"In my own voice" : Virginia Woolf's use of language : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in English at Massey University

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Massey University
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The collective work of Virginia Woolf is usually seen as an exemplar of literary modernism and a forerunner of later twentieth-century feminist thought. Instead of looking at Woolf's work solely for the literary and political innovations it displays, however, this thesis traces Woolf's use of language, and considers Woolf's novels, essays and diaries as her expression of a revolution in the paradigm of reality. Woolf's focus on a subjective rather than objective reality engenders her literary and political innovations and provokes her linguistic and epistemological investigations into the nature of language and the identity of the speaking subject. Observing that conventional representational language-use reflects an authoritarian belief in the stability and objectivity of an absolute world and enacts patriarchal tendencies to objectify people, Woolf displays a use of language which recognises and respects other people as subjects. Woolf's awareness of the arbitrary and relative nature of the relation between language and reality parallels Ferdinand de Saussure's linguistic theory of structuralism and marks a significant disjunction between Woolf and the majority of her predecessors and even her contemporaries. Anticipating Jacques Derrida in recognising that language can never, in itself, sanction any single or final reference to the world. Woolf goes on to explore language's potential as a medium of communication beyond direct representation. Woolf uses language to induce a process of consciousness in the reader which will allow her or him to apprehend the writer's subjective vision of the world. Thus Woolf conveys her thoughts, feelings and experiences as a subject in her own voice.
Woolf, Virginia 1882-1941, Language