English literature

Author Alexandra Harris on ‘The Secret Life of Books’, BBC 4

 Feigel and Harris cover

Co-editor of Modernism on Sea, Alexandra Harris speaks on ‘The Secret Life of Books’, BBC 4, available on the BBC iPlayer (http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b04hkcjh/the-secret-life-of-books-3-mrs-dalloway).

Award-winning writer Alexandra Harris shows how Virginia Woolf’s classic work Mrs Dalloway completely re-imagined what a novel might be.

Woolf came of age as an author after Europe had been shattered by the First World War. ‘Everything was going to be new,’ says Harris of Woolf’s literary ambitions. ‘Everything was going to be different. Everything was on trial’.

The result was a new, free-form style of writing that responded to the post-war climate of confusion and uncertainty. Radically, Woolf’s central characters – socialite Clarissa Dalloway and shell-shocked survivor Septimus Smith – never meet, while the novel also pioneers a flowing stream-of-consciousness style.

Using original manuscripts, diaries and notebooks to ‘catch a glimpse of a great writer at work’, Harris argues that the novel also allowed Woolf to creatively channel her own mental illness into the character of Septimus Smith, and in so doing helped keep herself sane.

Modernism on Sea is available for purchase here.

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