Virginia Woolf and Zora Neale Hurston: Female voice and the dynamics of female communal expression

Sydney Gail Recht, Fordham University


This dissertation explores the nature of communal voice in the work of Zora Neale Hurston and Virginia Woolf. These two writers—whose cultural, political, economic and racial realities were quite divergent—have rarely been linked in literary study; yet, in examining their work, I have found that their creative responses to seemingly antithetical personal circumstances were analogous. While the white, British Woolf was born into economic and social privilege, Hurston, as an African American female, was twice removed from any exercise of social power. Woolf's joint ownership of Hogarth Press enabled her to publish as she wished with unimpeded access to a readership; Hurston, by contrast, had access to an audience only through her white patron, Mrs. Osgood Mason. Despite their dissimilar situations, Zora Neale Hurston and Virginia Woolf developed approaches to narrative and character that bear striking similarities. Chapter One examines both authors' early efforts at multivocal narrative and collective speech. Focusing on Hurston's 1926 short story “Sweat” and her first novel, Jonah's Gourd Vine (1934), and Woolf's novels Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927), I look at the foundations of communal vision that can be found in these early works. Chapter Two examines issues of communal voice in Hurston's masterpiece, Their Eyes Were Watching God. In this novel Hurston traverses between embracing community and rejecting its circumscriptions. While she illuminates drawbacks of traditional community, the novel expresses a search for an alternative community. Chapter Three explores communal voice in The Waves (1931), The Years (1937) and Between the Acts (1941). A paradox defines these late works. While Woolf creates a multivocal narrative, her message often questions the possibility of community. Chapter Four compares Hurston's and Woolf's collaborations, including Hurston's collaboration with Langston Hughes on Mule Bone and her work with anthropologist Franz Boas. Woolf's collaborative endeavors include her biography of her friend Roger Fry, her creative relationship with her husband, Leonard Woolf, and her fruitful collaborations with her sister Vanessa.

Subject Area

Comparative literature|British and Irish literature|American literature

Recommended Citation

Recht, Sydney Gail, "Virginia Woolf and Zora Neale Hurston: Female voice and the dynamics of female communal expression" (1998). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9919989.