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Title: Virginia Woolf's drama : her search for form
Author: Stewart, James C. Q.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1990
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Virginia Woolf's essays on the actresses Sarah Bernhardt and Rachel Felix, reveal her excitement over the ways in which these women's art resembled her own writerly situation. They transvalued their sex's conventional enforced spectatorship, into public metaphor which could criticise the role-playing endemic in their society, doing so by taking up an even more personal possession of the social obligation incumbent on women to 'act'. Woolf's own subversive retreat into a notable objectivity of vision results in vivid caricature and acute satire. But it also affords her a breadth of outlook which is panoramic. This vantage - from which she sees facts both comic and pathetic more or less as pure spectacle - transforms her outlook in the direction of tragicomedy, at the same time accentuating her scenic sense and her ear for token dialogue, her eye for gestural revelation, and her sensitivity to dramatic value. Her tragicomic (or, in her own terms, 'humorous') perception of character and of situation, leads to an inchoate search for significant form, which emerges into ever clearer technical awareness. Formally, she wishes to incorporate dramatic modes into the novel. There are various practical effects. Her active lyricism is a dramatic epiphenomenon; and her narrativity, often spectacular, offers deictic experience to non-passive readers. As part of her enterprise, she must define herself against James's attitude to his audience, Conrad's feeling about action, Wagner's control over the Gesamtkunstwer and the Renaissance drama's sheer noise. Especially during the thirties, Woolf must negotiate fictions which court, but do not appease, an audience with, in that partisan decade, its prejudices about 'action'. She discovers, during the twenties, how to preserve her own and the audience's privacy as proof against melodrama by redefining the notional solitude of Marvell, just as, earlier, she faults those other solitaries, Emerson and Thoreau, for lack of social sense. Woolf's expressivity is also a pre-intentional tendency to verbal play, sometimes surfacing as marked punning in her experimental work. Language itself puts on an act as surface, much as the drama deploys exteriors. Strategically and lexically, Woolf stages her fictions as productions of her existential and gender situation. This gives them their metaphoric status, which some see as artistic passivity, and others as surrogate activism.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available