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The Female Künstlerroman in the Writing of Virginia Woolf

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posted on 2021-11-22, 09:21 authored by Rebekah GalbraithRebekah Galbraith

The defining features of the female Künstlerroman in Virginia Woolf’s writing suggest a revision of the narrative form to accommodate, navigate, and interrogate the artist’s gender and origins of her creativity. This thesis plots the birth of the female artist and the conditions of her artistic development within Woolf’s writing by first examining the construction of Rachel Vinrace, the rudimentary artist of the equally embryonic text, Melymbrosia (1912-1982). Rachel’s failure to privately self-identify as an artist is contrasted with her reluctance to accept her future potential as a wife and mother, suggesting that “woman” and “artist” are two mutually exclusive identities. For this reason, Woolf’s use of the female Künstlerroman examines the complexities of the female artist’s ability and, indeed, inability to acknowledge and inhabit her creative identity.  But how, exactly, the narrative form develops in Woolf’s writing relies upon a reading of the relationship between the figure of the artist and the novel she occupies: Rachel Vinrace in Melymbrosia; Lily Briscoe and Mrs. Ramsay in To the Lighthouse (1927); Orlando in Orlando: A Biography (1928); Miss La Trobe and Isa Oliver in Between the Acts (1941). Each of these works present a modification of the female Künstlerroman, and, in doing so, a markedly different artist-as-heroine. Moreover, in Woolf’s later writing, the narrative development of the female artist incorporates aspects of historical non-fiction, the biographical and autobiographical, and epistolary and essayistic fictions. An analysis of the intertextual relationship between A Room of One’s Own (1929) and Orlando: A Biography, and Three Guineas (1938) and Between the Acts, is therefore critical to the argument of this thesis.  The following is an exploration of how a variety of female artist-figures are constructed within Woolf’s writing: a musician, a painter, a social artist, a poet, and a pageant-writer-director. Through Woolf’s diverse expositions on the creative process, her heroines embody the personal difficulties women encounter as they attempt to realise their artistic potential. In this way, the female Künstlerroman is used by Woolf to examine, often simultaneously, the aesthetics of failure, as well as the conditions of success. But that a multitude of creative mediums appear in Woolf’s writing suggests there are universal obstacles when the artist in question is a woman, an implication in the narrative of the female Künstlerroman that the gender of a protagonist is the primary source of complication. Therefore, the degree to which each heroine achieves a sense of creative fulfilment is dependent on her ability to recalibrate her identity as a woman with her self-authorisation as an artist.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

English Literature

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies


Ross, Sarah; Ricketts, Harry