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Virginia Wolf {2} – 3 lit crits

Reality and Virgina Woolf


Brian Phillips

Originally published in Hudson Review Autumn 2003

* The easiest to read
* Most valuable
* If you write or try to write you will learn from it

There is an ideal of the sympathetic imagination that passes from eighteenth-century moral philosophy into nineteenth-century literary criticism, which holds that an effort of imaginative sympathy makes it possible for the mind to break through the barrier that separates it from its object, and, for a moment, to inhabit the object in an act of whole identification. This ability then becomes the writer’s most important faculty and is in a sense the natural instinct of the poet. “He had only to think of any thing,” as Hazlitt wrote of Shakespeare, “in order to become that thing, with all the circumstances belonging to it.” “If a Sparrow come before my Window,” Keats wrote, “I take part in its existence and pick about the Gravel.” In entering an object outside the self, the imagination is able to perceive the inmost nature of the object with an intensity and a fullness that reason cannot match; but the absorption of the mind in what lies outside the self necessarily requires the self to be, at least temporarily, extinguished. This is what Keats meant when he wrote that “Men of Genius have not any individuality, any determined Character.” It is a mystical, impersonal aspiration, almost always associated with literary creativity, and it accords deeply with Woolf’s sense of character, inwardness, and impersonality in fiction. Not surprisingly, the older idea is most frequently employed in describing Shakespeare, the writer Woolf most admires, and whose unimpeded clarity she is most apt to praise. It is for Shakespeare that Keats coins the expression “negative capability,” Shakespeare who prompts Hazlitt to write that “He was nothing in himself, but he was all that others were.” Hazlitt continues:

When he conceived of a character, whether real or imaginary, he not only entered into all its thoughts and feelings, but seemed instantly, and as if by touching a secret spring, to be surrounded with all the same objects, ‘subject to the same skyey influences,’ the same local, outward, and unforeseen accidents which would occur in reality.

“These Emotions of the Body”: intercorporeal narrative in ‘To the Lighthouse.’ – book by Virginia Woolf


Laura Doyle

Twentieth century Literature, Spring 1994

* some on Merlot-Ponty vs. Sartre (phenomenology)

The housemaid and the kitchen table: incorporating the frame in ‘To the Lighthouse.’ – book by Virginia Woolf


William R. Handley

Twentieth century Literature, Spring 1994

A bit heavy going academic tripe, but has its moments.

April 30, 2008 Posted by | Hazlitt, Keats, Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf | | Leave a comment