2012 Highlights

Laura Ludtke

1 May 2012

Laura Ludtke

Laura is a DPhil Candidate in English Literature at St Anne's College, Oxford. Originally from a small town in Alberta, Canada, she studied Latin elegy and trained as a philologist in Vancouver before making the transition to English literature. While her dissertation focuses on the literary influence of electric light on the "London writer," 1880-1950, she is currently revising a novel for publication and collaborating on a feminist manifesto for young girls.


Writing London by Night: the Landscape of Public and Private Light inVirginia Woolf's Night and Day

In her essay “Street Haunting: A London Adventure” (1930), Virginia Woolf introduces her readers to the act of “street haunting.” Though her readers would have been familiar with the nocturnal and diurnal perambulations of her characters in her early novels, Woolf’s essay solidifies the association of street haunting with one’s sensual, emotional, and intellectual experiences of the city. While the streets at night offer her the possibility of and location for escape, it is the sheer length, darkness, and cold of winter nights that makes the attraction of the transgressive quality and potentiality of artificial light more apparent. Woolf belongs to a category of writer called the "London writer," which originated eighteenth century and includes figures such as Samuel Johnson, Daniel Defoe, Alexander Pope, William Blake, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, T.S. Eliot, and George Orwell. Such writers represented the city as it was in their present day, constructing and deriving their identities from their relation to and observations of the city. Particularly in Woolf, these observations manifest in the nocturnal and diurnal perambulations of her characters and are marked by the attention she pays to light in these passages. Instances of electric light in particular cast a quality of modernity onto the city, though up until mid-century, gas, candle, and fire light were used widely and concurrently across Britain. Indeed, though we associate electric light with modernity and the modern city, what about electric light is particularly modern or urban?

In this paper, I intend to explore the influence of electric light in relation to Woolf’s construction of London as a modern city in her early novels and to examine how she dramatizes that influence in terms of gender, surveillance, and observation.