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.