‘Darkness and Dirt: mysticism and materiality in The Years and Between the Acts’

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Recent treatments of the role of religion in Virginia Woolf’s novels have posited a tension between religiosity and secularism, but this paper explores the conjunction of spirituality and materiality in Woolf’s work. Rather than posing a tension between mainstream religion and materiality, I argue for an unorthodox view of spirituality in which, despite their apparent contradiction, the mystical and the material are deeply interrelated.
This material mysticism is demonstrated in the sacred charge of everyday objects, mystical consciousness (one interpretation of ‘moments of being’) emerging out of mundane locations and encounters (explored here in relation to The Years and Between the Acts) and the redeployment of key tropes of the mystical tradition. In the tradition of negative theology or apophatic mysticism, darkness and silence are frequently used to describe the divine as transcendent, unknowable and absent. Yet in Woolf’s novels darkness and silence are configured as located in the mundane, the material and presence. This paper argues that the material mysticism of Woolf’s writing provides a crucial component of the religious imagination of modernism.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationVirginia Woolf and Heritage
Subtitle of host publicationSelected Papers from the 26th Annual Conference on Virginia Woolf
EditorsJane de Gay, Tom Breckin, Anne Reus
PublisherClemson University Press
Number of pages7
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-942954-43-9
ISBN (Print)1942954425, 978-1942954422
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Virginia Woolf
  • Negative theology
  • mysticism
  • materiality
  • sacred landscape
  • sacred space
  • feminist theology
  • silence


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