The Edwardian Point of View – Aayushi Sharma

The Edwardian Point of View - Poster by Aayushi Sharma

While Edwardian Materialists had great storytelling, their writing doesn’t allow the reader to have the level of immersion as other modes of writing.

According to Virginia Woolf, materialism is when an author dedicates the setting to descriptors of only the material world and incorporates the physical solely in the process of world-building. In her essay ‘Modern Fiction’, she focuses largely on Edwardian materialists, as they were unconcerned about matters pertaining to the spirit and focused largely on the body and Georgian spiritualists did the opposite. She described the latter with the words: “[They] reveal the flickerings of that innermost flame which flashes its message through the brain.” 

Materialism, as Woolf suggests, is converse to spiritualism and that which the eye cannot see. Virginia Woolf often shows interest in showing how time can alter space in her works with examples like The Russian Point of View and Mr Bennet and Mrs Brown. Time is the catalyst for the character fulfilling their purpose in the story as well as bringing the reader to a physical world where the main descriptors were much less so. 

Her attack on Edwardian materialists is directed at its structure as she later explains, “the Edwardian tools are the wrong ones for us to use. They have laid an enormous stress on the fabric of things. They have given us a house in the hope that we may be able to deduce the human beings who live there.” 

Words such as “house”, “bedrooms”, “wood” and other materials are descriptions of scenes and settings in the Edwardian era. While the picture has been successfully created, the effect is not so much. Terms such as “sinner”, “freak”, and “lover” resound in our memories more after they have been read, leaving a lasting image of not only the setting but what it could represent. 

The relationship between the reader and the setting is intimate when emotions and metaphors can be drawn from a mere description of a setting – such as the writing of Virginia Woolf does. Spiritualism walks the fine line between being a metaphor and not being a metaphor, much like the chronotope. The Chronotope, as conceptualised by M.M. Bakhtin, expresses the inseparability of space from time and acts as a metaphor in most literary works. Thus, Spiritualism and the Chronotope can be seen as literary devices that are ‘almost metaphors’ and provide a story with more depth than it would normally have.