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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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Thinking Back through Virginia Woolf: Woolf as Portal in Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Small Backs of Children

Thinking Back through Virginia Woolf: Woolf as Portal in Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Small Backs of Children

(p.251) Thinking Back through Virginia Woolf: Woolf as Portal in Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Small Backs of Children
Virginia Woolf and Heritage

Catherine W. Hollis

Liverpool University Press

“I am not Virginia Woolf,” a character exclaims in Lidia Yuknavitch’s award-winning novel The Small Backs of Children (2015). But who among us is? If we are women writers, particularly experimental women writers, Virginia Woolf’s legacy is profound and ongoing. Thus Yuknavitch’s main character, a woman writer troubled with a traumatic past, expresses her debt to Woolf with a bit of brash ambivalence: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction. What a crock. Virginia, fuck you, old girl, old dead girl” (7). That these are the first words this character speaks in Small Backs belies her debt to Woolf’s influence. Indeed, Lidia Yuknavitch – a contemporary American writer and academic – has elsewhere spoken of Woolf as the “portal” through which Yuknavitch approaches her own writing. In this paper, I want to demonstrate the multiple and compelling ways in which Yukavitch’s most recent novel is indebted to the legacy of Virginia Woolf. The Small Backs of Children is an experimental, sometimes challenging novel that defies generic conventions. As in Woolf’s Three Guineas, The Small Backs of Children takes as its subject the impact of war and violence on the bodies of women and girls. As in Woolf’s The Waves, each character takes turns recounting their part of the narrative, while their multiple voices together create a collective consciousness greater than any single perspective. Further, as in Woolf’s theory of biography, Yuknavitch mixes the “granite and rainbow” of fact and fiction to craft a story that is a groundbreaking mixture of the two. Indeed, in the example of The Small Backs of Children, we see a compelling example of a 21st century woman writer thinking back through Virginia Woolf.

Keywords:   Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas, A Room of One's Own, Lidia Yuknavitch, The Small Backs of Children, Influence, War, Art, Violence, Children

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