Reading the Other, Editing the Self: Mentoring in Woolf and Welty

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In April and May of 2008, there was a fascinating discussion on the Virginia Woolf list-serve regarding the complicated effects of Woolf's lines. "There she was" and "There she sat." Like the many Woolfians who responded, I've been beguilded by these epiphanic bombs or blossoms of three words that serve central structural and thematic functions in Woolf's fiction. Their appearances have a basic structure: through free in-direct discourse, a narrator conveys the point of view of a character who is engaged in reading the signs of another character, editing, interpreting, and projecting those signs in a series of readings that re-imagine the other. This process culminates in a suspended moment when the character, transfixed, paradoxically finally "sees" the other. It is in this moment that the narrator, through the character's vision, conveys the duality of the reading process—these statements of three words ("There she was" or "There she sat") point simultaneously to a fixing of meaning or pinning of personality and the impossibility of intimately knowing the other or of formulating the self neatly sprawling on a pin. And it is this tension—between the lure of knowing and capturing the other and the endless play that the indeterimancy of the self and the signifier entails—that Woolf captures in her three words, words that in turn transfix us, her readers.

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