Towards a Defence of the Novel



To suggest that Virginia Woolf’s writings constitute a defence of the novel seems to disregard her rejection of the title ‘novelist’ (L6, p. 365)1 and her attempts to rename her works: ‘I have an idea that I will invent a new name for my books to supplant “novel”, she wrote in her diary, ‘A new — by Virginia Woolf. But what? Elegy?’ (D3, p. 34). Her own substitutions are often combinations — ‘play-poem’ (D3, p. 139), ‘biographical fantasy’ (D4, p. 180), ‘Essay-Novel’ (D4, p. 129), ‘a poet-prose book’ (D5, p. 276) — which reveal her reluctance to confine herself to one genre. Still, it was not for reasons of convenience alone that she continued to refer to herself as a novelist and her works as novels. The instances of her dissatisfaction with these terms are far outnumbered by the occasions on which she explores the novel’s potential and envisages its development. In fact, one of the primary reasons for her attraction to the novel is that it lends itself to such a variety of names.


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  1. 19.
    James Naremore, ‘The World Without a Self: the Novels of Virginia Woolf’, Novel, 5 (1971) 122–34, see D. 129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© C. Ruth Miller 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of TorontoCanada

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