Virginia Woolf: Modernizing Fiction
New York, NY 10027
Virginia Woolf’s writing audaciously expanded the boundaries of modern fiction, reshaping our ideas about the ability of the novel to represent ordinary life and register swift, historical change. “Let us record the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in which they fall,” she advised, signaling her prescription for a kind of experimental prose capable of linking the seemingly trivial and immediate phenomena of daily life to broader events and social imaginaries. What can we learn about Woolf’s modernism—and about modernism writ large—by thinking through its treatment of the very large (war, patriarchy, technological developments, environmental transformations, and artistic renovations) and the very small (shifts in mood, quotidian interactions, sensations, and judgements)?
In this course, an introduction to modernist fiction that takes the novels of Virginia Woolf as its primary case study, we’ll consider the forms, ethics, aesthetics, and politics of early twentieth-century experimental writing. As we read Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1928), and a selection of complementary texts by Woolf, her contemporaries, and successive generations of commentators, we’ll situate her work within conversations about the sense of scale in modern life. This will mean exploring the evolution of the form of the novel, tensions between historical continuity and rupture, the effects of mechanization and urbanization, violence and trauma, gender and sexuality, and the philosophy of consciousness, personhood, and time. What, for Woolf, who famously claimed that “on or about December 1910 human character changed,” did it mean to be a modern writer? Why did modernist writers embrace formal innovations like stream-of-consciousness and narrative fragmentation? What would the novel have to look like—how would it have to change—in order to register the overwhelming dynamism of the modern world through the textures of the everyday?
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm
March 01 — March 22, 2018