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Modernism and the Ordinary$
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Liesl Olson

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195368123

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195368123.001.0001

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Virginia Woolf and the “Cotton Wool of Daily Life”

Virginia Woolf and the “Cotton Wool of Daily Life”

(p.57) Chapter Two Virginia Woolf and the “Cotton Wool of Daily Life”
Modernism and the Ordinary

Liesl Olson (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter first explores how Woolf associates the ordinary with prose rather than with poetry—a distinction that emphasizes how the genres were becoming less distinct, as both aimed to represent the “dirty work” typically associated with prose. The chapter then examines the significance of what Woolf calls “the cotton wool of daily life” in relationship to literary realism. Particularly in Mrs. Dalloway, daily life lies at the heart of Woolf’s representation of character. The novel also turns to the ordinary as an alternative to the trauma associated with the First World War. The chapter proceeds to show how the ordinary becomes an enduring fixation for Woolf in her subsequent novels. Her ambivalent use of “facts” in fiction is an ordinary style, as she herself implies in her long essay “Phases of Fiction,” an essay that reveals Woolf’s strong attachment to novelists who satisfy a reader’s need to believe in a recognizable world. Her determined disassociation from the Edwardians, whose work is entrenched in materialist facts, is considered in context of her admiration for many older novelists whose use of facts she emulates as a means of achieving the ordinary.

Keywords:   Virginia Woolf, prose versus poetry, 1930s poets, the leaning tower, a letter to a young poet, war, Mrs. Dalloway, to the lighthouse, phases of fiction

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