Virginia Woolf’s Wartime Gothic
Chapter 2 reads Woolf’s writings as attempts to grapple with imminent, as opposed to bygone, military violence. Woolf condemned suspense less as a Victorian narrative convention than as a permanent condition of militarized geopolitics. Through a strain of her fiction the chapter calls wartime gothic, she experimented with ways to encode, thematize, and even transmit that geopolitical suspense. Yet while her works dwell on scenes of future-conditional violence, they do not plead for a release from suspense under any conditions. Instead, they explore the prospect of new collectivities, intimacies, and forms of expression under threat of mass violence, refusing a future unbarred on despotic terms. By 1938, when Mumford was identifying a “collective psychosis” wrought by war anxiety in the metropolis, Woolf had spent the better part of twenty years attending to that condition and to its way of both threatening and producing communal experience.
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