Weaving the Fabric of Reality: Consciousness in the Novels of Virginia Woolf

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Virginia Tech

The purpose of this thesis is to track Virginia Woolf's enactment of conscious experience over the course of her 3 most consciousness forward novels, To the Lighthouse (1927), The Waves (1931), and Mrs. Dalloway (1925). This thesis aims to examine Woolf's ideas and theories about individual consciousness, collective consciousness, and how gendered consciousness plays a role in both. Set against the consciousness philosophy of Woolf's time, this thesis sets Woolf's ideas apart from the abstractions of philosophy and attempts to trace Woolf's enactment of consciousness throughout three of her most famous novels. In researching this project, I studied the consciousness scholarship that was circulating within scholarly circles during Virginia Woolf's time. I also read about what Virginia Woolf herself had to say about philosophy and its usefulness. Finally, I researched what scholars of Virginia Woolf had to say about her work and the philosophy of consciousness. By using all these avenues for my research, I was able to paint a portrait of Virginia Woolf's involvement with philosophy, her ideas about conscious experience, and how those ideas took shape in her novels. In her novels, Virginia Woolf transcends academic philosophy by creating a way to understand and visualize the phenomenology of consciousness that is unique and entirely her own. In the first chapter of this thesis, I explore Woolf's depiction of gendered consciousness in her novel To the Lighthouse. In this chapter, I argue that Woolf suggests a difference between the way men and women experience the world. She explores the implications of those experiences for the collective consciousness, and the delicate line that balances gendered individual consciousness with the collective experience. In the second chapter, I look at Woolf's theory of group consciousness in The Waves, which explores what it means to be part of a collective experience while also balancing being an individual with one's own inner experience. In this chapter, I argue that Woolf formulates a coming-of-age narrative to enact the development of both the individual and collective consciousnesses. She also splits the coming-of-age narratives into two different groups, based on gender. I argue that Woolf does this to highlight the different ways in which men and women experience, how that experience develops from adolescence to adulthood, and the balance that must be maintained to reach Woolf's idea of enlightenment. Finally, in the last chapter, I discuss Woolf's ideas about inner and outer experience in Mrs. Dalloway, including the novel's implicit assertion that there must be stability, or balance, in both inner and outer conscious experience if one is to function within the collective consciousness of society. I argue that Woolf shows this balance, or lack thereof, in the parallel narratives of Clarissa and Septimus. In doing this she once again asserts that there is a gendered difference in the way men and women experience and shows how the balance of inner and outer experience functions between both men and women. By analyzing these three texts, I hope to show both Woolf's understanding of conscious experience and the ways in which she enacts this understanding in her three most consciousness-forward novels.

Consciousness, Experience, Women, Life, Mind, Philosophy, Gender, Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, The Waves, Reality, Spirituality