Sunday, December 5, 2010

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.

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