Diminishment of Consciousness: a Paradox in the Art of Virginia Woolf

  • John Bayley
Part of the Studies in 20th Century Literature book series (STCL)


Two small pictures — landscapes — hang in a public room in Somerville College, Oxford. Approaching for a closer look the visitor almost immediately concludes they are better seen from a distance and withdraws accordingly. There is something sad about those pictures, which are by Roger Fry.1 All the dynamism of an epoch, all its life-giving enthusiasms, seem to have drained out, and left them bleak and lonely in this arid academic setting. To see them is to think of a time past, not of an art all-suffusing and continuously present. No story still animates them, no secrecy glows out of them. As he looks and leaves the spectator may be struck by the thought that they are both very like, and very unlike, the novels of Virginia Woolf.


Centenary Perspective Common Reader Small Picture Real Helplessness Passive Side 
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  1. 2.
    Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out (1915; rpt. London: Hogarth Press, 1929) Ch. 22, pp. 355–71.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (1927; rpt. London: Hogarth Press, 1932) Sect. I, Ch. 1, p. 11.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Virginia Woolf, A Writer’s Diary, ed. Leonard Woolf (London: Hogarth Press, 1953) entry dated 12 Sept. 1921Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Virginia Woolf, The Waves (1931; rpt. London: Hogarth Press, 1946) p. 169.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    E. M. Forster, ‘The Early Novels of Virginia Woolf’, Abinger Harvest (London: Edward Arnold, 1936) pp. 125–34.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Maurice Blanchot, — ‘Outwitting the Demon — A Vocation’, The Sirens’ Song, ed. Gabriel Josipovici, trans. Sacha Rabinovitch (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1982) p. 87.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    Joan Bennet, Virginia Woolf: Her Art as a Novelist (Cambridge University Press, 1945) p. 10.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Virginia Woolf, ‘Jane Austen’, The Common Reader (London: Hogarth Press, 1929) PP. 168–83.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    Virginia Woolf, ‘The New Biography’, Collected Essays, ed. Leonard Woolf (London: Hogarth Press, 1967) Vol. IV, p. 234.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© John Bayley 1984

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  • John Bayley

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