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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Testing the waters with short stories (CR #7)

We’ve all heard the line, “She gets me,” but how is that pertinent in reading a critical article?  After reading one critical article recently, I had doubts that I understood the English language; but with Teresa Prudente’s paper on Virginia Woolf’s use of short stories, “’To Slip Easily From One Thing To Another’: Experimentalism And Perceptions in Woolf’s Short Stories,” I get her; she’s talking my language.  Prudente asserts that Woolf uses the medium of the short story to test the waters, or experiment, with her modernist style of writing.  She uses an article by Edgar Allan Poe, “The Philosophy of Composition,” extensively to assist her in defining the short story genre, and of course, she uses Virginia Woolf’s own words.

Prudente poses that perhaps the most important aspect of Woolf’s experimentation of using the short story is with using the time aspect, delving into the mind, and letting go of concrete.  Woolf tries to “convey the essence of these moments,” the moments of being (3).  Prudente uses “The Mark on the Wall” as her first example of how Woolf uses the consciousness to tell a story through a “series of meditations” (3).  She insists that Woolf does not portray the mind as fixed, but dynamic, changing, and contrasting.  Prudente also discusses the spiraling progression in the story; how the narrator or main character keeps returning to the mark on the wall.  Most importantly though, she believes that “The Mark on the Wall: reveals two major Woolfian aspects:  “the close connection and interactions between external and internal reality” and “the treatment of narrative time not only as depicting, but rather as reproducing the time of consciousness” (4).  Woolf succeeds in doing this in a meditative short story.  It is in the abstract, the thought, the mind in which Woolf is testing the waters.  Prudente states that Woolf confronts the dualities of existence: the real versus the unreal, the visible versus the invisible. 

Prudente then moves on to how Woolf describes character.  For an example, she employs my favorite Woolf essay, “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown.”  She believes that Woolf thinks the self can never be fully defined and is unlimited.  Referring back to how Mr. Bennett describes his characters, he describes their house, clothes, job, etc. but ignores the mind; “human beings escape rigid definition” (6).  We should explore human nature, the mind, not the fabric.

Next Prudente deals with the experimentation with narrator.  She tells us that Woolf explored the “I-centered narration” in her short stories; whereas the novels usually employ the use of third-person narration (8).  The voice in the short-stories is abstract and reveals one of Woolf’s innovations; she does not give us reality.  The reader does not get bricks and mortar but play-doh, something malleable.  Prudente relates to us that Woolf wants to express the ordinary and the flights of the mind.  She wants to “reproduce (the) human experience fully,” and to do so, we must include the corporeal and the metaphysical.  And then how all that relates to each other in time.

Work cited:
Prudente, Teresa.  "'To Slip Easily From One Thing To Another':  Experimentalism And Perception in Woolf's Short Stories."  Journal of the Short Story in English 50 Spring 2008: 2-10.  Web.

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