Virginia Woolf beyond psychoanalysis: English and French receptions (1980s-2020s)

Allègre, Marie (2023). Virginia Woolf beyond psychoanalysis: English and French receptions (1980s-2020s). University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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Psychoanalysis has been interested in Virginia Woolf’s treatment of ‘that queer conglomeration of incongruous things – the modern mind’ (‘Poetry, Fiction & the Future’, E4, p. 436) from the 1930s. From the 1970s onwards, in conjunction with feminist perspectives to varying degrees, literary scholars have applied a range of psychoanalytic frameworks to Woolf’s writing, including Freud, object-relation approaches, and, from the 1980s, Lacanian, and post-Lacanian theories. It is the latter set of intersections that my thesis investigates. What is psychoanalysis talking about when it is talking about ‘Virginia Woolf’? To what extent have Woolf’s Lacanian and post-Lacanian receptions been hospitable to her rendering of human experience, to its aesthetics, ethics, and politics?

Analysing paradigmatic examples of Woolf’s Anglophone and Francophone psychoanalytic receptions, my thesis argues that, more often than not, Woolf’s non- dualistic thinking and anti-systematic praxis have been obfuscated and, in some cases, commodified, by oedipal perspectives. Drawing on metacritical, feminist, queer, new materialist, and phenomenological, methodologies, each of my chapters investigates key critical discussions at the junction of Woolf, psychoanalysis, and feminist uses of Lacanian and post-Lacanian concepts.

Chapter One traces the persistence of psychobiographical tendencies and shows how pre-existing conclusions on Woolf’s life and psyche act as master signifiers in literary analysis, paving the way for the appropriation of biographical and textual material for theoretical validation. I demonstrate that more fluid and non-hierarchical conceptions of the relations between Woolf’s life and work prevent such reduction. Chapter Two addresses the restriction of Woolf’s irreducible and ad hoc theorisation of gender to a more or less metaphorised binary sexual difference. In its place, I put forth a context- specific, phenomenological, feminist and queer, interpretation of her explorations of identity in interaction. Chapter Three addresses the collapse of Woolf’s non-linear and anti-authoritative, investments of origins on to developmental narratives. In response, I outline the presence of a transtemporal and anti-patriarchal primordial imagery, manifested in transferential voices. In Chapter Four, I argue against hermetic understandings of symbolic and real resulting in dualistic simplifications of Woolf’s staging of the world as entangled and of her life-affirming takes on language and creation.

My thesis prolongs, and responds to, Woolf’s dream of a ‘fluid’ criticism (D5, 22 June 1940, p. 298), André Green’s call for a ‘subjective epistemology’ (1980, p. 14), and recent investigations of reparative reading in queer practices (Notéris, 2017). I contend that we must read Woolf and her psychoanalytic receptions reparatively, starting from, addressing, and incorporating, what oedipal theory has participated in othering. Throughout this work, I delineate the ‘irreducible heterogeneity’ of Woolf’s rendering of lived experience and embodiment, demonstrating how her stylistic uses of tensions implicate readers in the authoring of the text, something which is obfuscated by most, if not all, of the psychoanalytic accounts under scrutiny. Following in Woolf’s wake and redirecting focus on reader-text dynamics requires a reparative psychoanalytic criticism, itself a cornerstone of the creative nonfictional psychoanalytic criticism I call for.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and Creative Studies, Department of English Literature
Funders: Other
Other Funders: Sir Richard Stapley Trust
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
P Language and Literature > PR English literature


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