An Urban Romance: London and the Marriage Plot in Virginia Woolf's 'Night and Day'

Agnieszka Serdynska


Night and Dayis something of an uneasy presence among Virginia Woolfs works. Considered by some to be a disappointingly conservative courtship narrative an Edwardian take on Jane Austen the novel nevertheless anticipates Woolfs so-called mature modernist texts on account of the crucial role it assigns to London. Jean Moorcroft Wilson argues that fromJacobs Roomonwards, it is the city in lieu of the contrived novelistic plot that provides Woolfs novels with shape and unity. The same is true ofNight and Day, where the key developments of the romance plot occur within the urban space; indeed, the budding relationship between Katherine Hilbery and Ralph Denham is facilitated by the city. This, additionally, creates a link between spaces/places and emotions, which Andrew Tucker sees as essentially modernist. Yet while the way London figures into the narrative may pushNight and Daytowards literary experimentation, the conclusion it brings about appears to be staunchly Victorian: a marriage ceremony in Westminster Cathedral. Is it possible to resolve this tension? The key question, it seems, is what sort of a relationship Katherine and Ralph have forged by the end of the novel: is it a partnership that will give Katharine the freedom she longs for, or a rehearsal of old, hierarchical models in which the woman is reduced to a prized possession? The novel, once more, pulls in two contradictory directions, substantiating both interpretations, and the unresolved ending makes them both equally plausible. By readingNight and Dayas perched precariously between Victorianism and Modernism, the following discussion seeks to expose the novels inherent ambivalence perhaps the most Woolfian quality of all.


London; romance plot; Victorianism; Modernism; ambiguity

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