"An Idea Like a Butterfly"

April 4, 2003 (Friday) / 4:30 pm

"An Idea Like a Butterfly"

Virginia Woolf's Voyage Out and the Genealogy of Religion

Vincent Pecora

Director, Humanities Consortium, UCLA

2003 Graduate Humanities Forum Conference Keynote

The question of religion has had almost no role in critical discussion of Virginia Woolf's novels, for good reasons. Woolf seems to exhibit a genuine antipathy toward religion, and her writings are for the most part focused on other issues, such as gender, art, and the vicissitudes of consciousness. Yet strong currents of Clapham Sect Evangelicalism have left their traces in her narratives, nowhere more so than in her first novel, The Voyage Out. Though not the best example of Woolf's genius, this novel can be seen as a kind of storehouse from which so much of her mature writing borrowed, and in the composition of which her own version of modernist technique emerged. In particular, the novel reveals the intimate, if not always obvious, relations between gender, bodies, social solidarity, and religion in Woolf's work.