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144 LATE VICTORIAN AND EARLY MODERN« CONTINUITIES IN THE CRITICISM OF LESLIE STEPHEN AND VIRGINIA WOOLF By Virginia R. Hyman (Rutgers University) According to Noel Annan, Leslie Stephen was the second most important man of letters in the Victorian age.-'- Virginia Woolf, on the other hand, was among the foremost creative writers of the Modernist period. Those looking for contrasts between the two periods can easily find them by distinguishing between Leslie Stephen, the ethical philosopher and intellectual historian, and Virginia Woolf, the innovative modern novelist. Even as literary critics, the two have often been contrasted: Stephen has generally been seen as the rational moralistic Victorian critic and Woolf as the modern aesthetic impressionist. As her criticism comes to be examined more carefully, however, we are beginning to see that she.was far more conservative as a critic than she was as a novelist. And if we look at the values underlying her criticism, we see that her conservatism derives, in large part, from the attitudes that she absorbed and adopted from her father. As we begin to look for continuities rather than differences between the Victorian and Modernist periods, we can find them by comparing the literary criticism of Leslie Stephen and Virginia Woolf. The fact that Woolf absorbed the values of her father should not be surprising, considering that he was practically her only teacher until he died when she was twenty-two. In one of her earliest published essays, written for Maitland's biography of Stephen, she describes the strength of her father's influence: At the end of each volume my father always gravely asked us our opinion of its merits, and we were required to say which of the characters we liked best and why. I can remember his indignation when one of us preferred the hero to a far more life-like villain. She also recalls his habit of reading and reciting poetry in such a way that "many of the great English poems now seem to me inseparable from my father. I hear in them not only his voice but in some sort his teaching and belief."-' What is perhaps more surprising is the persistence of Stephen's influence . Woolf could, for example, still vividly recall the intellectually stimulating and emotionally soothing effect of their conversations in his library at the end of her life, contrasting these conversations with her "very distinguished" Victorian father on the upper level of the house with the "Edwardian patter" of George Duckworth below: ... I would go from the drawing room and George's gossip ... to father's study to fetch a [new book]. There I would find him, swinging in his rocking chair, pipe in 145 mouth. Slowly he would realize my presence. Rising, he would go to the shelves, put the book back and very kindly ask what had I made of it? Perhaps I was reading Johnson. For some time we would talk and then, feeling soothed, stimulated, full of love for this unwordly, very distinguished , lonely man, I would go down to the drawing room ¡, again and hear George's patter. There was no connection. Whatever may have been her quarrel with him as a father, Woolf seems to have a.dmired Stephen as a literary critic.-' When, for example, Lytton Strachey asked her whether she didn't agree that the Victorians were a "set of mouthing, bungling hypocrites" and then apologized for not having excepted her father "who, qua man . . . was divine," Virginia Woolf replied that she did not altogether agree about the nineteenth century; on the contrary, she thought that it was "a good deal hotter than the eighteenth." Neither had Strachey shocked her feelings as a daughter. "The difference," she says, "is probably that I attach more importance to his divinity "qua man even in his books than you do." She celebrated her thirtythird birthday reading "father on Pope," and finding his study„ "very witty and bright, without a single dead sentence in it."' Later in 1919> in an essay whose title is taken from Stephen's four-volume collection of literary essays, Hours in a Library, she describes the "true reader" in terms that are drawn Γη part, at least, from...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 144-154
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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