On Monday 26 January 1920, Virginia Woolf recorded in her diary that she had 'arrived at some idea of a new form for a new novel'. The 'theme' was 'a blank' to her, but the form had immense potential: 'Suppose one thing should open out of another - as in An Unwritten Novel - only not for 10 pages but 200 or so - doesn't that give the looseness & lightness I want' (D2, pp. 13-14). In Woolf's short story 'An Unwritten Novel', the narrator, imagining the life story of a stranger sitting across from her in a train, strains against both the conventions of realist fiction and, behind these, the demands of life itself. 'Life imposes her laws; life blocks the way', she writes after conceding that she must include a commercial traveller named Moggridge in her story. Life also finally proves her wrong, for the woman does not fit the story created for her. Nonetheless, the narrator concludes on a high note: she has celebrated a vision of life, which is much more than a narration of mere facts.
'An Unwritten Novel' reflects two of Woolf's firmest assumptions about how the realist novel needed to be reformed. First, novelists must be selective. The mid-Victorian novelists, she wrote in a 1910 review, 'left out nothing that they knew how to say. Our ambition,' she added provocatively, 'is to put in nothing that need not be there.' Second, the choices novelists make should evolve from a shift of focus so that 'life' is conveyed not only in its external aspect, but as it is experienced. Taking on the 'materialists' Arnold Bennett, John Galsworthy and H. G. Wells in her essay 'Modern Novels' (1919), she asserted that 'the proper stuff for fiction' was the myriad impressions received by the mind 'exposed to the ordinary course of life' (E3, p. 33).
Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this book to your organisation's collection.