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Durham University

Department of English Studies


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Publication details for Dr John Nash

Nash, John. (2013). Exhibiting the Example: Virginia Woolf's Shoes. Twentieth Century Literature: a scholarly and critical journal 59(2): 283-308.

Author(s) from Durham


It would appear that Virginia Woolf had a thing about footwear. Shoes, slippers and boots, "old," "shabby," or lost, recur in her fiction and also make pointed appearances in her non-fiction. In To the Lighthouse (1927), a "pair of shoes" has been "shed and left" in the deserted holiday home of the Ramsays, still keeping "the human shape" which indicates "how once they were filled and animated" (194). In the late novel The Waves (1931), we find "the boot without laces stuck, black as iron, in the sand" (148). In the posthumously-published Between the Acts (1941), after Giles Oliver crushes a choking snake, "the white canvas on his tennis shoes was bloodstained and sticky. But it was action. Action relieved him. He strode to the Barn, with blood on his shoes" (119). These images of unexplained loss and violent death bring out two of the more obvious associations shoes carry in Woolf 's writing. In this essay, I explore less what shoes stand for than how they stand; that is to say, my emphasis will not be on the interpretation of shoes as objects that carry the burden of something else (violence, loss, etc.) but on the ways in which shoes step forth in order to foreground the practice of exemplification itself. My focus is on Night and Day, Jacob's Room and the essays and reviews of literary tourism (or literary geography, as she also called it).

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