, nothing seems to have happened to her in terms of love and affection. In
a way, she is like a dead flower (Sons and Lovers 1913 [1995]: 295). Paul thinks that flowers are there to be
enjoyed. Their own beauty entitles people to pick them and appreciate them. Curiously, Gertrude Morel and
Miriam are also frequently connected to flowers in the novel: in Chapter Seven, Gertrude can hardly believe that
some beautiful flowers have come out in her garden, Miriam, every time she picks flowers, seems to devour them,
to smell the life out of them, just as she wants to do with Paul. The rose bush Miriam shows to Paul eerily signifies
their relationship. That Miriam is intensely loving and warm towards the beautiful, white roses and that Paul feels
strangely 'imprisoned' by them symbolises their feelings for each other and toward sex with the other. Miriam
would devote herself to Paul, who would feel smothered by her intensity. Mark Spilka noted in 1955 that the
women in Sons and Lovers are frequently identified with flowers and gardening (Miriam tends to smother flowers
with her religious adoration, while Mr Morel nurtures them to become healthy and strong):
As these thoughts indicate, flowers are the most important of the 'vital forces' in Sons and
Lovers. The novel is saturated with their presence, and Paul and his three sweethearts are judged, again
and again, by their attitude toward them, or more accurately, by their relations with them. The 'lad-andgirl' affair between Paul and Miriam, for example, is a virtual communion between the two lovers and the
flowers they both admire.
(Spilka, 'How to Pick Flowers', 1955)
Following this flower symbolism, Clara is like a beautiful flower that has become forgotten: she is there
both for someone to have her and to have someone herself. In spite of the loathing and contempt she feels for men,
the reader senses that she is not cut out to be alone. Her detachment and self containment are extraordinarily
attractive to Paul. She is like a goddess in possession of the ultimate secret of a body, of a human relationship. Full
of a life to be expressed, she is linked to Paul in a non-spiritual way. In Chapter Twelve Clara and Paul make love
and their relationship reaches its high point in their sexual fulfilment. By having his body near she seems to come
back to life again, and as she wants someone who needs her she starts to move back towards her husband, Baxter.
Clara notices why Paul cannot be hers completely, how there is something she cannot reach: She felt as if
something almost tangible fastened her to him; yet he seemed so easy in his graceful, indolent movement, so
detached as he tied up the too-heavy flower branches to their stakes, that she wanted to shriek in her helplessness
(387).
Besides, the special tie between Miriam and Paul is something which Clara will never have. She is honest
enough to admit it and even to push him back to Miriam. Lacking that particular quality, she can just feel
resurrected, alive again, by having a man. Paul, in return, loves the woman but does not feel consecrated to her:
But it was not Clara. It was something that happened because of her, but it was not her. They were scarcely any
nearer each other. It was as if they had been blind agents of a great force (422). There is no unity between the two
selves: Lawrence seems to be saying that it is no use being available for sex, as is Clara, if there is no communion
of the souls, too. As Paul watches Clara swim in the sea, he thinks to himself, 'She's lost like a grain of sand in
the beach just a concentrated speck blown along, a tiny white foam-bubble, almost nothing among the morning.
Why does she absorb me?' (358).

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The fulfilment of one's personality is achieved when the senses express the reality of the inner self. If no
tenderness governs or accompanies the flesh, then, Lawrence says, we go back to our animal nature and the human
instinct is lost. That is what happens in the relationship between Paul and Clara: they lack full understanding.
Clara and Baxter Dawes get together again. He needs her now for him to come back to life, to regain his lost
manhood, and she knows it. She has not been able to reach into the deepest part of Paul, and now with Baxter she
has the chance of being accepted as a whole woman, in such a way as she has never been with Paul. The only
woman to whom Paul has ever felt himself given up is his mother. Sometimes he feels he is not entire, for a
mother cannot replace sexual love. However, as a whole, his mother is his comfort, his peace, the warmth of
childhood, the steadiness, the person who understands him perfectly well and who is always beside him. It is for
him a very easy way of loving for him: pleasant and without complexities, rewarding and satisfying. Of course, it
is not a completely fulfilling love, but it is far better than those he receives from either Miriam or Clara. When
Mrs. Morel dies, Paul's emptiness seems total. She was the only thing that held him up, himself, amid all this.
And she was gone, intermingled herself. He wanted her to touch him, have him alongside with her. But no, he
would not give in... He would not take that direction, to the darkness, to follow her (420). When Paul kisses his
dead mother, he feels emotions he had never experienced from her: cold and harsh, unreceptive and loveless. He
does not want to let his mother go from his life. As much as Paul wants his mother to be with him, he decides that
he cannot follow his mother. Even though her spirit will guide him if he allows it to, but he decides to break away
from her. He knows he must separate himself from her to become a man of his own instinct and will. At the end of
the novel Paul walks away from the dark, uninhabited country fields and towards the bright city lights. Some
readers see this act as Paul's walking away from death and towards life. Paul has been both blessed and cursed
with such an extraordinary mother.
3. ACTIVITIES
3.1. Test yourself
1. What is new in D.H. Lawrence's fiction?
2. How many phases could be drawn in Lawrence's writing?
3 . What means for Lawrence the distinction between 'mechanical man' and 'natural man'?
4. Why has Lawrence been accused of misogynistic attitudes?
3.2. Overview questions
1 . Compare Mrs Morel's respective feelings for Miriam and for Clara.
2 . What are the many different symbolisms evoked by flowers? How do flowers figure differently in the fates of
the various characters?
3 . Discuss briefly Sons and Lovers as a Bildungsroman.
3.3. Explore
1. The sentences below have been quoted from Chapter Ten, the final chapter of Sons and Lovers. Read them, go
to the novel and place both sentences in context, explaining why Paul's life had fallen into pieces and who is that
'her' he is not going to follow. What do you think Paul is going to do next with his life?:
a) 'Paul's life had fallen to pieces'.
b) 'He would not take that direction, to the darkness, to follow her'.
2. Write a short essay (450 words) comparing D.H. Lawrence's life to that of his character Paul paying particular
attention to the fictionalization of facts that make possible the building of Paul as a fictional character.
3.4. Key terms
Bildungsroman
Censorship
City
Machine
Nature
Perspectivism
Poetic language
Science
Sex
Sexuality
- Women
- Working Class
4. BIBLIOGRAPHY

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CALLOW, Philip. 1975. Son and Lover: The Young D.H. Lawrence. New York: Stein and Day.
DRAPER, R.P. 1969. Profiles in Literature: D.H. Lawrence. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
FARR, Judith, ed. 1970. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Sons and Lovers. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: PrenticeHall.
HOLLOWAY, John. 1991. 'The Literary Scene' in From James to Eliot. The Pelican Guide to English Literature
Vol. 7, edited by Boris Ford. London: Penguin.
TEDLOCK, E.W. Jr., ed. 1965. D.H. Lawrence and Sons and Lovers. New York: New York University Press.
Web Sites
- D. H. Lawrence resources at The University of Nottingham http://mss.library.nottingham.ac.ukldhl_home.html
- D. H. Lawrence index page http://web.ukonline.co.uklrananim/lawrence/
- D. H. Lawrence page http://www.cswnet.com/-erin/lawrence.htm 210

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UNIT V
Tales Of The City:

Virginia Woolfs Modernist Geographies Of The Mind

Programme
1. PRESENTATION: Women and Modernism
1.1. Introducing to Virginia Woolf
1.2. The Bloomsbury Group and Bloomsbury Aesthetics
2. TEXT ANALYSIS:
2.1. A Room of Ones Own and Other Essays
2.2. Mrs. Dalloway and the Womans Sentence
3. ACTIVITIES
4. BIBLIOGRAPHY

Learning outcomes
- To discern that Woolfs work is a response to a society that witnessed multiple and
profound changes, social and political convulsions, and literal debates in which she
was an active participant and a reference to her contemporaries.
- To become gender-conscious in order to understand that Woolfs commitment to the
women's struggle, what today is called Woolfs feminism, is intrinsically Linked to her
artistic output.
- To analyse Woolfs complex use of language and narrative techniques and her
experimental approach to fiction as part of the new modernist aesthetics she, among
others, pronounced.
- To understand the importance of the city and the visual effect of language in
modernism and Woolfs work.

1. PRESENTATION: WOMEN AND MODERNISM


The period between 1910 and 1940 is one in which the attitude towards art in general and
literature in particular changes radically. The argument over what deserves to be represented and the
right way to represent it was at the centre of the literally innovations of the period. After the War, this
argument was won by a group of male, middle-class writers (among them Ford Madox Ford, T.E.
Hulme, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot) who advocated an art that would avoid the personal, the emotional,
and the mundane. The success of these writers meant that a particular kind of modernism became
accepted as the most important and significant art of its time. The poet T.S.Eliot was a key figure in this
process of becoming through his theories on impersonality and of the objective correlative which were
extremely influential during the 1920s and 1930s, the period when modernism became institutionalised
and codified. The Eliotean model was, in fact, just but one of the many approaches regarding the writing
produced in this period. Women writers experimented with form and content as did male writers, yet
their way of experimentation, the means by which they experimented and the goals they expected to
achieve through this experimentation were different from those of male writers.
Male writers approached literary modernism in the belief that art should convey a transcendent
reality that lay outside particular social and ideological systems. As a matter of fact this view on
modernism produced an exclusive and discriminatory form of writing that accentuated the dichotomy
high art/low art. Forms of writing outside modernist aesthetics were considered as low art;
consequently, the so-called popular fiction which, not surprisingly, was being produced by a
considerable number of women writers, was undervalued and catalogued as a product to be consumed
by the masses. In this respect some feminist critics, such as Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar suggest
that a major motive for what was understood as modernism, with its exclusions and discriminations, was
a reaction against the rise of literary women. However, if, as said before, women writers approached
modernism differently from the way men did they did not escape the litism attributed to their male
counterparts. Virginia Woolfs novels, H.D.s (Hilda Doolittle) sequence Pilgrimage participate of the
modernist aesthetics (self-reflexiveness, ambiguity, fragmentation of form, among other) and produced
difficult literary works that could hardly be seen as popular pieces of writing.
Modernism art maintained its avant-garde position by defining itself mass culture and hence against traditional forms of female writing and reading
such as the popular romance. Yet it posed a problem for the woman writer of the period, who saw herself from between a form of art whose very novelty
opened up an arena where the woman writer might be able to find her own voice, on the one hand, and the rejection of mass culture (and, by implication,
of the feminine) on the other. How did women writers deal with this apparent contradiction?

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Some tensions produced the woman writer by this dilemma were explored in an early story by
Katherine Mansfield, 'The Tiredness of Rosabel' (I908). This story concerns the daydreams and
romantic fantasies of an overworked shop assistant, and its particularly interesting as an example of
how Katherine Mansfield in particular; and women writers of the period at large, aligns herself both with
high art and with mass culture.
At the beginning of the story we are placed at a critical distance from popular romance. Coming
home on the bus, the central character Rosabel watches with distaste another girl reading a popular
novel. She criticises the way in which the girls is <<mouthing the words in a way that RosabeI detested,
licking her first finger and thumb each time that she turned the page>> (Mansfield 1984: 17). Popular
romance is thus connected with vulgarity and the body, and is apparently condemned.
As the story continues, pointed contrasts are made impoverished realities of her life. Romance
is thus shown as dangerous because it covers over the real (economic and sexual) causes of Rosabels
dream, we find that it powerfully affirms the value of the life of the female body, and indeed celebrates it.
Rosabels dream world offers her light, warmth, colour, and sexual pleasure:
Harry took her home, and came in with her for just one moment. The fire was out in the drawing
room but the sleepy maid waited for her in her boudoir. She took off her cloak, dismissed the servant, and
went over to the fireplace, and stood peeling off her gloves; the firelight shone on her hair.
Harry came across the room and caught her in his arms; Rosabel, Rosabel, Rosabel!
(Mansfield 1984:20)
Mansfields text thus discloses the way in which popular romance, while denying some needs,
speaks powerfully to other female needs, pleasures, and desires. The text points in two directions and
dramatises the dilemma in which Mansfield finds herself as a woman writer of the period. On the other
hand she is pulled towards a masculine writing position that foregrounds such qualities as authority
and autonomy, and the opportunities offered by it. The solution to this dilemma, discovered by Mansfield
herself and other women writers of the period, a solution to be considered as an achievement for it was
truly new and avant-garde, is to push modernism to the limit and attempt to deconstruct this opposition.
That is, women modernists tried to incorporate into their writing what they felt constituted their
femininity. In this sense, women writers of the period challenged the claim of impersonality defended by
the male writers, turned to personal experience, and in their writings they made a journey in search of a
self that, as we shall see, was perceived as multiple and fragmented.
Central to the rise of modernism and its questioning of reality as portrayed in Victorian and
Edwardian fiction is the development of science in the late nineteenth century. Of particular importance
was the appearance of a new medical branch called sexology. The works of the German Krafft-Ebing,
and the British Edward Carpenter and Havelock Ellis exposed, sometimes against the intention of the
authors, the existence of female sexuality and female sexual desire. This meant that the younger
generation of women, the women that would start writing after the end of the First World War, stressed
not just the need for constitutional reform, but also that for a much greater personal and sexual
emancipation for women.
The great turning point was marked by Freuds theories on the unconscious. Freuds work first
became available in translation in 1909 and his theory of the unconscious (that is, the fact that in the
development of the human psyche there are certain episodes which, while repressed, are still contained
in what he called the unconscious, and that these repressed events affect the way we consciously
perceive reality) constituted a break from current ideas of an essential, immutable, unified self.
The modern self is perceived as multiple and fragmented because there is always an inherent part of the self that by its very definition remains
unknown, but no less effective for the perception of who I am.
What are the issues raised by the modernist woman writer? There are five main characteristics
to be found in the writings produced by women in this period. The first refers to subjectivity and gender
identity. Women tended towards the split, fragmented, dispersed, and alienated subject because they
felt split within an external, male-dominated world; there was, on the one hand, an external public vision
of her self, and on the other, an internal private self different from cultural prescription. That is they
perceived a self that stood against the liberal humanist view of a subject as fixed, autonomous,
conscious, rational, unified, and unifying.
The second characteristic has to do with history and myth and the dissolution of time: that is, in
their fiction past, present and future intermingle; there is no chronology to be followed, just the path of
involuntary memory as a sound, a smell, may transport us elsewhere.
The third places great emphasis on the city: modernist women write about urban places, about
their experience within the city (as, for example, in Mrs Dalloway) because the city is perceived as
offering new possibilities and as an unreal fragmentation. Other authors explore the new visions on

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sexuality (it is notorious the case of Radclyffe Hall, and was also addressed by other authors such as
Vita Sackville-West and Violet Trefusis).
The final characteristic is their alliance to stream of consciousness: May Sinclair, when
reviewing the early volumes of Pilgrimage in 1918, noted that the novel centred on the mental process,
that is, on the thoughts, responses and interior emotional experiences of a single central character; that
it sometimes shifted point of view among several key figures, and that there were interior monologues
that contrasted heavily with the silence outside of the character. Some modernist women are Djuna
Barnes, Gertrude Stein, H.D., Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Richardson, Katherine Mansfield and Jean Rhys.
Of these authors, we shall concentrate in the following sections on the work of Virginia Woolf.
1.1. Introducing to Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf is a major figure in the Modernist movement. She made significant contributions
in the development of the novel and in the writing of essays. Given the amount of material, her diaries
and letters collected in several volumes, the biographies she has inspired and thousands of critical
works that have focused on her persona and work, it requires effort to establish a complete and fixed
picture of this woman of letters.
Indeed, she has been seen in many different and contradictory ways: as a privileged woman out of touch with working class women; as a socialist
working for the struggle of working class women; as an oppressed woman whose mental instability made her an insecure, fragile and weak person; as a
strong and ironical persona whose witty commentaries could slice one into pieces; as having suffered an oppressive Victorian upbringing; as, quite the
opposite, having had a liberal and privileged Victorian upbringing; as having been sexually abused as a child by her stepbrother; as happily married; as
unhappily married; as a lesbian; as courageous.
Why are there so many points of views on Virginia Woolf?
From these views and others, the one fact that seems clear is that Virginia Woolf was a complex and
paradoxical woman whose unconventional personality is difficult to pin down. Adeline Virginia Stephen
was born on 25 January 1882 in London. Her beautiful mother, Julia Prinsep Duckworth Stephen, had
three children (George, Stella and Gerald) from a previous marriage to the barrister, Herbert Duckworth.
Virginia Woolf inherited her mothers looks and Julia would be the inspiration for Mrs Ramsay in To the
Lighthouse. Leslie Stephen, her father, was also a widower, previously married to the daughter of the
novelist William Makepeace Thackeray. From this marriage he had a daughter, Laura, who was
mentally handicapped. In addition to Virginia, Julia and Leslie Stephen had three other children:
Vanessa, Thoby and Adrian. All eight children lived with her parents and a number of servants at 22
Hyde Park Gate, Kensington, in London. In Moments of Being, a compilation of her memoirs edited by
Jeanne Schulkind in 1976, Woolf wrote:
Who was I then? Adeline Virginia Stephen, the second daughter of Leslie and Julia Prinsep
Stephen, born on 25th January 1882, descended from a great many people, some famous, others obscure;
born into a large connection, born not of rich parents, but of well-to-do parents, born into a very
communicative, literate, letter writing, visiting, articulate, late nineteenth century world.
(Woolf 1985: 65)
The Stephen family belonged to the upper-middle class that produced most of the influential
thinkers and artists of the day. The greatest writers and politicians of the time, among them Henry
James and Thomas Hardy, were frequent visitors to Hyde Park Gate. On her mothers side, the famous
Victorian photographer, J. Margaret Cameron, was Virginia Woolfs great-aunt.
n 1926 Virginia Woolf and the painter, art critic and personal friend, Roger Fry, contributed an introduction to Camerons Victorian Photographs of
Famous Men and Fair Women.
Julia Stephen was mostly a devoted wife and self-sacrificing mother who also worked very hard
for the less privileged members of society. Her premature death in 1895 prompted Virginias first
nervous breakdown. Leslie Stephen was a distinguished critic, biographer and philosopher. Although he
was never the genius he wanted to be, he was nevertheless one of the most influential figures in the
literary world in late Victorian England. He was the first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography (an
on-going publication that nowadays includes an entry on Virginia Woolf) an author of the History of
English Thought in the Eighteenth Century. As a young man Leslie Stephen abandoned a promising
career as a Cambridge don because he declared that he had never believed in the literal truth of the
Bible. He was a liberal thinker and a passionate advocate of his views, some of which, such as his
agnosticism, were highly controversial in those days. He had an extensive library open freely to his
children. Virginia Woolf, working her way through this library, became acquainted with a large number of
English and classical works.

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Tales Of The City: Virginia Woolfs Modernist Geographies Of The Mind

The intellectual ambience at Hyde Park Gate was a significant importance for the development of Woolf as a writer. During the summers her family
spent their long holidays at Talland house in St Ives, Cornwall. Both London and St Ives played an important role as the settings of most of Woolfs works.
In To the Lighthouse (1927), St Ives serves as the background of the novel although it is actually placed on the Isle of Skye, in Scotland. Mrs
Dalloway(1925) is set in London and, as we shall discuss in the section dedicated to the study of this novel, the city plays an important part in the
development of the novel.
Despite his alluring public life, which Virginia Woolf would always held in high steem, Leslie
Stephen was, in the private worlds of the Stephen family, an emotional bully and a domestic tyrant, as
Virginia Woolf recalls in her memoirs, a Sketch of the Past. After the death of her mother, Virginia
Woolfs half-sister, Stella, took over the running of the household as well as Julias role as the provider
for Leslies demands for sympathy and emotional support. Stella married in 1897 and died of peritonitis
on her return from her honeymoon. The household duties and the burden of coping with her father fell
on the painter-to-be, Vanessa, the eldest Stephen sibling.
Leslie Stephen died in 1904 and Virginia had a second nervous breakdown. During this second
breakdown Vanessa decided to move and took the Stephen family to 46 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury.
The neighbourhood chosen was not one of the most respectable; many old friend of the family,
including Henry James, criticised the way of life of the Stephen children. As it turned out, the idea was
an excellent one, for their new home allowed the four siblings to overcome the gloomy atmosphere that
surrounded them after the death of Woolfs mother:
Her death, on the 5th May, 1895, began a period of Oriental gloom.
(Woolf 1985: 40)
For all Virginia Woolf had free access to her fathers library at a time when many girls of her
class were discouraged from reading, she never had a proper education and she was never allowed out
of the house to study. She always felt this as a void in her development and it became, especially in her
two most overtly feminist essays, A Room of Ones Own (1929) and Three Guineas (1938), a gendered
trope highlighting the educational privileges afforded to her brothers and her other male peers, who had
been given the opportunity to read at Cambridge. Yet, in October 1897, Virginia Woolf, attended classes
in Greek and history at Kings College, London. She received tuition from Dr George Warr in 1898. Later
that year, Walter Paters sister, Clara Pater, taught her Latin. In 1902 she resumed her Greek studies
and started private classes with Janet Case.
These classes continued in the following year but were interrupted in 1904 after her fathers death. She continued studying Greek on her own,
translating, reading and re-reading the poets, philosophers, and dramatists. Greek became the main subject of two essays, The Perfect Language and
On Not Knowing Greek.
Her elder brother, Thoby, left public school in 1899 and went up to Trinity College, Cambridge.
Greek was also important because it was a subject she could share with Thoby, who also brought to
Hyde Park Gate the atmosphere of undergraduate life in Cambridge. It was there that Thoby made
friends with Leonard Woolf, Clive Bell (who married Vanessa in 1907), Saxon Sydney-Turner, Lytton
Strachey, and Maynard Keynes. They comprised the embryo of what came to be called the Bloomsbury
Group.
At the end of 1904 Virginia Woolf started writing reviews fro the Manchester Guardian and in
1905 she started reviewing for the Times Literary Supplement. In 1906, after a trip to Greece, Thoby
died of typhoid fever. He had started the Thursday evenings meetings for his Cambridge friends. The
arrangement was continued by Vanessa and then, after Vanessas marriage, by Virginia and Adrian
when they moved to 29 Fitzroy Square. Woolf was to move again in 1911, a year before she married
Leonard Woolf at St Pancras Registry Office on 10 August 1912. From then onwards the Woolfs rented
a small house near Lewes in Sussex. Her sister Vanessa rented nearby Charleston Farmhouse in 1916;
in 1919, the Woolfs bought Monks House in Rodmell. This was a small, weather-boarded house which
they used mainly during the summer holidays until they were bombed out of their flat in Mecklenburg
Square in 1940. Monks House then became their home until Virginia Woolfs death. She drowned
herself in the nearby River Ouse.
In 1908 Virginia Woolf started writing her first novel, The Voyage Out (1915). Originally to be
called Melymbrosia, the novel was finished in 1913, but was not published until 1915 (by Duckworth &
Co), as she suffered a third bout of deep depression and debilitating headaches after her marriage. The
Voyage Out is, at first sight, rather conventional in form and was well received by critics. Her second
novel, if anything more conventional, was Night and Day, also published by Duckworth, in 1919.
Leonard and Virginia Woolf had, in 1917, bought a small printing press in order to take up
printings as a hobby and as therapy for Virginia . By now they were living in Richmond, south-west

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Tales Of The City: Virginia Woolfs Modernist Geographies Of The Mind

London, and the Hogarth Press was named after their house. The first publication in the Woolfs
Hogarth Press was Two Stories, with a story by each of them: The Mark on the Wall by Virginia and
Three Jews by Leonard.
The Woolfs continued hand printings until 1932. During these years they became publishers rather than mere printers. Around 1922 the Hogarth Press
had become a business publishing the works of other modern writers including Katherine Mansfield, T.S. Elliot, Maxim Gorky and E.M. Forster.
From 1921 onwards, except for a few limited editions, Woolf always published with the Hogarth
Press. This same year she published her first collection of short stories, Monday or Tuesday, most of
them experimental in nature. In 1922 she published Jacobs Room an ironic tribute to her brother,
Thoby, and her first experimental novel. In 1924, the couple moved to 52 Tavistocl Square, in London
an din the following year, 1925, Mrs Dalloway was published, followed in 1927 by To the Lighthouse,
and The Waves in 1931. These three novels are generally considered to be her greatest contribution to
Modernism.
Her involvement with the aristocratic novelist and poet, Vita Sackville-West, led to Orlando: A
Biography (1928), a subversive fictional account inspired by Vitas life and ancestry at Knole, near
Sevenoaks in Kent. The story spans four centuries of the history of England. The central character is a
sixteen-year-old aristocratic poet, Orlando, who, in 1600, becomes the favourite of Elizabeth I. During
the reign of Charless II Orlando changes sex and Lady Orlando continues down the centuries, finally
able to finish the poem she started when a young man. Two talks given at womens colleges at
Cambridge in 1928 led to A Room of Ones Own (1929), a discussion of womens writing and its
historical, economic and social underpinning.
The 1930s was an unhappy time for the Woolfs as the deaths of friends and the prospect of war
increasingly overshadowed the decade. Virginia wrote a fictional biography of Elizabeth Barret
Brownings dog entitled Flush in 1933. In 1937 she published The Years, perhaps her most overtly
political fictional work. A best-seller in America, the novel was a long and painful exercise in writing. It is
often read alongside Three Guineas (1938), in a sense, a successor to A Room of Ones Own although
it is more revolutionary in its view. The essay deals extensively with the relationship between war,
masculinity, and womens education and employment. In 1940 she wrote a biography of her friend
Roger Fry. On 28 March 1941 she killed herself while she was in the last revision of her final novel
Between the Acts posthumously published by Leonard Woolf.

1.2. The Bloomsbury Group and Bloomsbury Aesthetics


It has already been pointed out that when the Stephen children moved to 46 Gordon Square in
1904, Thoby started to organise meetings on Thursdays at their house. The people who used to attend
included many of his friends at Cambridge such as the novelist E.M. Forster, the literary journalist
Desmond MacCarthy and his wife, the art critics Roger Fry (also a painter) and Clive Bell, the
biographer and essayist Lytton Strachey, the painter Duncan Grant, the political writer and publishers
Leonard Woolf, the economist John Maynard Keynes, and Saxon Sidney-Turner, among other. The
Stephen sisters, Virginia and Vanessa, and their brother Adrian also attended the meetings.
Although it is doubtful that these people would agree to be described as a generational group, they have come to be collectively known as the
Bloomsbury Group. The meetings became one of the most important an important centre of Other people such as Katherine Mansfield, T.S. Eliot, David
Garnett, James Strachey, and, later on, Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson, attended the meetings.
As said before, these meetings were continued by Adrian, Vanessa and Virginia after Thobys
death. If there is anything that would join the group together it was their refusal to compromise with their
Victorian upbringing. The group was liberal in its attitudes and allowed a free range to blasphemy and
bawdiness; a variety of sexualities prevailed.
At first Virginia Woolf was unimpressed and rather sceptical towards what she saw as a
pretentious bunch of male students. Later on, however, their discussion topics attracted her attention
and, as she described in her memoir Old Bloomsbury, even though she did not dare to participate, she
rather enjoyed the mode of discussion and the earnestness of these young men in pursuit of topics such
as beauty, good and reality:
It filled me with wonder to watch those who were finally left in the argument piling
stone upon stone, cautiously, accurately, long after it had completely soared above my sight. But
if one could not say anything, one could listen. One had glimpses of something miraculous
happening high up in the air. Often we could be still sitting in a circle at two or three in the
morning. Still Saxon would be taking his pipe from his mouth as if to speak, and putting it back
again without having spoken. At last, rumpling his hair back, he would pronounce very shortly
some absolute final summing up. The marvellous edifice was complete, one could stumble off to

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bed feeling that something very important had happened. It had been proved that beauty was or
beauty was not- for I have never been quite sure which part of a picture.
(Woolf 1985: 190)
In the long run Woolf would gain a group of friends who were, at the same time, the fellow
students she had been denied. From the meeting she also learned a method of analysis that would very
much influence her writing and her thought. Although Thoby himself did not, some of the male
attendees to these Thursday evenings Fry, MacCarthy, and Forster of the older generation, Strachey,
Leonard Woolf and Keynes of the younger- belonged to the Cambridge Conversazione Society, or
Apostles. The society was a very exclusive and thus elitist group. There were never more than six or
seven members at one time, although those who had belonged to the Society always remained linked to
it. The Society started as an undergraduate discussion club in 1820 and slowly developed into a semisecret group mainly preoccupied with the development of the intellect. Plato and the German
philosopher, Immanuel Kant, were haunting presences in the Society G.E. Moore a classicist became
the most influential thinker among the members. In particular, his work Principia Ethica (1903)
influenced the views of the members of the society. Andrew McNeillie in the chapter dedicated to
Bloomsbury in the Cambridge Companion to Virginia Woolf (2000) has very accurately summarised the
main points of Moores argument in his Principia in the following way:

(i) Intrinsic goodness is an unanalysable concept and the word 'good', when used
in this way, to mean a thing 'good in itself, is indefinable, like the colour yellow; (ii) that
instead of one thing, the Utilitarians' concept of 'pleasure' being good in itself, there is a
plurality of things that are, and the most valuable of these are states of mind involving either
the pleasures of human intercourse... or the enjoyment of beautiful objects; (iii) that the
rightness of an action derives from the character of its consequences; (iv) Moore's version
of idealism that when we call a state of things 'ideal' we always mean to assert not only
that it is good in itself, but that it is good in itself in a much higher degree than many other
things.
(Roe and Sellers 2000: 12-13)
In different forms, these strands of Moore's argument can be traced in Woolfs writing. For
instance, in The Voyage Out Richard Dalloway reads: Good, then, is indefinable from the black
volume of philosophy that Helena Ambrose is reading.
Moore's method of analysis is behind Woolfs description of their meetings as piling stone upon
stone the arguments and her final ironic comments of not being sure which one is the conclusion of the
discussion.
The interesting aspect here is to be aware that what is important is not so much to arrive at a
definite conclusion, but the method employed. The journey is important, not the arrival.

As we shall discuss later, in many of Woolf essays, certainly in A Room Of Ones Own, the
argument is built on the basis of Moore's principle. What elements do we encounter in Woolfs
writing to support this argument?
Moores radical philosophy appealed to Bloomsbury for its rationalism, and its elevation of
aesthetic life, claiming, as we have seen, that the most valuable states of mind are those we associate
with the contemplation of beauty, love and truth to use Quentin Bells words. In a sense, Moores
rationalism, his optimistic view of human nature and his willingness to question received notions, as well
as his idea of emotions appropriate to specific objects, were so strongly associated with Bloomsburys
own set of ideals that the connection between the philosopher and the Group seems natural.
It is through Moore, if we agree with Philip Rieffs point of view, that the Bloomsbury Group
became interested in psychoanalysis and Freuds work. In Rieffs view, Moore opens the path into
Freud in his last chapter of Principia Ethica. Frankness and as introspection in matters of sexuality were
hallmarks of the Bloomsbury Group. In this sense, the groups interest on the new psychology, as
psychoanalysis was then referred to, comes as no surprise. Yet, as Maynard Keynes pointed out later,
the view of this set towards the unconscious, sexuality, and neurosis was intellectually pre-Freudian.
Even if an ambivalent one, the interest in Freuds theories led several peripheral members of
Bloomsbury to play an important role in the foundation of the British Psychological Society. Among them
was Adrian Stephen, who abandoned his studies in medieval law to become, together with his wife
Karen Costelloe Stephen, one of the first analysts of the Society.
James Strachey, younger brother of Lytton Strachey, and his wife Alix, became the translators
of Freuds work into English. In 1924 James became chief editor of the Standard Edition and together
with Ernest Jones he approached the Woolfs to have the Edition published by the Hogarth Press. The

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Tales Of The City: Virginia Woolfs Modernist Geographies Of The Mind

Woolfs eagerly undertook the project. About this enterprise Leonard Woolf declared in his memoir: I
am, I think not unreasonably, rather proud of having in 1914 recognised and understood the greatness of Freud and
the importance of what he was doing at the time when this way by no means common.
However, the admiration of Freud and his work seemed to be at an intellectual and theoretical
level only. It is true, as Jan Ellen Goldstein has pointed out, that it never occurred to Leonard or to
Virginia herself to seek the help of this new method as regards Virginias nervous breakdowns. On the
contrary: Virginia continued with the rest cures prescribed by conventional psychiatrists. Woolfs own
attitude towards Freuds psychoanalysis seems to be an ambivalent one. If, as did Leonard, she could
see the potential of Freuds theories, especially those related to the unconscious and its relationship to
Literature, for her own illness, she still distrusted the search of psychoanalysis for some kind of
repressed inner conflict. Although she allowed her artistic mind to play with the idea of unknown
territories in her mind, she seemed unable to allow herself to think of her own mind as unknowable. The
conflicts she identifies in her own life are, then, external, conscious ones between, for instance, critical
and creative thought. In any case, Woolf was far from being completely indifferent to psychology and
the new science of psychoanalysis.

As we shall see later on, Woolf met Freud relatively late, in 1939, when he arrived in London.
However, his theories, particularly in relation to the unconscious and the development of the human
psyche, played an important role in her narrative and in many arguments presented in her essays.
Nonetheless, as Mc Neillie argues, in order to understand Woolfs oeuvre in all her multiple
aspects, one has to consider other authors and thinkers who were of great interest to the writer. Among
them were people such as the anthropologist Jane Ellen Harrison and Walter Pater. In Woolfs diaries
and letters she mentions meeting the anthropologist and in A Room of Ones Own she describes
Harrison in captivated terms:

A bent figure, formidable yet humble, with her great forehead and her shabby dress
could it be the famous scholar, could it be JH herself?
(Norton 2000: 2161)
Harrisons pioneering work impressed Woolf greatly and was the inspirational force behind
Woolfs constant search of the past (for its implication in the present and the future) and her sceptica
view on History.

2. TEXT ANALYSIS:
2.1. A Room of Ones Own and Other Essays
The study of Virginia Woolfs essays has often been neglected in favour of her fictional writings.
At best they have been used as complementary information to enhance the view of a particular point in
her novels. Even Woolf herself did not pay much attention to her essays, as can be inferred from the
relative silence on them in her diaries. Furthermore, many of her literary reviews for The Times Literary
Supplement were published anonymously. The apparently capricious nature of the essays, published
here and there, on many topics and in many different styles, has led to a number of heterogeneous
collections starting in 1925 which the first collection, The Common Reader, was published.
Leonard Woolfs four-volume Collected Essays (1966-67), still a selection in spite of the
comprehensive title of the edition, provided the first glimpse of the magnitude and importance of Woolfs
material. After Leonard Woolfs death in 1969 several selections of non-fiction volumes were edited,
including Books and Portraits (1977) and Michle Barret's Women and Writing (1979). Andrew McNeille
in 1986 started his edition of WooIfs essays, The Essays of Virginia Woolf. The first three volumes of
the six volumes that were to constitute his edition were published between 1986 and 1988. The fourth
and, as yet, last volume was published in 1994. The two final volumes are yet to come. McNeille's
masterly editions provide a fully annotated chronological order allowing the study of the essays as a
whole, enabling critics to discern their significance to the full and also their relationship to her betterknown works. In relatively recent years publications such as Rachel Bowlby's A Womans Essays
(1992) and The Crowed Dance of Modem Life (1993) provide an approach to a selection of Woolfs
essays that, although, by far less comprehensive than McNeille's edition, still constitutes a good
reference to discerning the significance of Virginia Woolfs essay writing.
The difficulties encountered in producing a final and satisfactory compilation of Woolfs essay~
is not in accord with the immense importance that Woolfs critical writing had during her lifetime. It must
be stressed that Woolf was a regular contributor to, among other journals, The Times Literary
Supplement and that T.S. Eliot regarded her as 'the centre of the Iiterarv life of London.' The reasons
behind Woolfs apparent disdain for her essay writing might be found in the fact that most of her essays

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Tales Of The City: Virginia Woolfs Modernist Geographies Of The Mind

were commissioned and therefore written for money. In this sense, according to Bloomsbury aesthetics,
they could hardly be seen as artistic endeavours.
Critical studies on Woolfs oeuvre are starting to reconsider the importance of Woolfs essays
not only in relation to the engrossing quality of their subject matter, but also to the experimental form in
which they were written. This being so, it is impossible to establish a clear line between the aesthetic
pleasure provided by her novels and that provided by many of her essays. Woolf herself was hesitant
about the aesthetic value of essay writing and in essays such as 'The Modem Essay' (1922) she writes:
The principle which controls it [the essay] is simply that it should give pleasure; the desire which
impels us when we take it from the shelf is simply to receive pleasure. Everything in an essay must be
subdued to that end. It should lay us under a spell with its first word, and we should only wake, refreshed,
with its last. In the interval we may pass through the most various experiences of amusement, surprise,
interest, indignation;... but we must never be roused. The essay must lap us about and draw its curtains
across the world.
(Bowlby 1992: 40)
As can be seen in this quotation, Woolf discusses the nature of the essay not in relation to their
informative or persuasive nature, but in terms of aesthetics which are precisely the features expected
to go with literature (Bowlby 1992: xi). In this sense, Woolf wrote most of her essays with this pleasure
principle in sight.

Woofs essays are not devoid of the experimental quality of her novels. It could be said that she
took Montaigne literally when he coined the term for the genre that he initiated, essai, to try.
Certainly this quality is found in A Room of Ones Own and it may be the reason why it is often
mistaken for a work of fiction. Why does Woolf experiment with her writing in the essays?
The length of the essays also varies, ranging from the short literally reviews she wrote for
journals, whose length was determined by the medium in which they were published, to book-length
pieces such as A Room of Ones Own and Three Guineas. Many of the longer essays dealt with
authors, from the past who became subjects of essays from different sources a new edition of the
works, a new biography, a memoir, a collection of letters. In these essays she could feel more at ease
because she had more room and a greater perspective. Her writings about literary history show that she
preferred certain periods, such as c1assical Greece, the Elizabethan period, eighteenth century
literature, the Romantics, or nineteenth-century Russian fiction. Authors she favoured were Daniel
Defoe, James Boswell, Laurence Sterne, Jane Austen, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas De Quincey,
George Eliot, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, George Meredith, George Gissing, Henry
James, Thomas Hardy, and Joseph Conrad. They are often mentioned in her non-fictional writings.
Her vast range of reading allowed her to theorise on contemporary fiction and on issues related to literature, such as the literary market, patronage
and audience, and modem forms of literature. She also had a strong inclination towards certain themes that recur in her essays, such as essay writing
itself, painting, women's lives, biography, memoirs, and letters.
However, the scope of the essays was not limited to the literary world and many of them were
inspired by seemingly unimportant events, such as an evening drive or by more important concerns,
such as illness, laughter or reading itself. Woolf meditates about a wide rage of topics: architecture,
houses, street life, opera, travel, shops, flying, cinema, and radio, to name but a few. Some of these
topics, woman-like, banal and unimportant as they may seem, conform to her endeavour to find a mode
of expression that would encapsulate what she saw as the task of the artist: the recording of reality.
Essays such as 'Modem Fiction' (1919) or 'Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown' (1924) argue against
traditional forms of fiction writing defended by her contemporary, albeit an older, generation of writers
such as H.G. Wells (1866-1946), Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) and John Galsworthy (1867-1933) whom
she calls materialists (Norton 2000: 2149). These writers, while apparently innovative in the themes
chosen for their novels, were too closely concerned with realism and, as a consequence, left the
conventional form of fiction-writing unchanged. By a static approach to the traditional structure of fiction,
Woolf argues in 'Modern Fiction', these writers are unable to portray reality because they bypass 'life'
which, for Woolf, is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged but a luminous halo, a semitransparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end (Norton 2000:
2150). According to Woolf fiction must reflect reality by obstructing flan ordinary mind on an ordinary
day (Norton 2000: 2150). If the writer dares to do so, he or she will be confronted with the fact that
the mind receives a myriad of impressions, trivial, fantastic, evanescent or engraved with the
sharpness of steel (Norton 2000: 2150). By breaking the traditional structure of the novel, that is, by
freeing the writer from the obligation of providing a coherent plot structured in corre1ative chapters,
8

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Tales Of The City: Virginia Woolfs Modernist Geographies Of The Mind

Woolf hopes that the narrative will show the essential thing comprising the proper stuff of fiction
(Norton 2000: 2153). This is precisely what, in Woolfs view, younger writers, members of her own
generation, are doing. Commenting on James Joyce's The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man (1916)
and, particularly referring to the episodes of his Ulysses that were being published in the Little Review,
she propounds that the modem novel should be: concerned at all costs to reveal the flickering of that
innermost flame which flashes its messages through the brain (Norton 2000: 2151). In short, then, the
modem writer is interested not so much in the outside world of appearances, but in the dark places of
psychology (Norton 2000: 2152), that is in those emotions and feelings which, although difficult to
express, form as much part of reality as the straightforward world of appearances portrayed in the
realist novel.
For Woolf it is the duty of the writer to present in the novel those moments when reality cannot
be straightforwardly explained and that have thus been silenced by the traditional novel. As a
consequence, the form of the novel and the use of language must also change so as to be able to
provide the reader with that moment of intense emotion that comes when he or she perceives a flash of
significance seeming to go beyond words.
Every feeling and every thought is as much part of reality as is the outside world, and because the perception
of the outside world is mediated by the observer, the writer must experiment with words and forms, never being
afraid of breaking away from the old structure of the novel or the grammatical structure of the sentence.
In Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown, published five years later, she takes this argument further.
Arnold Bennett's assertion that there was no good novelist at the time because they were unable to
create characters that are real, true and convincing prompted one of Woolfs most famous and
intriguing statements: in or about December, 1910, human character changed (Woolf 1992: 70). The
puzzling question here is what happened in the year 1910 that was so significant as to change 'human
character'.
The most immediate historical relevance of this date, alluded to by Woolf herself in The Years
as a turning point, is the death of King Edward VII (he died in May). His death marked the end of the
Edwardian era and the beginning of the Georgian. In literary terms, and according to Woolfs essay, this
implied the end of the Edwardian narrative and the possibility of a new form of narrative, started by
Henry James and Joseph Conrad in the late nineteenth century (see Unit 1 and Unit 2), and taken up by
the younger generation, the latter termed in Woolfs essay as the Georgian writers (see Unit 3). They
included, in her view, writers such as D.H, Lawrence (see Unit 4), James Joyce, Lytton Strachey, E.M.
Forster (see Unit 2) and T.S. Eliot.
Some critics have argued that this year, 1910, saw the opening of Roger Fry's strongly criticised
exhibition of Post-Impressionist paintings, a term coined by Fry himself. The show entitled 'Manet and
The Post-Impressionists, with a follow-up exhibition two years later, introduced Czanne, Gauguin,
Signac and Van Gogh to the public in London: it also included works by such contemporary artists as
Picasso, Matisse, and Derain. The most widely criticised feature of the exhibition was the shocking
impact of the spectacular colours used in the paintings, viewed by the outraged critics as a primitivistic
and unnatural use of colour.
These exhibitions mark the defining moment of avant-garde aesthetics. Following the second exhibition Clive Bell propounded his theory of the
Significant Form which referred to the ability of a piece of art to stir our aesthetic emotions (Bell 1914: 7). Does Virginia Woolf achieve to stir our
imagination? How?
February of the same year is also significant in the personal life of Virginia Woolf because, as
Phyllis Rose has pointed out what has come to be known as the Dreadnought hoax. For this massive
practical joke Woolf, as described by Quentin Bell in his Biography of Virginia Woolf, blackened her
face, dressed in a caftan and a turban, and wore a beard and a moustache to impersonate the Emperor
of Abyssinia. Her colleagues impersonated the Emperors entourage and a delegation of British
diplomats. The group went as far as to mock-inspect H.M.S. Dreadnought, the most important warship
in the British Royal Navy of that time. They were received with honours by the Captain and crew of the
ship who, fooled by their very good impersonation, showed the party the secret areas of the ship. Cole
could not let it stop there: he alerted the press. The Daily Mirror printed the story, with a picture of the
group. Rose has argued that the event is significant beyond the amusing anecdote because it supposed
the acting out of Virginia Woolfs own rebellion against paternal authority.
The challenge to paternal authority was most subversive not only because the joke struck at one of the foundations of the patriarchal culture of war,
but also because it disestablished socially assigned sexual roles and taken-for-granted racial attitudes at a time, 1910, when suffrage movement activism
was at its peak, culminating in Black Friday when a demonstration ended in violent police repression.

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Tales Of The City: Virginia Woolfs Modernist Geographies Of The Mind

Following the argument of Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown it has to be said that Woolf was referring
to all these events at the same time, making apparent with the multiple referents combined in one single
sentence the variety of realities that are true, convincing and significant, depending on the eye of the
beholder. She now puts the stress on the different angles from which a real character can be rendered.
Introducing the character of Mrs Brown, whom she has met on a train, she demonstrated that Mrs
Brown can be treated in an infinite variety of ways, according to the age, country and temperament of
the writer (Woolf 1992: 75).
Broadly speaking, the essays by Virginia Woolf mentioned in this Unit could be divided into
those strictly dealing with literature and those dealing with what today could be termed feminist issues.
Again, it is difficult to establish a clear dividing line between these two major themes, which were, in any
case, major preoccupations for the writer. If it is true that Modern Fiction and Mr Bennett and Mrs
Brown should be seen as Modernist statements by a Modernist writer, it is no less significant to infer
that in these texts the writer shows a great interest in the relation between womens own perception of
reality and literature. On the other hand, what are already today classic feminist textbooks such as
A Room of Ones Own or Three Guineas cannot be considered without acknowledgeing Woolfs
Modernist aesthetics.
Indeed the language and the structure of A Room of Ones Own participate in those exploratory
forms ascribed by Woolf to modern fiction. In a most unconventional manner the essay begins with a
But placing an interrogation mark on the subject of women and fiction (Norton 2000: 2153), the
main theme discussed in the text, while, at the same time, it asserts the need for making problematic
those traditional views on the subject that are held as universal truths.
But in this text carries with it the awareness of the multiple layers that constitute meaning, disturbing all
those motions taken for granted about women and about fiction. Does this intriguing start stir our emotions?
By simultaneously implying doubt and assertiveness, the starting but puts the reader right from
the first page in the questioning frame of mind needed when exploring the subject of the essay. The
aim, then, of this but is to introduce the unsettling aspect of the uncertainties of language and
knowledge, and to confront the reader with the discomfiting uneasiness that comes when s(he is asked
to re-evaluate preconceived ideas.
A few lines down Woolf pushes this uneasiness further and ponders about the possible
meanings that women and fiction might have. In doing so she trespasses on another line of the
traditional conventions. She confesses that she will never be able to fulfil what is the first duty of a
lecturer (Norton 2000: 2153) because, instead of providing a nugget of pure truth to wrap up between
the pages of your notebooks and keep on the mantelpiece for ever (Norton 2000: 2153-54), she will
display a most unconventional discursive practice based on her opinion that a woman must have
money and a room of her own is she is to write fiction (Norton 2000: 2154).
This minor point triggers off a vortex of rather complex, and highly contemporary issues on gender, class,
and the writing of fiction hidden in the apparent simplicity of Woolfs style in A Room of Ones Own.
Already, the irony and witticism present in the text can be observed. The reassuring action of
jotting down some notes of pure truth from a lecture, in the way we all do when attending such an
event, is mocked by the very fact that those notes will remain for ever on the mantelpiece. Once more,
the ambiguity in Woolfs words may not pass unnoticed. If at first sight these words appear to mean that
this pure truth will indeed be preserved, it might also be the case that the notes are placed on the
mantelpiece and are never looked at again; in this latter circumstance, she is showing the pointlessness
of ever writing them. Woolfs method is redolent of the discussions she witnessed on Thursday
evening in Bloomsbury. By an expository argument of how she arrived at the conclusion about money
and a room in connection with writing and women, it is expected that the reader will actively engage in
the argument, participating intellectually, rather than simply being a mere and passive recipient of some
preconceived and opinionated assumptions. The most interesting aspect of the essay is, perhaps, its
suggestive quality, calling for as many different responses as it has readers.
There have been numerous debates about the many topics in the book. If anything can be said for certain about
A Room of Ones Own, it is that for those who search the text looking for readily available answers the essay will
be a disappointment. Instead, an exploration of the material conditions, psychological, as well as the historical
constraints encountered by women writer, is found in this work. In the process, these very same topics will also be
explored in relation to men,. How does Woolf achieve this suggestive quality?

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In order to be on a level with her audience and to allow the intellectual rhapsody to take place,
Woolf puts into practice a device that constituted another breaking of the conventions on essay writing.
In The Modern Essay she argued that: Almost all essays begin with a capital I (Woolf 1992: 6). The
authoritative quality given to this I of the expert impedes any communication: instead, it precipitates a
drowsy hedonism where the reader is a mesmerised sleeper for the duration of the text. In A Room of
Ones Own this I is totally abandoned and its identity demystified. In the text Woolf refuses to use the
traditional phallocentric discourse by criticising the narcissistic I in mens writing:
But I am bored!... Because of the dominance of the letter I and the aridity, which, like
the giant beech tree, it casts within its shade. Nothing will grow there.
(Norton 2000: 2206)
The phallic shadow prevents the text from providing pleasure to the I that is bored and that is,
as we are told in the opening lines of A Room of Ones Own, only a convenient term for somebody
who has no real being (Norton 2000: 2154). On a deeper level the I who has no real existence is not
portrayed as a celebratory I as some critics have claimed to see in it the determination on formation of
a womens society. The I who has no real existence is an inquiring I trying to solve the enigma of the
true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction (Norton 2000: 2154). The inclusion of a different I
in the discourse challenges the notion of the unified homogeneous identity held by patriarchal
discourse. Precisely by confronting the I (who bores me) with an I that (as yet) has no real existence
(Norton 2000: 2154) the very notion of identity is displaced.
Woolfs argumentative process is not a vindication of the formation of a womens society that would function
outside the social realm in which she is arguing. Rather, she attempts to redesign the I at present caged within
patriarchal discourse, the I she perceives as an impediment for communication and hence for artistic production.
How does this principle work?
It is important at this point to highlight the fact that Woolf starts challenging a monolithic notion
of identity precisely by posing, right from the beginning of her essay, the question of the possibility of an
unknown I. The statement of the existence of this unknown I is given within a textual context in
which I seems obsessively present. In the opening lines of A Room of Ones Own, I is scattered in
sentences and intermingled with other pronouns such as you and they. Suddenly, when the meaning
of the title women and fiction is being pondered, the rhythm is changed, by the appearance of a series
of sentences containing solely the first person singular pronoun:

But when I began to consider the subject in this last way, which seemed
he most interesting, I soon saw that it had one fatal drawback. I should never be
able to come to a conclusion. I should never be able to fulfil what is, I
understand, the first duty of a lecturer.
(Norton 2000: 2153, emphasis added)
This use of the pronoun reaches its peak in a single sentence where it appears three times: I
am going to do what I can to show you how I arrived at this opinion about the room and the money
(Norton 2000: 2154, emphasis added). The reader is surprised when, once caught up in a web formed
by the pronoun 'I', the narrative states that this 'I' 'has no real existence'.
This technique works in two ways. First, it prepares the reader to be able to sense the
claustrophobic presence of the I whose shadow impedes growth. Second, it marks the textual tension
emerging when the traditional texture of essay writing is about to be torn apart, by Woolfs introducing a
fictional account into the text. When this new emergent 'I' burst forth in the text Woolfs voice
disappears: Here then was I (call me Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael or by any name you
please it is not a matter of importance) (Norton 2000: 2154) and the new subjectivity drifts into a
fictitious world: what I am about to describe has no existence; Oxbridge is an invention; so is
Fernham (Norton 2000: 2154).
By diminishing the importance of the name of the narrator 'I', Woolf is minimising the importance
of an authoritarian voice in the text. Yet, at the same time, she insists upon a name, 'Mary Beton, Mary
Seton, Mary Carmichael' resolved by the end of the essay into Mary Beton (Norton 2000: 2209).
Precisely at this point of naming, the reader understands that the textual voice is that of a woman, a vital
piece of information in the subsequent development of Woolfs argument.
Moreover, Woolf is attempting to assemble an identity other than the one allocated to women by
patriarchal society. In this context, it is not by chance that the name of that I is Mary. In Western
Christian culture the name Mary is immediately associated with the Virgin. This name, repeated three

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times (Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael), marks the point of departure for Woolfs examination
of female identity and the production of writing. As is already known, the appearance of the Virgin in the
literature of the Middle Ages, particularly in the Romance period, meant the idealisation of women in a
process where women's voices were silent and their attributes reduced to those of selfless nurturers
and inspirers of men. Apparently insignificant, the allusion to the figure of the Virgin through the motif of
the narrator's name is, therefore, of great importance. It is, indeed, a fundamental point entirely devoted
to unsettling the Establishment, represented in the text by the male audience hiding behind the curtains.

In this manner the subtle game Woolf is about to play starts. As can be inferred from what has been said so far, the text constantly
asks for the participation of the reader, counting on his or her awareness of and alel1ness to the snares of language, along with the
dangers of preconceived notions about the world, and taken-for-granted beliefs and truths. It could be said that Woolf is the first advocate
for the 'reader-response' theory in her desire to establish a shared, common ground for communication between reader and writer.
A Room of Ones Own was the final version of two lecturers delivered by the writer at the female
Oxford colleges of Newnham and Girton in October 1928. In the course of six sections and using, as
has been already discussed, a novelistic approach, she covered the topics she understands: the subject
of women and fiction. Once her hypothesis about the money and the room in each of the sections has
been stated, Woolf analyses topics such as the contrast between male and female writing, university
colleges and the banning of women from public spaces in section one; the effect of poverty on the
writing of fiction, or anger in men and its effect on artistic production in section two; the obvious but
previously unstudied womens exclusion from history in contrast with the obsessive presence of women
in fiction written by men, is analysed in section three.
Here, she introduces a fictional character who serves as an example to speculate about neveracknowledged women writers. The story of Judith Shakespeare also allows the writer to ponder about
the relationship between gender and genius, thus prompting the main line of thought for the following
section. Genius needs material conditions and social recognition; most importantly, though, genius
needs a tradition from which to learn the craft and to master it. Woolf traces in section four, a womans
literary tradition and is confronted with the fact that it is not an easy task. Again anger comes to the
foreground when she analyses its detrimental effect in her criticism of Charlotte Bront who had more
genius than Jane Austen but whose rage made her writing deformed and twisted (Norton 2000:
2190). Because Jane Austen was able to sustain an artistic integrity by freeing herself from this anger,
Woolf compares her genius as an artist to that of Shakespeare (Norton 2000: 2189).
It strikes the reader in this section that most of the women writers from the sixteenth to the
nineteenth century mentioned by Woolf were in one way or another eccentrics, in the literal sense of the
world. This section also suggests that the genres are gendered and that the novel is young enough as
to allow the voices of women to be inscribed in it. The arrival of the professional woman writer, the
woman who self-consciously thought of herself as a writer and who wittingly (if sometimes very
tentatively) entered the public domain of cultural production through publication for payment (Aphra
Behn was the first) marked a turning point in womens literary history: Thus, towards the end of the
eighteenth century a change came about which, if I were rewriting history, I should think of greater
importance than the Crusades or the Wars of the Roses. The middle-class woman began to write
(Norton 2000: 2188).
In the next chapter Woolfs quest is to find a position in language suitable for women, one that
allows them to express what Woolf sees as their different artistic creativity:
If Chloe likes Olivia and Mary Carmichael knows how to express it she will
light a torch in that vast chamber where nobody has yet been.
(Norton 2000: 2198)
In order to write this experience Mary Carmichael will have to find a language that has never
been used before. The quotation above seems to imply that the position in language for which Woolf is
searching is a lesbian one, an inference reinforced by her reference to Sir Chartres Biron, presiding
over Radclyffe Halls trial for her lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness. Yet the interesting point here is
that Mary Carmichael will be breaking the silence of history. Woolf points out that the structure of
language, as transpires in some books, has served men out of their own needs for their own uses.

Women, as Woolf asserts in Women and Fiction (1929), should twist the shape of the sentence and the structure of
language. Language ought to serve the woman writer to express her thought without crushing or distorting it (Woolf 1979:
48). This is the tenement of Virginia Woolfs modernist aesthetics.
However, language cannot just be invented. Time and experimentation are needed. It is also
important to refer to a network of writers who might have experienced the same needs and noticed the
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same flaws in language. In this respect, tradition is a prerequisite, so that any current generation of
writers may learn from their predecessors and also become a source of knowledge for further
generations. As Woolf stated in a letter to the editor of the New Statesman, the presence of a tradition
was fundamental for Shakespeares writing:

The conditions which made it possible for a Shakespeare to exist are


that he shall have had predecessors in his art, shall make one of a group where
art is freely discussed and practised, and shall himself have the utmost freedom
of action and experience.
(The New Statesman, October 16, 1920)
These conditions, according to Woolf, coincided for women writers in Sappho's Lesbos and then
never again. Since women writers' encounter with language is difficult, and language is perceived as
deficient when trying to express an experience felt as different, it is useless to go to the great men
writers for help.

Women need a tradition of their own to turn to when approaching the task of writing. Woolf exhorts women to think back through our
mothers. Women need to be able to express experience as a woman. Women need to be able to express experience as a woman. A
Room of Ones Own is the first attempt in English literature to establish this tradition.
Woolf believes that women's writing is essentially different from men's writing. Having said this,
to state what is specific to women's writing and how women achieve this type of writing poses a problem
for her. As she herself argues:

A woman's writing is always feminine; it cannot help being feminine; at its best
it is most feminine: the only difficulty lies in defining what we mean by feminine.
(TLS 17 October, 1918. Reprinted 17 October, 1968)
In the context of these words her apparently contradictory warning, It is fatal for anyone who
writes to think of their sex. It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple (Woolf 1979: 48), becomes
significant. Seemingly, Woolf is hesitant about her conviction relating to the differences between
women's and mens writing. She is aware of the dangers of such a postulate, which can tacitly imply a
sense of biological determinism. She perceives that patriarchy has used biologically determined
theories to defend and to justify the ideological superiority of men over women. For this reason she
places great emphasis on rejecting determinism. By questioning the meaning of feminine she is hinting
at the possibly at the possibly that, in fact, femininity might be a matter of representation.
Woolf encourages women to write because it is only by writing that a new economy of
representation other than that made through the repression of the feminine can be developed. Womens
representation, if achieved unconsciously, will escape the economy of sameness that forms the
foundations of patriarchal writing.
One of the most outstanding and shocking ideas Woolf presents in A Room of Ones Own is
found in the last chapter when she says that the ideal state of mind in which to produce art is an
androgynous one:
If one is a man, still the woman part of his brain must have effect; and a woman
also must have intercourse with the man in her Perhaps a mind that is purely
masculine cannot create, any more than a mind that is purely feminine.
(Norton 2000: 2205)
Woolfs account of the androgynous mind repudiates the idea of rejecting the feminine, since it
is important to the relationship between women and fiction that androgyny be proposed as the ideal
state of mind in which to produce art. Furthermore, she explicitly expresses her fear that androgyny can,
eventually, be equated to man, as is the case wit Freuds theory of bisexuality. In this sense she states
It would be a thousand pities if women wrote like men, or lived like men, or looked like men (Norton
2000: 2200).

Women androgyny does not come from a desire to be a man. Woolfs androgyny is a claim for further knowledge. The most unsettling
aspect of Woolfs androgynous ideal from a patriarchal perspective is the acknowledgement of the two different sexes it conveys. What
differences will the androgynous mind bring to the text?
If the artists aim is to portray she cannot afford to ignore the various perspectives from which
this reality can be observed. The artist, rather than restricting herself to one sex, should through a state
of mind that is androgynous enhance her knowledge:

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Ought not education to bring out and fortify the differences rather than the similarities?
For we have too much likeness as it is, and if an explorer should come back and bring word of
other sexes looking through the branches of other trees at other skies, nothing would be of
greater service to humanity.
(Norton 2000: 2200)
The androgynous mind has as its central and most revolutionary declaration the avowal of a
form of writing that will be unconsciously feminine. Such a form of writing will create a text characterised
by a suggestive quality. The number of critical readings inspired by A Room of Ones Own accounts for
its unique quality. Both the structure of Woolfs essay and the distinctive uses of language it displays
suppose a breakthrough. As Showalter argues, though for different reasons, the text is executed
through repetition, exaggeration, parody, whimsy, and multiple viewpoint (Showalter 1978: 282).
Woolfs use of language far from being a fault, as Showalter claims, enhances precisely the subversive
quality of the essay. Through her experimentation with language Woolf is searching for a form of writing
capable of encompassing the real world when it is perceived from different angles.

2.2. Mrs. Dalloway and the Womans Sentence


Mr Dalloway was published in 1925 and received much critical acclaim; it has now become a
classic. As a novel it broke with the pattern of the novel established at that time. It is a different novel in
themes, style and method of writing, an exploration in new techniques, shifting continuously from one
character to another, from past to present, from one subject matter to a different one.
However, and as you may have realised, the plot of Mrs Dalloway is quite simple: one day in
June in London, Clarissa Dalloway is planning a party for the evening; Peter Walsh, her old suitor,
returns to England after five years in India; at the end of the day, Sally Seton, another old friend, shows
up unexpectedly at the party; the ex-soldier Septimus Warren Smith kills himself.

The plot is revealed not by a narrator, nor by a main character, but by several individual consciousnesses; it is as if WooIf did not want
to settle down to a specific line of narration but just wanted to fly over the characters, giving clues for the reader to guess what is going on.
She shows the reader reality from many different perspectives. How is the story constructed?
When a character starts thinking about one issue, he or she does not finish with it completely,
but it is forgotten and continued in the thoughts of another character. This happens frequently, for
example, with the remembrances of the summer that seems to be the most important moment in the
lives of Mrs Dalloway, Peter Walsh, and Sally.
Virginia Woolf designed, for this novel, universal characters as can be seen when she locates
them in the streets and parks of London. On the other hand, they are neither plain characters nor
heroes nor heroines; they are types: the housewife, the madman, the politician, the doctor, etc.
Furthermore, one of the main features in their presentation is that all through the book they Are
frequently split between at least two times or two places and always questioning their ability to know
one another or themselves (Bowlby 1988: 127).
They are also the alibi to present 'reality' through very different individual consciousnesses. One
of the linking characters in this 'web' is Sir William Bradshaw, a friend of the Dalloways and also
Septimus's doctor. This metaphorical 'web' is made up of invisible threads that connect all of those
characters, otherwise unconnected (literally and figuratively), into a common circle of experience,
regardless of their class. There are several examples of how the invisible threads join but, probably, the
clearest example occurs at the end. Here, Clarissa Dalloway hears at the party about Septimus's
madness and death, and she notices that she feels 'like him'. This suggests an alignment between
these two characters through a moment of epiphany. At this moment Clarissa stands side-by-side with
Septimus; this is just what Woolf wanted to communicate when she started the novel. As she wrote in
her diary:
14 October 1922 Mrs Dalloway has branched into a book; and I adumbrate
here a study of insanity and suicide; the world seen by the sane and the insane
side by side- something like that. Septimus Smith? is that a good name?
(from A Writer's Diary)

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Woolf wrote Mrs Dalloway has branched into a book because she had written before about
Mr and Mrs Dalloway, and about Clarissa in particular in some short stories (the first was entitled 'Mrs
Dalloway in Bond Street', published in 1923) and in the novel, The Voyage Out, where Clarissa appears
as a minor character. In previous writings Woolf had presented the couple in a harsher light than she did
in Mrs Dalloway. Similarly Richard Dalloway had appeared as a domineering and pompous personality
and Clarissa as dependent and superficial. But while these character's characteristics remain in Mrs
Dalloway, the two generally appear much more reasonable and likeable.
When one first takes the book and reads the title Mrs Dalloway, one may assume that the story
will be about the life of Clarissa Dalloway, as happens for example, in Jane Eyre, where the title
corresponds exactly to the plot of the novel. But in this case, our expectations are unfulfilled.

In fact the reader questions why this title and not others such as 'the party' or 'one day in the life of London' or 'Peter Walsh', or The
Hours, the title she actually gave to it whilst writing the novel. Why did she change the title from The Hours to Mrs Dalloway before
publication?
It might be an irony, a device Virginia Woolf uses to break the traditional pattern. It might also be
that the writer provides a clue for the understanding of the novel, because Clarissa is the character who
links all the ideas she wanted to convey and is the one who closes the narrative circle. As Woolf
commented in her diary: In this book I have almost too many ideas.
Irony is also used when criticising the social system, as she uses irony as a way to keep her
anger out of the narration. Barret writes that in Mrs Dalloway: Feminist issues are usually raised in an
oblique manner. They arise through conversation, through characterization, and are frequently
presented with humour and irony (Barret 1987: 24). It is noticeable, for instance, how Virginia Woolf
prevents herself from getting angry. Instead it is the character of Sally who suddenly lost her temper,
flared up and told Hugh that he represented all that was most detestable in British in middle-class life.
She told him she considered him responsible for the state of 'those poor girls in Piccadilly' Hugh, the
perfect gentleman, poor Hugh! (Woolf 1976: 80). This technique allows her to criticise society without
interrupting the narration, in contrast, for example, to lane Eyre, where the narration is suddenly
interrupted by a long feminist discourse.
The framework of the novel could be placed in what Julia Kristeva has called 'linear (historical)
time': one day in the life of London, in the life of several people, the day Clarissa Dalloway is going to
give a party. The hours pass one after the other. Big Ben strikes one hour after the other. The words
come in a sequence. But coexisting with this linear time, other times can be identified, what Kristeva
calls 'woman's time', made up of cyclical time and eternal time. During that day in June 1923, another
day of the past is constantly being re-lived by some of the characters (Clarissa, Sally and Peter
remember a summer of their youth, Septimus the death of Evans, his comrade, during the war). Cyclical
time occurs when the past is repeated continuously, made 'present' all along the day.
Another beautiful example of the 'invisible thread' also connecting the use of time and
consciousness remains in the importance attached to event like the appearance of a car, an aeroplane
writing in the sky, or the sound of an ambulance: all these and other elements are presented repeatedly,
cyclically, through different individual consciousnesses.
On the other hand, the death of Septimus is not an end in itself; in a way he is present in the
party, so he has not died. He has not finished, but he seems to be eternalised by the very fact that his
situation is told at the party and Mrs Dalloway internalises his death. He has entered into monumental
time, or as Clarissa thinks during the epiphanic ending:

Death was defiance. Death was an attempt to communicate, people feeling the
impossibility of reaching the centre which, mystically, evaded them; closeness drew apart;
rapture faded; one was alone. There was an embrace in death.
(Woolf 1976: 196)
Woolf in Mrs Dalloway shows interest in what is one of the features of Modernism: the
experimentation with temporality.

In Mrs Dalloway are found all of the features of Modernism: the use of stream of consciousness techniques, fluid characterisations and
explorations of subjectivity, as well as the depiction of aspects of modernity: the centrality of the city as metropolis and an uneasy
awareness of 'historically'. What effects have these techniques on the narrative?

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Tales Of The City: Virginia Woolfs Modernist Geographies Of The Mind

The setting is a warm day in June 1923, and this technique echoes Joyce's Blooms day (which,
in Ulysses, was 16 June 1922). However, Woolf goes beyond Ulysses in that she records the thoughts
and remembrances of a number of consciousness: those of Septimus, Lucrezia, Clarissa, Miss Kilman,
Elizabeth, Peter and Sally among others (whilst Joyce focused primarily on Leopold Bloom's
consciousness).
Hillis Miller in 'Mrs Dalloway: Repetition as the Raising of the Dead' (1982) shows the new and
complex means and methods used by Woolf in her narrative. Repetition and the function of the
omniscient narrator are the significant aspects of this type of narrative. The omniscient narrator can
move from mind to mind and relate to the reader the thoughts and feelings of any character. Time, as
we saw above, is used in a unique manner: the narrator relating the story after the event has happened
using the present tense: Which moves forward toward the future by way of a recapitulation or repetition
of the past (Miller 1982: 170). This repetition is achieved by relating first the mind of one character and
then the mind of another. In addition, one character can relate what heIshe thinks to what another
character is thinking.
According to Millet, there comes at this point a general mind, unity as evidenced in common
images throughout the narrative (Miller 1982: 173). As a mode of transportation from one mind to
another, Woolf uses external objects for example, the aeroplane writing a brand name, Kreemo, in the
sky as a man of transition (Miller, 172). By repetition events from the past that are brought up in many
minds, as was for example, the summer when Clarissa met Richard Dalloway (remembered by Sally,
Peter, Richard and Clarissa met Richard Dalloway (remembered by Sally, Peter, Richard and Clarissa),
Woolf permits her narrator to remove, according to Miller, the usual boundaries between mind and
world (Miller 1982: 169).

By going deeply into each mind, there is a point when the mind of one character and the minds of all
character and the minds of all characters become one. Why is Woolf so interested in the minds of the
characters?
There are several reasons why Woolf wanted the reader to enter peoples consciousnesses. It
was firstly because she wanted to demonstrate that a myriad of events, some apparently meaningless,
can actually affect peoples lives tremendously. Secondly it was because, as did Joyce in Ulysses, she
wanted to portray as closely as possible the workings of the mind thorough a minute description of how
the characters think about their world and not, as in the traditional novel, through an edited, thematic
and coherent version or reality. As Woolf wrote to painter Jacques Raverat, it is precisely the task of
the writer to go beyond the formal railway line of sentence and to show how people feel or think or
dream all over the place.

Once the minute description of the workings of the mind is written, it is the task of the reader to decide what is important and what is
unimportant, and thus not the task of the writer to narrate only that that is important. An example of this is again the Kreemo episode
when the reader may asl is the writing in the sky important? Is it a metaphor? Is it merely trivial? This is left to the reader to decide.
Finally, Woolf wanted the reader to enter people's consciousnesses so that the reader might get
a sense of what madness feels like: the unrelated thoughts are very much like the unrelated thoughts
'normal' people think all the time, so remarking the fact that the dividing line between madness and
normality is quite fine. For all these reasons Woolf wrote Mrs Dalloway as an experimental exercise of
what was, for her as discussed above, the task of the writer, to narrate reality as the mind perceived it,
and not as the conventions of fiction required.
These, then, are the reasons for such writing. But how is it achieved? It is not an easy task for
the writer, as the recording of the workings of the mind may produce a very slow, even boring, text. The
technique receives many names and there are different variations, such as stream of consciousness
and interior monologue. According to David Lodge (1992) there are two staple techniques for
representing consciousness in prose fiction:

One is interior monologue, in which the grammatical subject of the discourse is


an 'I', and we, as it were, overhear the character verbalising his or her thoughts as they
occur: The other method, called 'free indirect style' (...) renders thought as reported
speech (in the third person, past tense) but keeps to the kind of vocabulary that is
appropriate to the character, and deletes some of the lags, like 'she thought', 'she
wondered', 'she asked herself etc. that a more formal narrative style would require. This
gives the illusion of intimate access to a character's mind, but without totally
surrendering authorial participation in the discourse.
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(Lodge 1992: 43)


Woolf chooses the latter, and what Lodge calls 'authorial participation in the discourse' refers to
the traditional omniscient narrator mentioned by Miller above. Lodge is saying that in the case of the
interior monologue, what happens is that the reader feels as if there were some kind of headphone
plugged into the character's mind: what we hear is thus the first person narrator. In the case of Woolf. or
of the 'free indirect style', what happens is that there is a narrator conveying these thoughts for the
reader, but acting almost as if the narrator were not there.
Woolf called her technique the 'tunnelling process' by which she created 'caves' behind her
characters, not only caves of events, but caves that also contained the character's fears, memories,
dreams, and fantasies. She then proceeded to dig connections between the different characters'
respective caves in order to show how we relate to each other as human beings. Remember that The
Hours later became Mrs Dalloway:

30 August 1923 I have no time to describe my plans. I should say a good deal about The
Hours, and my discovery: how I dig out beautiful caves behind my characters: I think that gives
exactly what I want; humanity, humour, depth. The idea is that the caves shall connect and each
come to daylight at the present moment.
15 October 1923 It took me a year's groping to discover what I call my tunnelling process,
by which I tell the past by instalments, as I have need of it. This is my prime discovery so far.
(from A Writer's Diary)
If it took her a year to search for the appropriate technique, it took her two further years to put it into practice in Mrs Dalloway. As you
can see Woolf appears in this way both as a literary critic, which she was, and a very prominent one for, as already mentioned, T.S. Eliot
said of her she was the centre of the literary life of London (Barret 1979: 2) and as a writer who experiments and then practises her
theories on writing. What does Virginia Woolf want to explore in the novel?
The theme of insanity was close to Woolfs past and present. She was plagued by manicdepressive illness and she suffered nervous breakdowns throughout her life. Suicide had often occupied
her mind. In 1944 she committed suicide, leaving a note explaining that she no longer wanted to live.
Woolf originally planned lo have Clarissa die or commit suicide at the end of the novel, yet finally
decided that she did not want this ending for Clarissa. By the end of the novel, however, Clarissa is so
close to Septimus that in a way she dies with him, for these two characters have been connected
throughout the novel.
The world of madness is clearly represented by Septimus, the distinguished soldier, slowly
being killed by the lingering effects of the war: he is suffering from what was later known as shell-shock
syndrome, an illness that affected many First World War veterans. Shell-shock syndrome produced in
its sufferers insistent, almost real-life, memories of the warm and a total loss of feeling. Septimus feels
he is living in an ongoing war and feels guilt for having sun hoed it when so many have died. Moreover,
he worries that the war taught him not to care when his superior officer, Evans, was killed. He wants
to die too. As with many other First World War veterans, Septimus, a 'winner' and 'survivor' of the war,
enjoys none of its benefits. His Italian wife, Lucrezia, is miserable with his madness and the doctors, Dr
Holmes and Sir William Bradshaw, in a very critical portrait of those that Woolf herself had known, are
unhelpful.
Paralleling the life of Septimus is that of Clarissa, a rich housewife (her husband Richard
Dalloway is a moderately successful MP) and the web of people that surrounds her: her friends Peter
Walsh and Sally Seton (who attends the party now as a married woman, Lady Rosseter), Clarissa's
daughter Elizabeth, Miss Kilman, who is Elizabeth's teacher, and acquaintances such as Lady Bruton
and Sir William Bradshaw. Clarissa tries to keep thoughts of death at bay by focusing on her party. She
spends all day thinking about the past, about her old suitor Peter (who became so discouraged by
Clarissa's refusal to marry him that he travelled widely, recently having settled in India and in an affair
with a married woman) and her best friend Sally (who kissed her on the mouth in what is now a classic
passage of lesbian avowal). After many years all three meet at the party and they have the time to go
over the choices they have made in life.

Again, as was the case of Septimus, Clarissa appears to be a privileged, wealthy woman, yet she enjoys none of the personal security
and satisfaction that her social position appears to bestow.
The greatest fear, however, is the atrophy of the heart, such as that shown by Sir William
Bradshaw, who makes it his job to make sure these unsocial impulses... are held in control In order
to achieve this he secluded the lunatics and forbade them from having children. Sir William lightly brings

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the news of Septimus suicide to Clarissa's party, bridging these two and connecting them through
death. This is precisely what Woolf wanted to convey with her novel: the world of the 'sane' and the
'insane' side by side, in order to show that the dividing line between the two worlds is very fine:
19 June 1923 I want to give life and death, sanity and insanity; I want to criticize the social
system, and to show it at work at its most intense () Am I writing The Hours from deep emotion?
Of course the mad part tries me so much, makes my mind squirt so badly that I can hardly face
spending the next weeks at it But to get further. Have I the power of conveying the true reality?
(from A Writer's Diary)
I want to give life and death, sanity and insanity. This is achieved, as has been argued
throughout, through the alignment of Clarissa with Septimus. This phrase is immediately followed by the
words I want to criticize the social system and to show it at work at its most intense, a reference to
the post-war trauma of English people who, five years after the war, were still discouraged and plagued
by doubt and the memory of the destruction of an entire generation. As Peter Walsh, an outsider,
reflects: Those five years, 1918 to 1923 had been, he suspected, somehow very important. People
looked different. Newspapers seemed different and morals and manners had changed. Even the
language is beginning to die: Clarissa says young people could not talk... The enormous resources of
the English language, the power it bestows, after all, of communicating feelings was not for them.
They would solidify young.

If the past is skilfully presented, so is the past's traumatic history powerfully connected to the present time.
This criticism of the social system also denounces the existence of new legislation that wants to
do away with all those that do not comply with the 'norm'. Political issues are embedded within the
narrative: emigration, imperialism, government party struggles. Septimus is destroyed by the realities of
the war, while society in general is in denial of the repercussions. Lady Brutton's proposal of forcing
surplus women (so many men having been killed in war there was an unusual number of women:
spinsters, as they were dismissively called at the time, and widows) to emigrate and to populate the
colonies, are presented as cruel and satirised. The political proposal of Sir William Bradshaw, who turns
Septimus into a case to be transformed into a provision in a Bill, is presented merely as dangerous.
One would think that in order to critize the social system Woolf would have wanted serenity
and distance, yet next question is Am I writing The Hours [Mrs Dalloway] from deep emotion? This is
so because Woolf believed that, in order to convey reality she needed to write from her body and from
her mind, to write against the heart. This is why there is so much pain in the following sentence of the
quotation: Of course the mad part tries me so much, makes my mind squirt so badly that I can hardly
face spending the next weeks at it. The pain of recollection was too strong, Woolf suffered a serious
breakdown after writing the novel because emotionally she had invested too much in it: indeed Leonard
Woolf, her husband, and close friends compared her periods of insanity to a manic depression quite
similar to the episodes experienced by Septimus.
Many critics describe Septimus as Clarissas Doppelganger, that is, the alternate persona, a
darker, more internal personality compared to Clarissa's very social and singular outlook. Woolfs use of
the Doppelganger, Septimus, portrays a side to Clarissas personality that becomes absorbed by fear
and broken down by society as well as a side of society that has failed to survive the War.

The doubling portrays the polarity of the self and exposes the positive-negative relationship inherent in humanity. It also illustrates
the opposite phases of the idea of life. What is the reason behind this doubling?
The critic Deborah Guth believes that Clarissa achieves a final vision through three prominent
frameworks: the romantic, the pagan, and the Christian (Guth 1990: 36). Through these frameworks
Clarissas character is able to evolve through her imaginative devices. She can substitute herself for
Septimus death without actually being a victim. Clarissas use of imaginative self-evasion (Guth
1990: 41) keeps her from actually having to confront the reality of Septimus madness because she
does not allow him to enter her life on a personal level. Similarly, the critic Suzette Henke compares
Clarissa's party to a communion similar to the Catholic Mass, culminating in a celebration of life.
Septimus' suicide is likened to a sacrifice that is offered, bringing a renewed sense of lifes value. Henke
notes the use of contrast within the text: the satirical and the tragic; political power and artistic
creativeness; death and life; evil and good; public demands and individual preservation; patriarchal
dominance and maternal love; homosexuality and androgyny; possessiveness and privacy. Henke
claims that Mrs Dalloway offers a scathing indictment of the British class system and a strong critique
of patriarchy (Guth 1990: 125).

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The novel's closing scene draws together its main arguments, as Clarissa withdraws from the
party to think about the death of a former soldier she has never met, but with whom she feels an affinity:
A thing there was that mattered; a thing, wreathed about with chatter, defaced, obscured in her own
life, let drop every day in corruption, lies, chatter: This he had preserved.

3. ACTIVITIES
3. 1. Test yourself
1. What are the main aspects of the modernist aesthetics?
2. How do women contribute to these aesthetics?
3. Is Virginia Woolf modernist in her essay writing?
4. Briefly explain the importance of the Bloomsbury Group in Virginia Woolfs
modernism.
5. What aspects of Virginia Woolfs background are important for her literature?
6. What is the importance of tradition for the modernist woman writer?
7. What is the role of London in Mrs Dalloway?
8. How are characters linked in Mrs Dalloway?
9. What is the relationship between Septimus and Clarissa in Mrs Dalloway?
3.2. Overview questions
1. Explain the importance of the fictional character of Judith Shakespeare in A Room
of Ones Own.
2. Find examples in Mrs Dalloway of how 'the invisible thread' links characters of the
novel otherwise unconnected.
3. Define 'stream of consciousness'. Give your own examples from the text to
illustrate your answer.

3.3. Explore
1. Read the following extract from A Room of One's Own and answer the questions
below:
The title women and fiction might mean, and you might meant it to mean, women and what
they are like, or it might mean women and the fiction that they write; or it might mean women and the
fiction that is written about them; or it might that somehow all three are inextricably mixed together and
you want me to consider them in that light.
a) Try to locate the chapter to which this quotation belongs so that you can put it in
context.
b) Briefly explain how Woolf approaches the subject in the text, taking into account
the main themes of the different sections into which the text is divided.
c) What is the relation between money, the space intended by Woolf, and fictional
writing?
d) Are there any other important constraints that prevent women from freely
approaching the art of fiction?
2. Read the first four lines of Mrs Dalloway and analyse the type of narrator(s) in the
novel. Use these four sentences to explain Woolfs narrative technique.
3. Read the following extract from Charlotte Bronte's novel Shirley, published in
1849, and then answer the questions below:

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Tales Of The City: Virginia Woolfs Modernist Geographies Of The Mind

If men could see us as we really are, they would be a little amazed; but the cleverest, the
acutest men are often under an illusion about women: they do nor read them in a true light: they
misapprehend them, both for good and evil: their good woman is a queer thing, half doll, half
angel: their bad woman almost always a fiend.
a) Would you say that in view of these words Woolf found in Charlotte Bront that
much-needed literary ancestor?
b) How do you relate Bronte's words with Woolfs works?

3.4. Key terms


- Ambiguity
- Class
- Doppelganger
- Experimentalism
- Fragmentation
- Gender
- Genre
- High art
- Interior monologue
- Low art
- Modernism
- Race
- Se1f-renexiveness

4. BIBLIOGRAPHY
ABEL. Elizabeth. 1983. Narrative Structure(s) and Female Development: The Case of Mrs Dalloway, The
Voyage In: Fictions of Female Development. Eds. Elizabeth
ABEL, Marianne HIRSCH and Elizabeth LANGLAND. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 161-85.
BARRET, Michle (ed.). 1979. Virginia Woolf on Women and Writing. London: The Women's Press.
BEER, Gillian. 1996. Virginia Woolf: The Common Ground. Essays by Gillian Beer. Edinburgh: Edinburgh
University Press.
BEKER, Mirslav. 1972. 'London as a Principle of Structure in Mrs Dalloway.' Modern Fiction Studies 18: 375-85.
BOWLBY, Rachel 1988. Virginia Woolf. Feminist Destinations. Oxford. Basil Blackwell.
GAM8RELL, Alice. 1997. Women Intellectuals, Modernism, and Difference: Transatlantic Culture (1919-1945).
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
GRIFFIN, Gabrielle (ed.). 1994, Difference in View: Women and Modernism. London and New York: Taylor and
Francis.
GUTH, Deborah. 'Rituals of Self-Deception: Clarissa Dalloways Final Moment of Vision. Twentieth Century
Literature: A Scholarly and Critical Journal 36: 1 (1990): 35-42.
JENSEN, Emily. 1983. 'Clarissa Dalloway's Respectable Suicide: Virginia Woolf: A Feminist Slant. Ed. Jane
MARCUS. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. 162-179.
LEE, Hermione. 1996. Virginia Woolf. London: Chatto & Windus.
MILLER, J. Hillis. 1986. 'Mrs Dalloway: Repetition as the Raising of the Dead.' Fiction and Repetition: Seven
English Novels. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982.
MINOW-PINKEY, Makiko. 1987. Virginia Woolf and the Problem of the Subject: Feminine Writing in the Major
Novels. Sussex: The Harvester Press.
MOI, Toril. 1985. Sexual Textual Politics. Feminist Literary Theory. London. Routledge.
ROE, Sue. and Susan SELLERS (ed.). 2000. The Cambridge Companion to Virginia Woolf. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
WANG, Ban. 1992. I on the Run: Crisis of Identity in Mrs Dalloway.' Modem Fiction Studies 38: 17791.

Web sites
- Virginia Woolf Web: Part of the Orlando Project. Provides reliable information and links to most of
Virginia Woolfs web pages
http://orlando.jp.org/vww/

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- Women's history: British Women Novelists 1910s-1960s


http://homepages.primex.co.uk/-lesleyah/wmwrtrs.htm

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