Virginia Woolf and twentieth century narratives of androgyny
This historically contextualised work investigates Virginia Woolf's often contested theory of the androgynous writing mind. The work draws on early twentieth century discourses prevalent within sexology and psychoanalysis as a means of investigating Woolf's work. This is offset against readings of recent theorizations of sex and gender which accentuate the limitations of the conceptual schema used by early twentieth century theorists. Since her writing life was framed by two world wars (between publication of The Voyage Out in 1915 and the posthumous publication of her last novel, Between the Acts in 1941) much of this work analyses modernist literature, particularly women's writing, in relation to ideologies that sought both to privilege and to denigrate war-time constructions of masculinity and male sexuality. I argue that androgyny was introduced as a metaphor for writing in A Room of One's Own as a way of controlling militant feminism and male sexuality. At the same time that it sought conservatively to suppress sexual politics in writing, it was itself an autoerotic figure, based upon mythological and psycho-sexual discourses that either transcended the political dynamics of the time, or relied upon rhetorical constructions then associated with the unconscious. As Woolf constantly negotiates between embracing and wishing to escape from the various implications of sexual difference, this work traces the relationship that Woolf establishes between patriarchal society, women's sexuality and pre-war and post-war constructions of gender. These constructions are always, for Woolf, intrinsically bound up in her writing praxis, which I trace through her unpublished, extant manuscripts. I argue that because Woolf never abandoned the trope that she had invented for symbolising writing and the subjectivity of the writer, her writing, as it engaged with the encroaching political dynamics of the 1930s became increasingly more arcane. Although she believed that art could somehow transcend the political debates during the 1930s, her reluctance to abandon the once auto-erotic figure that she had developed in the 1920s figured what she began to call "mental chastity. " Woolf's retort to politics was, finally, to eclipse history and go back to the beginning, to the primeval and pre-history. This dissertation engages with the mythical, psychoanalytic, cultural and sexual dynamics of Woolf's work and her context.
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