Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Panthea Reid


The texts of Virginia Stephen Woolf are rife with references to writers' tools, which she referred to in her diary as "the thousand appliances one needs for writing even a sentence." This dissertation examines the exact nature of Woolf's "need" for the tools of her craft and their influence upon her thought and art. Pens, and by association, ink and the writer's hands, were the center of all her authorial experiences and provided the literal link between the idea of art and its fruition as a work of art. The graphic shapes of words and paralinguistic devices such as punctuation and textual arrangement were Woolf's medium of choice, her most important appliance. For her, written language was the physical manifestation of a writer's consciousness, and she habitually substituted text for writer, book for body. This word/flesh association forced her to limit her experiments with visible language to effects that did not violate the conventions of reading. After prolonged attempts to fill pages with written language and to fit a prescribed number of words into a specific space, Woolf discovered correspondences between narrative time and textual space. Collectively, Woolf's ideas about her appliances shaped her critical theories about individual literary works and the history of literature itself, habits of thought characteristic of "visual literacy," hyperawareness of the physical scene of writing and a text's materiality or madeness. Woolf's hyperawareness is best demonstrated fictionally in Orlando, her most sustained treatment of the writing process. Both Orlando and the Biographer share a measure of Woolf's visual literacy. In her critical writing, Woolf drew heavily upon the scene of writing with its "thousand appliances" and the bibliographic features of written language. In her notes and drafts for Turning the Page, the "new" history of British literature, uncompleted when Woolf died, she recorded her plans to explore the "connection between seeing and writing" and the significance of widespread printing of books, which signalled an orality-to-literacy shift. Solid word objects at once made language more durable and writers more vulnerable under the public's eye.