Department of English Seminar: Sarah Dark & Caitlin Still
Department of English seminar
The Fabric of Grace: Using Statistical Methods to Understand the Relationship between Pattern-Formation, Quantum Physics and Divine Unity in the Novels of Virginia Woolf (Sarah Dark)
To this date, the only work undertaken on Virginia Woolf and mathematics has been undertaken by Jocelyn Rodal. It remains embryonic and much more deserves to be written considering the obvious interest in mathematics that becomes apparent in Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day, as well as To the Lighthouse. Rodal argues that, for Woolf, words act out the ambiguity of algebraic variables because they are prone to a kind of polysemy or multiplicity of meanings. She also argues that Woolf prioritises the strangeness and sexiness of the ostensible form of mathematical symbols over their semantic referents. This presentation addresses the way in which Woolf’s interest in mathematics interacts with her appreciation of Quantum Physics, the influence of her aunt’s Quakerism and religiosity, as well as her investment in creating an aesthetic that could house a predominating and formidable tension between these disparate influences. The presentation views Woolf’s formation of patterns within her use of grammatical negations, Homeric similes and tropes of light and luminosity as being the key to such understanding because such pattern formations provoke the comprehension of an ineffable divine unity. I argue that such pattern formation can be understood through a series of statistical tests because Woolf was writing to the rhythm of a world that expressed itself in the wave-like patterns suggested by the new Quantum Physics of her time.
“The Body That Had Created as She Must Not Create”: Eugenics and Maternal Ideology in Eleanor Dark’s Prelude to Christopher (Caitlin Still)
Appearing in 1932, Eleanor Dark’s Prelude to Christopher is a modernist reflection of its interwar context, particularly in its explicit concern with the ideology of eugenics which had come to global prevalence. The basis of the term ‘eugenics’, coined by Sir Francis Galton, lies in the notion of being ‘well born’; like the male protagonist of Prelude, Galton and other subsequent proponents of the ideology evangelised eugenics as to suggest its substitution for religion in a modernist context. Moreover, the indivisibility of eugenics from birth indicates an inevitable intersection with the maternal, itself subject to a quasi-religious ideology. This paper will therefore explore the intersection of eugenicist and maternal ideology in interwar Australia as represented in Dark’s novel. Dark’s representation of this intersection is particularly perspicacious in light of its revelation of the renewed regulation of women’s bodies rationalised by eugenics. It will demonstrate also how Dark’s exploration of eugenics’ impact on women reflects the specificity of its Australian context, in which the Great War had done little to broaden restrictive gender roles, and concerns regarding Australia’s racial profile remained foremost in the dominant national discourse.
Seminar Room 226
John Woolley Building (A20)
The University of Sydney