Assignment on Virginia Woolf
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Assignment on Virginia Woolf


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Virginia Woolf is one of the most celebrated authors in the modern history owing to the fact that she represents a paradigm shift in literature with her utilization of modernist writing styles (Blair 44). Apart from her literary pursuits, she had a stoic presence in the field of sociology as well, owing to the feminist stance adopted by her (Fernald 2). The confluence of these factors has caused many literary critics to examine her writings and determine her stance on the world and reality. One such piece of work has been authored by Hintikka titled Virginia Woolf and Our Knowledge of the External World in which Hintikka aims to understand the epistemological undertones of Woolf's work in order to ascertain her views on reality and its perception, in comparison with other authors such as Russel and Husserl. Through his analysis, Hintikka came to the conclusion that Woolf as an author is a mystic who 'has a keen eye for concrete material and social detail'. The purpose of this study is to analyze Hintikka's statement in the essay corroboration with Woolf's writings so as to agree with Hintikka's claim pertaining to Woolf's balance of the philosophies of mysticism and materialism. For the accomplishment of the same, Woolf's essay, Modern Fiction and her two short stories, The Mark on the Wall and The Unwritten Novel shall be utilized and their thematic undertones shall be studied to substantiate upon the conclusion reached at by Hintikka.


In order to ascertain the viability of Hintikka's observations, it is necessary to define the parameters of the ideologies at conflict in the immediate study, i.e. mysticism and empiricism. In conventional terms, mysticism refers to the act of absolution with a higher being or God owing to a religious encounter transcending normalcy which fosters a sense of unity (Ellwood xi). However, another interpretation of mysticism defines it as the attainment of insight to truths which are generally hidden to human beings via extrasensory experiences such as out of body experiences, clairvoyance, et al (Gellman). The second definition shall be utilized for the purposes of this study as Hintikka's study on Woolf's writing opines it as a question of perception of reality without any theological connotations, a view shared by other critics as well (Priest 290). Empiricism on the other hand adopts a contrary stance by stating that epistemological awareness stems from sensory experiences situated in the material world alone (Curd and Psillos 129). The establishment of these definitions sets forth a viable operating framework for this study and the conclusions drawn from the same shall operate within the aforementioned limits only. 

In Woolf's short story, The Mark on the Wall, a narrator is seen undergoing a philosophical discussion with herself after witnessing a round, black mark in the wall, as the nomenclature suggests. The presence of the mark leads the narrator to question life as a concept itself, and the foremost stream of thought the narrator builds upon is the idea of life based on the possessions of an individual. The narrator laments upon the various material possessions she was in possession of and lost over the years, such as iron hoops, a hand organ, jewels, et al (Woolf a 3). This prompts the narrator – and Woolf herself, by extension – to come to the conclusion that life itself is a representative of a fast-paced haphazard journey in which we acquire and lose possessions and people over the years and in the end pass away with nothing to our name. At the outset, Woolf's work can be seen as an example of material mysticism. Woolf's views on life being a metaphor for a parcel being delivered through a tube stem inherently in context of something entirely material, i.e., possessions. Woolf can be said to be highlighting a universal truth pertaining to life being a drive for acquisition of possessions over the years till a person expires, a sentiment which has been opined upon by several absurdist philosophers, highlighting the futile albeit truthful nature of life (Camus 107). While this serves as a superfluous example of the balance between socio-materialism and mysticism claimed by Hintikka, its superfluity is testament to this ingrained balance.

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