Vibrant colors, transient shadows : woman artists and the brushstrokes of impressionist sensibility in Kate Chopin's The Awakening and Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/z029p854t

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  • This thesis explores the artistic imperatives and internal struggles of women painters in two novels, Kate Chopin's The Awakening (1899) and Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse (1927). I identify Chopin's Edna Pontellier and Woolf’s Lily Briscoe as painters who exhibit Impressionist strains, both in how they paint and how they see their surroundings. Their paintings are driven by mood; their Impressionist sensibilities influence their compositional processes. Yet, they are caught within representational dichotomies. Edna approaches her canvas with Realist goals, but her sensory perception and mood lead to her creation of unrealistic likenesses: impressions. Similarly, Lily is caught within competing styles of representation. But rather than moving between Realism and Impressionism, Lily moves between her Bloomsbury Post-Impressionist painterly tendencies and her Impressionist strains. Reading these texts through an Impressionist lens--and giving heed to the representational dichotomies that Edna and Lily are caught within--provides the foundation for my reinterpretations of the ends of both novels: Edna’s suicide and Lily's completion of her painting more than ten years after she starts it. In Chapter One, I argue that Edna's Impressionist sensibilities influence her moods, perceptions, and sensations, causing her to render Impressionistic sketches when she creates, rather than the paintings of verisimilitude that she strives to capture as she paints by model and photograph. In my reading of the close of the novel, I claim that Edna’s suicide represents a moment of artistic success, the only moment of artistic transcendence in The Awakening. In Chapter Two, I offer a new reading of Lily Briscoe. Typically understood as a Post-Impressionist artist, I find that her Cubist strains are in competition with Impressionist strains within the novel. In a reinterpretation of the ending of the novel, I find that Lily forges a balance between these competing styles, melding a harmony between Cubism and Impressionism in her final painting.
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