Sunday, December 5, 2010


I also read an article by Lorraine Sim, “Virginia Woolf Tracing Patterns through Plato’s Forms”. This article explores the connections between Plato and Woolf and their views on reality and something beyond reality. Sim begins by talking about Woolf’s concepts of common experience and being, of the ordinary and extraordinary nature of life. To her, reality consists of the empirical reality and a metaphysical world that is behind all everyday appearances. Woolf sees a pattern behind the “cotton wool of daily life”, a pattern that gives life order and meaning and does not devalue the ordinary.

Sim discusses the various ways pattern and the metaphysical world is thought of in Woolf’s works. The Voyage Out, Night and Day and The Years, for instance, both contain some philosophies on this subject. In the first one, there is a notion that there is a pattern to life, an order that provides understanding for things happening as they do and makes life reasonable and interesting. According to Sim, this resembles the classical notion of logos, the rational principle that shows the right relation of the universal to the particular). In the next novel, Woolf suggests that there is a scheme of life and the individual has a certain role in this scheme. In the last novel, Woolf uses music as a form that that expresses a concept of an underlying pattern or structure. This marks a certain shift from a rational order to an aesthetic one, a shift in the conception of logos, from classical to romantic.

According to Sim, Woolf constantly writes of the relation between empirical reality and the metaphysical world that emanates through reality, a secular “divine” emanating through reality. To Woolf, reality can be both visible and invisible (the empirical and metaphysical), audible and silent, but is single in nature, one complex, abstract pattern behind appearances. Reality also makes things fixed and permanent to Woolf, but not dependable, because she experiences it only periodically and through various empirical means. This awareness of reality is what Woolf talks about in her notion of states of being and non-being. Moments of being result in a heightened awareness of and pleasure in ordinary things. In turn, this increased awareness of things in the empirical world gives some idea of the pattern behind the moments of non-being, the cotton-wool of daily life that one goes through inattentively.

Sim also points out Woolf’s history of reading Walter Pater and his interpretations of Plato’s philosophy, as well as her reading of the Greeks herself. There were Pater’s works in Leslie Stephen’s library and Woolf studied with Pater’s sister as well. According to Sim, Plato influenced Woolf’s notion of the relation between intellectual insight and physical vision and gave her representations of the visible world that she could not have found in the realist fiction of the time. This was probably also influenced by Pater’s reading of Plato as a philosopher engaged with the sensible world (as opposed to one that distrusted the illusions of the senses) and understood the relation between the two types of insights – intellectual and physical. Lastly, Sim emphasizes that both Woolf and Plato refer to two different modes of being – Woolf believes in a objective non-material principle that gives order and meaning (the pattern behind the cotton-wool) and this pattern reveals the nature of ordinary things. This is similar to Plato’s Forms and the ordinary objects of reality.

Sim, Lorraine. “Virginia Woolf Tracing Patterns though Plato’s Forms.” Journal of Modern Literature 28.2 (2005): 38 – 48. JSTOR. Web.


I finally read one article of the frequently-mentioned Thomas Caramagno. The article was “Manic-Depressive Psychosis and Critical Approaches to Virginia Woolf's Life and Work”. It was a very interesting read in that it actually traces out Woolf’s mental illness and talks about it in context of the time during which she lived.

Caramagno begins by discussing critics that have been very quick to define Woolf by her illness. He discusses the paradigm of the artist-neurotic, as in, an artist because neurotic, which according to him is false, albeit very popular among critics. Through this paradigm it is easy to see Woolf’s suicide as an artistic act and her novels as suicide notes. It also reduces the artist to the status of a sick child and elevates the critic to the role of an adult. This is because of a view of art inherited from Freud – art is reduced to infantile fears. Also, Freud believed neurosis to be a regressive illness. Woolf was misdiagnosed as a neurotic by her doctor and both he and Freud instilled the notion of her own inadequacy, her own defects into Woolf. Dr. Savage believed mental illness in general to be a “defect in the moral character” of a person.

However, Caramagno continues to say that manic-depressive disorder is not considered a part of neurosis any more. Thus, Woolf was not neurotic, but simply manic-depressive, a disorder that ran through her family from her father’s side. Caramagno stipulates that Laura, the invalid sister from A Sketch of the Past was a case of childhood schizophrenia and mentions that Vanessa was the only healthy child of Leslie Stephen and that madness had run in his family for generations – Caramagno brings up various examples of people in the Stephen family that fell into and often died because of their illness.

In the end, Caramagno discusses how the illness affected Woolf and her writing. He does not view her like the critics he talks about in the beginning of his article. To him, Woolf merged, needed to relate, the two states of her being – the sane and the insane Virginia. She incorporated this into her writing by placing the disorder into it through moods of perception and a comprehensive structure of self, sane and insane together (Mrs. Dalloway Clarissa and Septimus; The Waves multiple selves). She realized that the self is not given, but constructed through wondering about the reality of any feeling. She gave voice to her madness, to her illness and thus, authorized the self and at the same time, did not reduce complexity to simplicity by eliminating the meaning of complexity. She did this through drawing the reader’s attention to the act and need of clarifying and systematizing complex texts, which she does not do herself, she merely suggests, leaving the interpretation to the reader.

Caramagno, Thomas. “Manic-Depressive Psychosis and Critical Approaches to Virginia Woolf's Life and Work.” PMLA 103.1 (1988): 10 – 23. JSTOR. Web.


I read a very interesting article by Frances Restuccia about androgyny in A Room of One’s Own – “Untying the Mother Tongue: Female Difference in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own”. What I thought was interesting about it was Restuccia’s approach to the notion of feminine difference and androgyny in this particular work of Woolf’s.

She begins by discussing how critics have equated Woolf’s words in this essay with her call for androgyny. Restuccia finds this is not the case, however. She notes that neo-feminist movements have taken interest in the notion of “female difference” – the experience of all that is feminine instead of gender-blindness. The thinkers of this particular movement she calls the “gynocritics” that explore the difference of the writing of women.

However, she notes that in Woolf’s “androgynous heaven” differences between the sexes are not dissolved, they do not disappear, but instead Woolf emphasizes these differences, as opposed to calling for an androgynous mergence. This female difference is primarily apparent thorough what Restuccia perceives as Woolf establishing a female tradition, a culmination of “thinking through her mothers”. The “androgyny” might be collaboration between man and woman, with their differences still intact. This is because Restuccia perceives Woolf’s androgyny as part of her artistic vision, not a vision of nature or naturalness. Since, according to the author, Woolf could escape her impending madness only through the order or art, she provides a non-sequitur in suggesting androgyny – the preceding chapters work out differences in the sexes, but Woolf needs to find mental solace in the artistic vision of androgyny.

Restuccia also makes another point about this notion of androgyny. In this work, Woolf traces out a genealogy of women writers primarily and laments the state of writing of men. Thus, androgyny in writing would mean primarily that men have a lot to learn from women, while women themselves should explore their own writing and not become androgynous. Here Restuccia mentions Woolf’s love for Austen and the Bront√ęs, both of whom wrote as women (the only problem here is that Woolf also mentions Shakespeare and Austen in conjunction, calling them both great, androgynous minds). But according to Restuccia, Woolf lauds women writers as the ones with the ability to renew creative powers and fertilize old ideas of “illustrious men”. Restuccia also points out Woolf’s “I like women” part of this particular essay, which again points out Woolf’s love for women and their difference, which is not androgynous.

Thus, Restuccia makes an argument that the notion of androgyny is a veil spun over the notion of female difference, as a compromise to reach humanity in general, men and women. And androgyny in this particular essay, according to Restuccia, is truly just the suggestion that men should be and write more like women and this does not subvert her love of the female difference and women who stir her imagination.

Restuccia, Frances. “Untying the Mother Tongue: Female Difference in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 4.2 (1985): 253 -264. JSTOR. Web.