This article argues that synesthesia exerted a profound influence on the writing of Virginia Woolf. Examining a wide range of works, it establishes that Woolf not only registered synesthesia as a cultural phenomenon by depicting many synesthetes in her fiction but also, from the outset of her writing life, adopted synesthesia as an aesthetic principle. It helped her critique the atomization of the human senses under the technological conditions of modernity, but also to condemn both the militarism of the Great War and the rise of totalitarian politics in the late 1930s. Ultimately, however, Woolf’s “synesthetic aesthetic” is as constructive as it is critical—an overlooked but vital element in Woolf’s broader project of representing lived experience as subjective, multifarious, and fundamentally unified.
Virginia Woolf’s Synesthesia
Holly Earl works as consultant in the tertiary education sector in the United Kingdom. Her current book project is titled “Samuel Beckett and the Emergence of the Nominalist Ethic.” Her research interests include the work of Virginia Woolf and Samuel Beckett, and the intellectual history of European literary modernism.
Holly Earl; Virginia Woolf’s Synesthesia. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 December 2020; 66 (4): 463–484. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-8770695
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