New Non-Human Pathways: PhD Student Spotlight

In this post we introduce you to Ollie Case, a PhD candidate who will be joining the Department of English, Media and Culture in October. Ollie‘s project concerns the non-human in the work of Virginia Woolf. Here he tells us a little about his journey to a PhD at Worcester and how his interest in Woolf’s work developed.

In the third year of my undergraduate degree at Royal Holloway college of London I chose to study two ‘Special Author Projects’, each comprehensively studying one author’s body of work, rather than writing a dissertation. I picked Thomas Hardy and Virginia Woolf for these two projects on the basis that I had enjoyed Far from the Madding Crowd and that I was also interested in Modernist women’s writing. I quickly learned the value of reading an author’s oeuvre from start to finish and found that my greatest interest lay in Woolf. I wrote a paper on her innovative examinations of the nonhuman in several of her novels. My fascination with Woolf increased while studying for my master’s degree at Goldsmiths college of London. Here I studied a range of movements in modern literary history but found I was drawn back to Woolf time and again. Her examinations of the human psyche, our relationship to others and to the other-than-human are uniquely compelling and provocative. I wrote my thesis on three of her novels, exploring ideas of ‘intersubjectivity’ and multifaceted consciousness, and became inspired to pursue Woolf studies to doctoral level.

In the years that followed, the ideas I had formulated during both degrees began to crystallise and formed the foundations of my doctoral project. The field of environmental humanities is fast growing and has already resulted in fascinating new understandings of the role of literature on the world stage, the position of the human within the natural world, and the future of human identities. Woolf’s writing can and should play an important role in this new movement of literary criticism as an author whose works present understandings of consciousness and identity, human and nonhuman, which are so radically different and have left such an influential mark on the landscape of literature.

While exploring the ideas of recent critics in this area, I found there has been little if any study of Woolf’s approach to the nonhuman in relation to her manipulation of form and narrative style. In her later novels Woolf experiments drastically with different ways of communicating a radical vision of the natural world and the position of the human within it, pushing, stretching, and manipulating language and form to communicate that which evades human understanding because it exists beyond our reach. In reading Woolf from these perspectives, exciting new pathways appear. Looking to twenty-first century theories of posthumanism or earlier formulations of assemblage theory, for example, I found that there are vistas of new insight to be found in studying Woolf from an eco-critical point of view and that in doing so I might also be able to increase the scope and influence of the environmental humanities in literary studies.

During and after the completion of my doctoral studies I hope to continue research, disseminate my work as widely as possible, teach others and share my passion for Woolf studies with as many interested people as I can.