The great eighteenth century pragmatist William James worried once that a particular philosophy was “too economical to be all-sufficient” (James 83). He goes on to say: “Profusion, not economy, may after all be reality’s key-note.” Virginia Woolf knew this instinctively and profoundly; indeed practically her entire body of work can be read as a comment on the fullness of life. Although she is better known for her writing’s detailed delicacy and her tragic suicide, it is her assertion of life’s profusion that contrasts her most starkly with other Modernist writers, for whom negation and “its correlative states—absence, void, emptiness, and nothingness”—are the essence of reality (Colleen Jaurretche, qtd. Rubenstein, “Negation” 47). Eliot’s Hollow Men and Hemingway’s shattered expatriates populate a world where nothingness predominates and little is spoken. Woolf on the other hand remains convinced that humanity leads a brimming, extravagant existence. James Wood compares this to how, if “we are asked by a friend what we are thinking, we often say ‘Nothing.’ […] Yet Woolf’s delicate method shows us that we are never thinking about nothing, that we are always thinking about something” (Wood, Broken 115). Life, she insists, “is a bowl that one fills and fills and fills” (E5 204). As such, her art aims at offering the reader a similarly expansive experience. She reminds her fellow writers: “Let us not take it for granted that life exists more fully in what is commonly thought big than in what is commonly thought small” (RO 118). This paper will trace Woolf’s dedication to literary fullness throughout her work, particularly focusing on Mrs. Dalloway.
English and Journalism
Library Research Prize Honorable Mention
ENL350 20th Century Literature
Hedges, Jared, "Fullness of Life for Virginia Woolf and Mrs. Dalloway" (2015). Library Research Prize Student Works. 18.
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