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Developing an Ear for the Modernist Novel: Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Richardson and James Joyce


This essay questions why there is a heightened attention to sound and auditory experience in the modernist novel. I argue that aside from being influenced by developing auditory technologies, modernist writers use sound and auditory experience to subvert traditional Enlightenment notions of self and narrative, which tend to privilege sight. While vision indicates an analytical self, distanced from the world, audition allows for a self immersed in the world. By examining the novels of Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Richardson and James Joyce, I demonstrate how modernist writers connect their characters through shared listening, how music and nuances in voice are able to represent the ineffable and how stream of consciousness is a part of the auditory imagination. I suggest that much of the formal experimentation associated with modernism is dependent on this representation of sound and auditory experience.

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