The Autobiographical Novel of Co-Consciousness: Goncharov, Woolf, and Joyce

By Galya Diment | Go to book overview

4
"Sense and Sensibility" in To the Lighthouse

It is highly doubtful that Virginia Woolf ever read Goncharov's first novel, even though Garnett's English translation of A Common Story had been available as early as 1894, three years after the Russian writer's death. When, in her article "The Russian Point of View," Woolf summarized that point of view as "the . . . call upon us to understand our fellow- sufferers, 'and not with the mind--for it is easy with the mind--but with the heart,'" 1 she was also most likely unaware how much of this traditional heart/mind conflict was at the core of Goncharov's fiction. In fact, were she even to have read A Common Story in Russian and thus not "stripped of its style" ( CR, 178)--she and her husband undertook to learn Russian with the help of their Russian friend S. S. Koteliansky in 1921 but soon gave up--she might have found very little to admire in the functional, rather unsophisticated quality of the Russian writer's prose. And yet, despite their extremely different cultural and literary sensibilities, inevitably reflected in their novels, Woolf and Goncharov are firmly bound together by a fundamental similarity of techniques in the fictional transformation of their autobiographical materials.

Unlike the case of A Common Story, the largely autobiographical nature of Woolf To the Lighthouse, published in 1927, is well established. To the Lighthouse is going to be fairly short," wrote Woolf in her diary in 1925, "to have father's character done complete in it; and mother's; and St Ives; and childhood . . ." ( D, III, 18). Some of her motivations for writing an autobiographical novel are also better known than Goncharov's. "Autobiography," writes J. H. Buckley in his 1984 study, "frequently represents the writer's effort to come to terms belatedly with his

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