Date of Degree
Mary Ann Caws
English Language and Literature
The exploration of the theme and narration of silence in Virginia Woolf's novels in this dissertation brings under scrutiny nothing less than her perceptions of the nature of gender, being, mind, knowledge and language. Woolf, searching for a language of mind amid changing concepts of mind in the twentieth century, creates a new rhetoric of silence. In defining silence as a "presence" and not just an "absence" in life and narration, Woolf displaces the privileged place of the "speaking subject" and speech or dialogue in the novel. In Chapter 1, there is an attempt to define what "silence" is in a text. It is about a theory of reading silence in any text as well as a reading of silence in Virginia Woolf's novels. Chapter 2, The Reading of Silence, discusses Woolf's notions of the reader and the writer, and how the critical perspective of Deconstruction confers a new kind of "readability" on the element of silence in her novels. Chapter 3, The Writing of Silence, provides a methodology for the identification of "scenes of silence" through a lexicon of silence, a punctuation of suspension and metaphors of silence. Chapter 4, Narrating Interiority, provides a brief overview of the narration of interiority in the English novel. Chapter 5, Keeping the Silence, demonstrates that silence is viewed as a "ritual of truth" of women in selected novels of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and Virginia Woolf. Chapter 6, Breaking the Silence, presents women's silences as a "ritual of oppression" in selected novels of Samuel Richardson, Charles Dickens, George Meredith and Thomas Hardy. Chapter 7, Escaping the Alphabet, reinterprets the bodily expression of hysteria and delusion in The Voyage Out and The Waves as another form of silence. Chapter 8, Listening to Silence, establishes alternating rhythm as a fact of Wolf's style, and juxtaposes the harmony of The Waves with the modern counterpoint of Between the Acts. Taken together, the chapters indicate the layers of silence in Woolf's novels. Her narrative experimentation anticipates certain post-modern critical themes and fictional perspectives on interiority, the unconscious, ineffability, and the limitations of language and interpretation.
Laurence, Patricia, "Escaping the Alphabet: The Reading of Silence in the Novels of Virginia Woolf" (1989). CUNY Academic Works.