This essay demonstrates how Virginia Woolf negotiates problems of temporal, spatial, and intersubjective distance through the modern—and increasingly transparent—landscape of interwar London. Through readings of “A Sketch of the Past” and Mrs. Dalloway, I argue that the perceptual oscillation between surface and depth glass affords as both medium and metaphor is particularly central to Woolf’s conceptualization of memory. While Woolf may have shared her contemporaries’ anti-Victorian fascination with “pure” surfaces (embodied architecturally in glass) and the solitary insight such surfaces might offer, her own evocations of glass nuance modernism’s relation to its antecedents and illuminate her investments in the problem and necessity of reckoning with others as we seek our individual pasts. Situated between two world wars and two glass cultures, Woolf offers a complex and tempered consideration of how the illusion of transparency invites connection to other times, places, and people—and just as readily forecloses it.
Behind a Pane of Glass: Collective Memory in Woolf’s Interwar London
Irene Yoon is a doctoral student in the department of English at the University of California, Berkeley. Her writing on postwar popular culture has appeared in Transition magazine. Her research interests include transatlantic modernism and twentieth-century visual culture.