Oxford Handbook of Virginia Woolf Released

Virginia Woolf radically transformed the novel of manners, a form defined by a domestic setting, limited emotional range, and the centrality of social codes. Woolf expanded this to include the whole range of human experience, partly through the use of shifting interior voices who meditate on art, marriage, grief, love, ambition, empire, gender, and the sea. With one long beautiful narrative sweep, Woolf turned the novel of manners into a novel of ideas. This expansion has had a profound effect on subsequent novelists such as Ian McEwan, Rachel Cusk, Michael Cunningham, Zadie Smith, Tessa Hadley, and the author of this chapter. These writers have used domestic settings and interior voices to write about the whole of life, laying claim to Woolf’s powerful and elastic new form, the novel-of-both-manners-and-ideas. This chapter examines works by these writers to show how Woolf’s luminous prose and deep empathy, her intellectual control and literary potency, continue to illuminate and vivify the contemporary novel.