Virginia Woolf's Perspective on Fiction

An Examination of Virginia Woolf's Essays "Modern Fiction" and "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown"

Term Paper, 2002
18 Pages, Grade: 1,3

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. “Modem Fiction” and “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown”
2.1 The Edwaredians
2.2 The Proper stuff of fiction
2.3 Characterization

1 .Introduction

In Virginia Woolf's Essay ״Modern Fiction“, which is her perhaps most quoted theoretical work, although ״Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown“ is the more meaningful of the two, v.w. tries to convey the modernist's approach to literature. It is very often refered to as Woolf's manifesto, although upon a first reading it does not seems to boil down to a specific point, it raises several valid questions. In this seemingly ״unfinished“ state of her essay lies the quality which is characteristic for her work. Or as John Mepham put it:

”She never settled on any one way of writing, one narrative method but constantly experimented with new techniques. Each discovery was adopted researched and abandoned. Each of these experiments is analysed as a choice, an attempt to find some new way of representign consciousness and life story. Each choice is a way of making a statement about life about the way the world is about what it is to be a person so we can see her career as an endless series of attempts to define what life is. None of them definitive.Her work is a lifelong inconclusive interrogation.”[1]

The constantly changing style throughout her novels and numerous sketches, essays and short stories shows her search for her own voice, her own way of treating reality, and whether or not fiction can, and if so in what way, transport the essence of life in the guise of human consciousness.

The Essay can be divided into several points:

1. the criticism of the so called Edwardian's which she refers to as materialists.
2. The question of characterization, which is treated more thoroughly in her later work ״Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown“
3. the question of the “proper stuff of fiction” and consequently the question of what life is like.

“Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown” will be treated as a consequent successor to “Modern Fiction” as it takes up most of the questions raised in “Modern Fiction” and further elaborates on them. In this essay VW continues her critique against the Edwardians and specifies it further, also the quality of her critique has changed, as she has found her own voice and is much more self-assured than in her first essay.[2] “Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown” is not only a theoretical essay, it was intended to make the modernists' methods and especially Woolf acknowledged by the public.

2.“M0dern Fiction” and “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown”

“Modern Fiction” is a very important contribution to the theoretical discourse, that was in progress since the beginning of the 20th Century. It was started due to the changes in Society, which had begun in the late 19th Century, and these changes were reflected in literature. Many Writers felt that the conventions of the Victorian Novelists, which had been developed in the precursing decades, did no longer serve the purpose of representing either society or life, because of the changes that had gone about then.

The two antagonistic groups that engaged in this discussion, are called[3] the Edwardians[4] and the Georgians[5]. The latter group of reformists, were at first sneered upon as modernists, which after a while lost its negative ring to it, prominent members are James Joyce, T.s. Eliot and of course Virginia Woolf. Members of the Edwardians are Mr. Bennett, Mr H.G. Wells and Mr Galsworthy.

The Edwardians were not ignorant of the changes that had come about, on the contrary, on the occasion of a Post-Impressionist exhibition in London in 1910 Bennett wrote:

[...]supposing some writer were to come along and do in words

what these men have done in paint, I might conceyvably be disgusted with the whole of modern fiction, and I might have to begin again. This awkward experience will in all probability not happen to me, but it might happen to a writer younger than me. At any rate it is a fine thought. The average critic calls me, both in praise and dispraise, “photographic"; and I always rebut the epiteth with disdain, because in the sense meant by the average critic I am not photographic. But supposing that in a deeper sense I were? Supposing a young writer turned up and forced me, and some of my contemporaries-us who fancy ourselves a bit -to admit that we had been concerning ourselves unduly with [in] essentials, that we had been worrying ourselves to achieve infantile realisms?

Well that day would be a great and disturbing day-for US. And we should see what we should see. ’[6]

In fact Bennett even seems to be rather open minded towards literary progress and Virginia Woolf praises him for that when she reviews his article in 1917 writing:

“Mr Bennett has to admit that he has been concerning himself unduly with inessentials, that he has been worrying himself to achieve infantile realisms? He will admit it we are sure; and that he can ask himself such a question seems to US certain proof that he is what he claims to be-а “creative artist””[7]

Although Bennett has asked the right question, to the modernist's mind at least, he did not draw any conclusions from it, as far as his writing was concerned. Becausse he stayed with his realist conventional novels. Virginia Woolf however did not, she continued applying the modernist approach to her work. Which can be seen beautifully in her short story “Mark on the wall”, where a woman watches a mark on a wall musing about it, and the world in general. Virginia Woolf even lets literary theory slide into the character's thought.

“As we face each other in omnibuses and underground railways we are looking into the mirror that accounts for the vagueness, the gleam of glassiness, in our eyes. And the novelists in future will realise more and more the importance of these reflections, for of course there is not one reflection but an almost infinite number, those are the depths they will explore, those the phantoms they will pursue, leaving the description of reality more and more out of their stories, taking a knowledge of it for granted, as the Greeks did and Shakespeare perhaps - but these generalisations are very worthless. The military sound of the word is enough. It recalls leading articles, cabinet ministers - a whole class of things indeed which as a child one thought of the thing itself, the standard thing, the real thing, from which one could not depart save at the risk of nameless dammnation. Generalizations bring back somehow Sunday in London, Sunday afternoon walks, Sunday luncheons, and also ways of speaking of the dead, clothes, and habits-like the habit of sitting all together in one room until a certain hour, although nobody liked it. There was a rule for everything. The rule for tablecloths at that particular period was that they should be made of tapestry [...]. Tablecloths of a different kind were not real tablecloths. How shocking, and yet how wonderful it was to discover that these real things, Sunday luncheons, Sunday walks, country houses, and tablecloths were not entirely real, were indeed half phantoms, and the damnation which visited the disbeliever in them was only a sense of illegitimate freedom-if freedom exists.”[8]

The reflections, we see looking at the others, are a metaphor for the consciousness of people, which the novelists of the future will explore further, as Woolf herself did. The things a child takes for the real things, are indeed not the real things, as they have no soul, no consciousness. The disbeliever, then would be a person who, believes in things with a soul or a consciousness or at least not in conventions, which Woolf surely did not. “The Mark on the wall” was written in 1917, when Woolf experimented aiot with new techniques, producing sketches of several short stories, one of them “Kew Gardens”, where she experiments with perspective, portraying several people taking a walk in a park. The whole story seems to be told or rather perceived, as there is neither narrator nor plot, from the slant of a snail. This is very significant if regarded with respect to the way short stories were constructed in that period, they should be “brief and conclusive”[9], which “Kew Gardens” and “Mark on the wall” are surely not. Woolf refrains from constructing her “two and thirty chapters after a design which more and more ceases to resemble the vision in [her mind]”[10] Indeed most of her work was concerned with the breaking of conventions, feeling that conventions should be abandoned as soon as the writer finds himself constrained in his artistic vision, she is turning away from the literary conventions the Edwardians had established.

In 1919 Woolf publishes “Modern Fiction” in which she heavily critizises the Materialists. Discussing literature in general and characterisation specifically, she pleads for the modernist method which is now refered to as “stream of consciousness”. Furthermore she questions the value of realistic description of objects, valuing the subject, i.e. the mind of the character portrayed, far more highly.

Due to the critique that she received from Mr. Bennett for “Jacob's Room” and his publication of Our Women” in 1920, in which he expresses sexist ideas about the supremacy of men, in addition to calling himself feminist, Woolf decided to publish “[...]a counterblast to Mr Bennett [...]” which is then published in three different versions and became to be famous, in its final version, as “Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown”.[11] [12]

2.1 The Edwardians

A group of novelists, defined by VW, they published their major works when King Edward reigned, and are to be distinguished from the Victorians. In “Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown” VW illustrates, their way of writing novels, pointing out precisely what she deems false in their approach. She uses Bennett's assertion:

“ The foundation of good fiction is charactercreating and nothing else... style counts; plot counts; originality of outlook counts. But none of these counts anything like so much as the convincingness of the character. If the character are real the novel will have a chance; if thea are not, oblivion will be its portion... V2

Using Mrs Brown, who she characterised herself, as a subject, Woolf satirizes their way of writing beautifully. Although Woolf says that she harbours a certain respect for the trio, her comment is very sharp, when she says:”the Edwardians were never interested in character in itself...”[13].

Therefore it is not surprising that she depicts them as ignorant towards Mrs Brown, Mr Wells, she says, “would [not] waste a thought upon her as she is” but would take her as an inspiration to create an Utopia, where everyone was “much like [himself]”. She dismisses this approach as unfit for the Georgian age, speculating if one “... is right to call [their novels] books at all”. Nevertheless, Woolf thinks that their books have a right to exist, that they even were a necessity “after the creative activity of the Victorian age”, not only for literature but for life itself.

I think that this is a valid observation, as Well's Utopias were as much a change, from classic Victorianism as the modernist novels, although in a quite different way. As Wells is not even close to occupying himself with characterisation, i.e. representing characters as they are in real life, instead he is occupied with the creation of a better society, the people constituting his Utopian society being “better”[14] as his contemporaries. Woolf certainly assumes his quest to be a worthwhile one, though she does not think that he succeeded, because of “the crudity and coarseness of his human beings”[15] he fails to make the reader believe in his Utopia. She even implies that his whole work is thus rendered worthless, saying “Does not the inferiority of their natures tarnish whatever institutions and ideals may be provided for them by the generosity of their creator?”[16]

Mr Galsworthy, according to Woolf, is so much concerned with the existing society in its magnificence, describing every minute detail of it, thus trying to make his work realistic, that he misses to see that society consists of people with a soul. His social criticism does not even seem to be earnest at times when he loses himself in accurately describing detail after detail of an upper class dinner, down to the choice of wine, the smell of cigars and the marvel of one's perfectly-chosen wife's perfectly-chosen perfume, thus conveying his fascination with the bourgeois life-style.

According to Woolf, Bennett would be the only one of the three, sitting in the metaphorical train compartment with Mrs Brown, who would not look out of the window, but instead observe the subject with great interest. He would, Woolf muses, [...]observe every detail with immense care[...] how Mrs Brown wore a brooch which had cost three-and-ten-three at Whitworth's Bazaar, and had mended both gloves[..] how this was the non­stop train from Windsor which calls at Richmond for the convenience of middle-class residents.[17]

Although these observations are not necessarily in vain, it is certainly questionable wheter these alone can bring Mrs Brown to live in the reader's mind. She does not think so, to her Bennett “[...]spend[s] immense skill and immense industry making the trivial and the transistory appear the true and the enduring”[18]

2.2 The proper stuff of fiction

What is it then, the reader may ask himself, and Virginia Woolf certainly does, the “proper stuff of fiction”, what should the novelist try to convey in his work? Which are the necessary ingredients if the conventions of plot, comedy and tragedy, do not suffice anymore, are even “labour misplaced” in bringing out the artist's conception?

The answer, if there is any, is not easily conceived, and Woolf herself is not too sure “wheter [..] to call [what she seeks] life or spirit, truth or reality”[19] Although she seems to have mentioned an important part of it in “Mark on the wall” when she talks about “reflections” which I interpret as the consciousness of one's opponent, perceived in his gaze.

In “Modern Fiction” Woolf is still very unsure of what to pledge, she expresses her admiration for Joyce's attempt “to come closer to life”. She praises the modernists for being concerned with the spirit and not the body, as the materialists were.

For all her praise, she is not content with the achiements of Joyce, she extols his style, his depiction of consciousness, which even transgresses the borders presented by syntax, the diction mimicking the ebb and flow of the mind. She asserts that he succeeds in portraying the working of the mind, observing many of the “myriad impressions” that fall upon the mind everyday. “If we want life itself, here surely we have it”[20], but it does not seem that this is what she wants, though she can at that point not really clarify what it is that Joyce lacks.

It takes her some time to distance herself from the idea that, recording of a mind's activity alone can be sufficient.[21] At the time of writing “Modern Fiction” she has only a vague feeling that it may be “the method that inhibits the creative power”[22] when refering to Joyce's techniques.

About one thing she was sure though, that there are moments in everyday life that are important, that deserve being written down, to be shared with the readers. What Joyce calls “epiphanies”, Woolf calls “moments of being”. Both define those, as a revelation, a deeper insight, which reaches right to the inner core of the being that experiences them. Wheter it is, the character in the story, which is most common with Woolf, or the narrator or even only the reader, which is skilfully done by Mr Joyce in “Dubliners”.

Opinions about the significance of these “moments of being” differ very much, in one aspect though most critics are unanimous, Woolf wrote only to construct these “[...]moments, those being her main target when writing.”[23]

She shows her appraisal for Joyce, applauding his method by which he comes “[...]so close to the quick of the mind[...]”[24], but what is with those who are not of the quick of the mind?

Should those not be able to share, whatever the writer wishes to share??

This thought, seems never to have entered her considerations, yet I think it is a valid one and should be examined. For surely “stream of consciousness” is a very powerful metaphor hearing of that technique, one has the image of two minds linking, sharing those things which Woolf, according to Mepham, said are “[...]precisely inarticulate which are painful or ecstatic precisely because they are without representation”,[25] as they come from that part of the consciousness refered to as the subconsciousness, which is hardly expressable by the means of language. Yet, even if one supposes the linking of minds possible, the question is, if this rendered in language, suffices the purpose of transporting exactly those thoughts, or rather impressions, which cannot be voiced. I think not, and I suppose that even Woolf does not really believe this possible.

Mepham voices this opinion marvelously, saying that [...]fiction does not and cannot reproduce, as in a copy, the stream of consciousness', the flow of mental contents. The most obvious reason for this is that many kinds of mental activity are not verbal in form; not even all thought is verbal thought, and not everythin in consciousness is thought. The non-verbal material in consciousness cannot be 'presented', in the sense of 'quoted' in language; it can only be somehow simulated [...]. Unfortunately, a great deal of commentary on the task that fiction sets itself in recording the contents of consciousness, including Woolf's own stumbling formulations [...], suggest that fiction could be some kind of passive recording of a sequence of mental events in words, whereas it must [...] be a creative rendering of these events through the artifice of verbal invention and convention.[26]

Mepham goes on pointing out, that “the mental contents are [...] often [neither] verbal in form [... nor] unilinear [n]or sequential [...] either”[27] This is of course a valid observation, although I disagree with the conclusion he draws from them, saying that “[mental contents] are not 'atoms'[..] the reality of consciousness being multidimensional, not atomistic”[28].

But Woolf never said that, she said that the mind receives a “myriad of impressions” an “incessant shower of atoms”[29]. If one takes her statements and sees it from a biopsychological point of view then she is right. The body receives myriads of stimuli at the same time, which are transported through the neurons, to the brain, where they then, through a series of complex neuronal activity, inhibiting this stimulus and further stimulating the other, render consciousness. This processing of stimuli that takes place in our nervous system, “of course”, ads a dimension to our consciousness, in linking one impression with one in our memory, and at the same time, discarding another, so that we are never aware of it.

So even if there was a method to stop time and observe the contents of a consciousness down to every last detail, it would still be impossible to understand it, as the reactions to a specific stimulus can not be predicted, thus the understanding could at best be momentarily in its nature. Another problem is the mind of the reader who will surely interpret the large amounts of information he is given thus already changing the information presented.

This is where Mepham is right of course, but I think that Woolf, was aware of that fact as well, if maybe not with that kind of scientific knowledge about the function of the neuronal system. I think so because, she says that, these 'atoms' “[...]shape themseves into the life of monday or tuesday[...]” indicating, to my mind, a processing of some sort, that goes beyond the simple image, of a number of impressions that follow one after the other, having no connection whatsoever.

Mepham also states, that Woolf described consciousness as a 'luminous halo', denying the validity of that metaphor altogether[30].

This is debatable, but most important is to note that Woolf said, “[...]life is like a luminous halo”[31] not consciousness, because that halo “surrounds consciousness”[32], which hints even more, that Woolf was aware of the impossibility of simply “[...]recording, as in a copy[...]” the contents of consciousness. If only so because she sees life as the proper stuff of fiction, and the stream of consciousness only as a method to render part of life.

Indication of this, is her turning away from, “merely” recording the consciousness of her characters as they sweep back and forth in thought, as she did for example in “Mark on the wall”. Instead seeking, for a transcendental meaning in those thoughts.

Her search for the transcendental, which has caused some critics to call her mystic, is characteristic for her use of the various forms of the stream of consciousness technique. Mepham, refering to Naremore, points out that “her intentions were not limited to psychological realism; she wanted also to render something beyond consciousness, something transcendent.”[33] It is interesting to me that he notes that research focusing on her technique only as a method for the “[...]representation of subjectivity is to miss this crucial [transcendental] dimension on her work”[34], which is precisely what he did, a few paragraphs earlier.

Her heavy experimentation with “stream of consciousness” in her sometimes sketchlike short stories, do to me not represent her belief in this technique as the ultimate solution for transporting the “proper stuff of fiction” but rather a need for developing her own techniques.

Her firm wish to show, that it was not anymore “'this' but 'that'” which interests her, “that” being her “moments of being”, accounts for the disappearance of conventional methods in her work, as these revelations take place mostly in the mind of the character. Hence the need for plot, explicit setting and narrators is negligible, which Woolf emphasizes on every possible occasion in her theoretical writing,

״Woolf says that the smashing and crashing of old conventions is inevitable whenever ... the convention ceases to be a means of communication between writer and reader and becomes instead an obstacle and impediment“[35]

,and even in her shorter fiction.[36] Still she sees drawbacks to the singular use of any “one” technique, as she expresses that, the reader feels “...centered in a self which [...] never embraces or creates what is outside itself and beyond[.]”[37] reading the cemetery scene in Ulysses. But at that point she has not emancipated herself enough to go further in her literary criticism, and exert the necessity of going beyond the single consciousness fusing together realist description of room, garments, outer appearances and the modernist method of representing consciousness with a truth that transcends the boundaries of daily life and singular persons, to a higher level of universal truth. This is, what she later on does, going beyond characterization, in the sense of making the reader accept as a realistic rendering into language a sentiment, so ungraspsable as love, as felt by the character, but to embrace it, saying, “[...] yes that is what love is like”[38].

In her major works, she is always on the search for something she calls “the truth of fiction”[39], this again alludes to the transcendental quality of her work, showing that she is interested neither in realistic description of outer appearances and events, as the materialists and naturalists did, nor in the realistic description of the working of a characters mind. She is not sure what it is she is looking for, when writing “Modern Fiction” but she is sure that it is not realism in any form. This can be deduced from her saying that literature is not worthwhile if “Life escapes,[...]” she admits that talking about life is “[...] a confession of vagueness, but we scarcely better the matter by speaking [...] of reality”.

2.3 Characterization

Somehow Woolf succeeds more in bringing Mrs Brown to life, than Bennett does bringing Hilda Lessways to life. Her achievement is different from the sense of true characterization, giving the reader the feeling to know the character, like maybe a good friend or a close relative. It is more the vividness of the scene that makes Mrs Brown come to life. It is the careful observation of social intercourse that takes place between Smith and Brown, that makes the scene realistic. Realistic not in the sense of photographic, as even Mr Bennett renounces as unsuited for fiction, it is not that every reader can be sure what Mrs Brown looked like exactly, as it was the case, Woolf asserts, if Mr Bennett had described her. I am quite sure that every reader has a different vision of Mr Brown as far as her outer appearances are concerned. It is the little observations Woolf makes, noting her tidiness, without explicitly mentioning, that for example her “clean little boots”46, had been meticulously cleaned for an hour or so, bevor she had applied the shoewax and which kind of cloth she had used to polish them afterwards, which Bennett surely would have done, as Woolf suggests. She does as she said in “Mark on the wall” “[...take] a certain knowledge of [reality] for granted” she believes in the[40] imagination of the reader, that he can envision an elderly woman who is extremly tidy and pulls herself together with the last of her dignity.

As mentioned above, Woolf did not properly characterise Mrs Brown, though even the name alone conveys a certain image, and she readily admits so[41]. But still, I think the reader has a certain idea what Mrs Brown must be like, it is nothing definite and it is surely not as solid as the materialists' fabric is, but it is maybe the essence, striking a chord in the reader's mind making him remember one Mrs Brown he had met himself long time ago in some train compartment.

Woolf critizises Bennett's way of characterising “Hilda Lessways”, she states again that Bennett occupies himself with inessentials, most important houses, their particular layout and the occupations of the inhabitants, thus neglecting his more important task of giving the reader access to Hilda as a character. It is surely irritating that a novelists whose firm belief was that “The foundation of good fiction is character-creating and nothing else...”,[42] occupies himself so much with the realistic description of the character's surroundings that he seems to forget to write about the character himself. Yet omission is not necessarily a flaw in the creation of fiction, as Woolf's way of characterization shows. Surely any of Bennett's contemporaries could draw substantial amount of information about “Hilda Lessway” from the information about her habitat. The farther away from the time of creation the reader is though, the harder it becomes to infer meaning from the given information. The positive side is, that the reader gets a lot of information about the architecture of the period described, and the way many people led their lifes, even if one does not get to know them very much as Woolf suggests. One should bear in mind that Bennett's method has also some merits to it not only drawbacks.

Finally it is important to remember that both writers, although they had both set characterization as their ultimate goal, had somewhat different conceptions about what good characterisation is, apart from the methods used.

Bennett states that “[...] Dr Watson in Sherlock Holmes is real to him [...]”[43], Woolf considers him to be “[...] a dummy, a figure of fun.”. Here one can observe an important difference in the expectation that both writers have about characters in fiction. Surely Dr Watson was very well described and a reader does not have to go to much trouble to imagine him standing in room discussing with “Holmes” and waiting for witnesses. Yet he is only a type, without a complex inner life, and this is precisely what Woolf critizises. But I think her critique is a bit mislead, because Dr Watson serves his function in the novels. As the “Sherlock Holmes” series is almost only about plot, the complexities of the characters involved is negligible, even more so as Dr Watson is one of the less important characters in the series.

Woolf's work which does not have much of a traditional plot, does of course depend on its characters to make the reading worthwhile, it is the emotional understanding of a character that Woolf aims at, to her it is not so important that every reader has the same image of a character's looks.

For Example in “Lappin and Lappinova” the colour of the heroine's hair is never mentioned not even wheter her hair is short or long, nor are there references to her clothing, Instead of letting the reader infer from information about outer appearances information about character traits, woolf explicitly mentions them, calling Lappinova timid, smallish. The difference of function between these two characters is what accounts for the striking differences in their characterisation, Dr Watson is precisely what he is described as, he is a detective's assistant and his main function in the novel is to advance the plot. The heroine of “Lappin and Lappinova” does not have to advance a plot, as there is virtually none, nor has she to be described in vast detail as she is only a vehicle for the message that Woolf wishes to transport about marriages. I interpret “Lappin and Lappinova” as a story about the futility of marriages between a person that is as down to eart as Ernest Thorburn is described to be, and a person as “[...]unreliable, timid[...]”and detached from reality as Rosalind Thorburn is.

Rosalind is what commonly is refered to as a dreamer, she is a person that needs to rely on the creation of a fictional world to get along with her husband. She cannot even imagine how “Without that world [...] she [could] have lived at all”[44], and when she looses the world, her fictional self being killed “[...]in a trap[...]”, the narrating instance tells US “So that was the end of that marriage.”. The end of the marriage must not necessarily be literal in its meaning, the ending of the story is left open, yet one aspect is clear, the happiness the couple had enjoyed in the beginning of their marriage is over.

Whatever a thourough examination of “Lappin and Lappinova” may yield as a result concerning the imparted meaning, one can be sure that Bennett would not have regarded the character of Rosalind as well crafted. She remains somehow ungraspable, her outer appearance being whatever image the reader conjures up thinking about a “timid” woman with “prominent eyes”, her personality though is done better, although one could regard her as a type not a full fledged character.

That is not necessarily a drawback, I think she serves her purpose in the story quite well. Some readers having read the story, may be left with a vague feeling, asking themselves what it was about. And in this lies a crucial difference between the fiction such as Woolf's, which may have a deeper meaning which is not obvious at a first glance, and fiction such as the “Sherlock Holmes” series.

Finally it remains to clarify what the purpose of the comparison between Dr Watson and Rosalind is, it is to emphasize the differences between Bennett and Woolf, on a level of artistic interest, to make clear that there can be no such thing as the “right” way of characterisation, because after all the characters are only vehicles transporting the message of the author, if there is any. The value of “Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown” does hence not lie in the technical discussion of the methods of characterisation, but in the underlying question about the proper stuff of fiction, as a certain mode of characterisation was intertwined with a certain artistic interest. When Bennett describes a character as seeming “real” to him, then Woolf has to object:

[...] facts are a very inferior form of fiction. Thus the desire grows upon us to have done with half-statements and aproximations; to cease from searching out the minute shades of human character, to enjoy the greater abstractness, the purer truth of fiction.[45]

The discourse between Mr Bennett and Mrs Woolf does not come to an end, yet it was not in vain, because although Virginia Woolf did not believe that improvement in writing was possible, she certainly improved literature with her contribution, diversity of the artform being her declared goal.[46]

[1] John Mepham, Criticism in focus: Virginia Woolf (London: Bristol Classic Press,1992) 11.

[2] References to “Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown” always refer to the third and final revision of this essay published as “Character in Fiction” in the “Criterion” in July 1924

[3] After Virginia Woolf's definition in “Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown”

[4] Also Materialists in “Modern Fiction”

[5] Also Modernists in “Modern Fiction”

[6] Beth Rigel Daugherty “The whole contention between Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Woolf, revisited”, Virginia Woolf: Cenntennial Essays, (Troy, New York: Whitston Pubi., 1983) 270.

[7] As above

[8] virginia Woolf, Mark on the Wall, “The complete shorter Fiction of VW” (San Diego, Calif.: Harcourt Brace, 1989) 85.

[9] “Modern Fiction” ebook page 4

[10] Same as above page 2

[11] Daugherty: “The whole Contention between Mr Bennett and Mrs Woolf, revisited”

[12] Virginia Woolf, Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown, “A Woman's Essays Volume One” (London, Penguin Books, 1992) 69.

[13] “Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown” 76.

[14] Woolf says, he is missing Mrs Brown, because of “...his passion to make her what she ought to be,...”

[15] Modern Fiction

[16] Modern Fiction

[17] “Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown” 78

[18] “Modern Fiction”

[19] “Modern Fiction”

[20] “Modern Fiction”

[21] See John Mepham, “Criticism in Focus: Virginia Woolf” Virginia Woolf and Modernism p.45 “many critics [...] wish to emphasize her liberation from the more formalist aspects of modernism in her later work”

[22] “Modern Fiction”

[23] John Mepham, 47

[24] “Modern Fiction”

[25] J0hn Mepham, 74

[26] John Mepham, 54

[27] John Mepham, 54

[28] John Mepham, 55

[29] “Modern fiction”

[30] John Mepham, 55 “None of these metaphors come close to accurately capturing the particular forms of complexity of consciousness, and Woolf herself later dropped them”

[31] “Modern fiction”

[32] “Modern fiction”

[33] John Mepham, 55

[34] John Mepham, 56

[35] “The whole contention between Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Woolf, revisited“, 280.

[36] See extract of “Mark on the Wall” beginning on the third page

[37] Modern Fiction

[38] J0an Bennett, Characters and Human experience, “Virginia Woolf : A collection of Critical Essays (Englewood Cliffs, NJ : Prentice Hall, 1993)12.

[39] Virginia Woolf, How should one read a book, “The Common Reader Second Series by Virginia Woolf” (London, Hogarth Press ,1932) 264.

[40] Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown

[41] Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown “I admit that I shirked that arduous undertaking [of finding a method to convey her vision of Mrs Brown to the reader]” p.83

[42] Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown p.69

[43] Mr bennett and Mrs Brown p. 75

[44] “Lappin and Lappinova”

[45] Virginia Woolf, How should one read a book, “The Common Reader Second Series by Virginia Woolf” 260.

[46] “Modern Fiction” last sentences

18 of 18 pages


Virginia Woolf's Perspective on Fiction
An Examination of Virginia Woolf's Essays "Modern Fiction" and "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown"
College  (Anglistik)
Introduction to Modern Fiction
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virginia, woolf, perspective, fiction, examination, essays, modern, bennett, brown
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Simon Dittrich (Author), 2002, Virginia Woolf's Perspective on Fiction, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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