Feminism and Insanity in Virginia Woolf's Work Essay

Feminism and Insanity in Virginia Woolf's Work Essay

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Feminism and Insanity in Virginia Woolf's Work


The critical discussion revolving around the presence of mystical elements in Virginia Woolf's work is sparse. Yet it seems to revolve rather neatly around two poles. The first being a preoccupation with the notion of madness and insanity in Woolf's work and the second focuses on the political ramifications of mystical encounters. More specifically, Woolf's mysticism reflects on her feminist ideals and notions.

Even though she ultimately associates Woolf's brand of mysticism with the 19th century Theosophists, she continually refers to the specific encounters in Woolf's work as "natural mysticism" (Kane 329). I contend that this brand of "natural mysticism" can be separated from the more traditional encounters, "telepathy, auras, astral travel, synesthesia, reincarnation, the immortality of the soul, and the existence of a Universal Mind" (329). While only Madeleine Moore truly begins to draw the distinction between the two brands of mysticism that permeate Woolf's work, others delineate one category without acknowledging the other.

Val Gough, in discussing the ironic aspects of many of Woolf's mystical encounters, introduces the inherently politicized aspects of the topic. He argues that "Woolf as a writer was concerned to set up a relation with the reader which...brings an alternative form of mystical experience into being" (Gough 86). This "subversive, sceptical mysticism" introduces, through the inherently politicized nature of irony, "a feminist challenging of rigid structures of phallic (and imperialist) power, thus making it a mysticism of subversive, politically critical, feminist irony" (89). While his presentation of Woolf's ironic mysticism is certainly ...


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...lar Mrs. Dalloway.

Works Cited

Gough, Val. "With Some Irony in Her Interrogation: Woolf's Ironic Mysticism." Virginia Woolf and the Arts. New York: Pace University Press, 1997.

Kane, Julie. "Varieties of Mystical Experience in the Writings of Virginia Woolf." Twentieth Century Literature Vol 41 Iss 4 (1995): 328-349.

Minow-Pinsky, Makiko. "'How then does light return to the world after the eclipse of the sun? Miraculously, fraily": A Psychoanalytic Interpretation of Woolf's Mysticism." Virginia Woolf and the Arts. New York: Pace University Press, 1997.

Moore, Madeleine. The Short Season Between Two Silences. Winchester, Mass: Allen & Unwin 1984.

Smith, Susan Bennett. "Reinventing Grief Work: Virginia Woolf's Feminist Representations of Mourning in Mrs. Dalloway and To The Lighthouse" Twentieth Century Literature Vol 41 Iss 4 (1995): 310-327

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