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Virginia Woolf: Writing the World$
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Pamela L. Caughie and Diana L. Swanson

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780990895800

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9780990895800.001.0001

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The Precarity of “Civilization” in Woolf’s Creative Worldmaking

The Precarity of “Civilization” in Woolf’s Creative Worldmaking

(p.204) The Precarity of “Civilization” in Woolf’s Creative Worldmaking
Virginia Woolf: Writing the World

Madelyn Detloff

Liverpool University Press

Consulting Virginia Woolf’s literature, this essay asks if a serious examination of the beautiful and the good can coexist with advocacy for social justice—with feminist, antiracist, anti-imperialist, critically engaged consciousness—or if the beautiful and the good are to be contemplated only when one has the luxury to get away from the “real world.” This paper examines how and why an aesthetically complex and intellectually challenging artist such as Woolf still matters today for her artistry, opening up a more fundamental conversation about why and how the life of the mind matters. Woolf was intensely aware of the propensity of dominant powers, especially colonialist ones, to commit acts of atrocity in the name of civilization, which she points out frankly in A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas. This essay argues that Woolf’s work, like all powerful art, has the capacity to change us, not because of what it says or means but because of the habit of mind it cultivates in us as we experience it.

Keywords:   Virginia Woolf, Civilization, Feminism, Aesthetics, Social justice, A Room of Ones Own, Three Guineas, Between the Acts, Thoughts on Peace

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