Thursday, January 24, 2008

Clarissa Dalloway: Existential Heroine

Mrs. Dalloway continues to occupy my mind. Though there's a vast amount of scholarly output on the book, until today I'd been able to find only a few passing references to its existential nature. What I found today is an excellent little book called Six Existentialist Heroes, by Lucio Ruotolo. Since it's contents are not web-accessible, it took me a little extra effort to discover that Clarissa Dalloway is one of Ruotolo's heroes. (I borrowed a copy in the library where I work after seeing a reference to it in an academic journal; the reference didn't mention Clarissa or Existentialism, but the context made me suspect it would be worthwhile taking a look at the book.)

I'll write about the content of the chapter in another post. For now, here's some information about the author, written in appreciation following his death a few years back. Note that his treatment of Clarissa as Existential Hero almost didn't appear in print.
Longtime professor Lucio Ruotolo, expert on Virginia Woolf, dies

Stanford Report, July 23, 2003

extract: Lucio Ruotolo, a professor emeritus of English whose work on Virginia Woolf helped to cement her reputation as one of the great writers of the 20th century, died July 4 at Stanford Hospital. He was 76.

Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway is a subject of his award-winning first book, Six Existential Heroes: The Politics of Faith (Harvard University Press, 1973), in which he explores existentialism as a positive, life-embracing philosophy that can serve as a catalyst for change.

"The book grew out of the notion of a hero who develops in relation to a world he seeks to remedy," Ruotolo said in a 1983 interview with the News Service. "My object was to redefine the notion of an existential hero in more political terms. ... A recurring criticism of existentialism is its supposed disposition to pessimism, anarchy and disillusion -- that it remains essentially a destructive posture. I assume that the courage to raise the question 'If not something, why not nothing?' is linked to the capacity to suspend, at least provisionally, traditional solutions and to entertain often radically new procedures."

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MEMORIAL RESOLUTION LUCIO RUOTOLO, Ph.D. (1927-2003)

extract: Lucio Ruotolo, a professor emeritus of English, died July 4, 2003, at Stanford Hospital, of complications following heart surgery. He was 76.

His first book, based in part on his dissertation, Six Existential Heroes: The Politics of Faith, contained a chapter on Woolf's novel, Mrs. Dalloway. A long-time friend recalls that he was pressured to exclude Woolf from the book because she was the only woman in the study and not highly regarded, but Ruotolo refused to back down. He even had to change his publisher in order to stick to his principles. The book won the Thomas J. Wilson Memorial Prize, awarded by the Harvard Board of Syndics.

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