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The rhythm of Virginia Woolf's daily existence in early adulthood was largely dictated by the social obligations of a young English woman of her class, a round of activities including regular attendance at, and hosting of, a variety of different parties. Lunch- and tea-parties she often found simply dull; evening-parties, however, were much more difficult for both Woolf and her sister Vanessa. It was not only that the young women frequently felt awkward and out of place at such events (in a diary entry for 15 July 1903, Virginia claims that she and Vanessa frequently spoke to no-one for an entire evening). Their chaperoning by their half-brother George, and his proprietorial attitude towards them (inspecting and criticising their choice of clothes, berating them for perceived failures to behave appropriately), made the whole experience of party-going fraught with potential distress – and, ultimately, danger. Woolf's memoir ‘22 Hyde Park Gate’ is largely taken up with the description of her first evening-party escorted by George; not only did she return home weary and disappointed, but once she had retired to bed, George entered her room, ‘flung himself on my bed, and took me in his arms’ – he was, she records, both her and Vanessa's ‘lover’. ‘Old Bloomsbury’ picks up where ‘22 Hyde Park Gate’ leaves off, and here there is a significant slippage in narrative tense, for while Woolf begins by recalling the specific party described in the previous piece, she then states that ‘There would be a tap at the door; the light would be turned out and George would fling himself on my bed, cuddling and kissing and otherwise embracing me.’
As a paradigmatic modernist author, Virginia Woolf is celebrated for the ways her fiction illuminates modern and contemporary life. Woolf scholars have long debated how context - whether historical, cultural, or theoretical - is to be understood in relation to her work and how her work produces new insights into context. Drawing on an international field of leading and emergent specialists, this collection provides an authoritative resource for contemporary Woolf scholarship that explores the distinct and overlapping dimensions of her writings. Rather than survey existing scholarship, these essays extend Woolf studies in new directions by examining how the author is contextualised today. The collection also highlights connections between Woolf and key cultural, political and historical issues of the twentieth century such as avant-gardism in music and art, developments in journalism and the publishing industry, political struggles over race, gender and class and the bearings of colonialism, empire and war.
INTRODUCTION: DAILINESS AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY
What is now one of the canonical texts of literary modernism – in particular that strand of modernism that addresses questions of temporality and memory – takes as its foundational event the ineffable moment between sleeping and waking. Proust's lengthy description of the anxious reassembling of self that takes place upon waking, which opens A la recherche du temps perdu, draws attention not only to the increasingly prominent question at the time of what constitutes the individual human subject, but also works with the effects of both the normal succession of, and the disruption to, diurnal patterns, day following night following day. The moment of waking, both utterly familiar and deeply mysterious, is used in a similar way by the turn-of-the-century psychologist William James. In his key textbook of the emerging discipline of psychology, the Psychology: Briefer Course on which my observations in this chapter are based, James illustrates the way in which we recognise and construct the self as a unity, evoking the fundamental familiarity of the self: ‘Each of us when he awakens says, Here's the same old Me again, just as he says, Here's the same old bed, the same old room, the same old world’ (Psy 215). The unity of the self is demonstrated by the sameness that characterises the dawning of each new day.
Bryony Randall explores the twin concepts of daily time and of everyday life through the writing of several major modernist authors. The book begins with a contextualising chapter on the psychologists William James and Henri Bergson. It goes on to devote chapters to Dorothy Richardson, Gertrude Stein, H. D. and Virginia Woolf. These experimental writers, she argues, reveal everyday life and daily time as rich and strange, not simply a banal backdrop to more important events. Moreover, Randall argues that paying attention to the everyday and daily time can be politically empowering and subversive. The specific social and cultural context of the early twentieth century is one in which the concept of daily time is particularly strongly challenged. By examining Modernism's engagement with or manifestation of this notion of daily time, she reveals a highly original perspective on their concerns and complexities.
Nothing happens; this is the everyday. But what is the meaning of this stationary movement? At what level is this ‘nothing happens’ situated? For whom does ‘nothing happen’ if, for me, something is necessarily always happening? In other words, what corresponds to the ‘Who?’ of the everyday? And why in this ‘nothing happens’ is there at the same time the affirmation that something essential would be allowed to go on?
Blanchot's question ‘what corresponds to the “Who?” of the everyday?’ has been, implicitly, central to this exploration of dailiness in modernist literature. The rhetorical force of Blanchot's question is revealed when we recall how the texts addressed have exposed notions of the everyday as unmarked, unremarkable, where ‘nothing happens’, as deeply flawed. Such notions risk, to use Woolf's observation about the traditional memoir in terms precisely resonant with Blanchot's, ‘leav[ing] out the person to whom things happened’. To return to the different strands of thought on the everyday adumbrated in my Introduction, the phenomenological attempt to parenthesise the everyday as a region in which ‘nothing happens’, and thus, by definition, I, you, we do not participate, ‘leaves out the person to whom things happened’. This construction of the everyday hollows it out into an empty category, uninhabited, uninhabitable and inhuman. These modernist texts have shown emphatically that there is indeed no-one for whom nothing happens, and what happens to everyone is the everyday.
I can say it enough but can I say it more than enough that the daily life is a daily life if at any moment of the daily life that daily life is all there is of life.
The day is a unique temporal category in being, most of the time and in most parts of the world, clearly bounded at beginning and end – by night – and always recurring in a regular rhythm. Close to the poles days can become exceptionally long or exceptionally short, but they will still wax and wane in a predictable annual pattern. Thus, unlike the relatively artificial divisions of the hour or the week, the day presents a naturally occurring, observable temporal unit, one that technology and human innovation cannot change; as Heidegger would concede, it is ‘the “most natural” measure of time’. Even now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the fact of there being a pattern of darkness and light that gives rise to something called ‘a day’ cannot ultimately be questioned, undermined, deconstructed we might say; along with death, it is the only thing in life of which we can be sure.
A century ago, during the period when the artistic movement we call modernism was gathering pace, technology was becoming increasingly able to modify and regulate the rhythms of life.
INTRODUCTION: RICHARDSON, BERGSON, TIME AND GENDER
While the resurgence of interest in the work of Dorothy Richardson is thanks primarily to her reassessment by feminist critics, from Sydney Janet Kaplan in the 1970s to Joanne Winning's recent study The Pilgrimage of Dorothy Richardson, feminist responses to Richardson have by no means been unreservedly positive. Both Elaine Showalter and Rachel Blau DuPlessis reserve some unusually intense criticism for Richardson's thirteen-volume novel Pilgrimage, and their criticism focuses on, or seems related to, what DuPlessis calls the ‘really excessive’ length of the text. Similarly, Showalter's general frustration with Richardson for not producing the progressive feminist text that she, Showalter, believes Richardson might have done centres on Richardson's lack of courage, as Showalter sees it: specifically, ‘Most of all, Richardson's art is afraid of an ending.’ What is particularly surprising about this kind of criticism is that the crimes of which Richardson is accused, of fear and of excess, are the kind of feminised traits – feminised and therefore conventionally seen as negative – which feminist criticism has a tradition of reappraising. Here DuPlessis and Showalter deploy these terms in voices resonant with precisely the kind of patriarchal ideology they want to challenge.