Processing trauma : dialogic memory and communal discourses in Virginia Woolf's Jacob's Room, Mrs Dalloway, The Waves and Between the Acts
In this thesis I examine relationships between recollections of loss and the narrating of memory in works of Modernist author, Virginia Woolf. Woolf’s position within discussions of early twentieth-century responses to trauma has long been the subject of debate, and her focus on alienation, death, and the detrimental influence of the larger, patriarchal sphere is crucial to critical analyses of her works. I argue that Woolf’s depiction of memory is a more sophisticated one than has been previously recognized. In her fictional delineations of death and destruction, as well as in her theoretical musings on the process of remembering, Woolf conceives of a local communal sphere that is more conducive to the experience of individuated responses to loss, rather than the public sphere where notions of national identity, appropriate expressions of bereavement, and performed masculinity facilitate a continuous cycle that both produces and perpetuates such violence. These ideas are further complicated through Woolf’s depiction of a different means of ordering the larger collective, one that can only be conceived through spontaneous moments of unity and connection. My argument situates Woolf’s position both contextually and theoretically, with reference to her own essays addressing recollection, along with contemporary discussions of the process of narrating memory and moments of trauma. It is organised in terms of the chronological publication of her novels, with the chapters moving from Jacob’s Room to Mrs Dalloway, followed by The Waves, and ending with her final work of fiction, Between the Acts. Within this framework I delineate a progression in Woolf’s own theories that marks her growing interest in, and working through of, unexpected loss, as well as a response that permits individuated expressions of mourning and temporary moments of connection. I end with a brief discussion of her suggested responses to such devastation, concluding that her conceptualisation of a dynamic, remembering community is a means by which she can challenge the homogeneity of the patriarchal status quo, as well as emphasising the importance of not only the articulation of trauma, but also the listening to and legitimising of such discourses.
memory, trauma, English literature, Virginia Woolf, war
Master of Arts (M.A.)