The Nightmare of History: The Fictions of Virginia Woolf and D.H. Lawrence

The Nightmare of History: The Fictions of Virginia Woolf and D.H. Lawrence

The Nightmare of History: The Fictions of Virginia Woolf and D.H. Lawrence

The Nightmare of History: The Fictions of Virginia Woolf and D.H. Lawrence

Synopsis

This book argues that the works of Woolf and Lawrence are informed by the dynamics of conflict. It examines to what extent the Great War affected their view of social and historical events, as well as suggesting that violence and the structure of battle is evident in their prewar writings.

Excerpt

I believe one's point of reference should not be to the great
model of language (langue) and signs, but to that of war and
battle. The history which bears and determines us has the
form of a war rather than that of a language: relations of
power, not relations of meaning.

—Michel Foucault, “Truth and Power”

FOUCAULT'S ASSERTION THAT WAR IS THE BASIC STRUCTURE OF Human existence is exemplified throughout the writings of Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence. Both authors portray the dynamics of war as informing all human activity, whether linguistic, domestic, recreational, or emotional. For these two authors, the battles of the First World War differ only in scope from the daily struggles between individuals. It may seem unusual at first to link the names of Woolf and Lawrence. They are often regarded as diametrically opposed because of their differing attitudes toward gender and class. Yet their opinions on organized conflict and violence in general complement and reveal one another. They both adopted the perspective of the marginalized other while viewing the events of the Great War. Woolf observed the war from her position as woman, pacifist, and reluctant participant in the events of a patriarchal society. Lawrence, declared medically unfit for service, ill, penniless, an author whose work was censored and condemned, simultaneously regarded the war as the death throes of a society in which he was caught as well as the apocalyptic beginnings of a new, promising world order. Both writers saw the war as possessing a dialectical structure similar to the Hegelian struggle for self-definition between the subject, “I,” and the other. They perceived themselves as the other to society's self, outsiders excluded from the language of the subject. Like Foucault, they considered patterns of war or battle as informing the actions and language of daily life. This study focuses on Woolf and Lawrence because their opinions and experiences . . .

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