Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Committee Chair

Allen, Annette C.

Author's Keywords

Maternity; Virginia Woolf; nostalgia; Kathe Kollwitz; creativity; natality


Fertility, Human, in art; Fertility, Human, in literature; Kollwitz, Käthe, 1867-1945; Woolf, Virginia, 1882-1941


Though Virginia Woolf’s and Kathe Kollwitz's personal histories and specific cultural circumstances were quite different, their aesthetics share fundamental qualities. This dissertation demonstrates that both artists affirm memory, the maternal, and creativity as coalescent, and through doing so assert a principle of connectivity that counters the turmoil of their times. Through this constellation, Woolf’s and Kollwitz's aesthetics exude faith in the continued viability of beauty and of possibility, faith that a commitment to becoming will undermine the sources of hopelessness that enshroud the modem world. Channeling their losses into their creative endeavors, Woolf and Kollwitz appropriated crises from their pasts for moments of personal and cultural edification. They establish maternity as exemplary of the human need for mutuality and maternal desire as a search for interrelation that must be exercised imaginatively. Charting the cataclysms of modernity evident in thought, technology, and warfare, Chapter I demonstrates modernity's collective sense of homeless ness. Chapter II situates theoretically the presences Woolf and Kollwitz assert as potentializing a rediscovery of home; Svetlana Boym's reflective nostalgia and Grace Jantzen's ethic of natality prove especially instrumental here. Chapters III, IV, and V interpret Woolf’s "A Sketch of the Past" and To the Lighthouse as manifestations of Woolf’s creative memory work, of her search for her mother and her lost home. Sketching her mother as an artist, Woolf identifies Julia Stephen as the source of her daughter's creativity and suggests art as a regenerative expression of love. Chapters VI and VII transition to a consideration of Kathe Kollwitz's autobiography and diaries, and of her War series and The Mourning Parents memorial. These chapters illuminate her alignment of the sensuality of mothering with the sensuality of creation, and establish that she experienced her son's death in World War I as a death of becoming. Chapter VII in particular probes the depths of Kollwitz's grief and describes the creative process as a means through which she soothed herself. Creating art enabled her to work toward a world that does not desecrate interconnectivity, imagination, and childhood, a world worthy of her deceased son and of her own mothering.