Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) and James Joyce (1882-1941), the writers who revolutionized English literature in the first decades of the 20th century, were born and died in the same year. On January 25, 1882 Virginia was born in an illustrious London Victorian house while James, the author of ‘Ulysses’ whose publication is now celebrating the centenary, came into the world on February 2 in Catholic and provincial Ireland. Both turned twenty at the beginning of a century that brought about a radical change in the way of experiencing life and understanding reality.
Two talented young men
The Great War brought with it an unbearable awareness of the human being’s capacity for destruction and blew up the comfortable world of yesterday that had believed in the unstoppable progress of humanity. The unexpected loss of the future brought with it such widespread social pain that it was reflected immediately, shockingly and provocatively in all artistic manifestations.
In 1914 a young James Joyce made his debut with the publication of his excellent collection of short stories ‘Dubliners’shortly before the unknown Virginia published her first novel ‘End of Journey’ in 1915. Despite the mastery with which these new authors revealed human frailty in a way unknown until then, neither these novels nor those published in the first decade of the century, ‘Portrait of the adolescent artist’ and ‘Night and day’ awoke the London literary scene where the old realism of Bennet and Galsworthy still slumbered. Reluctant to follow in his footsteps, these young writers whose word was born from deep vital wounds perplexedly reflected on a new inner reality that needed unexplored and different literary universes capable of shaping the complex emotional map through which fears and uncertainties travel without brake.
If Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ was revolutionary and incomprehensible, Virginia was branded as a psychological, lyrical and expressionist writer incapable of developing a logical plot and consistent characters in her strange novels.
Like patients on the psychoanalyst’s couch, Virginia Woolf and James Joyce had the mission to unveil that mystery, to illuminate the subterranean world of emotions and bring to light the subjective reality that, at the dawn of psychoanalysis, was revealed as the only true one.
The year 1922 was the border. Joyce, after a hard pilgrimage in search of a publishing house that would dare to publish his ‘Ulysses’, rejected even by the Woolfs’ Hogarth Press, which used to accommodate unknown authors, found in Paris a brave and daring North American publisher who he opted for an experimental text, difficult and described as ‘obscene’ without knowing that he was creating a myth that would reach the 21st century intact. For Virginia, with the publication of ‘Jacob’s Room’, in memory of her dead brother, that year meant the solid starting point from which from then on she would approach the writing of novels as personal as ‘Al Faro’, ‘Orlando’ or ‘Mrs. Dalloway’. If Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ was revolutionary and incomprehensible, Virginia was branded as a psychological, lyrical and expressionist writer incapable of developing a logical plot and consistent characters in her strange novels.
Craftsmanship, rigor and noise
However, this complex and sickly woman whom her husband Leonard Woolf considered almost a genius dedicated the best of herself to literature. More prolific than Joyce, she managed in the 1930s to bring her vision of her world closer to an increasingly less select group of readers. She is a delicate and patient craftswoman at her work table, in addition to her novels, she left us in her magnificent ‘Diaries’ a punctual record of her daily life as well as a detailed analysis of her mental states and emotional from her. Addicted, on the other hand, to the epistolary genre, in the frequent letters she wrote to her sister Vanessa and her friends, prominent members of the Bloomsbury group, she allows us to witness directly the day to day of such a decisive moment in European history as It was the 20s and 30s of the last century.
Married to a Labor parliamentarian and accustomed to debating with intellectuals as relevant as the economist J. Maynard Keynes, Virginia dissected the social reality that she had to live with a critical and personal view that she left in a multitude of press articles and essays as relevant as ‘ A room of one’s own’, a feminist reference today, or ‘Three Guineas’ where she analyzes the meaninglessness of war when the rise of fascism made another war inevitable.
His words were echoes that were born from the deep and dark spring of the subconscious, that is why, when in the gloomy year of 1939 Joyce published his last novel ‘Finnegan’s wake’, that echo became a noise, an incomprehensible clamor of human irrationality. The war had robbed Europe of the sanity of the word and it did not seem that, from now on, there would be much more to say. Both died early in 1941, as the bombs destroyed hope, and, as Virginia wrote, his death was the only experience they could not tell.
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Virginia Woolf and James Joyce: the word as an echo of two authors who were born and died the same year
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