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  • What if William Shakespeare had a sister who matched his imagination,

  • his wit, and his way with words?

  • Would she have gone to school and set the stage alight?

  • In her essay "A Room of One's Own,"

  • Virginia Woolf argues that this would have been impossible.

  • She concocts a fictional sister who's stuck at home,

  • snatching time to scribble a few pages

  • before she finds herself betrothed and runs away.

  • While her brother finds fame and fortune, she remains abandoned and anonymous.

  • In this thought experiment,

  • Woolf demonstrates the tragedy of genius restricted,

  • and looks back through time for hints of these hidden histories.

  • She wrote, "When one reads of a witch being ducked,

  • of a woman possessed by devils,

  • of a wise woman selling herbs,

  • or even a very remarkable man who had a mother,

  • then I think we're on the track of a lost novelist,

  • a suppressed poet,

  • of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen."

  • "A Room of One's Own" considers a world denied great works of art

  • due to exclusion and inequality.

  • How best can we understand the internal experience of alienation?

  • In both her essays and fiction,

  • Virginia Woolf shapes the slippery nature of subjective experience into words.

  • Her characters frequently lead inner lives that are deeply at odds

  • with their external existence.

  • To help make sense of these disparities, the next time you read Woolf,

  • here are some aspects of her life and work to consider.

  • She was born Adeline Virginia Stephen in 1882 to a large and wealthy family,

  • which enabled her to pursue a life in the arts.

  • The death of her mother in 1895 was followed by that of her half-sister,

  • father, and brother within the next ten years.

  • These losses led to Woolf's first depressive episode

  • and subsequent institutionalization.

  • As a young woman, she purchased a house

  • in the Bloomsbury area of London with her siblings.

  • This brought her into contact with a circle of creatives,

  • including E.M. Forster,

  • Clive Bell,

  • Roger Fry,

  • and Leonard Woolf.

  • These friends became known as the Bloomsbury Group,

  • and Virginia and Leonard married in 1912.

  • The members of this group were prominent figures in Modernism,

  • a cultural movement that sought to push the boundaries

  • of how reality is represented.

  • Key features of Modernist writing include the use of stream of consciousness,

  • interior monologue,

  • distortions in time,

  • and multiple or shifting perspectives.

  • These appear in the work of Ezra Pound,

  • Gertrude Stein,

  • James Joyce,

  • and Woolf herself.

  • While reading Joyce's "Ulysses," Woolf began writing "Mrs. Dalloway."

  • Like "Ulysses," the text takes place over the course of a single day

  • and opens under seemingly mundane circumstances.

  • "Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself."

  • But the novel dives deeply into the characters' traumatic pasts,

  • weaving the inner world of numbed socialite Clarissa Dalloway,

  • with that of the shell-shocked veteran Septimus Warren Smith.

  • Woolf uses interior monologue to contrast the rich world of the mind

  • against her characters' external existences.

  • In her novel "To the Lighthouse,"

  • mundane moments, like a dinner party, or losing a necklace

  • trigger psychological revelations in the lives of the Ramsay's,

  • a fictionalized version of Woolf's family growing up.

  • "To the Lighthouse" also contains one of the most famous examples

  • of Woolf's radical representation of time.

  • In the Time Passes section,

  • ten years are distilled into about 20 pages.

  • Here, the lack of human presence in the Ramsays' beach house

  • allows Woolf to reimagine time in flashes and fragments of prose.

  • "The house was left. The house was deserted.

  • It was left like a shell on a sand hill to fill with dry salt grains

  • now that life had left it."

  • In her novel "The Waves,"

  • there is little distinction between the narratives of the six main characters.

  • Woolf experiments with collective consciousness,

  • at times collapsing the six voices into one.

  • "It is not one life that I look back upon:

  • I am not one person: I am many people:

  • I do not altogether know who I am,

  • Jinny, Susan, Neville, Rhoda or Louis,

  • or how to distinguish my life from their's."

  • In "The Waves," six become one, but in the gender-bending "Orlando,"

  • a single character inhabits multiple identities.

  • The protagonist is a poet who switches between genders and lives for 300 years.

  • With its fluid language and approach to identity,

  • "Orlando" is considered a key text in gender studies.

  • The mind can only fly so far from the body

  • before it returns to the constraints of life.

  • Like many of her characters, Woolf's life ended in tragedy

  • when she drowned herself at the age of 59.

  • Yet, she expressed hope beyond suffering.

  • Through deep thought, Woolf's characters are shown

  • to temporarily transcend their material reality,

  • and in its careful consideration of the complexity of the mind,

  • her work charts the importance of making our inner lives known to each other.

What if William Shakespeare had a sister who matched his imagination,

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【TED-Ed】Why should you read Virginia Woolf? - Iseult Gillespie

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    Jamie 榕   posted on 2017/10/14
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