Glimpsing Truth and “[Making] it whole”: Art as Personal and Social Unity in Virginia Woolf

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Megan Fairbairn


Multiplicity and unity echo throughout Virginia Woolf’s work, especially as related to art and its function. All three intersect in Woolf’s conception of moments of being, which induce a state of heightened perception and cognition, allowing the subject to transcend everyday modes of thinking and being. These moments are integral to art, as they inspire artists to create in order to unify intangible and fleeting experiences. Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse follows painter Lily Briscoe along her journey from experiencing moments of being to exacting her vision on the canvas, focusing particularly on the hegemonic obstacles that interrupt this process. Woolf’s later novel Between the Acts narrativizes the playwright and director Miss La Trobe, focusing less on her internal process of creating art and more on how her art operates socially and ethically, as it necessarily involves the participation of human beings and nature itself. Through artist characters, both novels
show how moments of being, as glimpses of higher unity, inspire works of art which in turn unify on both personal and socioethical levels.