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"The tune began; the first note meant a second; the second a third. Then down beneath a force was born in opposition; then another. On different levels they diverged. On different levels ourselves went forward; flower gathering some on the surface; others descending to wrestle with the meaning; but all comprehending; all enlisted." (Between the Acts 220)

This epigraph provides an adroit map for reading Virginia Woolf’s lyric narrative experiments, particularly her short story "Moments of Being: Slater’s Pins Have No Points." It captures Woolf's fondness for a fugue's exposition: one note's call prompts the answer of an other. It expresses Woolf's interplay of form and content. Here, as throughout her work, Woolf evokes metaphors of surface ("flower gathering") and depth ("descending to wrestle with the meaning") in order to give them a twist, privileging their productive tension rather than opposition. Woolf's tune is the synthesis of these various rhetorical levels and the complex harmonies of multiple auditors. Moreover, her auditors are not mere passive receivers of the tune, but active participants who create the tune in their listening: "ourselves went forward [. . .] all comprehending; all enlisted" (220). That this line from her last novel strikingly reflects the form and themes of many of Woolf ’s works, particularly her short fiction, To the Lighthouse, and The Waves, attests to the centrality of lyric narrative—and the exemplary model of the fugue—in Woolf's oeuvre, from 1919 to 1941.1 As Patricia Laurence has noted, the rhythm of the fugue as "an aspect of feeling and form" has been "largely unexplored in Woolf's work" (239). Woolf's rhythm, according to Laurence, is an "undertow in language and might be defined as being composed of auditory, visual, or thematic counterpoint with different dimensions of mind and the novel being played off against one another in varying combinations" (240). This "undertow," an alternate or counterposing progression to a conventional narrative progression, might also be defined as the lyric departures of her narrative experiments.

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This document was originally published Studies in Short Fiction: An Independent Scholarly Quarterly. Copyright restrictions may apply.