Wednesday, 14 December 2016

VIRGINIA WOOLF AS A NOVELIST

VIRGINIA WOOLF AS A NOVELIST

1. Introduction
     Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) was extremely dissatisfied with the current form of the novel as presented by the great Edwardians, Bennet, Wells or Galsworthy. So in 1908, Woolf determined to "re-form" the novel by creating a holistic form embracing aspects of life that were "fugitive" from the Victorian novel. A thoroughly talented writer, Woolf was a groundbreaker in this field. She is best known for her novels, Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927). No element of story, the world of outer reality not ignored, emergence of an art form, poetisation of the English novel, stream of consciousness technique, the distinctive nature of reality, artistic sincerity and integrity, and feminisation of English novel are the chief characteristics of Woolf's art as a novelist. 
2. No Element of Story
     Woolf firmly believed that if the novelist could base his work upon his own feeling and not upon convention, there would be no plot, not comedy, no tragedy, no love-interest or catastrophe in the accepted style. Hence in most of her novels there is hardly any element of story. Mrs. Woolf's formula for the novel was not humanity in action but in a state of infinite perception. The novel in her hands is not just an entertainment, or propaganda, or the vehicle of some fixed ideas or theories, or a social document, but a voyage of exploration to find out how life is lived, and how it can be rendered as it is actually lived without distortion. Hence she concentrates her attention on the rendering of inner reality and gives subtle and penetrating inlets into the consciousness of her characters. 
3. The World of Outer Reality not Ignored
     Although Woolf's main purpose is to depict the inner life of human beings, she has not ignored the world of outer reality, the warm and palpable life of nature. In fact, in her novels we find that the metaphysical interest is embodied in purely human and personal terms, that the bounding line of art remains unbroken, that the concrete images which are the very stuff of art are never sacrificed to abstraction, but are indeed more in evidence than in the work of Bennett and Wells. The essential subject matter of her novels is no doubt the consciousness of one or more characters, but the outer life of tree and stream, of bird and fish, of meadow and seashore crowds in upon her and lends her image after image, a great sparkling and many-coloured world of sight, scent, sound and touch.
4. Emergence of an Art Form
     In Woolf's novels we find a rare artistic integrity and a well-developed sense of form. To communicate her experience she had to invent conventions as rigid or more rigid than the old ones that she discarded. And this she does in her best novels of the middle and the final period -- Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, The waves and Between the Acts. In each case a small group of people is selected, and through their closely interrelated experience the reader receives his total impression. Moreover, certain images, phrases, and symbols bind the whole together. So there are certain resemblances between them in structure or style. Apart from these general resemblances each of these novels is a fresh attempt to solve the problems raised by the departure from traditional conventions. So it is observed that each of her novels grows out of the preceding one and we see the germ of her later work in her predecessors.
5. Poetisation of the English Novel
     Woolf represents the poetisation and musicalisation of English novel. Among the English novelists she is foremost in lyrical technique. She sets out on a quest for mediating form through which she could convey simultaneously picture of life and manners and a corresponding image of minds. She aims at conveying inner life and this could be best done in lyrical manner. Hence it is found that in order to enrich her language, she uses vivid metaphors and symbols which are peculiar to poetry. Her language is the language of poetry, her prose style has the assonances, the refrains, the rhythms and the accents of poetry itself. The equilibrium between the lyrical and narrative art shows how Woolf brilliantly achieves the telescoping of the poet's lyrical self and the novelist's omniscient point of view.
6. Stream of Consciousness Technique
     To the novelists of the new school, human consciousness is a chaotic welter of sensations and impressions; it is fleeting, trivial and evanescent. According to Woolf, the great task of the novelist should be 'to convey this varying, unknown and uncircumscribed spirit'. His main business is to reveal the sensations and impressions to bring us close to the quick of the mind. He should be more concerned with inner reality rather than outer. This is called 'the stream of consciousness technique'. Woolf has successfully revealed the very spring of action, the hidden motives which impel characters to act in a particular way. She takes us directly into the minds of her characters and shows the flow of ideas, sensations and impressions there.
7. The Distinctive Nature of Reality
     The reality that Woolf deals with has a distinctness about it. Jean Guiguet's comments on this are worth noting. "Her reality is not a factor to be specified in some question of the universe: it is the Sussex towns, the London streets, the waves breaking on the shore, the woman sitting opposite her in the train, memories flashing into the mind from nowhere, a beloved being's return into nothingness; it is all that is not ourselves and yet is so closely mingled with ourselves that the two enigmas -- reality and self -- make only one. But the important thing is the nature or quality of this enigma. It does not merely puzzle the mind; it torments the whole being, even while defining it. To exist, for Virginia Woolf, meant experiencing that dizziness on the ridge between two abysses of the unknown, the self and the non-self."
8. Artistic Sincerity and Integrity
     Woolf has her own original vision of life and she has ever remained truthful to her vision. This truthfulness and artistic integrity is due to her perfect detachment from all personal prejudices and preconceived notions. Literary traditions and conventions, or social and political problems of the day -- nothing could deter her from writing according to her vision, according to the ideal which exists in her mind with uncommon artistic sincerity and integrity. In the words the Bernard Blackstone, "She observes new facts, and old facts in a new way; but she also combines them, through the contemplative act, into new and strange patterns. The outer is not only related to; it is absorbed into the inner life. Mr. Woolf believed in the power of the mind and she she makes her reader think."
9. Feminisation of English Novel
     Woolf was a woman and naturally in her novels she gives us the woman's point of view. That is why we find her relying more on intuition than on reason. We also find in her a woman's dislike for the world of societies churches, banks and schools, and the political, social and economic movements of the day have hardly any attraction for her. As a sheltered female of her age she had hardly any scope to have any knowledge of the sordid and brutal aspects of life. Thus we find that her picture of life does not include vice, sordidness or the abject brutality of our age. So it may be inferred that Mrs. Woolf thus represents the feminisation of the English novel.
10. Conclusion
     Woolf's novels, through their nonlinear approaches to narrative, exerted a major influence on the genre. While Woolf's fragmented style is distinctly modernist, her indeterminacy anticipates a postmodern awareness of the evanescence of boundaries and categories. Her characters are definitely convincing in their own way, but they are drawn from a very limited range. Being a woman of her times she avoids the theme of passionate love. Her work has a rare artistic integrity. She is the poet of the novel. Above all, Woolf's greatest achievement is that in her novels the stream of consciousness technique finds a balance. She is one of the most forceful and original theorists of the 'the stream of consciousness' novel. 

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