Wavescapes in the Anthropocene

Virginia Woolf’s Fish: Animal Lives between Aesthetics and Ethics

Monika Bregović

Research Article
Accepted: Oct 22, 2019


Aquatic creatures such as pikes, salmon and whales feature prominently in the poetry, fiction and painting of the Modernist period. It should therefore come as no surprise that water-dwelling animals, and fish especially, were fascinating to Virginia Woolf too. Woolf’s interest in fish (among other animals) can be accounted for by the profound changes in human-animal relations that mark the period of Modernism, and which were brought about by the unyielding influence of taxonomy and Darwin’s theory of evolution, but also new developments in ethology and ecology that appeared in early 20th century. This article addresses the significance of fish as both zoometaphor and individual subject in the fiction and non-fiction of Virginia Woolf. First, I comment on the significance of fishes in connection to Modernist ideas on beauty. Then, I analyze fishing allegories and fish-related motifs in the context of Woolf’s own (feminist) poetics. In the last part of the article I analyze the posthuman potential of animal consciousness that could be regarded as superior to the human one.

Virginia Woolf, fish, natural sciences, posthumanism, écriture féminine