Ali Smith Discusses Mansfield, Woolf and War

In a piece for The Guardian, Orwell Prize winning author Ali Smith looks at how the first world war forced writers Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf to rip up convention – and asks if today’s conflicts demand a similarly radical response.

“When [Mansfield] read [Woolf’s Night and Day] in Italy where she’d been sent because of her fast-progressing TB, [she] was appalled. [Mansfield] wrote in fury to her husband John Middleton Murry: ‘It is a lie in the soul. The war has never been, that’s what its message is … the novel can’t just leave the war out … I feel it in the profoundest sense that nothing can ever be the same that as artists we are traitors if we feel otherwise … There is a trifling scene in Virginia’s book where a charming young creature in a bright fantastic attitude plays the flute: it positively frightens me …’ She derided its closed-class nature. ‘Its aristocratic ignoring of all that is outside its little circle & its wonder, surprise, incredulity that other people have heard of William Shakespeare.’

“In this review, published in November 1919, she granted Woolf the status of a writer of another age again – this time the past. Is the novel dying, or alive? she began the review. ‘If the novel dies it will be to give way to some new form of expression; if it lives, it must accept the fact of a new world.’”

Original article by Ali Smith, The Guardian, March 26, 2022.

Tags: Guardian (The)  Katherine Mansfield  Virginia Woolf  

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