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Global Resonances of Modernism and Feminism in Virginia Woolf and Shen Congwen

This essay breaks new ground by investigating British modernism’s impact on the Chinese modernist author Shen Congwen’s composition of “Xiaoxiao” and, reciprocally, China’s impact on Virginia Woolf’s composition of To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway. It demonstrates the various ways through which Woolf came to know China and Shen came to know British modernism. I argue that Woolf’s knowledge of China contributed to her portrayal of Lily Briscoe not only as the other of the British patriarchal society, but as one reminiscent of the ‘othered’ Chinese subjects under England’s semi-colonial rule. Reciprocally, Shen’s affiliation with the Chinese Crescent Moon Group helped shape his portrayal of Xiaoxiao, the female protagonist in “Xiaoxiao”, as an emerging modern woman, who not only dreams of independence and freedom, but takes actions to achieve them. In their common challenges against their respective patriarchal society, Lily and Xiaoxiao become emblems of modern subjectivity simultaneously embracing and transcending their historical and cultural locations. The international context I propose in this essay finally illuminates the important conflation of global modernism and feminism in both authors’ works.

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