Virginia Woolf and the Stream of Consciousness

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Virginia Woolf, a female writer of who is considered one of the first writers to use a stream of consciousness as a narrative device throughout her stories. Woolf is a very important modernist writer of the twentieth century and is still being read in high schools and colleges today. Woolf died at the age of 59 but left behind her a trail of novels and short stories that focus on the small details that create life, using consciousness to bring to life the narrators thought processes. Through Woolf’s Professions for Women, Leslie Stephen, and The Mark on the Wall, readers can see how Virginia Woolf uses a stream of consciousness, along with other literary devices, to express to readers that no matter how small something seems within a story, there is always a much larger meaning beyond it. In Virginia Woolf’s Professions for Women gender and sexuality are coming in to play. Woolf’s audience in this essay is women that are looking to get a profession in a workplace that is dominated by men.

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Woolf even goes so far as to bring up the difficulties for women writers like herself. Woolf shows the reader what this professional woman looks like rather than telling the reader who this professional woman is. Woolf writes about a phantom throughout the story, and this phantom is an angel that is in the house. Woolf opens Professions for Women by stating, it is true that I am a woman. Throughout the essay, Woolf seems to have only a distant relationship with the angel that is in her house. The angel is described through imagery, an example of this is when Woolf describes the angel as being, …intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish, (Woolf, 5). In these three short sentences, Woolf takes an abstract idea of an angel and makes it concrete by describing its personality. The angel also excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily, (Woolf, 5). This third paragraph is long compared to the other paragraph’s in Professions for Women, and discusses the angel, her qualities, and how the writer killed her in the end, (Woolf, 5). This death of the angel was not easy for the writer, instead, the struggle was severe; it took much time that had better have been spent upon learning Greek grammar; or in roaming the world in search of adventures, (Woolf, 6).

Virginia Woolf varies with sentence length and paragraph length throughout this essay. She describes this angel and how she killed the angel throughout a stream of consciousness; which is Woolf’s strongest literary device throughout all her published works. This phantom of the angel may represent the ideals of women in society, which would suggest that Woolf wants these ideas to disappear, or perhaps she does not believe that this angel is able to realistically represent women. No matter what Woolf intended the angel to represent, the angel was brought to life using the stream of consciousness, that Woolf is famous for, by describing the angel’s characteristics. Virginia Woolf introduces her father to her readers in her essay, Leslie Stephen. Woolf’s father is described as adventurous, his feats on the river and on the mountains had been won before they were born, (Woolf, 9); his writing and writing habits also appear in the essay when Woolf writes, he still wrote daily and methodically, though never for long at a time. In London, he wrote in the large room with three long windows at the top of the house, (Woolf, 10). Where and how Woolf’s father wrote is described using a lot of imagery. He wrote lying almost recumbent in a low rocking chair which he tipped to and fro as he wrote, like a cradle, and as he wrote he smoked a short clay pipe, and he scattered books around him in a circle, (Woolf, 10).

By using this imagery, readers can imagine Stephen sitting in a rocking chair, surrounded by books, writing a new piece of work. Not only did Stephen use paper to write, he also used it to impress his young children, he would twist a sheet of paper beneath a pair of scissors and out would drop an elephant, a stag, or a monkey with trunks, horns, and tails delicately and exactly formed, (Woolf, 10). These sentences that possess a lot of imagery for readers are written by using lots of lists. These lists cause readers to read faster without a lot of pauses, providing the stream of consciousness once again through Woolf’s writing. Woolf also provides readers with direct quotes from her father, writing how Stephen would call his books ‘mangy and worthless, (Woolf, 13). By using the imagery, lists, and direct quotes readers can begin to imagine Woolf’s father. The Mark on the Wall might be one of the best essay’s written by Virginia Woolf to describe the stream of consciousness that Woolf uses. In this essay, the narrator notices a small mark on the wall. The narrator remembers the day that they saw the mark by describing, …the fire; the steady film of yellow light upon the page of my book; the three chrysanthemums in the round glass bowl on the mantelpiece.

Yes, it must have been the winter time, and we had just finished our tea, for I remember that I was smoking a cigarette when I looked up and saw the mark on the wall for the first time, (Woolf, The Mark on the Wall). This sentence is an example of how the stream of consciousness is used as a literary device. Woolf is writing down the thoughts in the order that they occur in her own mind. As seen in the previous two essays by Woolf, these sentences are long in length. This helps the reader notice the stream of consciousness that is occurring by following the thoughts of the narrator when describing the day that the mark was first noticed. By seeing this mark on the wall, the narrator is reminded of a time when they were sitting having tea and smoking a cigarette. This mark brings unrelated thoughts to the narrator, such as, how readily our thoughts swarm upon a new object, lifting it a little way, as ants carry a blade of straw so feverishly, and then leave it, (Woolf, The Mark on the Wall).

This small mark, where ever it may have originated from, brings up thoughts and realizations that are unrelated to the mark at all. Although Virginia Woolf was not struggling, and some may even hold that against her, making it a female writer was still a challenge, especially in the twentieth century. Woolf provided writers and readers a new literary device to use in their writing, called the stream of consciousness. She was also able to take small, seemingly useless objects, in everyday life and create something much larger and more beautiful out of those. Woolf deserves a lot of respect for fighting for women’s rights and demolishing the ideals of women, especially by being a female writer. Although she was white, well-off, and privileged, those are not reasons to dismiss her accomplishments.

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Virginia Woolf and the Stream of Consciousness. (2020, Mar 23). Retrieved January 31, 2023 , from
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