Woolf, Joyce, and Artistic Neurosis



Although the principle of ut pictura poesis had long lost its authority, in the early decades of the twentieth century the principle itself, no longer reliant on the classical axiom, seems to have regained its strength; for writers repeatedly projected themselves fictionally into their works in the guise of painters, on the assumption that the two media were essentially kindred. D. H. Lawrence, in his semi-autobiographical Sons and Lovers, depicted his younger self as Paul Morel embarking on a career as a painter, long before he himself took up painting as an avocation;1 James Joyce entitled the fictionalised account of his own decision to become a writer A Portrait of the Artist …, naming his central character after the ‘cunning artificer’ Daedalus, whose artistic creations, according to legend, were so realistic that they appeared to come alive; and Virginia Woolf’s own attempt to reconstitute the English novel was projected into the figure of the painter Lily Briscoe, agonising over the structural composition of a canvas.


Childhood Trauma Fictional Character Creative Artist Classical Axiom Freudian Theory 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    D. H. Lawrence began painting only in 1926. Marianna Torgovnick, The Visual Arts, Pictorialism, and the Novel (Princeton, 1985), although acknowledging the identification of novelist with painter in the work of James, Lawrence and Woolf, dismisses it as a merely ‘decorative’ element (p. 17). In fact, in Henry James’ novels author identification is normally not with the artist but with the connoisseur, watching with interest the painter’s or sculptor’s progress, as in Roderick Hudson or The Sacred Fount. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 3.
    See, among many such instances, Norman Cantor, Twentieth-Century Culture: modernism to deconstruction (New York, 1988), pp. 64f., who supports there the traditional view that the proliferation of photography made it ‘necessary for artists to move towards more nonrepresenta-tional portrayals because the camera coopted what had hitherto been the characteristic province of the painter, namely, to depict what the eye saw.’Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Aaron Scharf, Art and Photography (New York, 1983), pp. 165f., and on Dégas, pp. 202f. Rodin rejected the lesson offered by Muybridge, endorsing the established method of painting horses’ legs as splayed out, since, although inaccurate anatomically, it recreated the optical impression produced on the viewer.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Cf. Bram Dijkstra, Cubism, Steiglitz, and the Early Poetry of William Carlos Williams (Princeton, 1978), especially pp. 15f.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Svetlana Alpers, The Art of Describing: Dutch art in the seventeenth century (Chicago, 1983), pp. 43–4.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    Umberto Eco, ‘Critique of the Image’, in Victor Burgin (ed.), Thinking Photography (London, 1982);Google Scholar
  7. Martin Jay, The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-century French Thought (Berkeley, 1993), especially chapter 3.Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    Quotation from James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (London, 1939), p. 522, the Mary Colum reference from Ellmann, The Consciousness of Joyce, op. cit., pp. 480, 647.Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    James Sully, Outlines of Psychology (London, 1884), p. 74. See alsoGoogle Scholar
  10. George Johnson, ‘Virginia Woolf and Second Wave Psychology’, Twentieth Century Literature, 40 (1994), 139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 15.
    Quotations from Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (Oxford, 1959), pp. 393, 450, 538;Google Scholar
  12. Quentin Bell, Virginia Woolf: a biography (New York, 1972) 2:19;Google Scholar
  13. Leon Edel, Bloomsbury: a house of lions (New York, 1980), p. 255;Google Scholar
  14. Nigel Nicolson and Joanne Trautmann (eds), Letters of Virginia Woolf (New York, 1978), 2:482, 134–5;Google Scholar
  15. Perry Meisel and Walter Kendrick (eds), Bloomsbury/Freud: the letters of James and Alix Strachey, 1924–25 (New York, 1985), p. 264. James Strachey also mentions her refusal to consult a psychiatrist for her own disorders. There is an interesting discussion of her relationship to psychoanalysis from an exclusively gender viewpoint inGoogle Scholar
  16. Elizabeth Abel, Virginia Woolf and the Fictions of Psychoanalysis (Chicago, 1989).Google Scholar
  17. 16.
    D. H. Lawrence, Fantasia of the Unconscious (London, 1933, orig. 1921), p. 13.Google Scholar
  18. 17.
    Charles Altieri, Painterly Abstraction in Modernist American Poetry (Cambridge, 1989), discusses in general terms the need of the Modernist poet to employ defensive strategies against the sense of dispossession inflicted on the arts.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Sigmund Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1917), trans. Joan Riviere (London, 1923), p. 314. As this is a crucial passage, I have used here the translation first published in 1922, which would have been available to writers of that time, rather than that of The Collected Works, of which volume 16, containing these lectures, appeared only in 1957. Reviere’s was the translation quoted by Roger Fry in his attempt at a rebuttal.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Peter Fuller, Art and Psychoanalysis (London, 1980).Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Albert Modell, The Erotic Motive in Literature (New York, 1919), pp. 11, 123, 146. For studies of the effect of psychology on art and its theory of the evolution of the artist in society, seeGoogle Scholar
  22. Ernst Kris, Psychoanalytic Explorations in Art (London, 1953), andGoogle Scholar
  23. Frederick J. Hoffman, Freudian-ism and the Literary Mind (Baton Rouge, 1957).Google Scholar
  24. 22.
    See especially, Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence (London, 1975) and A Map of Misreading (London, 1975); andGoogle Scholar
  25. Jacques Lacan, Ecrits: a selection (London, 1977) and The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis (London, 1977).Google Scholar
  26. 24.
    Recorded in Peter Gay, Freud: a life for our time (New York, 1988), pp. 214–15.Google Scholar
  27. 30.
    Tristan Tzara, Zurich Chronicle (1915–19). On Dadaism, seeGoogle Scholar
  28. C. W. E. Bigsby, Dada and Surrealism (London, 1972);Google Scholar
  29. Hans Richter, Dada: art and anti-art (Oxford, 1978);Google Scholar
  30. Robert Short, Dada and Surrealism (London, 1980);Google Scholar
  31. Alan Young, Dada and After: extremist modernism and English literature (Manchester, 1981).Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Pierre Janet, L’Automatisme psychologique (1889). See alsoGoogle Scholar
  33. H. N. Finkelstein, Surrealism and the Crisis of the Object (Ann Arbor, 1979).Google Scholar
  34. 33.
    A. Breton, Manifesto of Surrealism (1924), trans. R. Seaver and H. R. Lane (Ann Arbor, 1981), p. 26 (italics in the original).Google Scholar
  35. 34.
    Quoted in Dawn Ades, Dau (London, 1988), p. 50.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Salvador Dali, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali (New York, 1942). There is an analysis of the function of such legends in Surrealism at large inGoogle Scholar
  37. Whitney Chadwick, Myth in Surrealist Painting (Ann Arbor, 1980).Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Archie K. Loss, Joyce’s Visible Art: the work of Joyce and the visual arts, 1904–1922 (Ann Arbor, 1984) attempts, in a brief study, to connect his work with the art of the fin de siècle, usually on the basis of rather farfetched thematic connections. See alsoGoogle Scholar
  39. Maria E. Kronegger, James Joyce and Associated Image-makers (New Haven, 1968).Google Scholar
  40. 39.
    Those incidents, recorded in Bell, Virginia Woolf, op. cit., 1:42–4, have long been recognised as related to her subsequent sexual frigidity, although no connection has been made, to the best of my knowledge, with the Louis incident. See Lyndall Gordon, Virginia Woolf: a writer’s life (New York, 1984), p. 156.Google Scholar
  41. 40.
    Virginia Woolf, The Waves (London: Hogarth Press, 1990), pp. 61–2.Google Scholar
  42. 43.
    Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis (London, 1977).Google Scholar
  43. 44.
    Bettina L. Knapp, Word, Image, Psyche (Alabama, 1985), p. 173.Google Scholar
  44. 45.
    Bell, Virginia Woolf, op. cit., 1:89, 143; 2:7; Woolf, Diary, op. cit., 1:228, and The Moment and Other Essays (New York, 1948, orig. 1925), p. 178. Further discussion of her lack of responsiveness to painting can be found in the essays by various contributors in Diane F. Gillespie (ed.), The Multiple Muses of Virginia Woolf (Columbia, 1993), and in Gillespie’s own book, The Sister Arts: the writing and painting of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell (Syracus, 1988). The more traditional view that Woolf was powerfully affected by the 1910 exhibition whose influence, it is suggested, remained dormant in her consciousness, remains dominant inGoogle Scholar
  45. Marianna Torgovnick, The Visual Arts, Pictorialism, and the Novel: James, Lawrence, and Woolf (Princeton, 1985), pp. 62f.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 46.
    Her essay ‘Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown’, first delivered at Cambridge in 1924. This point is also made in Peter Faulkner (ed.), Modernism (London, 1977), pp. 34–5.Google Scholar
  47. 48.
    Mark Shechner, Joyce in Nighttown: a psychoanalytic inquiry into ‘Ulysses’ (Berkeley, 1974);Google Scholar
  48. Sheldon R. Brivic, Joyce Between Freud and Jung (London, 1980).Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    James Joyce, Ulysses (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986) pp. 155–75, citations from pp. 174–5. All quotations from Ulysses are from the revised Penguin version, the carefully corrected text edited by Hans Walter Gabler.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Dorrit Cohen, Transparent Minds: narrative modes for presenting consciousness in fiction (Princeton, 1978), especially pp. 86–8.Google Scholar
  51. 52.
    Carlos Rojas, Salvador Dali: or the art of spitting on your mother, trans. Alma Amell (Pennsylvania, 1993), p. 113. On parent-child relationships in psychoanalytic theory, see especially the chapter on ‘The Transformation of Puberty’ in Freud’s Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex (1905).Google Scholar
  52. 54.
    Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past, trans. C. K. Scott Moncrieff (London, 1949), 3: 896.Google Scholar
  53. 55.
    José Ortega y Gasset, The Dehumanization of Art, trans. Helene Weyl (Princeton, 1948), especially p. 21.Google Scholar
  54. 58.
    Hugo Ball, ‘Cabaret Voltaire’ (1916), in Robert Motherwell (ed.), The Dada Painters and Poets: an anthology (Cambridge, Mass., 1989), p. 51.Google Scholar
  55. 59.
    Robert Goldwater, Primitivism in Modern Art (New York, 1967), especially pp. 192f.Google Scholar
  56. 60.
    Recalled in Lothar Schreyer, Erinnerungen an Sturm und Bauhaus (Munich, 1956), p. 168.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Murray Roston 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bar Ilan UniversityRamat GanIsrael

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