Tag Archives: Virginia Woolf

A TARDIS Please.

English: This diagram gives a detailed overvie...

There’s a little game that I like to play, and I bet you’ve played it yourself, where people answer the question: If you could live in any time period what would it be and why? Of course, being the irritatingly anal person that I am I ask: If you could live in any section of society in any time period (assuming that you will be a healthy individual who will not succumb to the local illnesses such as, for example, the Bubonic Plague if you are in Europe in the 14th century) who would you be? If you are playing with thoughtful and intelligent people this can provide you with hours of fun (alright, maybe I spend too much time with History majors).

Since I know that you are all curious about what my answer to this would be, here it is:

I would quite like living as myself in England at anytime during the Interwar period (1918-1939). Theoretically I would prefer to be eighteen years old just at the end of WWI, just able to avoid the draft but be old enough to enjoy life on my own, and I would enjoy becoming involved with the Bloomsbury Group (I suppose it goes without saying that I would need to be, at the very least, upper-middle class). The Interwar period, or the much more elegant Interbellum, has always held my fascination. Great Britain, and Europe, have just come out of one of the most shocking events in living memory: a slaughter held not even in their backyard but in their own house. The trauma of this shook the Victorian-Edwardian sensibilities of Great Britain’s society and helped to launch new schools of thought that began to reshape their world. This was the era of the Woolfs, Kafka, new philosophies, a changing world.

In my head I see myself taking tea with brilliant artists, locking myself away in a cottage to finish my most recent piece of writing, indulging my “artistic temperament”. There would be poetry readings, writing blistering literary reviews, gay dinners. (I would of course use this time period to become intimately acquainted with Quentin Crisp, Coco Chanel, Virginia Woolf, JRR Tolkien, among others.)

I do recognize that this time is not just the foundation of a brave new world but was also marked by racism, antisemitism, classism, along with a plague of other issues. The fact that as a white male I would have substantial societal privileges can not be denied (although my pansexuality, disregard for gender norms and Hebrew heritage would be factored into this I would still end up in a very cozy spot in the hierarchy). But isn’t this true at anytime? I mean, we still have a white male privilege system in effect today. This was also a time where some of these norms were being challenged (look at the Woolfs or Lytton Strachey or a variety of others) and I like to think that I would be directly involved.

And so, as the snow finally settles onto our little mountain, I dream of a past world. Tweeds. Walking through the halls and cobble streets of venerable Oxford. Striding across country fields. Crammed omnibuses. Rich voices over the wireless. Cold rooms where the fireplace can not reach. Music that swung. Discussing Homer and Plutarch and Montaigne in country homes as winter piles up outside.

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“The Voyage Out” [A Review]

Virginia Woolf Smiling? Surely not…

Miss Virginia Woolf (Image by spratmackrel via Flickr)

If there’s one thing I love it’s a bitter cup of hot Earl Grey tea. And also Virginia Woolf.

My love for Virginia Woolf has grown to the point where I can honestly say that even my least favorite work of hers that I’ve read (Jacob’s Room, in case you were wondering) is on my top 100 Books Ever List. I’ll be the first to admit that this love runs the risk of making me a terrible reviewer of anything Miss Woolf wrote. I will try, however, to give a level-headed and concise reflection on this novel.

First, let me just say: GAAAAHHHH!!!! THIS BOOK IS SO FUCKING AMAZING!!!!! I WANT TO MAKE LOVE TO IT AND MARRY IT AND GO TO A NURSING HOME WITH IT AND BE THERE FOR IT AS IT DIES AND THEN KILL MYSELF BECAUSE I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT IT!!!!!

Now that that’s out of the way, let me say this:

The novel begins with Mr. and Mrs. Ambrose, a nice couple who set sail with a small collection of family and friends from London, but the cast of characters quickly opens up as their boat arrives in a resort town in South America. The closest that this novel comes to having a main character is Rachel, the niece of Mrs. Ambrose. A young woman who has been brought up in the strict society life of her widower father she follows her aunt and uncle to South America. Her journey introduces her to new worlds, particularly the more liberal world of her aunt. This of course runs the risk of being the physical journey that is a perfect symbol for the character’s emotional, a trope that is often quite stale, but Miss Woolf’s deft use of language and her insight into various types of personalities makes this feel fresh and sprightly. Far from feeling like yet another self-discovery story The Voyage Out feels electric, a characteristic that I find common in Miss Woolf’s writing.

I had several highlights in this book. One of which was the use of Mr. and Mrs. Dalloway. I had fallen in love with this couple in Mrs. Dalloway and it was a treat to see them again, particularly to see them through Rachel’s biting eyes. The Voyage Out introduced me to another couple to fall in love with. Mr. Hirst and Mr. Hewet are young, intellectual male friends staying with each other in the hotel near the house rented by the Ambroses. As a person who likes to project LGBTQ* diversity into every nook and cranny of his life Mr. Hirst and Mr. Hewet are nearly as great a treat as Holmes and Watson are. While Mr. Hewet does indicate his heterosexuality throughout the book (or, as I like to think of it, his bi- or pansexuality) Mr. Hirst definitely read as homosexual to me (or possibly asexual…) I also took delight in trying to decide how much of herself Miss Woolf put into the character of Mrs. Ambrose (the book’s Wikipedia article does say that Mrs. Ambrose is more likely based on Miss Woolf’s sister but I can’t let that ruin my fun).

In The Voyage Out we are given a unique and engaging coming of age story that has Miss Woolf’s characteristic style while still being accessible to new Woolf readers. It also gives us this wonderful quote from Mrs. Dalloway (Chapter 4):

How much rather one would be a murderer than a bore!

5/5 stars.

The Voyage Out. Virginia Woolf. 1915.

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Sunday Steal (5/29/2011)

Who Gets to Speak?

I’m not quite sure when I first came across the blog Notes from Rumbly Cottage, but I’ve been enjoying the tender, amusing posts about family life for at least a few months now. The link above takes you to a post from May 23, in which the blogger contemplates free speech in America. I found it to be well thought out piece, with particular emphasis on what our personal responsibilities are.

Lady Gaga takes tea with Mr. Fry

I’m not a huge fan of Lady Gaga, I’m not a “Little Monster”, but I do find her to be a fascinating person. And who better to interview a fascinating person then another fascinating person? Namely Mr. Stephen Fry. The interview, conducted for the Financial Times is quite good, rather interesting, and a nice read.

59 Things You Didn’t Know About Virginia Woolf

Talk about fascinating.

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I Suppose Writers Are the World’s Constants

The poet then gave Orlando the full story of his health for the past ten years or so. It had been so bad that one could only marvel that he still lived. He had had the palsy, the gout, the ague, the dropsy, and the three sorts of fever in succession; added to which he had an enlarged heart, a great spleen, and a diseased liver. But, above all, he had , he told Orlando, sensations in his spine which burnt like fire; another about second from the bottom which was cold as ice. Sometimes he woke witha  brain like lead; at others it was as if a thousand wax tapers were alight and people were throwing fireworks inside him. He could feel a rose leaf through his mattress, he said; and knew his way almost about London by the feel of the cobbles. Altogether he was a piece of machinery so finely made and curiously put together (here he raised his hand as if unconsciously, and indeed it was of the finest shape imaginable) that it confounded him to think that he had only sold five hundred copies of his poem, but that of course was largely due to the conspiracy against him. All he could say, he concluded, banging his fist upon the table, was that the art of poetry was dead in England.

How that could be with Shakespeare, Marlowe, Ben Jonson, Browne, Donne, all now writing or just having written, Orlando, reeling off the names of his favourite heroes, could not think.

Greene laughed sardonically. Shakespeare, he admitted, had written some scenes that were well enough; but he had taken them chiefly from Marlowe. Marlowe was a likely boy, but what could you say of a lad who died before he was thirty? As for Browne, he was writing poetry in prose, and people soon got tired of such conceits as that. Donne was a mountebank who wrapped up his lack of meaning in hard words. The gulls were taken in; but the style would be out of fashion twelve months hence. As for Ben Jonson- Ben Jonson was a friend of his and he never spoke ill of friends.

No, he concluded, the great age of literature is past; the great age of literature was the Greek; the Elizabethan age was inferior in every respect to the Greek.

–Virginia Woolf, Orlando

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My Top Ten Artists

Here, in order of my my favoritism, are my top ten favorite artists. These are the writers, painters, actors, poets, cooks and fashion designers whose work makes my heart beat a little faster.

  1. Virginia Woolf, writer
  2. Emily Dickenson, poet
  3. Bill Bryson, writer
  4. Christopher Kimball, writer & cook
  5. Julia Child, writer & cook
  6. Coco Chanel, fashion designer
  7. Terry Pratchett, writer
  8. John Cleese, actor
  9. Helen Mirren, actress
  10. Rien Poortuliet & Wil Hoygen, writers & painters (collaborators)

This is the fourth part of my week of lists. For last week’s list click here.

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Top 10 Books of 2010

Portrait of Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

My favorite read this year. --Image via Wikipedia

I’m jumping on the bandwagon and am publishing a list of my favorite books I read this year. (Hyperlinks are to blog posts that I wrote about the book.)

  1. To the Lighthouse Virginia Woolf
  2. The Art of Eating MFK Fisher
  3. I’m a Stranger Here Myself Bill Bryson
  4. Mrs. Bridge Evan S. Connell
  5. The World From Beginnings to 4000 BCE Ian Tattersall
  6. The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne Brian Moore
  7. Tess of the D’Ubervilles Thomas Hardy
  8. Beowulf Seamus Hinley’s translation (bonus points for beautiful printing)
  9. S. John Updike
  10. The Serpent and the Rainbow Wade Davis

I was originally just going to publish the list but the compiling of it was such a bizarre experience that I feel compelled to write about it.

As I watched books that I loved getting bumped off the list (particularly The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart) I realized that the books that were remaining were not the books that I had most loved reading. While most of them were such fun to read the books that remained were the ones that had the greatest emotional response from me as I looked across my Shelfari account. Some of them reminded me of the burst of excited intellectual energy that I got as I read them (The World from Beginning…, The Serpent and…) while others brought back the painful stories that carried a sorrow that was still as fresh (The Lonely Passion…, Mrs. Bridge, Tess…). Of course there were the stories that I still think of daily (To the Lighthouse, The Art of…, I’m a Stranger, Mrs. Bridge.)

As I was compiling this years list I was struck by one thought: Damn, this was one good year for books.

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Selections From “To The Lighthouse”

Portrait of Virginia Woolf (January 25, 1882 –...

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been reading Virginia Woolf‘s “To The Lighthouse” (is there an underscore feature on WordPress?) and her language has been just blowing me away. The exactness of her words, the complexity of her phrasing, the power that she carries with her. An image from one of the special features from the movie “The Hours” has been stuck in my mind as a I read this (actually, the image is always with me but more so as I read this): that of Virginia Woolf striding across the heath (or heather or peat or whatever it is she would be striding across) and barking out the phrases from her writings as she formed them in her mind. (I’ve found myself doing the same and call it “composing”.)

Anyways, here are some of my favorite passages from “To The Lighthouse”:

[p. 192:] But what after all is one night? A short space, especially when the darkness dims so soon, and so soon a bird sings, a cock crows, or a faint green quickens, like a turning leaf, in the hollow of the wave. Night, however, succeeds to night. The winter holds a pack of them in store and deals them equally, they darken. Some of them hold aloft clear planets, plates of brightness. The autumn trees, ravaged as they are, take on the flash of tattered flags kindling in the gloom of cool cathedral caves where gold letters on marble pages describe death in battle and how bones bleach and burn far away in Indian sands. The autumn trees gleam in the yellow moonlight, in the light of harvest moons, the light which mellows the energy of labour, and smooths the stubble, and brings the wave lapping blue to the shore.

[p. 280:] So we took a little boat, she thought, beginning to tell herself a story of adventure about escaping from a sinking ship. But with the sea streaming through her fingers, a spray of seaweed vanishing behind them, she did not want to tell herself seriously a story; it was the sense of adventure and escape that she wanted

[p. 283:] He read, she thought, as if he were guiding something, or wheedling a large flock of sheep, or pushing his way up and up a single narrow path; and sometimes he went fast and straight, and broke his way through the bramble, and sometimes it seemed a branch struck at him, a bramble blinded him, but he was not going to let himself be beaten by that; on he went, tossing over page after page.

[p. 284:] so much depends, she thought, upon distance: whether people are near us or far from us; for her feeling for Mr Ramsay changed as he sailed further and further across the bay.

[p. 289:] Mr Carmichael had “lost all interest in life.” What did it mean — that? she wondered. Had he marched through Trafalgar Square grasping a big stick? Had he turned pages over and over, without reading them, sitting in his room in St. John’s Wood alone?

[p. 293:] He must have confided in her on one of those long expeditions when people got separated and walked back alone.

[p. 299:] At last then somebody had come into the drawing-room; somebody was sitting in the chair. For Heaven’s sake, she prayed, let them sit still there and not come floundering out to talk to her.

[p. 306:] He was so pleased that he was not going to let anybody share a grain of his pleasure.

[p.  309:] Then, surging up, puffing slightly, old Mr Carmichael stood beside her, looking like an old pagan god, shaggy, with weeds in his hair and the trident (it was only a French novel) in his hand.

The page numbers relate to my edition (Harcourt, Brace & World Inc.; New York; Copyrighted: 1955 by Leonard Woolf) and with special thanks to http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/woolf/virginia/w91t/index.html from where many of my final quotes were copy and pasted from (finger cramps and all that.)

You’ll notice that several of the quotes are from the final pages of the book. Soon after starting this post I realized that I could not fit every quote I wanted into the post (for a complete collection of my favorite passages go to your local library or local bookstore and get your own copy) and so focused onto one section to weed and prune until I had the exact ones I wanted.

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