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"A scene from the past": Virginia Woolf and dramatised memory

Wright, E.H (2008) "A scene from the past": Virginia Woolf and dramatised memory. In: Symposium: Memory, Mourning and Landscape, 9 June 2008, University of Glasglow, Scotland.

Abstract

In written recollections of her past Virginia Woolf organises events into theatrical scenes that she witnesses as an observer watching the action from a darkened auditorium. ‘I can reach a state where I seem to be watching things happen as if I were there’ she claims in her memoir paper ‘Reminiscences’ and goes on to admit that: ‘Scene making is my natural way of marking the past’. Drawing on the work of performance theorists, Richard Schechner, Bruce Wilshire and Erving Goffman I will explore why Woolf ‘stages’ her memories rather than ‘reliving’ them. Why, instead of re-experiencing her past in the first person, she places herself in the audience from which she observes the scene and herself as character within it. Woolf’s theatricalisation of memory is linked to the periods of mourning which punctuated her childhood and adolescence. The deaths of her parents, brother and half sister, her alleged sexual abuse at the hands of her half-brothers and bouts of insanity complicated her relationship with the past and it is likely that this dramatisation process was a method of dealing with unhappy, painful and disturbing events. However, the process that initially developed out of a need to mourn past events eventually became crucial to Woolf’s creative process, such that this ability to recreate the past in her mind as a series of animated ‘sight[s]… mixed with sound’ (‘Reminiscences’) formed the basis of many of her novels. This compartmentalisation of the past, and of present and future, into dramatic scenes helped Woolf to make the transition between her sentient reality and her written fiction. This paper will examine Woolf’s dramatic imagination and her process of dealing with memories through aesthetic projects.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Divisions: College of Liberal Arts
Date Deposited: 13 Jul 2015 16:46
Last Modified: 26 Jul 2016 08:50
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