Modernism and Woolf- Creation of “the Real”

Honestly, when i read the first 3 pages of Woolf I thought the entire thing was going to be insufferably boring- but I ended up reading the entire thing in one sitting. I really liked his writing style (the Modernist tendency if that is what you want to call it) because it really draws on aspects of story-telling and self-consciousness.

Woolf is precise at times and very vague at times. When he says that “there was something extraordinarily real and at the same time unreal in the sights and sounds and smells” (first page), I get the sense that he is describing his writing too (in terms of the kind of detail he uses/doesn’t use). This idea of self-consciousness continues when he says that he feels as though he is “acting in a play or living in a dream” (same page). I like the way in which this very self-consciousnessness in “fictional autobiography” spills over into “reality” (reality = the reality we are in as readers). In other words, as Woolf  (the young man in Jaffna) “play[s] a part in an exciting play” (page after that), we see the same Woolf (though “same” is questionable) playing the part as writer, and of course, us as readers playing our part as well.

The way in which he constructs a picture of Jaffna for us is interesting, because even though he seems concerned about providing “authentic” details (name-dropping of islands, people and companies), he undermines this at times. For example, he makes direct reference to the content and form of his writing when he mentions “leav[ing] this subject of animals”; coupled with the fact that he deliberately mentions his “readers” (page number is cut off), this adds an interesting element of self-reflexivity to his writing. Concerns like ‘subject content’ and pleasing the audience are indeed important to a writer, and the fact that Woolf makes reference to something OUTSIDE his own text’s fictional/non-fictional reality identifies it as “modernist”, and outside the realm of “realist” 19th-century novels.

Thus, while Woolf remains a master story-teller, we question the “real” authencity of his experiences. Woolf provides us with little episodes and little impressions that are either not the “full story”, or not the “true story”. However, in true post-19th-century fashion, if all “reality” before has been constructed for us, then does authenticity matter or even exist?