Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Avant-Garde: War, Civilization, Modernity

Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Avant-Garde: War, Civilization, Modernity

Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Avant-Garde: War, Civilization, Modernity

Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Avant-Garde: War, Civilization, Modernity

Synopsis

Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Avant-Garde traces the dynamic emergence of Woolf's art and thought against Bloomsbury's public thinking about Europe's future in a period marked by two world wars and rising threats of totalitarianism. Educated informally in her father's library and in Bloomsbury's London extension of Cambridge, Virginia Woolf came of age in the prewar decades, when progressive political and social movements gave hope that Europe "might really be on the brink of becoming civilized," as Leonard Woolf put it. For pacifist Bloomsbury, heir to Europe's unfinished Enlightenment project of human rights, democratic self-governance, and world peace -- and, in E. M. Forster's words, "the only genuine movement in English civilization" -- the 1914 "civil war" exposed barbarities within Europe: belligerent nationalisms, rapacious racialized economic imperialism, oppressive class and sex/gender systems, a tragic and unnecessary war that mobilized sixty-five million and left thirty-seven million casualties. An avant-garde in the twentieth-century struggle against the violence within European civilization, Bloomsbury and Woolf contributed richly to interwar debates on Europe's future at a moment when democracy's triumph over fascism and communism was by no means assured.

Woolf honed her public voice in dialogue with contemporaries in and beyond Bloomsbury -- John Maynard Keynes and Roger Fry to Sigmund Freud (published by the Woolfs'Hogarth Press), Bertrand Russell, T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster, Katherine Mansfield, and many others -- and her works embody and illuminate the convergence of aesthetics and politics in post-Enlightenment thought. An ambitious history of her writings in relation to important currents in British intellectual life in the first half of the twentieth century, this book explores Virginia Woolf's narrative journey from her first novel, The Voyage Out, through her last, Between the Acts.

Excerpt

Bertie "Bertrand Russell"… thinks he's going to found new civilisa
tions.

—Woolf, Letters, 23 January 1916

"You women" who are trying to earn your livings in the professions…
call out… all those sympathies which, in literature, are stimulated by
the explorers who set out in crazy cockle shells to discover new lands,
and found new civilisations.

—Woolf, The Pargiters, 1932.

This book situates Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury within a modernity understood as a "permanent revolution" in the sense Thomas Jefferson evoked when he wrote that he could die content if he knew that the revolution he had helped to make would never be written in stone but would remain always alive— not laying down the law for generations to come but always debated and contested, actively reaffirmed or creatively transformed by the living. Twenty years ago the intellectual historian Perry Anderson could write, "My own country England, the pioneer of capitalist industrialization and master of the world market for a century,… beachhead for Eliot or Pound, offshore to Joyce,… produced virtually no significant native movement of a modernist type in the first decades of this century—unlike Germany or Italy, France or Russia, Holland or America. " Today Virginia Woolf has emerged on the world stage, read around the world in English and translation amid an array of Bloomsburies: Leon Edel's house of lions, Raymond Williams's oppositional fraction of England's ruling class, S. P. Rosenbaum's interconnected writers, as well as wide-ranging discussions of Bloomsbury biographies, personalities, sexualities, friendships, lifestyle, decor, and affinities with material culture, consumer culture, and the popular imagination. Still, it is easy to overlook Bloomsbury's import and specificity as a modernist movement, in part because its enormous multidisciplinary archive tends to obscure the strong lines of . . .

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