‘The active and the contemplative’: Charles Mauron, Virginia Woolf, and Roger Fry

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If the French scientist and aesthetician, Charles Mauron (1899-1966) has received critical attention in Woolf studies it is largely for his role as a translator of Bloomsbury writers and for his theory of ‘psychological volumes’ (The Nature of Beauty in Art and Literature, 1927). However, Mauron and Woolf met and corresponded on numerous occasions during the 1930s and their relationship strengthened while she was writing Roger Fry’s biography. My point of departure in this essay is the nexus between Woolf, Fry, and Mauron. At the centre of my discussion is Mauron’s second book of essays, Aesthetics and Psychology, which was published by the Hogarth Press in 1935. I suggest that Mauron presents a theory of aesthetic attention and experience, which invites reading alongside Woolf’s art and life-writing of the 1930s. I consider Mauron’s revision of Fry’s apparent separation of ‘art’ and ‘life’ and his notion of a dialectic between ‘two attitudes of mind’, the ‘active and contemplative’, in relation to Woolf’s ‘philosophy’ of ‘non-being’ and ‘being’. In conclusion, I propose Woolf’s anticipation of Mauron’s theory of inactive contemplation in To the Lighthouse.

Nicola Wilson and Claire Battershill
Is Part Of
Virginia Woolf and the World of Books: Selected Papers from the Twenty-Seventh Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf