MATERIAL MEDIATION: WOMEN, CONNECTION, AND VITAL MATERIALISM IN VIRGINIA WOOLF’S MRS DALLOWAY, TO THE LIGHTHOUSE, AND BETWEEN THE ACTS
Theories of materiality have long attempted to explain the importance of the nonhuman and to disrupt anthropocentric thinking. Recently, these theories have informed ecocritical approaches to literary analysis, including the works of Virginia Woolf, exploring the ways in which she portrays the vitality and power of nonhuman matter. Yet moving beyond a consideration only of the nonhuman on its own, or in conjunction with individual human beings, this paper highlights the presence of the nonhuman within human relationships, part of a complex web of what some materialists call assemblages. I argue that Woolf’s novels Mrs Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and Between the Acts present a number of examples of female characters, who, in particular, demonstrate what the material theorist Jane Bennett calls a “anticipatory readiness” to perceiving, and validating, the presence of nonhuman matter within human interactions and its potential for effecting positive change. These same characters, as women, are simultaneously among those most restricted by patriarchal systems, and their efforts to bring about moments of connection or unity between humans, as well as between humans and the nonhuman, disrupt patriarchal norms as well as anthropocentric thinking. While the ability of the married characters Clarissa Dalloway, Mrs Ramsay, and Isa Oliver to do so is limited by their continued acquiescence to the roles required of wives and mothers, the single and independent women Lily Briscoe and Miss La Trobe are afforded greater opportunities to disrupt normal thinking. Their shared “anticipatory readiness” results in glimpses of what Woolf calls, in Three Guineas, a “Society of Outsiders”; independent women who refuse to participate in an oppressive society. Via the presence of the nonhuman in their lives, and in their artistic endeavors, Woolf suggests that materiality can be an active and valued part of this alternate society.
Virginia Woolf, modernism, literature, materiality, materialism, women, gender, patriarchy, politics
Master of Arts (M.A.)
Ophir, Ella;Martin, Ann