Masculinity, modernist form and the ends of Empire in Virginia's Woolf's fiction

McDonald, Jeremy (2015). Masculinity, modernist form and the ends of Empire in Virginia's Woolf's fiction. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000ef17

Abstract

The study traces the development of Woolf's methods for fictional representation of masculinity; it argues that chief among her narrative strategies for defamiliarising the public world of men and for bringing male characters into critical perspective is her use of autoethnography (Pratt 1992). The most explicit statement of Woolf's construction of masculinity is in the polemical, pacifist essay Three Guineas (1938), which makes direct connections between masculinity, war and the rise of Fascism in Europe, and between masculine dominance in the domestic sphere and tyrannical dictatorship in the international sphere of imperial rivalry and war. The study explores connections between the work of Bourdieu, especially his analysis in Masculine Domination (2001) of the persistence in the present of archaic gender divisions and relations of dominance and subordination between men and women, and Woolf's analysis and representation of relations of gender and power in the modern, early twentieth-century world. A reading of the novels shows how Woolf's outside perspective on men and masculinity shapes her thematic focus and formal style, and the development of the autoethnographic method is traced from its early manifestations to a more systematic deployment in the later work. The sequence of novels depicts the slow demise of a Victorian/Edwardian hegemonic model of colonial/imperial masculinity reflecting British imperial decline and the catastrophiC impact of the First World War upon the old order; in the later novels an uncertain new gender order is glimpsed as Woolf demonstrates both continuity and change in the acquisition of gender identities. The study also reviews recent developments in the continuing evolution of Woolf's literary and political reputation with an account of her steadily emerging reputation as a public intellectual.

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