Aestheticism and Decadence: the aesthetic movement developed in the universities and intellectual circles in the last decades of the 19th century; it reflected the sense of frustration and uncertainly of the artist against the materialism and the restrictive moral code of the bourgeoisie. This movement begin in France with Theophile Gautier and was imported in England by James Mcneill Whister. The artist withdrew form politic and social scenes and isolates and escaped into aesthetic isolation (Art for Art’s Sake). Also John Ruskin spends his life to search of beauty in art and made way for Walter Pater, the theorist of Aesthetic movement in England. He rejected religious faith and said the art is the only way to stop time. Life should be lived in the spirit of art, with intense experience, feeling all kind of sensation: the task of the artist was to feel sensation not to describe the word. Art was not didactic, moral, and has not reference to life. He influences Oscar Wilde. Aestheticism uses the language of senses, has an excessive attention to the self, has hedonistic attitude, is disillusioned by contemporary society and hasn’t didactic aim.
Oscar Wilde: born in Dublin in 1854, was sent to Oxford, and became a disciple of Walter Pater. In 1881 writes some poems, in 1883 married Constance Lloyd and has two children. In the late 1880s the talent was revealed by a series of short stories: The Centerville Ghost, The Picture of Dorian Grey. In the 1890s produced a series of plays like The importance of being Earnest (1895), his masterpiece. He died in 1900. Wilde defines his life like a “work of art”. He embraces the aesthetic ideal and lived in the double role of rebel and dandy; dandy was distinguish by bohemian, allies to the masses of proletariat, because dandy is a bourgeois artist who, in a spirit of disgust, remains a member of his class. The Wildean dandy is a symbol of elegance and superiority of spirit. The picture of Dorian Grey was set in London at the end of the 19th century. The protagonist is Dorian Grey, a young man, whose beauty fascinates a painter, Basil, who decides to portray him. While the young man’s desires are satisfied, including the eternal youth, the portrait become corrupted. Dorian lives only for pleasure and when the painter sees the corrupted image Dorian kills him. Dorian then wants destroy the portrait, symbol of his corruption, but when he stabs the portrait he died and both portrait and Dorian returned at the original purity. The story is told by an unobtrusive third person narrator and it’s allegorical: it’s represent a version in 19th century of Goethe’s Faust. He take also the idea of renaissance of the correspondence between spirit and physical. The picture represent the autonomy dark part of the Dorian’s personality. The moral was that every excess must be punished and reality cannot be escaped. Finally the picture returned pure for underlines the Wilde’s theories that art is eternal and survives.
The American psychologist William James (1842 – 1910, in “The principle of psychology” 1890) coined the phrase “stream of consciousness” to define the continuous flow of thoughts and sensations that characterize the human mind. The interest for introspection is a peculiar character of the 20th century: this concept was influenced by the study’s of Freud (The interpretation of Dreams -1900) who’ll originate the psychoanalytic school. For he, who studied in a positivistic clime, the psyche and its development is deeply affected by the subconscious. He divides the personality in 3 zones: ego, super ego and id; he give importance to infantile sexuality and uses a new method of investigation: the analysis of dreams and the concept of free association. This interest was also already present in the 18th century novels like Robinson Crusoe’s Defoe, Clarissa’s Richardson where the character was described in their inner emotion. At the beginning of the 20th century writers gave more importance to consciousness and understood it was impossible to reproduce the complexity of the human mind using traditional techniques. So the look for more means of expression and they adopted the interior monologue that represent the unspoken activity of the mind. The interior monologue was influenced by the new idea of time questioned by the philosopher / psychology William James and the French philosopher Henri Bergson that divides the time in two: historical time (external, linear and measured by the special distance of a clock) and psychological time (internal, subjective, measured by the relative emotion of the moment). The main features of the monologue can be summarized: it’s a verbal expression of a psychic phenomenon (stream of consciousness of James), it’s immediate (in soliloquy and dramatic monologue the conventional syntax is respected), it’s free from tags (like he thought, he remember, he said), has two level of narration (external and internal), doesn’t follow chronological order but the subjective order, it disregards the rules of punctuation, it lacks formal logical order. The interior monologue was divided in:
• Interior monologue characterized by two levels of narration: one external and one internal to character’s mind (Joyce).
• Interior monologue untagged where the thought of character is free, not controlled (Joyce).
Virginia Woolf: was born in 1882, she was educated by father (Leslie Stephen a Victorian man of letters) and mother in a literary atmosphere. Her education consisted of private Greek and Latin lesson by mother and father. She spent her summers at St Ives, Cornwall and the sea remained central to her art, as a symbol; for she water represents what’s harmonious and the resolution of the conflict in death. The water influenced his poem “To the lighthouse”. Her mother dead in 1895 and she abandons progressive traditional and classical technique. He has a relationship of love and hate with his father. She began his career following the father’s death in 1904. She became member of the Bloomsbury group, a group of artists who have rejection for traditional artistic convention, and for sexual codes bourgeois. In 1912 married Leonard Woolf and in 1915 she published the Voyage Out that still followed traditional pattern. She entered a nursing home and attempted suicide by taking drugs. Her new narrative technique was introduced in Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927) and Orlando (1928). She publishes also a essayist of literary critic. She delivered in 1929 two lectures at Cambridge which became a Room of One’s Own a work of great impact on the feminist movement. She published The Waves in 1931 in which the link between her creative and her illness was explicit. The second world war increased her anxiety and fear and she drowned herself in the river Ouse. She was interested in the complex inner world of feeling and memory and was convinced that the human personality is a continuous shift of impression and emotions. The omniscient narrator disappeared and the point of view shifted inside the characters’ minds through flashbacks, associations of ideas, impressions as a continuous flux. She never lets her characters’ thoughts flow without control, and maintains logical and grammatical organization. Her technique is based on the fusion of streams of thought into a third person, past tense narrative. She connect inner and outer world. She uses poetic, allusive and emotional words that do the texts fluid.
Mrs Dalloway (1925): the story is setting in London. At 10 a.m. on a Wednesday early in June Clarissa Dalloway, the protagonist of the novel, goes to bond street to buy some flowers for a party she is giving that evening at her house.. while she is the flower shop, a car drives noisily and shifts the attention to the street, where Septimus, an estate agent’s clerk and shell-shocked veteran of the war, and Lucrezia Smirh, an Italian girl, are walking. Many doctors take care of Septimus: first Dr Holmes, and now Sir William Bradshaw the famous nerve specialist. Clarissa walks back home and there she receives an unexpected visit form Peter Walsh, a man she used to love in her youth. He then leaves Clarissa and goes to Regent’s Park where he catches a glimpse of Warren who are going to Bradshaw for an interview. Bradshaw urges Septimus to go into one of his clinics. At 6 p.m. Septimus jumps out of the window of his room and the ambulance that transports his body passes by Peter. All the characters who have been importance during the day are present at Clarissa’s party. Clarissa hears by Bradshaw of Septimus’s death with which she feels a strong connection. Mrs. Dalloway in its time and place is similar to Joyce’s Ulysses: it takes place on a single ordinary day, in a restrict area of London, from the morning to the night. Unlike Joyce Woolf doesn’t elevate her characters to the level of myth, but shows their deep humanity behind their social mask. The meaning of the novel does not lie in the sequence of events but in way a specific use of time and place. Clarissa, while walk up Blond Strett, thinks, remembers and her present experience and future plans are mixed to experiences and felling of the past. The range of characters is small: they belong to the upper middle class. The protagonist of the novel is a London lady of fifty one, wife of the Conservative Richard Dalloway who has extremely conventional views on woman’s rights. The influence of a possessive father, the frustration of a genuine love, the need to refuse Peter, split her spirit in two: her need for freedom and independence and her class consciousness. Septimus is a sensitive man characterized by feelings of guilt, fear and panic. The cause of these feelings was the death of his best friend Evan during the war. After the war the spectre of Evan hunts Septimus, hu suffers from headaches, insomnia, he cannot stand the idea of having a child. The plot doesn’t connect Clarissa and Septimus, apart from the news of his death ad her part. They are similar in many aspects: their response to experience in physical terms, they depend upon their partners for stability and protection. There is main difference however: he is not able to distinguish between his personal response and the external reality. His psychic problem leads him to suicide while Clarissa never loses her awareness. In the end she accepts told age and the idea of death.
A Room of One’s Own (1929): is based on the lectures that she gave at woman’s college at Cambridge University in 1928. Woolf defines the question of women and fiction as being three questions: women and what they are like, woman and the fiction they write, woman and what is written about them. Woolf points out the obstacles (economic dependence on men) and prejudices that women writers had an explores the differences between women as objects of representation and women as authors of representation. Woolf thinks that it’s necessary to change the forms of literature because most literature had been made by man for their own uses. In the last chapter she speaks about the possibility of an androgynous mind in which both masculine and feminine faculties are used. This volume has become a feminist classic.