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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Let the Sun Shine In... CR #10


Finally!  I can understand and assimilate a critical essay on Virginia Woolf.  I am referring to Jeanne-Marie Zeck’s article “’Shining in the Dark’:  Jinny’s Reign as Sun Goddess.”  Zeck wrote this article to argue her point that Jinny is at the very least as important as the other characters, if not more important.  After reading her essay, Jinny arises as the most important character.  I haven’t finished the book yet, so I still keep the right to change my opinion, but Zeck lays out her argument in a logical and methodical way. 

She begins her article by giving the reader some other critics’ opinions of Jinny; promiscuous, self-indulgent, one-dimensional, unimportant.    Historically speaking, women who enjoy sex and seek it eagerly have been tagged with many a derogatory term.  Ironically, in the margins as I read this article I wrote, “Virginia Woolf was a flirt, but I don’t believe she enjoyed sex.  Maybe these characters – or the women – all personify an aspect of Woolf’s own character.  Jinny has the sexuality that Woolf may have wanted, or at least a bit more of.”  Why is that ironic?   It’s ironic because in one of her endnotes, Zeck makes a similar statement. 

Returning back to the topic of this blog, Zeck purpose in this essay is to assert that Jinny is the Sun Goddess, and Zeck tries to wrangle Jinny out of her usual classification. In that Jinny connects with other people and “relishes communion with others” (126).  I just realized by using the word “communion” Zeck brings forth the idea of gods and worship.  She contends that Woolf consistently uses sun imagery to describe Jinny and also uses sun colors when describing her.  When Jinny attends a party, she always searching for the gilt chair so that she can “both illuminate others and be admired by them” (127).  Not all want to be illuminated however.  Rhoda yearns for darkness, and illumination reveals Susan’s shabby dress.

Zeck believes that by Woolf putting Jinny on the throne as the sun goddess, she has aligned Jinny with a more powerful position.  Women are usually associated with the moon.  The most interesting part of this article for me was that by elevating Jinny to the status of a sun goddess, Woolf also elevates woman to a maternal god (129). 

Jinny lives in the moment, and when Percival dies, Bernard thinks of suicide.  It’s Jinny who teaches him how to continue, to move past death and to live in the moment.  Woolf has tied Jinny and Bernard together also in that each is referenced with a motif of circles; they are a union. 

And I’ll close this with my favorite line from this essay:  "The answer, Woolf suggests, is to replace the sun god with the sun goddess who illuminates a world without illusions, a world made up of drop after drop of heavy, delicate but substantial moments"(130).  --- moments of being ---

Work cited:
Zeck, Jeanne-Marie.  “’Shining in the Dark’:  Jinny’s Reign as Sun Goddess.”  Virginia Woolf:  Emerging Perspectives.  Selected Papers from the 3rd Annual Conference on Virginia Woolf.  Eds. Mark Hussey and Vara Neverow.  Pace Up, 1994. pp. 126-131. PDF.

Another Critical Reading for TTL, no. 9



In his article “The Rhythm of Creativity in To the Lighthouse,” J. Hillis Miller makes some fairly far-fetched conclusions.  From the title and from the first paragraphs, the reader knows that Miller addresses the rhythmic creativity of Mrs. Ramsay, Mr. Ramsay, Lily Briscoe, and Augustus Carmichael.  He reminds us that Virginia Woolf writes with a rhythm; she creates “a rhythmical groundswell which is comforting and sustaining” (168).  He claims that four characters display creativity:  Mrs. Ramsay with her dinner-party, Lily Briscoe with her painting, Augustus Carmichael with his poetry, and Mr. Ramsay with reciting poetry.  And here I have do argue that simply reciting poetry loudly and obtrusively is not creative but attention grabbing.  He then describes the nature of Mr. Carmichael’s creativeness a little more fully, but oddly considers that the novel presents it obscurely (171).  Odd, as I see it as being definitively stated because he was acknowledged later in the novel as an accomplished and published poet.  The family and the readers might see Mr. Carmichael’s character as being obscure, but it’s a pretty clear-cut case on the topic of his creativity. 

Miller next addresses the question of who is the narrator.  His description of the narrator reminds me of a spirit that invades a body and then has complete knowledge of the one whom it possesses, but at the time of possession, only knows what the character knows about the other people.  He uses several different terms for this type of narrator:  “indirect discourse, erlebte rede, or style indirect libre,” stating that each includes an essence of the type of narrator Woolf employed (no pun intended) for this novel.  He describes how the reader learns nothing of the narrator, but in my opinion, knowing the narrator would detract from the tone of the story.  He also explains how Woolf’s narrator in To the Lighthouse is vastly different from the omniscient narrator of the Victorian writing style.  I see it as Woolf’s narrator pin-pointing onto one character, or perhaps, focusing in like a microscope would be a better analogy because as Miller states the narrator occupies the character “from within, down to every crevice” (175). 

Miller then puts his microscope on Augustus Carmichael.  He seems to equate Carmichael with the narrator; he surmises that from these two quotes:  Carmichael “give(s) no inkling of any inner thoughts or emotion whatsoever,” and Mr. Carmichael cannot respond to Mrs. Ramsay because he was “sunk … a grey-green somnolence which embraced them all … in a vast and benevolent lethargy of well-wishing” (TTL 19), (178).  That is not the description of a narrator who invades and searches into every crevice of the character’s soul; that’s a description of someone on a drug-induced high.  Perhaps that is why the narrator cannot get into Carmichael’s mind; he’s in a constant drug fog.  If the narrator tries to invade his person, she/he/it gets a contact high and starts reciting poetry with Carmichael.  Although I think that I made a funny assessment, I believe it to actually be more reasonable than Miller’s.   I do agree with him when he states that the narrator depends on the minds of the characters for its existence, but then again that’s a bit like saying that the river is dependent on water for its existence.

Miller moves onto discussing the “trope of prosopopoeia” which basically means the personification of the house in the “Time Passes” chapter.   He also delves a little bit into philosophy in that he touches on the conversation between Andrew and Lily about whether or not the chair exists when they aren’t there (unfortunately dust is proof that things exist when “we” aren’t there).   Finally, he closes out his article in discussing the differences between writing like a woman or riding like a man. 

I thought his article made some good arguments and at times went off the reservation.  There were instances where it became another one of those articles that made me question my intelligence.  I read this mainly to hunt for information on Augustus Carmichael; Miller did make me realize why we may not get much information on Carmichael – the invasive narrator cannot penetrate the fogged mind of the opium addict; however, that’s not his opinion.  Also, he seemed to veer off of what I thought his topic to be – Lily and Augustus’s creativity. 

Works Cited:
Miller, J. Hillis.  “Mr. Carmichael and Lily Briscoe; The Rhythm of Creativity in To the Lighthouse.”  Modernism Reconsidered.  Ed. Robert Kiely.  Cambridge:  Harvard University Press, 1983.  Print.

Woolf, Virginia.  To the Lighthouse.  1927.  (They didn’t give me the page of citations, so I don’t know which version Hillis used.) 

Monday, October 25, 2010

My Impressions of "The Waves" by Viriginia Woolf

North York Moors National Park


Virginia Woolf wrote The Waves after her two very successful modernist novels Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, but this novel ventures further into the new found land of modern writing.  Her experiment into the stream-of-consciousness succeeded with the preceding novels, that she extended the experiment into trying to not even have characters.  In some ways she did succeed.  I had a difficult time in keeping characters straight, especially with the men.  I then wondered if she purposefully wrote the men to be more generic, but then I remembered Neville is a homosexual, Louis is an Aussie, and then Bernard becomes the typical family man.  Then again, I would stop and wonder as I was reading, "Is this the gay one, or is it the other."  Then I realized that I could be bringing too much of myself into the reading; being a woman I would of course relate to the women more than to the men.  I too remember my younger days when I felt like the sun shone on me, or the exact opposite when I had such little confidence or self-worth, I wondered if i really existed.  At times I felt like Jinny and others just like Rhoda.  So I could relate to them.  And Susan, what about her?

Like Susan, I feel it sometimes, that hard tumorous knot in my side.  That seed that they planted oh-so-many years ago that has grown into a hard-shelled mass.  Susan has it.  The knot that "they" have created by making you think "their" way, dress like "they" dress, act like "them," color inside the lines, drive "this" car, live in a house size of an aircraft carrier.  The knot that is the cancer created from them making "you" conform.  Driving into work this morning with my windows down letting the air "style" my hair, I saw others sealed into their cans on wheels breathing the closed-in air of manufactured vehicles.  Susan needs a walk on the moors, her squirrels, her doves, and her father to clean this cancer from her body.  At the going away dinner for Percival, she dresses shabbily.  She fits in better than Rhoda, but she can’t adjust to the city and fashion.

And just like Susan, I too love and hate.  Just minutes ago, I hated, and hated, and hated one more time for shits and giggles.  I hated that those people were talking so loudly as I was trying to read a critical article; I hated that I forgot to bring my Wheat Thins, but most of all I hate, from the tips of my hair down to the bottom of my toes, Apple computers.  Steve Jobs is the anti-Christ.  Last night, I loved the strong winds trying to push me about, and I loved seeing the leaves dance on the road as I was coming home.  I loved coming into my home where my heart resides.  My whole body sighs with relief when I get out of my car and come home.  I felt just as Susan did when she arrived home.  Home cures us.

Again like Susan, I had all these ideas of how my life would be. Although, I never had the maternal instincts she did.  When the book passes mid-day and all the characters are past their primes, Susan gives the impression that her life didn't quite go as she planned; not that she really had any plans.  It seems as if she is a bit disillusioned and settles for her current way of life.  She no longer speaks of country living as passionately as she once did.  Life does tend to bring reality to one's plans and youthful ideals.

But what is the book about overall?  In a different venue, Woolf brings reality to us.  Just as her novel uses the time of day and the position of the sun to parallel the life span of a group of characters, she uses this story to relate reality.  We all have plans of what we want to do in youth; dreams that sometimes come to fruition and sometimes not.  Death knocks on doors; sometimes he’s invited, and other times he shows up unannounced and unexpected.  Other times, we realize that what we wanted wasn’t as great as we expected it to be.  I think this happened to Susan.  A couple of statements in the last chapter assure the reader of this:  Susan says to Bernard, "My ruined life, my wasted life"; she had loved Bernard, and Percival loved her.  Now, she completely admits that her life wasn't what she wanted it to be (168).  Later (I think at a dinner party), she says, "Still I gape ... like a young bird, unsatisfied, for something that has escaped me" (171).  In thinking of Susan some lyrics to a John Lennon song pop in my head, "Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans."  It's what she thought she wanted, but still something escaped, the essence of her true desire.  Youth says, "I want this, I'm going to be that, My life is going to be wonderful!"  Then age and reality catch up, and then you wonder, "This is what the fuck I got out of bed for?"

And I keep forgetting to mention this.  Drew said that she thought the character's were each representative of some aspect of Woolf's personality.  I had a similar thought.  At one point it dawned on me (maybe we've mentioned this in class, I hope not as I sure would like to seem astute) that Rhoda represents the hurt side of Woolf.  The piece that was tainted by George and Gerald's touch.  The bit that always wants to hide for fear "it's" still out there wanting to hurt you.  "It" that thing that is more powerful than you, that you can't escape.  It's why she tried to hide from sight; why she had no face. 

Anyway, this REALLY is my second to the last thought -- the woman who writes assiduously is Woolf.  I hope my epiphanies aren't echoes from lecture; I now see why you want the blogs before class discussion.

And with my last comment, I have this to say about Percival.  He’s very similar to Augustus Carmichael.  The strange narration style never visits Percival; we only see him through the eye-thoughts of the others.  We are never allowed to invade Percival’s mind.  Perhaps his thoughts were dull because I envisioned him as what we now refer to as “a jock,” all muscle, good looks, good connections, but undeserving except by birth.  Would Carmichael’s thoughts be any more interesting?   --- Okay, I should save all that and the rest of what I was about to type for my paper; therefore, end here I shall!

Work Cited:
Lennon, John.  "Beautiful Boy."  memory.
Woolf, Virginia.  The Waves.  1931.  Ed. Mark Hussey.  Orlando, Florida:  2006.  Print.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Digging up the True Dirt on Mr. Carmichael (CR# 8)


Will the real Mr. Augustus Carmichael / Joseph Wolstenholme please stand up?

Ellen Tremper begins her critical article stating that Virginia Woolf, just like her character Clarissa from Mrs. Dalloway, enjoyed reading memoirs, but in about the third paragraph the reader discovers what Tremper’s argument really is.  In 1987 John Ferguson wrote an article for the Journal of Modern Literature arguing that Augustus Carmichael was modeled after Thomas De Quincey.  Woolf wrote an essay on his autobiography titled “De Quincey’s Autobiography,” so she does know the man.   (It can be found in The Common Reader:  Second Series.)   Tremper claims that the person Carmichael was modeled after was a man who stayed at Talland House with the family to get away from his wife.  I decided to make a chart of the similarities of the characters, so perhaps you, dear reader, can have a stab at deducing.



Loved Thoby/Andrew
Math Man
Size
Bad Marriage
Opium Habit
Augustus Carmichael
Yes
Yes
Capacious
Yes
Oh yes
Mr. Wolstenholme
perhaps, gave him a gold crown
Yes
Fat cheeks
Yes
No, just grumpy read below
Thomas De Quincey
Did he even know him?
No
Skinny as a rail filed to a needle's width
Well, married beneath his status but loved her.
Yes


In making a simple chart, we find that Mr. Wolstenholme is the clear winner with De Quincey and Carmichael only having the opium use in common.  If by winning you mean a reclusive, opium using, portly poet; then yes, he is the winner.  Tremper does not use a simple chart to argue her point; she employs lines from the holograph manuscript of the novel.  Ferguson uses the opium and marriage as the strongest arguments; however, De Quincey introduced his wife to the Wordsworths who were devastated to hear of her death (165).  Now, if he was ashamed of her, would he have introduced to her to the Wordsworths?
I just bumbled onto something in the web.  As you know, I like to have an image that represents my blog in some way, so I googled Augustus Wolstenholme in images.  Amazingly, I actually found one, but there was also information.  Tremper thought that the real “Woolly One” was not an opium user, but read on:

"Leslie Stephen, the father of the author Virginia Woolf, studied mathematics at Cambridge and held a fellowship at Cambridge from 1854 till 1864. During that period he became friends with Wolstenholme. Several years after Wolstenholme's death, Stephen wrote down details of his own life for his children and in these he refers to Wolstenholme (Conner, Fergusion):-

I think especially of poor old Wolstenholme, called 'the woolly' by you irreverent children, a man whom I had first known as a brilliant mathematician at Cambridge, whose Bohemian tastes and heterodox opinions had made a Cambridge career inadvisable, who tried to become a hermit at Wastdale. He had emerged, married an uncongenial and rather vulgar Swiss girl, and obtained a professorship at Cooper's Hill. His four sons were badly brought up: he was despondent and dissatisfied and consoled himself with mathematics and opium. I liked him or rather was very fond of him, partly from old association and partly because feeble and faulty as he was, he was thoroughly amiable and clung to my friendship pathetically. His friends were few and his home life wretched. ... [We] had him stay every summer with us in the country. There at least he could be without his wife (Gow)." (I emphasized "opium.")

(I am rather excited that I further proved Wolstenholme’s likeness to Carmichael.  Okay, back to our regularly scheduled blogging.)

The other aspect of Ferguson’s article that Tremper takes umbrage at is that he also equates Woolf to Carmichael and De Quincey.  He believes that the opium use of the two men is the same as Woolf’s “inner ocean of depression” (169).  I believe anyone stating that her illness had no effect on her writing would be remiss, because any aspect of the whole as some effect on a person’s life, job, and creativity.  Tremper uses the argument that Woolf used her past to help construct characters in her creations, but that her bouts with mental illness do not equate to the same a De Quincey and Carmichael’s voluntary use of opium.

All-in-all, Tremper makes an attempt to disclaim Fergurson's arguments.  I think she proved her argument well, even without my assist. 

Works Cited:
Gow, R. "Joseph Wolstenholme, Leslie Stephen and 'To the Lighthouse.'" Irish Math. Soc. 34 (1995), 40-46.  (This was cited from O'Connor and Robertson below.  I didn't know how to cite a citation within a webpage.)

O'Connor, J.J.  and E. F. Robertson.  “Joseph Wolstenholme Biography.”  The MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive.  24 October 2010.  Web.   June 1998.

Tremper, Ellen.  “’The Earth of our Earliest Life’:  Mr. Carmichael in To the Lighthouse.”  Journal of Modern Literature, XIX, I, Summer, 1994.  pp. 163-171.  Print.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Testing the waters with short stories (CR #7)


We’ve all heard the line, “She gets me,” but how is that pertinent in reading a critical article?  After reading one critical article recently, I had doubts that I understood the English language; but with Teresa Prudente’s paper on Virginia Woolf’s use of short stories, “’To Slip Easily From One Thing To Another’: Experimentalism And Perceptions in Woolf’s Short Stories,” I get her; she’s talking my language.  Prudente asserts that Woolf uses the medium of the short story to test the waters, or experiment, with her modernist style of writing.  She uses an article by Edgar Allan Poe, “The Philosophy of Composition,” extensively to assist her in defining the short story genre, and of course, she uses Virginia Woolf’s own words.

Prudente poses that perhaps the most important aspect of Woolf’s experimentation of using the short story is with using the time aspect, delving into the mind, and letting go of concrete.  Woolf tries to “convey the essence of these moments,” the moments of being (3).  Prudente uses “The Mark on the Wall” as her first example of how Woolf uses the consciousness to tell a story through a “series of meditations” (3).  She insists that Woolf does not portray the mind as fixed, but dynamic, changing, and contrasting.  Prudente also discusses the spiraling progression in the story; how the narrator or main character keeps returning to the mark on the wall.  Most importantly though, she believes that “The Mark on the Wall: reveals two major Woolfian aspects:  “the close connection and interactions between external and internal reality” and “the treatment of narrative time not only as depicting, but rather as reproducing the time of consciousness” (4).  Woolf succeeds in doing this in a meditative short story.  It is in the abstract, the thought, the mind in which Woolf is testing the waters.  Prudente states that Woolf confronts the dualities of existence: the real versus the unreal, the visible versus the invisible. 

Prudente then moves on to how Woolf describes character.  For an example, she employs my favorite Woolf essay, “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown.”  She believes that Woolf thinks the self can never be fully defined and is unlimited.  Referring back to how Mr. Bennett describes his characters, he describes their house, clothes, job, etc. but ignores the mind; “human beings escape rigid definition” (6).  We should explore human nature, the mind, not the fabric.

Next Prudente deals with the experimentation with narrator.  She tells us that Woolf explored the “I-centered narration” in her short stories; whereas the novels usually employ the use of third-person narration (8).  The voice in the short-stories is abstract and reveals one of Woolf’s innovations; she does not give us reality.  The reader does not get bricks and mortar but play-doh, something malleable.  Prudente relates to us that Woolf wants to express the ordinary and the flights of the mind.  She wants to “reproduce (the) human experience fully,” and to do so, we must include the corporeal and the metaphysical.  And then how all that relates to each other in time.

Work cited:
Prudente, Teresa.  "'To Slip Easily From One Thing To Another':  Experimentalism And Perception in Woolf's Short Stories."  Journal of the Short Story in English 50 Spring 2008: 2-10.  Web.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Feminist Reading of To the Lighthouse is Poppycock! (CR #6)

Beadle claims illiteracy is no excuse for huge Marmoset walking on the grass.

In his book Virginia Woolf:  The major novels, John Batchelor begins his chapter on To the Lighthouse by stating that it has a “close familial relationship” with Jacob’s Room and Mrs. Dalloway (91).  To the Lighthouse exemplifies her technique honed from writing these two books; however, his ulterior motive in this chapter though is not to discuss her method.  I find in the following sentence what I surmise as his thesis or purpose in this chapter:  “But I hope to show that Mr. Ramsay is, indeed, the novel’s centre and that the feminist critics are wrong” (92).  You see, the feminists have tried to skew Mrs. Ramsay and Lily Briscoe as being in the central characters in the story.  From a line in Virginia Woolf’s diary, he is convinced that Mr. Ramsay is the centre:  “But the centre is father’s character, sitting in a boat, reciting We perished, each alone, while he crushes a dying mackerel” (92).  From my reading of the book, I find that Mr. Ramsay is indeed the centre – of THAT scene, but not of the whole story. 

Being that this is a chapter in a book and not so much a critical article in a journal, he does not approach the topic straight-on; he interlaces other observations and his interpretations of some of the symbolism.   He notes that the house is the leading character in the “Time Passes” portion and that this book is an elaborate elegy to Thoby, Stella, her mother, and the time before the war.  (I wonder if there is some underlying reason why she left her father alive at the end of the story.  The righteous and innocent die, while the self-absorbed survive.)  At the end of the first section of this chapter, he jumps back to trying to prove his thesis; he comments, “Feminist critics see the novel as a novel about sex war:  the creative women, Mrs. Ramsay and Lily Briscoe the painter, struggle against the sterile patriarch” (94).  He uses a line from a comment Vanessa Bell made to defend his comment.  She states that Woolf gave a true portrait of their mother and their father too, but doing so for father  “isn’t quite so difficult” (94).  In my estimation, he did not prove his point.  I do agree with him that it is a study of the Stephen family, but being that Leslie was not hard to portray doesn't make him the centre.   Batchelor continues though giving us his opinion of the scene of them together; Mr. Ramsay reading his Sir Walter Scott novel, and Mrs. Ramsay reading a Shakespeare sonnet. 

I read this in hopes of illuminating my ideas for my final paper.  In other words, I had a desire to find a nugget about Augustus Carmichael’s part in the story.  And a nugget is what I got.  Mr. Batchelor likens Woolf’s Mr. Carmichael to Caliban in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  James is a male Miranda, while Mrs. Ramsay is a female Prospero (100).   I do not see Mr. Carmichael as a savage who is trying to undermine his "masters."  Batchelor then continues with imparting to us how much Mr. Ramsay enjoyed the boat ride over to the lighthouse because of the exceptional male company of old McAlister.  Mr. Ramsay likes to pretend that his wife has little intelligence, but he enjoys talking to a man with less intelligence (I’m assuming, I know) than his own wife.  Yes, he wants her to be beautiful – the beauty and mind of a butterfly.  While living, Mrs. Ramsay was the mirror that reflected and enlarged Mr. Ramsay’s ego.  I feel like Batchelor keeps proving the point of the feminist and not his.  He mentions on page 105 that Mrs. Ramsay and Lily both struggle to be creative against the egotism of men.  Mrs. Ramsay’s struggle is in the first section of the book as she tries to create a work of art in her dinner party (and a work of art within a work of art is the fruit arrangement).  Lily’s work of art is of course the painting.  In my assessment Mr. Ramsay tries to spoil or interrupt the attention of both of these artists. 

At the very end of the chapter, he states that James has reconciled his hatred of his father.  I am sure Woolf knows that Mr. Ramsay’s tyranny has only abated for a moment; a zebra cannot unpaint its stripes, but Mr. Batchelor believes that the world is a fine place at the end of the book.  And yes, there is resolution.  I think Mr. Batchelor tried to prove that the feminists are wrong and that Mr. Ramsay was as important as Mr. Ramsay thought he was, but I think he actually proved their point more than his.  I suppose when we read a book, we cannot do so without bringing ourselves along with it.  As in, the author tells us their story, but we filter it through our eyes and our own experiences.  Being a woman who has worked in what is considered a man's field for over 26 years, I can more readilty see the sexism and tend more towards a feminist reading of the novel.  As a man from Cambridge University, he would not let Virginia Woolf walk on his grass. 

Work cited:
Batchelor, John.  Virginia Woolf:  The major novels.   Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1991.  Print.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

We’ve Got to Fight for our Right to Write – A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf


After reading the first two chapters of A Room of One’s Own, , I realized that sometimes I think (and sometimes I don’t think at all) that I prefer reading Virginia Woolf’s essays more than her books.  I shouldn’t really say that; it’s just that I find her essays so straight-forward and common sense.  (I said this in my last blog, I'm repeating myself, maybe I'm channeling Woolf).  I’m not sure how much the younger female generation can really appreciate this essay because the roads have already been paved for them.  Woolf’s generation made the roads, the next generation paved them, and my generation put up sign-posts; most of the work has been done for the current generation.  This was an essay that used two speeches on women’s rights for its building block.  The premise winds around a fictional story about a professional woman writer.  In her introduction to the book, Susan Gubar mentions how Woolf uses writing as a curative and self-analysis.  I found that especially true of To the Lighthouse, but it also works here in that it purges her angst on sexual discrimination.  Well, perhaps “purges” isn’t the correct word being that she probably still dealt with these frustrations. 

In the very beginning of the story, the person is hoping that the audience will have a “nugget of pure truth to wrap up between the pages of your notebooks and keep on the mantel-piece forever” (4).  She was hoping that everyone would grasp something of significance from her lecture – the truth.  At that time the truth was that jobs for women were pretty sparse; however, writing was a profession that a woman could partake in with little money and little disruption to family.  But – if a woman really wanted a full-fledged profession of writing, she needed to “have money and a room of her own” (4).  Both of these are synonymous to freedom.  If these two factors were met, a woman could devote the majority of her time to her profession of writing.  The room signified that you had privacy, a world of your own that you could lock out others and lock yourself away.

A couple of pages later, the lecturer is relating an incident where she was ushered off of the grass or turf at a men’s university.  She went into men’s territory and was shooed away.  The phrase “protect one’s turf” surfaced in my cerebral matter, and in relation to the story, I realized that this phrase reflects man not wanting woman on his “turf,” i.e. the workplace, the universities, politics.  When she is “chased” from the library, that demonstrates men not wanting women to be educated and read scholarly books. 

Her two meals at the separate universities, the men’s and then the women’s, contrast and demonstrate the differences in the two colleges.  The meal at Oxbridge was lavish, and the conversation afterwards was just as rich.  The meal at the woman’s college, Fernham, was stingy as was the conversation.  One thing I found interesting, especially after reading Gubar’s comment that writing for Woolf was cathartic, is the photo of the Dean’s mother on the mantelpiece, and our main character describes the photo.  The person in the photo describes Julia Stephens:  “her gay and dissipated life had left too few traces of its pleasures on her face” (21).  That describes every photo of Julia Stephen that I have seen after her marriage to Leslie Stephen.  Going back to the conversation between our lecturer and the dean, we learn that the reasoning behind the economic problems of the women’s college arises from not having enough donors.  Unlike the men’s college that Woolf, I mean our lecturer, describes as receiving “sacks of gold and silver,” married women had no property and conventionally women were not educated; therefore, with those two facts in mind, women had no money of their own to donate, and men didn’t want women educated, so they wouldn’t donate to a women’s college.  In reading these two chapters, my memory pulled from the depths the “He-Man Woman Haters” Club from the show “Little Rascals.”  It’s precisely how the men of her era wanted to keep their world, free of women (except at home). 

The second chapter deals a little more with finances.  The money bequeathed her by her aunt gave her the freedom to be honest; she didn’t have to be the magic mirror that enhanced men’s egos.  She was free to write what she wanted and word it whichever way pleased her.  With that said, some of the excerpts from her diary make her sound very dependent on the opinion of her network of friends and family.  And being that I’m getting wordy, I’ll end this with a comment on her prophetic comment at the end of this chapter:  “Moreover, in a hundred years, I thought, reaching y own doorstep, women will have ceased to be the protected sex” (40).  I found it spooky that she had come close to hitting the nail on the head because we have indeed come a long way.

Afterthought:  I found a jpeg of the original book cover.  I remeber Gubar talking about the irony of it being in pink and blue, the traditional colors of a girl or a boy.  I'm glad that I had read that, because the colors are so subdued that I wouldn't have caught it as "pink."

Work Cited:
Gubar, Susan.  Introduction.  A Room of One’s Own.  By Woolf, Virginia. Orlando, Florida:  Harcourt, 2005.  xxxv-lxi.  Print.

Woolf, Virginia.  A Room of One’s Own.  1929.  Ed. Mark Hussey.  Orlando, Florida:  Harcourt, Inc., 2005.  Print.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Here an Essay, There an Essay, E,I,E,I, Oh!


Photomontage of the Eclipse as likely to be seen looking between the two Tamar Bridges,
looking towards Cornwall from the English Side.  August 11, 1999.

What I find refreshing about Virginia Woolf’s essays is that there appears to be a lot of common sense in them.  I feel that as a reader I came away with a sensation of who Woolf was as a person.  First from “How Should One Read a Book?,” I met someone who loves books.  I loved the line, “But if you open you mind as widely as possible, then signs and hints of almost imperceptible fineness, from the twist and turn of the first sentences, will bring you into the presence of a human being unlike any other” (VWR 235).  She goes onto saying that reading a book is a “difficult and complex art” (VRW 236).  I find it’s like a puzzle, especially her novels.  You have to dig for the meaning and put the pieces that you find together.  She says that one must question how the author’s own life affects the story.  From what we have studied of her writings so far, her novels are extremely influenced or reflect her life (like a looking-glass).   She considers that books are records of fleeting moments captured by the author.  She believes that we should read a book and first consider the impression it made upon us, then we must pass judgment on the book.   We must make our own decisions of books; it is our love affair with these books that should not allow us to let someone tell us how to interpret our reading.  Out of this article, I discovered her tactic of reading and that she loves reading. 

“Professions for Women” reflected how the Victorian Age constricted women.  She talks about how writing was a profession that women could partake in because it didn’t disrupt the family life (read – the husband); it didn’t interfere with her female duties.  Plus, the tools for the profession of writing was miniscule; so not much needed to be invested for women to write.  In Woolf’s estimation to have a profession in the Victorian age, you had to kill “The Angel in the House” (VWR 278).  Domestic bliss may need to be sacrificed.  A woman writer would have difficulty in writing critically about men because they were brought up to feed the man’s ego, not spank it.  Woolf finally killed her “Angel” because if she hadn’t her writing would have been no more than a doily decorating a table.  She wouldn’t have been able to write on “the truth about human relations, morality, sex” (VWR 279).  In stating that she had difficulty killing her Angel,  she lets us know that she had a hard time breaking out of the Victorian shackles that the age put on women.  She finishes the article stating that women are freer now, to write, or to have a profession at all.  I also enjoyed reading this article for the truths that it contained.

“Street Haunting” was about a ramble through the streets of London on a wintry evening.  In the walk, she questions life, watches the lives of other people (a dwarf, two blind men, a quarreling couple).  I loved the scene in the used book store, and she writes, “Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books” (VWR 254).  I imagined books being set free by their original owners.  Plus, I wished I could go into a used book store in England.  In this walk, she sees that there is a connection between people, and I think she felt connected to these people she saw on her walk.  But then, it’s always nice to return home.

In “The Sun and the Fish” Woolf describes her experience in seeing a solar eclipse, although she never really tells you that this is what everyone is gathering around to see.  She writes about how everyone was doing the same thing which brings a commonality to these people.  On 215, I felt the flavor of the primeval fear that the sun had disappeared.  Everything has become colorless.  She describes it as if she has just awoken from a dream.  My favorite line was at the end:  “All human passion seems furtive and feverish beside this still rapture” (Sun 217).  She was enraptured by the eclipse. 

Before I started “On Being Ill,” I thought she was going to discuss her illness, but she actually ponders why no one writes novels about illness.  She explains how illness changes one’s perceptions.  Woolf also says that if anyone wants the words of love all they have to do is refer to Keats or Shakespeare to help them express their love, but try to explain to a doctor how this, that, or the other hurts and describe the pain.  There are no words; new ones need to be created.  The English though are too steadfast in their language to mash up words; it’s up to the Americans.   Illness makes a person isolated because who wants to be reminded of aches, pains, or illnesses they may have had also.  But we do want sympathy when we’re sick.  Illness ties humanity together by “common needs and fears” (OBI 11).  She does make a similar statement in this essay that she made in Orlando:  “We need the poets to imagine for us” (OBI 19).  In Orlando, she repeated that we should leave it to the poets.  I think she’s stating that there are some things that poets can express better than the common man.  She ends the essay by going off on a tangent about Lady Waterford and her husband dying.  I couldn’t see the correlation; I even checked Hussey’s Virginia Woolf A-Z, but it didn’t help. 

In “The Cinema” she begins by stating that people say that it has all been said; there’s nothing new to be said.  In this essay she again states that “our vocabulary is miserable insufficient” (Cinema 1).   Back to the main point, she believes that the cinema gives one time to ponder what one is seeing on the screen.  The ravenous producers search for something to put on the screen, and they turn to literature which fails miserably because we know these characters in our minds and seeing them on the screen disrupts our impressions.  In second to the last paragraph she prophesizes that cinema will become art.

One thing I think that these essays had in common was the human condition, or how we are all connected in some way.

Works Cited:
Woolf, Virginia.  "The Cinema."  unk.  unk. 1929.  1-3.  pdf.

---.  "How Should One Read a Book?"  The Virginia Woolf Reader:  An Anthology of her Best Short Stories, Essays, Fiction, and Nonfiction.  Ed. Mitchell A. Leaska.  Orlando, Florida:  Harcourt, Inc.  1984.  233-245.  Print. 

---.  "Professions for Women."  The Virginia Woolf Reader:  An Anthology of her Best Short Stories, Essays, Fiction, and Nonfiction.  Ed. Mitchell A. Leaska.  Orlando, Florida:  Harcourt, Inc.  1984.  276-282.  Print.

---.  "On Being Ill."  ? Ed.  Hermione Lee.  Ashfield, Massachusetts:  Paris Press.  2002.  3-28.  Print.

---.  "Street Haunting."  The Virginia Woolf Reader:  An Anthology of her Best Short Stories, Essays, Fiction, and Nonfiction.  Ed. Mitchell A. Leaska.  Orlando, Florida:  Harcourt, Inc.  1984.  246-259.  Print.
---.  "The Sun and the Fish."  The Captain's Deathbed and Other Essays.  Harcourt, 1978.  211-217.  Print.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mr. Carmichael’s Functionality: Critical Reading #5

In John Kunat’s article “The Function of Augustus Carmichael in Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse,” he investigates Carmichael’s structural role in the story.  It appears that Carmichael acts as a catalyst as he precipitates Mrs. Ramsay’s “moment of transcendence” and Lily’s vision at the end of the novel (48).  The reader is first introduced to Mr. Carmichael through the eyes of Mrs. Ramsay who seeks his friendship, adoration, consideration, anything; but he refuses to give it to her.  She asks him if he wants anything on her way into town, and he replies that he wants nothing.  The phrase is repeated at the end of the same paragraph.  Kunat insists that in repeating this line Woolf multiplies rather than limits the interpretative possibilities of Mr. Carmichael murmuring the words “No, nothing” (49).  Kunat continues to dissect the relationship (or non-existent relationship) with Mrs. Ramsay.  She relates to Tansley about Carmichael's failed marriage, and Mrs. Ramsay posits that it is this reason as to why Carmichael is not a successful writer intimating that that is why Mr. Ramsay is so successful because of his supportive wife, namely her.  Kunat continues to explain that Mrs. Ramsay claims that worries of money also ruined Carmichael’s chances.  And doesn’t Mrs. Ramsay withhold the information about the repair cost of the greenhouse from Mr. Ramsay?  Carmichael upsets Mrs. Ramsay’s equilibrium because he “represents a threat to or an implied criticism of her world” (50).  In discussing Carmichael’s failed marriage, Mrs. Ramsay reflects that Mr. Ramsay’s last book was not as successful; therefore, Carmichael forces her to question her uncertainty.  Kunat relates that in the dinner scene, Carmichael assists Mrs. Ramsay into a moment of transcendence.  They both ponder the arrangement of fruit, and she believes that this shared moment that “the arrangement of fruit becomes a moment of order within the flux of sensation and experience” (54).  She finally accepts Carmichael’s indifference to her world.

Next he deciphers Augustus Carmichael’s effect on Lily’s “vision” at the end of the novel.  Kunat believes that Lily’s painting is trying to capture moments:  the moments that Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay united in love, the moment Mr. Ramsay leaps onto the island and becomes a young man again, and the moment when Mrs. Ramsay is knitting at the window.  In her painting Mrs. Ramsay is the triangular mass, but Kunat doesn’t explain what part of the painting he believes Mr. Ramsay to be; however, the line that Lily draws a line in the center of the painting is supposed to connect the Ramsays.  Kunat feels that “the tension that is created throughout the novel by the Ramsays’ relationship is finally resolved” by drawing that line and finishing the painting (58).  Lily has also resolved her fascination with Mrs. Ramsay by creating this work of art, just like Virginia Woolf did in writing this story.

In summation, I can follow Kunat’s argument about Carmichael’s effect on Mrs. Ramsay, but I don’t feel that he quite supported his case with his second argument; therefore, I do find the article to be worthwhile.  I suppose a second reading of To the Lighthouse might be beneficial for me to understand his reasoning with the painting capturing these special moments.

Work Cited:
Kunat, John.  “The Function of Augustus Carmichael in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.”  Xanadu,  13 (1990) 48-59.  PDF from Illiad.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Orlando Learns to be a Woman

Orlando as a Woman ( a picture from the movie)
I decided to concentrate my blog on Chapter four of Orlando because of time contraints which I am sure being so in tune with time themes, Virginia Woolf would understand.   In chapter three, Orlando fantastically changes sex into a female, but it is in chapter four that she reconciles herself into being a woman and makes what she herself what she wants a woman to be.  She is at first astounded at the “penalties and privileges” of her situation (113).  She has lost the “family jewels” to have only one jewel, her chastity.  And it is to this prize of chastity that men desire for women for women in their circle; they also want them to be obedient, perfumed, and exquisitely dressed.  All of which is against nature.  Chasteness is not natural for it is a necessity of nature to procreate.  She realizes that fighting is no longer in her retinue.  Whereas she once yielded a sword, she now must yield the teapot.  This whole chapter deals with what is considered womanly duties, and touches on how they should not be educated.  As we know this is a thorn in Woolf’s side because she always had a desire to attend university although she had an exceptional education as can be attested to by her writing. 

As a woman, Orlando understands Sasha; she understands the delight in refusing then yielding showing that women have power in the seduction rites.  But she now sees how women are prisoners in the conventional ideas of humanity.  In some sections of this chapter (being that this was written to and for Vita), I felt that it touched on the fact that Vita could not inherit Knole because of primogeniture.  So while some claim that this is a love letter to Vita, it also appears to be a discussion of women’s rights or lack thereof.  Women had a role in society, and when she returned society expected her to take that role.  Her staff of servants was delighted that a woman would now take care of the house by replacing the moth-eaten curtains, and replacing the towels – all womanly duties.
  
There’s hilarity to be found in the courtship from Archduke Harry.  Before he/she left London, he almost was smitten by sight with an Archduchess, but upon her return she discovers that the Archduchess is an Archduke.  She gets a front row seat to the idiocracy of courtship.  When she was a man, she saw Harry with her Cyclops eye; but when she became a woman, she viewed Harry with both eyes and saw what was lacking.  Although as a man Orlando cried, he thought it shocking for a man to cry.  Because Harry did; he cried in front of her.  She even touches on the topic of clothes because the clothes helped her assimilate into a true woman of the times. 

As a woman, she comes out into society which she eventually sees falls short.  She states that: "Society is everything and society is nothing” (142).  She goes to this social gatherings looking for life, love, intelligent conversation, and gets none of these.  She found it both “delightful” and “repulsive” (144).  She eventually quits attending the gatherings and visits with famous, witty authors.  Even with them she eventually finds them droll.  The turning point with her relationship with the writers is when she realizes that she listens to them prattle on and on while she serves them tea (it’s what women are supposed to do – wait on men).  On page 151 on the carriage ride with Mr. Pope back to her home, she keeps an internal monologue on her opinion of Mr. Pope.  Her thoughts of him are positive in the dark, but negative in the light.  She believes that he has deceived her.  This is a foreshadowing of her realizing that these poets/writers don’t hold her as an equal.  So he does eventually deceive her into an illusion of equality because it is never a sharing of ideas with these men; it is more like she is their audience and tea-server. 

Towards the end of this chapter, she starts going out at night dressed as a man, and it is at this time that she does find life.  Living a little in both worlds, man’s and then woman’s, she seems to have the most freedom.  Ironically, she runs across her writer friends.  She sees them chatting and drinking together in a house.  It’s ironic because she sees them and thinks them marvelously intelligent, but can’t hear a word they say.

This chapter dealt with the confines in which women are held in society and by law.  It covers the patriarchal ideas of women in that time period.  And at the very end of the chapter, she looks out the window sees the new century arrive.  What will that bring our lovely, wondrous character Orlando?  We shall see.

Woolf, Virginia.  Orlando.  Ed. Mark Hussey.  Orlando, Florida: Harcourt, Inc.  2006.  Print.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Criticism Write-up #4 (out of 15 - yikes!)


A Critical Read:
If Einstein and Woolf Went on a Relative Date

In Wayne Narey’s critical essay “Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Mark on the Wall’:  An Einsteinian View of Art,” he asserts that Woolf’s “artistic manifesto” could possibly have been influenced by Einstein’s theories, particularly in “The Mark on the Wall” which I think would categorize this as a scientific critic (35).  Narey wrote his essay in 1992, and with time being relative and also a prevailing theme in her writings, the article’s thesis is still pertinent.  He compares the main character’s “nonlinear view of events” as being analogous to Einstein’s relative theory of time.  He intimates that Woolf may have even been influenced by his theory, but there is little to no direct proof from her diaries. 

He explains how Einstein tried to view the world from a ray of light.  From the ray of light’s point of view, the earth was zipping by.  From the earth’s point of view, the light was speeding by at the speed of light.  Narey pointed out how this idea can be applied to “The Mark on the Wall.”  While the mark is static, our character’s mind is dynamic as because the thoughts are zipping about in her head.  The fact that the mark is a snail further enhances his stasis because he is a “symbol of slow and measure existence” (37).  He also notes that the un-named character in the story is static while her mind moves from thought to thought. 

He next reminds us that Woolf uses light to designate time.  In “The Mark on the Wall” she speaks of red and blue flowers which coincides with red and blue being at the extremes of the color spectrum, and “are thus the extremes of time” (39).  Narey believes that she has merged light, color, and time.  Just as it happens in most of Woolf’s writings, Narey also drags death into his essay because death is the ender of time whether it’s relative or not. 

I have one criticism of the paper, he seems to assume that we know or maybe understand Einstein’s theory of the relativity of time.  Also when he was talking about red and blue being at the extremities of the light spectrum, he mentions in a footnote that “The Doppler effect is, of course, essential to an understanding of astronomy” (39).  I thought we were talking physics.  I would not say that the article helped me understand “The Mark on the Wall” better, only that it gave me another aspect in which to view it.  Even though the author seemed to depend on a knowledge of Einstein, I did find the essay informative and readable.

Work Cited:
Narey, Wayne.  "Virginia Woolf's 'The Mark on the Wall':  An Einsteinian view of Art." Studies in Short Fiction, 29 (1992) 35-42.  Print.