Academic journal article Style

Adjacency Pairs and Interactive Consciousness in Virginia Woolf's Novels

Academic journal article Style

Adjacency Pairs and Interactive Consciousness in Virginia Woolf's Novels

Article excerpt


The presentation of fictional minds has always been an engaging topic, not just because it provides rich data for the exploration of narrative techniques, but also because it can afford us fresh insights into the nature of consciousness. Traditional narratological and stylistic studies (e.g., Humphrey; Cohn; Leech and Short) have mainly concentrated on the presentation of consciousness as private and individual, but they have not given enough attention to the presentation of consciousness as social, accessible, and interactive. One problem with this imbalance of research focus is that traditional studies "[tend] to give the impression that characters' minds really only consist of a private, passive flow of thought" (Palmer, "The Construction" 32). Recent advances in the study of fictional minds raise an important research question focusing on the presentation of the social orientedness and dialogicity of minds, but apart from a very limited number of theoretical accounts (see Sotirova, D. H. Lawrence; Consciousness), studies in this respect lack the rigor of detailed linguistic analyses.

Palmer's recent book, Social Minds in the Novel (2010), is the first systematic study that takes as its primary aim the investigation of social minds in fiction. According to him, an important part of the social mind is "intermental thought," which refers to thinking that is "joint, group, shared or collective" (Social Minds 41). And he sets out to elucidate different kinds of intermental thought represented in narrative texts. However, his analysis does not explore the linguistic mechanics of this representation. One of his primary types of examples involves characters thinking about others' thoughts or characters sharing the same opinion, for instance: "Most men thought her bewitching when she was on horseback"; "These peculiarities of Dorothea's character caused Mr Brooke to be all the more blamed in neighbouring families"; "the Brooke connection, though not exactly aristocratic, were unquestionably good" (Middlemarch 1-4; cited in Palmer, Social Minds 70). For him, these examples provide evidence of social minds in the novel, but he does not elaborate on how social minds are presented in the text. Palmer's analysis is cognitively oriented rather than linguistically based. He explains how characters make sense of each other's actions and how readers keep track of characters' minds by drawing on theories and concepts from fields such as psychology, cognitive science, and philosophy of mind. However, those cognitive concepts and frameworks do not reveal much about the linguistic devices that render the social quality of fictional minds. Just as Bortolussi (2011) points out, Palmer's cognitively based study is yet to be related to "the narratological goal of identifying textual features used to depict social minds" (284). This article endeavors to answer this call for the linguistic study of social minds through an investigation of consciousness presentation in Virginia Woolf's novels.

Woolf's presentation of consciousness displays one significant feature, which Auerbach identifies as follows:

The essential characteristic of the technique represented by Virginia Woolf is that we are given not merely one person whose consciousness [...] is rendered, but many persons, with frequent shift from one to another. (536)

In other words, the text is not restricted to a single character's consciousness; rather, the narrative point of view frequently shifts from one character to another so that different characters' consciousnesses are represented side by side or interwoven together. Scholars frequently allude to this feature of Woolf's novels. For instance, Scott notes that stream of consciousness in Woolf's works "takes multiple forms," "sometimes flowing from mind to mind" (328). Comparing Woolf with several other important writers of consciousness, Fernihough remarks that Woolf "is the one who flits most readily and rapidly from one mind to another, often traversing three or four consciousnesses within the confines of a single page" (77). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.