Haunted houses: influence and the creative process in Virginia Woolf's novels

De Gay, Jane (1998). Haunted houses: influence and the creative process in Virginia Woolf's novels. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000e191


This thesis argues that rather than being an innovative, modernist writer, Virginia Woolfs methods, themes, and aspirations were conservative in certain central ways, for her novels were influenced profoundly by the work of writers from earlier eras. This argument is developed both by demonstrating that Woolf was influenced by other writers, and also by exploring the dynamics of how this process of influence took place. The thesis contends that this process included identification with past writers and a longing for the literary past, which complicated Woolfs attempts to negotiate the past and its values.

After a chapter examining theoretical approaches to the concept of literary influence, the thesis makes a detailed study of Woolf's engagement with her influences in eight of her novels. Woolf s responses to influence are divided into three phases. In the first phase, up to the mid- 1920s, she wrestled with existing perceptions of the woman writer as she looked to female precursors as role models and struggled with their legacies. At the same time, she sought refuge from such a problematic inheritance by turning to her male precursors to try and gain covert access to the literary traditions which were thought to be the birthright of the men of her generation. In the second phase of her career, in the late 1920s, Woolf continued to deal with the absence of a ready-made tradition by elegizing writers she had known and the literary traditions they represented. In the process of mourning other writers, it is suggested, Woolf remade them in her imagination to be like herself. This process of identification continued in the third phase, in The Naves and Between the Acts, when Woolf drew on the work of Wordsworth and Coleridge, respectively, to explore and develop her mature identity as a writer.

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