The development of Virginia Woolf’s late cultural criticism, 1930-1941
This thesis explores the development of Virginia Woolf’s late cultural criticism. While contemporary scholars commonly observe that Woolf shifted her intellectual focus from modernist fiction to cultural criticism in the 1930s, there has been little sustained examination of why and how Woolf’s late cultural criticism evolved during 1930-1941. This thesis aims to contribute just such an investigation to field. My approach here fuses a feminist-historicist approach with the methodology of genetic criticism (critique génétique), a French school of textual studies that traces the evolution of literary works through their compositional histories. Reading across published and unpublished texts in Woolf’s oeuvre, my genetic, feminist-historicist analysis of Woolf emphasises that her late cultural criticism developed from her early feminist politics and dissident aesthetic stance as well as in response to the tempestuous historical circumstances of 1930-1941. As a prelude to my investigation of Woolf’s late output, Chapter 1 traces the genesis of Woolf’s cultural criticism in her early biographical writings. Chapter 2 then scrutinises Woolf’s late turn to cultural criticism through six essays she produced for Good Housekeeping in 1931. Chapter 3 surveys the evolution of Woolf’s critique of patriarchy in Three Guineas (1938) through the voluminous pre-publication documents that link this innovative feminist-pacifist pamphlet to The Years (1937). Finally, Chapter 4 outlines how Woolf’s last novel, Between the Acts (1941), fuses fiction with cultural criticism to debate art’s social role in times of national crisis. The close relationship between formal and political radicalism in Woolf’s late cultural criticism, I conclude, undermines the integrity of viewing Woolf’s oeuvre in two distinct phases –the modernist 1920s and the socially-engaged 1930s – and suggests the danger of using such labels in wider narratives of interwar literature. Woolf’s late cultural criticism, this thesis argues, developed from rather than rejected her earlier experimentalism.
- PhD