Women Novelists of Interwar Period in English Literature

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      Like the Victorian age, Modernism literary too saw a rich gallery of women novelists. Some of whom attained to a high stature, making significant contributions which rival the masculine contributions. The most talented and outstanding women novelist of the group is, of course, Virginia Woolf. The daughter of the famous Victorian critic and scholar Sir Leslie Stephen, Virginia Woolf had literature 'in her blood'. She was brought up in the surcharged atmosphere of culture and became the centre of a notable group of intellectuals, called the 'Bloomsbury Group, which included such men as the famous economist Lord Keynes, the famous novelist Forster and the biographer, Lytton Stachey. Moving in this world which was too refined and rarefied for the ordinary people, the members were often scoffed as 'highbrow' in literature.

Like the Victorian age, Modernism literary too saw a rich gallery of women novelists. Some of whom attained to a high stature, making significant contributions which rival the masculine contributions.
Women Writers

      "Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) was very conscious of her place in the tradition of women writers, and her determination to maintain the dignity of her sex could at times even tempt her into the un-artistic faults of stridency, exaggeration and over-emphasis",  (Bradbrook). Writing about women and fiction, she observed that "the greater impersonality of women's lives will encourage the poetic spirit, and it is in poetry that women's fiction is still weakest. It will lead them to be less absorbed in facts and no longer content to record with astonishing acuteness the minute details which fell under their own observation. They will look beyond the personal and political relationships to the wider questions which the poet tries to solve of our destiny and the meaning of life." This poetic spirit together with the concern with the meaning and destiny of life, is the chief characteristic of Virginia Woolf's own fiction from the very start.

      Fiction, to Virginia Woolf, is not 'a criticism of life' in the Arnoldian sense but rather a recreation of the complexities of experience. Thus her technique in the novel is 'the stream of consciousness' technique, as already tried by Dorothy Richardson and James Joyce. Of course, at first she wrote in the traditional, realistic way. The Voyage Out (1915) and Night and Day (1919) are in the traditional form dealing with the material surface of life and presenting a pattern of life. But it is Jacob's Room (1922) that marks a significant development to the new technique. Of course there are flashes of satirical wit, aimed at men and at their attempts to think or to keep up the show of thinking.

     Like Jane Austen, Woolf shows here a keen sense of the apparent trivialities of life, such as the 'way the people look and laugh, and run up the steps of omnibuses'. But in the next novel Mrs. Dalloway (1925) the new technique is used with great confidence and success. Its scope is fifteen hours of a June day in the life of Mrs. Dalloway (as in Ulysses it is a Dublin day in the life of Bloom). Through all her deeds during the period we are driven inside the mind (her 'stream of consciousness'), seeing her as she sees herself and others through her eyes. But the defect in the characterisation of this heroine lies in this that she appears more as a disembodied spirit, a mere mass of consciousness than a living and breathing woman.

      To A Lighthouse (1927), is usually recognised as her masterpiece. Here she achieves a triumphant success in her new mode. The novel may be justly described as 'an expanded metaphor' as Wilson Knight has described a Shakespearean play. The scene is laid in a house in the Hebrides (far away from the turmoil of London) and only a small family and three guests are the personages in the novel. Plot is reduced to a minimum, almost nil. The characters, particularly Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay (who is a self-portraiture of the novelist herself) are living personalities and the latter is the more dominant character. Thus Virginia Woolf stands in her novels as the champion of her own sex drawing the women with greater care, attention and giving them stronger personality than men.

      The style of the novels of Virginia Woolf shows what a genius she is. Her use imagery shows almost a Shakespearean imagination and deftness. It is prose which is not removed from poetry - coloured, rhythmical and ornate. Her delicate analysis of the motives, impulses and reactions of situations in her characters, shows her as an amazing artist in the gift of characterisation. Her technique reflects a deep human interest for what makes life rich.

      Another notable woman novelist is May Sinclair, who, too is a genius but a restless genius. She wrote novels of various types or styles but could not settle down to any. Her earlier novels are in the traditional form. The Divine Fire and The Combined Maze, which appeared in the second decades, were powerful pictures of drab, man lives. Subsequently under the influence of Freud's psycho-analytical methods and Dorothy Richardson's new technique, she wrote some good novels - Mary Olivier, Arnold Waterloo, The Allinghams, etc.

      Dorothy Richardson (1873-1957) who claims to be the first to use the 'stream of consciousness' technique, wrote a series of novels-Pointed Roofs, The Trap Overland and Dimple Hill which have the collective title of Pilgrimage. Rose Macaulay entered upon fiction as an acute social critic and satirist and she was quite brilliant. In a series of novels she had demolished the follies and pretences of several generation from the Victorian down to the latest. Her novel Told by an Idiot has a deep vein of cynicism in it she trips mankind naked of the rags of comfortable romantic illusions that it has worne. In 1932 she wrote a unique book, They Were Defeated. It is a historical novel on the seventeenth century, in which the poets Herrick, Marvell, Milton, Lovelace are the main figures. It is "wise and witty moving and tragic - a book to engaged both mind and heart". Besides these, there were many other women novelists of the age who in their own way made significant contributions to the literature of fiction. It was, thus, the golden age of the women novelists.

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