Feminism and Insanity in Virginia Woolf's Work
The critical discussion revolving around the presence of mystical elements in Virginia Woolf's work is sparse. Yet it seems to revolve rather neatly around two poles. The first being a preoccupation with the notion of madness and insanity in Woolf's work and the second focuses on the political ramifications of mystical encounters. More specifically, Woolf's mysticism reflects on her feminist ideals and notions.
Even though she ultimately associates Woolf's brand of mysticism with the 19th century Theosophists, she continually refers to the specific encounters in Woolf's work as "natural mysticism" (Kane 329). I contend that this brand of "natural mysticism" can be separated from the more traditional encounters, "telepathy, auras, astral travel, synesthesia, reincarnation, the immortality of the soul, and the existence of a Universal Mind" (329). While only Madeleine Moore truly begins to draw the distinction between the two brands of mysticism that permeate Woolf's work, others delineate one category without acknowledging the other.
Val Gough, in discussing the ironic aspects of many of Woolf's mystical encounters, introduces the inherently politicized aspects of the topic. He argues that "Woolf as a writer was concerned to set up a relation with the reader which...brings an alternative form of mystical experience into being" (Gough 86). This "subversive, sceptical mysticism" introduces, through the inherently politicized nature of irony, "a feminist challenging of rigid structures of phallic (and imperialist) power, thus making it a mysticism of subversive, politically critical, feminist irony" (89). While his presentation of Woolf's ironic mysticism is certainly compelling, it relies on a logical conceit that is somewhat independent of the text itself.
Madeleine Moore's book, The Short Season Between Two Silences, fleshes out the idea of Woolf as a feminist mystic. She chooses to focus on the notion of maternity both as a mystical concept ("the cosmological woman-as-sun") and as a feminist revision of literature. She also seems caught up in the concerns over Woolf's sexuality and how that related to her as a maternal figure. "Woolf's 'frigidity' stigmatized her; made her appear to be too fragile for maternity" (Moore 21). Her use of the term "frigidity" here she goes on to explain as "Woolf's sexual preference for women...the problem which is still called 'frigidity'" (21). Moore certainly sees two distinct aspects in Woolf's mystical encounters that are both linked through this notion of maternity. She sees her as dealing in "interpretations of the relationship between sexual repression and political repression" (3).
Moving forward, we find Makiko Minow-Pinkney's Freudian reading of Woolf's mysticism. Much like Moore, he reads the mystical elements as outgrowths of sexual repression however he chooses to focus on the Oedipal nature of Woolf's conflict. "The bond...