“‘The proper stuff of fiction’ does not exist; everything is the proper stuff of fiction, every feeling, every thought; every quality of brain and spirit is drawn upon; no perception comes amiss.”
Woolf, Virginia. “Modern Fiction.” In The Common Reader, 154. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 1925.
I couldn’t agree more with this essay, and this summarizing quote. For me, this idea that fiction is what you make it and not what you’re told it is, is one that I struggle with. Not that I don’t stand behind it to the fullest, but, as I intend to teach creative writing classes someday, I’ve been finding it difficult to decide how I can teach a craft that comes from the heart and soul rather than a defined method or period of time. Of course there will never quite be an answer to my woes, but it’s great to know that my viewpoint is shared by so many I admire.
“The writer seems constrained, not by his own free will but by some powerful and unscrupulous tyrant who has him in thrall, to provide a plot, to provide comedy, tragedy, love interest, and an air of probability embalming the whole so impeccable that if all his figures were to come to life their coats in the fashion of the hour. The tyrant is obeyed; the novel is done to a turn. But sometimes, more and more often as time goes by, we suspect a momentary doubt, a spasm of rebellion, as the pages fill themselves in the customary way. Is life like this? Must novels be like this?”
Woolf, Virginia. “Modern Fiction.” In The Common Reader, 149. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 1925.
The job of the writer is to write. There should not be a set of rules that an author has to follow. There are two possibilities when it comes to the ‘tyrant’ who Woolf is referring to. Perhaps the tyrant is all of the writers in the past who have stuck with the same structure and conventions throughout the years, leaving writers to feel obligated to follow suit. The reader is another possibility the tyrant. When reading a novel, people expect a plot, love interest, tragedy, etc. This puts a lot of pressure on the writer to fulfill certain expectations. Who are we to influence what the author wants to write about? All novels do not have to be the same; in fact the differences in structure are what make certain novels stand out from the rest.
“We do not come to write better; all that we can be said to do is keep moving, now a little in this direction, now in that, but with a circular tendency should the whole course of the track be viewed from a sufficiently lofty pinnacle. It need scarcely be said that we make no claim to stand, even momentarily, upon the vantage ground. On the flat, in the crowd, half blind with dust, we look back with envy to those happier warriors, whose battle is won and whose achievements wear so serene an air of accomplishment that we can scarcely refrain from whispering that the fight was not so fierce for them as for us. ” (Woolf 146) Woolf, Virginia. “Modern Fiction.” Web. 9 Sept 2014. To my understanding, during this time period, much of what existed of the industry was not a fan of fiction. It was not considered an art form, and was often thoughts of as no more than a common drug of the youth. Here, Virginia Woolf, vocalizes her opinions of writing as a whole; she sees it from it’s roots and traces it to her time, in her present, and claims that her and her contemporaries are as innovative as anyone has ever been in writing and are pushing in a general direction to further the development of literature, even with many against them.