Virginia Woolf’s Middle Ages

  • Steve Ellis
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


This essay concentrates on the last phase of Woolf’s career, from the mid-1930s to her death, and on the relation between the individual and the community which at that time exercises her deeply, and on how her response to the Middle Ages, and to one of its writers in particular, Dante, relates to this concern. In a prospective history of literature originally entitled Reading at Random, which Woolf worked on in the last months of her life, the opening two unfinished chapters “Anon” and “The Reader” trace the course of British literature from its earliest oral inception to the crucial invention of printing at the Renaissance, regarding this key cultural shift with typical Woolfian ambivalence as marking both significant loss and gain. In the medieval period, Woolf tells us,

anonymity was a great possession. It gave the early writing an impersonality, a generality. It gave us the ballads; it gave us the songs. It allowed us to know nothing of the writer: and so to concentrate upon his song. Anon had great privileges. He was not responsible. He was not self conscious … He can borrow. He can repeat. He can say what every one feels. No one tries to stamp his own name, to discover his own experience, in his work … The anonymous playwright has like the singer this nameless vitality, something drawn from the crowd in the penny seats and not yet dead in ourselves.1


Diary Entry Medieval Period Medieval Literature Canterbury Tale Great Possession 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 6.
    Between the Acts, ed. Stella McNichol, intro. Gillian Beer (London: Penguin, 1992), 115.Google Scholar
  2. 13.
    Brenda R. Silver, “Virginia Woolf and the Concept of Community: The Elizabethan Playhouse,” Women’s Studies 4 (1976–1977): 295;Google Scholar
  3. Nora Eisenberg, “Virginia Woolf’s Last Words on Words: Between the Acts and ‘Anon’,” in New Feminist Essays on Virginia Woolf, ed. Jane Marcus (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1981), 261.Google Scholar
  4. 16.
    The Essays of Virginia Woolf, vol. 6: 1933–1941, ed. Stuart N. Clarke (London: Hogarth, 2011), 272.Google Scholar
  5. 26.
    T. S. Eliot, The Complete Poems and Plays (London: Faber, 1969), 279–80.Google Scholar
  6. 30.
    The Essays of Virginia Woolf, vol. 4, 1925–1928, ed. Andrew McNeillie (London: Hogarth, 1994), 399.Google Scholar
  7. 38.
    The Years, ed. and intro. Jeri Johnson (London: Penguin, 1998), 155–56.Google Scholar
  8. 40.
    Avrom Fleishman, Virginia Woolf: A Critical Reading (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975), 187.Google Scholar
  9. 44.
    Steve Ellis, Virginia Woolf and the Victorians (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 45.
    Beverly Ann Schlack, Continuing Presences: Virginia Woolf’s Use of Literary Illusion (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1979), 69–72;Google Scholar
  11. Janede Gay, Virginia Woolf’s Novels and the Literary Past (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006), 175–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Gail Ashton and Daniel T. Kline 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steve Ellis

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations