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Modernist SoundscapesAuditory Technology and the Novel$
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Angela Frattarola

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780813056074

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813056074.001.0001

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Recording the Soundscape

Recording the Soundscape

Virginia Woolf’s Onomatopoeia and the Phonograph

(p.66) 3 Recording the Soundscape
Modernist Soundscapes

Angela Frattarola

University Press of Florida

Chapter 3 examines Virginia Woolf’s representation of real-world sound, which develops throughout her career and is crucial to her connection with the “common reader.” Woolf’s onomatopoeia indicates a desire to represent the sounds of the world without mediation—a drive that was helpfully modelled by the phonograph, which some hoped would allow composers to make music from recorded real-world sounds rather than relying on the mediation of musicians. Starting with Jacob’s Room, published in the modernist high point of 1922, this chapter evaluates Woolf’s use of onomatopoeia, which reaches a climax with her later works: The Waves (1931), The Years (1937), and Between the Acts (1941). These novels are overwhelmingly sound-driven, with characters consistently directed and influenced by the sounds they hear. While characters often feel alienated and scrutinized when they are looked at, the act of listening has the power to unite them, even if only temporarily. On the level of form, Woolf’s onomatopoeia stimulates one’s “reading voice,” so that the reader too can be momentarily united with the text through, for example, the “chuffs” and “ticks” that sound out beyond semantic meaning.

Keywords:   Jacob’s Room, The Waves, The Years, Between the Acts

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