Monash University
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Writing the Subject: Virginia Woolf and Clothes

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journal contribution
posted on 2017-05-21, 04:36 authored by Carolyn Abbs
Virginia Woolf had a fascination with clothes and textiles. She wrote about clothes in her diaries, fiction and non-fiction and she even wrote for Vogue magazine – the editor was a friend. There may have been some influence from William Morris’s designs and tapestries, the Omega workshops of the time, Serge Diaghilev and costume designs for the Ballets Russes, and we know that she worked needlepoint with her sister Vanessa Bell. However, in regard to writing the subject, it was more than a mere fascination with clothes: she recognized the important link between clothes and the body. The other aspect of her life and work of relevance here is her intrigue with childhood and childhood experience – particularly the memory of her mother. I am interested in the way Woolf’s fascination with clothes and intrigue are entwined with childhood experience and memory in her work. In this paper, I suggest that Virginia Woolf has a method of writing the subject that involves clothes and textiles. The method stems from her autobiographical writing, in particular the childhood memory of her mother, and is carried through into her novelistic practice. I will argue that Woolf is able to fictionalize/re-work memory as perception of the body by involving “clothes and textiles”; that is, she understands a confluence between body and clothes which she writes via the nonverbal and, in particular, the tactile to create the subject in her writing practice. It is this confluence which I understand as “writing the subject.”


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