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Virginia Woolf and the Materiality of Theory

Sex, Animal, Life

Derek Ryan

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Explores Woolf’s writing alongside Deleuze’s philosophy and new materialist theories of ‘sex’, ‘animal’, and ‘life’

How does Virginia Woolf conceptualise the material world? In what ways has Woolf’s modernism affected understandings of materiality, and what new perspectives does she offer contemporary theoretical debates? Derek Ryan demonstrates how materiality is theorised in Woolf’s writings by focusing on the connections she makes between culture and nature, embodiment and environment, human and nonhuman, life and matter. Through close readings of texts including To the Lighthouse, Orlando, A Room of One’s Own, The Waves, Flush, and ‘Sketch of the Past’, he details the fresh insights Woolf provides into issues concerning the natural world, sexual difference, sexuality, animality, and life itself.

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Introduction. Virginia Woolf and the Materiality of Theory
1. Materials for Theory: Digging Granite and Chasing Rainbows
2. Sexual Difference in Becoming: A Room of One’s Own and To the Lighthouse
3. Queering Orlando and Non/Human Desire
4. The Question of the Animal in Flush: A Biography
5. Quantum Philosophy-Physics and Posthuman Life: The Waves
Afterword. Contemporary Interceptions

About the Author

Derek Ryan is Lecturer in Modernist Literature at the University of Kent.


Derek Ryan revitalizes theoretical approaches to reading modernist literature [and] contributes rich and timely readings… Virginia Woolf and the Materiality of Theory demonstrates an impressive command of contemporary theories of materiality as well as an intimate knowledge of Woolf’s novels and essays… a welcome interruption of critical trends that would dispense with theory.

- Annie Dwyer, University of Washington, Woolf Studies Annual, Volume 20, 2014

Virginia Woolf and the Materiality of Theory is a brilliant romp through the venues of contemporary philosophical approaches to literature… It is clear that Derek Ryan is a harbinger of a new wave in Woolf studies, attentive to past scholarship but dedicated to the proposition that the union of Woolf’s own theorizing with a whole new range of philosophical approaches will produce a more nuanced and refined appreciation of life as we know it.

- Elisa K. Sparks, Clemson University, South Carolina Review 47,1, 2014

Ryan offers a series of nuanced, sensitive readings (attentive even down to the level of punctuation) of materialities and animalities in Woolf’s writing [and] provides a fresh, vigorous reading-together of Woolf and theory that is deeply rewarding for the Woolf scholar, and to the wider community of scholars in literary studies and beyond.

- Lauren Elkin, Modernism/modernity 21,3

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