Date Thesis Awarded
Honors Thesis -- Open Access
Bachelors of Arts (BA)
Leisa D. Meyer
This paper reads Virginia Woolf's biography/novel Orlando through an economic lens, specifically as a work influenced by the Co-operative Movements of the early twentieth century. Woolf viewed the dominant "New Biography" style of the 1920s, which was marked by short, "modern" character sketches and a compressed narrative structure, as complicit with a wider cultural trend towards "efficiency." The "efficiency" ethos of the interwar period implied an explicitly capitalist, and implicitly imperialist, inclination towards the elimination of all that was "wasteful" in society, refining all cultural productions (including the literary) down to those which would produce the most profitable returns for the least effort. Bucking this trend, Woolf's prose in Orlando is digressive and fantastical, and Woolf's biographer/narrator often pokes fun at the impossibilities of an "efficient" literature. My paper argues that Orlando is Woolf's attempt to create a textual economy that is guided by "co-operative" principles, not market forces. This hypothesis is corroborated by the fact that, during much of her literary career, Woolf was engaged in the Women's Co-operative Guild, a feminist and anti-capitalist organization of predominantly working-class women from the English countryside. The WCG aimed to take economic power out of the hands of factory-owners and put it into the hands of household consumers -- who were largely, of course, women -- as well as advocate for women's education and political expression. Orlando's anti-imperial and anti-traditional-marriage arguments, her disavowal of textual "efficiency," and the collaborative origins of the text itself, reflect the deep influence of the WCG and Co-operative economics in general on the biography/novel.
Adair, Cassandra C., "Between Waste and Efficiency: Reading Virginia Woolf's Orlando as Co-Operative Text" (2011). Undergraduate Honors Theses. William & Mary. Paper 422.
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