Holding Her Pen Like a Broom’: Virginia Woolf’s Anxieties about Working Class Women

Etudes Brittaniques Contemporains (Automne 1999), 5-18.

"Everything sounds in its own way. Slllt," writes James Joyce in Ulysses. The same might be said of Virginia Woolf whose style embodies not only the sound of things—for example, a gramophone’s "un-dis," a machine’s "tick tick," a cow’s coughing, a plane’s "zoom" cutting words in two (BA) —but also the more subtle rhythms and metaphors of body, mind, nature, and, yes, even class. The sounds, rhythms and metaphors in her writing are examples of the subject’s experience of the object or what might be termed, the continuity of the subject and the object. This is a quality of style that distinguishes Woolf from other modernists. In her short story "Solid Objects," the aesthete, John who is obsessed with looking at and touching beautiful stones, notes that "looked at again and again. . . any object mixes itself so profoundly with the stuff of thought that it loses its actual form" (98). Woolf’s treatment of things (objects), then, is not, as with other Modernists, just "regard for the physical object as object—not self, not-subject—fragment of Being, as solidity, as otherness" (4) as Douglas Mao asserts. Rather, objects and things in Woolf are the extension of her own subjectivity as a writer as well as the subjectivity of the characters and things that she seeks to describe. As readers of Woolf, we cannot tell the difference between the object being described and the consciousness perceiving it or the writer writing it.

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