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Virginia Woolf’s Ruined House, a Literary Complex

La ruine chez Virginia Woolf, un complexe littéraire
Adèle Cassigneul
p. 13-26

Résumés

La section centrale de To the Lighthouse s’articule autour de la nature oxymorique de la ruine et médite sur la disparition. Victime d’un temps qui passe irrémédiablement, la maison de famille demeure et résiste. Dans l’‘élégie’ woolfienne, la demeure vide et délabrée des Ramsays s’impose comme un lieu spectral du transitionnel (visible/invisible, lumière/obscurité, vie/mort), qui conjugue délabrement et déchéance, la disparition progressive d’un ordre ancien et de son héritage avec la promesse d’une reconstruction par la métamorphose.
Nous verrons en quoi, à travers le motif de la maison en ruine, Woolf amorce une réflexion sur la guerre (destruction, dislocation, fragmentation), le deuil (déchéance, poussière, obscurité) et le Temps (mémoire). Le texte naît d’une réflexion sur le temps qui passe. Cette durée qui est ici une question posée à l’humanité et à la littérature, une question sans réponse précise, davantage une reformulation perpétuelle de la question. Nous verrons comment dans To the Lighthouse Woolf utilise la ruine comme motif structurant afin d’exprimer l’inexprimable en temps troublés (séquelles traumatiques de la Grande guerre). La ruine se fait lieu de mémoire à travers l’apparition d’images frappantes (influence de la photographie et du cinéma liée à des questions temporelles et mémorielle), elle se fait également lieu de résistance, soulignant par là la fonction fondamentale de l’art lorsque une civilisation entière est menacée de destruction.

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Texte intégral

Such was the complexity of things. . . . to feel violently two opposite things at the same time. . . . (Woolf 2000b, 111)

  • 1 I use the phrase representation device as a translation for ‘dispositif’ as used in the works of Ph (...)

1The central section of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse hinges upon the oxymoronic nature of ruin and ponders over disappearance. Articulating concerns for loss and mourning, time and memory, war and destruction, creation and imagination, the Woolfian ruin stands as a ‘meetingplace of dissemblables’ (Woolf 2000a, 113), a complex representation device1 that takes shape in-between. The Ramsays’ deserted family home in ‘Time Passes’ opens up an abstract spatio-temporal interval where time stands still and life and death, light and darkness, past and future come together in a movement that combines contradictory terms.

2‘I cannot make it out’, wrote Woolf on Sunday, 18th of April 1926, ‘—here is the most difficult abstract piece of writing—I have to give an empty house, no people’s characters, the passage of time, all eyeless & featureless with nothing to cling to’ (Oliver Bell 76); yet she wrote quickly, almost with elation. Perhaps because, wanting to express the inexpressible, Woolf was free to experiment, to explore ruin as the ‘perennial tension between what is preserved and what is lost, what seems immediately understandable . . . and what needs interpretation (or reconstruction)’ (Roth vii), in other words, an epistemological metaphor. In her 1924 programmatic essay, ‘Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown’, Woolf encouraged her contemporaries to ‘tolerate the spasmodic, the obscure, the fragmentary, the failure’ (Woolf 1950, 111). Her own temporal spasm, ‘Time Passes’, disrupts the natural order of things, the family structure, and literary tradition and conventions. My paper will focus on the ways Woolf disfigures and refigures literature through the image of ruins. Writing about the paradoxical nature of decay, Woolf captures the ineffable quality of a time that inexorably passes yet is shaped by surviving reminiscences. But she also ponders over the unutterable sense of fracture and dismantlement triggered by conflict, making literature the recipient of disfiguring scars and barely visible marks, making ruin the impossible place where modernism takes shape and invents new ways of saying the unsayable.

‘A form from which life had parted’ (TL 43)

  • 2 The definition that she gave for this novel: ‘(But while I try to write, I am making up “To the Lig (...)
  • 3 ‘The Window’ is full of references to light and vitality. See for instance, ‘The house was all lit (...)
  • 4 Many references are made to the slow degradation of the house. See, for instance, ‘The room (she lo (...)

3Because the central part offers a poetic and ethical exploration of the process of ruin, it is not as isolated as it may seem. If in ‘The Window’, the first part of Woolf’s ‘elegy’,2 the family home stands as a place of harmonious domesticity (the house of light3 ‘in the heart of life’ [TL 141]), symptoms of degradation already suggest the entropic movement of the terrible workings of time. The on-going process of dilapidation announces the becoming ruin described in ‘Time Passes’: ‘things got shabbier and got shabbier summer after summer. The mat was fading; the wall-paper was flapping’ (TL 32). The house is fading away, before it dissolves into a ‘suffocation of darkness’ (Woolf 1985b, 184), before it is abandoned, and remains ‘waiting for the future to show’ (TL 137), a prey to stray airs, rain and dust4—the dust which, according to Georges Didi-Huberman, is the very matter secreted by absence, the ‘indestructible foam of destruction’ (Didi-Huberman 2001, 55, my translation).

The house was left; the house was deserted. It was left like a shell on a sandhill to fill with dry salt grains now that life had left it. The long night seemed to have set in; the trifling airs, nibbling, the clammy breaths, fumbling, seemed to have triumphed. (TL 149–50)

  • 5 Jean-Christophe Bailly reminds us that ‘light produces shadows. If light is always the source of sh (...)

4Woolf depicts ‘a world hollowed out’ (TL 141) where matter has triumphed over human life, ‘reach[ing] out with its fingers for existence’ (Ginsberg 2). ‘Matter flexes its being in the absence of the formal whole’, says Robert Ginsberg (1). Woolf figures absence through defamiliarization, probing into what is no more, a mere presence-absence emblematized by discarded objects, ‘what people had shed and left’ and which ‘alone kept the human shape and in the emptiness indicated how once they were filled and animated’ (TL 141)—scattered memento mori, brushed by ‘sliding lights’, and ‘fumbling airs’ (TL 138). Human presence has dissolved (‘no people’s characters’) and Woolf creates an abstract vision in which the invisible becomes visible in absentia (Delourme 119–34). Her subtle variation on emptiness and nothingness appears as the inverted echo of the pleasures brought by bright light in ‘The Window’.5 The ruined house resounds with voices of ‘one long sorrow and trouble’ (TL 142). The moaning wind, the creaking wood, the slamming doors compose a disharmonious melody echoing the elegiac ‘aimless gust of lamentation’ (TL 139). The former home becomes german unheimlich, airs and lights evolve with ‘feather-light fingers and the light persistency of feathers’ (TL 138). The alliterating chiasmus (or epanalepsis) figures the ‘featureless’ vision of absence.

  • 6 ‘For now had come that moment, that hesitation when dawn trembles and night pauses, when if a feath (...)

5The central section is both detached from and connected to the other sections as a metaphor of mourning, working through bereavement, the loss of Mrs Ramsay, the Angel in the House, the federating energy of the Ramsay family. Proleptically assimilated to a house which must be rebuilt in Part 1—‘The ruin was veiled; domesticity triumphed; custom crooned its soothing rhythm’ (TL 36)—Mrs Ramsay’s waning features bear the marks of fading beauty. ‘Shabby and worn out, and not presumably (her cheeks were hollow, her hair was white) any longer a sight that filled the eyes with joy’ (TL 48). Woolf identifies the female body and the body of the house, literalizing the cliché to turn it into a powerful narrative drive. Mrs Ramsay disappears abruptly, elliptically, engulfed in the sudden ‘downpouring of immense darkness’ (TL 137), turning the house of light into a house of shadows, a twilight ruin: the very place of disfiguration. Disappearance and dislocation leading to a metaphysical reflection on the passing of time and its ravages.6

  • 7 It is not my intention here to ‘personalise’ Woolf’s work but to see how her ‘visual unconscious’ ( (...)
  • 8 According to Jean-Christophe Bailly, ‘because, in its own way, it also is a shadow, or the deposit (...)
  • 9 In her diary, Woolf noted: ‘This [To the Lighthouse] is going to be fairly short: to have father’s (...)
  • 10 See Colin Ford, ed., Julia Margaret Cameron: 19th Century Photographer of Genius, London: National (...)
  • 11 See the digitalised version of The Mausoleum Book on: www.smith.edu/library/libs/rarebook/exhibitio (...)
  • 12 In Part 3, ‘To the lighthouse’, surviving memory images act as agents of revelation: ‘‘D’you rememb (...)

6Like the house, the family falls apart when the mother dies; the theme cut close to the bone, as far as Woolf was concerned.7 For Georges Didi-Huberman, the shade is the occult place where images and ideas are shaped (Didi-Huberman 2001, 105). Indeed, if shadows tend to deface and erase what is visible, they can also be the place where images are revealed and appear (especially in the photographic process8). The central section owes much to a photographic negative, etching in light and darkness the process of erosion. The house’s ‘eye opened onto the night’ (Bachelard 48, my translation) has closed and lets darkness seep in. And perhaps, for all its play on the stream of consciousness, the whole novel also focuses on photographic portraits. While writing her first drafts, Woolf went back to her father’s Mausoleum Book, the memoir he bequeathed to his children and which contained several photographs of Julia Jackson Stephen a few years before her death in 1895. And with Mrs Ramsay’s shaded figure, a ghostly image surfaces, a presence, as Woolf herself acknowledges in her diary, that haunts the whole of To the Lighthouse: the image of Woolf’s own mother,9 from the ethereal and haunting beauty transfixed by the Pictorialist photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron,10 to photographs of a woman who bore the marks of time on her face.11 Emptied of its maternal vital core, the Ramsays’ household becomes ‘a form from which life had parted’ (TL 141), a transitional spectral place where the memory of the deceased mother survives through its image.12 The ruin thus becomes the place of mourning, a melancholic poetic tomb for the Mother. In the ‘profusion of darkness’ (TL 137) survives the flickering, dialectical image of Mrs Ramsay/Julia Stephen, turning the ruin into a house of surviving time, a temporal palimpsest. The lieu de mémoire (see Nora 1–24) strikingly recalls the elegiac art of photo albums (See Humm 2004), an art that Woolf and her family practiced ceaselessly (see Bell & Garnett 1981).

  • 13 When Woolf was writing To the Lighthouse, she also modelled for Vogue, went back to the Mausoleum B (...)

7As Laura Marcus contends, To the Lighthouse is ‘caught up in the dimension of the scopic. With Lily’s painting, a major theme, its overt concern is with pictorial representation, but its exploration of the ways in which images of the past function in the present bears a much closer relationship to theories of photography and cinematography’ (Marcus 147). In her autobiographical sketch ‘Reminiscences’, Woolf mentions memories of her mother in a manner that is akin to the photographic process: ‘There was scarcely any superfluity; and it is for this reason that, past as those years are, her mark on them is ineffaceable, as though branded by the naked steel, the sharp, the pure’ (Woolf 1985a, 35). Fixed in time, suspended in paradoxical temporality, the image survives between past and future. In To the Lighthouse, the ruined house is turned into a camera obscura, in which images are revealed through ‘some cleavage of the dark’, ‘some channel in the depths of obscurity’ (TL 143); images that figure memories and link the past with the future. Wandering over the blank walls of the empty house, the unfolding ‘long ribbon of scenes [and] emotions’ (Woolf 1988, 28) flickers, a welter of dialectic images, at once past and present, of a being dissolving into nothingness. Virginia Woolf creates stills of the mother figure,13 then lets the images flow by, not simply because objects and fragments are a palimpsest forcing the reader to recall images (s)he saw in the first part, but because Woolf experiments with mental optical devices. In ‘Time Passes’, memory is linked to projection and to Woolf’s idea of ‘time as telescoped’ (Oliver Bell 13).

She could see her now, stooping over her flowers; (and faint and flickering, like a yellow beam or the circle at the end of a telescope, a lady in a grey cloak, stooping over her flowers, went wandering over the bedroom wall, up the dressing-table, across the wash-stand, as Mrs McNab hobbled and ambled, dusting, straightening). (TL 149)

Obsessed with the past, Woolf uses optics as a metaphor of the way the mind may literally ‘focus’ on the past while also opening onto the future.

Metonymic Superimposition

  • 14 See: ‘There was the silent apparition of an ashen-coloured ship for instance, come, gone; there was (...)

8The paradox is that this optic dimension, linked to memory and survival, also develops into a reflection on History. Contrary to the ‘widely held view of her as an elitist dweller of an ivory tower’ (Haule 7), Woolf’s concern for ruination and the erosion of time is also linked to the traumatic events of the Great War, its threat to destroy a whole civilization and the uncertainties brought by this collective experience. As James M. Haule has noted, the holograph of ‘Time Passes’ was a strongly ‘antimilitaristic, fiercely feminist condemnation of the pointless violence of blind male domination’ and ‘mindless warfare’ (Haule 173, 167). The section in its draft versions spoke of the violence and despair associated with war, themes Woolf will later develop in her essay Three Guineas; elements which are toned down in the final version but which must be taken into account (see Levenback).14 Prompting questions on the meaning of life and on Man’s capacity to endure both time and disaster (see Rabaté), Woolf’s ‘Time Passes’ queries humanity and literature never giving any definite answer, but rather expressing a perpetual reworking of the question—‘Will you fade? Will you perish?’ (TL 141), ‘What does it mean then, what does it all mean?’ (TL 159) Questions put to past and future, Man and civilization. Woolf unravels a crucial quest for meaning in the face of a metaphysical void, of questions that breed a sense of fracture and loss.

  • 15 The word ‘poethic’ was coined by French poet Michel Deguy, and critics Jean-Michel Pinson and Jean- (...)

9According to Michael S. Roth, ‘WWI fragmented European perceptions of the past, while disconnecting it from reasonable hopes for the future’ (Roth 28). The ruin thus stands as ‘a reminder of disaster’ (Roth 28), a place where we ‘experience the presence of death in the present’ (Roth 25). Like many European writers in 1920s, Woolf writes a tale about time to ‘shore fragments’ (Eliot 75) against a ruin that threatens both the private and the public spheres. Fragmenting perception, Woolf creates a dislocated text in which typographical blanks and detached bracketed short paragraphs both stand for the scars of a wounded civilization and structure the disjointed whole. Her aesthetic concerns spring from an ethical assessment of the collapse of a patriarchal system. Woolf’s poethic15 section suggests that the ruined house foreshadows the ruin of British culture and civilization (Bazin & Lauter 15–39). Destruction must be answered with de-structuring and met with a kaleidoscopic literary collage, as in this example:

Then again silence fell; and then, night after night, and sometimes in plain mid-day when the roses were bright and light turned on the wall its shapes clearly there seemed to drop into this silence, this indifference, this integrity, the thud of something falling.
[A shell exploded. Twenty or thirty young men were blown up in France, among them Andrew Ramsay, whose death, mercifully, was instantaneous]. (TL 145)

  • 16 ‘Whatever else may perish and disappear what lies here is steadfast’ (TL 138).
  • 17 ‘The nights are now full of wind and destruction. . . . no image with semblance of serving or divin (...)

10The muffled fall in the decaying house echoes the shell which blows up both young soldiers and fictional representation. Echoing the dismantled prose in Jacob’s Room, the experience of loss comes to be figured by the typographical gaps of a text fraught with holes. The brackets at once figure the wounds of death, loss and absence and act as textual stitches. Cracks appear in the text, signalling a need to articulate a new language, to say the unsayable, the collective trauma. In ‘Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown’, Woolf rejected the nineteenth-century ‘Realist’ methods of representation, deeming the writing techniques of the ‘Materialists’ obsolete—‘those tools are not our tools, and that business is not our business. For us those conventions are ruin, those tools are dead’ (Woolf 1950, 104). Emphasizing the need to express a loss of meaning in the wake of World War I, Woolf underlines temporal ‘confusion’ (TL 140). Clock time has collapsed—‘Night, however, succeeds to night. . . . They lengthen; they darken’—leaving the ‘ramshackle’ (TL 138) house suspended between presence and vanishing.16 Coherence and order17 have deserted, making it impossible for the modern writer to use her nineteenth-century heritage to word out yet unseen and unheard of experiences.

. . . it seems impossible that . . . we should ever compose from their fragments a perfect whole or read in the littered pieces the clear words of truth. (TL 140)

  • 18 Michael Tratner notes that ‘“Time Passes” represents the transition between Victorian and modern (o (...)
  • 19 ‘Modernity begins with the search for an impossible literature’, says Roland Barthes (Barthes 58, m (...)

To the Lighthouse thus takes shape on the ruins of Woolf’s discarded Victorian heritage; the broken house stands as a site of resistance and innovation (Tratner 51).18 Woolf creates an impossible text, an emblem of modernity.19

Everything was going to be new; everything was going to be different. Everything was on trial. (Woolf 1985a, 185)

11With ‘Time Passes’, Woolf seeks to capture the paradoxical nature of ruins, mingling intimacy and national destiny, time present, time past and time future. Because it remains and persists, the ruin belongs to both past and future, it ‘collapses temporalities’ (Roth 25), and perhaps we should look at the text from a cinematic, as much as a photographic perspective. Woolf’s ruined house becomes an anachronistic temporal complex which triggers literary metamorphosis and renewal. On Tuesday, 23rd of November 1926, Woolf wrote in her diary, ‘time shall be utterly obliterated; future shall somehow blossom out of the past. . . . My theory being that the actual event practically does not exist—nor time either’ (Oliver Bell 118). In ‘Time Passes’, Woolf lays emphasis on temporal dissolution—‘for night and day, month and year ran shapelessly together’ (TL 147). Unwinding the ‘ball of memories’ (TL 153), she opens up temporalities, creating a heterogeneous temporal montage which juxtaposes past, present and future (see Didi-Huberman 2000). With Mrs McNab ‘tearing the veil of silence’ (TL 142), Woolf suggests the promise of a future and announces regeneration. Through routine cleaning and ordering, the ruin is suddenly brought back to domestic time and becomes a place of renewal, revitalization and eventual recreation.

Slowly and painfully, with broom and pail, mopping, scouring, Mrs McNab, Mrs Bast stayed the corruption and the rot; rescued from the pool of Time that was closing over them now a basin, now a cupboard; fetched up from oblivion all the Waveley novels and a tea-set one morning; in the afternoon restored to sun and air a brass fender and a set of steel fire-irons. (TL 151–52)

  • 20 ‘one fold of the shawl loosened and swung to and fro’, ‘another fold of the shawl loosened; there i (...)
  • 21 As Gaston Bachelard puts it, ‘domestic care weaves ties that unite a very ancient past to the days (...)
  • 22 ‘The place was gone to rack and ruin. Only the lighthouse beam entered the rooms for a moment, sent (...)

12If ‘Time Passes’ insists on gradual degradation—the decaying process being graphically pictured in the recurring kinetographic motif of the shawl20—cleaning allows the film to run backward, healing what was broken.21 Referring to cosmic regeneration (mention of the four seasons and emphasis on nature), Woolf brings human time back. The regular beat of the lighthouse beam also underlining endless metamorphosis.22

  • 23 At the turn of the century, cameras were still supposed to provide images that were seen as an obje (...)

13In 1926, Woolf wrote ‘The Cinema’, an essay on the then-expanding seventh art. Writing about the potential of this new means of expression, she expressed her fascination with ‘the thing that exists when we aren’t there’ (Woolf 1993, 55). Indeed, in ‘Time Passes’, we ‘see life as it is when we have no part in it’ (Woolf 1993, 55). Her text registers slow motion like a camera eye, rather than a human eye.23 Woolf pictures abstract visions evolving in the deserted home, rooms ‘full of such shy creatures, lights and shadows, curtains blowing, petals falling—things that never happen, so it seems, if someone is looking’ (Woolf 2003, 215). Trying to capture images to make the invisible visible.

So with the house empty and the doors locked and the mattresses rolled round, those stray airs, advanced guards of great armies, blustered in, brushed bare boards, nibbled and fanned, met nothing in bedroom or drawing-room that wholly resisted them but only hangings that flapped, wood that creaked, the bare legs of tables, saucepans and china already furred, tarnished, cracked. . . . Now day after day, light turned, like a flower reflected in water, its sharp image on the wall opposite. Only the shadows of the trees, flourishing in the wind, made obeisance on the wall, and for a moment darkened the pool in which light reflected itself; or birds, flying, made a soft spot flutter slowly across the bedroom floor. (TL 140–41)

14Populated by fleeting airs and evanescent shadows only, the ruin becomes a hybrid intermedial space, where the cinema-like projection of light onto the bare walls reflects the abstract transience of time. Woolf transforms the ruin into a modernist representation device that at once radically reforms the British novel at the turn of the twentieth century and renews traditional representations of ruin as a Romantic object of melancholy beauty. The ruined house thus becomes the matrix of modernity, a place where the workings of time not only erode the family home but also regenerate it, showing ‘the invisible progress of the past gnawing into the future’ (Bergson 194). The ruin thus conjoins memory and expectation, retrospective and prospective senses of time, in its perpetual ability to change. The paradoxical freshness and freedom of the ruin come to be expressed in the plasticity of the Woolfian prose and its ‘eyeless’ vision transposing in the text photographic and cinematic energy. And indeed, as Robert Ginsberg underlines, ‘The ruin invents and not merely endures. The ruin is not so much a preservation of the past as a presentation of its own freshness. The original edifice is past. The ruin is present in its originality. . . . We discover newness, and it invites exploration. Freedom from restraints and expectations’ (Ginsberg 155).

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Bibliographie

Bachelard, Gaston, La Poétique de l’espace, Paris: Quadrige/PUF, 1998.

Bailly, Jean-Christophe, L’Instant et son ombre, Paris: Seuil, 2008.

Barthes, Roland, Le Degré zéro de l’écriture, Paris: Seuil, 1953.

Bazin, Nancy T. and Jane H. Lauter, ‘Virginia Woolf’s Keen Sensitivity to War: Its Roots and Its Impact on her Novels’, Virginia Woolf and War. Fiction, Reality and Myth, ed. Mark Hussey, New York: Syracuse UP, 14–39.

Bell, Quentin and Angelica Garnett, eds., Vanessa Bell’s Family Album, London: Jill Norman & Hobhouse, 1981.

Benjamin, Walter, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, New York: Shrocken, 1968, 253–67.

Bergson, Henri, Matter and Memory, Mineola, NY: Dover Publication, 2004.

Delourme, Chantal, ‘La figure, la nuit dans “Time Passes’’’, Études britanniques contemporaines Hors Série (1999): 119–34.

Didi-Huberman, Georges, Devant le Temps, Paris: Minuit, 2000.

Didi-Huberman, Georges, Génie du non-lieu. Air, poussière, empreinte, hantise, Paris: Minuit, 2001.

Eliot, Thomas Stearns, The Complete Poems and Plays, London: Faber & Faber, 1969.

Ford, Colin, ed., Julia Margaret Cameron: 19th Century Photographer of Genius, London: NPG Publications, 2001.

Ginsberg, Robert, The Aesthetic of Ruins, New York: Rodopi, 2004.

Haule, James M., ‘To the Lighthouse and the Great War: The Evidence of Virginia Woolf’s Revisions of ‘Time Passes’”, Virginia Woolf and War. Fiction, Reality and Myth, ed. Mark Hussey, New York: Syracuse UP, 164–79.

Humm, Maggie, Snapshots of Bloomsbury, The Private Lives of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, New Jersey: Rutgers UP, 2004.

Levenback, Karen L., Virginia Woolf and the Great War, New York: Syracuse UP, 1999.

Marcus, Laura, The Tenth Muse. Writing about Cinema in the Modernist Period, Oxford: OUP, 2007.

Nora, Pierre, ‘Between Memory and History: Les lieux de mémoire’, Représentations 26 (Spring 1989): 1–24.

Oliver Bell, Ann, ed., The Diary of Virginia Woolf. Volume 3 1925–1930, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982.

Ortel, Philippe, La Littérature à l’ère de la photographie. Enquête sur une révolution invisible, Nîmes: Jaqueline Chambon, 2002.

Powell, Tristram, ed., Julia Margaret Cameron, Victorian Photographs of Famous Men and Fair Women, with intoductions by Virginia Woolf and Roger Fry, London: Hogarth Press, 1973.

Rabaté, Dominique, Le Roman et le sens de la vie, Paris: José Corti, 2010.

Roth, Michael S., ed., Irresistible Decay: Ruins Reclaimed, Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 1997.

Rykner, Arnaud, Pans. Liberté de l’œuvre et résistance du texte, Paris: José Corti, 2004.

Rykner, Arnaud, Paroles perdues. Faillite du langage et représentation, Paris: José Corti, 2000.

Tratner, Michael, Modernism and Mass Politics. Joyce, Woolf, Eliot, Yeats, Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1995.

Woolf, Virginia, ‘Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown’ (1924), The Captain’s Death Bed, and Other Essays, London: Hogarth Press, 1950.

Woolf, Virginia, Moments of Being (1972), New York: Hartcourt, 1985a.

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Woolf, Virginia, To the Lighthouse (1927), London: Penguin, 2000b.

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Notes

1 I use the phrase representation device as a translation for ‘dispositif’ as used in the works of Philippe Ortel and Arnaud Rykner.

2 The definition that she gave for this novel: ‘(But while I try to write, I am making up “To the Lighthouse”—the sea is to be heard all through it. I have an idea that I will invent a new name for my books to supplant “novel”. A new—by Virginia Woolf. But what? Elegy?)’ (Oliver Bell 34).

3 ‘The Window’ is full of references to light and vitality. See for instance, ‘The house was all lit up, and the lights after the darkness made his eyes feel full’ (TL 86).

4 Many references are made to the slow degradation of the house. See, for instance, ‘The room (she looked round it) was very shabby. There was no beauty anywhere’ (TL 91).

5 Jean-Christophe Bailly reminds us that ‘light produces shadows. If light is always the source of shadows, then shadows, instead of simply being opposed to light, can and must be understood as its echo’ (Bailly 38, my translation).

6 ‘For now had come that moment, that hesitation when dawn trembles and night pauses, when if a feather alight in the scale it will be weighed down. One feather, and the house, sinking, falling, would have turned and pitched downwards to the depths of darkness’ (TL 151).

7 It is not my intention here to ‘personalise’ Woolf’s work but to see how her ‘visual unconscious’ (Benjamin 237) may have seeped into her text, surviving between the lines, in To the Lighthouse. See footnote 9.

8 According to Jean-Christophe Bailly, ‘because, in its own way, it also is a shadow, or the deposit of a shadow, every photograph stands as the memory of lightning, of being illuminated, and as the premonition of ruination, or of defacement’ (Bailly 153, my translation).

9 In her diary, Woolf noted: ‘This [To the Lighthouse] is going to be fairly short: to have father’s character done complete in it; & mothers; & St Ives; & childhood; & all the usual things I try to put in—life, death &c.’ (Oliver Bell 18–19).

10 See Colin Ford, ed., Julia Margaret Cameron: 19th Century Photographer of Genius, London: National Portrait Gallery Publications, 2003.

11 See the digitalised version of The Mausoleum Book on: www.smith.edu/library/libs/rarebook/exhibitions/stephen/.

12 In Part 3, ‘To the lighthouse’, surviving memory images act as agents of revelation: ‘‘D’you remember?’ she felt inclined to ask him as she passed him, thinking again of Mrs Ramsay on the beach; the cask bobbing up and down; and the pages flying. Why, after all these years had that survived, ringed round, lit up, visible to the last detail, with all before it blank and all after it blank, for miles and miles? the vision would come to her, and her eyes, half closing, sought something to base her vision on. the vision must be perpetually remade’ (TL 186, 197).

13 When Woolf was writing To the Lighthouse, she also modelled for Vogue, went back to the Mausoleum Book and wrote the preface to the Hogarth Press’s edition of Julia Margaret’s photographs, Victorian Photographs of Famous Men and Fair Women.

14 See: ‘There was the silent apparition of an ashen-coloured ship for instance, come, gone; there was a purplish stain upon the bland surface of the sea as if something had boiled and bled, invisibly, beneath’ (TL 146).

15 The word ‘poethic’ was coined by French poet Michel Deguy, and critics Jean-Michel Pinson and Jean-Michel Maulpoix. It conjoins ideas of poetics, politics, ethics, aesthetics and ethos.

16 ‘Whatever else may perish and disappear what lies here is steadfast’ (TL 138).

17 ‘The nights are now full of wind and destruction. . . . no image with semblance of serving or divine promptitude comes readily to hand bringing the night to order and making the world reflect the compass of the soul’ (TL 140).

18 Michael Tratner notes that ‘“Time Passes” represents the transition between Victorian and modern (or modernist) worlds’.

19 ‘Modernity begins with the search for an impossible literature’, says Roland Barthes (Barthes 58, my translation).

20 ‘one fold of the shawl loosened and swung to and fro’, ‘another fold of the shawl loosened; there it hung, and swayed’, ‘Idly, aimlessly, the swaying shawl swung to and fro’ (TL 142, 145, 150). The kinetograph or flip book was invented in 1868, it is the first form of animation to employ a linear sequence of images rather than circular. It relies on the persistence of vision and creates the illusion of continuous motion. Furthermore the shawl is associated with a falling rock and the outbreak of the Great War, picturing an irreparable aesthetic, cultural and human fracture.

21 As Gaston Bachelard puts it, ‘domestic care weaves ties that unite a very ancient past to the days to come’ (Bachelard 74, my translation).

22 ‘The place was gone to rack and ruin. Only the lighthouse beam entered the rooms for a moment, sent its sudden stare over bed and wall in the darkness of winter, looked with equanimity at the thistle and the swallow, the rat and the straw’ (TL 150).

23 At the turn of the century, cameras were still supposed to provide images that were seen as an objective registering of reality. To provide a direct visual hold on the real and thus as possible representation of what Woolf calls a ‘world without a self’.

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Adèle Cassigneul, « Virginia Woolf’s Ruined House, a Literary Complex », Études britanniques contemporaines, 43 | 2012, 13-26.

Référence électronique

Adèle Cassigneul, « Virginia Woolf’s Ruined House, a Literary Complex », Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 43 | 2012, mis en ligne le 11 juin 2014, consulté le 18 octobre 2017. URL : http://ebc.revues.org/1315 ; DOI : 10.4000/ebc.1315

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Auteur

Adèle Cassigneul

Université Toulouse 2.
Adèle Cassigneul is a PhD Student at Toulouse University, working under the supervision of Professor Catherine Lanone. Her research mainly focuses on text/image relations, in particular on the links between literature, photography and cinematography.

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Études britanniques contemporaines est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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