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Title: Virginia Woolf and early childhood
Authors: Lloyd, Mandy
Issue Date: 2009
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: The chapters of this thesis analyse Virginia Woolf's novels and private writing, concentrating largely on the representation of early childhood symbols and language in her work. The aim of this thesis was to try to discover why Woolf used the perambulator motif so frequently in her novels. Counting the frequency of images in literary texts is usually one aspect of scholarship which can be fruitless but there are occasions when the results can be startling; for example the fact that the motif of the perambulator dominates almost all of her novels. In her novels, there is generally a surface narrative but I have looked beneath the surface at the multitude of symbols and language from early childhood that she uses. Underpinning all of this is the fact that Woolf never had children of her own. Chapter one begins with a description of Woolf's own early childhood, which she wrote extensively about, using various sources, most notably Hyde Park Gate News. An indispensable reference for trying to glean an understanding of Woolf's early development is 'A Sketch of the Past' which can be found within the collection entitled Moments of Being. Memoirs such as this, her diaries and letters, also provided useful evidence to assist me in the analysis of her childhood. Moments of Being was central to Woolf's fiction and experience and it is within her memoirs, in particular that we discover the remembered world of childhood, both in 22 Hyde Park Gate, London and Talland House, St. Ives. Woolf's relationship with her father and mother will be examined and a separate discussion will explore the effect her parents had on her writing, focusing mainly on The Years and To the Lighthouse. Interwoven with this will be an examination of the concept of memory; the fallibility of memory, current psychological theories of memory as well as Freud's notion of screen memories and their importance in relation to Woolf's own childhood memories. Chapter two focuses exclusively on childhood language and Woolf's use of pre-verbal language and nursery rhymes in her fiction. Three of her later novels show the prominence of pre-verbal language and provide the best examples of the nursery rhyme motif. The Waves is considered as it was this novel that Woolf used to break free from the constraints of plot and characterisation: she began to experiment with pre-verbal rhythms. Two other novels The Years and Between the Acts are analysed in relation to the nursery rhyme motif. Chapter three begins with an examination of the reasoning behind Leonard Woolf's decision for the couple not to have children. Reading Virginia Woolf's work alongside her letters and diaries reveals how closely related the theme of children/childhood was in her own life. This is an area of her writing which warrants investigation in relation to the prominence of the perambulator motif and which advances our understanding of Woolf's own experience as a writer, sister, wife, aunt, daughter and childless woman. The final chapter is divided into two sections allowing discussion of the nursemaid and the perambulator: both significant motifs from early childhood that Woolf utilises in her novels. The two fictional nursemaids focused on in this section are Mrs Constable in The Waves and the figure of the nurse in Mrs Dalloway who is found on a bench in Regent's Park. The short story 'Nurse Lugton's Golden Thimble' will also be examined. Chapter four looks in closer details at the technologies of childhood and the reoccurrence of the perambulator motif in her novels. Starting with Night and Day this section considers, in chronological order, each reference to the perambulator and suggests why Woolf has given prominence to this particular symbol. There will also be a brief discussion of The Voyage Out and why this is the only book that has no perambulator motif. My thesis presents a new way of approaching Woolf's work and a small glimpse into the wishes and regrets of this renowned literary figure.
Description: PhD Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics

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