Recent treatments of the role of religion in Virginia Woolf 's novels have posited a tension between religiosity and secularism (Lewis 142–69; Gaipa 1–41), but this paper explores the conjunction of spirituality and materiality in Woolf ‘s work. Rather than posing an opposition between mainstream religion and materiality, I argue for an unorthodox view of spirituality in which the mystical and the material are deeply interrelated, despite their apparent contradiction. This material mysticism is demonstrated in the sacred charge of everyday objects, mystical consciousness (one interpretation of “moments of being”) emerging out of mundane locations and encounters and the redeployment of key tropes of the mystical tradition. In the tradition of negative theology or apophatic mysticism, darkness and silence are frequently used to describe the divine as transcendent, unknowable and absent. Yet in Woolf 's novels darkness and silence are configured as located in the mundane, the material and presence. This paper explores the connections and conflicts of these two mystical modes with attention to The Years (1937) and Between the Acts (1941).
I am engaged with the relationship between Woolf 's writing and Christian mysticism, and, more specifically, the discourses of apophatic. There are, of course, other traditions relevant to Woolf, including the Eastern mysticisms that were circulating in Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and various occult traditions and practices (Kane 328–49; Bannerjee 165–67). Some of these, such as Theosophy, were inspired by Eastern traditions, others drew from hermetic sources and Jewish Kabbalah. Christian mysticism itself draws from many traditions including Judaism and Greek paganism but a precise delineation of these relationships is beyond the scope of this paper.
Mystical Woolf: Critical Positions
Mystical Woolf is not an uncontested term. Numerous critics have engaged with mysticism in Woolf 's oeuvre from Jane Marcus's claim of Woolf 's mysticism as influenced by the teachings and writings of her Quaker aunt, to Val Gough's delineation of the irony and ambivalence surrounding mysticism and religiosity in Woolf 's texts, through Julie Kane's exposition of mysticism in Woolf as part of a journey of developing self-confidence and related to the theosophical and other mystical movements of her day to Pericles Lewis's consideration of Woolf and enchantment (Marcus 115–35; Gough 85–90; Kane 328–49; Lewis 142–69).