Date of Graduation

5-2014

Level of Access

Restricted: Archival Copy [No Access]

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department or Program

English

Second Department or Program

Women and Gender Studies

Number of Pages

111

First Advisor

Osucha, Eden

Abstract

Virginia Woolf destabilizes discourse and cultivates ambiguity by incorporating spaces of silence in her fiction, thus preserving that which is “unspeakable” within her texts. In Woolf, silence functions as a kind of queer “language” that articulates the unspeakable and indicates the ineffable. This thesis examines Orlando, To the Lighthouse, and The Waves as particular examples of this, alongside theorists such as Judith Butler and Michel Foucault. Within their frameworks, language is an exclusionary structure, dictating legitimacy and legibility, as well as a limiting one. Though some tenets of feminist theory argue that silence is an apparatus of oppression, I suggest that rejecting language may be a means of subverting discursive regimes and reductive ontological categories. Therefore, to navigate this paradox—that political recognition is contingent on language, a primary instrument of exclusion—language must be reworked constantly, what it signifies postponed eternally. I argue that Woolf does this by using “silence” as a narrative tactic, establishing a lexicon in moments when words fail or speech is refused, in secret code, and in textual ruptures, such as ellipses and blanks. With silence, Woolf crafts poetic complexity and queer sensibility, grappling with notions of gender and sexual identity and proposing an understanding of the self unrestricted by linguistic taxonomies. Woolf’s fiction considers the process of translating experience into language, the liminality of this process, and its inevitable failure. Silence, in her fiction, becomes a language of queerness and truth—of that which we can articulate only to ourselves.

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