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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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“Some ancestral dread:” Woolf, Autobiography, and the Question of “Shame”

“Some ancestral dread:” Woolf, Autobiography, and the Question of “Shame”

(p.264) “Some ancestral dread:” Woolf, Autobiography, and the Question of “Shame”
Virginia Woolf and Heritage

Laura Marcus

Liverpool University Press

In this essay, Laura Marcus explores the interconnections of shame, sexuality and the self in Woolf’s autobiographical writing. Drawing on Woolf’s epistolary discussions with Ethel Smyth as well as her speculation on the origins of shame in A Sketch of the Past, Marcus offers a new reading of Woolf’s ‘ancestral dread’ that goes beyond its plausible origin in her sexual abuse by her brother. Situating Woolf’s responses in relationship to a range of disciplines including psychoanalysis, philosophy as well as a tradition of confessional literature, Marcus therefore shows how Woolf uses the concept of ‘shame’ for a productive exploration of identity, memory and the exposure of the self’s intimacies in writing.

Keywords:   Virginia Woolf, shame, autobiography, self, confessional literature

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