English Language and Literature ETDs

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This study of Virginia Woolf's essay style defines the characteristics of her style and places it within the history of non-fiction prose style. The deeper we journey into Woolf's essays, the more complex they become, until we find ourselves involved in a fresh, personal, and carefully rendered style. I have divided the style into its major characteristics, and my first chapter deals with these: controlling devices, clarity, rhythm, voice, and the exchange between reader and writer. The second chapter begins a series of comparisons between Woolf's style and that of several writers who may have had an influence on the development of her style. I begin with Montaigne and Bacon. The vernacular language of both writers and the personal tone of Montaigne are closely related to Woolf's unpretentious, yet exacting diction and voice. Next, I compare Dryden's conversational "An Essay of Dramatic Poesy" to Virginia Woolf's "Mr. Conrad: A Conversation.” Both are experimental dialogues similar in tone and purpose. Laurence Sterne’s digressive and flashy style reveals some interesting comparisons. So do the letter writers Madame de Sévigné and Dorothy Osborne. The third chapter carries the comparisons into the nineteenth century. Perhaps the most fruitful comparisons are those with the Romantic essayists De Quincey, Hazlitt, and Lamb. Their desire to reflect personality in their styles is also a cornerstone of Woolf's honest, intimate voice. My final comparisons are with the Victorians Leslie Stephen and John Ruskin. Both Stephen and Ruskin are more controlled and more voluminous in their digressions and anecdotes than Woolf. We see that Virginia Woolf's essay style is a combination of personal energy and control. Woolf's essay style is vivid, quickly moving, exuberant, accessible, and expresses a part of her personality which the familiar reader immediately recognizes. The style is a combina­tion of individually expressed and traditionally derived characteristics. As my study suggests, her contribution to the essay deserves more attention.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Harvena Richter

Second Committee Member

Fred Warner

Third Committee Member

Paul B. Davis

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