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The Victorian Era was a time of very rigid and strict lifestyles. In the 1900's there were special rules of conduct to be followed for everything. Victorian society required everyone to follow every protocol and nobody was excluded from these 'duties'. Victorians and Edwardians believed that there should be no awkward silences or pauses during conversations, it was considered impolite. It was also believed that people should dress for dinner every night regardless of the presence of company. It was uncommon to express one's feelings or to hold an opinion or point of view other than the norm. These were among the many rules that made up the foundation of Victorian society. Virginia was born during the Victorian/Edwardian Era and lived under the iron fist of her father Leslie Stephen.
Virginia's mother died when she was young which left her father in charge of the household. He was a man who strongly believed in the customs of Victorian society and he insisted that they were followed to the letter. He enforced the required rules of conduct and behavior but Virginia found it all very "oppressive". Virginia Woolf http://metalab.unc.edu/cheryb/women/Virginia-Woolf.html went through a lot of anguish throughout her life. She suffered numerous nervous breakdowns and never managed to lead a normal life. After her father's death in 1904 she moved with her brothers and sister to Bloomsbury. She thought her father's death was "the end of tyranny". She also thought that the move from Kensington, where she lived before, to Bloomsbury, " was the gulf between respectable, mummified humbug and life crude and impertinent perhaps, but living… The new generation wanted air, simplicity and light and the move was escape from the past and all it's horrors"(108). During the early 1900's Virginia and her siblings were comfortably settled in . One Thursday evening her brother Thoby decided to start a ritual by inviting a few of his Cambridge friends home and thus began a circle of artistic and cultural group of friends. At first Virginia found them unusual but soon she joined in their lengthy conversations about art, poetry and culture. She was intrigued by their conversations which eventually took a different turn and soon they found themselves discussing topics such as religion, sexuality and other subjects that were considered taboo at the time. Thoby's Thursday evening friends originally included Clive Bell, who Virginia thought was, " a sort of mixture between Shelly and a sporting country squire"(112).
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He has the whole classical literature in his command. Thoby called him the most brilliant of his contemporaries. His head was full of ideas and facts. Desmond McCarthy was older than the others. He was also part of the Apostles, a secret Cambridge elite group whose other members included Leonard Woolf and Strachey. He was handsome, intelligent and gifted. He became the greatest English novelist of the century. Virginia was so impressed with his speech and command of the English Language that she wrote, " that it(the language) would do anything for him." Unfortunately he did not amount to much because he "took life a little too casually"(113). He was a literary journalist and a drama critic and he didn't get to do anything beyond that. All of these individuals including Virginia and her sister Vanessa formed the original Bloomsbury Circle. Their conversations were devoted to arguing ideas about 'beauty', the 'good' and 'truth'. None of them dressed for the occasion on Thursday evenings, they were ready to use their brains. The Bloomsbury members were criticized for their shabby manners and their look. Henry James, a well known writer, found them, "deplorable". This was "proof" of their superiority in Virginia's eyes and the group felt the same way. Thursday evenings were all about casual dresses and long hours of argument. It was the complete opposite of the typical Victorian Culture. They would fall into long periods of silence which would have been considered breech of protocol by the Victorians and Edwardians, but in Gordon Square, Bloomsbury it was fascinating, and their home and old traditions were hardly ever mentioned. At the same time Virginia's sister Vanessa founded the Friday Club where a group of her friends would discuss culture and art. The norms of society were broken within the Bloomsbury Circle and wild rumors would hover around the group and the parties they would have. "Old proprieties, old value, old customs were fading" (150).
Virginia said "the future of Bloomsbury was to prove that many variations can be played on the theme of sex"(150). The members dressed themselves in brightly colored clothes, "scandalizing members of an earlier generation"(150).It was rumored that on one occasion Virginia and Vanessa appeared to a party "practically naked"(150). Rumors began to circulate that at Bloomsbury parties everyone undressed. Such were the gossip and idle chatter that went around. Sexual Anarchy was in the air. The women were considered "fast and loose" and the men were "dissolute"(150). The Victorians looked upon the Bloomsberries with disgust and Virginia and her friends had nothing but contempt for their predecessors. In other words Virginia and her comrades were inclined to modernist views. The term modernism refers to the radical shift in cultural and aesthetic norms that were evident in the art and literature of the post World War I period. It was the complete anti- thesis of the staid, formal protocol of the Victorian Era. The modernist had nothing but stark disregard for the moral conventions of the Victorians. Modernist writers rejected the Edwardian views on life and writing. They did not conform to the guidelines of Literature. They explored the different perspectives and possibilities of writing. They needed something that would express their own views and not the strict views of society. Modernists believed that the Language failed to fulfill their artistic expressions. Modernism is often mocked for its lack of interest in the social world in favor of its own obsession with language and its use. T.S Eliot and Ezra Pound used fragmented, haphazard, non coherent style which revolutionized poetic expression. Modernist writers had a disregard for conventional methods of conveying the meaning of their work, as we see in Virginia Woolf's 'Kew Gardens'. The essay is written from the point of view of the garden. This style of writing was considered very unorthodox and it was a new literary device that was difficult for the common man to understand. The writers of this age introduced a variety of new literary tactics that deviated from the conventional "linear flow" of narrative. This unconventional method of writing explored new territory in Literature. For instance the story 'Kew Garden" by Virginia Woolf is written in a very stylish new way. Its pattern is that it has no pattern at all. Most of the story is random snatches of conversations with abrupt beginning and endings. It is a chaotic mixture of dialogs and different viewpoints. One such example is T.S Eliot's, 'The Wasteland'. Among other writers associated with this style of writing was T.S Eliot, James Joyce, W.B Yeats, Ezra Pound, Franz Kafka and Virginia Woolf. These writers rejected the a style of the realistic novelist of the 19th Century and presented a bleak picture of the new age which they thought was in complete disarray. This was the core of Modernism. Modernism was not only confined to the literary world but, it also transcended into the world of art. The artists and painters were influenced by the rebellious attitude that was prevalent at that time and they took to the fresh new ideas and concepts that were just developing and evolving. These artists experimented with variety of bright and outlandish colors.
It was all about light and dark- a mix of colors that were applied to the canvas in a wild and unconventional style. The painters that attracted Vanessa Bell http://vicu.utoronto.ca/library/exhibitions/bloomsbury/vbell.htm and Roger Fry were the French painters particularly Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse and several others. Modernism was a large part of Virginia's life. Her work was provoking and thoughtful. She used novel ways of conveying her thoughts, ideas and opinions. For instance when she wrote about the novelists Mr. Wells, Mr. Bennett, and Mr. Galsworthy. Her dislike for these novelists' conventional style of writing didn't force her to lash out at them but instead made witty comments about their work, for example she wrote regarding the novelists, "(they have)excited so many hopes and disappointed them so persistently that our gratitude largely takes the form of thanking them for having shown us what they might have done but have not done" (The Norton Anthology p1922). Virginia Woolf is true pioneer for both women and free writing. She stands for independence and passion. Her work is unique which is why she is one of the world's best known modernist writers. Her work and her life are both exceptionally interesting . She is one of the literary greats.