Literary realism, of course, focuses on the everyday cultural experience of everyday people who may, within their banal experience, do extraordinary things. The Postmodern movement, as a reaction to a number of 20th century trends, tends to be anti-establishment and looks for meanings hidden in the text, those meanings needing to be exposed and reflected through deconstructing that text (Perkins & Perkins, 2008).But what of the authors who tend to combine both genres -- those who are slightly anti-establishment, allow for deep contextual symbolism, but also find wonder in the everyday? Fortunately, that genre, and the combination of realism and postmodernism, has blossomed globally into a genre called magical realism. For the contemporary reader, magical realism is a genre in which magical, or some would say illogical, scenarios and events appear in a normal setting. The power of this genre seems to be the juxtaposition of the two elements -- magic and realism -- in that in an everyday, somewhat banal, setting; one does not really expect magic, the unexpected, the delightful, to happen without a logical explanation (Bowers, 2004). Contrary to many critical explanations, the basic idea of this juxtaposition is not simply to entertain, but as a genre to provide a greater insight into the possibilities of both the human and divine -- of the belief that not everything that happens can, or should, be explained rationally and that as advanced a being as we are, there are still things to learn about the universe. Witness a famous Arthur C. Clarke's "Third Law" -- "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" (thinkexist.com).
In Woolf's essays, the idea of mystery and magical realism are rife in small details about the characters: the various ways in which Jan Austen, the Bronte sisters, and even George Eliot used their gender to magically call forth literary themes that only they could write, but untold; in the lecture entitled "The Four Mary's" clearly alluding to the manner in which women writers existed in a kind of primal magical existence in which even the grace of a poem was an anomaly. However, it is most apparent in the guise of the fictional character, Judith...
The hopes and dreams of the adventurous, imaginative Judith but trapped in a world that would not even let her see. Judith is forbidden to pick up a book; and when she does not wish to marry, she is beaten and shamed into a loveless existence; trapped within the confines of women, finally committing suicide rather than living a life of such utter despair. The magic comes in what we might view as transference of Judith's angst and genius into the world of her brother's published works, and an exemplification of the way a woman's intellect was wasted. Yet, it is this very idea of transference, of magically Judith appearing and living through history within the prose of her brother that makes Woolf's view of magic so appealing.
It is the duality of two ideas, then -- of taking modernism and allowing the overly sanitized and "correct" viewpoint of 18th century society to be overturned into something less than pristine, less than neat and tidy, and finding that things were not always as they seem; and the magical realism of allowing the audience to ask -- did that really happen, and if so how; that make A Room of One's Own, multidimensional its continual shifting of what is "reality" as was known in hierarchical and patriarchal terms; and a revalidation of the world that we are not quite sure is what "might have been," or "what was, actually, but not recorded as history," that keeps the reader guessing as to the magical events. In one sense, they seen so vivid and real we cannot imagine history being anything else. However, on the other hand, we cannot presuppose that the way the universe has been described for millennia is as much a joke as it is folly -- described wholly by a patriarchal society bent on nothing more than self-preservation.
Faris, W. (2004). Ordinary Enchantments: Magical Realism and the Remystification
Of Narrative. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.
Humm, M. (2003). Modernist Women: Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell. Trenton, NJ:
Rose, P. 91986). Women of Letters: A Life of Virginia Woolf. New…
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