Virginia Woolf is considered as one of the most prominent representatives of literature of modernism not only in England, but all over the world. Her works serve as the example of the pure modernist writing while the techniques used by her have become well-known and are referred to as to the sign of the true modernist literary text. Her most significant works are Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, the extract from which has been chosen for the analysis.
The novel To the Lighthouse was published in 1927 and has gained place #15 on the list of the best novels, written in English of the 20th century. This text tells the story of the family of Ramsays and their visits to the seaside for 10 years. The writings of Virginia Woolf are famous for its technique of the stream of consciousness, which is clearly presented throughout the text. As for the analysis, the following paragraph was chosen:
Strife, divisions, difference of opinion, prejudices twisted into the very fibre of being, oh, that they should begin so early, Mrs. Ramsay deplored. They were so critical, her children. They talked such nonsense. She went from the dining-room, holding James by the hand, since he would not go with the others. It seemed to her such nonsense--inventing differences, when people, heaven knows, were different enough without that. The real differences, she thought, standing by the drawing-room window, are enough, quite enough. She had in mind at the moment, rich and poor, high and low; the great in birth receiving from her, half grudging, some respect, for had she not in her veins the blood of that very noble, if slightly mythical, Italian house, whose daughters, scattered about English drawing-rooms in the nineteenth century, had lisped so charmingly, had stormed so wildly, and all her wit and her bearing and her temper came from them, and not from the sluggish English, or the cold Scotch; but more profoundly, she ruminated the other problem, of rich and poor, and the things she saw with her own eyes, weekly, daily, here or in London, when she visited this widow, or that struggling wife in person with a bag on her arm, and a note-book and pencil with which she wrote down in columns carefully ruled for the purpose wages and spendings, employment and unemployment, in the hope that thus she would cease to be a private woman whose charity was half a sop to her own indignation, half a relief to her own curiosity, and become what with her untrained mind she greatly admired, an investigator, elucidating the social problem.
This paragraph serves as a perfect example of what Woolfs writing is like. The structure of the paragraph is complex, as it contains only six sentences, but the last one is very long and consists of many different syntactical structures, topics and motives. As the whole text is written in the third person narration from different perspectives, shifting from one to another, this paragraph presents the stream of consciousness of the mother of the family, Mrs. Ramsay. The paragraph is rich in different stylistic devices and writing techniques, which are explained below.
The paragraph begins with the enumeration (Strife, divisions, difference of opinion, prejudices), which shows the diversity of Mrs. Ramsays thoughts and ideas. Here and thereafter she discusses her children, their attitude to life and people, then proceeds to her reflections upon the present and the past of her family. In the second sentence can be found cataphora (They were so critical, her children), as the sentence begins with the unspecified pronoun, which is specified only at the end of the sentence. Moreover, this short sentence contains one more device, which is parenthesis (her children). The next sentence tells about her actions, followed by continuation of the previously mentioned thoughts concerning Mrs. Ramsays children. This sentence contains an ecphonesis or a rhetorical exclamation (heaven knows), which proves that the story is told from the point of view of Mrs. Ramsay, it is the stream of her thoughts.
The last sentence, which is the longest in the whole paragraph, starts with the shifting of Mrs. Ramsays thought from her children to more general philosophical problems, such as of poor and rich people. Here the technique of antithesis is involved to show the depth of her reflections - rich and poor, high and low. It proves that Mrs. Ramsay was deep in her thought and was concerned with serious problems in the society. Moreover, the same quotation contains one more stylistic device in it merism, as it presents a conventional phrase, enumerating several things. Rich and poor, high and low refer to all the layers of the society, the whole population. In the following part of the sentence can be found the example of inversion - for had she not in her veins the blood of that very noble. It shows the emphasis put on the idea of the noble blood streaming in the veins of Mrs. Ramsay. Then she is going back to the past, remembering the history of her family, which had Italian origin. This part is retrospective as it takes the reader back to the characters past, also it contains hidden antithesis Italian women are contrasted to cold Scotch and sluggish English ladies. Moreover, the expression cold Scotch is a metaphor. There is a parallel construction in this part of the sentence as well - had lisped so charmingly, had stormed so wildly, the goal of which is to emphasize the role Italian ladies played in the English society of the 19th century and the change they have made. This quotation can also be given as an example of one more antithesis as the charming speeches of the Italian are opposed to the their hot and sometimes wild nature. Thus the author shows the diversity of character of those women and again emphasizes how different from the English they were. The quotation and all her wit and her bearing and her temper serves as the example of one more enumeration, which contains parallelism and polysyndeton in it as the conjunction and is used three times within this short part of the sentence.
Then Mrs. Ramsay returns to the present time and her reflections about women in the English society. She is thinking about all the women she knows, living in London and other parts of Great Britain, and sees herself as an investigator, elucidating the social problem. In this part of the sentence can be found some more examples of merism - wages and spendings, while employment and unemployment is both the example of merism and antithesis. Moreover, there is one more parallel construction - half a sop to her own indignation, half a relief to her own curiosity, which sounds rather ironic as it seeks to explain the motives of Mrs. Ramsay to do the work she is doing.
Therefore, this paragraph is the perfect example of the writing of Virginia Woolf as a representative of modernism. It is written in the-stream-of-consciousness technique, which is typical for modernism, the shift is made to Mrs. Ramsays thoughts. The mood of the paragraph is reflective and philosophical. There are present the following stylistic devices: enumeration, metaphor, cataphora, parenthesis, rhetorical exclamation, merism, inversion, antithesis, polysyndeton, parallelism and retrospection. It proves that the writing style of Virginia Woolf is rich and sophisticated, so she is deservedly considered one of the most prominent novelist of the 20th century.
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