How Should One be an Outsider?: Virginia Woolf's Common Reader as a Theory of Subjectivity in Interwar England
Winquist, Martin E.
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This project examines Virginia Woolf’s conceptualization of the outsider as a political position with recourse to the figure of the common reader she theorizes early in her writing career. Woolf’s common reader, I argue, is first and foremost a response to the interwar “battle of the brows.” Unique in their belief in the common reader, Woolf’s early essays on form and aesthetics ask readers to consider their position as consumers in relation to the writers who insisted upon the discourse of the great divide between high and middlebrow art. This project suggests the common reader is more than Woolf’s contribution to the “battle of the brows,” however, and it presents the common reader as the precursory figure in a theory of intersectional subjectivity that is the foundation for Woolf’s politics of everyday life, which reached maturity late in her career with the “Society of Outsiders.” Viewing the common reader this way helps connect Woolf’s later works, which are generally viewed as her more political writings, with her early, formally experimental works by way of a theory of subjectivity that makes one’s discursive subject position central to an outsider politics based on performative subversion. Woolf’s focus on subject positions and performative subversion marks hers as a politics of the body, and this work explores the role various social institutions, including the university, the military, the family, and the asylum, play in disciplining subjects and their bodies in Woolf’s fiction and essays. In texts including Jacob’s Room, Mrs Dalloway, A Room of One’s Own, Three Guineas, Between the Acts, as well as a number of Woolf’s shorter essays, I examine Woolf’s depictions of subjects, their bodies, and the institutions that shape and mould them, and through her theorization of the common reader and society of outsiders explore Woolf’s theory of subjectivity designed to confound and subvert these institutions using the very same bodies they sought to discipline and optimize to serve their ideological purposes.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
SupervisorMartin, Ann R.C.
CommitteeElla, Ophir; Findlay, Len; Morrison, Melanie; Lindsey, Banco
Copyright DateNovember 2020