Fiction and Inner Life: Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway
Can words describe what Virginia Woolf calls “the daily drama of the body”? Can literature verbalize our interiority: physical and spiritual change, the home, the mind, and the relationships between them? In her celebrated novel Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf’s eponymous protagonist is plagued with perpetual anxiety: Clarissa Dalloway is always on the verge of sickness, waking up on a sunny morning with a feeling of “terror,” “overwhelming incapacity,” “awful fear.” Out in “society,” Clarissa feels better, but resting midday in her big and comfortable townhouse, the bed itself becomes narrower and narrower. Is it safer outside, or at home, inside one’s thoughts?
In almost all of her work, Woolf explores common divisions between the body and the soul, the physical and the spiritual, and their links to other common binaries like the public and the private, or the feminine and the masculine. In this course, we will read Mrs. Dalloway, paying particular attention to its portrayal of urban life, mental and physical illness, and social and romantic ties. We will also read and discuss some of Woolf’s longer and shorter essays, “A Room of One’s Own,” “On Being Ill,” and “Professions for Women,” alongside scholarly works on modernism and the language of interiority. What can Woolf’s fiction teach us about the porousness of the boundaries between the social and private realms? How is subjective experience shaped and reshaped by what we register, consciously or not, from the outside world? Is Woolf’s work particularly relevant for understanding our current moment, as some have recently argued? What do her style and ideas tell us about sickness and anxiety? And what do they tell us about how safe we really are at home and in our own mind?
Course ScheduleMonday, 6:30-9:30pm BST
July 13 — August 03, 2020