Not only does it uncannily anticipate many of the themes and ideas that became preoccupations in feminist analysis upon Woolf's "rediscovery" many decNot only does it uncannily anticipate many of the themes and ideas that became preoccupations in feminist analysis upon Woolf's "rediscovery" many decades later, it is a very accessible and readable analysis of Woolf's major texts up to that time (The Years and Between the Acts had yet to be written). Ruth Gruber's own account of writing this dissertation and meeting Woolf herself as a young American Jewish woman studying in Germany in the 1930's is a fascinating read in and of itself.
And remarkably, Ms. Gruber still appears to be alive and well at the ripe old age of 99, making her a rather remarkable link to this era now long-past....more
For a (relatively brief) introduction to key critical/theoretical perspectives on these two texts, this is a pretty nifty little compilation, nicely sFor a (relatively brief) introduction to key critical/theoretical perspectives on these two texts, this is a pretty nifty little compilation, nicely selected and arranged by Goldman. ...more
After completing the groundbreaking experiment The Waves, Woolf “rested” by working on what she considered a mere trifle—a short novel that would evenAfter completing the groundbreaking experiment The Waves, Woolf “rested” by working on what she considered a mere trifle—a short novel that would eventually become Flush: A Biography, a version of the courtship of poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning as seen through the eyes of their omnipresent cocker spaniel. Using historical facts as a platform, what emerges is a witty and unusual take on one of the most famous real-life romances of all time, and even if it comes off as rather slight when placed next to Woolf’s other novels (particularly her later ones), it’s certainly one of her most lighthearted and irrepressible, and tremendous fun. ...more
After spending about a year or so devoting most of my intellectual energy to reading and studying Virginia Woolf in preparation for writing a thesis,After spending about a year or so devoting most of my intellectual energy to reading and studying Virginia Woolf in preparation for writing a thesis, I have found myself rather awkwardly unable to finish one of her novels in the years that have passed since (with the exception of the minor divertissement provided by Flush). I've started rereading To the Lighthouse and Orlando multiple times and subsequently, unceremoniously abandoned them before the halfway point. I must say, there are few situations more ominous and dispiriting (and embarrassing) than being suddenly unable to read the work of the author one professes to be their favorite.
But thanks to the recent flurry of VW-related activity on my update feed compliments of Elizabeth, I was inspired to pay a visit to Mrs. Dalloway, as spontaneously and unexpectedly as Peter Walsh drops in on his old friend halfway through the novel, and as it was for Peter, the encounter left me feeling, rather unexpectedly, emotionally churned and unabashedly elated. It was just so damn wonderful to feel once again the sheer sensations of connectedness Woolf's best writing inspires; as 2009 draws to its close and I reflect back on my reading adventures over the last year, I realize how heavily this year happened to tilt towards the postmodern and the generally existential, and combined with all the grad-school theory, there was a lot of emphasis in 2009 on subjectivity, and its accompanying dissonances and disjunctions.
So how amazing (or as VW would say, how delicious) it is to be reading and suddenly feeling the entire world form into intricate patterns and countless little cobwebs of interconnections… in this postmodern world, supposedly all discontinuity and hopeless fragmentation, it's comforting—probably more than a grad student should admit—to suddenly be looking through a lens where a seemingly unrelated middle aged woman and a mentally unstable young man with no real knowledge of each other can be linked, with meaning and resonance achieved in the vague space provided by simply existing…
In my mind, Mrs. Dalloway always tends to pale in comparison to memories of Lighthouse, The Waves, even Orlando, but no, in it's own way it's really just as good as those, and for making me miss the streets of London, it's second to none in all of literature. And the writing! The ebb and flow of the distinctive prose-poetry, once so daunting, is now somehow comforting in its endless layers of complexity and meaning—it's nice to know that a certain mystery and opacity will always remain, just as it does in "real life;" but, of course, there's always the hope of discovering, understanding a little more on the next unexpected visit...
"Life itself, every moment of it, every drop of it, here, this instant, now, in the sun, in Regent's Park, was enough. Too much indeed. A whole lifetime was too short to bring it out, now that one had acquired the power, the full flavor; to extract every ounce of pleasure, every shade of meaning..."...more
A charming memoir of the author taking a vacation with his friend and mentor, the Bloomsbury artist Duncan Grant. In the early 1970's, however, TurkeyA charming memoir of the author taking a vacation with his friend and mentor, the Bloomsbury artist Duncan Grant. In the early 1970's, however, Turkey was not exactly an easily accessible location to visit (particularly the tiny, ancient coastal town that was their ultimate destination), especially for somebody nearly 90 years old, as Grant was at the time. The inevitable adventures (including lost luggage, language/communication problems, lack of accomodations, etc) demonstrate that though physically frail, Grant never lost his verve, curiosity or sense of fun (or his desire to create art—he resolutely sketches every day without fail). The memoir functions simultaneously as travelogue, a snapshot of a certain time and place, a portrait of an artist and a commemoration of a great friendship. Written as a diary, it is also interwoven with Roche's interviews with Grant about his early memories of the Bloomsbury group, his romantic relationships, his experiences as a conscientious objector during WWI, and his views on art. Primarily for fans (the book assumes some prior knowledge of Grant and the circles he moved in), but one gets to "know" Grant in a personal, intimate way that is never really gotten from historical accounts. ...more
Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell are the hook and main selling point, but this is actually a collection of essays covering a number of modernist womenVirginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell are the hook and main selling point, but this is actually a collection of essays covering a number of modernist women writers, including H.D., Colette, Dorothy Richardson, Bryher, Stein, etc. The topics traversed—ranging from the Woolfs's personal albums to Bell's photographic experimentation to early, pioneering female film criticism and more—is unceasingly fascinating, which is why I was often frustrated with how dull Humm's analysis could become. It's pretty dazzling when it sticks to original research and close reading of a wide range of material (which accounts for the four stars), but all too often comes it lapses into ponderous strings of academese, and I quickly began to skip just about everything directly dealing with psychoanalytic theory (which is why I considered docking one of those stars).
The major highlight is the consideration of the Woolfs's personal photo albums as demonstrating a number of her literary techniques in visual form. Never chronological or even topically arranged, the five albums instead are largely associative constructions and often contain multiple photographs of a single subject from different visual perspectives (echoing cubist and other innovations of modernist visual art), and sometimes "superior" versions of photos can be found hidden behind ones that are less representationally perfect but contain flaws that are more artistically interesting and/or evocative (hinting that the albums were more than just personal records) . I wish Humm had explored a bit more Leonard's admitted contribution to the albums, but overall Humm makes a convincing case that Woolf's larger aesthetic project involves her "amateur" involvement in the photographic arts just as much as her "professional" achievements as novelist, essayist, and literary figure.
There's also a nice overview of the intimate connection many female modernists had to cinema and the photographic arts in general, opening up a number of avenues of inquiry I'm already researching and/or plan to pursue further.
[One of the images Humm includes from the Woolf albums]
Not my favorite novel by Woolf—not by a longshot—but as the unanticipated terminus for one of literature’s great oeuvres it strikes an incredibly poweNot my favorite novel by Woolf—not by a longshot—but as the unanticipated terminus for one of literature’s great oeuvres it strikes an incredibly powerful and poignant note, its deliberate, hard-fought expansiveness resisting any sense of finality or closure (indeed, the end is revealed to be just another beginning). On this reading I was struck with how the novel itself feels positioned at a stylistic juncture, an attempt to fuse together the gorgeously abstracted soliloquies of The Waves with the more intimate representation of inner consciousness showcased in Mrs. Dalloway, Orlando, and most particularly, To the Lighthouse I’m not convinced everything attempted actually works—it all sometimes feels like a fascinating experiment rather than a full expression of mastery—but it also feels like the kind of creation that retrospectively turns out to be a threshold to other things. Of course in this case we’ll never know what those other things could possibly have been; as Leonard Woolf’s prefatory note acknowledges, its author was dead before the inevitable final revisions could be made.
So just to get my critiques out of the way: the quotation of long passages of text being performed at the pageant just don’t ever feel fully integrated into the overall narrative—I’m not inherently against the idea of extended quotation but they almost felt like place cards intended to hold place for something else. Also the various characters seem to function more as archetypal “types” than individuated “people,” and though they signal their various concerns and struggles and thought processes but they feel more like, well, a cast performing lines rather than embodied entities.
That said, the distancing effect was certainly Woolf’s intention, as the narrative itself not only sets out to blur distinctions between the generic markers of fiction and drama, but is just one of many boundary lines Woolf plays with: those separating audience and performer, and even author and reader when it comes to generating meaning. There’s a wonderful moment towards the pageant’s climax when a mirror is produced on stage and the narrative voice shifts pronouns, shifting from “them” to “ourselves:” “a burst of applause greeted this flattering tribute to ourselves.” It’s a subtle alteration, but the effect is jarring, and it immediately begs the question of who exactly “ourselves” refers to. The audience watching the pageant within the text, of course, but the reader also is being intentionally imbricated here, and I imagine the author is including herself as well.
In my first status update during my reading I also noted how queer this book struck me at this time around; during my first reading some ten years ago I was not in the place to detect alternate meanings to William Dodge’s silent confession that he’s “a half-man” or Miss La Trobe’s complaint that “she was an outcast” and that “nature had somehow set her apart from her kind.” But apart from covert queer representation—and rather depressing ones at that—there’s also something weird, and rather queer about the way Woolf attempts to present time throughout Between the Acts, with the constant, sometimes startling crash between the historical past and the tenuous present (with rumblings of upcoming war wafting nervously in the air). Time cycles restlessly throughout the text, always refusing to march linearly forward, instead trying to slip into more ambiguous temporal spaces.
As well as impending war there’s also the long shadow Woolf’s death casts across the text—would the text seem quite as elegiac as it does if Woolf had lived and written more texts after it? An impossible question, and one undermined somewhat by the text itself, which continuously waves off the past and even the future to place the emphasis instead on the present moment. This moment. “The hands of the clock had stopped at the present moment” the narrative trumpets. “It was now. Ourselves.”
And when exactly is “now?” The “now” of the text? The “now” of the words first written upon a piece of paper? The “now” of the reader reading the words? For the briefest of instants, the present moment manages to contain them all. [Second reading.] ...more
Virginia Woolf’s posthumously published diaries are often—and rightly—considered among the major achievements of the form, with her biographer and nepVirginia Woolf’s posthumously published diaries are often—and rightly—considered among the major achievements of the form, with her biographer and nephew Quentin Bell unabashedly declaring them “one of the great diaries of the world.” But those now-classic examples of life writing, covering the years 1915 until 1941, are actually not what Lounsberry is concerned with in this study; instead she turns her attention to the diaries the young Woolf kept beginning in 1897 when she was merely fourteen years old. There are twelve early diaries in all, and beyond their obvious biographical interest, Lounsberry discovers within them a complex self-portrait of restless young talent eager to experiment and hone her craft as an aspiring author—first a reviewer and essayist, eventually as a writer of fiction as well.
This study considers the early diaries in strict chronological order, always keeping a keen eye on not just what they record, but how. Lounsberry very persuasively demonstrates that from the very beginning Woolf was fascinated by the diary as a form of literary expression, keenly attuned to the possibilities they provided to experiment in private. Very quickly the young writer came to regard her diary writing as a self-described “compost heap,” providing rich, raw material through which to cultivate work intended for publication and public consumption. Judiciously selected excerpts from the various diaries demonstrate that in many ways the “stream of consciousness” style for which she would go on to pioneer was beginning to take form in these pages as Woolf strains to capture and record the rapid movements of her restless, mercurial mind. It’s dazzling to witness, even via secondary analysis.
The other aspect of Lounsberry’s stated project—a consideration of how Woolf was influenced by the diaries she herself read and studied—was what elevated this study from the interesting to the invaluable; indeed, Lounsberry goes so far as to make the staggering claim that “Woolf was more steeped in diary literature than any other well-known diarist before her—and likely even since.” It can be confirmed that she read at least 66 of them, though she undoubtedly read many, many more. Lounsberry carefully traces how aspects of these many other texts made their way into Woolf’s own diary keeping, sometimes deliberately, other times in much more covert, unexpected ways.
As someone who has kept private journals since a young age and loves to read published examples of the form, Lounsberry’s study was from the get-go of specific interest to me. Beyond convincing me to return to Woolf’s own diaries, I now have a whole list of other diaries I’m now eager to explore, ranging from the perennial classics by Samuel Pepys, Samuel Johnson, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, to the celebrated life writing by the Goncourts and Fanny Burney, and on down to more obscure entries by Stopford Brooke, William Allingham, and the dictated journals of Lady Hester Stanhope. In other words, while I found the analysis and description of Woolf’s diaries and a glimpse into her development as a writer more than engrossing in and of themselves, perhaps more importantly I also managed to discover a dimension of my favorite author’s work and artistic practice that deeply synchronizes with my own, providing more avenues to explore my own development as a writer and diary keeper. ...more