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ELT 40:4 1997 predecessors, earns our gratitude by showing so "completely" just what this means. Ronald G. Walker ________________ Western Illinois University Woolf Philosophical Judy S. Reese. Recasting Social Values in the Work of Virginia Woolf. Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press, 1996. 168 pp. $29.50 THIS CLOSELY ARGUED and clearly written study focuses on the consequences of Virginia Woolf 's sustained but necessarily frustrated search for a means by which to deal with the problem of value and evaluation in art and life. In an opening chapter situating the historical parameters of this quest in Plato and Aristotle, Reese argues for considering Woolf as a serious abstract thinker who attempted to work out this fundamental philosophical question in both her critical essays on the writings of others and in her experimental fiction. Reese stresses the centrality of the Greek literary and philosophical tradition to Woolf s intellectual and artistic struggle with the bases for value and value structures, and then proceeds to demonstrate how Woolf complexly responded to the dilemmas of objectivity and subjectivity, instinct, "nature," taste, and the cultural and gender-biased contamination of judgment in what Reese portrays as her determined search for a stable, detached, and authoritative value standard. Woolf 's evolving awareness of the implications of this idealistic pursuit , of which her flexible critical stance forms an integral part, helps to contextualize her interest in painting and representationality. Reese further reveals how Woolf 's social and political commitments, in particular her position as a feminist writer in contention against patriarchal hegemony, offer contrary strains to the pursuit for a secure standard for her critical and fictional practice and in the end urge her to adopt a certain critical ambivalence in her commentaries on other writers, and, in her fiction, to accept the need for constant experimentation as a response to her quandary. Woolf 's famous anxieties about the reception of her own work are placed in the context of an abstract preoccupation with evaluation and significance, and thus what some biographers and critics have taken to be a merely temperamental thin-skinnedness to negative comment becomes rational and functional. Woolf 's search for new values and value standards in her fiction is specifically addressed in extended discussions of The Voyage Out and 464 BOOK REVIEWS Mrs. Dalloway, novels that, according to Reese, register the human need for significance and examine value systems in conflict. She suggestively argues that Woolf's characters variously escape what she terms the "con(text) of culture" through disembodiment, trance, sleep, madness, or actual death, experiences that relativize or wholly obliterate the status quo and force open new perspectives that in turn require establishing new systems of value. A consideration of Orlando, possibly the prime exemplar in Woolf's canon of a desire to elude or transcend fixity, whether of cultural states or fictional modes, would have even further strengthened Reese's solidly argued case. The concentrated focus on Woolf as a highly self-reflexive writer motivated to explore philosophical and social issues leads into a close analysis of the specific disruptive rhetorical and narrative strategies —verbal echoes, textual gaps and indeterminacy, and syntactic fragmentation—through which Woolf posits the inadequacy of the received value systems of her time and consequently allows for and even insists on establishing alternate perspectives and reorienting the bases for both action and evaluation. From this analysis, the mystical yearnings that some critics have identified in her novels and short stories may not get their proper due, but on the other hand, Woolf is rescued, if need there still be, from the charges of smallness of concern in her fiction and mere belletristic impressionism in her critical writings. The advantage of Reese's method is that it highlights Woolf's interest as a thinker engaged in her nonfiction prose as well as in her fiction in a serious philosophical crux, even if her atheism makes her, according to Reese, finally incapable of resolving it. There are, however, some puzzling lacunae in this otherwise suggestive and carefully researched inquiry. The short stories, especially the more self-consciously experimental ones, vividly reveal the crises and strains Reese focuses on but are little discussed or alluded to. And while...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 464-466
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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