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?