Perception of Art in to the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
This seminar paper will be dealing with Virginia Woolf and her perception towards artists, art, the process of its creation. These topics are omnipresent in all her works, both fictional and non-fictional, and these paper will try to present those viewpoints through her novel To the Lighthouse and its central figure Lily Briscoe.
In order to do this, it is important to first present the historical context, political and social circumstances during which Virginia Woolf has created her works, as well as some elements of her personal life. The first half of twentieth century was defined by the catastrophic consequences of the First World War which after its ending forcedpeople to put things into perspective, and that resulted in changing the perception of reality and the values in life. It was obvious that the change was needed and the transformation started in almost all spheres of life affecting also art in general where the Modernist movement started, questioning the concept of “real” or realism in life, the gender roles in art, the artist’s personal views, perceptions and the state of mind in creating an art piece. Virginia Woolf was determined to “fe-form” the novel in a way, rejecting the realistic style of writing, and constantly experimenting with forms of literary expression trying to put innovative touch to her works. Her focus was predominantly on gender roles, unfair perception and representation of women as artists, but also female characters in literary works. Novels up to that time were usually centred upon male characters presenting male dominance towards women in all spheres of life – domestic and social. Woolf presents women figures as centre roles of a novels, opposing their domestic roles as daughters, wives and mothers with their ambitions and desires towards finding their voice, creativity, as well building up their self-worth and realising that it does not come from men approval or disapproval.
This paper will try to put those elements in perception with previously mentioned novel, as well as connect Modernism literature with changes happening in art, especially Post-Impressionism movement in works of Paul Cézanne.
Virginia Woolf lived and wrote during time that was marked by the end of the Victorian age and seen as era of major changes happening in society and political map of England. The nineteenth century was the time of political and economic prosperity for British Empire, however twentieth century, especially after First and Second World War, brought many issues that caused a significant decline of its political dominance.
The way of life changed considerably comparing these two centuries. In the Victorian era, everything dependent on the social class and gender that one belonged to, so the quality of life and possibilities were different for people belonging to the aristocracy, compared to those from the middle class or working class, as well as for those living on rural or town and city area (Mitchell 15-18). The Victorian society was strictly patriarchal, creating a new social order of repressed women where they were perceived as beautiful creatures, so called “the Angel in the House” and were severely abused with enforced marriage and obligation to procreate. Marriage was a form of a contract in which a woman gave full ownership of herself and her body to her husband which often resulted in sexual violence, verbal abuse and economic poverty. It was expected from a woman to be submissive to her husband, and to lead a family life, which included taking care of her family and the household, and that manifested in women always putting needs of others before their own. This act of self-sacrifice restrained women from chasing any career or personal goals, that were considered as men’s territories and domains (263-266). What is more, it was believed that is in woman’s nature the fact they are not capable of such things: “Women are subordinate to a regime of ideas. Values and practices (patriarchy) in which their position is demarcated and authorised by “nature” as different from and less than males in terms of rational powers, moral character, physical strength” (Botting 11).
Things changed in the late nineteenth century with creation of the concept of the New Woman, which opposed those traditional conventions proving that women are capable of more than just take care of the household and her family. This led to the feminist movement in first half of twentieth century where women started to fight for their education, work opportunities and political rights demanding the right to vote (Whitworth 50-51). Virginia Woolf was an advocate of women’s rights using her literary works as a platform to speak out about educational and work restrictions women suffer. In one of her most influential essays A Room of One’s Own she stresses the importance of women having access to professions and the right for basic conditions which would allow them to reach their full intellectual potential: “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” (Woolf 4). In the essay she uses a metaphor of Shakespeare’s fictional sister Judith, claiming that if Shakespeare had a sister with the same potential, she “would certainly have gone crazed, or ended her days in some lonely cottage” (48), to stress the fact that women do not have the same opportunities for reaching the freedom of art creation and fulfilling their potential as such.
The Modernist movement started in the first half of the twentieth century, to be more precise in years between the end of the First World War and the 1940s and some of its main characteristics are strong break with tradition and history including the actions against established religious, political and social perceptions and institutions because they are the cause of alienation, loss and despair in human life. They emphasize on the celebration of individuality and inner strength, as well as the sub-consciousness and the fact that human life is unordered (Sanders 484-487). Modernists were influenced by some substantial psychological and philosophical theories created by Sigmund Freud and Henri Bergson, as well as visual arts (Carter 350). Roger Fry, painter and art critic, organized and art exhibition in 1910 called Manet and the Post-Impressionists which exhibited paintings by Cézanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh and many others. The style of paintings was different from painter to painter, but what they all had in common was departure from Impressionism, using symbolism, vivid colours, simplified forms that were often product of artist’s deep personal thoughts and memories (Berkowitz).
Post-Impressionistic Elements in the Novel To the Lighthouse
As mentioned in previous chapter, Roger Fry had a significant influence on Modernist art, by coining the term Post-Impressionism which at first referred only to painters, but the ideas and its principles soon affected writers as well. Some of its defining characteristics are symbolism which was used to present the artist’s subconscious mind, combining form and meaning into one, negation of realistic representation and the importance of conveying feelings. Paul Cézanne said himself that “a work of art which did not begin in emotion is not a work of art”.
These elements can be seen in Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse, where she uses symbols and symbolic representation avoiding speaking directly to the reader, but instead leaving the representation of meaning behind certain elements to reader to interpret. The lighthouse is the first and the most important symbol that Woolf uses to represent the wastage of time. The tower is used as reminder to characters that they have a specific amount of time to achieve certain goals in life. But it can also be seen as a representation of people who only after reaching their goal actually discover that this is something they did not actually want. In the novel, that is James who only after coming to the lighthouse realized that the image he sees is not the expected one. Waves are also important symbol of time that constantly moves forward and brings changes, but they are also destructive elements as Mr. Ramsay says that the sea “eats away the ground we stand on” (44) and a reminder how fragile and limited human life is. Window could also be seen as a representation of contrast between day and night, but past and present as well. The window is the name of the first chapter where almost the whole narrative is happening around the window – characters are sitting next to it observing the passing of the day, Mrs. Ramsay sits there to read to James while Lily is trying to paint them.
Lily Briscoe herself is a symbol of Post-Impressionist artist. Her aim is not to paint accurate, realistic canvases, but instead she presents the scene as combination of shapes, masses, lines, vivid colours, having lights and shadows in mind, and most importantly keeping all of the elements in unity. She painted a plain purple triangle as a portrait of Mrs. Ramsay and her son James, as well as some other elements like the house, the wall, the tree, but her aim is not to show their physical characteristics but her own vision of Mrs. Ramsay that goes beyond of just the superficial appearance. By analysing her style, it is obvious that by using colour and shapes as dominant elements in her painting she is close to the Cézanne’s artistic style – “The jacmanna was bright violet; the wall staring white. … Then beneath the colour there was the shape. She could see it all so clearly, so commandingly, when she looked” (To the Lighthouse 16). She also constantly questions her perspective trying to present it as faithfully as she can, which corresponds to Post-Impressionistic way of thinking and approaching art.
Women as Artists Finding Their Voice
Virginia Woolf as an advocate for women’s rights in finding their own voice in artistic creation states that it is important for writers to distance themselves from gender restrictions. In that way the principle of impersonality, freedom from any external influence, can be achieved. Furthermore, she claims that great obstacle in women’s artistic creation are men whose hostility and negation of ability of adequate artistic creation often leaves women in anger and frustration and feeling helpless, and the ability to supress those emotions is not easy – ‘She will write in a rage where she should write calmly … She will write of herself where she should write of her characters.’ (A Room of One’s Own 59).
This problem is presented through the character of Lily Briscoe. The disturbing presence of Mr. Ramsay prevent her from establishing herself as an artist, and we can see that at the beginning of the novel when she tries to paint but is distracted by him. The same thing happens years later, in the same place – his presence excludes her ability to paint: ‘Every time he approached … ruin approached, chaos approached.’ (To the Lighthouse 137). But when she physically distances herself from him, she seems to be fine, which, however cannot be said for disturbing effect of Charles Tansley who said that ‘women can’t write, women can’t paint’ (44) and Lily even physically distanced from him cannot escape those words that haunt her making her doubt her abilities even more. Unlike Lily, Mrs. Ramsay firmly believes that the only role woman has is that of wife and mother, which also negatively affects Lilly’s self-belief as she sees Mrs. Ramsay as a fascinating woman. But at the end of the novel Lily won in the struggle of eliminating unnecessary distractions and found herself, realising her worth as both a woman and an artist which culminated in letting her subconscious mind take over her in creation of her artistic masterpieces:
‘And as she lost consciousness of outer things, and her name and her personality and her appearance and whether Mr Carmichael was there or not, her mind kept throwing up from its depths, scenes and names, and sayings, and memories and ideas, like a fountain spurting over that glaring, hideously difficult white space, while she modelled it with greens and blues’ (238).
In her essay A Room’s of One’s Own Woolf also talks about the fact that there is no history behind women’s creation of art and that all values, concepts and themes up to that point were created and are governed by men, so it is a big challenge in front of them to ignore those boundaries and restrictions behind “write this, think that” (64). Because of that women are obliged to find their own devices to express themselves, and to do that they should not let any gender, social, political or racial restriction come on their way and dictate the way they write and create art (75-80).
As a female writer in early twentieth century Virginia Woolf is a crucial figure not just for introducing a new way of writing but because she had the courage to use her voice in favour of all women who in that time were silenced by Victorian image of a woman, doubting their abilities that they can pursue a career and most importantly, that they have a voice and the right to use it. In her works Woolf reflects all elements of Post-Impressionism by rejecting traditional approaches, and favouring innovation and experimentation as well as emphasizing on personal vision and creating unity by using symbols and giving the audience the active role of interpreting them. She also introduces the reader with artists who struggle to find their artistic voice because they are restrained by society and boundaries preventing them from reaching their full potential. This is the character of Lily Briscoe, but by the end of the novel, Woolf enables her to silence all those voices telling her that she is not capable of creating the art of value because of her gender as she finally finds her own voice, style end her true self.
Virginia Woolf: a Life of Tragedies
“You cannot find peace by avoiding life” – Virginia Woolf, one of the most eminent writers of her time, during her life she suffered the loss of her parents as well as her siblings which led her to lose control of her mind, her mental illness did not prevent her from continuing to write numerous works of literature.
In our daily life, it is important to keep in mind the importance that we have in this world or in the life of our loved ones and the environment that surrounds us, finding harmony or peace with ourselves doing things correctly, it is a way to reach a high level of happiness, the same that will help us stand out in our daily work within all areas.
There is no doubt that emotional stability is a great determinant in our life and in the decisions we make, mainly a person is most affected by conflicts, discussions or bad experiences with the family since they are the ones who contribute most to our life and well-being and when this is not the case, things begin to change and we begin to have problems in our behavior, in our work, we begin to see the world in different ways and make decisions that set our course, well if this causes family conflicts, let’s imagine now the loss of a loved one at a very early age, lack of care or a father or mother figure, can be the cause of a life fully of problems and internal and external conflicts, moments of emotional instability or mood swings sudden with the people around us, this can get worse over time since a negative personality is already acquired and often weak in any situation which would lead us to lose faith in humanity in life and for this reason want to end it.
All these problems or stages of our life are marked by logical and clear reasons that today can be studied and analyzed from different sciences or from different ways such as writing, which can be interpreted based on its content and form how we will express things. It is for this reason that today we will try to analyze and explain this type of scenario through an approach based on the life of a famous writer such as Virginia Woolf who has left us great teachings through her works and above all allows us to analyze to fullness the aforementioned issues.
Adeline Virginia Stephen was born on January 25, 1882 in London, her parents were Leslie Stephan and Julia Jackson, both previously widowed, they start their marriage in 1878 with four children, Leslie had one child, Laura from his first marriage and Julia had three Children, George, Gerald and Stella. From this marriage came Virginia, Vanessa, Thoby and Adrian. Leslie. Virginia Wolf comes from an intellectual family, her father “Sir Leslie Stephen, a famous scholar and agnostic philosopher who, among many literary occupations, was at one time editor of Cornhill Magazine and the Dictionary of National Biography.” (Encyclopedia of World Biography,381), the American poet and critic James Russell Lowell was her godfather, also her sister Vanessa who later became painter and married Clive Bell, an art critic.
During her childhood, Virginia struggled to start talking what worries her parents, but Virginia started learning to talk properly when she was three years old, “words, when they came, were to be then, and for the rest of her life, her chosen weapons” (Quentin, Pg. 22). Virginia began writing at an early age, Virginia wrote in her family’s newspaper The Hyde Park Gate News when she was nine years old about her siblings.
Virginia had a childhood surrounded by security and happiness because she did what she liked most about writing, but her happiness would soon have her first breakdown, “In May 1825 Julia Stephen died and was the end of all security and of most happiness. The shock drove Virginia out of her mind” (Woolf, pg. IV). the death of her mother had a great impact on her mental health which caused Virginia to feeling depressed, but this was not the only loss of a loved one who would suffer Virginia two years later Stella, her older half-sister died suddenly but there was still more to come and now it would be her father’s death in 1904 which drove Virginia to her next episode of madness.
After her father’s death Virginia and her siblings moved to what would be their new home located at 46 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury, where once again his destiny would change with death of Thoby her brother in 1906 after traveling to Greece with Vanessa who also was sick. “To Virginia it seemed not only that she had lost a much loved and much admired brother but that she had also lost a sister, for Vanessa then married Clive Bell”. (Woolf, pg. XV).
However, her destiny would begin to change when she met who would later become her husband Leonard Woolf a writer and critic from Cambridge, Leonard was attending college together with her brother Thoby when they met in one of their meetings in Bloomsbury, he would not hesitate to leave all his accompaniments and work to marry Virginia. “After a period of long and agonizing doubt Virginia did in fact married him on 10 August 1912 and the marriage, despite the fact that Virginia was not sexually enthusiastic, was both happy and durable”. (Woolf, pg. xvii), this explains why the couple never had their own children.
Different hard episodes in her life affected Virginia to lose her mind and making her want to end her life. “In September 1913 she tried to kill herself. The recovery from this attack was painfully slow”. (Woolf, pg. xvii), due to this crisis her care was at the hands of a nurse day and night but this would not enough to keep her having suicidal thoughts, she committed suicide jumping of a bridge with stones in her pockets when she was 59 years old.
Nowadays her symptoms are associated as bipolar disorder, Virginia suffered mood swings from extreme depression to episodes of psychosis since she was an adolescence, at that time psychiatry was not within reach of providing help to Virginia.
Throughout her life, Virginia Woolf has created numerous novels, letters and her own personal diary where she expressed her entire inner world, her life full of tragedies, lost loved ones have made this author immortalized all her moods in her writings, that is why her husband Leonard after the death of Virginia decided that the world deserved to know the battle Virginia lived until the end of her days and titled it as A Writer’s Diary, also Virginia published others works such as To the Lighthouse The Voyage, Night and Day, A Room of One’s Own among others.
A life full of tragedies at a very young age, bipolar disorders, until reaching a mental illness that caused her to take her own life despite having found some peace next to her husband, letting us know and understand that in Many times there are no solutions to our problems, but also that death is not the only way to achieve personal tranquility, problems may not be completely eliminated, but they can be lightened or learned to live with them in a different way.
- Bell, Q., & Briggs, J. (1972). Virginia Woolf: a biography (Vol. 1). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
- Woolf, V. (2003). A writer’s diary: being extracts from the diary of Virginia Woolf. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
- Woolf, V. (1980). The Diary of Virginia Woolf. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
- Marcus, L. (2004). Virginia Woolf (Vol. 2nd ed). Tavistock, Devon, U.K.: Liverpool University Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1886069&site=ehost-live
- Dalsimer, K. (2001). Virginia Woolf: Becoming a writer. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
- Viviane Forrester, J. G. (2015). Virginia Woolf: A Portrait. [Place of publication not identified]: Columbia University Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1044297&site=ehost-live
A Room of One’s Own:the 100 Best Nonfiction Books: No 45
A room of one’s ownIntroduction In 1928 Virginia Woolf was invited by a college to deliver lecturers. She delivered lecturer on the issue of women and fiction. She expended her lecturers and revised them into an essay ‘A Room Of One’s Own’ which was printed in 1929. In ths essay she is speaking through a fictional narrator which is ‘Marry Beton’.Major points:She says that women must have room of her own, in which she can live freely without any kind of fear and without obeying any order.In this essay Marry was not allowed to walk on grass in the university campus and was interrupted by university guard.
Through this point Woolf tried to show that how this patrihearcial society behave with women. Marry was even denied to enter in the library of university. Then she visited the british Museum, and try to understand more about her past days at women’s college and Men’s University and she end up knowin they were so different. She tried to get information about women. Surprisingly she got many books to consult. She discover that most of these books were written by angry men, she was unable to find and useful thing abut women. Then she checked some history books in her shelf. She end up finding that no one has ener bothered to write any history about women. She tried to tells the story about Shakespear’s ‘Judith’, who was very genius like Shakespear but she did not have any opportunity.
Actually she tries to show an image of male dominated society. This society provide every possible opportunity to men but they ignore the legal rights of women. We see a women in doutful eyes if she is out of the boundry of house. For example if a boy came late at night in home and he says that i was studying with my friends, then his father would beleive his words. But is same is the case with girl then no one will beleive her even if she is saying truth.Then she tells about actual writers for example Jane Austen’s every book was ruined by the bitterness and anger of male writers. She ends up telling that maybe genius work of literature need to be gender neutral, each person would have a male and a femal in her/his mind.
Virginia Woolf’s a Haunted House: Literary Analysis
The short story “A Haunted House” is story with meaning, by portraying to us the treasure of life. When two ghosts are searching through their old house, looking for their “Treasure”, the treasure or meaning is revealed to us. The joy and love shared between two people is the treasure, the treasure of life. By using irony and stream of consciousness Virginia Woolf is able to reveal the meaning of the story.
Virginia Woolf uses a style called the “Stream of Consciousness”, revealing the lives of her characters by revealing their thoughts and associations. We learn about the ghosts past by seeing what they thoughts and associated with there pasts. For example when they were discussing death she put ” “Here we slept,” she said. And he adds, “Kisses without number.” “Waking in the morning_” “Silver between the trees.” “Upstairs-” “In the garden-” “When summer came-” “In the winter snowtime-” “( A Haunted House Pg. 321). This quote shows us what places and actions the ghosts associate with there joy and love. Using stream of consciousness gives us a better feeling of what the characters are going through, which in turn gives us a better understanding of the meaning.
We also see the use of irony, using a word or phrase to mean the exact opposite of its literal or normal meaning. The irony is that the story is titled “A Haunted House” which made us think that the house was an evil place. The house ends up being where every thing good happens. The ghosts did not haunt the people , instead they make them realize the treasure they have. By seeing how much the ghosts valued finding their treasure it makes the people take a harder look at what their treasure is, the love and joy they share. It is very evident when she says ” Now they found it, one would be certain, stopping the pencil on the margin. And then, tired of reading, one might rise and see for one self”(A Haunted House Pg. 321). The irony draws use in by making us think that we are about read a trivial ghost story, but instead, gives us a deeper and more meaningful interpretation of ones life.
By Virginia Woolfs use of, streaming consciousness and irony she is rather dramatically able to portray her thoughts on the meaning of “A Haunted House”. That the joy and love shared between two people is the treasure of life.
A Meaningful Ghost Story
How Literary Style of Virginia Woolf is Connected to Her Mental Health
Creativity Linked with Mental Illness: Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf was an English writer who was considered one of the best writers in the 20th century. She was believed to have Bipolar II disorder and there is more than enough evidence to back this statement up. Modern psychologists think this because of the mood swings within her writings depicted in certain characters in her books. She was born in London and grew up in an educated, British family who taught her how to read and write and this made her writing career take off. Her mother died when she was at a young age and this is what some people believed was to start her breakdowns and her mood swings and periods of depression.
Background of Creative Figure
Virginia Woolf was born in Kensington, London and her name at birth was Adeline Virginia Stephen. Her parents were Julia Prinsep Duckworth Stephen and Sir Leslie Stephen. Woolf was taught by her parents, who knew how to read and write and also her household contained three marriages. Virginia’s father was an editor, critic, biographer, and also had a connection to William Thackeray, a famous British novelist, meaning that Virginia and her siblings were raised in an environment filled with influences from the Victorian literary society.
Virginia’s mother died when she was 13, in 1895, and it led to her first of many nervous breakdown. In 1904, her father’s death led to her collapse and she was temporarily placed in an institution. She and he sister were also sexually abused by their step-brothers, George and Gerald Duckworth and modern scholars think that her depression and breakdowns may have been results of this. Throughout her whole life, Virginia went through mood swings and had to spend a lot of time in a private nursing home helping women with disorders. Later, she then drowned herself and some believe she did this because of her bipolar disorder may have caused her to go into a temporary state of depression.
Symptoms of Abnormal Behavior
Virginia Woolf was believed to be diagnosed with the mental illness, Bipolar II also known as hyper manic depression. Symptoms of bipolar II are large depressive episodes, lasting up to two weeks, mood swings, and also at least one hypomanic episode. People usually mistake Bipolar II for depression because of the similar symptoms. Hypomanic episodes change your personality so extremely that even people around you would know something is wrong. Virginia showed in her writings how some characters would have periods of depression but other periods of euphoria in certain books.
Specific Diagnoses From Two Different Sources
Katherine Dalsimer, Ph.D., explains how Virginia Woolf was said to have bipolar disorder from the age of 13, when her mother suddenly died. She says how Virginia’s writings have both excitement and dark moods within them. John McManamy also says how Virginia had constant mood swings and she slept into a state of deep depression at times. She had experienced many breakdowns at this point, starting from when her mother died at age 13, in 1895. Some say that her illness led her to put stones in her pocket and drown herself in a river.
Ways in Which Their Illness Informed Their Art
Virginia Woolf’s illness manifested itself into her writings in many ways within many characters. Most of her characters in her stories were just versions of herself and so these characters either showed euphoric personalities or depressed moods depending on her bipolar disorder and her mood swings. An example of this is her character, Septimus Smith from the book Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, of course, and he shows many mood swings between euphoric states and depressed states throughout the book.
Analyze one of Their Works and Connect it to Mental Illness
Like stated in the previous paragraph, Virginia Woolf shows her bipolar disorder within the character Septimus Smith in the book, Mrs. Dalloway, by depicting mood swings within this character. Another character in this book is Clarissa Dalloway, who also shows these mood swings and also shows episodes throughout the book, both being symptoms of bipolar II disorder. Lastly, Woolf depicts Clarissa in these euthymic states as a mixture of herself in these certain moods when she isn’t depressed. Clarissa also is mostly not depressed, based upon what Woolf’s mood is at the time.
Evidence Connecting Creativity and Mental Illness
This day in age, the advances in science have allowed us to explore the great thinkers and writers of the past and allow us to understand them. Most of the big “thinkers” and artists of the past, such as Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Allan Poe, and Virginia Woolf, actually had a mental illness of some sort. These ailments, however, allowed these creative people to create some of the greatest works of art and writings that the world have ever seen and some think that it was these illnesses that allowed these people to achieve such feats. Dr. Arnold Ludwig, a psychiatry professor at the University of Kentucky, conducted an experiment where he examined 1004 “eminent” figures throughout history. He determined that most of those people were diagnosed with a mental illness. This shows that most of the creative thinkers in history had a mental illness.
Next, J. Philippe Rushton conducted a study where he found that he found that creativity has a direct correlation with intelligence and psychoticism, which measures vulnerability to mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia.
Evidence Arguing Against the Connection
Creative historical figures with mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia or bipolar, are overrepresented, meaning that their mental illness really doesn’t help them, rather it hurts them. First off, people in Sweden in creative occupations and mental illnesses, were observed and studies show that they are more subjected to suicide and substance abuse than people in the same profession without a mental illness. This shows that their mental illness really just hurts the person and it leads them to do stupid things but they cannot do anything to fight it.
Secondly, other studies show how when a creative person is mentally ill, the creative production must be carried out during periods of low symptom activity, meaning that when there are not many symptoms of the illness at the moment, is when the creativity can be carried out. This, in fact, is more of an ailment than something helping people because it limits these people to when they can produce art.
My Thoughts on Creativity and Mental Illness
Honestly, I do indeed think that when an artist has a mental illness, they will create more interesting and groundbreaking art because of how they think differently than a “normal” person and how they carry out actions differently. Let’s take Virginia Woolf, for example.
Virginia Woolf was said to have bipolar, where the diagnosed goes through constant mood swings and breakdowns. I think that if she didn’t have this illness, she wouldn’t be such a recognized figure because her art would have been average and would not have stood out without thinking how she did. Her characters showed symptoms of bipolar, as did she, and readers were drawn to this new way of writing in the 20th century.
A Stylistic Manner in Death of the Moth
Shift in Tone and Style in “Death of the Moth”
In “Death of the Moth,” Virginia Woolf’s tone and style change from mellow and hopeful to melancholy and dreary. As the speaker first notices the moth’s struggle to escape the window pane, she becomes almost mesmerized by it and naturally thinks of helping it. After watching it fly to each corner multiple times, she slowly starts to reflect on the meaninglessness of life and the inevitability of death. Helping that moth in that moment would have merely prolonged the moth’s life and constant possibility of death at any moment. For this reason, the speaker decides to allow nature to fulfill its duty and kill the moth. The descriptions and tone of Woolf’s essay, along with the sentence structure and diction shift from the beginning to the end. The deviation from pleasant, descriptive sentences to gloomy, blunt sentences happens at the line, “But, as I stretched out a pencil, meaning to help him to right himself, it came over me that the failure and awkwardness were the approach of death. I laid the pencil down again” (Woolf 574).
At the beginning of the essay, the moth is described as energetic and full of life, even though the speaker seems hopeless. The speaker mentions the energy that “sent the moth fluttering from side to side” (573) and again describes the “enormous energy of the world that was thrust into his frail and diminutive body” (574). The constant portrayals of the lively moth, who is happy and hopeful for life create a lighthearted, pleasant mood. Woolf’s describing that the moth “seemed to be content with life” (573) suggests that even though he died seconds later, he did not lose his sense of vigor until that moment. Even though the speaker seemed pessimistic and repeatedly referred to the moth as pitiful, as established when she said “it was useless to try to do anything” (574), the moth appeared not to be affected by his coming death until he died. This hopeless feeling exhibited by the speaker is contrasted by her fascination with the moth, as demonstrated when she says “One could not help watching him” (573) and describes him as “marvelous” (574). However, as Woolf “laid the pencil down again” (574), the tone of the essay shifts and Woolf is no longer alone in her hopelessness.
The original descriptions of energy and vigor are replaced by descriptions of attempted but failed bursts of energy, which are a result of Woolf’s “laying the pencil down” (574). Just before the speaker decides not to help the moth, she describes “when he tried to fly across [the window pane] he failed” and that “he could no longer raise himself” (574). The change in the moth’s energy signifies the approach of the end of its life, establishing a clear shift in tone in the essay. When the moth dies, the speaker describes that “the body relaxed, and instantly grew stiff. The struggle was over. The insignificant little creature now knew death” (575). These phrases about the moth giving up and death taking over finally catch up with the speaker’s feelings of hopelessness for the moth. Not only does she clearly depict the moth’s giving up, she also counters her initial fascination by replacing them with feelings of indifference. The tone of indifference in the lineh “the horses stood still” (574) establishes a more grim and depressed mood. However, as the shift occurs, the mood and metaphors become stronger. Early on in the story, the audience might empathize with the hopeful tone, however, the subject may seem irrelevant until the pivotal moment when the subject gets more intense, which evokes more emotion, thus strengthening the mood by allowing the audience to sympathize with the moth and the fact that his death is inevitably near. The phrases “[the] work in the fields had stopped” and that “stillness and quiet replaced the previous animation” (574) are metaphors for the moth’s soon ending life because the recently lively outside world is now still, resembling that the moth’s vivacious efforts are now ending. Woolf’s regular commentary on how the moth struggles to find his way out of death, but then eventually surrenders to death mimics her struggle with depression and her eventual choice to kill herself. The metaphor between the struggling moth and humans attempting to escape death becomes more powerful in the closing paragraph, when the inevitability of death is confirmed.
Not only does the tone of the essay change, the style of the story and the structure of the sentences also change. In the start of the essay, the sentences are relatively complex and descriptive. For example, “The rooks too were keeping one of their annual festivities; soaring round the tree tops until it looked as if a vast net with thousands of black knots in it had been cast up into the air; which, after a few moments sank slowly down upon the trees until every twig seemed to have a knot at the end of it” (573). This sentence, complex and lengthy, is also overflowing with details, something that is lost by the end of the essay. The phrase “pleasant morning, mid–September, mild, benignant, yet with a keener breath than that of the summer month” (573) elicits beautiful scenes and appeals to the senses because of its vivid and expressive word choice. This lush style signifies the abundance of energy in the moth, which is soon taken away from him when Woolf gives up all hope and “lays the pencil down again” (574).
The complex, detailed sentences in the first half of the essay are replaced with blunt and short sentences in the final couple paragraphs. Woolf utilizes very direct phrases to portray events and background images such as “work in the fields had stopped” (574) and “the legs fluttered again” (574). These lacking descriptions, opposite of the full descriptions, clearly depict that the speaker’s mood has changed while watching the moth die. The moment that the moth dies is a moment that would usually contain some emotion, but the speaker merely describes that moment in her apathetic tone when she says, “O yes, he seemed to say, death is stronger than I am” (575). The emotion and empathy in the beginning generate interesting and involved sentences, whereas the lack of emotion and lack of empathy of the speaker seem to accelerate the abruptness of the moth’s death, which is represented in the indifference found in the speaker through her shift in sentence structure. This absence of detail and complexity resembles the moth’s life, which has a deficit of energy and hope in the latter half of the essay.
When she first sees the moth struggling, she is fascinated and thinks to relieve it, but then she notices how helpless it is and decides that she cannot persistently prevent death from taking the moth’s life. The tone and vivid imagery in the beginning, illustrative and full of optimism, as well as the linguistics of the beginning, complex and elaborate, change to a sorrowful and hopeless tone and a simple structure. This implication is portrayed in the pivotal lines, “but, as I stretched out a pencil, meaning to help him to right himself, it came over me that the failure and awkwardness were the approach of death. I laid the pencil down again” (574). Before this moment, the sentences contain optimistic, illustrative sentences, which change to simple, bleak sentences. The moth’s life ended because of the speaker’s hopelessness in saving it, mirroring the life of Woolf, which ended because of her own hopelessness.
A Connection of the Allegory of the Cave and Shakespeare’s Sister Novels
The Absence of Enlightenment
The absence of enlightenment is a very dark place; there is not much to life if we do not have some sort of enlightenment or knowledge. In Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave”, the prisoners are in darkness, because their perception of reality is twisted. This darkness is both literal and metaphorical in “The Allegory of the Cave”. In Virginia Woolf’s “Shakespeare’s Sister”, Judith Shakespeare experiences a very emotional type of darkness that ultimately leads to her killing herself. The darkness experienced by Judith can be linked back to the absence of enlightenment in her life, because she was not given the same opportunities as her brother. In the word enlightenment, there is literally the opposite of darkness, which is light. Without enlightenment, we have darkness. Enlightenment means going beyond a life of darkness and doing so much more.
When looking at “The Allegory of the Cave”, there are key examples of the effects of ignorance. In Plato’s allegory, when the prisoner returned to the cave after enlightenment and attempted to share what he knew, Plato wrote “if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death” (Plato 24). The prisoners who were still in the cave viewed the enlightened prisoner as “without his eyes”, meaning he was ridiculous and was crazy. The perception of those in the cave was delusional. Their knowledge of the world was only the shadows they saw before them, which were simply illusions caused by objects and fire. The prisoners knew nothing beyond these shadows. They were so immersed in darkness that they were willing to put the enlightened prisoner to death for his attempt to enlighten the rest of the prisoners. All day the prisoners would look at shadows and give names to the shadows, because this was all they knew. The prisoners could not grasp the concept that there was more to the world than what they knew, because they were ignorant and did not know any better. The absence of enlightenment made them unwilling to “see the sun” and learn from the enlightened prisoner, which limited them to further life spent staring at shadows and giving names to that which they did not fully even understand. The prisoners did not try to go beyond a life of darkness; instead they formed a barely thriving life in the darkness.
Along with the presence of darkness in “The Allegory of the Cave”, there is apparent darkness in “Shakespeare’s Sister”. The darkness in “Shakespeare’s Sister” is an emotional darkness that can be linked back to the lack of enlightenment, because Judith Shakespeare did not receive the same opportunities as her brother. Instead of going to grammar school, Judith learned how to cook, sew, and be a housewife and mother. The absence of light in Judith’s life is both different and similar to the absence in the cave. The darkness experienced by the prisoners is not an emotional one like the darkness experienced by Judith; the prisoners experienced darkness as a result of ignorance. The darkness felt by Judith was a sort of depression, because she had such immense desire to do the same things as her brother, William, but was never given the same opportunities. Judith was discriminated for her gender, and this limited what she was allowed to do during the time period she lived in. Any woman during this time period was forced into a pre-designated life, despite any talent or passions they had. Woolf explains, “any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half wizard, feared and mocked” (Woolf 770). During this time, women did not really have the ability to become enlightened, because there were no opportunities for them. There were no schools for them to attend; there were no apprenticeships. There was nothing for them to learn from. If a woman were to try to pursue her passions, she would probably fail from lack of knowledge unfortunately. Since Judith was unable to explore her passions for reading, writing, and theatre, Judith did ultimately lose her sanity and ended her own life. Without an outlet for her to pursue her passions, she fell into a deep depression. Judith believed death was better than a limited life, which she was not really living in to begin with. Despite how physically alive she was, she felt dead inside, because she was only existing and surviving.
Throughout both of these texts, you see these examples of the darkness that is felt by both the prisoners and Judith Shakespeare. However, this does not entirely answer the question of how this relates to enlightenment. Enlightenment in “The Allegory of the Cave” allowed the prisoners to see “the good” in the world and discover a true reality instead of their false perceptions. However, the prisoners continued to spend their days in darkness as a result of the ignorance and stubborn attitudes. If the prisoners had been willing to learn and become enlightened, they would have been able to leave the darkness that was surrounding them and progress into a better reality. Since the prisoners did not know any better, though, they viewed the enlightened prisoner as crazy and delusional. Enlightenment in “Shakespeare’s Sister” would have let Judith pursue her passions, but she was never given the opportunity to attend grammar school or work in theatres like William did. Judith was forced into a life that did not allow her to find happiness, or her version of “the good” from “The Allegory of the Cave”. Judith was not able to receive enlightenment because of how women were viewed during the sixteenth century. The darkness caused by the lack of enlightenment pushed her to a point low enough that she found more solace in death rather than just accepting her fate.
Obviously, a life without enlightenment is often a life that can be seen as false or a life not even worth living. In order to understand the importance of knowledge, it is important to realize that enlightenment is not restricted to academic knowledge. Enlightenment is about more than just having knowledge; it is about bettering yourself and bettering your life. Through enlightenment, someone can find a way to leave a dark situation and improve his/her life. Enlightenment needs to be something readily available for everyone, as shown in “Shakespeare’s Sister”. Also, enlightenment needs to be shared as much as possible, as shown in “The Allegory of the Cave”. If enlightenment is reserved for only a set group or class, or if enlightenment is never shared, people will be forced to live in unfulfilling and ignorant lives, which is not what living is.