A Short Voyage Out

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180 THE SOUTH CAROLINA REVIEW

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VIRGINIA WOOLF IN IRELAND: A SHORT VOYAGE OUT by Kathryn Laing

o, it wouldnt do living in Ireland, in spite of the rocks & the desolate bays. It would lower the pulse of the heart: & all one’s mind wd. run out in talk” (Diary 4: 216)–so Woolf declared in her diary during her one and only journey around Ireland in May 1934. For her descriptions of the landscape and the people she met (mainly the Anglo-Irish gentry) are as ambivalent as her now infamous reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses. But Woolf’s response to Ireland, and more particularly to Irish writing is only part of the story. As a contemporary, how was Woolf read in Ireland, if she was read at all, and what, if any, impact has she had on Irish writing? For the contemplation of “Virginia Woolf in Ireland,” both as a traveler and a reader of Irish culture, politics and literature, and as someone to be read through her various publications, provokes a proliferation of research possibilities about both writer and country. In this essay I wish to sketch out a preliminary map of these possibilities, showing some of the potentially complex and intriguing routes that require further exploration, in relation to Woolf studies, in particular the European Reception of Woolf, and in relation to Ireland and its own literary history. So the paper is divided into three sections: briefly, Virginia Woolf literally in Ireland, reading Virginia Woolf in Ireland from the 1920s on, and three Irish women reading Woolf–Elizabeth Bowen, Mary Lavin and Edna O’Brien.1 Woolf’s interest in Ireland before and after her visit there is evident from her diaries, letters and fiction. Her concern and knowledge about Irish affairs2 emerges most forcefully in the novel The Years, where, as Jane Marcus points out, “The theme of the search for ‘justice and liberty,’ first expressed by…...

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