Sunday, December 5, 2010

Critical Article, Susan M. and Edwin J. Jr. Kenney

The Kenney’s have a different way of describing Woolf’s illness in relation to her works. They find that “By thinking of Virginia Woolf and her fiction as manic-depressive, "mad," or even just plain "out of control," many biographers and critics thus deny her the element of control over her life that we find so evident in her diaries, letters, memoirs, and manuscripts, and also in other people's recollections of her.” I think that this view can be applied to Mrs. Dalloway-Septimus has often been described as Clarrisa’s insane side yet Clarrisa herself manages to keep her own bit of madness under control and directs it into other things like her parties. We see this when Clarrisa is mulling over Septimus’ suicide, she has enough “madness” to find the idea of suicide pleasant and understandable yet she has enough control to not act on those impulses but rather continue to persevere.

The Kenneys suggest that Woolf embraced her illness and did not want rid of it, that “she was also unwilling to give up the compensations that what she called her mystical illnesses provided her, ranging from a chance to lie down and rest to a plunge into the unconscious to find fresh material for fiction; and therefore she was bound, if not determined, to keep the "illness." This causes me to wonder how different Woolf’s writing would have been without her illness, or if she would have written at all. Would she have been capable of calling the same intrigue into mundane things with her illness? Or would she have not attempted to write about the ordinary at all?

In the article, the Kenneys talk about Woolf’s husband, Leonard, and his role in helping her cope. They describe the times when Leonard had to make the choice to either encourage or dissuade Virginia from writing in order to prevent a breakdown. However, they suggest that this was not all Leonard’s doing but that Woolf also exercised much control over this aspect of her illness – that she understood when writing would either help or hinder her ability to neutralize her episodes. The Kenneys push even further down this train of thought; they ask questions that go deeper into why this worked and what this therapy shows.

They Kenneys discuss how Virginia related the completion and reception of her books to her childhood thus explaining why she reacted so strongly towards the finishing of a work. They suggest that she was somehow acting not really towards her works but rather towards events in her past that the works forced her to relive. One instance of this is the death of Virginia’s mother. Virginia always felt guilty for not acting appropriately grief-stricken at that time and has attempted to atone for that ever since by replaying it in her mind and trying again.

Virginia’s breakdowns are seen in this article as temporary vacations of a sort from reality when her emotions were just too much for her to deal with. It is also suggested that Virginia used her writing as a way to deal with these emotions as well; that she worked out how she felt about the past on paper in order to make such feelings easier to approach and deal with.

Kenney, Susan M. and Kenney, Jr., Edwin J. “Virginia Woolf and the Art of Madness.” The Massachusetts Review, Vol. 23 1982. 161 -185.

No comments:

Post a Comment