Detectives of the Mind: Virginia Woolf and the Gothic Sublime
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For many readers today, the very idea that the formal innovation characterizing Woolf’s novels might be rooted in popular fiction would seem surprising and even implausible. However, this chapter argues that Woolf’s theory and practice of the novel grows out of a Gothic strand running through the history of the sublime displayed in the sensation novel and in nineteenth-century psychiatric methods of diagnosis. It shows that Woolf designs the fragile and volatile architecture of the modernist self by drawing on the tradition of the Gothic sublime, which has styled oubliettes, dark caves, and obscure facial features as metaphorical variations on the enemy within, and which has offered a glimpse into the dark psyche by virtue of one’s awed inability to conceive its magnitude.