MA Thesis Proposal on Virginia Woolf - Literature and Science
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MA Thesis Proposal
1. Tentative Title
The working title of this qualitative empirical research is initially drafted as: The Scientific, Psychological and Literary Journey of Virginia Woolf – What Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse and The Waves Reveal.[mh1]
- Background of the Study
Born Adeline Virginia Stephen in 1882 January 25th in London, she as a novelist and essayist was regarded as one of the foremost central figures of the modernist literary movement in the 20th century. Educated by her parents namely Sir Leslie Stephen and Julia Prinsep Jackson, Virginia grew up in a literate and well connected household. Being a daughter to Sir Leslie who was a respective editor, critic and biographer himself, Virginia grew up in an environment where influences of Victorian literary society were ‘brimful’. [mh2] Such influences were complemented by an enormous library in their Kensington home where Virginia was taught the classics and English literature. Virginia, unlike her brothers who were formally educated, she was educated at home as the Victorian society dictated.
Virginia was 13 then when her mother died in 1895, and exacerbated by the death of her half-sister Stella two years later, the incidents led to the writer’s several nervous breakdown. According to modern scholars, Virginia’s breakdown and the eventual chronic depression were made worse by sexual abuse she experienced through one of her half-brothers[mh3] . Posthumously, it was claimed that Virginia suffered bipolar disorder that deeply impacted her social functioning leading to drastic mood swings. Though such disorder was argued to be disturbing Virginia’s work, relationships and life, most feminists claimed that her literary abilities remained intact and that the experience added enthusiasm into her writing.
The death of her father in 1904 and the second serious nervous breakdown called for the three siblings Virginia, Vanessa and Adrian to sell 22 Hyde Park Gate and buy the house at 46 Gordon Square in Bloomsbury. Pursuing her studies in King’s College London, Virginia met with Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, Saxon Sydney-Turner, Duncan Grant and Leonard Woolf. Together they formed the nucleus of the intellectual circle called the Bloomsbury Group. Starting as a social clique, the group influenced literature, aesthetics, criticism and economics as well as modern attitudes toward feminism, pacifism and sexuality in a profound manner. As controversial a group that is, Bloomsbury Group reached fame in 1910 when the group pulled the Dreadnought trick. [mh4]
The Bloomsbury Group participated in a hoax contrived by Horace de Vere Cole in 1910. Dressed in Abyssinian royalty garb, Cole and five of his friends including Virginia disguised themselves with skin darkeners and turbans. On February 10th, Cole, through an accomplice, send a telegram to HMS Dreadnought moored in Weymouth, Morset stating that a group of princes from Abyssinia will pay a visit. The telegram was purportedly signed by Sir Charles Hardinge, Foreign Office Under-Secretary. Cole’s group went to Paddington station where Cole pretended to be Herbert Cholmondeley of UK Foreign Office. Through a special train and a VIP coach arranged by the stationmaster, they journeyed to Weymouth where they were welcomed with an honour guard. The ruse was just revealed after Cole and his associates send a letter and a group photo to the Daily Mirror, a British tabloid daily newspaper.
In 1912, Virginia married Leonard Woolf, a Jewish-born, British political theorist, author, publisher and civil servant. Elected to the Cambridge Apostles, Leonard formed one of the legs of Bloomsbury Group. As a couple, Virginia and Leonard shared a passion in writing and subsequently resulting to founding the Hogarth Press which published most of Virginia’s work in 1917. Since Bloomsbury discouraged sexual exclusivity, in 1922 she had an affair with Vita Sackville-West; a relationship that lasted throughout the 1920s. Virginia felt victim to manic depression after completing the manuscript of her last novel Between the Acts making possible the self-contemplated suicide. Virginia drowned herself through weighing her pockets with stones into the River Ouse near her home on March 28, 1941 and her body was not found until 14th of April.
When Virginia was unable to work due to bipolar disorder, Woolf had gone on to publish novels and essays through Hogarth Press that elevated the public intellect. Virginia’s novels and essays are both critically and popularly accepted. [mh5] Recognized as one of the greatest novelists, Virginia was considered to be one of the greatest innovators in the English language experimenting with stream-of-consciousness (so James Joyce) which attempted at portraying individual points of view through giving the written equivalent of the character’s thought processes. Virginia as well powerfully depicted the underlying psychological and emotional motives of the characters.
Throughout the course of Virginia’s writing there are three novels that reveal the poetic visioning of the author that honors ordinary, banal settings in the light of warfare despite the mental illness that include Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927) and The Waves (1931) which will be the basis of this research. Novels that we considered to be the most appropriate to do so.
Published in May 14, 1925, Mrs. Dalloway details the daily experiences of Clarissa Dalloway as represented in post-World War 1 England. Embedded on Clarissa’s preparation for a party as a hostess, the novel was taken with an interior perspective. As the story travels forward and backwards in time, the author presented the character’s mind explicitly making possible the structure of the life imagery of Clarissa and of the inter-war social framework. How the main character interprets the thought and actions of others and relates her experiences on two separate occasions is said to be a popular example of stream-of-consciousness storytelling wherein scenarios are deeply integrated on the momentary thoughts of a particular character.
There are four themes evident in Mrs Dalloway: feminism, homosexuality, mental illness and existential issues. There are two characters that are Clarissa and Sally Seton that hailed the women and femininity. The two women embody strong attraction to each other with Clarissa considering the kiss that they shared to be the happiest moment of her life. In addition, there are also gay characters in the novel in the persona of Septimus Smith and Doris Kilman. Septimus, further, possesses hallucinations while also criticizing insanity and depression treatment. Death as an act of embracing life is said to be a clear parody illustrated in the novel.
Preceded by Mrs Dalloway is the To the Lighthouse Novel which was published in May 5, 1927. Centering on the Ramsay family, this novel is a free-flowing, multiple discursive tale that details the family’s visit to the Isle of Skye in Scotland between the periods of 1910 and 1920. In essence though the novel includes minimal dialogue and almost no action as it is written as thoughts and observations. To the Lighthouse is an illustration of the power of childhood emotions while stressing the impermanence of adult relationships. Ubiquity of transience and complexity of experiences are just two of the major themes of the novel. As such, majority of the contents of the novel do not direct objects of vision but rather meaning of perceptions. [mh6] This means that the writer focused more on how the characters interprets what they feel and what they think instead of digging deeper on plainly what they feel and think.
The Waves was published on October 8, 1981 and was considered as the most experimental novel of Virginia Woolf. Strategically approached through soliloquy, the novel consists of six friends, namely Bernard, Susan, Rhoda, Neville, Jinny and Louis with Percival as the seventh character. Through the alternating speaking of the characters, the concepts of individuality, self and community were explored by Virginia, employing a multiple consciousnesses of the characters and then weave them together as a silent central consciousness of the characters in the entire novel.[mh7] The characters, a group of six friends, have recitative monologues of their personal reflections alternately speaking implicitly creating the centricity of thought.
3. Theoretical Framework
An American literary critic and feminist, Elaine Showalter has written extensively on the descriptive life of Virginia Woolf in her books which will in essence guide this research. Showalter’s first book entitled A Literature of their Own: British Women Novelists from Bronte to Lessing is a study of British women novelists. Showalter described the female literary tradition in the English novel and the social backgrounds of the women who composed it. Chapter 10 of the novel under the title of ‘Virginia Woolf and the Flight into Androgyny’ is devoted to the literary genius of Virginia notwithstanding the manic depression.
The Female Malady: Women, Madness, and English Culture, 1830-1980 will be second novel to guide the researcher in comprehending how the writer incorporates science and psychology in her works. [mh8] Discussing ‘hysteria’ or which is commonly known as female malady, this incisive work of Showalter explores how cultural ideas regarding proper feminine behavior have shaped the definition and treatment of madness in women as it traces trends in the psychiatric face of Victorian era to the present.
In her third provocative and illuminating book, Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Media, Showalter maps the persistence of a cultural phenomenon whereby the most triumphant of the therapeutic societies have not been able to prevent the appearance of hysterical disorders, imaginary illnesses, rumor panics, and pseudomemories that mark the end of the millennium. The author also highlights the order of contemporary syndromes and draws connections to earlier times and settings, showing that hysterias mutate and are renamed; and that under the right circumstances, everyone is susceptible. As she demonstrates, hysterias are always with us, a kind of collective coping mechanism for changing times; all that differs are names and labels, and at times of crisis, individual hysterias can become contagious.
Realizing the fact that Virginia Woolf wrote most of her stories in a psychological-oriented manner, there are specific theories as to delineate that of Virginia’s experiences. The research considers three theories: 1) theories of the unconscious mind and the defense mechanism of repression; 2) theory of emotion consequences for the philosophy of aesthetics and 3) theory of natural selection that explains the diversification in nature. The first theory is developed by Sigmund Freud in between 1856 and 1939. Freud claimed that there are influences from other parts of the mind including unconsciousness as a personal habit, being unaware and intuition. Defense mechanism in Freudian psychoanalytic theory refers to the psychological strategies that were brought into play via different entities that purports on coping with reality and maintaining self-image. Such strategies act in such a way to exclude desires and impulses from a person’s consciousness; for this reason it was called psychological repression.
William James, a pioneering American psychologist and philosopher, came out with the theory of emotion together with Carl Lange. Such theory states that human beings responded to experiences in the world with automatic nervous system that creates physiological events. Examples of these events are muscular tension, heart pulse, perspiration and mouth dryness. James and Lange continue that emotions spring as results of these physiological changes rather than causes. James developed the Mind-Word Connection (stream of consciousness) which was a significant impact on avant-garde and modernist literature and art.
Lastly, the theory developed by Charles Darwin that explains the analogy to artificial selection. His work is on the idea that human processes favor heritable traits which became more common in successive generations and unfavorable heritable traits become less common. Mainly demonstrating ‘the struggle for existence’, Darwin justifies consistently, heroism and social utility as accomplished by human. Such theory extends its application on how human behave especially in terms of adherence to cultural norms and social structures such as incest avoidance and gender roles.
The main objective of this research is to disclose the Woolf unknown to many based on the connection among science, psychology and literature as deduced from Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927) and The Waves (1931) novels. In particular, the research will seek to accomplish the following specific objectives:
1) To conduct an in-depth biographical research of Woolf’s work experimentation
2) To distinguish the interconnection of Woolf’s novels with modernism, postmodernism and feminism
3) To integrate the works of three theorists namely Sigmund Freud, William James and Charles Robert Darwin
4) To explore how science and psychology were exposed in her works through the technique of stream of consciousness, the madness of the person, her character and the language she conceived herself
5) To comprehend the train of thoughts of Virginia when it comes to integrating science and psychology in her works
6) To understand the writer’s life experiences based on situations portrayed in the novels
The first three objectives will be attained through literature review including the reading of the three novels and the last three objectives will be attained after comprehending all the chapters within the three novels in a manner of qualitative empirical researching.
5. Research Questions
There are three sets of key questions that the research will attempt to answer. These are:
1) How does the stream of consciousness as a literary technique reveal the thought patterns of Virginia? [mh10] How her thoughts and experiences influence the contents of the three novels considering the time it was written?
2) How do the three novels connect with the concepts of modernism, postmodernism and feminism in literature? How they could likely to dictate how Virginia incorporated her psyche with her writing?
3) How the three theorists Freud, James and Darwin explain the literary consciousness of Virginia? What do these theorists reveal about Virginia’s expressiveness?
6. Research Methodology
There are two basic concepts that the research will be based upon. First is the biographical research whereby we will reflect on a rapid expansion of interest in the study of Virginia Woolf’s life within the context of her three novels mentioned earlier for the purpose of exploring how Virginia as a writer interpret experiences and social relationships. According to Gabriele Rosenthal, biographical researchers are motivated by realization of the necessity of “getting inside of the actor’s perspective” as an advantage for recording subjective perspectives of members of various milieu. Such research will construct Virginia’s scientific, psychological and literary proclivity; therefore, interpretative biographical research in nature.
Second is the qualitative empirical research which “typically starts with some a priori theory and which the researcher develops to try to explain and/or predict what happens in the real world.” Though the main purpose of the research is to test theory and possibly refine it, this research will build on insights from three specific theories in order to demonstrate the literary and psychosomatic journey of Virginia Woolf. Qualitative because the researcher primarily purports on exploring Woolf’s experiences as demonstrated in her writings. As qualitative also, “the researcher could arrived at a more subjective analysis though it relies heavily on the researcher’s knowledge and experience to identify patterns, extract themes and make generalizations.”
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 Quentin Bell, Virginia Woolf (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972).
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 Susan Dick and Virginia Woolf, Appendix A, To the Lighthouse: The Original Holograph Draft (London: University of Toronto Press, 1983).
 Vineta Colby, A Literature of their Own: British Women Novelists from Bronte to Lessing, Modern Philology (February 1980), 357-360.
 Elaine Showalter, The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture, 1830-1980 (London: Virago Press, 1987).
 Calvin S. Hall, A Primer in Freudian Psychology (Meridian Books, 1954).
 John J. McDermott, The Writings of William James: A Comprehensive Edition (US: University of Chicago Press, 1977), 812-858.
 John A. Endler, Natural Selection in the Wild, (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1986).
 Gabriele Rosenthal, Biographical research in Clive Seale, Qualitative Research Practice (London: Sage Publications, 2004) 48.
 Daniel Moody, Empirical Research Methods (Melbourne, Australia: Monash University, 2002), 1-3.
[mh1]Too big, too wide.
[mh2]Virginia’s father had nothing to do with the bloomsberry group.
[mh3]There was a note here which says both brothers. Actually it was one only. I have altered it as my professor commented.
[mh5]Explain! It is impossible to read. It was my professor’s notes. Sorry!!!
[mh6]Serious syntax problem and confused idea. Explain it
[mh7]Strange. Make it clear.
[mh8]Nobody can do that.
[mh9]That’s where the problem is marcio. The research objective is the most important part of a proposal. Yours is extremely poor and there is no consistency here. It lacks many aspects. Try again.
[mh10]Vague… how Virginia think.
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