“An Incessant Shower of Innumerable Atoms”: Woolf’s Scientific View of the World by Jadwiga Sarbinowska Virginia Woolf 1888-1941
Narey, Wayne. “Virginia Woolf’s The Mark onthe Wall: An Einsteinian View of Art.”Studies in Short Fiction 29.1 (1992): 35-42. Short Story Criticism: Criticism of the Works ofShort Fiction Writers. Vol. 79: 184-188. Farmington Hills: Thomson Gale, 2005. Print.
• “Woolf gives particular emphasis to the relationship between time and perspective, when motion is always relative to the viewer much as Einstein’s scientific theories focused on the concept of relativity” (Narey, 185)
• “Relativity is the understanding of the world not as events but as relations”(Jacob Bronowski 254 quoted in Narey 185)
• In my mini-dissertation, I contend that Woolf’s unique style uses the elements of the theory of relativity to show the mutual relations and the unity of the world. What is more, I am going to explore some of Woolf’s novels and short stories to show where Woolf echoes Einstein’s theories and his philosophy of life. My paper explores Woolf’s novels: To the Lighthouse, The Waves, Mrs. Dalloway and short stories from A Mark on the Wall . I will also use some support from A Room of One’s Own.
The mathematician James Jeans and the astrophysicist “had a tremendous cultural impact in the 1930s, in part through their radio broadcasts, which distilled the new physics for a popular audience (Gillian Beers qtd in Pridmore-Brown, 410).
“The mind receives a myriad impressions-trivial,fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with thesharpness of steel. From all sides they come, anincessant shower of innumerable atoms; …Let usrecord the atoms as they fall upon the mind in theorder in which they fall . Let us trace the pattern,however disconnected and incoherent inappearance, which each sight or incident scoresupon the consciousness” Modern Fiction, 2150-2151
Einstein’s View of the World”A human being is a part ofthe whole, called by us‘Universe’; a part limited intime and space. Heexperiences himself, histhoughts and feelings assomething separated fromthe rest - a kind of opticaldelusion of hisconsciousness”(Albert Einstein - qtd inLouise Westling, 855).
“Everythings moving, falling, slipping, vanishing.... There is a vast upheaval of matter”(The Mark on the Wall, 64)Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
• “Thought - to call it by a prouder name than it deserved – had let its line down into the stream. It swayed minute after minute, hither and thither among the reflections and the weeds, letting the water lift it and sink it until – you know the little tug – the sudden conglomeration of an idea at the end of one’s line: and then the cautious hauling of it in, and the careful laying of it out? Alas, laid on the grass how small, how insignificant this thought of mine looked;” (A Room of One’s Own, 6).
“How readily our thoughts swarm upon a new object, lifting it a little way, as ants carry a blade of straw so feverishly, and then leave it… (The Mark on the Wall, 3).“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious”. (Einstein, The World As I See it)
“there is no harm in putting a full stop to one’s disagreeable thoughts” (The Mark on the Wall, 9).Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
The World As I See It“Without the sense of kinship with men of like mind, without the occupation with the objective world, the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientific endeavors, life would have seemed empty to me.” (The World As I See It)
The Relativity of Time In his paper On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies (1905), Einstein analyzes the relativity of time. • "When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute - and its longer than any hour. Thats relativity." • --quote from Journal of Exothermic Science and Technology (JEST, Vol. 1, No. 9; 1938).
The Relativity of Time in To the Lighthouse “This going to the Lighthouse was a passion of his, she saw, and then, as if her husband had not said enough, with his caustic saying that it would not be fine tomorrow, this odious little man went and rubbed it in all over again”. • “Perhaps it will be fine tomorrow,” she said, smoothing his hair.” (To the Lighthouse, 16)
How did Woolf See Nature?• “The sun had not yet risen. The sea was indistinguishable from the sky, except that the sea was slightly creased as if a cloth had wrinkles in it” (The Waves, 3).• Now the sun had sunk. Sky and sea were indistinguishable. (The Waves, 134).
Was Einstein Interested in Nature? • "What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of humility” (The World As I See It). • Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
• Brown, Paul Tolliver. “Relativity, Quantum Physics, and Consciousness in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.” Journal of Modern Literature. 32.3 (2009): 39-62. Project Muse. Web. 27 April 2012.
• Westling, Louise. “Virginia Woolf and the Flash of the World.” New Literary History. 30.4 Case Studies (1999):855-875. The John Hopkins UP. Web. 15 May 2012.• Pridmore-Brown, Michele. “1939-40: Of Virginia Woolf, Gramophones, and Fascism” PMLA, 113.3 (May, 1998): 408-421. JSTORE. Web. 9 May 2012.
• Einstein, Albert. The World As I See It. An Essay By Einstein. The Centre for History of Physics. 1996-2012. American Institute of Physics. Web. 19 May 2012.• Bernstein, Jeremy. Einstein. Penguin Books. Harmondsworth, UK: Viking Press.1973. Print.• Photos by TBCL, The Book Collectors Library, also known online worldwide as: tbclrarebooks