“Excursions into the literature of a foreign country”: Crossing Cultural Boundaries in the Short Fiction

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Because Virginia Woolf was not a great theoretician of the short-story form, we do not have a critical vocabulary to describe her short fiction. However, a study of her practitioner criticism (which reveals a strong curiosity and enthusiasm for the Russian short story) and an examination of the intertextual relations between Russian short fiction and her own does provide a way of finding alternative and enriching explanations for her own stories. The Russian influence is evident in Woolf’s narrative method, in the human content and in the psychological backgrounds of her characters, and in her comments on the short-story form. Like the Russians, Woolf was guided to a greater degree by feeling and intuition than by representational principles or traditional story elements, and she saw in them a realization of some of her own ideas about how the short story might effectively delineate character through a detached tone, a sense of proportion, and a peculiarly formless kind of form. Woolf’s stories “Happiness” (1925), “The Lady in the Looking-Glass” (1929), and “Uncle Vanya” (1937) provide intriguing contextualizations of her connections to the Russian short story. I compare these stories to Chekhov’s “Happiness” and Valery Brussof’s “In the Mirror” (both published in English in 1918) to demonstrate that what Woolf ultimately shares with the Russians is a delight in the short story as a vehicle of discontinuity and impermanence and as a conduit for the modernists’ depiction of the self as fragile and fragmental.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTrespassing Boundaries
Subtitle of host publicationVirginia Woolf's Short Fiction
EditorsKathryn N. Benzel, Ruth Hoberman
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781403981844
ISBN (Print)9781403964830
Publication statusPublished - 17 Dec 2004
Externally publishedYes


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