Silent Modernism : Soundscapes and the Unsayable in Richardson, Joyce, and Woolf
Abstract: This thesis examines silence in modernist fiction, explaining how it forms a central aspect of realism in the modernist novel. It is based on close readings of the form and function of silence in the works of Dorothy Richardson, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf. The study proposes that silence as part of a text’s soundscape and silence as part of its mode of literary expression are related in modernist fiction. As part of the soundscape, silence represents aspects of ‘real’ human experience that cannot be conveyed in words: silence in modernist fiction is hence a response to linguistic problems connected to the representation of mind and feeling. The first chapter investigates what a reading of silence reveals about the modernist novel as a subgenre. Early twentieth-century linguistic difficulties are explored in terms of a crisis of realism: what is at stake here is the (im)possibility of achieving mimesis of certain aspects of reality through the use of language. Silence is seen to constitute a solution to the crisis of realism, forming part of an aesthetics of obscurity which seeks to circumscribe rather than describe. In modernist fiction, silence often represents a subjective experience of something that is not necessarily unintelligible, but ineffable by its very nature. Richardson, Joyce, and Woolf did not abandon realism as an aesthetic paradigm; they just redefined it. The subsequent seven chapters examine silence as a form of representation in the works of Richardson, Joyce, and Woolf. Chapters two to four discuss silence in Richardson’s Pilgrimage (1915-67), both in relation to Miriam’s explorations of her inner ‘Being’ and as an aspect of the form of the novel-sequence. Chapters five and six investigate silence in Joyce’s early fiction. A scrutiny of the early drafts of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) reveals radical changes in Joyce’s conceptualization of silence. Silences that are explicitly described in the text are associated with Stephen’s inner world, where he hides from the squalor of his external surroundings. Chapters seven and eight, finally, explore the oscillations between silence and sound in Woolf’s fiction, examining silence in relation to creativity and repose but primarily as an indication of rupture in the social and private spheres. In the work of all three writers, silence is a presence which communicates in its own way, representing nonverbal aspects of human experience.
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