Tag Archives: Woolf

A TARDIS Please.

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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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