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Virginia Woolf and Heritage$
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Jane deGay, Tom Breckin, and Anne Reus

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781942954422

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9781942954422.001.0001

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Flights of Archival Imagination: Woolf’s Transcendent Materiality in Contemporary “Archive Fiction”

Flights of Archival Imagination: Woolf’s Transcendent Materiality in Contemporary “Archive Fiction”

(p.223) Flights of Archival Imagination: Woolf’s Transcendent Materiality in Contemporary “Archive Fiction”
Virginia Woolf and Heritage

Lucy Smith

Liverpool University Press

For Virginia Woolf, the seemingly contradicting elements of material narrowness and imaginative expanse were crucial components for historical writing. In “The Lives of the Obscure” there is a certain irony in the writer’s desire to “romantically […] feel oneself a deliverer advancing with lights across the waste of years to the rescue of some stranded ghost” who resides in one of the bland “nameless tombstones Nos. 1763, 1080, and 606”. Yet it is this inverse relationship between banal materiality and imaginative flight that fires not only Woolf’s history writing but also the meta-historical fiction that continues to flourishes in her wake. I argue that Woolf has had a profound, if not critical, impact on what has been recently termed “archive fiction”. In this paper, I consider two recent examples that use material heritage as a means to step outside the bounds of the possible, Maggie Gee’s Virginia Woolf in Manhattan (2014) and Hermione Eyre’s Viper Wine (2014). Gee’s text creates a physically realised instance of the archival imagination whereby interaction with Woolf’s relics bring a version of the author back to life as a comment on contemporary desires to resurrect the “stranded ghosts” of history for present-day self-fulfilment. Eyre uses many of Woolf’s methods of archival interaction in a study of seventeenth century nobility whose material traces are the means of sparking a fantasy of fluid temporality. Archival material in fiction thus acts as Woolf’s “fertile fact, the fact that suggests and engenders”, by transcending its apparently prosaic limitations to “re-create” lives, both obscure and famous. In these meta-historical texts, confronting the uncertain affectivity that inevitably enters into interactions with tangible heritage is a means of understanding the intangible relationship the contemporary reader has with cultural history.

Keywords:   Archives, Archive Fiction, Biofiction, Imagination, “The Lives of the Obscure”, Materiality, Virginia Woolf in Manhattan, Viper Wine

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