"Capturing life on the right side": Virginia Woolf's quest to construct the modern novel
Twist, Jill Diane
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In her essay, Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown, Virginia Woolf emphasizes the need to evolve the "old novel" into modern fiction, stating that "on or about December 1910 human character changed" and when "human relations change there is at the same time a change in...literature" (Woolf MBMB, 91). Unsatisfied with the presentation of character in the "old novel," Woolf redefines what it means to create character and though she disproves Arnold Bennett's theory that "the foundation of good fiction is character creating and nothing else," she revolves her reinvention of a novel's elements around a new presentation of life by way of her characters. In particular, I will argue that Woolf portrays her characters as continually evolving figures and therefore, creates a flexible novel in which these characters live. The introduction to this thesis focuses on identifying the primary ways in which Woolf proposes to accommodate modern fiction in order to fully reflect this change in human character. In addition to her critical essays, Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown and Modern Fiction, her diary entries are an essential tool in analyzing her novels because it is in these non-fiction sources that Woolf reveals her intentions, goals, and obstacles in writing the modern novel. Moreover, these sources identify Woolf's role as the modern author and pinpoint the particular ways that her authority as an author changes. Targeting Woolf's three major novels, Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and The Waves, I will examine the overall progression of her literary goals and argue that Woolf continuously develops the fundamental aspects of modern fiction. Ultimately, I will prove that Woolf succeeds in creating the modern novel.