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Autonomy and Agency in Virginia Woolf’s Writing

Dikova, Stanislava (2019) Autonomy and Agency in Virginia Woolf’s Writing. PhD thesis, University of Essex.

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Woolf’s interest in practices of recording subjectivity and her experimentation with them is evident throughout her body of work. The Woolfian subject firmly resides within the larger material, political, and legal histories of early twentieth-century Britain, decisively demonstrating the overlap between discursive and power relations that shape both individual and social modalities of governance.This thesis examines representations of autonomy and agency in Virginia Woolf’s writing that challenge prevailing notions of these terms. In particular, it interrogates the role personal autonomy plays in the formation of subjectivity and in the cultivation of the agential impetus that propels emancipatory action. In this sense, autonomy is seen as providing a crucial link between understanding the reach of oppressive patriarchal practices in people’s lives and their capacity to resist them. In doing so, I aim to include Woolf as an important participant in the history of feminist thinking about the constraints of autonomy as well as to examine her own contribution towards liberating the term from the harmful individualistic associations it still conjures up today. Aided by discussions of autonomy in contemporary critical social and feminist theory, I argue that Woolf finds dominant conceptualisations of autonomy too constraining for fostering transgressive structures of agency due to their implication in and entanglement with internal and external structures of domination. In the final chapter, the thesis offers an account of the narrative and aesthetic strategies Woolf employs to subvert existing forms of autonomy and examines possible routes toward cultivating alternative forms of agency.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities > Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies, Department of
Depositing User: Stanislava Dikova
Date Deposited: 07 Jun 2019 13:55
Last Modified: 07 Jun 2019 13:55

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