Sunday, September 12, 2010
A Barrel Full of Essays
Virginia Woolf had me laughing-out-loud a couple of times, so much so that I had to write the words out fully. First, let’s address the obscure Miss Ormerod. I have to get it out; I loved her. She was a woman who loved bugs. From Woolf’s story, we see little Miss Ormerod enjoying the bug gladiators battling for dominance and a thumb’s up; however, one gets a downward thumb and is killed. Just like a spectator at the Coliseum, she is thrilled, and it appears a love for etymology is born through the death of that one slug. Woolf follows Ormerod’s obscure life from the birth of the etymologist to her death. It was hilarious that her brother wouldn’t let her learn the anatomy of an insect. You see, even insects have sexual reproduction organs, so she might have viewed a microscopic penis and swooned (or worse). Of course, the lady’s obscurity threads through the story. Mr. Pascoe, who owes all that he has to her because of her discovery of Paris Green, refers to her as a “lady with a queer sounding name” (The Dial 471). My question is: Then how did he name his little girl after her? The last page emphasizes her obscurity the most. Her doctor tells her that the farmers should set up a statue of her and comments that her life meant so much to others, but as a Mr. Drummond reads in the newspaper aloud to his wife, “Old Miss Ormerod is dead,” she does naught but question who she is (Dial 474). Virginia Woolf gave us a whimsical story of a fascinating lady who helped put the food on people’s plates while few know who she was. We can at least know that she’s happy feeding the bugs that she studied so thoroughly.
Now, which essay was it that had me in stitches? It was “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown,” the essay Woolf wrote in retaliation to Arnold Bennett’s harsh critique on Jacob’s Room. One of his more obtuse comments was that characters “do not vitally survive in the mind because the author has been obsessed by details of originality and cleverness” (VWR 192). She creates a little story from a chance encounter with a little old lady on a train to demonstrate how the writers she refers to as the Edwardians create character in their stories (or not). The comparisons were hilarious. Whereas within all novels character are created, each writer goes about it differently. With Wells, sweet Mrs. Brown wouldn’t exist, or he would write her as she ought to be. Why wouldn’t she exist? Watch the movie “Logan’s Run” for the answer to that. She wouldn’t be worth a farthing to Galsworthy. Bennett would describe her house, the street she lived on, how much money she or her father or husband makes; he would describe her to the point of madness. Do we make some assumptions that they must be this or that type of person because of the house or neighborhood that they live in? On page 207, she tells us that the Edwardian tools are not the tools we need to use. And on the next page, I had a light-bulb moment. I realized that this was still the time of "Whitaker’s Table of Precedency," so that was why it was important. Status and social heirachy were very important. But Mrs. Brown wants rescuing; the Edwardian writer has shaped the standard, but Mrs. Brown wants her uniqueness known. After her article I could envision a little, old lady waiting to be written about and brought to life because as Woolf states we should “never desert Mrs. Brown” (VRW 212). They should endeavor to create her.
Another good aspect of the previous essay is that I don’t think I would have appreciated (please read “understood”) “On Not Knowing Greek” as well if I had read it before I met Mrs. Brown. In just reading the title, I assumed she meant the language. I was lost, or maybe misplaced, a bit because I am not very knowledgeable on the topic ancient Greek literature (nor current for that matter). I couldn’t appreciate her essay fully not knowing who Electra is, or knowing some of the plays she spoke of. But what I gathered was that she was investigating how the Greeks created “character” and what tools they used.
As I begin the essay on Jane Austen, I’m beginning to see a theme in these essays – character building. Perhaps not all of the essay on Austen is about that, but she touches on it as she speaks about the unfinished book The Watsons. Woolf states that it appeared as if Austen had just thrown words down on the paper, and it almost sounded as if she did the same thing that Br. Bennett did; however, Woolf gave Austin the benefit of the doubt as she believed that Austen hadn’t gone through and done her magic on the manuscript yet. She obviously admires how Austen creates her characters with such craft. On page 227, one line gave me pause: “Sometimes it seems as if her creatures were born merely to give Jane Austen the supreme delight of slicing their heads off.” I wondered if the guy who wrote Pride and Prejudice and Zombies perhaps also studied Virginia Woolf and was inspired by this line.
Anyway, that’s it for me. I still have the pages in Goldman to read, but I need to get this done and go back to the rest of my homework.