Woolf’s Atoms

In Lodge’s Thinks…, Helen Reed quotes Virginia Woolf’s essay “Modern Novels” (published in the Times Literary Supplement in 1919): “Let us record the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in which they fall.”

I thought I’d share the full sentence:

“Let us record the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in which they fall, let us trace the pattern, however disconnected and incoherent in appearance, which each sight or incident scores upon the consciousness. Let us not take it for granted that life exists more fully in what is commonly thought big than in what is commonly thought small.”

Woolf is making an argument that too many novelists, especially Victorian ones,  dealt too much with what she called “furniture”–the busy work of life–rather than with the thoughts and feelings of characters. Like many other Modernist writers, Woolf experimented with forms of writing that might capture what it feels like to be a conscious human being. Literary critics often refer to that “what it feels like” as “interiority.” You’ve probably heard this term before. The term suggests that the mind is inside, but inside? Where? That’s a difficult question to answer. We’ll discuss it when we read Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.

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