The Modernist Ghost: The Supernatural and Spectral in T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf
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My thesis examines ghosts in the work of Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot, focusing on four key texts, The Waste Land (1922), To the Lighthouse (1927), The Waves (1931) and Ash- Wednesday (1930). I ask why atavistic literary tropes suffuse the work of two modernist writers defined by their engagement with the apparent reality of modern life. I show how both Eliot and Woolf engage in a significant redefinition of traditional notions of the supernatural. Exploring the function served by these literary ghosts, I demonstrate how they embody modern intellectual and metaphysical concerns about the nature of self and reality. I argue that the supernatural beings which permeate The Waste Land are the central expression of Eliot‘s pre-occupation with the fragmentary nature of the human self. Drawing upon concepts explored in Eliot‘s studies of anthropology and Buddhism, I offer a reading of Tiresias as a modern day ghost: a figure whose essence is hollow, yet who is able to provide a fragile vision of otherworldly unity. I argue that Virginia Woolf‘s novel, To the Lighthouse, is also imbued with an aesthetic of the spectral. I show, through close textual analysis, how Mrs. Ramsay is at once a 'real', believable character, and simultaneously a ghost who can traverse the border between life and death. In The Waves, as Woolf tends towards more overt mysticism, she invests more deeply in the trope of the ghostly and important parallels with Eliot‘s poetry emerge, particularly in the literary expression of an omniscient force to overcome the limits of the self. Ash- Wednesday, despite its reputation as a 'conversion' poem, sees Eliot returning to the imaginative realm of the supernatural. I show how disruptive ghostly constructs destabilise the unity of the poem‘s Christian vision. Both writers create a modernist aesthetic of the ghostly, at the core of which is a notion of the emptiness of all reality, which in turn results in the spectral permeability of all boundaries of the self.
- Theses