Sunday, November 7, 2010


I think I’ve found the topic of Woolf and politics very interesting.

This article I read was by Patricia Klindienst Joplin and it is about fascism in Woolf’s Between the Acts. In it, Joplin discusses the Woolf’s musings on what it means to be an artist and how that relates to the rising of totalitarianism in Europe. According to Joplin, in this novel Woolf seizes the gap she has explored in previous novels, but now, instead of rejecting it as a disruption in the will of continuity, it is elevated to a positive, natural status – in the history of Europe, the gap between the British Isles and the Continent helped to prevent the spread of Hitler’s influence and aggression in Britain. Joplin says that in this novel, the gap is not an interruption or death, it is rather the white space on a piece of paper or canvas, waiting for creation.

Another point Joplin makes is about Woolf’s meditation upon the role of the artist. Woolf understood the artist to be responsible to keep peace and freedom alive, to unify differences. But in the character of the playwright in Between the Acts, she explores the proximity between artists and dictators and authoritarians, for whom there is no gap between sound and meaning, just like the artist who believes his art to be the whole meaning as he conceived it, his meaning. Also, Joplin makes the point that as a feminist, Woolf understood the temptation of an artist being turned into a dictator, because in writing, there exists the possibility of bending the audience to the writer’s will, as opposed to creating a shared meaning between the audience, players and the author.

Joplin also mentions Woolf’s destruction of a false sense of unity. During the War, the common enemy, the Germans, united the British under the patriarchy in this very false sense of unity. But as a woman, Woolf saw this a little differently – she creates an instance of rape of a British woman by British soldiers, which undermines this sense of unity and the common enemy is called into question and the suppressing of internal differences is revealed. Thus, according to Joplin, Woolf, unlike her husband Leonard, had no easy sense about England being superior in civility to the “barbaric” Germans. To her, fascism is not alien to any country and this is why she wants to attack the Hitler in England in her essay “Peace in an Air Raid”.

Joplin also states that Woolf calls art into question by mentioning how the Nazis effectively used and exploited art as propaganda to unify the country and suppress internal differences in order to manipulate people and impose authority of the leaders. This, according to Joplin, is similar to what happened in Britain as well – in the face of danger of an imminent attack by the German army, men in Britain desired to keep the gender status quo and stop women from attempting to gain equality (suppressing internal differences) and there were a lot of ways to unify people against the common enemy through the arts (theater, for example). Joplin says that this gender status quo was desired in Britain, but actually enacted in Germany through the Nazi ideology.

Joplin also makes a very interesting point about Woolf’s works in general. She hypothesizes that Woolf explores the question of whether identity is possible, as an individual and/or group, except at the expense of the “other” (the rival, the victim, etc.). She also talks about the creation of authority by various characters in Woolf’s works – this is the origin of totalitarianism in the individual. For instance, in The Waves the characters gather around the exaggerated character of Percival (the master, the authority). It is similar in Jacob’s Room and To the Lighthouse, where women compare Jacob to a perfect marble statue, which he is not, and Lily idolizes Mrs. Ramsay.

Klindienst Joplin, Patricia. “The Authority of Illusion: Feminism and Fascism in Virginia Woolf’s Between the Acts.” South Central Review 6.2 (1989): 88 – 104. JSTOR. Web.

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