"Blown through the tube at 50 miles an hour" : transportation, motion and mobility in Virginia Woolf's novels

  • Deyan MENG

Student thesis: PhD Thesis (Lingnan)

Abstract

At the turn of the 20th century the rapid development of transportation technology significantly transformed the physical world as well as people’s subjective perceptions of it. Virginia Woolf’s fascination with various modes of transportation, both as a traveler and as a keen observer, is translated into her fiction and non-fiction writings. The representation of physical transportation in Woolf’s works has received the attention of a number of scholars. However, the ways in which Woolf was inspired by the transport revolution and employed this as a vehicle for modernist narrative experimentation have not been fully explored. This dissertation therefore investigates the phenomenon of transport spaces employed in Woolf's novels, and explores how transportation and mobility contribute to the literary forms and representations she innovated, and to the wider transnational cultural mobility of modernist aesthetics and ideas.

My study examines transportation following a trajectory from the physical to the metaphysical, the more literal to the more metaphorical. The study begins with analyzing how transports of thought and emotion are evoked and manifested by Woolf, and how she employs diverse traffic images and constant physical mobility to explore women’s subjectivity and professions, expose the mechanisms of patriarchy and imperial power, and observe their gradual decline in her three London novels Night and Day, Mrs. Dalloway and The Years. Next, the study explores how Woolf represents and controls the characters’ streams of consciousness by manipulating various physical transport modes as well as devising a set of linguistic, syntactic, visual and auditory images, thus endowing her mid-term works with a highly innovative and distinctive narrative mobility. In the third chapter the argument is expanded to include connotations of metaphysical transport to explore how she breaks the boundaries of genre, gender and temporality in her late works, in order to convey her readers into a more kaleidoscopic narrative world through building hybrid and heterogeneous textual spaces. In the final chapter I situate Woolf in the global context, and examine the cultural mobility between her and Chinese modernist writers, especially the members of the Chinese Crescent Moon society.

Through my investigation of the multifaceted transport spaces discernible in her novels, I argue that Woolf’s works accurately represent the effects of transportation technology on modern people’s cognitive and affective experience, and register the impact of the social and ideological mobility of the era in which she produced her creative works. Her assiduous modernist experimentation not only made a profound contribution to the narrative mobility of stream of consciousness novels, but also expanded the boundaries of fiction generally, and stimulated her readers’ synthetic sensibilities of motion and mobility. Moreover, the cultural assimilation reflected in both Woolf’s and Chinese modernist writers’ works exemplify that modernism functioned as a two-way vehicle for reciprocity between oriental and occidental civilizations. Overall, the dissertation itself opens up spaces for closer investigation of ideas, associations and implications of transport across Woolf’s entire praxis.
Date of Award23 Jul 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Lingnan University
SupervisorMichael Anthony INGHAM (Supervisor) & Ersu DING (Co-supervisor)

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