Conrad Aiken, “The Novel as Work of Art.” The Dial, July 1927, pp.41-44.



AMONG contemporary writers of fiction, Mrs Woolf is a curious 
and anomalous figure. In some respects, she is as “modern,” 
as radical, as Mr Joyce or Miss Richardson or M Jules Romains; 
she is a highly self-conscious examiner of consciousness, a bold 
and original experimenter with the technique of novel-writing; but 
she is also, and just as strikingly, in other respects “old-fashioned.” 
This anomaly does not defy analysis. The aroma of “old-
fashionedness” that rises from these highly original and modern 
novels—from the pages of Jacob’s Room, Mrs Dalloway, and now 
again from those of To the Lighthouse—is a quality of attitude; 
a quality, to use a word which is itself nowadays old-
fashioned, but none the less fragrant, of spirit. For in this regard, 
Mrs Woolf is no more modern than Jane Austen: she breathes the 
same air of gentility, of sequestration, of tradition; of life and 
people and things all brought, by the slow polish of centuries of 
tradition and use, to a pervasive refinement in which discrimination, 
on every conceivable plane, has become as instinctive and easy 
as the beat of a wing. Her people are “gentle” people; her houses 
are the houses of gentlefolk; and the consciousness that informs 
both is a consciousness of well-being and culture, of the richness 
and lustre and dignity of tradition; a disciplined consciousness, in 
which emotions and feelings find their appropriate attitudes as 
easily and naturally—as habitually, one is tempted to say—as a 
skilled writer finds words.

It is this tightly circumscribed choice of scene—to use “scene” in 
a social sense—that gives to Mrs Woolf’s novels, despite her 
modernity of technique and insight, their odd and delicious air of 
parochialism, as of some small village-world, as bright and vivid 
and perfect in its tininess as a miniature: a small complete world 
which time has somehow missed. Going into these houses, one 

NOTE: To the Lighthouse. By Virginia Woolf. 12mo. 310 pages.
Harcourt, Brace and Company. $2.50.