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Street SongsWriters and urban songs and cries, 1800-1925$
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Daniel Karlin

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198792352

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198792352.001.0001

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The voice of an ancient spring

The voice of an ancient spring

Chapter:
(p.115) 5 The voice of an ancient spring
Source:
Street Songs
Author(s):

Daniel Karlin

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780198792352.003.0006

In Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, an old beggar woman is heard singing outside Regent’s Park underground station. The song itself cannot be fixed: it is given to us, first, as a string of meaningless syllables, then ‘translated’ by the narrator of the book into an ancient, primordial song of sexual love, and then heard in the form of a modern German lied—a melancholy fin-de-siècle art-song which is inconceivable as a song sung by a beggar on a London street in 1925. The solid foundation of realism dissolves in Woolf’s playful handling, but she has good reasons for refusing to pin the song down to a single determinate form. The characters who see and hear the old woman—Peter Walsh, Rezia and Septimus Smith—do not really ‘see’ her for what she is, and do not understand that she is not begging, but offering; and they pass her by.

Keywords:   Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway, Allerseelen, All Souls’ Day, beggar woman, folk-song, Anon

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