‘Adorable World!’: From Face to Story in Virginia Woolf’s ‘An Unwritten Novel’

In our forthcoming paper at the University of Melbourne, we will be speaking about a chapter-in-progress on the face in Virginia Woolf’s ‘An Unwritten Novel’.

The history of the face in literature can be told from many different angles, and from many different starting points. We begin our history with a moment that, in one sense, is arbitrary: a relatively unknown short story by Virginia Woolf recommended to us by our colleague Ken Gelder. ‘An Unwritten Novel’ (1921) is oriented around a single moment of covert face reading that takes place in that classic site of modern public and social life: the train carriage. The narrator of the story starts to spin a narrative around the face of a stranger in the carriage that sets in motion a meta reflection on the problem of writing and the conventions of the realist novel. Instead of generating a novel—with its quotidian detail, familiar class and family dynamics, and its drive towards closure—her observations settle instead on the phenomenon of thought itself and on how one would have to write in order to capture the thoughts which flutter across a face. The ‘turn’ of the short story, then, becomes paradoxically a turn away from narrative. Our paper considers how the face in Woolf’s story poses problems for narrative representation that lead to a different kind of novel and a different kind of literary history.  

You can read the story here!


OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
Guy Webster (February 27, 2022). ‘Adorable World!’: From Face to Story in Virginia Woolf’s ‘An Unwritten Novel’. Literature the Face: A Critical History. Retrieved July 12, 2024 from https://doi.org/10.58079/oo8j


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