This article explores affinities between the methods used for sensory self-observation in the Diaries of Virginia Woolf from 1915 to 1930 and in ‘A Human Experiment in Nerve Division’ by W. H. R. Rivers and Henry Head (Brain, 1908) in which Head had nerves in his arm severed and then he and Rivers charted the return of sensation in his hand. The focus is on the ways in which both Woolf and Head sought to discard their intellectual, conscious and cognitive faculties when observing their own sensations whilst simultaneously remaining psychologically self-aware. I focus on sensory self-observation during illness in Woolf's case, and after an intentionally produced neurological lesion in Head's. I argue that the similarities in the methods and theories of sensory self-observation put forward by Woolf and Head posit both Woolf's Diaries and Head's experiment, along with the particular methods of sensory self-observation which they describe and depict, as crucial aspects of the discourses of attention and sensation which were central for early-twentieth-century modernism and modernity. Sidestepping the existing focus on the biographical and medical connections between Woolf and her one-time doctor Head, this article instead analyses the textual resonances between the pair and uses them to demonstrate the intellectual affinities that existed between literary and neurological texts in the early twentieth century.
- History of Medicine