Woolf's (Anti)Modern Reading
[I]t is inevitable that Woolf's views on reading should partake of the same ambivalences which haunt her meditations on human relationships, and indeed which demand a continually mobile response from the readers of her own fictions.
—Kate Flint, “Reading Uncommonly:
Virginia Woolf and the Practice of Reading”
Current attempts to think about the ways in which modern aesthetic strategies differ from those of post-modernism are, in general, productive and illuminating. Yet Virginia Woolf is one writer who frustrates this binary by writing across it. May she continue to confound, through the complex character of her writing, our attempts at such classifications.
—Michele Barrett, “Virginia Woolf Meets Michel Foucault”
As I suggested in the introduction, although twentieth-century modernism is often seen as an aesthetic movement identified with the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries encompassing both objectivist and subjectivist tendencies, it is useful to associate it with Western Enlightenment commitments to science, objectivity, individual rights, and rationality as distinct from commitments to spirituality, subjectivity, and individuality associated with Romanticism. If late-nineteenth- and twentieth-century modernism is contextualized in relation to the Western Enlightenment, then manifestations of Romantic tendencies in twentieth-century literature and art are usefully described as antimodern. My position challenges assumptions that inform much scholarship in both literary studies and art history and enables a connection between literary modernism and modernism as it is usually spoken of in fields such as philosophy and history. In the following discussion of Woolf's representations of the reading process, I use modernism in this way.
Woolf's perspective on reading is a curious blend of the modern and the antimodern. 1 She writes about reading as do her male modernist peers as a matter of uncovering textual meaning but alters their approach by insisting that emotion is an important part of the process. As a radical feminist, however, she is critical of traditional approaches to knowledge, to literature, and to reading and is well aware of the dangers that such approaches pose for the woman reader.