ENGL202 Blog 4 – Critical: Virginia Woolf & the Power of Imagination

TASK: Virginia Woolf believes in the power of the imagination to liberate human beings from the shackles of their enslavement. Do you have a comment on this statement?

Woolf is an extraordinary author; her way of writing is profound and searching, ever seeking to make sense of the mosaic of human experience, both beauteous and frightening. I believe that Woolf felt the human imagination was a powerful instrument for spiritual liberation because she understood how reality can indeed be a hideous, agonising realm. Her own experiences as a child and adolescent attest to this belief in the wall that can be created between reality and imagination–between the painful and the hopeful. Woolf had a difficult childhood: losing her parents at a young age and subjected to abuse, Woolf would have quickly learned of the escapism that literature provides for the suffering soul.

With this passion for modernist experimentalism, Woolf abandoned linear narratives in novels such as Mrs Dalloway. Woolf’s writings are crafted to capture layers of her character’s consciousness. For example, the description of Septimus’ character illustrates the possibility of his madness. However, as readers, we delve into his interiority and it is clear this character leads with a visionary imagination that is deeply involved with the natural and spiritual world around him. This kaleidoscopic glimpse into Septimus’ musings are balanced against the ordinary realism of Clarissa’s mind. Mrs Dalloway favours interior monologues, exploring problems of personal identity and relationships, as well as the significance of time, memory, change and loss. 

Because of this liberating imagination, Woolf was ahead of her time, supporting the androgynous persona and maintaining romantic relationships with women. However, Woolf was deeply sensitive to the destructive things that were happening around her: World War II, for example. Like Septimus, she was also afraid of losing her mind and becoming a burden to her loved ones. Woolf expresses an escape from emotional and psychological enslavement through her carefully modulated flow of prose, which is like reading a long poem–each image has a resonance that carries into the next movement of narrative.

Woolf rebelled against the materialism of authors, such as H. G. Wells, who depicted social injustice through gritty realism. Woolf rather captures the shackles of societal enslavement through the profound exploration of the tormented mind, such as Septimus’. In many ways, Woolf’s literary processes of evoking such a world of injustice engenders more empathy, as the reader aligns themselves with every fibre of thought the drives the pained protagonist. Ultimately, Woolf’s writings attest to the freedom of the imaginative mind.

Works Cited

Woolf, Virginia. “Mrs. dalloway.” Collected Novels of Virginia Woolf. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 1992. 33-176.

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