Sunday, December 5, 2010

Between the Acts

Many different ideas emerge in Between the Acts. It was suggested in class that this work is more relaxed than much of her work. Woolf seems to be moving away from the idea of “I” to more of a collective “we.” This makes her more relatable because the reader feels included rather than preached to. This novel becomes less about pushing her own opinions on others and more about how the common reader thinks and feels. This different approach ties into the theme of many individuals coming together as a community and acting as a single unit. It seems that Woolf is comparing the mind of the individual to the mind of the group. The individual perceives the world as it applies to only her/him whereas the group perceives how something as it affects everyone. There is more freedom in acting as a group. Where an individual may be less inclined to push an issue because only they find it relevant, and group has no such obstacle. A group is full of others who believe the same thing and so the group feels more empowered to do something about it.

Something I found completely ironic is Woolf’s question in the novel of “Did the plot matter?” She goes on to suggest that the plot does not really matter because emotion can be created within the reader without one. However, to me at least, this novel is one of the closest to having a plot that we have read this semester. Is it the conflicts within the novel (ie: Isa’s marriage to Giles) that makes the novel so much more plot-like? It fuels and carries the story forward and adds something to be worked out or worked on throughout the course of the novel.

Critical Article, Liesl M. Olson

One point Olson makes is that “Woolf's finest writing calls attention to ordinary experiences in a world full of ordinary things. “ I wonder if this fascination with making the ordinary extraordinary is a productive of Woolf’s illness. Mrs. Dalloway is a very intense and consuming novel yet nothing stereotypically spectacular happens in it-it is just the thoughts of ordinary people in their ordinary lives, which Woolf herself mentions in “Modern Fiction” when she speaks of observing “an ordinary mind on an ordinary day.”

Another idea Olson brings up is that “If Mrs. Dalloway explores how people respond to change- the shift from war to peace, the pressures within the class system, and the realizations wrought by a family's growing older - then we might understand Woolf's focus on ordinary events as showing how her characters normalize these changes. “ This is a really interesting take on why Woolf focuses so much on the ordinary. A pattern I have noticed time and again when people go through a tragedy of some sort is that they focus all their energy on everyday tasks and somehow this enables them to better deal with their tragedy.

Olson uses Mrs. Dalloway as an example of Woolf’s focus on the ordinary “as a source of knowledge about another person.” This suggests that if you can be exposed to a person’s thoughts about an ordinary day in his or her life then you can know much about that person’s character. Olson refers to the ordinary as a “powerful force” here and reinstates its ability to prevail over the traumatic.

Olson speaks of “Woolf’s distinction between moments of being and non-being.” She suggests that this shows Woolf’s view that the modern novel should not be made up entirely of “heightened moments of self-consciousness” but also of the ordinary and everyday occurrences of life. Basically, she believes that novels should not be completely based on once-in-a-lifetime occurrences but also look at how the character acts in everyday life in order to be well-rounded and complete. This view shows a character as they are when not facing disaster or strange happenings.

Olson uses the example of Septimus to explain the importance of the ordinary. She suggests that he is best revealed when doing ordinary and habitual things; that “unselfconscious routines reveal who these people are.” She explains that this is seen in Clarissa as well. She cannot recall what Peter Walsh is currently doing but she reflects back onto things about him that are constant and unchanging. She remembers by his ordinary habits than by the exact things he has done or is doing.

Olson speaks also on Woolf’s ideas in her essay about Jane Austen. Woolf approves of Austen’s ability to make the ordinary things of life so revealing of her characters. She believes that it can cause a character’s own “self-revelation.”

Olson, Liesl M. “Virginia Woolf's ‘Cotton Wool of Daily Life’.” Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 26 2003. 42 -65.

Critical Article, Susan M. and Edwin J. Jr. Kenney

The Kenney’s have a different way of describing Woolf’s illness in relation to her works. They find that “By thinking of Virginia Woolf and her fiction as manic-depressive, "mad," or even just plain "out of control," many biographers and critics thus deny her the element of control over her life that we find so evident in her diaries, letters, memoirs, and manuscripts, and also in other people's recollections of her.” I think that this view can be applied to Mrs. Dalloway-Septimus has often been described as Clarrisa’s insane side yet Clarrisa herself manages to keep her own bit of madness under control and directs it into other things like her parties. We see this when Clarrisa is mulling over Septimus’ suicide, she has enough “madness” to find the idea of suicide pleasant and understandable yet she has enough control to not act on those impulses but rather continue to persevere.

The Kenneys suggest that Woolf embraced her illness and did not want rid of it, that “she was also unwilling to give up the compensations that what she called her mystical illnesses provided her, ranging from a chance to lie down and rest to a plunge into the unconscious to find fresh material for fiction; and therefore she was bound, if not determined, to keep the "illness." This causes me to wonder how different Woolf’s writing would have been without her illness, or if she would have written at all. Would she have been capable of calling the same intrigue into mundane things with her illness? Or would she have not attempted to write about the ordinary at all?

In the article, the Kenneys talk about Woolf’s husband, Leonard, and his role in helping her cope. They describe the times when Leonard had to make the choice to either encourage or dissuade Virginia from writing in order to prevent a breakdown. However, they suggest that this was not all Leonard’s doing but that Woolf also exercised much control over this aspect of her illness – that she understood when writing would either help or hinder her ability to neutralize her episodes. The Kenneys push even further down this train of thought; they ask questions that go deeper into why this worked and what this therapy shows.

They Kenneys discuss how Virginia related the completion and reception of her books to her childhood thus explaining why she reacted so strongly towards the finishing of a work. They suggest that she was somehow acting not really towards her works but rather towards events in her past that the works forced her to relive. One instance of this is the death of Virginia’s mother. Virginia always felt guilty for not acting appropriately grief-stricken at that time and has attempted to atone for that ever since by replaying it in her mind and trying again.

Virginia’s breakdowns are seen in this article as temporary vacations of a sort from reality when her emotions were just too much for her to deal with. It is also suggested that Virginia used her writing as a way to deal with these emotions as well; that she worked out how she felt about the past on paper in order to make such feelings easier to approach and deal with.

Kenney, Susan M. and Kenney, Jr., Edwin J. “Virginia Woolf and the Art of Madness.” The Massachusetts Review, Vol. 23 1982. 161 -185.

Critical Article, Thomas C. Caramagno

Caramagno opens with this quote from one of Woolf’s letters: “As an experience, madness is terrific I can assure you, and not to be sniffed at; and in its lava I still find most of the things I write about. It shoots out of one everything shaped, final, not in mere driblets, as sanity does. And the six months-not three-that I lay in bed taught me a good deal about what is called oneself.” (Virginia Woolf, Letters 4: 180). I feel that this quote sums up so much about Woolf as a writer and explains many of the whys in Mrs. Dalloway. Caramagno more or less uses this quote as proof of what he believes of Woolf, that her illness allowed her to write in a way that was so drastically different from others.

An interesting common view that Caramagno brings up is that “Woolf became an artist because she was a neurotic, that she filled her books with references to death and strange desires for a depersonalized union with the cosmos because she was afraid to live fully outside fiction.” The first part of this statement I fully agree with; however, I am not certain I completely agree that she did not live fully. Yes, she placed limits on herself to some degree but I think that she lived as fully as possible with her illness and those things that she could not do within her real life-she lived out in her fiction. She does what she thinks is best not only for herself but for her family.

Caramagno suggests in his article that Woolf was describing the sane and insane versions of herself in Mrs. Dalloway via Clarrisa and Septimus-that she was aware of her manic-depressive state and used the novel to portray the ups and downs of her mindset. He believes that Woolf was searching for a connection between her sane and insane sides (aka Clarrisa and Septimus) via her writing. That she was attempting to make the two parts of herself come together somehow.

Caramagno speaks to the nature of Woolf’s manic episodes. He explains that when people experience this mania “They re-create the world and replace it with inflated visions of themselves.” This would explain why so many of Woolf’s works had to do with either herself, people she knew, or a combination of the two. It seems to me that she used this mania to her advantage and portrayed the lives of others in the way that she perceived them. Caramagno explains that Woolf’s manic episodes differed in their severity. That when she was only mildly manic she was able to direct that extra energy into her works; only when she was severely manic did she become “mad.”

Caramagno says that the depressed spend a lot of time looking back over their entire lives searching for the moment that caused them to be depressed. Perhaps this would also explain Woolf’s reasons for writing so much about her own life and childhood; maybe she was using her writing to explore her past and find that moment that Caramagno speaks of. He believes this moment to have been when Woolf suddenly loses her mother because her first breakdown occurred not much longer after that.

Caramagno, Thomas C. “Manic-Depressive Psychosis and Critical Approaches to Virginia Woolf's Life and Work.” PMLA. Vol. 103, 1988. 10 -23.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Critical Article, Susan Dick

In the section on Between the Acts in her article “A Re-created World: The Years and Between the Acts,” Susan Dick comments on the unique structure of the novel. Her main focus was how Woolf uses techniques of both a play and a novel in order to build her characters. This enables each character to have two identities: the role he or she takes on in the play and the role of his or her true self within the novel. This allows Woolf to use not only play-like devices such as monologues but narrative comments to present her characters and further her story.

Dick finds that the narrator is the most complex role within “this rich medley of interwoven stories.” This narrator uses techniques from several of Woolf’s other novels in order to better tell the story. One such technique being the “intrusive narrator” from Jacob’s Room that speaks of the characters past and of their natures in order to comment on what they do. The other technique refers to when Woolf’s narrator acts from within the characters consciousnesses to get their point of view like in Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and The Years.

Dick notes that like in Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf does not use the chapter within this novel. Rather, she uses the narrator to cause these breaks in the novel through tone and perception. She also employs the jumps between the play and the novel story frame to assist in such breaks. This is seen in the way that the pageant continually interrupts the stories of the ‘true’ characters in the story.

The consistent silence and emptiness surrounding Miss La Trobe during the novel is another issue that Dick brings up. These moments are brought about especially during the waiting between the scenes or before the play begins. Miss La Trobe feels as though all her influence and her chances at glory are shattered and done with when at one point the stage is fairly empty. She flies into a panic of sorts and seems to unravel before the reader’s eyes. Dick views such moments at risks of “exposure to reality” that the audience is rescued from by weather or cattle.

Dick goes on to explain that the various exchanges within the novel between chaos and creation, harmony and disruption as well as between things that act more to complement each other like silence and sound, emptiness and fullness act to create the rhythm than runs throughout the entire work. She then goes on to compare this revelation to several of Woolf’s other novels. Dick believes that this focus on the “degeneration and discord” gives the novel an impression of predicting disaster and destruction. She explains that Woolf is using this to present a community close to destruction and then having the audience comment on it with things such as needing a center and something to unite them. Dick points out that there is the possibility presented at the end of the novel of a re-created world coming to take the place of the one that is falling apart.

Dick, Susan. “A Re-created World: The Years and Between the Acts.” Virginia Woolf. Edward Arnold, 1989. 70 -81.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thoughts in and around "Craftsmanship"

Words are stoic, inanimate objects - they are written down on a sheet of paper where they stay and do exactly as the author intended from the very beginning. Not hardly. Once written down and let loose into the world on their own, words can mold and shape into different forms and meanings. They can never keep the story straight – to one person they can be damning and to another redeeming. But how? How can words just up and decide to mean something different than the author meant? The author created them in a certain line of thought so surely they have to stay that way...

Woolf’s “Craftsmanship” reminds me of “The Death of the Author” by Roland Barthes in a more sarcastic tone. In his essay, Barthes states that “the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author.” I believe that this is exactly what Woolf is saying in this essay – that when an author releases his or her writings upon readers, they no longer have a say in what those writings mean. It doesn’t matter if they meant to say one thing and the reader believes another – they let the writings go and now they speak for themselves.

Each individual possesses their own unique set of experiences that shape how they view the world. Why should reading be any different? For some, the feelings and emotions brought about by the word “marriage” are bitter and heartbreaking while for others it can elicit wonderful memories and undying love. This example does not even come close to describing all of the various feelings that this one word has the power to draw out of people- imagine how many different feelings can be generated by an entire paragraph full of words! It would be impossible to string together a bunch of words that would mean the exact same thing to every imaginable reader.

With this in mind, it is not hard to understand how words can seem to take on a life of their own. Woolf talks of how phrases even as short as the ones on small signs can transform into something complete different; like a sign warning against leaning out of windows can actually encourage a reader to lean out of the window. Perhaps the idea of leaning out of a window would never have crosses the reader’s mind had there been no sign. However, once the sign spoke against leaning out of windows, the idea was in the reader’s head. It bounced around inside her consciousness until the words jumbled and realigned in a whole new way. Now she wants nothing more than to lean out the window and experience this adventure that the sign is trying to prevent her from having.

Words cannot be controlled, that much is clear, but why should they be? Why should they have the exact same message for every person? They shouldn’t. English would be a very boring subject if that were the case. That is the beauty of novels or any other form of writing. A reader can pick a work up, read it, and get a message – some time later that same person may revisit that work and get a totally different meaning out of it. Words linking together in such a fashion that they can reveal different ideas depending on the frame of mind the reader is currently in. This is why teachers and professors have been assigning the same books to students every few years – to make them understand that what was once true may no longer be true, that a person’s view of people and the world will not always be the same, and that a book can be read and enjoyed more than once.

The Waves: A Glance at Louis

When we first meet Louis, he is doing his best to be invisible. He appreciates the solitude that nature gives him and embraces everything about it – so much so that he envisions himself as a literal tree. When the others call for him, Louis remains as still as possible and attempts to blend into his surrounds using his mind and will power. However, when Jinny runs up and kisses him “All is shattered.”

Louis is uncomfortable with humans. He is perfectly relaxed and content while spending his time outside. His mind wanders from one thought to another, just pleasantly drifting along until his beautiful world is shattered by the intrusion of a human. In this scene, Louis is not identifying himself as a person but rather as a plant. He refers to all he does and feels in a natural way – at least until Jinny shows up. When she kisses him, he is yanked back into the reality of people that he fears by so humane an action. Louis is uncomfortable with other people because he fears their opinions of him. He is insecure about details even as small as his Australian accent. For some reason, he fears that it is a negative aspect about himself and wants to escape it.

Woolf’s use of consciousness in this novel allows the reader to see exactly what is on a character’s mind. Louis’ mind keeps returning to things like his accent and his father being a banker – these are what he obsesses over. By the end of the novel, the reader can see that Louis is thinking about his own self-importance. He sits around thinking of the fact that his signature is required on various papers. Louis focuses on things like status and business – he has become completely materialistic, a far cry from the child who once wanted to be a tree.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Room of One's Own

What do women need in life to be successful and happy? According to Woolf, money and a room of one’s own are vital to this goal. Chances are that on your own you would have come up with money but would you have ever considered a room of your own? I didn’t, at least not before reading this book. How would I function without a room of my own? I couldn’t. My room is where I go to have a place to think, study, write; it’s where I have me time. I am able to escape everyone and everything else even if only for a little while. It helps me keep my sanity and enables me to be creative. Having a room of your own also gives you a sense of pride. That place is yours to do with as you please – no one else has any say in what goes on in there; you hold all the power.

Having your own space is liberating, Woolf certainly thought so. She took this idea so far that not only did she have her own little study to work in; it wasn’t even accessible through the rest of the house. You had to make an effort to leave the main house to get to her room. It was her domain in which she could act however she pleased. I love this idea. I am now a firm believer that everyone, not just women, needs this sort of space. Somewhere to go and think or just spend time alone doing what you love. It doesn’t have to be an actual room. It could be a track somewhere that you like to run, a tree you enjoy reading in, a garden to tend; anything that makes you happy and gives you a break from the rest of the world.

Thoughts on "On Being Ill"

When I’m sick, I prefer to curl into a ball under the covers and stay there until I feel better, which is probably why I am not a famous author. Woolf never ceases to write even when she is stuck in bed. She experiments with this idea of using illness as a new genre of writing; she uses it to express how she perceives the world while she is sick. She seems to be in an alternate state of intenseness; almost as if she is intense on an unconscious level. Her mind seems to be functioning on a different wavelength. What she says is valid but tends to ramble. But is that not what we do when we are sick? When loved ones visit us on our sick beds we talk to them for as long as they will hear us out. Perhaps it is because we are so deprived of human contact that we want to blurt everything out while we have someone sitting there or perhaps our minds really do function differently while we are ill.

Woolf allows her mind to wander where ever it wishes while she is writing this piece. She jumps from one subject to the next yet somehow it all connects. It almost seems as though she simply let her thoughts go and then tried to keep up with them on paper. This makes me wonder whether or not she succeeded in getting it all down or how much she had to leave out to get the bigger ideas down. I wonder how much she altered/edited this work from its original state before publishing it. Would she want it to remain in its original state to truly reflect the mind set of one who is ill or would she want to clean it up a bit before allowing others to read it?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Orlando: The Great Love Letter

In class, we spoke about the spirit of exaggeration. I find this entire novel to embody this spirit, nearly the entire story seems to be a hyperbole of sorts. One prime example of this is the index in the back. This addition cracks me up to no end. Obviously it is completely unnecessary but it adds to the exaggeration of our main character, Orlando. Every other entry is one line, two at most including numbers, except for Orlando’s. The Orlando entry extends for thirty-three lines. This entry includes random entries about her; her with certain people, being “confused with her cousin,” everything. It is excessive and over the top just like everything else about this novel. How can one person be so attractive to so many different people? But perhaps she only had to be this attractive to one… our narrator.

This novel has been described by several different reviews that I have read to be a love letter. I support this completely. Love letters are exaggerated and “fluffed-up” things. They are the words and thoughts of the obsessed lover to the object of their obsession. They are ornate and flowery in order to flatter the beloved one. Such letters do not reflect reality but rather the writer’s perception of reality. To the lover, the entire world revolves around the object of their affection and they can do no wrong. This is why so many people within the novel are in love with/fawning over Orlando. The narrator perceives Orlando in this fashion and therefore has projected those feelings onto the other characters. This obsession is obvious in exaggerated parts of the novel such as the index entry; Orlando’s is thirty times longer than all the others because she is thirty times more important to our narrator.

To The Lighthouse: The Finale

It never ceases to amaze me how well thought-out and complicated Virginia Woolf’s writing is. I envy her thought process to no end, how I would love to be capable of paying such attention to the smallest of details. Even the title of the third section of this novel has an impact. “The Lighthouse,” how perfect is that? The entire novel is about so many different lives gradually heading to the lighthouse so how appropriate is it that the novel ends with “The Lighthouse?”

The end of this novel is so poetically precise – Lily’s painting is completed just as the boat reaches the lighthouse. The moment the boat reaches the lighthouse is so significant and pivotal to everyone in the novel that Lily knows that is has happened without any way of knowing. She just knows – there is no doubt in her statement of “He has landed” just pure confidence.

This moment is when Lily has her great inspiration. She instinctively moves back to her painting and simply draws a line in the middle. That’s all it takes; the painting is complete. With all the lines, the blues, the greens all it needed was one final stroke to bring it from blurry to sharp conclusion. So what exactly is Woolf implying here? Is she claiming that sometimes an entire life, like the painting, comes down to one single moment? Is it possible that any one of us can look into our past and point to one specific time and say “Yes, that is what it all comes down to – that is who I am”? Perhaps we really do have that one defining moment that changes us and determines everything we do from there on out. But I have to wonder, what does this mean for those who have not yet had that moment?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Mrs. Dalloway: The Sane, The Insane, and Everything In Between

Oh Clarrisa, where shall we begin? Mrs. Dalloway thrills me to no end and therefore I am having quite the time deciding on any one thing to write about. Perhaps I shall jump all over the place as thoughts pop into my consciousness – I rather think that Woolf would approve. However, I am quite interested in fiction that deals with various forms of mentality – those like Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” - so perhaps I shall focus on that for the time being.

I am intrigued by the portraying of sane and insane together within the same novel. The differences between Clarrisa and Septimus act as a commentary on the thin wall between the average mind and the mentally ill one. Clarrisa’s idea that “she must assemble” shows the mind of the everyday person – one who is concerned with the bad and the challenging in life yet can pull that emotion and turmoil into a manageable box and deal with it when they choose. They place the box somewhere in their mind and though an outside source like a smell, noise, etc may trigger it – they can successfully return those memories to the box. Septimus represents those who have lost their box. They lose the ability to divide their memories/emotions/sensations of the past from those of their present life. They can no longer distinguish between what has happened and what is happening now. The past bleeds into their present and turns in into a sort of alternate reality that only they are aware of. In some cases - like Septimus’ - this alternate reality becomes unbearable. The memories cannot be boxed up or pushed back so the previous trauma haunts them constantly.

It is for this reason that Septimus decides to jump. As he sees it, this is only escape from the constant memories and blurred reality that plagues him. Clarrisa understands this when she hears of his suicide and “she did not pity him” but rather saw it as courageous. She does not necessarily desire to do it herself but she can see why someone would. This is where the line is drawn, where the box comes in to play, and where the sane and the insane part ways. One posses the ability to escape and forget about the past for periods of time while the other has no escape – no way to find a moments peace.

Thoughts on Modern Fiction

I found this particular essay quite interesting. Woolf’s insistence that fiction has no boundaries nor an exact definition is my frame of mind to the letter. For the most part, this seems to be her stance; that there is no framework or guidelines one must follow in order to write fiction, it is entirely what the author makes it to be. However one particular quote seems, to me at least, to contradict this view – perhaps not fully opposing to it – but to some degree limiting it.

“Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; but a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end. Is it not the task of the novelist to convey this varying, this unknown and uncircumscribed spirit, whatever aberration or complexity it may display, with as little mixture of the alien and external as possible?”
I agree that life is not uniform by any means, that it is varying and unpredictable and thus should not be portrayed as such. However, if “everything is the proper stuff of fiction” as Woolf says, then why shouldn’t a writer portray life is such a fashion? Just because it is not the way I would write it does not make his or her version of fiction any less fictional. In fact, would this act of making a life that is a “series of gig lamps” not be more akin to fiction because it does not occur in the real world?

The second part of the quote that speaks of the “task of the novelist” also seems to limit the vastness of fiction. It is true that writing fiction with “as little mixture of the alien and external as possible” is a very interesting and talented way of writing but it is not the only way. Why should fiction not contain the alien and external? Where else could it possibly be categorized? I am not saying that there is anything wrong with this way of writing fiction, I very much enjoy reading Woolf’s fiction, I am merely pointing out that there are other ways of going about it that can be just as different, entertaining, and thoughtful.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Look Inside Jacob's Room

In our class discussion for Jacob’s Room we mentioned the fact that Woolf addresses her characters in a very impersonal way throughout the novel. This is a puzzlement to me when she is so intimate with characters in many of her other works. I have been inspired to observe the fourteenth chapter of Jacob’s Room (pages 186 & 187) with this thought in mind to see what I can make of it.

The distant tone that Woolf takes as she describes people is so very different from how she treats people in her other works. No care is taken in describing the characters: “”Bonamy took up a bill for a hunting-crop.” “Mrs. Durrant was taking a party to Greenwich.” These clipped references to the people in the novel cause the reader to take a similar thought towards the characters: clipped and brief. Woolf speaks of monotonous things rather than the emotions, thoughts, and feelings involved in her characters’ day-to-day lives.

The only glimpses of real emotion come from the way the characters act towards Jacob. Bonamy calling “Jacob! Jacob!” implies so many emotions: heartache, fondness, wistfulness. These feelings also come to mind as Betty Flanders holds out Jacob’s old shoes. However, I wonder whether Virginia does this intentionally. Is she trying to convey the emotions but, because this is her first novel, falling short. Perhaps it is one of her experiments to see what does and does not work. Then again, perhaps she is intentionally forming a picture of people who keep it all inside and show very little emotion, even to themselves.

Monday, September 6, 2010

He loves me, he loves me not

Many ideas popped into my head while observing the way Woolf describes her characters in “Kew Gardens.” I could find several different directions to go with what she was trying to convey but not one over another – it still has me thinking which was, I’m certain, her intent all along.

Very little of the story is dialogue. There is minimal contact between the characters but rather between the characters and their own personal thoughts and feelings. One such “conversation” that I found intriguing is the one on page 162 between Eleanor and Simon. Simon is just walking along and suddenly asks his wife whether or not she minds that he is fantasizing about the chick he had a crush on. Who does that? Or furthermore, who lets their husband say something like that and not jump all over him?

I have two theories on what Woolf is doing here. First, that Simon and Eleanor are in fact the perfect couple. They are completely open and honest about every conceivable thing they have ever done and easily forgive the other for their past. This relationship is also open in that even though they have children together they are so open and confident in their relationship that they have no problem with the other daydreaming of members of the opposite sex. My second theory is that neither Simon nor Eleanor is happy with the marriage. Perhaps they got married too soon before realizing how much they did not like each other or perhaps it was something expected by their families. For whatever reason they are unhappy yet making stabbing remarks at each other in the form of polite conversation for the sake of the children.

I find the second of the two theories to be the most probable but I tend towards sarcasm and underhandedness. This presents two sides of Woolf’s view on marriage. Did she mean to favor one or the other or did she purposely create this duality of relationships to express her mixed feelings towards marriage?

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a Mark on the Wall...

I was intrigued by our discussion in class concerning the rebellion against things being nailed down in “The Mark on the Wall.” Upon rereading the story I was drawn toward Woolf’s possibilities for what she might gain from finding out the true identity of the mark on the wall…

“Knowledge? Matter for further speculation?”

Knowledge, yes – she would then know beyond a shadow of a doubt what the mark is. However, that knowledge would destroy the possibility of further speculation. Once you are certain of a thing’s identity why on Earth would you continue to speculate about it? There would be nothing to speculate at that point.

Does this suggest that knowledge is actually the death of creative thing? Imagine I were to view a glass bowl and then speculate about its creator. I envision a wirey old man laboring beside a blazing furnace. I watch as he slowly heats the glass in order to shape it… I can speculate on all the work and people involved in the creation of that glass. However, if someone were to tell me that the bowl was made by a machine that produced a thousand more identical bowls then all the romance is gone. There is nothing more to be known and therefore nothing more for me to think about. The idea is simple: having all knowledge of something takes away all its possibilities.

The narrator seems to realize that to know for certain the identity of the mark will take all the intrigue away and end her thought process. As it so happens, she was exactly right. The moment the mark is identified as a snail is the final line of the story. She has knowledge of what the mark is and, like this blog entry, there is nothing left to say.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

How to Write a Life

“…people write what they call ‘lives’ of other people; that is, collect a number of events, and leave the person to whom it happened unknown.”

This quote brought many things into question for me. It has forced me to reevaluate what I “know” about biographies. Is it really possible to write about another person’s life? Could I, for instance, write about my mother’s life? I am extraordinarily close to my mother so getting all the nitty-gritty details on her is no problem. I could write about every single thing that has happened to her during her lifetime. I could even go so far as to ask older members of the family to fill in what she is too young to remember – but would that really be her life? At what point does a piece of writing cease to be merely a history and become a person’s life?

A history is quite basically a timeline – a “number of events.” It may be descriptive and well-written but in the end it is just a timeline. If I were to film the “life” of a man from the day he was born to the day he died I would be able to show no more than a ridiculously accurate history – I would still not have a record of his life. I would have no way of knowing what he was thinking or feeling. My subject could be crumpled on the floor with a broken ankle with tears streaming down his face and still I could not know what he was feeling. Perhaps he had been forced to participate in a certain sport and is now crying with relief because he no longer has to. It does not matter what I see or hear – unless he were to dictate his every thought to me I have no way of knowing what that moment meant to him.

A life requires thoughts and feelings. A robot may have someone write its history but never its life. To write of a life is to write not only of events but of what those events meant to the subject. How did the event make him feel? How does he remember the event when he reminisces? How did that event shape how he sees the world?

It seems to me that every “life story” I have ever read that was written by someone other than the subject is no more than a history book. Unless the book has been written by the subject it can never be called a life story – can it?

Monday, August 23, 2010

of Woolves and Horses

I have come to realize just how out of the academic loop I was after reading over the Virginia Woolf conference schedules.  It was amazing to see that so many people are actively involved in this Woolf community, how fun and beneficial it must be to offer up your hard earned research for the research of others!  A trend I noted involved an individual finding their own specific interest under the topic of the year and then sharing that interest with everyone else; it is fascinating that so many different topics could be pulled together into a cohesive whole.  Two titles that seemed to pop up regularly were Orlando and Mrs. Dalloway.  Having already read Mrs. Dalloway, this has made me eager to check out Orlando as well – if so many people can find new things to say about it then there must be a lot to be gained by reading it. 
Another book I am also now interested in reading is Jacob’s Room because of the paper entitled “Virginia Woolf and Horses: Jacob’s Unnatural Death in Jacob’s Room” by Keri Barber from the University of California.  I have always been a very avid horse enthusiast so I am excited by the idea of combining my love for reading with my love for horses.   It reminds me of a paper I wrote during high school about the horse imagery in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.  It would be a treat to read this paper and observe how others incorporate their horse sense into their love for Virginia Woolf.        
After exploring the ideas born from Woolf’s writings, I am now more excited than ever to take this class.  Already “A Sketch of the Past” has left me wanting to know more about this author and how her own life has influenced the lives of her characters…