Accounting for taste : the poetics of food and flavour in Virginia Woolf’s novels
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This thesis argues that tasting appears as an act of creative empathy and of knowledge acquisition in Virginia Woolf’s writing. First contextualising my discussion within Woolf’s own reading of the aesthetic and literary history of ‘taste’, I then use Cixous’ essay ‘Extreme Fidelity’ (renamed ‘The Author in Truth’) as a theoretical entryway to passages from The Voyage Out, Jacob’s Room, A Room of One’s Own, Mrs Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, The Waves, and Orlando which centralise the role of gustatory pleasure in creativity and epistemology. Cixous elaborates an oral, ‘poetic’ and feminine ontology rooted in a receptivity to sensual pleasure, a concept that assists my reading of Woolf in several aspects. I suggest that in Woolf, both literal and figurative experiences of taste contribute to physical and psychic repletion, consequently eliciting empathy with the other (Cixous’ term). This empathy which originates in the body constitutes an epistemological source distinct from intellectual or emotional intelligences, but one equally integral to the creative process. I assert that empathy features in Woolf as an extension or enlargement of the imagination through which a subject incorporates knowledge of alterity, but without consuming the other - as in the act of tasting. This ideation differs from notions of empathy as an analogical mapping or projection of self onto other. I discuss the ways in which a ‘gustatory epistemology’ informs Woolf’s approach to her craft, shapes the interrelationships of her characters, and materialises stylistically in her development of a ‘poetic’ prose language.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2020-10-30
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Electronic copy restricted until 30th October 2020
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