Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

A "Need of Distance and Blue": Space, Color, and Creativity in to the Lighthouse

Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

A "Need of Distance and Blue": Space, Color, and Creativity in to the Lighthouse

Article excerpt

I shall briefly revisit Bloomsbury aesthetics and interarts theory and then focus on space and color, perception and composition, in To the Lighthouse.

According to Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry held that "G[acute{e}]zanne and Picasso had shown the way; writers should fling representation to the winds and follow suit. But [Fry] never found time to work out his theory of the influence of Post-Impressionism upon literature" (Roger Fry 149). Woolf worked out the interaction herself in To the Lighthouse, which was published in 1927, the same year as Fry's C[acute{e}]zanne: A Study of His Development. In C[acute{e}]zanne, Fry describes "plastic colour" as a "direct exponent of form" (17, 13); and in "Some Questions in Esthetics" (1926), he maintains that "our reaction to works of art is a reaction to a relation and not to sensations and objects or persons or events" (3). Fry's formalism gave Woolf her shaping principles for To the Lighthouse; she then worked out the relation of "architectural plasticity" (Fry, "Some Questions" 5) to verbal impressionism in composing the novel.

Woolf observes that the "arts of painting and writing lay close together and Roger Fry was always making raids across the boundaries" (Roger Fry 208). She herself made raids on postimpressionist painting in the experimental writing of "Kew Gardens" (1919) and "Blue & Green" (1921), where the act of looking is so intense that it dissolves content into purely visual form. [1] In "The Artist's Vision" (published in 1919, the same year as Woolf's "Modern Fiction"), Fry says that those "who indulge in [aesthetic] vision"-- as distinct from the more active "creative vision "--"are entirely absorbed in apprehending the relation of forms and colour to one another" (47; my italics)--as Woolf is in "Blue & Green" and "Kew Gardens." [2]

Woolf remarks that few writers met Fry's formalist standards: "they lacked objectivity, they did not treat words as painters treat paint." Her emphasis on words in relation to paint is the converse of Fry's, "many of [whose] theories held good for both arts. Design, rhythm, texture--there they were again--in Flaubert as in Cezanne" (Roger Fry 209). Fry saw texture as subsuming details in overall design: "The texture of the whole field of vision becomes so close that the coherence of the separate patches of tone and colour within each object is no stronger than the coherence with every other tone and colour throughout the field" (49). This is the effect of "distance and blue" toward the end of To the Lighthouse (279)--the effect of constructing a network of human interactions from associations of tone and color. Woolf told Fry that she emphasized texture, which she associated with language, rather than structure, which she associated with plot (qtd. in Broughton 46). Fry admired the postimpressionist s' "attempt to express by pictorial and plastic form certain spiritual experiences" (Roger Fry 154), but his disjunction of "the spaceless world of psychological entities and relations" from the plastic world of "spatial relations" (Fry, "Some Questions" 23) is the effect of extreme formalism. [3] Woolf, in contrast, strove to invent "a system that did not shut out" (Writer's Diary 189) and to unify psychological and spatial, vital and formal values. As distinct from the still-life painter, the "writer has to keep his eye upon a model that moves, that changes" (Collected Essays 2:162). She wanted to make the novel more like a work of art, while catching the movement of life itself. [4]

While Fry dichotomizes art and life, he "also admit[s] that under certain conditions the rhythms of life and of art may coincide" (Roger Fry 186). He concludes his study of Cezanne with the reminder that "such analysis halts before the ultimate concrete reality of the work of art" (Cezanne 88). More recently, Wendy Steiner has noted that the "semiotic concreteness" of modern art "seeks a repleteness of meaning that is never fully available in art, but only in life" (xii, xiii). …

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