Patterns of Violence

Sarah Cole

in At the Violet Hour

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780195389616
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199979226 | DOI:

Series: Modernist Literature and Culture

Patterns of Violence

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  • Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)


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This chapter makes the case for reading Woolf's works—from her first novel to her last, with a special emphasis on her three primary works of the 1930s, The Years, Three Guineas, and Between the Acts—as a great theorist of literary violence. It places Woolf in two primary relations to her contemporary culture with respect to violence: deeply, intimately exploring and formalizing its registers of violence; veering away from her peers and constructing an entirely original set of patterns to accommodate the visceral facts of ubiquitous, mass violence. The first half of the chapter elaborates three major topics in the cultural history of violence in the 1930s: the widespread debate about whether violence is or must be a determining feature of humanity, versus the view that civilization might yet prevail (discussion of Freud, Russell, Leonard Woolf, and V. Woolf); the Spanish Civil War, especially as it was reflected and understood in England (discussion of various writers on the war, as well as visual artists such as Picasso and Capa); the logics of action, as expressed by fascists, and the crisis around pacifism in the 1930s (discussion of Mussolini, British journal Action, and the history and language of British pacifism). The second half offers a reading of a full range of Woolf's writings (The Voyage Out, Jacob's Room, Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse) culminating in a detailed account of violence in her final three works.

Keywords: Virginia Woolf; civilization and barbarism; air war; Spanish Civil War; Robert Capa; Picasso, Guernica; Fascism; Pacifism; Freud; Leonard Woolf; disenchanted violence

Chapter.  43929 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)

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