Between Parentheses: The Poetics of Irrelevance in Virginia Woolf’s Experimental Fiction
Keywords:Virginia Woolf, modernist fiction, Jacob’s Room, To the Lighthouse, parenthetical constructions, round and square brackets.
AbstractThe understanding and appreciation of Virginia Woolf’s modernist fiction demands careful attention, not only for the obvious complexity of its experimental form but also for the apparent simplicity of certain typographical and stylistic devices. Among these is the use of parenthetical expressions, consisting of explanatory or qualifying remarks inserted into a passage and usually marked off by brackets, dashes, or commas. Generally speaking, the main functions fulfilled by parentheticals have been examined and classified by Woolf scholars. What has received less critical attention, however, is the intrinsic nature of parenthetical constructions and the subtle, multifaceted implications of their actual functioning within the overall economy of every single novel. The purpose of this paper is to address a similar question, beginning with a preliminary delimitation of the scope of the analysis. Firstly, among the different types of the so-called ‘parenthetical expressions’ only the explicit use of parentheses (in the form of round or square brackets) will be assumed as a distinctive feature in order to identify a specific category of stylistic and narrative devices. Secondly, and quite obviously, the novel under consideration will be, in particular, To the Lighthouse (1927), inasmuch as it provides the most striking examples of the disruptive potential contained in Woolf’s parenthetical writing. A good point of departure for such an analysis, however, can be found in Jacob’s Room (1922), Woolf’s first experimental novel, which shows a long and compound sentence, inserted between brackets, significantly placed in the opening page of the book.
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