A final instance of technology is found when Elizabeth Dalloway takes the bus on her own in that it a woman would not be allowed to travel, let alone, with such ease, demonstrating a shift in English culture and attitudes. Similar altering attitudes are present earlier in the novel when she states, “Before the war, you could buy almost perfect gloves” (Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway, 1:20) – the glove symbolizing pre-Victorian society, and her daughter is not interested, since she belongs to a newer “modern” generation. Hence, technology represents progression, freedom, and individuality for women.
On that premise, gender issues have always been a topic of debate in society, as well as in literature, so inevitably, gender became a focus of the modernist movement. Through the course of history, women have been seen and treated as complements to the men in their lives – such as husbands and fathers – rather than as autonomous individuals. Woolf novel begins in media res – “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself” (Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway, 1:1), illuminating a view on female emancipation from patriarchal oppression of the time. By presenting Mrs. Dalloway as an independent woman right off the bat, she unapologetically reveals her feminist perspective, and an overall modernist representation of women. To add, Clarissa, along with the other female characters in the novel such as Sally, Lucrezia, Miss Kilman, etc. are clustered together in various contexts throughout the novel, but nonetheless provide insight about the physical and psychological world of being a woman, each with their own dilemmas, sexuality, desires, and subjectivity.
Woolf modernist attitude about women representation is amplified in her later work, A Room of One’s Own (1929). She famously states: “women need money and rooms of their own in order to write fiction’ (Woolf, A Room of One’s Own, 1) in order to examine the connection between women, literature, and soco-economics. She ultimately urges women to break free from the instilled patriarchy, suggesting getting space for themselves if the first definite step toward achieving such goal. From the beginning of her work, Woolf announces she will speak through someone else’s character: “Call me Mary Beton, Mary Seton, Mary Carmichael or by any name you please – it is not a matter of importance to me” (Woolf, A Room of One’s Own, 5) demonstrating how a central character is rather insignificant, the importance is what they represent, in this sense the universal woman. Furthermore, in eloquent, yet poetic language, Woolf writes as if she was speaking directly to an audience, while referencing past literary works, authors, and influential thinkers in an attempt to raise support her argument, advocating a need for more female writers. Interestingly, Woolf uses her fictional powers to describe the unfortunate life of Shakespeare’s sister, Judith – victimized by several socioeconomic factors: lack there-of education, literacy, privacy, employment in the literary world, along with the burden of children. In a time before feminism, women were treated like second-class citizens and denied education and certain opportunities – hence, modernism marks a shift in gendered attitude by promoting the upward mobility of women in a male-centered society.
Evidently, Woolf’s writing is concerned with the problem of gender equality, particularly of access to resources that have traditionally been male dominated. She goes on to explain how woman have less opportunity for success in that if a woman does achieve success on her own, she will be treated as property. Woolf firmly believes one major reason for the lack of female writers of the time was due to a lack of resources, more generally, space– both physical and metaphysical, to freely write and be, without the burdening social responsibilities of the domesticity sphere. Woolf’s view is cemented when she writes:
For genius like Shakespeare’s is not born among labouring, uneducated, servile people… how then could it have been born among women whose work began almost before they were out of the nursery… (Woolf, A Room of One’s Own, 5).
She believes there could not have possibly been a female prodigy like Shakespeare at the time because women as a whole were prevented from flourishing. Her main claim being women are conditioned and systematically oppressed from a very young age – resulting in a decrease in motivation, ambition, and overall success for the entire demographic group. Woolf does however acknowledge women need financial independence in order to stop the vicious cycle and achieve the level of success she desires for her entire community – which was highly uncommon to advocate at the time and subject to criticism.
By addressing Woolf’s literary style, and providing the socio-political context, it is now necessary to describe how the modernist author was influenced by new concepts of human psyche. In the early years of the twentieth century, Austrian neurologist and father of the psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud, contributed new discoveries regarding the human psychology, compiling and publishing his findings to Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1922). His ideas brought many changes to several sectors of society, for one, it was found the human psyche has three layers: the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious – which has come to be known as Freud’s tripartite structure of mind. Steven Reisner’s empirical journal, Freud And Psychoanalysis: Into The 21st Century (1999) defines Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis when he writes:
Freud’s greatest contribution was psychoanalysis itself: a way of thinking about our ways of thinking and being. In its relentless attention to the analytic process, its commitment to progress through questioning, and its mindfulness of what gets left out of any discourse (Reisner 1999:1038).
Woolf, as a creator of fiction, adds Freudian elements to her work, from past memories to emotions, though, they often remain unconscious to the characters who experience them as seen through stream-of-consciousness narration. Thus, the link between the conscious and subconscious serves as the guiding line from the literary technique and the theory of psychology.
In her writings, Woolf attempts to capture the realness of life which contradicts with the prevailing assumption that modernism is characterized by rejection of the traditional conventional past and the challenging of established conventions. Additionally, it embraces issues of gender, class, sexuality, and the struggle for upward mobility. In Woolf’s works, she alternates between a variation of her original narrative and a fictional speculation of herself, for example, her works can be interpreted as a self-portrayal in that she used general characters and creates a society similar to her in order to fully express herself.
All in all, after a thorough analysis, Woolf can be deemed a prolific writer during the modernist period, as she examines different ways of expression, in terms of narrative technique, gender. In this paper, I examined Virginia Woolf’s famous works; first, I will analyze the early modernist perspective, then I conceptualized the socio-political context of the works, leading to the establishment of modernist characteristics. Arguably, demonstrating how the period of modernist innovation was a reaction against the past, moreover, a new medium for artists to defend their expression and creation, over imitation – paradoxically, leaving Woolf to be categorized as contributor to the realist fiction literary canon.