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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.

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