Modernism and Mass Politics: Joyce, Woolf, Eliot, Yeats

By Michael Tratner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
The Unconscious Enters History

Working-Class Women in 'To the Lighthouse,' 'Ulysses,' and 'The Strange Death of Liberal England'

The rise of mass movements and new theories implying that the individual is moved about by vast collective entities reshaped the way people conceived of the plots of their own lives. Aneurin Bevan commented, for example, that for young people at the turn of the century, the "texture of our lives shaped the question" of how to succeed "into a class and not an individual form. . . . We were products of an industrial civilization and our psychology corresponded to that fact. . . . The streams of individual initiative therefore flowed along collective channels already formed for us by our environment. Society presented itself to us as an area of conflicting social forces and not as a plexus of individual striving." 1

Similarly, when Virginia Woolf, in her memoirs, described the process of writing To the Lighthouse as in effect a psychoanalytic treatment for her obsession with her mother's death, she found that she could not regard her mother as an individual with whom she had had a relationship. Instead, she found she had to think of her mother as "one of the invisible presences who after all play so important a part in every life. This influence, by which I mean the consciousness of other groups impinging on ourselves; public opinion; what other people say and think; all those magnets which attract us this way to be like that, or repel us the other and make us different from that; has never been analysed in any of those Lives which I so much enjoy reading." It was then that she declared she saw herself as "a fish in a stream; deflected; held in place; but cannot describe the stream."2

Social forces become visible beneath an overlay of a "familiar," or, we

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