Reading Virginia Woolf's Essays and Journalism: Breaking the Surface of Silence

Reading Virginia Woolf's Essays and Journalism: Breaking the Surface of Silence

Reading Virginia Woolf's Essays and Journalism: Breaking the Surface of Silence

Reading Virginia Woolf's Essays and Journalism: Breaking the Surface of Silence

Synopsis

This, the first book to deal solely with Virginia Woolf's non-fiction writing from a historical and theoretical perspective, covers comprehensively and in detail Woolf's essays and journalism including the juvenilia, reviews, critical essays, autobiographical writings, A Room of One's Own and Three Guineas.

Excerpt

Life expressed itself chiefly in the intricacies of behaviour, in what
men said and what women did not quite say, in poems that break
the surface of silence with silver fins (E4, 265–6).

To ‘break the surface of silence with silver fins’ is a characteristically Woolfian phrase. in it we hear echoes from the novels and the diaries – Rachel Vinrace’s lament in The Voyage Out that her life is a ‘short season between two silences’, Bernard’s description of the revelations of companionate intimacy in The Waves ‘as if a fin rose in the wastes of silence’ (W, 228), and beneath both, Woolf’s private nightmare vision of the ‘fin in the waste of waters’ (D4, 10) which is, as Pamela L. Caughie suggests, ‘a commonly accepted metaphor for Woolf’s artistic quest’. the image of fish-like poems piercing the surface of the water which encloses them also recalls multiple references to membranes, screens and envelopes, semi-transparent or otherwise, which recur throughout Woolf’s prose, recalling her ongoing fascination with the relationships between inner and outer, surface and depth, identity and writing – ‘life’. ‘Life’, as Woolf writes in that most familiar of passages,

Is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous
halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning
of consciousness to the end. Is it not the task of the novelist to convey
this varying, this unknown and uncircumscribed spirit? (E4, 160)

Like conveying life as a luminous halo and netting the fin in the waste of waters, expressing the ‘intricacies of behaviour, in what men said and what women did not quite say, in poems that break the surface of silence with silver fins’, reveals an interplay between life and literature, between gender and language, between the verbal, the fluid and the silent. Life, literature and gender divisions are all included in one brief twist of a sentence: we are in a familiarly silent, aqueous, membranous, gender conscious and identifiably Woolfian world.

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