Illuminating Inner Life : A Comparison of Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse and Arthur Schnitzler's Fräulein Else

University essay from Stockholms universitet/Engelska institutionen


In the early 20th century, authors increasingly experimented with literary techniques striving towards two common aims: to illumine the inner life of their protagonists and to diverge from conventional forms of literary representations of reality. This shared endeavour was sparked by changes in society: industrialisation, developments in psychology, and the gradual decay of empires, such as the Victorian (1837–1901) and the Austro-Hungarian (1867–1918). Those developments yielded a sense of uncertainty and disorientation, which led to a so-called “turn [inwards]” in the arts (Micale 2). In this context, this essay examines Virginia Woolf’s (1882–1941) development of her literary technique by comparing To the Lighthouse (1927), written in free indirect discourse, with Arthur Schnitzler’s (1862–1932) Fräulein Else (1924), written in interior monologue. Instead of applying Freud’s theories of consciousness, I will demonstrate how empiricist psychology informed and partly helped shape the two narrative techniques by referring to Ernst Mach’s (1838–1916) idea of the unstable self, and William James’ (1842–1910) concept of the stream of consciousness. Furthermore, I will show that there is a continuous progression of literary ideas from Schnitzler’s Viennese fin-de-siècle connected to impressionism, towards Woolf’s Bloomsbury aesthetics connected to Paul Cézanne’s post-impressionist logic of sensations. In addition to that, I address how the women’s movement, starting in the end of the 19th century, inspired Woolf and Schnitzler to utilise their techniques as a means of revealing women’s restricted position in society. Methodologically, I will analyse the two novels’ narrative techniques applying close reading and by that point out their differences and similarities in connection to the above-mentioned theories as well as the two author’s literary approaches. I argue that this comparison demonstrates that modernist literary techniques of representing interiority evolved from interior monologue towards free indirect discourse. This progression also implicates that modernism can be seen as a continuum reaching back to the fin-de-siècle and culminating in the 1920s. 

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