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188 ELT FORUM A SOURCE OF VIRGINIA WOOLF'S MR. BENNETT AND MRS. BROWN By Paul Goetsch (Marburg University, Marburg) In her important critical essay, MR. BENNETT AND MRS. BROV/N (Lond: Hogarth P, 1924), Virginia Woolf boldly asserted: ". . . on or about December 1910 human character changed." (p. 4) On the basis of this thesis, she expressed her dissatisfaction with both the methods and the material of Wells, Galsworthy, and Bennett and charged these writers with treating only the inessential aspects of life. The date which she chose to regard as a turning-point in the history of the novel has been associated not so much with the end of the Edwardian and the beginning of the Georgian periods (since George V ascended the throne in May 1910) as with the postimpressionist exhibition organized by Roger Fry, a member of the Bloomsbury group, in November 1910. J. K. Johnstone has shown that Virginia Woolf's protest against the "materialism" of the Edwardians is akin to that of Fry and Clive Bell against over-indulgence in realistic representation in painting: "Devoted as she was both to life and art, her problem before the new discoveries of psychology and the sensitiveness of her own mind was precisely parallel to Cezanne's, as Fry describes it, before the 'new revelations' of the Impressionist painters."' As seems clear from other essays, the revolution in the visual arts encouraged her to think that a similar revolution "would as effectively take place in the literary world."2 Although MR. BENNETT AND MRS. BROWN does not itself refer to postimpressionist painting, the surmise that Virginia Woolf had the exhibition in mind gains credence from the main source of her essay. So far no one seems to have noticed that Arnold Bennett himself anticipated her charges. In an appreciation of the post-impressionist exhibition, published in NEW AGE on 8 Dec 1910, he had wondered whether he should not reconsider his literary ideals. He had gone on to say: ... I have permitted myself to suspect that supposing some writer were to come along and do in words what these men have done in paint, I might conceivably be disgusted with nearly the whole of modern fiction, and I might have to begin again. This awkaward experience will in all probability not happen to me, but it might happen to a writer younger than me. At any rate it is a fine thought. The average critic always calls me, both in praise and dispraise, "photographic"; and I always rebut the epithet with disdain, because in the sense meant by the average critic I am not photographic. But supposing that in a deeper sense I were? Supposing a young writer turned up and forced me, and some of my contemporaries—us who fancy ourselves a bit—to admit that we had been concerning ourselves unduly with inessentials, that we had been worrying ourselves to achieve infantile realisms? Well, that day would be a great and a disturbing day— for us, Bennett's article, "flao-lmpressionism and Literature," was reprinted in his BOOKS AND PERSONS, BEING COMMENTS ON A PAST EPOCH, 1908-1911 (Lond: Chatto S Windus, I9I7, pp. 28Ο-85), a work which was reviewed by Virginia Woolf for the TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT in 1917.3 By using Bennett's self-criticism against him in I924, Virginia Woolf added another, and perhaps not quite fair, turn of the screw to her life-long controversy with the older writer.4 189 NOTES 1 J. K. Johnstone, THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP: A STUDY OF E. M. FÖRSTER, LYTTON STRACHEY, VIRGINIA WOOLF, AND THEIR CIRCLE (Lond: Seeker S Warburg, 1954), p. 86. See Virginia Woolf, ROGER FRY (NY: Harcourt, Brace, 1940), pp. 151-59, 172; John JIawley Roberts, '"Vision and Design' in Virginia Woolf," PMLA, LXI (September 1946) 835-47. 2 E. A. Hungerford, THE NARROW BRIDGE OF ART: VIRGINIA WOOLF'S EARLY CRITICISM, I905-I925. Ph. D. thesis: New York University, I960, Ann Arbor Microfilms No. 60-5281, p. 61. 3 lbfd, p. 77. See B. J. Klrkpatrick, A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF VIRGINIA WOOLF (Lond: R. Hart Davis, 1957). 4 See I. Kreutz, "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Woolf," MODERN FICTION STUDIES, VIM (Summer...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 188-189
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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