This case study sets out to capture the processes of a foreign oeuvre entering and merging with a target literature and to chart the changing conditions of reception in the twentieth-century Dutch polysystem. A critical analysis of available reception and systems theories (those of, inter alia, Jan Mukařovský, Felix Vodička, Hans Robert Jauss, Pierre Bourdieu, and Itamar Even-Zohar) results in two main research questions that serve as a guideline for further investigation: How do reception processes reflect or relate to social segmentation, stratification, and change, and how do dynamic developments within literary production become manifest in the interplay of new (here, foreign) literature and an existing literary system? To provide a conceptual framework for an empirical approach to these questions, Even-Zohar's repertoire concept is taken as a point of departure. But it is redefined as a “mental equipment” with three components: (1) knowledge of works and oeuvres that serve as models and frames of reference; (2) internalized strategies and conventions that govern production, reception, and communication; and (3) sets of values and interests that determine selection, classification, and judgment. The components are interconnected in that all are value-laden or interest-driven. Three independent sets of data concerning the reception of Virginia Woolf were collected to bring out different parts of these components and changes therein. Karl Erik Rosengren's mention technique is used to show how Woolf's work evolved as a frame of reference for literary critics and essayists. Woolf's translation and publishing history is analyzed in terms of changing strategies and shifting interests on these fronts. Reconstruction of values that underlie judgments in reviews of Woolf's work shows differences in evaluative patterns between her early and later receptions, due to shifts in both social structure and conceptions of literary value. The quantitative data (numbers of mentions and translations/editions) are compared with other modernist authors from the same “cohort” (Joyce, Mansfield, Musil, Kafka) to detect convergences and divergences. The results disclose a multifaceted complex of social and literary factors and forces in a changing polysystem: traces of confessional segregation before and secularization after the second World War, the advent of the second feminist wave in the 1960s, the changing book market and a changing attitude toward translation, and the growing impact of the modernist cohort on national literary criticism and production. Woolf's oeuvre appears to have figured in two increasingly separable repertoires, one shared by a circle of women writing for and about women, the other by a circle of mainstream writers and critics discussing and reviewing innovative literature. The division between national and international literature remains visible in both subsystems. Correlating the quantitative data of the modernist authors shows patterns that are similar to those found by Rosengren in Swedish culture and indicate historical “laws” in the increase and decrease of a cohort's presence in a repertoire.
Els Andringa; Penetrating the Dutch Polysystem: The Reception of Virginia Woolf, 1920-2000. Poetics Today 1 September 2006; 27 (3): 501–568. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-2006-001
Download citation file: