“I want to criticize the social system, and to show it at work, at its most intense.” Virginia Woolf’s provocative statement about her intentions in writing Mrs. Dalloway has regularly been ignored by the critics, since it highlights an aspect of her literary interests very different from the traditional picture of the “poetic” novelist concerned with examining states of reverie and vision and with following the intricate pathways of individual consciousness. But Virginia Woolf was a realistic as well as a poetic novelist, a satirist and social critic as well as a visionary: literary critics’ cavalier dismissal of Woolf’s social vision will not withstand scrutiny.
In her novels, Woolf is deeply engaged by the questions of how individuals are shaped (or deformed) by their social environments, how historical forces impinge on people’s lives, how class, wealth, and gender help to determine people’s fates. Most of her novels are rooted in a realistically rendered social setting and in a precise historical time.
Woolf’s focus on society has not been generally recognized because of her intense antipathy to propaganda in art. The pictures of reformers in her novels are usually satiric or sharply critical. Even when Woolf is fundamentally sympathetic to their causes, she portrays people anxious to reform their society and possessed of a message or program as arrogant or dishonest, unaware of how their political ideas serve their own psychological needs. (Her Writer’s Diary notes: “the only honest people are the artists,” whereas “these social reformers and philanthropists… harbor… discreditable desires under the disguise of loving their kind…”) Woolf detested what she called “preaching” in fiction, too, and criticized novelist D. H. Lawrence (among others) for working by this method.
Woolf’s own social criticism is expressed in the language of observation rather than in direct commentary, since for her, fiction is a contemplative, not an active art. She describes phenomena and provides materials for a judgment about society and social issues; it is the reader’s work to put the observations together and understand the coherent point of view behind them. As a moralist, Woolf works by indirection, subtly undermining officially accepted mores, mocking, suggesting, calling into question, rather than asserting, advocating, bearing witness: hers is the satirist’s art.
Woolf’s literary models were acute social observers like Chekhov and Chaucer. As she put it in The Common Reader, “It is safe to say that not a single law has been framed or one stone set upon another because of anything Chaucer said or wrote; and yet, as we read him, we are absorbing morality at every pore.” Like Chaucer, Woolf chose to understand as well as to judge, to know her society root and branch — a decision crucial in order to produce art rather than polemic.
1. Which of the following would be the most appropriate title for the text?
[A] Poetry and Satire as Influences on the Novels of Virginia Woolf.
[B] Virginia Woolf: Critic and Commentator on the Twentieth-Century Novel.
[C] Trends in Contemporary Reform Movements as a Key to Understanding Virginia Woolf’s Novels.
[D] Virginia Woolf’s Novels: Critical Reflections on the Individual and on Society.
2. In the first paragraph of the text, the author’s attitude toward the literary critics mentioned can best be described as
[D] skeptical but resigned.
3. It can be inferred from the text that Woolf chose Chaucer as a literary example because she believed that
[A] Chaucer was the first English author to focus on society as a whole as well as on individual characters.
[B] Chaucer was an honest and forthright author, whereas novelists like D. H. Lawrence did not sincerely wish to change society.
[C] Chaucer was more concerned with understanding his society than with calling its accepted mores into question.
[D] Chaucer’s writing was greatly, if subtly, effective in influencing the moral attitudes of his readers.
4. It can be inferred from the text that the most probable reason Woolf realistically described the social setting in the majority of her novels was that she
[A] was aware that contemporary literary critics considered the novel to be the most realistic of literary genres.
[B] was interested in the effect of a person’s social milieu on his or her character and actions.
[C] needed to be as attentive to detail as possible in her novels in order to support the arguments she advanced in them.
[D] wanted to show that a painstaking fidelity in the representation of reality did not in any way hamper the artist.
5. Which of the following phrases best expresses the sense of the word “contemplative” as it is used in line 2, paragraph 4 of the text?
[A] Gradually elucidating the rational structures underlying accepted mores.
[B] Reflecting on issues in society without prejudice or emotional commitment.
[C] Avoiding the aggressive assertion of the author’s perspective to the exclusion of the reader’s judgment.
[D] Conveying a broad view of society as a whole rather than focusing on an isolated individual consciousness.
【考点解析】本题是一道细节推导题。题干中的“literary critics”暗示本题的答案信息来源应该在首段的尾句，通过对本句的阅读与理解可推断出本文作者对“literary critics”的态度是否定的，故选项A应该是本题的正确选项。本题的选项D因为“resigned”(屈从的，顺从的)一词而不能成为本题的正确选项，因为原文中并没有包含这方面的意思。考生在解题时一定要认真理解原文的每一个单词。
【考点解析】本题是一道词汇理解题。本题的题干以将本题的答案信息来源确定在第四段的第一句。如果考生不认识“contemplative”这个词，可以通过这个词前后的语意关系以及第四段第二句所表达的内容进行推导。通过仔细阅读第四段的第一、二句，我们可以推断出本题的正确选项应该是C，因为该选项强调的是回避“direct commentary”(直接的评论)，不做“active art”(主动的艺术)，让读者自己去思考。考生在解题时应该注意原文中所表达的对立对比关系。