Framing History: Virginia Woolf and the Politicisation of Aesthetics

Lara Feigel

in Literature, Cinema and Politics 1930-1945

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print July 2010 | ISBN: 9780748639502
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748652938 | DOI:
Framing History: Virginia Woolf and the Politicisation of Aesthetics

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This chapter is about the way that Virginia Woolf used cinematic (or ultracinematographic) technique to politicise aesthetics. It concentrates on the framing of history in Woolf's final two novels, The Years and Between the Acts. She used cinematic devices to incorporate contemporary politics in her novels, often through the presence of newspapers. The Years is Woolf's most political novel, written at the point when she was collecting newspaper clippings and campaigning against fascism. Although Woolf claimed in 1932 never to have read Henri Bergson, several critics have linked her exploration of time and consciousness with the work of the French philosopher. In the pageant in Between the Acts, history flits by cinematically; it comes in ‘scraps, orts and fragments’, provoking a form of distracted spectatorship. Woolf's novel can be aligned with two pageant-like films by Humphrey Jennings: Words for Battle and Listen to Britain.

Keywords: Virginia Woolf; aesthetics; politicisation; The Years; Between the Acts; Humphrey Jennings; history; contemporary politics; Henri Bergson

Chapter.  16122 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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