Contains: The Adventure of the Speckled Band The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle The Musgrave Ritual The Reigate Puzzle Silver Blaze The Adventure of the DContains: The Adventure of the Speckled Band The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle The Musgrave Ritual The Reigate Puzzle Silver Blaze The Adventure of the Dancing Men The Adventure of the Six Napoleons The Problem of Thor Bridge...more
Contains: The Solitary Cyclist Charles Augustus Milverton Black Peter The Golden Pince-Nez The Priory School The Beryl Coronet The Engineer's Thumb The Red-HeContains: The Solitary Cyclist Charles Augustus Milverton Black Peter The Golden Pince-Nez The Priory School The Beryl Coronet The Engineer's Thumb The Red-Headed League...more
Goodness, I think I bought this copy as long ago as fifth or sixth form. £4.25 new, it says on the back.
Elaine Showalter's introduction was one of theGoodness, I think I bought this copy as long ago as fifth or sixth form. £4.25 new, it says on the back.
Elaine Showalter's introduction was one of the things, probably the main thing, that put me off reading it for so long - and academic introductions nearly always get me interested in a book. Her interpretation makes it sound like a dull read that mostly recounts bad things were for women then, something I'd rather have seen dealt with in factual history than a novel. (And she has too much use of the present tense about it, though written in 1992, which would have always set me off the wrong way, but I daresay - I can't remember how old Showalter is - sounded right from her personal experience. In the event, one does feel especially frustrated for female certain characters whose personalities and interests would have been much better suited to a later era.) However, Showalter's quotation from Margaret Drabble produces a sense of epiphany: that Woolf, like Austen and George Eliot, chose on the whole to describe women less gifted, intellectually less audacious, more conventional than herself. And to be reminded to see Mrs D. in parallel to Ulysses in its use of stream-of-consciousness over one day is useful; also the mundane versus the mythological in titles and characters.
That introduction doesn't transmit much about the tidal onrush of expression, feeling and description which is utterly arresting at many points throughout the book, which seems the most remarkable thing about it. It's a beautiful style of writing, which I've seen used a few times - now I know, at least, its origin.
However I felt that this mode of inner life doesn't fit some of the conventional society characters whose thoughts are described in this way. Difference between characters is obvious in their external presentation. Internally most of them are full of back-and-forth every-which-way currents of emotion, unable to connect more than superficially to anyone else. Which conceptually and philosophically is interesting and true for some, but not everyone experiences internal drama to such an extent. I was most struck by the scene of Richard Dalloway on his way home: But there are tides in the body. Morning meets afternoon. Borne like a frail shallop on deep deep floods, lady Bruton's great grandfather and his memoirs...were whelmed and sunk. Too often, though definitely not always, I felt I heard Woolf's voicing of emotional experience and not the characters'. (My reading of numerous textbooks on attachment and associated discourse styles contributes to my opinions of characterisation in fiction, but I only tend to become aware of it when the writer seems especially observant or if there is marked incongruity, as here.)
I felt that the strongest parts of the book were the flitting between consciousnesses of many people in the street near the beginning, Clarissa's reflection on "this business of falling in love with women", the account of the onset of Septimus's shellshock, and the glinting, moving panoramas of people in city streets at several points throughout.
Mrs. Dalloway is another text which suffers from my reading it after numerous imitators. Multiple interconnected characters in a city, and their mundane or domestic concerns, are a staple of contemporary litfic and even one of the originating examples, better-written than many successors, ends up seeming a little boring, part of an experience of repetitiveness. Though some of the characters are having more extreme experiences - it's very interesting to see a sympathetic contemporary literary account of shellshock.
This year I've read two novels which were open about being influenced by Woolf or specifically Mrs. D, Unexploded and NW. I now understand the former's writing style better, I think (though it cites The Waves and The Years and may contain hidden references to them). And, well NW - it's partly just another interconnected characters in city novel (my opinion of it has declined a little since I read it though I still prefer it to Zadie Smith's others) - and it has a similar fault to one I see here. It attributes a continuous reflectiveness and depth of thought to a character (Natalie) whom I suspect wouldn't be that lost in thought anywhere near so constantly - who appears overwhelmingly practical. On the first page (What a lark! What a plunge!) I also realised there were clear Woolf influences in Ali Smith's work.
For all that the writing in Mrs. Dalloway is lovely and there is a lot going on, I only occasionally experienced any sense of connection with the characters – which seems quite common, in what is mostly a study of insular upper-class people - and, rather as with Austen, I ended up thinking of it as a book good for studying rather than one to love. The long final section about Mrs. Dalloway's party itself reinforced this, which had been a more occasional feeling before - it's a type of scene now commonplace in fiction, the most dazzling writing came earlier, and the characters, whilst not completely without interest, were relatively unengaging when taken either sincerely or satirically.
I expect to like most of someone's works if I absolutely loved one, but Woolf's Orlando, like Of Montreal and Hissing Fauna, is an exception for me. Both are great favourites yet I can't bond anywhere near so much with anything else they've done. Whilst I don't generally require happy endings (and sometimes prefer books without) as far as Woolf's concerned, I prefer her in the fantastical, celebratory mode of Orlando to the more melancholy tones I've seen in her other writing. ...more
[4.5] Nine years ago, I was in love with someone whose favourite book was Murphy; this copy was from a second hand bookshop en route between our flats[4.5] Nine years ago, I was in love with someone whose favourite book was Murphy; this copy was from a second hand bookshop en route between our flats. (He was one of those people who never lends anything, and in any case I wouldn't have been able to read and return it in good time, as this time that year I was embarking on months of convalescence following a very severe bout of flu.) It was never my intention to leave it quite this long, but - as per an old comment - whenever I picked it up, I found the first couple of pages too depressing.
Honestly, what was I reading? Must've made some skewed assumptions, for different stuff was happening on the paper this time. And Beckett is not the writer I thought he was, a minimalist miserablist - my only previous experience being a not-very-careful teenage reading of Waiting For Godot whilst standing in a library, it being too short to waste a loan on. I was reminded of none so much as Pynchon: the black humour, the ridiculousness, the near-farcical caper, the breadth of vocabulary... this required even more frequent looking-up than Pynchon as Beckett's very fond of obscure uses of fairly common words, as well as his rare archaisms and classicisms (Joycean to those who've read him more recently, no doubt). A spideysense of more to a sentence often proved right: consulting the barely adequate ereader dictionary, and looking through definitions, would reveal an unusual or more precise meaning, or perhaps that an etymological root had been engaged in furtive wordplay with something else nearby. Impressed, I was alright. (Why can we still not get the Shorter Oxford, never mind the full thing, as an optional booster for these gadgets? c.35% of the terms I tried to look up whilst reading Murphy were not in the Concise as found on Kindle.)
Why (2) isn't Murphy found on some of those lists of Great London Novels? Not that I've done a comprehensive survey as research for this post, mind. Murphy's questionable progression from the 1930s boardinghouses of SW10 and then - with paramour Celia - N7, and on to work in one of those outer-North-London psychiatric monstrosities as later chronicled by Iain Sinclair and Will Self ... not to mention the wanderings of so many named streets and tubes and markets, and the Mary Poppins-in-negative interludes of kite flying in Hyde Park - this is what The London Novel is made of, surely. There are chapters set in Ireland too, which in the eyes of some may disqualify it, but Murphy's atmosphere of grubby, fray-cuffed, straitened, eccentric London bedsitland is exquisitely done if you have affection for that setting. Description of the way light comes through the windows of a dingy flat over a day's course may not be adjectivally conventional description, yet - or so - it pins it utterly.
I long had a bad habit, a faulty reflex, almost, of looking for a person in their favourite books and films (more so when it was someone I fancied, a elusive sprite, than a long-standing close friend who could simply be asked). This wouldn't always work, I realised as I got older. Not everyone's favourite things are favourites because of a deep identification. And even where someone does identify, it won't be with every aspect of a work or character - so a person who doesn't know them well could misunderstand and missassume all over the shop. Perhaps you actually won't see how them something is until you've known them a good while. (Seven years it was, mostly the long-distance friendship of the afterwards, and it was me who stopped it - there was a veiled reference in my post about The Ice Palace.) And I can't remember when this strange wish of finding someone in a book was so fully rewarded; a remarkable correlation of traits between unusual people, one real, one made up by a very clever Irish bloke in the 1930s. It would be indecent to write it all up in public, but I consider it incumbent on me to spare the (theoretical??) embarrassment of someone unknown to you by clarifying that the similarities to Murphy don't include penchants for self-bondage or astrology. Curiously or not, there are a handful of other things that feel more *me* than *him*; some always were, some changed - and as for those shared, I now understand Murphy's love of introspection more than I would have nearly a decade ago.
The character of Murphy is, of course, ultimately mocked here (his Cartesian dualism is as much nonsense as that theory always is) and the book's peculiar personal history may give me more affection for it and all its characters than might otherwise make sense. (Given its absurdist intellectualism, I can understand those who don't find it very human.)
This is very close to 5 stars - just some scenes of grimness mean I hold back on that last little bit - as the confluence of extreme cleverness and silliness and darkness and resonance is very much a winner. And if I didn't have an even more absurd number of other books already, I'd be wanting some more Beckett, please, with a tentative view to joining Fans of. ...more